Final Four Matchups Preview
After 64 NCAA tournament games, the Final Four matchups are set. Oklahoma (29-7) meets Villanova (33-5) in the first game Saturday in Houston. North Carolina (32-6) faces ACC foe Syracuse (23-13) in the second game.
Both matchups are repeats from the regular season. The Sooners, the No. 2 seed in the West, crushed Villanova by 23 points in Hawaii on Dec. 7. The Tar Heels, the lone No. 1 seed still alive, swept a pair from Syracuse during the regular season. The Tar Heels won 84-73 in the Carrier Dome on Jan. 9 and 75-70 in the Smith Center on Feb. 29.
The Orange, which knocked off No. 1 Virginia to win the Midwest on Sunday, is the first No. 10 to make the Final Four in tournament history, and only the fourth double-digit seed.
North Carolina remains the favorite of the Final Four to win the title with -110 odds at the SportsBetting.ag Sportsbook followed by Villanova (+240), Oklahoma (+330) and Syracuse (+1100) .
Here’s a look at the matchups:
Oklahoma vs. Villanova
Column: The Final Four is set: Oklahoma vs. Villanova, followed by On Probation vs. Under Investigation. https://t.co/pOCHUFiGn7— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) March 28, 2016
Both revolve around a strong core of perimeter players who embrace the long range shot while also possessing sufficient frontcourt talent. Oklahoma is top 15 on both ends of the court in adjusted efficiency and second in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (42.8). The Sooners have an iconic guard in 6-4 senior Buddy Hield, who received a salute from his hero Kobe Bryant during a tournament-best 37 point outburst in the 80-68 West Regional final victory over Oregon. In the second round, Hield scored 36 in a four-point win over VCU. Oklahoma has been tested with one of the most difficult schedules in the nation and has three seniors and a junior who have made 104 consecutive starts.
After subpar shooting during the regular season, Villanova is 37-of-80 (46 percent) from three-point range in the NCAA tournament, and that includes a 4-of-18 performance in the South Regional final defeat of No. 1 overall seed Kansas. That performance shows Villanova’s balance. The Wildcats are third in the nation in 2-point field goal percentage (56.3) and second in free throw percentage (78.4). Villanova can score in a variety of ways at 1.15 points per possession (12th in the nation). Essentially, five Wildcats average double figures scoring with freshman guard Jalen Brunson close at 9.8 points per game.
Villanova guard Josh Hart defending Hield will be worth the price of admission. At 6-5, Hart has a slight height advantage over college basketball’s most dangerous scorer. He also possesses the strength and toughness to force Hield into mistakes. Hield committed 11 turnovers in the Sooners’ NCAA wins over Texas A&M and Oregon. Hield is talented enough to score his average of 26 against solid defense and backcourt mates Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard offer adequate reinforcement.
North Carolina vs. Syracuse
North Carolina, the ACC regular season and tournament champions, routinely put five players in double figures scoring. They have a low turnover rate, dominate the offensive backboard to create second chance opportunities and convert 54 percent of 2-point shots (20th in the nation). North Carolina just scored an incredible 1.42 points per possession against Indiana and 1.54 against Notre Dame. The 3-point problem that lingered most of the season (285th in nation) appears solved as well. UNC hit 15-of-33 from deep in Philly, and most importantly, Marcus Paige was 8-of-15. So far in the 2016 NCAA tournament, North Carolina has also played solid defense. It has won all four tournament games by double-digit margins, nine games in a row overall.
Syracuse started 0-4 in the ACC and had to sweat out Selection Sunday. It has as many losses as North Carolina and Oklahoma combined. Syracuse caught a break when Michigan State, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, was upset in the first round, and used late comebacks to shock Gonzaga and Virginia in the regional semifinal and final. While North Carolina goes nine or 10 players deep, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim’s rotation stops at seven. He used five players for at least 32 minutes in the six-point win over the Cavaliers.The Orange has the requisite length and athleticism to cause problems out of its trademark 2-3 zone, although defensive rebounding can be an issue (337th in the nation). Syracuse is 16th in defensive efficiency and just held the top-25 offenses of Gonzaga and Virginia to less than one point per possession.
Syracuse freshman Tyler Lydon will try to slow down North Carolina superstar Brice Johnson. Not many defenders have had much luck as the 6-10 Johnson has been a shot-making machine. Over the last five games, he’s hit 65 percent and produced three consecutive double-doubles. Lydon, a 6-8 center, blocked 11 shots in 61 minutes in Chicago, protecting the rim late to help seal each Orange victory. Expecting the same success against a wily senior like Johnson might be unrealistic, but it’s probably Syracuse’s best shot at success. Johnson was 13-of-21 in the two regular season meetings.
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