From an open field of 68 to an unlikely foursome of potential national champions, NCAA’s March Madness is nearing the end with the Oregon Ducks, North Carolina Tar Heels, South Carolina Gamecocks, and Gonzaga Bulldogs as the four remaining teams. The two semifinal matchups this Sunday should provide for an entertaining end to a wild college basketball season.
South Carolina vs. Gonzaga
In a matchup between two unlikely teams making their first appearances in the Final Four has the number 1 seeded Gonzaga against an upstart seven seed South Carolina. For the Zags, this could finally be their chance to prove they are more than just a big fish mid-major in a small playing that sinks in the same ocean as elite programs. To do so, they will need to be able to withstand the Gamecock’s physicality on the defensive end. Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss will have to duplicate his success against Xavier. His four made threes that lead to 23 points looks like the necessary antidote to counteract South Carolina’s suffocating defense.
Williams-Goss can’t do it alone as he will need the production of the Bulldogs twin towers Przemek Karnowski and Jonathan Williams. Their seven-foot size should be able to counteract the speed advantage Carolina has, but the NCAA Tournament has shown that guards have the advantage as they can collapse the paint with double teams in the post. If Gonzaga seeks to execute on offense, it will have to before the South Carolina defense has a chance to set their half-court defense.
South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell has led the narrative of guards dominating the NCAA tournament as he has single-handedly carried the Gamecock offense. Averaging 25.8 points on 50% shooting has provided the offensive spark needed to compliment the Gamecock’s defense. The only question that remains is if he can continue his stellar play into the Final Four in what will be the biggest game of his life. Last year’s Final Four saw the collapse of similar dynamic scorer Buddy Hield in the national semifinal. Thornwell is hoping he can have a Final Four more like Kemba Walker as he will try to make South Carolina more than just the “other Carolina,” clinching a flight to Glendale for the National Championship game.
North Carolina vs. Oregon
The Tar Heels bid to return to the National Championship game after losing in dramatic fashion to Villanova last year faces its final road block in the Oregon Ducks. Motivated by last year, the Tar Heels will look to rely on their star guard Joel Berry II. His steady play all season at point guard will be tested as he enters the game with sore ankles. Berry has claimed his health to be at 85% going into the national semifinal, but the Tar Heels may have to look in other directions for production if he can’t be the All-ACC guard he was during the regular season. Similar to the dynamic of most championship caliber teams the Tar Heels will have to rely on their role players against a Ducks squad that shoots the best out of the four remaining teams at an even 50% as a team from the field. The re-emergence of former YouTube sensation Seventh Woods may be the Final Four surprise that plunges UNC to the title game.
Not to be underestimated is an Oregon team looking for their redemption as they suffered a disappointing blowout loss to Oklahoma in last year’s Elite 8. Their wing combination of Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey will give them an advantage if UNC boasts an undermanned backcourt on Saturday. Much of Oregon’s season was spent in the shadow of Lonzo Ball and UCLA’s high-powered offense, but a win on Saturday will do wonders for a program whose talent has taken a backseat to their on-court appearance at times. Look for Oregon forward Jordan Bell to go at it down low with UNC forward Kennedy Meeks as a game between two great offensive teams is likely to come down to rebounding.
These four teams weren’t slam dunk favorites to make it to the Final Four, especially South Carolina, but no doubt they will have their chance to immortalize themselves in the lore of college basketball with their performances this Saturday.
- I'm a 19-year old sophomore dual major in Journalism and Sports Management at Eastern Nazarene College. Born in Boston, MA raised in Brockton, and just happy to be here at NGSC Sports.