Final Four 2016 Preview and Predictions
We’re down to the Final Four! After four physically demanding rounds of basketball, only Villanova, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Syracuse are left standing. Which teams will be in this years National Championship?
Villanova (33-5) vs. Oklahoma (29-7)
Senior guard Buddy Hield and the Oklahoma Sooners are in the Final Four for the first time since 2002. Hield had 37 points in Oklahoma’s 80-68 win over the Oregon Ducks in the Elite Eight. Throughout the NCAA Tournament, Buddy Hield is averaging 29.2 points per game and is hitting 47% from behind the 3-point line. This will be the 105th consecutive game where Oklahoma’s “fab four” (Buddy Hield, Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler) have started together.
As for Villanova, the Wildcats have one of the top ranked defenses in the nation in terms of defensive efficiency (7th). Villanova’s 64-59 victory over Kansas was the Jayhawks lowest output of the season. And the success doesn’t stop there. The Wildcats also offer a highly dangerous offense. Before their 64-point game against Kansas, Villanova was averaging 88 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.
When you compare the two teams, this match-up looks to be promising. Oklahoma beat Villanova 78-55 in the teams’ first meeting this season, but both teams have proved that they can hang with the best teams in the nation regardless of earlier results. The Sooners will have to avoid turnovers against Villanova if they want to advance past the Final Four. The Wildcats may be the first team in the tournament that will be able to capitalize off of the turnovers and send Oklahoma back home. On the flip side the Sooners should be able to take advantage of Villanova’s struggle against good backcourts. Each of their five losses this year have come against teams with potent guards. Oklahoma has just that in Buddy Hield, who was highly considered for player of the year (and should have won). If Hield plays to his full potential, I can’t see the Sooners losing this one.
Prediction: #BoomerSooner! This one’s a toss-up, but if Oklahoma manages turnovers, they shouldn’t have a problem in this one.
North Carolina (32-6) vs. Syracuse (23-13)
North Carolina has beaten Syracuse twice this season (75-70 and 84-73) and will look to do so for a third time on Saturday. The offensive talent that the Tar Heels showcase is among the top in the country and has been absolutely dominating tournament competition. According to KenPom.com, North Carolina is ranked first in adjusted offensive efficiency. In their six losses this season, not one was by more than six points. The only problem they face is from behind the 3-point line. Sure the Tar Heels have controlled the paint and the offensive glass, but they’ve only connected on 32.1% of their 3-point shots.
Syracuse is the first ever 10-seed to reach the Final Four. The Orange overcame a 16-point deficit against Virginia in the Elite Eight. Their second half surges successfully propelled them to victory’s in their early round games against Middle Tennessee and Dayton as well. Syracuse has one of the best, if not THE best, 3-point shooting defenses in the nation. The Orange held its opponents to just 28.9% three-point shooting during ACC play. On the other side of the ball Syracuse has really, really struggled. In the first half against Virginia, the Orange made just 31% of its attempts from the field, including 1 of its 9 three-point attempts.
Can Syracuse become the first 10-seed to reach the National Championship and possibly win? They’d have to shut down what is arguably the best backcourt in the nation at North Carolina. Luckily for the Tar Heels, the Orange’s 3-point defense won’t change their gameplan that much. Since North Carolina is one of the worst teams in the country from 3-point range, they have proven countless times that they don’t need them to win. I’m looking forward to the Jim Boeheim/Roy Williams coaching showdown. It’s going to come down to whichever team does the best job of hitting shots late and closing the game out. Syracuse seems to have plenty of experience in that area, but this one may be too far out of reach. I’ve got the Tar Heels in Houston.
Prediction: Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige are too much for the Orange. North Carolina vs. Oklahoma for the National Championship.
Houston, we’ve got a tournament to finish.
Casey covers NCAA basketball for MFST. You can follow him on twitter @wxmozz.