The pinnacle of college basketball takes place this weekend, as all eyes converge on Glendale, Ariz., for the 2017 NCAA Final Four.
After 64 games, four teams remain: No. 1 seeds North Carolina and Gonzaga, No. 3 seed Oregon and shocking 7-seed South Carolina. The last will be of special interest to SEC fans.
Here are five things to watch this weekend at the 2017 NCAA Tournament finale.
Will Frank Martin maintain his spot as media darling?
After South Carolina beat Duke, Frank Martin got some attention. After upsetting Baylor and Florida the following weekend, Martin became a national superstar. He even appeared on The Dan Patrick Show and Good Morning America and had pieces written about his life as a bouncer.
Martin already has exceeded all expectations for this season. Heck, I picked South Carolina to lose to Marquette in the first round of my bracket. But now, the pressure adds on. The Gamecocks can join the 2014 UConn Huskies (also a No. 7 seed) as the lowest seeds to win a national title since 8-seed Villanova in 1985.
Martin will become a SEC folk hero if he can break the streak.
What NBA prospects will show out?
Right now, North Carolina forward Justin Jackson is the only Final Four player projected to go in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, per DraftExpress. The rest of the field is jockeying for draft position right now. However, several future NBA players can make an impact.
Sindarius Thornwell has likely improved his stock the most, but a strong shooting performance could move him earlier into the second round. Oregon’s Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell are both expected to be drafted this year, but could enter the first-round discussion with wins. Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss also could elevate himself into a draft prospect this year with a strong performance. Which players stand out likely will determine which teams will win.
Will Sindarius Thornwell win most outstanding player?
Up to this point, it’s hard to argue anyone but Thornwell could be the tournament’s most outstanding player. Thornwell’s performance is by far the main catalyst behind South Carolina reaching this stage. He’s averaging 25.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in the Big Dance.
Of course, South Carolina would need to shock the world and upset two more teams. The Gamecocks already have gone through the toughest path, beating 2-seed Duke, 3-seed Baylor and 4-seed Florida to get there. Now, it could be battles against 1-seed Gonzaga and 1-seed North Carolina. If Thornwell catches fire, he will have earned the award.
Will a program win its first national title?
Breaking through and becoming a factor on the national stage is incredibly difficult. In fact, a school hasn’t won its first national championship since 2006, when Florida won. Traditional powers usually possess an unbeatable advantage. North Carolina’s back-to-back trips to the Final Four represents that edge.
However, this Final Four features two programs looking for their first national championship. Neither South Carolina nor Gonzaga have even been to the Final Four, much less played for a national championship. Considering the two play each other on Saturday in one of the national semifinals, one will be playing for a national championship on Monday. Oregon also hasn’t won a national championship since 1939, the first in NCAA history. This will be an historic weekend regardless.
How will March Madness outdo last year?
In 2016, North Carolina and Villanova played one of the most exciting national championship games in college basketball history. After UNC guard Marcus Paige hit a crazy shot to tie the game at 74-all with 4.7 seconds left, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins hit a crazy buzzer-beating 3-pointer to launch the Wildcats to a national championship.
Every year, we think college basketball can’t get any more exciting. This year, we already saw South Carolina upset giant Duke. Wisconsin shocked No. 1 overall seed Villanova in the round of 32. Even a couple 16-seeds made 1-seeds sweat in the first round. Now, there are just three games left of the madness. Enjoy every second.