The 2016 NCAA tournament has been amazing with countless upsets; nail biters, and epic comebacks. This year’s tournament has brought an entirely new meaning to the phrase March Madness! It started in historic fashion as a record 10 lower seeds advanced out of the round of 64.
The parity exhibited in the first two rounds was great for college basketball showing the improved talent across the country. That improvement can be attributed to college coaches recruiting and getting players to believe in their vision. This year’s tournament proved whether you are a mid-major or a perennial power you can compete at the highest level of college basketball.
However, the best usually rise to the top when the lights get the brightest. That is the case once again as North Carolina, Syracuse, Villanova, and Oklahoma are set to battle in the Lone Star State for the right to cut down the nets and celebrate a National Championship.
The North Carolina Tar Heels are the loan number one seed remaining and look primed and ready to hang their sixth national championship banner in the Dean Smith Center. After a sluggish first half against Florida Gulf Coast, where they just had a one-point lead at half. They’ve turned up their intensity and have become the national championship favorite with the stellar basketball they’ve played since.
The team has been led by the dynamic senior duo of Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige are hitting their stride at the perfect time. Johnson has been absolutely dominant averaging 21 points and nearly 10 rebounds creating matchup nightmares for every opponent they’ve faced. His improved midrange jump shot and underrated passing ability have opened up wide-open shots for him and his teammates.
Marcus Paige has struggled throughout the season with his wrist and his shot, but it is coming around at the best time. In the Sweet 16 game versus Indiana, he scored 14 of the teams first 15 points with four three-pointers. Thus forcing defenses to once again respect this shot, allowing him to drive to the basket or set up his teammates. Those two set the tone for the team during this tournament and are both hot at the perfect time.
North Carolina also has great depth with Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt, Joel Berry, Theo Pinson Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Joel James. Amazing that every single one of these players along with Johnson and Paige have contributed big time during this NCAA tournament run. The last huge key for North Carolina to finish this tournament run is to continue to embarrass their opponents in the paint and rebounding, taking advantage of their size and physical play down low will take over and wear down their opponents.
North Carolina looks the best they’ve looked all season and have so many ways they can beat you. They have really good chance to cut down the nets if they play their brand of basketball.
The Oklahoma Sooners are advancing to their fifth final four in school history . It’s been a relatively smooth ride for Oklahoma outside of their game against VCU, they have convincingly disposed of each opponent by double digits. There’s one big reason why they are experiencing so much success and that is senior Buddy Hield.
In sports sometimes a star player puts their team on his/her back and Hield has taken on the responsibility for the Sooners this season. His tournament performances have reached new heights averaging 29 points! Announcers,’ fans, coaches and opponents are running out of adjectives for the basketball Hield is playing at the moment. He has scored 117 points through the first four games which ranks second behind Stephen Curry’s 128 points while he was at Davidson during his elite eight run.
That’s very good company; Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger has compared his relationship with Hield to Steve Kerr’s relationship with Steph Curry that because each player has the ability to take over a game and lead their team to victory each and every night. The reality is Oklahoma will go as far as Buddy will take them. His domination opens up things for Isaiah Cousins and others. They also rely heavily on three point shooting they have that live or die mentality.
They also rely heavily on three point shooting they have that live or die mentality. During the regular season they ranked second behind Michigan State shooting 43.2% from behind the arc. That success has carried over during the tournament and they have yet to experience an ice-cold night that could spell their undoing and send them packing. If they’re knocking down their shots and Hield continues to be unstoppable Oklahoma may reach the top of the mountain and cut down the nets in Houston.
Villanova will be making their fifth final four appearance in school history. Even though they were ranked number one at a point during the season I didn’t know much about them until I started watching them in the tournament. One thing I’ve learned is they are very scrappy and annoying to play because of their swarming defense and their tendency to double team.
They had the toughest game to get to the final four as they had to beat overall number one seed Kansas. They accomplished the victory by shutting down Perry Ellis one of the greatest college basketball players in recent memory holding him to just four points on one for five shooting. Villanova head coach Jay Wright had a brilliant game plan to stop Kansas and their best player. The sole reason they are playing on just a gut check type of win that should have them very confident going into their showdown against Oklahoma.
They also have senior leadership that can’t be overlooked in Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu both set the tone and the offense is run through them both. Arcidiacono is the calming force in the Villanova offense getting them in the right play.
His numbers don’t jump off the page, but he is averaging a solid 19 points and three assists exactly what you want your point guard to do. He also is a decent three-point shooter forcing defenders to come out on him allowing their inside out offense to be very effective. The other half that duo Daniel Ochefu is the force in the paint and cleans up the glass he is averaging 10 points and nearly 8 rebounds nothing spectacular, but he’s doing the dirty work allowing shooters to spot up and knock down key buckets.
Villanova is not flashy, but they will battle you and pester you until you make a mistake and they will pounce on it. They’re looking to avenge their 23-point loss to Oklahoma in an early season game. I think if they can slow the game down to their pace and defend the three-point line well it could be a very close game and if somehow they can slow down Hield they will have a very good chance to battle for the National Championship.
The Syracuse Orange will be making their six and most improbable final four appearance in school history. There’s always that one team in the tournament every year that comes out of nowhere and wears the glass slipper for a while, but this is the most shocking tournament run in recent memory. Many including myself didn’t even think Syracuse deserved to be in the tournament, but it certainly proved everyone wrong and gained a ton of respect.
This run is just unexplainable getting a big assist from Middle Tennessee State when they beat Michigan State, of course, but they can’t control what happens in front of them all they can do is take it advantage and they certainly have. They’ve had two epic comebacks that have fueled this magical run they were down seven with two minutes remaining against Gonzaga and they were able to find a way to get that victory. As if that wasn’t enough, they stormed back against Virginia down 16 early in the second half they ramped up the pressure, speeding Virginia up causing crucial turnovers and offensively they knocked down dagger shots that doomed Virginia.
It seems to me Syracuse is playing with house money because nobody expected them to win and I don’t believe many think they will so they just want to continue to shock the world. This by far is Jim Boeheim best coaching job coming back from the nine-game suspension and getting his team to play well enough to force the committee to make a decision. People may not agree with it, but it doesn’t matter now and just proves all you want to do is get in because anything can happen.
They will face North Carolina who they took to the wire in the regular-season matchup at the Dean Smith Center. Do they have any magic left in their wand? We will see, but one thing is for sure The Orange will battle for 40 minutes, so North Carolina better not let their foot off the gas until it says 00 on the clock.
This NCAA tournament has been full of surprises and I’m sure this final four won’t disappoint with these quality programs involved. I’m super excited to see how this plays out!