Michigan State is out of the madness but that doesn’t mean we’re not watching. In a different form than normal, Kyle Turk (@KyleTurk5) and Joey Ellis(@jellis1016), plus Ryan Cole (@ryan_cole9) and Blake Froling (@BFroling) from Impact Izzone round-table their Final Four prediction. From the dome problem to the shock of Syracuse this Final Four is a weird one.
Kyle: With any number of things to watch heading into the weekend, what’s the most important storyline for you guys heading into Saturday’s games?
Blake: Will Syracuse prove the doubters (including myself) wrong by putting up a fight against UNC? I said on the podcast that Syracuse might be the worst team to make the Final Four in the last 25 years, so I am interested to see if they can hang with the Tar Heels and make them sweat a little bit.
Ryan: I want to see how the dome affects the three-point shots that Villanova and Oklahoma have thrived on all year. It’s been well-documented that football stadiums hurt jump-shooting teams, and I wonder if after this year, the NCAA will take the initiative to help the athletes and go back to normal basketball arenas for its biggest event.
Joey: It’ll be interesting to see what Syracuse’s zone can do to the Tar Heels offensively. In regards to the stats behind playing at arenas like this, I’m looking at how well UNC can shoot the ball with the good looks that the Orange’s 2-3 zone is bound to let up. It’ll also be interesting to see how Buddy Hield shoots the ball in this arena, coming in at just over 46 percent from beyond the arc. The Villanova/Oklahoma matchup will be intriguing to watch. Don’t let Ou’s 23 point drubbing over the Wildcats back in December diminish any expectations between this one. Oklahoma’s high-powered offense (81.0 PPG) with various scorers has been tough to stop thus far, but if any team is up to the task, it has to be the Cats’ stifling defense which allows only 64 PPG.
Kyle: The thing I’m paying most attention to in Houston will involve me nerding out, and citing that shooting in a dome will affect the shooting of all four teams in this tournament. NRG Stadium has played host to just 32.2 percent shooting from behind the arc in tournament games according to Ken Pomeroy’s studying, and, well, three of the four teams playing this weekend rely on the jump shot: Villanova, Oklahoma, and Syracuse. Some of it may be randomness, but my guess is that the team that navigates the dome best between the Wildcats and Sooners will be playing on Monday night.
Kyle: With only one No. 1 seed advancing all the way to the Final Four, which was the biggest non-MSU shock of this tournament to you?
Blake: Normally, I would say Syracuse making the Final Four, but just look at their path to Houston: No. 7 Dayton, No. 15 Middle Tennessee, No. 11 Gonzaga and No. 1 Virginia. The fact that the Orange are still alive makes the pain even worse for Spartan fans. But the biggest shock still has to be Texas A&M coming back from the dead against Northern Iowa, erasing a 12-point deficit in 44 seconds. I, along with most of America, turned the game off and missed said comeback.
Joey: While everyone is somehow blown away by a Syracuse team finding their way into the Final Four, people are forgetting who coaches this team, whether you agree with him or not, and the fact that this team has been here in this spot before. When talking about the biggest shock of the tournament, I have to agree with Blake on Northern Iowa’s late-game meltdown. After you put yourself in a perfect position to win a big game, especially coming into the game as an 11 seed given almost zero chance to move on, it is inexcusable to blow a game like that. Blowing a 12-point lead with under 40 seconds to play with a Sweet 16 bid on the line, especially a game that NIU dominated from the opening tip, I have never seen a bigger collapse.
Ryan: Wow, you eliminated my top 10 shocks by saying “non-MSU”. So I will go with the surprise that is so closely linked to the Spartans’ defeat: Syracuse’s Final Four run. Blake stole my thunder by laying out their easy path to Houston, but for a team that wasn’t even supposed to make the tournament, their run is still quite the shock. Now, they’re two wins away from college basketball immortality. Of course, I highly doubt they would make such a run if Michigan State took care of business against Middle Tennessee State (heck, Jim Boeheim agrees with me).
Kyle: Everyone else in America is going to talk Syracuse to death. The thing that will have surprised me most about this tournament, unless Syracuse goes and wins it or something, is that Notre Dame managed to sneak their way into another Elite Eight! This year’s team was nowhere near as good as last year’s, and thanks to a complete collapse from West Virginia and a miracle shot from Bronson Koenig, they had a super easy road to the last eight. That they only lost to North Carolina by 14 should be considered a miracle.
Kyle: Which of the Final Four coaches would you most want to play for this weekend?
Joey: While I’m not the biggest fan of Jimmy Boeheim (for many obvious reasons), this Final Four features a really solid slate of outstanding coaches who know how to win. I would like to play for Jay Wright this weekend, not just for his impeccably tailored suits or his smooth Italian loafers, given his postseason shortcomings, this guy deserves a title more than anyone.
Ryan: This is an interesting batch of coaches, two of whom will surely be in the Hall of Fame (Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams). But a national title for Jay Wright or Lon Kruger could surely vault them into Hall of Fame conversations as well. Because of that, I think those coaches will be hungrier to succeed this weekend, so I’m going to go with a cop-out and say it’s a tie between Kruger and Wright.
Kyle: If I’m going to pick anyone to coach my deadly three point shot, it’s going to be the perfect hair of Jay Wright. Williams and Boeheim, academic dishonesty notwithstanding, are likely on their way out in the next couple years anyway, and while I like Kruger’s style, I think Oklahoma is a little too far away, and not the right school for me. Sorry Lon.
