Final Four Predictions

Posted: 04/01/2017 by levcohen in NCAA

It’s a quirky Final Four. There’s North Carolina, but then there’s Gonzaga and South Carolina, neither of whom had ever made the Final Four, and Oregon, who hasn’t made it since 1939, when they won the first ever NCAA championship. Oregon’s a really fun team, with two go-to scorers in Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks along with a shot-blocking menace in Jordan Bell. South Carolina has a swarming defense and Sindarius Thornwell, and they’re a Cinderella seventh seed. Gonzaga has a lovable 300+ pound Pole (Przemek Karnowski), a bunch of fun transfers (Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews, Johnathan Williams) who are also their best players, and the chip of playing in the WCC on their shoulder. For a neutral fan, the only bad result is a North Carolina championship. Unfortunately, the Tar Heels are probably the favorites to win it all after they fell juuust short last year against Villanova. We should get a nice contrast of games tonight. Gonzaga-South Carolina will be gritty and low-scoring, with both teams struggling to score. I envision it being similar to Gonzaga-West Virginia, which the Zags won 61-58 after trailing late. By Kenpom’s numbers, Gonzaga and South Carolina are THE two best defensive teams in the country. North Carolina-Oregon will have more easy scores, although Oregon probably doesn’t want it to become a total track meet. Both Gonzaga and North Carolina are meaningful (6.5 and 4.5 points) favorites, but neither a USC nor an Oregon upset would shock me. It should be fun.

Gonzaga 68, South Carolina 64: I don’t think this’ll be like the Gonzaga-Xavier game, which the Zags won easily after the Musketeers stayed close for most of the first half. South Carolina is just too tough and too talented on the defensive end. They thrive at forcing turnovers and have been doing it all tournament long. Their defense sort of reminds of West Virginia’s half court defense (the Gamecocks don’t press). They scramble around a lot, but that’s by design. There are a lot of hands in passing lanes, quick double teams, and run outs on the fastbreak. The Zags should be used to it; they turned the ball over 16 times against West Virginia. But Gonzaga should also have some matchup advantages. Chief among them will come low, where Karnowski and Zach Collins could feast against undersized Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar. Karnoswki is a terrific passer, so it’s tough to double-team him. He hasn’t had a huge impact of late, but I see that changing tonight. And their guard play should also be good enough to keep Gonzaga from falling apart against the South Carolina defense. A lot of USC’s offense comes on easy transition points, so I’d expect Gonzaga to value handling the ball over everything else. Some missed shots won’t kill them, because South Carolina’s going to have all kinds of trouble scoring the ball. Thornwell has been unbelievable in the tournament, but he’s going to be swarmed by defenders in this one. You can expect the other Gamecocks to get some open looks, but can they hit those looks? Neither P.J. Dozier nor Duane Notice, the team’s main secondary scoring options, shoots the ball particularly well. I think it’s going to take a big performance from one of those two to send South Carolina to the National Championship Game. I like this South Carolina team a lot. I think they’re tough, and they have a little of that upstart Connecticut team (with Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier) in them. Thornwell is a future NBA player, a go-to scorer who can make up for a lot of other deficiencies. That’s been enough to get them to the Final Four. I don’t think it’ll carry them past one of the best teams in the country.

North Carolina 78, Oregon 75: I really wanted to pick Oregon to win this game, because I’ve been so impressed by their tournament run. But I think their eventual downfall will be similar to Kentucky’s: North Carolina can guard their best players better than they can guard North Carolina’s best players. I thought Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox would go off on UNC like they did the first time the teams played. I was wrong. Putting Justin Jackson on Monk sacrificed some of Jackson’s offense, but it also rendered Monk basically useless. Jackson will have a similar height advantage over Tyler Dorsey, who he’s likely to guard tonight. Dorsey’s one of the hottest players in the country, but I have a hard time imagining that he’ll have as much success when shooting over Jackson, a lengthy wing who’s also a future first round pick. And while Jordan Bell nearly single-handedly shut down Kansas’s vaunted offense by swatting eight shots and influencing many more, the Jayhawks were a good matchup for him. They were more eager to drive to the hoop and put up floaters than they were to pound the ball inside with Landen Lucas. North Carolina is a different beast. Kennedy Meeks had a huge game against Kentucky, with 17 rebounds and four blocks. Isaiah Hicks had three rejections of his own. Bell’s not going to have the same impact in this game. Assuming Jackson’s primarily guarding Dorsey and Meeks is on Bell, I’m interested in seeing who Hicks will guard when he’s on the floor. He’s a good athlete, but can he really guard Dillon Brooks? Of course, the same is true on the other end of the court. Brooks is big and athletic, but he can really bang in the paint with Isaish Hicks? North Carolina had 13 offensive rebounds against Kentucky. They could have another great day on the boards against Oregon. If UNC hits its threes, it could be a very long night for Oregon. But they haven’t been hitting their threes, so if recent history is any indication, this game is going to go down to the wire.

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