Remember the pundits that were saying that the Selection Committee made a mistake about the Syracuse Orange, and that they didn’t belong in the March Madness field? Well, they’ve proven a lot of people wrong by crashing the Final Four party and becoming the first No. 10 seed to make it this far.
The Orange (+800 to win the NCAA Tournament at the sportsbooks) have won the Midwest Region and will take on the East Region winners, North Carolina (EVEN), in an all-ACC showdown this weekend.
On paper, this would appear to be a matchup that favors the Tar Heels, who have already topped the Orange twice this season. However, North Carolina won those two matchups by a combined 16 points. That’s a stark contrast to how they’ve been handling their NCAA Tournament opponents, winning their four matches by an average of 16.5 points per game.
North Carolina is first in the nation in two-point attempts and makes, and is second in rebounding and offensive efficiency. All of those factors figure to thwart Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone. The Tar Heels will be keeping a close eye on freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 21 points in the second half against Virginia in the Elite Eight to dig the Orange out of a big deficit and lead them to victory.
The other Final Four showdown will pit two No. 2 seeds against each other as Villanova (+275), the South Region winner, will take on Oklahoma (+350), the winner in the West. Oklahoma did beat Villanova 78-55 back in December, but the Villanova that we’ve seen in the NCAA Tournament has not resembled the one that was humbled in that previous matchup.
Offense will be the name of the game in this one as both teams have averaged 82.3 points per game in the tournament. While many people feel that Oklahoma is a one-trick pony behind star Buddy Hield, they are quite balanced and shoot 42.8% from three as a team.
Speaking of Hield, he has put the team on his back when called upon. That’s best illustrated by his 37-point effort against Oregon in the Elite Eight, which was the most points by a player in the Elite Eight in 26 years. He’s been incredible in March Madness so far; the only player to ever score more points than him during this four-game Tournament run is Steph Curry. Villanova will have to slow him down if they’re to advance.