Two weeks of basketball have led to this. The Final Four has only one No. 1 seed, two No. 2s and the most improbable double-digit seed to reach the Final Four in recent memory.
Yes, the Syracuse Orange are a historically great program, so it shouldn't be much of a shock to see them in this position. But when you consider that many fans didn't think Syracuse belonged in the tournament in the first place, this is head coach Jim Boeheim's way of silencing critics and going about his business.
Nevertheless, the Final Four is set. The Villanova Wildcats and Oklahoma Sooners will battle it out on one side, and the aforementioned Orange will look to shock the world against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Let's get you ready for Saturday. Here's a look at the schedule and some early odds and predictions heading into the Final Four:
|Saturday, April 2||Time (ET)||TV||Line|
|No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 2 Oklahoma||6:09 p.m.||TBS||Villanova (-2)|
|No. 10 Syracuse vs. No. 1 North Carolina||8:49 p.m.||TBS||UNC (-9.5)|
Source: RJ Bell, Pregame.com
No. 2 Villanova Wildcats vs. No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners
It's understandable that Villanova is a one-basket favorite over Oklahoma, per Odds Shark.
Taking the team that just beat the No. 1 overall seed makes sense. Villanova is on such a balanced roll that any starter could turn in a top performance and take down Oklahoma. On one night, it may be Josh Hart; on the next, it could be Kris Jenkins or Ryan Arcidiacono.
Villanova is stacked, and if the Wildcats are the favorites to win, so be it.
But Oklahoma has taught the nation some things during its tournament run.
First, Buddy Hield is virtually unstoppable. His 37-point performance Saturday against the Oregon Ducks—a confident Oregon team, mind you—was one of the best shooting performances ever displayed in the NCAA tournament.
Fans hadn't seen that kind of performance since a certain NBA MVP and three-point deity played in college, per Andrew Joseph of For the Win:
Hield is the Steph Curry of this NCAA tournament, and with two more wins, he’ll surpass Curry’s breakout 2008 tournament run.
As a team, the Sooners already have.
In case you weren’t into college basketball back in 2008, a little-known, babyfaced guard for No. 10 seed Davidson grabbed the NCAA tournament spotlight. Curry’s 2008 run was everything we love about March Madness. With scoring games of 40, 30, 33 and 25, he led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight.
Hield is that sort of player for Oklahoma.
Yes, the Sooners entered the tournament as a popular Final Four pick, but to get there, Hield had to be on his game. But not many expected Hield to overwhelm his opponents to the degree that he has en route to the Final Four. He’s scored 27, 36, 17 and 37 points in his tournament games. He’s made 47.5 percent of his 3s, and he’s shot 56.7 percent from the floor.
Second, Oklahoma is more than just Hield. Senior point guard Isaiah Cousins has averaged a team-high 5.3 assists in the Sooners' four games, and 7.5 in their last two. Junior guard Jordan Woodard has become a solid secondary scoring option behind Hield, averaging 16.8 points per game in the tournament. His 22 points against Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 are the reason why Oklahoma is still playing.
Hield is going to be the one carrying the Sooners, and the only way Villanova is going to win is by creating turnovers. As great as Hield played Saturday, he turned the ball over six times. He's turned it over 11 times in the last two games.
Not only does Villanova need to force turnovers, but it also needs to make sure Hield is ineffective. That's hard to do—just ask Texas A&M.
It's going to take a complete team effort for any squad to take out Oklahoma. The Wildcats have played like a complete team to this point, but they're dealing with a different monster. The Sooners will win and make their first national title game appearance since 1988.
No. 10 Syracuse Orange vs. No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels
Raise your hand if you had all but one No. 1 seed losing on the same weekend.
North Carolina is the last big dog standing after defeating Notre Dame on Sunday. The Tar Heels are in the Final Four for the first time since 2009, when they won the national championship. By accounts of seeding, they're the favorites to win it all.
In order to get to its first title game since then, North Carolina will need to take down the team that's shocked the world to this point. Syracuse is in the Final Four, going from a team that many thought shouldn't have made the tournament at all to being one of the last four standing.
Plus, who doesn't like a storyline or two for this game? Dan Wolken of USA Today has you covered:
Looks like the Syracuse-North Carolina game is going to happen. Committee on Infractions should do the ceremonial opening tip.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 28, 2016
Syracuse's road to the Final Four hasn't been pretty, but it's been impressive. The win over the Dayton Flyers was the most shocking result before the Orange defeated top-seeded Virginia on Sunday. Other than that, victories over a No. 15 Middle Tennessee State team and No. 11 Gonzaga team are quality wins, considering the teams they had beaten (Michigan State and Utah); they don't jump off the page, though.
The concern for Virginia was its lack of offense beyond Malcolm Brogdon. Syracuse's zone defense was able to exploit that, but North Carolina has been one of the few teams this year to have an answer for the Orange defense.
UNC big man Brice Johnson averaged 15.0 points and seven rebounds in two regular-season meetings against Syracuse. Isaiah Hicks was another key for the Tar Heels, going 11-of-13 at the free-throw line in the Tar Heels' 11-point win Jan. 9.
Plus, Syracuse is catching North Carolina while its red-hot, per CBSSports.com's Jon Rothstein:
North Carolina has now won six of its last seven games by double-figures. Starting to feel an awful lot like 2005 & 2009. The team to beat.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 28, 2016
Syracuse has had a run for the ages, but the clock is about to strike midnight. North Carolina looks dominant and destined for the big stage.
Once Saturday concludes, the stage will be set for an Oklahoma-North Carolina national title game.