The 2017 NCAA Final Four is this weekend, which will pit two surprise contenders fighting for a national championship in Glendale, Ariz.
While 1-seeds North Carolina and Gonzaga expected to be playing in suburban Phoenix, 3-seed Oregon upset Kansas to get here. No. 7 seed South Carolina is one of the most shocking participants in years.
To get to this point, teams have had to overcome difficult opponents. All the teams playing the final weekend of the year deserve to be here and have a shot to accomplish a dream. Gonzaga and South Carolina have never won a national title. Oregon is searching for its first since the first ever NCAA championship in 1939. North Carolina wants redemption after “The Shot” last year.
Here is why each team playing in the Final Four both will and won’t win the NCAA championship on Monday.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Will: At this point, the Gamecocks are the team of destiny, right? Many projections had South Carolina losing in the first round to Marquette. There seemed to be no way that the Gamecocks would get through Duke, Baylor and Florida. The Gamecocks had by far the lowest-rated offense in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. However, star guard Sindarius Thornwell has been electric in four NCAA Tournament games. If that continues — and the Gamecocks continue to showcase why they have the No. 2 adjusted defense in the nation — South Carolina can beat any team in the field.
Won’t: At some point, their luck runs out. The Gamecocks are significantly less talented on paper than any other team in the Final Four, even if the defense remains stellar. South Carolina shot just 42 percent from the field and scored 73 points per game on the year. That’s up to 47.6 percent and 82 points per game in the tourney. It’s unclear whether that’s sustainable for two more full games.
Will: Before last weekend, Kansas looked like perhaps the most complete team in the country. Oregon put that to rest quickly with a dominant 74-60 win over the Jayhawks to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1939. Oregon boasts some of the best perimeter scorers in the country. Dillon Brooks leads the way with 16.3 points on 49.6 percent from the field, while Tyler Dorsey adds 47.2 percent from the field. Dorsey has scored 20 or more points in his last seven games and over that stretch, he’s averaging 23.6 points per game on 62.4 percent from the field and a blistering 57.8 percent from 3-point range. If Brooks and Dorsey get going at the same time, the Ducks are incredibly difficult to contest.
Won’t: Even though it hasn’t affected them in the tournament, Oregon is down its best defensive player and third-leading scorer Chris Boucher (torn ACL). Especially against North Carolina, having rim defense will be vital. Jordan Bell is still a good rim defender, but the Ducks’ defense suffers when teams are able to finish above the rim. Oregon also beat Rhode Island and Michigan by a combined 4 points. The Ducks have to play at the top of their ability to contend for the national championship.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Will: Perhaps no team in the country boasts the same combination of talent and experience as North Carolina. The top seven scorers on the team were blue-chip prospects. National player of the year finalist Justin Jackson was a 5-star recruit. Unlike other blue-blood programs, UNC has moved away from one-and-done model and instead emphasized guys who will stick in school longer. In fact, Brandan Wright in 2006 was the only UNC player to leave after his freshman year in the one-and-done era. Now, the bulk of a team that was seconds away from winning a national title is back with a vengeance. There’s a reason the Tar Heels are currently the title favorites. Heck, UNC is the only Final Four team to have won a title after 1939.
Won’t: If North Carolina loses without, it will be because of its own doing. Whether it’s a poor shooting night or uncharacteristic turnovers, it will take North Carolina tightening up and making mistakes. The Tar Heels are really good and really athletic. Jackson is the only NBA first rounder on any of the Final Four rosters. Everything is lining up for UNC to win this championship. The only thing stopping this will be 18-22-year-old kids suddenly acting like it.
Will: On paper, Gonzaga has been the best basketball team in the country this year. The Bulldogs rank No. 1 in the KenPom ranking overall and defense, significantly ahead of Villanova at No. 2 and North Carolina at No. 3. Five players average at least 9.9 points per game. Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss also might be the most effective player left in the tournament. He averaged 16.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists on 49 percent shoot for the Zags during a great season. Gonzaga can attack from the perimeter, up front and anywhere on the court.
Won’t: Gonzaga (36-1) is not as battle tested as other teams, playing only 12 games against teams ranked in the RPI top 100. No other Final Four team has played fewer than 20. Granted, winning four consecutive NCAA Tournament games is significant regardless of opponent, but the Bulldogs had the easiest road possible. In this tournament, upsets meant the top team Gonzaga has played is 4-seed West Virginia. Otherwise, it was 8-seed Northwestern, 11-seed Xavier and 16-seed South Dakota State. The Zags can make the national championship game without ever having to play a top-three seed, given South Carolina is a No. 7 seed.