The first two weekends of March Madness are complete and as always, they did not disappoint. After a trip of unexpected twists and turns, the field of 68 has been trimmed down to four. The Final Four: South Carolina, Gonzaga, Oregon and North Carolina.
This upcoming Saturday, both national semifinal games will take place in Phoenix, Arizona. Here is what you need to know about the matchups and teams.
Gonzaga versus South Carolina:
Gonzaga Bulldogs – The Zags are headed to their first Final Four in school history, finally breaking through after being a perennial contender under Head Coach Mark Few. Gonzaga is 36-1 on the season and was a 1 seed in the tournament, even while playing in a weak West Coast Conference. Despite their many doubters, the Zags have turned heads and proven they are one of the best teams in the country throughout the tournament.
South Carolina Gamecocks – Going into the tournament, South Carolina had never advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. After a Cinderella ride as a 7 seed, the Gamecocks are headed to their first Final Four in school history. South Carolina is characterized by their toughness on the defensive side of the ball, taking after their Head Coach, Frank Martin. Although South Carolina is known for their defense, their offense has shown up big time in the tournament, most notably when upsetting the 2 seeded Duke Blue Devils 88-81.
Keys to the Game – While both teams feature star guards, the game could be decided down low. Gonzaga has a mammoth center in Przemek Karnowski, who is 7’1 300 pounds. Karnowski averaged 12.2 points per game this season, and has been a key to Gonzaga’s success all season. South Carolina will most likely put Freshman Maik Kotsar on Karnowski. Kotstar is 6’10 245 pounds, giving Karnowski a clear size advantage. Getting points in the paint could play a deciding factor in this game.
Oregon versus North Carolina:
Oregon Ducks – The Ducks are back in the Final Four for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 1939. The 3 seeded Ducks are 33-5 and coming off a season that included a Pac-12 regular season title. After losing their rim protector, Chris Boucher, in the Pac-12 championship game, many wrote off the Ducks as a serious contender. But, the Ducks proved those people wrong by defeating the likes of Iona, Rhode Island, Michigan and Kansas.
North Carolina Tar Heels – After suffering a heartbreaking loss to Villanova in last year’s National Championship game, North Carolina is back in the Final Four and seeking redemption. The Tar Heels are one of the most physically imposing teams in the country, as they are the top rebounding team in the country thanks to big men Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. The Tar Heels are also the only team in the Final Four that has a Head Coach with Final Four experience, in future Hall of Famer Roy Williams.
Keys to the Game – North Carolina is a team that can win in a variety of ways. They can win a defensive battle or a shootout, but a shootout is the last thing the Tar Heels want against the Ducks. A high scoring game means that Oregon’s Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey are most likely lighting up the scoreboard. If North Carolina allows Brooks and Dorsey to get hot, Oregon will give North Carolina all it can handle down the stretch. The biggest key for Oregon is to keep North Carolina off the offensive glass, which is a tall order. Oregon has to limit second chance opportunities as best they can if they want to knock off North Carolina.