Thirteen days ago, 68 teams began fighting for a dream: to power through 6 rounds of single-elimination competition and bring back a national championship to their campus. Since then, some groups have exceeded the world’s expectations through the method of survive and advance. Others seemed destined to dominate the early rounds, but were shocked by an unexpected winner, also referred to as a Cinderella team. Now, 4 teams remain, a mere half of a percent of the original 68.
In my original Selection Sunday column, I created a list of 4 teams that had the potential to go all the way. From my choices, only North Carolina remains, not surprising as they have experience. The Tar Heels nearly pulled out the national championship victory in 2016, but Villanova’s insane buzzer-beating win cut them short. Junior Justin Jackson has been unstoppable, a versatile big that can shoot from the outside and leads by example.
They will prepare to face the Oregon Ducks: a team that made it to the Elite 8 last year, but expected a deeper run. Junior Dillon Brooks has been clutch all year round, and not even some of the best teams in the nation have had an answer to his larger than life scoring abilities.
Only 2 of the 4 finalists are number one seeds: North Carolina and Gonzaga. Despite the Gonzaga Bulldogs holding the one seed, many experts anticipated an earlier exit from the tournament. Nonetheless, they’re here, and they won’t want to take their first ever Final Four appearance for granted. Junior Nigel Williams-Goss has been a National Player of the Year candidate all season, so the star power is there for the Bulldogs.
Facing Gonzaga will be the South Carolina Gamecocks, a seventh seed Cinderella team that has shocked the country every step of the way. Senior Sindarius Thornwell has made his case for the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, and should become an NBA player next year too.
The two matchups will tip on Saturday, April 1, beginning with South Carolina/Gonzaga at 4:09 PM. A case can be made for each team to win it all, and here is what could put them over the top:
The Gamecocks are obviously the huge underdogs, but the case that can be made for them is that they’ve been underestimated all tournament. Many people wondered at the beginning if they were good enough to even be one of the 68 teams, but here they are: two games away from winning it all. They also happen to be on fire right now, coming off a 88-81 upset against Duke in the second round, then a 70-50 mauling against Baylor in the Sweet Sixteen, and finally their late game heroics in the Elite Eight to stun Florida 77-70. Coach Frank Martin has instilled confidence in his group, and there’s no reason they couldn’t shock the world again.
With the Bulldogs, there’s one thing for sure: they know how to win. Their 36-1 record on the season is the best in college basketball, yet experts are skeptical because their schedule hasn’t been as tough as some other major schools. What can’t be disputed is that they’re still competing, and have talented players capable of going all the way. Not only has Williams-Goss impressed NBA scouts, but Polish center Przemek Karnowski intrigues many teams. He’s a very efficient scorer and uses his 7’1” and 288 pound frame to his advantage. Gonzaga has had to prove the doubters wrong every step of the way, so why not now?
Not only has Brooks taken over in March, but sophomore Tyler Dorsey has been dominant, coming off a 27 point game in the surprising win against number one seeded Kansas. The Ducks have made deep runs in the tourney before, have high IQ basketball talent, and have dodged every obstacle placed in front of them. When they start feeling themselves, they become as dangerous as any other power in the nation.
The definite consensus is that the Tar Heels are the favorite. They have the most experience, most talent, and most NBA scouts watching them. They come into the Final Four just after sophomore Luke Maye scored an insane game-winner against elite Kentucky. This is also just one year following their run to the national championship game against Villanova. Their confidence must be at an all time high, so as long as they stay hungry and focused, they should be able to finish it off in a season for the history books
The tournament like no other in all of sports is nearly finished. The players are ready, the coaches are ready, the fans are ready. March madness is about pride and legacy, and those who make an impact become timeless heroes in the college basketball world.
By Carson Frost