2016 NCAA Tournament: Reasons to Root for or Against Each Team in the Final Four

Jason FranchukCollege Basketball Featured ColumnistMarch 29, 2016

2016 NCAA Tournament: Reasons to Root for or Against Each Team in the Final Four

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Your bracket's long gone, and so is the chance to win any money. Your team's done, too. But yet you'll get sucked into watching three more college basketball games.

    But who should you root for?

    Well, that depends on your flavor. Do you like three-pointers? Villanova, Oklahoma and Syracuse all jack 'em up at hefty rates.

    Are you turned off by the stench of scandal? Then North Carolina and the Orange probably can't be on your to-cheer-for list.

    A wild NCAA tournament that really got funky again in the Elite Eight has led to us a pretty unexpected Final Four. North Carolina would be the only team most folks had going at the start of the season and is again the favorite now.

    But Buddy Hield and the Sooners have certainly proven their value, and their likability. Unless you think there's guilt by country music association.

    Villanova isn't far off with its Q-rating, after finally working through its recent years of early-tournament disappointment. Every great final weekend needs a hefty underdog, and Syracuse could be that—if you want to dare call it one.

    We've laid out the case for why you should root for and against each of the remaining teams.

    By the time you're done reading, you'll hopefully know which color to decorate your TV room and face.

     

    All stats courtesy of KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.

The Case for Oklahoma

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Sure, Wisconsin was a ton of fun last year. It had personalities even at NCAA tournament press conferences, which tend to be some of the most tepid, cliche-ridden events in college basketball.

    But our old buddy, Buddy Hield, may be taking the gotta-love-him factor to a whole new level.

    “I just love his motor,” NBA legend Kobe Bryant told B/R's Jason King after the Sooners' Elite Eight. “I love his passion and his energy. He puts everything he has into the game. Lots of guys go hard out there, but with him, it’s a on a different level. You can see it on his face. He truly loves every minute that he’s out there.”

    Hield plotted the months after his junior year perfectly. He probably would've been a second-round pick in last summer's NBA draft. So he honed his game. The 6'4" wing with the wicked work ethic is shooting 46.5 percent from three-point range (amid a slight cool-down in the stretch of the season, after he was consistently above 50 for awhile); that's a considerable spike from last year's 35.9 percent.

    OU has all of the fun and class you'd want in a team.

    It handled the triple-overtime loss at Kansas incredibly graciously in January, then managed to stay just as poised after Hield's half-court bomb in the Big 12 tournament semifinal didn't leave his hand in time. Maybe they sensed there were grander moments ahead, especially with Hield. But OU's more than the sharpshooting Bahamian.

    Khadeem Lattin is trying to live up to his grandfather's honorable legacy as a player on the historic Texas Western team that won an NCAA title.

    Throw in a mild-mannered coach, Lon Kruger, who doesn't raise fusses (or tell opposing players how they should behave) and often gets called so nice, it's no wonder the majority of fans without a fan or financial interest in the game will hope the Sooners can pull through.

    Kruger lets his team play fast and free, no one more than Hield.

    He is KenPom's No. 2-rated player right now, and he's defeating the adage that nice guy's can't finish first.

     

The Case Against Oklahoma

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    If you root hard for Oklahoma, that means you have something have in common with Toby Keith.

    For many fans of music and sports, being alongside the sometimes controversial country musician—really, do we really need to "put a boot in" someone's posterior for diplomacy?—means the red Solo cup is most certainly half-empty.

    "Angry American" was released shortly after 9/11, right around the last time Keith was popular.

    On the court, dealing with the program, it's not totally a lovable one, either.

    Heck, even the Sooners "faithful" don't care about the team. Attendance ranked sixth in the Big 12, and OU didn't even fully sell out the Valentine's Day weekend rematch with Kansas after the classic meeting a month prior (if you consider the discrepancy between ticket sales and actual tickets used).

    Lon Kruger is certainly a legendary coach. He's taken two different teams now to the Final Four (Florida) and also his alma mater (Kansas State) to the Elite Eight.

    The flip side is that means he's bounced around a lot.

    And this is a program that five years ago was heavily sanctioned. That surely cannot be placed on Kruger, but it is an example of how a powerful program—that isn't even a basketball school by any stretch of the imagination—isn't a basketball fan's dream.

