Gonzaga vs. South Carolina
The Zags will win if: They don’t let South Carolina’s defense rattle them
South Carolina has one of the best defenses in the country. Frank Martin’s crew plays tough and physical defense for forty minutes. If Gonzaga is able to limit their turnovers and make shots, they should be in great shape. The Zags are the more talented team with playmakers at multiple positions. They should be able to get open shots if they share the basketball.
The Gamecocks will win if: The game is close
Gonzaga hasn’t played in as many close games as the Gamecocks have this season. The Zags were undefeated before losing their final regular season game, which shows how dominant of a team they’ve been all year. But they also played an easy schedule that didn’t challenge them, which could come back to bite them if this game is close. The Gamecocks have looked like a team of destiny during the tournament, and have more experience playing in high pressure moments. If they are able to keep the game close during the final few minutes, look for the Gamecocks to play better under pressure and book their trip to the National Championship game.
Zags player to watch: Nigel Williams-Goss
The junior point guard has been the leader of the Zags all season. After redshirting last year due to transferring from the University of Washington, Williams-Goss has emerged as a superstar. Although he’s not a future top tier NBA draft prospect, Williams-Goss may be playing in his last games in college. He will eventually play in the NBA and will have to decide if he wants to forgo his final year at Gonzaga. Williams-Goss is a great shooter, playmaker, and leader. Although these skills are coveted in the NBA, he doesn’t quite have the athleticism to be a high first round pick. But he may decide to leave on a high note if he can lead his team to the championship. Williams-Goss will be the best player on the floor in this game, and he’ll be the biggest reason why one of these teams will be playing on Monday for the National Championship.
Gamecocks player to watch: Sindarius Thornwell
Sindarius Thornwell is the biggest reason why the Gamecocks are playing in the Final Four. The senior guard has led his team all season by scoring over twenty points per game. He’s a great shooter that can create for himself and his teammates. Thornwell has been the tournament’s leading scorer at roughly twenty-six points per game. If the Gamecocks are to continue their magical run in the tournament, Thornwell will have to put the team on his back against the powerful Zags. Gonzaga has been one of the best defensive teams in the nation all season, and will be paying close attention to Thornwell on every possession. If the Zags can keep Thornwell below twenty points, they’ll likely win by double digits.
Prediction: Gonzaga wins 71-62
Gonzaga has too much talent to be denied. The Gamecocks had an amazing run, but it will come to an end at the hands of the Zags. Gonzaga’s defense will make life difficult for Sindarius Thornwell. The game will be close at halftime, but Williams-Goss will lead a second half charge that will put the game away.
North Carolina vs. Oregon
The Tar Heels will win if: They make shots
North Carolina is the more talented team in this matchup. The Tar Heels have better athletes and should be able to exploit mismatches. Since the Tar Heels are the bigger team, they will try to impose their will in the paint. If North Carolina can consistently make shots, they may run away with this game. Oregon will have to work hard on every defensive possession to force the Tar Heels into tough shots. If these shots go in, North Carolina will be playing again on Monday for the National Championship.
The Ducks will win if: They keep the game close
Although the Ducks have a lot of talent on their roster, they will be the underdogs heading into this game. The Tar Heels are the more talented and experienced team, and are on a mission to win the title after losing in dramatic fashion last season. After losing Chris Boucher to a season ending knee injury, few experts expected Oregon to make it to the Final Four. This team has excelled without Boucher, but their luck may run out. Oregon has enough talent to win if they bring their A game and Carolina has an off night. The Ducks will have to keep the game close because Carolina has the talent to blow them out if things get out of hand early. If the game is close in the final minutes, the Ducks will have a great chance of punching their ticket to the title game on Monday.
Tar Heels player to watch: Justin Jackson
Justin Jackson has improved each year as a Tar Heel. The junior small forward has elevated his game this season to become one of the best players in the country. He was a decent role player on the team that lost in the National Championship game last season, but Jackson has taken on a leadership role on this year’s team. Jackson is the classic two-way wing that can score offensively and lockdown the opposing team’s star on defense. His elite play has raised his draft stock into the first round of this year’s draft if he decides to declare. Jackson has a lot of talent surrounding him, so it’s not essential that he plays a great game in order to win. He has the ability to rely on his teammates when his shot isn’t falling, but that hasn’t happened very often this season. If the game is close during the final minutes, the Tar Heels will rely on Jackson to lead them to the championship game.
Ducks player to watch: Dillon Brooks
Dillon Brooks has been a star for the Ducks all season. The junior forward has led an improbable run to the Final Four. He’s a forward with a point guard skill set. His ability to get his own shot and get shots for his teammates makes him a threat every time he touches the ball. Brooks is talented enough that he might forgo his final year of eligibility at Oregon and enter the NBA draft. If he does decide to leave, he’ll want to go out as a champion. The Ducks will look to Brooks when the game is in the final minutes due to his propensity for being clutch. The Tar Heels hope the game will be out of reach in the last few minutes otherwise Brooks may take over and send the Ducks to the National Championship game.
Prediction: North Carolina wins 82-68
The Tar Heels are the better team in this matchup. The Ducks won’t be able to overcome Carolina’s size and athleticism. If a few of Carolina’s stars are struggling, they can depend on someone else to pick up the slack. Oregon doesn’t have that luxury to count on role players to shine in key moments. Oregon needs Brooks to play the game of his life, but his teammates won’t provide enough support to help knock off the mighty Tar Heels.