The Final Four is upon us and while just one ACC team is still active, it’s one of the favorites in North Carolina. Mike, Justin, and Jeff look at the final three games of the 2016-17 men’s college basketball season.
1) The Tar Heels are still alive representing the ACC. How will they make out in Glendale?
Jeff: Every game at this stage is hard. But the ways in which you win remain basic. For UNC, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks have to be a factor inside and combine for 15-20pts. The Tar Heels also can’t expect to win if Justin Jackson and Joel Berry only make 1 three-pointer between the two of them again like they did against Kentucky. The team needs seven or eight 3-pt makes to win. If they beat Oregon, the same recipe goes for trying to beat Gonzaga. Oh, and if they decide to play tough defense, like they did against UK, then they will be hard to beat. They can win the title. They can also lose tonight.
Justin: Carolina has drawn an interesting match up with Oregon. Senior big man Chris Boucher (11.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG) has been out since tearing his ACL in the PAC-12 Tournament, but Jordan Bell (10.9 PPG, 8.6 RPG) has picked up the slack and led the Ducks to an impressive run. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels are one of the highest risk/reward teams in the tournament. They seem to be hitting on all cylinders now which makes it tough to pick against them though. The Tar Heels are so deep that a guy like Luke Maye can hurt you just as much as Justin Jackson. This is a really unpredictable group of Final Four teams though.
Mike: I picked the ‘Heels to win the National Championship, and I’m not backing away from that now. Out of the four teams left, North Carolina is the most complete team remaining, and they have been one of the nation’s best teams all season long. I like their chances to win the whole thing if they are able to get by Oregon, who on paper, is their toughest opponent left. If they play defense the way that they have of late, they have an excellent chance to leave Glendale as National Champions.
2) Who will be the star of the Final Four?
Jeff: Tough call. The obvious choices are guys like Jackson, Thornwell, Dorsey, and Karnowski. But it’s the Final Four. Will there be a “Luke Maye” who rises to the occasion and takes the spotlight? Will a guy in the shadows steal the show? Maybe it will be a guard with two bum ankles who leads his team to cut down the nets?
Justin: You really need to play two games to be the true star of the Final Four. I think Carolina can squeak past Oregon so I’ll take Justin Jackson as my pick. If South Carolina can pull off the upset against Gonzaga however, Sindarius Thornwell is a great pick.
Mike: My pick is Joel Berry, and while it seems like a no-brainer choice, he’s fought injury throughout this entire tournament. As recently as Friday, Berry mentioned that his ankle feels about as good as it’s felt in weeks. If he’s serious, that’s great news for the Tar Heels, as his reemergence as a true offensive threat would be paramount to a return trip to the title game for North Carolina.
3) Gonzaga’s Mark Few was named AP Coach of the Year this week. Which Final Four coach has impressed you the most during his team’s run?
Jeff: Frank Martin. They shouldn’t be in Phoenix. Yet, here they are and I won’t be surprised if their run continues. An average coach doesn’t get the Gamecocks this far. Frank Martin did it.
Justin: Martin is the easy pick, but I agree with Few as the Coach of the Year. While South Carolina is a great underdog story, Gonzaga had some unique challenges to overcome this season. The Bulldogs lost a ton off of last year’s team and Few had to blend together a group of transfers and foreign players—some of whom faced a significant language barrier—to make his first Final Four.
Mike: Frank Martin has impressed me most, because while he has been a good coach for quite some time, the work that he has done to turn around this South Carolina program in the last few seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. He’s a grinder and a straight shooter on the court, but off the court, I have been very impressed by the stories that I have heard of how he has impacted and developed relationships with his players.
4) Which team will lift the crystal basketball Monday night?
Jeff: My brain says UNC. My gut says anything can happen.
Justin: I’ll pick Gonzaga partly because I think it would be a cool story.
Mike: North Carolina. I’m sticking with it.