    If you really want to go all "get off my lawn," the Sooners jack up three after three. And, man, that Buddy Hield sure talks a lot...

The Case for Villanova

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    John Flavell/Associated Press

    There's a pretty popular movie series. Maybe you've heard of it: "Rocky."

    It's based on a hardscrabble rise to the top, starting in Philadelphia.

    Villanova's actual campus is in a pretty darn nice spot of town—but you get the point. The Wildcats are ferocious on defense and give themselves a puncher's chance by scraping, clawing and giving maximum effort.

    Just ask Kansas, which was stymied into possibly the worst seven-minute stretch it had played all season. That says a lot, how Jay Wright's team could force such chaos considering how good the Jayhawks had been playing lately as the tournament's overall No. 1 seed.

    Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer touched on Villanova's allure perfectly afterward: "They earned the trip with great defense on a poor shooting night, and their usual calm under pressure."

    Truth is, Villanova isn't part of the defunct, then-arrogant Big East. But it is the flagship program of a league that's done a really nice job of finding life after football-related abandonment by the likes of Syracuse, UConn and Pittsburgh.

    Wright has really come into his own. Sure, his program's had a ton of heartbreak in recent postseasons. But that's being erased as this is being typed.

    Ninety-three wins (and counting) in the past three years. As ESPN's Jeff Goodman noted, it's a "group full of fairly anonymous players who have finally shed the underachiever label and led the program to its first Final Four trip since 2009."

    "Eye of the Tiger," or Wildcat, indeed.

    And everyone should know by now how to pronounce Ryan Arcidiacono.

The Case Against Villanova

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    Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

    If you didn't get it before Saturday's Elite Eight win, it should have been clear afterward:

    Ugly. Ugly. And, yes, more ugly.

    Villanova isn't dirty, but it ain't squeaky clean from an aesthetic standpoint. The Wildcats will muddy the track to pull out a win. It's not shameful in the slightest, but sometimes it's not eye candy, either.

    Now they will face Oklahoma in a national semifinal—a rematch of an early-season meeting won by the Sooners by 23 points in a game that was never really that close.

    Oh, goody.

    Villanova is really pesky. But does that ever really draw extra fans? Grayson Allen at Duke could be called pesky (or trip-py), and he's not winning a ton of admirers outside of Durham these days. Remember Aaron Craft? It's not like he was rolling in groupies outside of Ohio State's kingdom. Being a pest just isn't lovable.

    The Wildcats are the team that we just keep waiting to fade. For historical reasons, it was the first weekend. Then it seemed like eventually the season would run its course and fade in Louisville, Kentucky, either Thursday or Saturday. Now, we just keep thinking Jay Wright's team is one poor shooting night from looking like it's back at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, last December getting hammered by the Sooners.

    Villanova's danger—along with the pleasure and pain of watching it—is the three-point line. Nearly 44 percent of the Wildcats' shots come from the arc, but they have a rather pedestrian mark of 35 percent.

    So if it's not rolling, we're left to watch the George Clooney lookalike on the sidelines in his designer suit.

    That style may not be your style.

The Case for Syracuse

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    When a wildly successful, veteran coach like Jim Boeheim is telling reporters a win was the most satisfying he's even been a part of—the best comeback he'd ever been a part of—you know it's a special team.

    Syracuse rallied wildly against Virginia, beating the odds on so many levels. The 'Cuse were down 15 with about 10 minutes left against one of the country's most methodical offenses, and stifling defenses. Also, for the first time in his career, Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett didn't hold a double-digit lead after halftime—after getting wins the first 68 times. That's amazing stuff.

    Even bigger picture, there was a possibility the Final Four was going to be a little too squeaky clean.

    Let's say the Cavaliers won that game. And let's say Notre Dame defeated North Carolina.

    There would be no villain. And everything goes better with an enemy, right? Even Darth Vader has fans, right?

    So maybe you're hopping on the Orange bandwagon because you like a team that says "heck with you" after all it's been through this season, battling through Boeheim's nine-game suspension and a litany of innuendo about the present and future.

    In the Sweet 16, Gonzaga had a nine-point lead with six minutes remaining. That turned into a rally that seemed like it couldn't be topped.

    And now Boeheim, behind another star freshman—6'6" forward Malachi Richardson—are headed back to the Final Four with a legit chance to win it all.

