And then there were Four... Let's take a look at Gonzaga vs. South Carolina and Oregon taking on North Carolina for a pair of Final Four picks.
It may not be the Final Four you expected. It may not be the Final Four you wanted. And it definitely isn’t the Final Four CBS wanted; I mean can you imagine the ratings for Gonzaga vs. Duke followed by a North Carolina v. Kansas finale? Or even a Kentucky v. Louisville, or Kansas vs. UCLA, or ANYONE other than Oregon???
But alas, it is the Final Four we HAVE, and for us real hoops fans, it is going to be awesome. The storylines may not be familiar, but they are no less great. I mean, Sindarius Thornwell going full Kemba Walker (or Danny Manning if you are old school) and dragging the unheralded South Carolina Gamecocks to never-before seen heights? Great stuff. Oregon losing their top interior player the game before Tournament starts only to surge forward to their first Final Four since 1939 (way before we put cheesy names on each round of advancement)? Fanstastic! Gonzaga, a tiny private school in Spokane, Washington not only making the Final Four but sitting as the Vegas FAVORITE to win the whole thing. Unreal!
I mean, if you think about it, Carolina, the CBS ratings savior, is probably the LEAST interesting storyline and all they are doing is trying to avenge their loss from last year’s title game in perhaps the most dramatic ending in NCAA history.
This is GREAT!!! And I’m going to hope to make it just a little bit greater by grabbing a pair of victories.
Today’s NCAA Final Four Picks:
South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs -6.5
I’ll be the Grinch here, I’m fine with that. South Carolina is an amazing story. And they DESERVE to be here; they’ve beaten good teams and they’ve beaten them in solid fashion. Their performances against Duke and Florida were spectacular displays of defensive intensity and offensive effectiveness. But the larger story this season is a different one all together. They are NOT a great offensive team despite playing like one a few times lately. That glimpse showed the ceiling is higher than any of us previously imagined, but I think the whole “momentum” thing is overrated. I mean, it’s the Final Four, by plain definition ALL these teams have great momentum.
And Gonzaga has been a steamroller all season. They’ve won all but one of their games and they do it by an average margin of more than 20 points. Yes, the WCC conference is weak. But they have beaten good teams this season as well. The Zags own wins over Florida, Arizona, St. Mary’s (thrice), and Iowa State. They are HUGE, bring a future pro off the BENCH, and have an All-American point guard. They are deeper than South Carolina, bigger than South Carolina, more offensively-diverse than South Carolina, and yes, dramatically BETTER than South Carolina. Xavier had nice momentum as well and a similar mojo to the Gamecocks with Trevon Blueitt playing the Sindarius Thornwell role. We saw how that ended.
I think South Carolina meets a similar fate tonight. It’s been a ride for the ages, but the Zags story has a few more chapters.
Today’s Pick: GONZAGA BULLDOGS -6.5
Oregon Ducks vs. North Carolina Tar Heels -5
I walk into this pick liking it, but also clearly envisioning a scenario where it gets away from us and a I take an embarrassing margin loss, a la Oklahoma vs. Villanova in last year’s Final Four. Here’s the nightmare scenario for the Ducks: Jordan Bell blocks a shot early, feels great, looks great… and then the WAVE of unending Carolina bigs bait him into two quick fouls and the Ducks suddenly remember why live was supposed to be so hard without Chris Boucher. Tyler Dorsey sees the need to take over, but this time, the shots don’t fall and the Heels open up an early double-digit lead and things begin to snowball.
That’s the nightmare, and the with size of Carolina and the mercurial nature of jump shots in the cavernous stadiums of the Final Four, it’s not unreasonable. But it isn’t what I THINK is going to unfold. Instead, I like the Ducks. They have a great veteran backcourt, one I’d certainly take over North Carolina, ESPECIALLY given the health concerns of Joel Berry. Oregon was a preseason Top Five team that lost only three games all year once Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks returned. They were a #1 seed last year who advanced to the Elite Eight and brought back their entire core in 2017. They have upside too, just ask Arizona, who was on the wrong side of the most impressive single team performance of the 2017 college basketball season.
I think Oregon is a tough match for Carolina. They are comfortable at UNC’s breakneck tempo and have more scorers on the floor than the Tar Heels, who are big and rebound ALL DAY, but aren’t a particularly great shooting team outside of Justin Jackson (who is an admitted matchup nightmare).
I’m not sure they win straight up, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they did. I definitely like the Ducks with a fistful of points.
Today’s Pick: OREGON DUCKS +5