March Madness: Men's Final Four Recap
After another month of bracket challenges, bets at the barbershop and twitter arguments, March Madness has come to an end with the national championship game less than 48 hours away. The final four this year featured a team in North Carolina who seems to always be there, and a team in Gonzaga that has been right at the brink of making the last four several times; a new comer in South Carolina, and a team in Oregon that had only been there once many years ago. This final four was a mix of one game of defensive juggernauts and the other of offensive athleticism all over the court.
1. Gonzaga vs. 7. South Carolina: Gonzaga. Big. Seasoned. Sound defensively. South Carolina. Young. Scrappy. Defense with physicality. This was an interesting game. Gonzaga controlled a majority of the game until around the 7-minute mark of the second half. Nigel Williams- Goss lived up to his pre NBA career hype, easily getting into the lane with a soft touch and smooth floater around the rim. Karnowski is 7ft 1 and 300lbs and he acted like it all game. A hit to his eye did hinder him a couple minutes before halftime but outside of that he was a force in the paint on both ends of the floor. Head coach Mark Few had the advantage of rotating experienced wings and big men in and out throughout the game to keep his tempo up, which is always a helpful thing in a game of this magnitude. For South Carolina? The gamecocks go as Sindarius Thornwell goes. He was held out of some practice time leading up to the game for flu like symptoms and in the first half it showed. His shots were flat, didn’t have that same bounce and aggression in his step but he came out after halftime back into character. South Carolina erased a 12-point deficit in the second half seemingly in a blink of an eye and with Thornwell’s jumper starting to heat up we had a 2-point game with 2 minutes left to play. In the end Coach Frank Martin just didn't have enough players making plays down the stretch to gain a lead on Gonzaga and hold them off. Gonzaga made their free throws at the end and punched their ticket to the big game Monday night with a 73-77 win
1. North Carolina vs. 3. Oregon: North Carolina, a historical winning culture, NBA talent all around, big, two superstars i.e. Joel Berry and Justin Jackson. Oregon, also big, freakishly athletic, and attacks boards relentlessly on both side of floor. Star point guard. After what I saw Oregon do to Kansas for the entire game in the Elite 8 matchup, I was routing for the Ducks. Also after I saw the Tar Heels beat my Wildcats in the elite 8 I was hoping they would have their turn to lose this matchup but I knew Joel Berry and Justin Jackson would have other plans. Tyler Dorsey came into this game shooting 65 percent from three and averaging 24 a game for the ducks but only had 8 at halftime. The Ducks gave up an 8-point lead and found themselves down 39-36 at halftimes. Both teams were fine running an up-tempo pace and looking for transition points. In the end it came down to the second half, Oregon couldn’t hit outside shots and continued to send North Carolina to the line. The Ducks made a valiant effort in coming back at the end, but the fouling out of Dillon Brooks impacted the team in the finals 2 minutes with rebounding. The ducks lost two different rebounds off of North Carolina foul shots down 1 with 5 seconds remaining and never got a final shot attempt. The Tar Heels started pulling away at the 6-minute mark and never trailed in the game again even though it got tight in the final minutes. Carolina snuck by 77-76.
Two #1 seeds in the National Championship Game, can’t ask for much more. Both North Carolina and Gonzaga have seasoned players; both have great size, both have good depth. Nigel Williams- Goss will need to have a good shooting game again to help Gonzaga out because Karnowski will have his hands full with Kennedy Meeks. Justin Jackson, who will be the best player on the floor, had a solid game in the final four but he will need to have a bigger impact to help ease the load of Joel Berry with both of his ankles still playing a factor in his effectiveness. Both of these teams are evenly matched in my opinion but I just don't personally believe Roy Williams will go to the championship game twice in a row and lose both times.
My prediction: North Carolina 79 Gonzaga 74.