Following an unpredictable month full of improbable outcomes, heartbreaks, and historic moments, “March Madness” has definitely lived up to it’s name. After starting off the tournament with 64 teams, there are now just four remaining in the race for the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, all with their eyes on the prize.
The Final Four will be played on Saturday, April 2, in Houston, Texas, starting at 3:09PM, with the No.2 seeded Villanova Wildcats facing off against the Oklahoma Sooners, who have the same rank. Then, at 5:49PM, the number one seed, North Carolina Tar Heels, will look to make their first championship game appearance since 2009, playing against the No.10 ranked Syracuse Orange.
Both Villanova and Oklahoma are coming off of impressive wins against the top seeded team in their respective regions.
The Sooners defeated the Pac-12 Champions, Oregon Ducks in a final score of 80-68. Oklahoma’s senior star shooting guard, Buddy Hield, who is averaging 25.4 points per game on the season, was a major factor in the victory. Hield has quite possibly his best game of the season, considering the importance of this matchup, as he exploded for 37 points against the Ducks, shooting a total of 8-13 from behind the arc.
In the South region, the Wildcats earned a hard-fought victory against the No.1 overall seed in all of the NCAA, the Kansas Jayhawks. Coming into the game, the Jayhawks averaged 81 points per contest, but Villanova’s defense proved to be something unseen to Kansas all season, as the Wildcats held them to a season-low of just 59 points, while scoring 64 themselves.
These two teams met for the first time this season on Dec. 7, when the Sooners blew the Wildcats out of the water, winning 78-55. Although this game was obviously not a nail-biter, both teams have improved drastically since then, therefore, a close matchup is to be expected on Saturday.
If Villanova allows Hield to gain the hot hand early on, they will have a long game ahead of them. However, if they can limit the senior guard to have less of a game than anticipated for a player of his quality, the Wildcats will find their chances of advancing to the championship game greatly increasing.
On the other side of the bracket, UNC from the East region will be taking on the unexpected winner from the Midwest region, Syracuse.
Syracuse, a team that was not sure if they would be selected for the tournament, started off their incredible tourney run with an upset win over the number seven-seeded Dayton Flyers. After making their way all the way into the Elite Eight, the Orange gained a shocking come from behind victory over the No.1 seed, Virginia Cavaliers. While many believe that it is nearly impossible for Syracuse to earn a victory over the Tar Heels, they have been able to prove people wrong time and time again, and this game may be no different.
UNC, on the other hand, has completely dominated everyone who has stepped in their path to Houston. The Tar Heels have won each of their tournament games by at least a 14 point margin, with their closest game coming in their 88-74 Elite Eight win over the No.6 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Led by senior forward, Brice Johnson, UNC has looked unstoppable thus far, and they will look to continue their hot streak against their upcoming underdog opponent, the Orange.
The Tar Heels and Sooners look to be likely matched up in this year’s championship game, in which case UNC would be the clear favorite. However, it is clear that Oklahoma is quite capable of pulling off the upset, especially with their superstar, Hield, looking to end his impressive senior season on a high note before heading to the National Basketball Association.
The winners of the Final Four will be face off in the NCAA Championship game on Monday, April 4. Be sure not to miss the exciting conclusion to the 2016 college basketball season.
Prediction: Oklahoma defeats UNC in championship.