The Final Four for the 2017 NCAA Tournament is set and it is a diverse foursome. It features two teams making their debuts in this stage of the Big Dance (Gonzaga and South Carolina), another making their second trip here (Oregon) and a school qualifying for the 20th time (North Carolina). Both games will be played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on Saturday, as will the championship game on Monday.
South Carolina pulled off another upset to win the East region as a No. 7 seed, defeating No. 4 Florida 77-70. They’ll take on Gonzaga, who won the West region as the top seed after a 83-59 thrashing of No. 11 Xavier. The Gamecocks are in the Final Four for the first time ever, which probably isn’t much of a surprise given that their school doesn’t have a rich college basketball history. What’s more surprising is that this is the Zags’ first appearance – especially when you consider that they’ve made eight Sweet Sixteens.
Gonzaga has opened up the week as a 6.5-point favorite in this contest. They are fourth in the country in scoring defense while South Carolina is 31st. The Gamecocks would like to make this a low-scoring game as Gonzaga’s offense has the edge. Both teams have gotten great guard play so far in the NCAA Tournament but this game could come down to South Carolina’s ability (or inability) to defend Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski, who hasn’t played as well as he can. He’s averaging just 9.3 points per game in March Madness compared to the 14.3 he averaged in the seven games before the Tournament. At 7’1″ and 300 pounds he will be key factor in the first meeting between the schools.
In the second matchup on Saturday, we’ll see Oregon challenge North Carolina. Oregon took the Midwest region as a No. 3 seed with a 74-60 win over Kansas, a game in which the Ducks always looked in control over the top seed. The Ducks were a top team all season long but were supposed to be left for dead when they lost Chris Boucher to a season-ending injury right before the tournament. However, they haven’t been slowed by that at all.
As for North Carolina, they are back in the Final Four after winning the South region as the top seed with a 75-73 win over Kentucky. That contest may have been the game of the NCAA Tournament to date. The Tar Heels advanced thanks to Luke Maye’s last-second winner.
This is the furthest that the Ducks have been since 1939 when they won the inaugural NCAA Tournament over Ohio State. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels would love to get back to the championship game after losing to Villanova in heartbreaking fashion last year. North Carolina hasn’t been known for their defense but they stepped up their game against the Wildcats. They’re going to have to do it again for this meeting with the Ducks, who are better defensively than many people think. They’ve allowed 66.6 points per game over their last three. They’re going to have their hands full against the Tar Heels, who are favored by 4.5 points.
The two have met once before as the Tar Heels defeated the Ducks 98-69 in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational. If there is one major edge for the Tar Heels, it could come on the bench as coach Roy Williams has been to the Final Four eight times; he is the only one out of these four coaches to get to this point.