Can North Carolina make good on a due bill that's nearly a year old?
That is one of the main themes to this year's Final Four in Phoenix, which tips of Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET when Gonzaga (36-1) faces surging South Carolina (26-10). The Tar Heels (31-7) meet the Oregon Ducks (33-5) at 8:49 p.m. ET, or approximately 20 minutes after the first game ends.
Both games will be televised by CBS.
The Tar Heels were tied late in last year's title game against Villanova, but the Wildcats' Kris Jenkins hit a three-point shot at the buzzer, giving the Pennsylvania school the national title and leaving the Tar Heels in a sea of heartache.
That loss has been motivation for a full season, and it is just one of the reasons the Tar Heels have an excellent chance to be victorious at the conclusion of Monday night's title game. North Carolina is a talented and seasoned team that has the experience to handle nearly any situation.
The Tar Heels have four players who have started 37 of their 38 games, and they have three juniors and two seniors in the starting lineup.
North Carolina bucks the college basketball trend of putting one-and-done freshman talent on the floor and competing with a new unit every season.
That's one of the reasons the Tar Heels are five-point favorites over the Ducks, according to OddsShark.
Additionally, the odds website has North Carolina as +140 favorites (wager $100 to earn $140 profit) to cut down the nets Monday night. They are followed by Gonzaga at +180, Oregon at +550 and South Carolina at +750.
|NCAA Tournament, Final Four|
|Date||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV||Point Spread||Prediction|
|April 1||Gonzaga (1) vs. South Carolina (7)||6:09 p.m.||CBS||Gonzaga (-7)||Gonzaga|
|April 1||North Carolina (1) vs. Oregon (3)||8:49 p.m.||CBS||North Carolina (-5)||North Carolina*|
|*Will win game but fail to cover|
|OddsShark; Silverman predictions|
Jackson leads the Tar Heels with an average of 18.2 points per game, while guard Joel Berry II is scoring 14.6 points and leading the team with 3.6 assists per night. Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks are right behind those two with averages of 12.3 and 12.1 points per game, respectively.
Head coach Roy Williams can also bring talent off the bench that can make a difference. That was the case in North Carolina's Elite Eight victory over Kentucky when Luke Maye (5.8 points per night) hit the game-winning shot for the Heels.
North Carolina has sensational weapons and may have an edge on Oregon in size, strength and experience, but the Tar Heels are not likely to intimidate their opponents.
Oregon eliminated the Kansas Jayhawks from the tournament last week, and that team had been reeling off impressive victories before it was done in by the Ducks' talent, athleticism and execution.
Dillon Brooks is leading the Ducks with an average of 16.3 points per game, and he is connecting on 49.6 percent of his shots from the field. Tyler Dorsey is second on the team with a mark of 14.5 points per game, while Jordan Bell and Dylan Ennis are both averaging in double figures.
Ennis told Beard that the Ducks will be ready to compete against the Tar Heels.
"They have an advantage because they've been here and know what to expect," Ennis said. "However, we also have an advantage because we want to taste playing in a national championship game.
"Just because they've been there doesn't mean they're going to win it, and we've got that underdog mentality."
South Carolina, a seventh seed, has been reeling off unexpected victories since its round-of-32 triumph over Duke. The Gamecocks followed that up with convincing wins over Baylor and Florida. They hammered the Bears by 20 points and followed that achievement with a 77-70 victory over the Gators.
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Emotional head coach Frank Martin has motivated his team to come up with peak efforts throughout the tournament, and he will have to do it again if the Gamecocks are going to upset the Bulldogs, who are favored by seven points.
Martin excels at taking pressure off his players as they prepare to play in the Final Four.
"Maybe I'm too dumb to understand what pressure is in sports," he said at a press conference earlier this week (h/t Tom Rock of Newsday). "I get it. We're playing a real good team. We're playing on the biggest stage of them all. I understand all of that. But we've got to worry about keeping our ears to the right voices. We have to focus on all of us doing our jobs."
Senior guard Sindarius Thornwell is averaging an impressive 21.6 points per night, and he is also a major factor on the boards with 7.2 rebounds per night. PJ Dozier is averaging 13.8 points and is the team's second-leading scorer, while Duane Notice and Chris Silva are both averaging in double figures.
Gonzaga overcame its own demons when the Bulldogs hammered Xavier 83-59 in the Elite Eight matchup last week. Gonzaga had never been to the Final Four before despite playing exceptional basketball for years, and the Bulldogs should be loose and prepared when they take the court against South Carolina.
Guard Nigel Williams-Goss is averaging 16.7 points per game to lead the Bulldogs, and he is connecting on 49.0 percent of his shots from the field. Senior center Przemek Karnowski is a force down low with a mark of 12.2 points per game while connecting on 60.1 percent of his shots.
Those two are joined by Jordan Mathews and Johnathan Williams, who are both averaging better than 10 points per game.
The Bulldogs have talent, depth and gotten past their own demons, and that will make them difficult for the Gamecocks to overcome.
South Carolina has been on a tremendous roll, and Martin is an emotional coach who knows how to rally his team, but the Gamecocks are up against it when they take the court against the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga plays tough and consistent basketball on an every-game basis, and their loss to BYU in late February may have been the best thing that could have happened to this team because it removed the pressure of competing with an undefeated record.
The Gamecocks will play well and push hard, but Williams-Goss will lead Gonzaga to a peak performance here. Gonzaga is 21-7-2 against the spread in its last 30, according to OddsShark, and we like the Bulldogs to win and earn the late cover.
Oregon is going to be a feisty opponent for North Carolina and could take a lead into the locker room at halftime or even into the second half. However, North Carolina is too deep, experienced and single-minded to lose here.
The Tar Heels survive and advance, even though the Ducks cover the spread.