Final Four 2017 Schedule: TV Info, Live Stream and NCAA Tournament Picks

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistApril 1, 2017

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 25:  Josh Perkins #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives for a dunk as a court attendent celans in the second half against the Xavier Musketeers during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at SAP Center on March 25, 2017 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The end of March won't halt the NCAA tournament's madness.

Flipping the calendar only welcomes the Final Four, as Phoenix hosts a pair of national semifinal matchups Saturday. North Carolina and Gonzaga can satisfy many bracket backers by advancing to Monday's championship game, but Oregon and South Carolina could overcome the odds against their respective top-seeded foes.

No, this is no longer March. When it comes to the NCAA tournament, March is merely a state of mind representing an endless array of possibilities.

Also, alliteration always works, so let's make room for April action—which is hopefully awesome instead of awful—with the men's semifinal slate.

NCAA Tournament Final Four Schedule
DateTime (ET)MatchupTV
Sat., April 16:09 p.m.No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 1 GonzagaCBS
Sat., April 18:49 p.m.No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 1 North CarolinaCBS
Mon., April 39 p.m.National Title GameCBS
NCAA.com

  

Live Stream: NCAA.com

 

  

South Carolina vs. Gonzaga

At least one defensive juggernaut is heading to the national championship game.

Prior to their semifinal bout, Gonzaga and South Carolina rank first and second respectively in KenPom.com's adjusted defense:

KenPom Adjusted Defense Leaders
RankTeamRating
1Gonzaga85.8
2South Carolina87.1
3Virginia88.0
4West Virginia89.4
5Florida89.5
KenPom.com

Both Final Four newcomers leveraged those exquisite units throughout the tournament. While the Gamecocks averaged 68.5 points allowed through four games—above their 64.9 season average—they also contained four of KenPom's top 25 offenses.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, yielded a microscopic 59.0 points per bout. 

Points will be scarce in Phoenix. The bigger doubt lies in South Carolina mustering enough offense. The seventh seed will require another huge performance from senior Sindarius Thornwell, who has scored at least 24 points in each March Madness win.

Touting the guard as the Final Four's top player, ESPN Insider John Gasaway praised the breakout star's two-way excellence.

"When he isn't drawing fouls and knocking down the freebies, Thornwell is also a highly capable distributor," Gasaway wrote. "As any Gamecock playing for [head coach] Frank Martin does, the senior does what he does on offense and then gives the level of effort required to sustain one of the nation's most suffocating defenses."

The underdogs certainly need Thornwell at his best, so he caused concern by missing Thursday's practice through illness. Per ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil, he refused to ease back into action when returning Friday.

"I'm supposed to be limited, but they're going to have a pretty tough time getting me off the court today," Thornwell said.

Thornwell at 100 percent still may not prove enough to upset a potent top seed that has lost once all year. As noted by Bleacher Report's C.J. Moore, March's Cinderella team has registered 1.17 points per possession through the tournament, a vast improvement from the season's 1.02.

Don't expect KenPom's 104th-ranked offense to sustain such gains against an elite defensive unit. South Carolina's magical run ends on Saturday night, when Gonzaga overpowers the Gamecocks in a defensive duel.

Pick: Gonzaga 66, South Carolina 60

  

Oregon vs. North Carolina

Saturday evening's second encounter should produce more drama. FiveThirtyEight projects Oregon vs. North Carolina as close to a coin flip, giving the Tar Heels a 52 percent win probability. Gonzaga, conversely, is given a 69 percent chance of prevailing.

Entering the tournament without Chris Boucher, the Ducks have overcome the forward's absence with a small-ball attack. Per Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton, they have generated a 117.5 offensive efficiency rating in four games without their third-leading scorer.

But they will miss their second-best rebounder against the Tar Heels, who have snagged more boards (1,659) than any team in college basketball. Forward Kennedy Meeks grabbed a season-high 17 during their Elite Eight triumph over Kentucky.

North Carolina has its own injury concern. Sprained ankles limited Joel Berry II, who registered 26 points in a Sweet 16 victory over Butler, in practice during the week. On Thursday, per Andrew Carter of Charlotte Observer, the team's highest-scoring guard said he does not intend to sit.

"Even if I'm not 100 percent, I'm still playing," Berry said. "It's only two games left on the season. And I'm not going to sit 'em out. But I think when we get toward Saturday, I should be close."

And even if neither club is at full strength, this contest should offer plenty of offense. The Tar Heels and Ducks rank sixth and 16th respectively in KenPom's adjusted offense. A depleted or sidelined Berry, however, would force head coach Roy Williams to lean heavily on his inside scorers.

That may already be his plan of attacking an undersized Oregon squad fortunate to face other small opponents. The Ducks will require another monster outing from Jordan Bell, who swatted eight blocks in a 74-60 Elite 8 upset over Kansas.

The smart bet is against him matching a career high against a bigger adversary capable of challenging his interior dominance. It seems boring for a tournament showcasing parity to end with a pair of top seeds, but the Tar Heels will bully their way to their second straight national title match.

Prediction: North Carolina 76, Oregon 74

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