Kyle: The first game on Saturday features Oklahoma and Buddy Hield, who have been shooting the lights out against each of their opponents thus far, matching up with a balanced Villanova team that features veteran leadership between seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Who’s playing on Monday night, and why?
Ryan: This one will certainly be the highlight of the weekend, and my excitement can probably be explained in two words: senior leadership. In the tournament, I always side with the teams with elite seniors, which is why I am going to love this matchup. During the Kansas-Villanova game, I said that whichever team won that game would go on to win it all. After that elite, high-level game, I just can’t pick against the Wildcats. This will be high-scoring and tight throughout, something along the lines of Villanova, 85-82.
Joey: Both of these teams come into this game playing as well as you want to heading into a Final Four. We will see numerous lead changes throughout, but defense wins championships and I think Nova’s D will win the battle. I’m really interested in Oklahoma’s ability to make shots playing in the dome. Despite Hield’s incredible season, I think he will struggle from the get go. OU’s defense will keep this a barn burner, but ultimately Villanova gets the win. Villanova 73-68.
Kyle: I didn’t think Villanova had much of a chance against Kansas, so like Ryan, I’m very convinced about their tournament chops at this point. The backcourt of Jalen Brunson and Arcidiacono is solid, Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart are vastly underrated, and Ochefu has provided the senior leadership from the frontline that MSU fans had seen this season from Matt Costello. That backcourt matchup with Hield and Jordan Woodard will be extremely interesting, and the whole game will probably hinge on whoever can win that battle. Hield will go off, as he’s been shooting lights-out as of late, but I think from 1-5 Villanova’s the better team. Give me Villanova 78-72.
Kyle: The second game is an ACC matchup with two of the most legendary active coaches in the game between UNC’s Roy Williams, and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim. Not many thought Syracuse would make it into the tournament, much less end up two wins away from a national tournament. Do the Orange have a shot against Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, and the Tar Heels, who beat Syracuse twice already this season?
Joey: This is an interesting game. On paper and even by the name, I want to go with the Tar Heels. X’s and O’s are thrown out the window here, though. The Orange have the tenacity and sure have the momentum to win this game. We’ve seen it so many times with teams peaking heading into the NCAA tournament. Syracuse peaked in the tournament. If the Orange’s stingy full-court press and 2-3 zone can disrupt the Tar Heels efficient offense and cause discomfort for the dominant and deep bigs that UNC has, this could be a game. Defensively, the Orange want to take away the inside game for the Heels and make UNC a perimeter team, given how poorly they have shot the ball from deep all season. If Marcus Page, who’s re-emerged as the player everyone knew capable, and Brice Johnson who tends to kill zones continue their dominance, it will be a long night for Boeheim and the ‘Cuse. North Carolina 73-62
Ryan: I cannot imagine the NCAA is comfortable supporting these two teams on the sport’s biggest stage, considering each school’s academic issues over the past few years. But on the court, North Carolina is just flat-out too talented to lose to the Orange. No team in the country has more impressive big men than the Tar Heels, and I think they will dink and dunk their way to the title game. Boeheim’s 2-3 zone will keep Syracuse in the game for 25 minutes, but pulling away late will be North Carolina, 74-59.
Kyle: As anticlimactic as it sounds, this one won’t be close. I’d like to think that the whole “beating a team three times is tough” mantra will end up being true, but outside of the last ten minutes against Virginia, this team hasn’t impressed me. It’s not the same type of story as a 2013 Wichita State, where you actually could have seen them making the title game. Johnson and Paige are more talented than a hot-shooting Malachi Richardson. Easy win for North Carolina, 84-65.
Kyle: Lastly, who wins your national championship game, and why? Also, who’s your Final Four Most Outstanding Player?
Ryan: Villanova-North Carolina. The East Coast will be drooling, the West Coast rolling its eyes. In another game highlighted by seniors, the nation will be treated to two different styles of basketball. The Tar Heels’ big men, especially Brice Johnson, will establish themselves down low and shoot at a high percentage. On the other side, the Wildcats will look to shoot their way to a championship from beyond the arc. Now, I may be just a journalism major, but I do know one thing about math: three points is more than two. Villanova will win the national championship thanks to its outside shooting, led by the Most Outstanding Player with the Most Outstanding First Name, Ryan Arcidiacono. Party like it’s 1985, because the champ is Villanova, 79-72.
Joey: The battle between the Heels and the Cats will be one of the better championships in the past couple years. While it seems fitting that this is the year for Villanova, who’s desperately reaching for that elusive championship that Jay Wright so desperately needs, I have the UNC taking it. While they’ve looked inconsistent at times per usual UNC every year, this team has been near flawless all tournament. I think they’re too big and too deep downlow, granted Daniel Ochefu will get a good shot at Brice Johnson all game. If the Tar Heels keep up their hot shooting and stellar post play, I think they’re too talented offensively to lose this game. Brice Johnson has a monster game and grabs the Final Four MOP. North Carolina 82-75
Kyle: The two best teams remaining are the Wildcats and Tar Heels, so it makes sense that those two should play for the title. I think that if Villanova shots the ball well, they have a good chance to win that game. Johnson and Ochefu will have their battle inside, and while Johnson will likely win that, Arcidiacono and Brunson should be able to outmatch Paige. But if you make a championship with your stars, role players are often the ones that have big performances on great teams that win titles. That’s why MOP Josh Hart will propel Villanova to a national title, with a season-high-tying 27 point performance to lead them to a 70-66 victory.
Viewing Schedule for Saturday April, 2
No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 2 Villanova – 6:09 p.m., TBS
No.1 North Carolina vs. No.10 Syracuse – approx. 8:49 p.m., TBS