March Madness is over. The massive 68-team tournament produced teams for the ages, from the 15 seed Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, who by upending championship hopeful Michigan State pulled off the most stunning early upset in the history of March Madness, to the team Middle Tennessee lost to in the next round, 10 seed Syracuse Orange. Syracuse, a perennial powerhouse, pulled off a shocker by getting into the tournament and couldn’t lose, ending up with a Final Four bid.
March is over, but the best basketball is next weekend, the Final Four (technically in April). Before the Elite Eight, there was a possibility that all of the 1 seeds could meet in Houston, but only the North Carolina Tar Heels survived the weekend. The Heels will meet Cinderella story Syracuse on Saturday after a battle of the two seeds, the Villanova Wildcats and the Oklahoma Sooners, with spots in the national championship on the line.
The Oklahoma-Villanova duel pits two squads that aren’t exactly familiar faces in the Final Four but had stellar seasons this year. In their regular season match, the Sooners made quick work of the Cats, winning by 23 points. The difference was three-point shooting- Oklahoma shot 53.8% on 14 of 26 shots from behind the arc while limiting Nova to four of 32 on three-pointers. Both teams depend on the three-pointer, but NRG stadium, the host of the Final Four, is infamous for hosting dreadful three-point contests and this could factor into a very low-scoring match. Hopefully, that’s not the case on Saturday, because Oklahoma boasts college basketball’s answer to Stephen Curry, senior Buddy Hield, a three-point ace and the number one reason to watch the game. Hield just couldn’t miss in the Sooners’ Elite Eight win over the top seeded Oregon Ducks, making eight shots from long-range and tallying 37 points. Nova is cruising through the tournament and beat the favored Kansas Jayhawks, but wins over Oregon and Texas A&M show Oklahoma is no pushover. I’ll take Hield and the talented Sooners to edge the Wildcats, but I can see this one going either way.
What I can’t see is Syracuse winning. North Carolina is the best team in college basketball and is two games from making that official. The Orange has played a moderately easy schedule before upsetting the Virginia Cavaliers, but beating North Carolina is another story. The Tar Heels have strong senior leadership in point guard Marcus Paige and breakout star Brice Johnson and have more talent than any team in the country. Coach Roy Williams is maximizing that talent and the end product is a North Carolina team for the ages. If poor three-point shooting is a factor, it benefits the Tar Heels, who don’t rely on the three and aren’t great at defending it. I’m confidently taking the Tar Heels, much more confidently than at the start of March Madness when I picked them in my bracket to win the tournament (a great pick indeed).
In the championship, North Carolina will finish their dominant season and win the whole March Madness. Oklahoma is far from a one-man show, even with Buddy Hield’s shooting, but the Tar Heels are an all-around better team and are on a roll at the right time. Any of the North Carolina players could be MVP, and that depth will make the Tar Heels champions. It’s no sure bet, because it is, after all, April Madness.