The Final Four: NCAA tournament 2017 predictions
The Gonzaga Bulldogs celebrate their 83 to 59 win over the Xavier Musketeers during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at SAP Center on March 25, 2017 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
A college basketball season that started with 351 teams in November and was pared down to 68 two weeks ago is now down to just four.
A NCAA tournament that turned wild in week two saw an interesting pattern emerge as the survivors worked their way through the regional finals.
The flashy freshmen on Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA have exited.
In an era of one-and-dones, experienced stars carried their teams to the Final Four.
The result is a pair of unpredictable matchups Saturday at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., which feature two schools that have never made it this far before (Gonzaga, South Carolina), one that last appeared in 1939 (Oregon) – when there were eight teams in the whole tourney – and the university with the most Final Four appearances ever (North Carolina).
Gonzaga vs. South Carolina, Saturday, 3:09 p.m. PT, CBS/TSN
After nearly two decades of knocking on the door, the pride of Spokane, Wash., has finally broken through to the sport’s biggest stage, only to meet the tournament’s biggest surprise, South Carolina.
Mark Few’s Bulldogs have a deep, 9-man rotation, but watch out: Gonzaga has had the easiest path through the tourney (including a blowout of Xavier in the Elite Eight), and isn’t as battle-tested as the other three teams.
Star junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss had trouble against West Virginia’s pressure in the Sweet Sixteen, and he’ll face similar from South Carolina.
Frank Martin’s Gamecocks have a trio of senior guards led by SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell, but their relative lack of offence (105th nationally in efficiency) could be their Achilles’ heel.
Prediction: Gonzaga over South Carolina
North Carolina vs. Oregon, Saturday, approx. 5:49 p.m. PT, CBS/TSN
North Carolina’s last-second win over Kentucky was an instant tourney classic: Luke Maye’s game-winning shot after the Wildcats tied it on a three.
Tar Heels coach Roy Williams not calling a timeout after Kentucky’s make added to the flow of excitement and prevented the Wildcats’ defence from getting completely set.
North Carolina, led by ACC Player of the Year junior forward Justin Jackson, seems poised to take the extra step to a title they were oh-so-close to in last year’s final against Villanova.
But keep an eye on their junior point guard, Joel Berry II, who is playing on bad ankles.
Oregon has knocked off an impressive array of foes to reach this point.
Dana Altman’s Ducks are led by stellar junior forwards Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell, but will miss injured big man Chris Boucher against North Carolina’s dominant inside game.
Prediction: North Carolina over Oregon
Monday’s Championship Game: North Carolina over Gonzaga