Nearly a full week of rest should allow the men's college basketball teams of North Carolina, Gonzaga, Oregon and South Carolina to be close to peak condition when they convene in Phoenix for the NCAA Tournament semifinals Saturday, but the pressure of the moment will have a huge impact on all four teams.
That pressure could result in sensational performances that allow both of the April 1 games to be classics, or it could lead to mistakes that none of the teams have been prone to making up to this point in the tournament.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs (36-1) will meet upstarts South Carolina Gamecocks (26-10) at 6:09 p.m. ET, and the Bulldogs are seven-point favorites in the game, according to OddsShark.
Both Gonzaga and South Carolina are making their first appearances in the Final Four, and the bright lights and big stage could have an impact on both teams. However, Mark Few's Bulldogs have been one of the most consistent programs in the nation for years.
When the Bulldogs have fallen short in the tournament in previous years, it has often been because their defense has let them down. However, the Bulldogs have played sensational defense throughout the season, and if they are going to beat the Gamecocks and advance to the national championship game, that defense will play a key role.
Gonzaga's defense is allowing 60.9 points per game, ranking fifth in the nation. Additionally, the Bulldogs don't give up a lot of second chances because they go to the boards so well. They are averaging 40.5 rebounds per night, which ranks sixth.
|NCAA Final Four, Phoenix|
|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|
Junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss is the Bulldogs leading scorer, averaging 16.7 points per game and shooting 49.0 percent from the field. Big man Przemek Karnowski is second on the team with 12.2 points per night, and he is shooting 60.1 percent from the field.
In addition to Williams-Goss and Karnowski, Jordan Mathews and Johnathan Williams are likely to play key roles since both players are averaging in double figures.
Look for Williams-Goss to play a sensational game with 25 points and eight rebounds. Karnowski should have a big game as well with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Frank Martin's Gamecocks are not going to back down in this game. After beating Duke in the round of 32 and downing Florida in the Elite Eight to get to their first Final Four, the Gamecocks have proved their toughness and ability.
Senior guard Sindarius Thornwell has been one of the best players in the nation this season, and he is averaging 21.6 points per game and also coming down with 7.2 rebounds per night.
It's important for Thornwell to have a huge night, because his teammates feed off his success. Look for Thornwell to score 25 points, while sophomore guard PJ Dozier should also score at least 15 points. Dozier is averaging 13.8 points per night and is coming off a 17-point effort in the win over the Gators.
Senior guard Duane Notice is averaging 10.2 points per game, and he could be an X-factor. If he can reach double-figures here, the Gamecocks have a chance to extend this game for 40 minutes and possibly pull it out.
The Tar Heels (31-7) and the Ducks (33-5) are scheduled to tip off at 8:49 p.m., and North Carolina is favored by five points, per OddsShark.
North Carolina is on a mission, and the Tar Heels are one game away from getting back to the championship stage a year after losing to Villanova on a last-second shot by Kris Jenkins.
That bottle of acid could turn out to be the motivation that Roy Williams and his players need to cut down the nets in Phoenix.
North Carolina is big, athletic, skilled and on a mission, and that's going to be a tough combination for anyone to beat.
Junior forward Justin Jackson is the Tar Heels' go-to guy, and he is averaging 18.2 points per game and connecting on 44.7 percent of his shots from the field. Meanwhile, guard Joel Berry II is averaging 14.6 points per night and connecting on 80.8 percent of his free throws.
Jackson and Berry will need to lead the way for the Tar Heels if they are going to advance to the title game. Jackson is capable of scoring 22 points and picking up 10 rebounds, while Berry could score 18 points and hand out five assists.
The other two key factors for the Tar Heels are senior forwards Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, who are averaging 12.3 and 12.1 points per game, respectively.
Look for Meeks to score 10 points and have a big game off the boards with 12 rebounds.
The Ducks were sensational in beating Kansas 74-60 in the Elite Eight. Confidence should be at an all-time high as Oregon prepares for North Carolina.
The Ducks are led by junior forward Dillon Brooks, who is averaging 16.3 points per game. Brooks had a 17-point, five-rebound performance in the win over the Jayhawks. Brooks was completely fearless against a team that had been dominant in its two previous games.
That kind of presence should go a long way against the Tar Heels. Brooks will score 20 points in this game, and he should get plenty of support from sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey, who is scoring 14.5 points per night.
Dorsey could score at least 16 points in this game.
While both underdogs should put up heroic efforts, favored Gonzaga and North Carolina should survive and advance to Monday night's title game.
Gonzaga has the defense and toughness to overcome South Carolina head coach Frank Martin's incredible will to get his team to play its best basketball. Williams-Goss will make the decisive plays in the game's final minutes to lead the Bulldogs to the win.
Oregon can probably match North Carolina in athleticism and come close in skill, but the pain of last year's title game defeat will motivate the talented Tar Heels in Phoenix. North Carolina should seize control in the final five minutes and earn the victory.