HOUSTON, Tex. – After the first two weekends of the NCAA tournament, I refuse to even look at my bracket anymore. Upsets left and right (13 of 32 games in the first round alone) have left many a hoop fan lying awake at night thinking of what went wrong. Nevertheless, we ended up in Houston, with four great teams, clinging to our last weekend of college basketball.
(2)Villanova vs. (2)Oklahoma
Saturday, April 2 – 6:09pm ET – TBS
Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield has been hands-down the player of the year in college basketball, and in this year’s tournament. Averaging just over 29 points a game, Hield is having an incredible run as he carries the Sooners (29-7) into Houston for a matchup with the Wildcats of Villanova (33-5). Led by veteran presence in the back and frontcourts, Villanova has continued to win games despite doubt in their ability from many. Seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu lead the way for a Cats team that has one of the most impressive records in college basketball this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Oklahoma – Obviously Hield is the star of college basketball, but he can’t do it alone. Who fills this role? Junior Jordan Woodard and seniorIsaiah Cousins are the next two options for the Sooners. Both players averaged around 13 points a contest this season and were solid scoring options when Hield was shut down by opponents. Look for these two to shoot well from the outside and help bear the scoring load this Saturday.
Villanova – While the Wildcats rely heavily on their upperclassman talent from its large pool of juniors and seniors, star freshman Jalen Brunson is someone to keep your eye on in Houston. Brunson, averaging 10 points a game while operating the point for Nova, has been impressive in his rookie campaign and will be looking to take advantage of his first Final Four appearance.
Villanova is an extremely balanced and efficient team with all five starters averaging double digits, and shooting a high percentage from the field. While Buddy Hield is the best player in the country, Oklahoma relies heavily on his success, and if the Wildcats can slow him down, they will outlast the Sooners and lock up the game down the stretch behind their solid free throw shooting.
(10)Syracuse vs. (1)North Carolina
Saturday, April 2 – 8:49pm ET – TBS
This is an interesting matchup as North Carolina was picked by many to win it all going into selection Sunday, while Syracuse wasn’t even sure they would make the tournament field. The Tar Heels (32-6), who have been dominant all season behind the play of veterans Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, winning the ACC regular season and tournament titles, are looking to take home yet another piece of hardware. Syracuse (23-13) becomes the first 10-seed to ever make the Final Four, an amazing feat for a team that lost its coach to suspension for much of the year as they survived through early season play. The Orange will look to continue its improbable run to the championship on Saturday.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
North Carolina – For UNC it’s all about their man in the middle, Brice Johnson. Johnson has been an absolute force this year for the Heels, putting up multiple games of 20 points and 20 rebounds. Marcus Paige is a star point guard for UNC, but still he and the rest of the Heels squad play through Johnson and he’ll have to have another strong showing to get into the championship.
Syracuse – Seniors Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney are not only very talented veterans, but also have an extra edge throughout their final postseason in an Orange uniform. Scandal has rocked the Syracuse program throughout the 4 years these two have been at Cuse, which has placed the biggest chip of all on their shoulders. Freshman Malachi Richardson, who put up 23 points in Cuse’s win over Virginia, has been hot in the tourney, and will look to put up more big numbers.
North Carolina’s depth and size will eventually prove to be too much for a Syracuse team that will run out of magic in Houston. The Heels will dominate on the boards and pull away late to advance on to the championship.
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION
(2)Villanova vs (1)North Carolina
Monday, April 4 – TBD
A potential matchup of two veteran teams with top-notch head coaches, who are both efficient from the field and play fast, disciplined basketball. This should be a fantastic matchup for the fans in Houston, as both groups of seniors will play in their first ever National Championships. The game will be neck and neck the whole way and will likely come down to whoever has the last possession. Brice Johnson will have a day, but the Cats will outlast UNC and bring home the first title since 1985.