With the 2016 Final Four set to tip-off Saturday night in Houston, Texas, Brian and Peter took a moment to break down what each game. Brian broke down the lopsided affair between North Carolina and Syracuse while Pete tackled the offensive showdown between Oklahoma and Villanova.
Ready. Set. Indulge.
Oklahoma vs. Villanova
Regardless who wins this matchup of 2-seeds – both of which played like 1-seeds most of the year – approximately 87 percent of America should be rooting for either Oklahoma or Villanova during Monday’s national championship game.
Well, a near polar opposite of the All-ACC matchup on the other side of the bracket, both the Sooners and Wildcats would be a refreshing national champion.
As it’s currently constructed, the ten schools in the now-basketball-only Big East Conference haven’t won a national championship since ‘Nova did in 1985. And for Oklahoma, they’re just trying to be the Big 12’s first national champ not named Kansas since 1946. In fact, Kansas is 3-6 all-time in national championship games while the rest of the Big 12 is 2-5 all-time.
Oklahoma trying to be the Big 12's first hoops National Champ not named Kansas since….Oklahoma St. won two straight in the 1940's. Wow.
— Peter Hahn (@Big_Bear11) April 1, 2016
On the contrary, the ACC has won 11 national championships – plus another four from recently added members Louisville (3) and Syracuse – since 1980.
All of this makes predicting the compelling matchup between Oklahoma and Villanova quite difficult. Both teams appear to have a bit of destiny on their side despite being 2-seeds, and both played extremely well in their Regional.
They each have upperclassmen leadership and know how to score. Style-wise, both teams play “small ball” a lot and have shooters all over the floor. One concern from the Sooners’ side is the type of defense ‘Nova has played in the tournament thus far. Highlighted by their stifling performance against top overall seed Kansas, the Wildcats have held their four opponents to an average of 63 points thus far.
But none of those teams have Buddy Hield, and the Sooners have done a fantastic job of moving the ball even when Hield isn’t dominating. A lot of Oklahoma’s success will depend on big-white-man-extraordinaire Ryan Spangler neutralizing Villanova center Daniel Ochefu on the glass. Offensively, if Spangler can score some of his buckets and find open shooters like Hield, Jordan Woodard, and Isaiah Cousins — the Sooners will be in their run n’ gun element.
(PS: Spangler’s Wikipedia bio is absolutely epic. Dude averaged 29 points and 17 rebounds senior year of high school and was a sick quarterback/punter.)
Don’t expect a repeat of these two teams’ first meeting in the non-conference, when Villanova shot just 31 percent from the field. In the end, Oklahoma being a slight underdog (+2 at this moment) is what makes me lean their way in a toss-up.
X-Factor: Ryan Spangler
Prediction: Oklahoma 74, Villanova 70
North Carolina vs. Syracuse
With the right side of the bracket featuring four ACC teams in the Elite 8, it was simply a matter of who the matchup would be when the Final Four tipped off. North Carolina avenged a mid-season loss to Notre Dame rather handily, while Syracuse stormed back from a 16 point deficit to No. 1 seed Virginia.
North Carolina opened up as nine-point favorites in Vegas and have beaten Syracuse twice already this season by the scores of 84-73 and 75-70.
It’s extremely difficult to beat the same team three times in a single season and that’s what Syracuse hopes to be true as they are overwhelming underdogs against a Carolina team that’s looked like the best team in the tournament.
To do that they’ll need to turn the same pressure that brought them back against Virgina to 100. Carolina loves to get out and run, making it difficult to set up a press on them even after a made bucket. If Syracuse can’t keep Marcus Paige and North Carolina’s ball handlers in check it’s going to get ugly when the lights shine brightly in Houston.
However, that’s not the only thing ‘Cuse needs to do impeccably well. North Carolina is not good at defending the three-point shot. In fact, they ranked 265th in the nation during the regular season at defending the three. Notre Dame shot 9-18 from deep in the Elite 8 and Indiana 13-31 in the Sweet 16.
Michael Gbinije, Malachi Richardson, and Tyler Lydon are all capable three point shooters and if they get hot it could be the weight that tips the scales in Syracuse’s favor. Actually no, the three has to drop because a slugfest isn’t going to cut it for the Orange.
As for Carolina, as overwhelming favorites, you would think that what they need to do is simple, right? That’s true — to an extent.
If North Carolina rebounds like they do they should devour Syracuse’s 2-3 zone on the offensive glass. Brice Johnson is a monster and might single-handedly carve up the interior of that zone from the free throw line (ala Domantas Sabonis in the Sweet 16).
Carolina’s bigs wear you down because of their versatility. All three (Johnson, Isaiah Hicks, and Kennedy Meeks), are capable passers. We know how well they crash the glass, and Johnson especially can knock down the 15-footer with consistency.
North Carolina’s been hitting three-pointers this tournament with uncharacteristic ease. Perhaps they stay hot against Syracuse’s zone, but I don’t think it’s important if they go cold. They should be able to control the glass well enough to get the necessary second-chance opportunities that put ‘Cuse in their grave.
X-Factor: Marcus Paige, UNC. I know I mentioned Brice Johnson singlehandedly controlling the interior, but if Paige is effective handling the ball, Syracuse won’t be able to set up the pressure and Carolina should run a track meet all over them.
Prediction: North Carolina 79, Syracuse 65.