Notorious for being an unpredictable event, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has lived up to its reputation this season. There have been blowouts and upsets, competition has been ferocious as the field fought to stay alive. What began as 64 hopeful teams has been whittled down to 4.
Two teams, Gonzaga and North Carolina, have played as they were expected to. As one seeds, they have handled the competition and climbed to the pinnacle of the tournament. Gonzaga ended the Cinderella dreams of Xavier in the Elite 8 to move on. North Carolina and Kentucky met in the Elite 8 in a battle of blue-bloods, the Tar Heels came out on top thanks to some late heroics from Luke Maye.
As for South Carolina and Oregon, 7 and 3 seeds respectively, their road was a bit rockier. South Carolina had to topple mighty Duke and slip by Florida for their date with destiny against Gonzaga. Oregon battled to escape a red-hot Michigan team and rose to the occasion against 1 seed Kansas.
This Final Four is one of notable significance for three of the four teams. Gonzaga and South Carolina are appearing in the first Final Four in their school’s history. Oregon is making their first appearance since 1939.
South Carolina has been especially bad historically regarding postseason play. This is the first NCAA tournament that the Gamecocks have made in 13 years. Their last tournament win came in 1973, 44 years ago. The difference? Senior guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell is averaging 21.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game. He leads the Gamecocks in all 3 categories.
Gonzaga has been a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament in recent years, yet this is their first Final Four appearance. The Bulldogs are led by Nigel Williams-Goss. The junior guard averages 16.7 points, 4.6 assists, and 1.8 steals per game, all team highs.
Oregon has been here before, but not recently. The Ducks won the first NCAA Tournament back in 1939. Now, they’re back to prove that wasn’t a fluke. Sophomore Tyler Dorsey has been electric in the Tournament. He’s averaging 24.5 points per game in the postseason, and is shooting 66.7 percent from the field. His consistent effort has gotten his team this far and earned him the nickname of “Mr. March.”
The only team that’s used to being here, North Carolina is appearing in the 20th Final Four in school history and are seeking the sixth national title in school history. The Tar Heels are heavy favorites going into the weekend, thanks in large part to Justin Jackson. The junior guard was a key piece of their runner-up finish last season, and has stepped up his play this season. He’s averaging 18.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
Going into the game Saturday, neither Gonzaga nor South Carolina had ever reached a National Championship game, so history was bound to be made. A spirited effort and a tremendous comeback by the Gamecocks fell just short, as the Bulldogs prevailed 77-73.
Poor defensive rebounding was the downfall of the Ducks when Oregon played North Carolina following the Gonzaga and South Carolina game. The Tar Heels sealed the victory by collecting back-to back offensive rebounds off of missed free throws. North Carolina escaped with a 77-76 victory and a date with Gonzaga in the Championship.