    They are fierce, well coached and play a stifling defense that is gorgeous in its chaos and unity.

    You could find worse teams to root for in Houston this weekend, unless you consider...

The Case Against Syracuse

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    ...Did Syracuse really deserve to be in the tournament?

    Here's the thing: It's impossible to imagine teams like South Carolina, Valparaiso or Monmouth making a run to the Final Four.

    But the selection process isn't about projection, right? It's about what teams have done in order to earn entry.

    The 'Cuse, all they did was lose down the stretch. Five of the final six, and it's not like they were hit by the ACC heavyweights. There were two losses to Pittsburgh and another to sanctioned Louisville, and another to disappointing North Carolina State.

    We understand the ACC is really good—it owned the two Sunday Elite Eight games. But does that really mean a power league deserves entry that much more than a smaller-school nominee like Monmouth, which basically did everything it could (even defeating Notre Dame this year, just like Syracuse)? Then remember, this is a team that lost to St. John's on a neutral court in December.

    Sure, Boeheim was serving his suspension for a laundry list of NCAA infractions. But that miserable Chris Mullin-coached St. John's team went on to get hammered five days later by Incarnate Word. The Red Storm (not exactly a fitting nickname right now) lost 21 of its final 22 games (shame on you, DePaul).

    The biggest source of contention in the anti-Syracuse camp, of course, is Boeheim. The professorial coach comes off at times as bitter and arrogant. And to some those are his finer qualities.

    And while you've gotta love freshman Tyler Lydon's versatility—and the fact he can hit three-pointers while missing a shoe—mustaches, and the naming of them, is a little too much to warrant support.

The Case for North Carolina

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Every baseball fan has some opinion about the Yankees or Red Sox. And the similarly undeniable truth is that every college basketball fan has an opinion about the blue-blood programs, of which North Carolina is right at the very top. The sport is healthiest when the top-name programs are strong. And we know that Boston and New York have a ton of fans too.

    Besides, it's become such a football world these days—shouldn't fans of true basketball schools want to see a national championship trophy in-house, so to speak?

    And these Tar Heels aren't snobs. They get after it.

    Despite a wickedly good offensive efficiency, UNC takes nothing for granted. It's No. 3 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, getting a gaudy 40 percent of its clanked attempts. It's an older team that genuinely seems to like each other and has withstood the pressure of being the virtual favorite since day one, surviving in a very tough league that produced four Elite Eight teams.

    This season, the talk has been improved offense. No team has taken others to task quite like the Heels.

    They're averaging 89.3 points per game in the NCAA tournament. They've had four—four!—double-digit scorers in all four tournament games (star forward Brice Johnson, X-factor guard Marcus Paige and the more unheralded Justin Jackson and Joel Berry).

    The Elite Eight win against Notre Dame pushed Johnson back into the top spot on KenPom's Player of the Year rankings.

    And any chance we can have to see Ol' Roy goofing around is a great day. Williams has earned the right to party as he now goes after a thought-provoking third national title.

    Could the student become the new Dean at Chapel Hill? That's pretty heady stuff.

The Case Against North Carolina

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Speaking of Dean Smith, like the end of the last slide, is this what the stately legend really would've envisioned for his program—or his hand-picked successor running it?

    The Tar Heels are in the midst of a long examination into fake Afro-American Studies courses meant to help athletes (including men's basketball players) eligible.

    As Yahoo's Pat Forde wrote after the Elite Eight win, "In mid-August, North Carolina went Four Corners on the NCAA and delayed its endlessly ongoing academic fraud case until after this promising season was complete. Dean Smith would have been proud of the stall ball."

    Of course, Forde was being sarcastic. There's no way Smith would be proud of the public smearing his school and program are taking.

    But the penalties have been delayed enough to let UNC compete this season, with a fully stocked team that has been a highly likely Final Four participant since the start of the season.

    Roy Williams is about as polarizing as coaches come. He can be down-home and folksy. But even his peers called him overrated a few years ago.

    And Ol' Roy can be quite clumsy. There was blood on his hands after a snafu while cutting the net Sunday after beating Notre Dame.

    Some basketball followers, who don't like teams with the stink of scandal, would say there's blood on your hands if you root for the Tar Heels this weekend.