Those in Storrs likely have their sights set on the women’s Final Four in Dallas, but the men’s tournament has also provided plenty of surprises. Gonzaga, South Carolina, Oregon and North Carolina are left standing, and one will claim the title on Monday in Arizona. We asked our staff: who wins it all?
Matthew Kren: The ceiling is the roof for this year’s UNC Tar Heels who have once again found themselves in the Final Four. Even though they are a No. 1 seed and they were picked by 15.2 percent of ESPN’s brackets to win the tournament, they have not received much buzz this March. Since they were in a region with upstart Butler, Cinderella Middle Tennessee, the Lavar Ball UCLA Bruin’s and the always-buzzing Wildcats, the Tar Heels have flown under the radar. Led by ACC player of the year Justin Jackson, big man Kennedy Meeks and guard Joel Berry III, UNC is poised to once again return to the finals. With Kris Jenkins on their side this time due to his lifelong connection with UNC senior Nate Britt, I have to give the edge to UNC to win their sixth NCAA championship and third since 2005.
Matt Barresi: I’ve been high on them all year, and picked them in my brackets, so it’s too late for me to jump ship on Gonzaga, despite how good UNC and Oregon look. South Carolina has been rolling and their defeat of Duke, arguably the country’s most talented team, shows they can beat anyone. But I like the Zags against them; they have great post players like Prezemek Karnowski and Zach Collins who should be able to get theirs this game. It’s actually a good matchup for them, because even if Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier cancel out Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, or slightly outplay them, Gonzaga’s post advantage should push them over the top. In the championship, the Bulldog’s post play should prove advantageous again. They have a steady point guard in Williams-Goss and I believe the Gonzaga bigs will feast on Oregon, no matter how well Jordan Bell is playing, and against UNC, the Tar Heels bigs are good, but not unstoppable. Most importantly, Gonzaga had the first overall adjusted defense on Kenpom, and has an elite defense all season. As the cliché goes: offense wins games but defense wins championships.
Chris Hanna: The Cinderella story of this year’s NCAA tournament won’t end in the national semifinal between Gonzaga and South Carolina. And it won’t end in a championship loss to Oregon or UNC. In fact, midnight won’t strike at all for Cinderella this year because I have South Carolina cutting down the nets next week. It seems insane, but the Gamecocks have looked the dominant team in each and every one of their games in the tourney so far, especially in the second half. In fact, South Carolina has outscored opponents 196-142 in the first four games. The team’s leading scorer and best defender Sindarius Thornwell has been a huge part of that and I expect him to put his stamp on the Final Four as well.
While Gonzaga is very good, no doubt, they escaped the Northwestern and West Virginia games with their lives. Let’s not forget how shaky they looked against No. 16 South Dakota State. South Carolina will exploit their weaknesses and move on to the championship, where the Gamecocks will face their neighbors to the north and make Tar Heel fans suffer a loss in the title game for the second consecutive year. Head coach Frank Martin has really figured out how to maximize South Carolina’s productivity on the court and will surely keep the ball rolling this weekend for one of the greatest championship runs ever—after UConn’s four, of course.
Andrew Morrison: Remember when Oregon forward Chris Boucher went down with a torn ACL right before the tournament and everyone assumed the Ducks were dead in the water? Well they’ve convincingly fought their way to the Final Four, having to defeat some very hot teams along the way in URI and Michigan, capped off by their emphatic victory over one-seeded Kansas in the Elite Eight. UNC will undoubtedly be their toughest opponent yet, as they’re a team that pounds the inside and can exploit the loss of a dominant rim-protector like Boucher. However, much of the reason that Oregon has made it this far has been the emergence of junior forward Jordan Bell, who is averaging 12.5 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game, including eight blocks against Kansas. As long as Bell continues his success on the inside, the Ducks have a very good chance to upset the Tar Heels. If they do that, they should simply overpower whoever comes out of the Gonzaga-South Carolina game, and will cut down the nets in Phoenix.
Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.