Many folks thought No. 1 seeds Gonzaga and North Carolina would make the Final Four of the 2017 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament, but not many figured No. 3 seed Oregon and No. 7 seed South Carolina would be joining them:
This year isn't as improbable as 2006, when all four No. 1 seeds failed to make the Final Four and No. 11 George Mason snuck in, but the NCAA tournament, as it usually is, has been a wild ride leading up to an interesting final grouping.
Here's a look at the Final Four schedule and odds as well as picks for Saturday's games.
|2017 NCAA Final Four Schedule and Odds|
|Saturday, April 1|
|No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 7 South Carolina||6:09 p.m.||CBS||Gonzaga (-7)||138|
|No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Oregon||8:49 p.m.||CBS||UNC (-5)||152|
|Schedule: NCAA.com; Odds: OddsShark.com|
Gonzaga's Defense Overwhelms South Carolina
Do you want to know how dominant Gonzaga's defense has been this year? Here's Dan Wolken of USA Today to explain:
As great as South Carolina's defense is, Gonzaga has been a cut above the Gamecocks and everyone else in Division I. According to KenPom.com, the Bulldogs rank first in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Gonzaga also happens to be one of four teams ranked in the top 15 of adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency (the other three are Kentucky, Villanova and Wichita State).
South Carolina is going to have some trouble in this game, especially if its offense struggles. Outside senior guard Sindarius Thornwell, who averages 21.6 points a night, the Gamecocks offense has been inconsistent.
At times it has been phenomenal, most notably during a 65-point second half against Duke in the second round, but as a team, SC only shoots 42.1 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from three-point range.
That's not going to cut it against Gonzaga, which holds opponents to just 36.5-percent field-goal shooting (second in Division I).
This has the makings of an ugly, low-scoring game. It's hard seeing Thornwell, who has been scorching-hot in this tournament, slowing down, and it's even harder seeing the SC defense falter, but it's hardest seeing Gonzaga's defense wilting under the Final Four lights.
Luke Maye Delivers Yet Again in UNC Win
North Carolina's bench has scored 114 points in the NCAA tournament. Oregon's bench has scored just 35.
Sophomore forward Luke Maye has scored 50 of those 114 bench points. In other words, he's outscored the entire Oregon bench by 15 points in this tournament.
Admittedly, comparing the two benches is an apples-to-oranges case, as UNC uses its bench far more extensively than Oregon—especially after the Ducks lost sophomore forward Chris Boucher to a torn ACL in the Pac-12 tournament, effectively cutting its rotation by one man.
However, UNC still has a decided advantage in that it can turn to three primary players off the bench (Maye, senior guard Nate Britt and freshman forward Tony Bradley) and not skip a beat as the starters get a breather or have to sit due to foul trouble or injury.
But the UNC bench can even go a little deeper, as we saw Sunday in UNC's Elite Eight win over Kentucky.
Guards Stilman White and Seventh Woods stepped on the floor in the first half (the former replaced starting junior guard Joel Berry II, who briefly left to have his injured ankle looked over). The senior White hit a layup, and the freshman Woods threw a rocket half-court pass for another UNC bucket.
Every single play counted in that game, as UNC eventually won on a last-second Maye jumper, 75-73.
Expect UNC's depth to be the big difference. Specifically, expect Maye to stay hot from the field. He has averaged 12.5 points (and 6.8 rebounds) in just 18.5 minutes per game in the tournament and has hit on over 50 percent of his field goals. That's tough for any tournament team to stop.
Pick: North Carolina