I suppose it seems only fitting in a season where the theme of parity has taken charge once again, that we would get a Final Four with three teams that were at one time thought to be the best teams in the country. And then, of course, why not sprinkle a team in there that even after winning 4 games to reach this point is 5-5 over their last ten in the Syracuse Orange?
As any Final Four should be, this weekend will be loaded with stars. From the likely winner of the Wooden Award for National Player of the Year in Oklahoma Sooners Buddy Hield to one of the most skilled and athletic big men in the country in Brice Johnson of the North Carolina Tar Heels, star power is not lacking. Something else playing into this season that comes up again this weekend is that the star power is made up mostly of seniors. Hield, Johnson and Ryan Arcidiacono of the Villanova Wildcats are all seniors, looking to end their college careers on the ultimate high note.
While, disappointingly enough, the Final Four will lack a Big Ten team, it's not hard to find a rooting interest if you want to find a team to cheer for in this weekends games.
Let's take a look at each of the Saturday games:
Game #1: Oklahoma Sooners vs. Villanova Wildcats, tip at 6:09pm ET
If you like offensive basketball, chances are this will be a great game for you to tune into. Both teams can light up a scoreboard in a hurry with the three point shot.
The Villanova Wildcats come into the game shooting 35% from the three point line, but they've got a few guys that can get hot in a hurry. Somebody like Kris Jenkins, Arcidiacono or freshman Jalen Brunson could come down and make two or three threes in a row if they get the opportunity. The Wildcats average 78 points per game as a team while shooting just under 48% and are one of the better free throw shooting teams around at 78.4%. Before the Kansas game, the Wildcats had been feasting on their opponents in this tournament. Their average margin of victory in their four tournament games comes in at roughly 19 points per game.
The Oklahoma Sooners can go through stretches of a basketball game where they simply look unstoppable. Buddy Hield is the best offensive player in America without a doubt. If his backcourt mates Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins are on offensively, it's going to an extremely tall task for Villanova to contain them offensively. The Sooners shoot a blistering 42.8% from three as a team and just over 46% overall. As a team, they score 80 points a game and it wouldn't be surprising if this turned into a shootout.
These two teams met at Pearl Harbor earlier in the year and Oklahoma handed Nova their worst loss of the season in a 78-55 blowout. I wouldn't look for that game to be too much of a precursor to what we'll see on Saturday night with the stakes ratcheted way up.
Game #2: North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Syracuse Orange, approx. 8:49 tip
The dialogue on North Carolina for a majority of the year has been that if their three point shots are falling, there isn't a team in the country that can compete with them. The depth in the front court with guys like Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Justin Jackson is simply overwhelming for a lot of teams. They're an amazing combination of size, strength, athleticism and skill that a lot of teams aren't equipped to deal with defensively. If Marcus Paige can shoot the ball the way he did against Indiana in the Sweet 16, it's going to be really tough for the Orange to match up.
The absolute biggest key far and away for the Syracuse Orange against their ACC rival will be rebounding the basketball. As we all know, Syracuse plays a 2-3 zone and it's notoriously difficult to rebound the ball out of a zone defense. Syracuse ranks 330th in D-I in defensive rebounding rate, and if they can't put a body on the big men of North Carolina, the Tar Heels might not have to worry about their three point shooting.
I would look for Syracuse to pack their zone in a little more than usual until North Carolina makes some shots to force them to come out a little bit more at a time. Packing the zone in would also, in theory, help on the defensive glass. I would hate to rule Syracuse out because I've ruled them out since the first round and here they are. They've got the most losses by any Final Four in history, are only the 4th double digit seed to ever reach the Final Four and are the only 10th seed to ever do so.
This is going to be a matchup of coaching legends on the sidelines, and whoever makes the best adjustments throughout should have their team playing on Monday night for the crown. These teams played twice during conference play, with North Carolina winning both. The old adage is, however, it's very hard to beat a team three times in one year.