Cleat Geeks

Final Four Preview

After witnessing all four #1 seeds make it to the Elite Eight for the first time in years, only one of them survived Sunday night and continues its journey for a National Championship. Saturday hosts two intriguing Final Four match-ups in that both Jay Wright and Lon Kruger are seeking their first titles, Syracuse hardly even made the field of 68, and UNC is the only preseason favorite to have lived up to its potential.  Well, let’s break down the games:

2 Villanova vs 2 Oklahoma

VilOakWhen the Wildcats and Sooners first met in a Pearl Harbor remembrance match back in December, few had anticipated that the teams would meet again for a chance to battle for a national title.  Although Oklahoma routed Wright’s squad for a 78-55 victory, don’t expect such an outcome on Saturday; the Sooners shot 14-26 from behind the arc while the Nova made just 4 of 32.  This weekend’s match-up might even look like a three-point contest at some points, with Ryan Arcidiacono and company answering every Buddy Hield shot. Hield will try and match his own record-setting Elite Eight performance with another strong offensive showing.  He put up 37 to help his Sooners and has scored the most points in the tournament since Steph Curry proved his skills at Davidson.  Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler will pick up Hield’s slack, if he has any, as the team averages 81.0 PPG.  Nova, on the other hand, allows just 63.6 PPG this season, and they even shut down Kansas’ high-powered offense, limiting the Jayhawks to just 59 points.  Jordan Woodward and Kris Jenkins both average over 15 points per game in the tournament; add those stats to Josh Hart’s POY-caliber numbers, and the Wildcats will definitely not be outdone offensively in a high-powered scoring game.  Add in Chicago-native Jalen Brunson and Nova has a pretty complete roster.

Oklahoma’s keys for success: For the Sooners to win this one, they’ll have to do a few things well. RyanSpanglerFirst, like I always say, they’ll need to make their threes, and Hield will need to score.  However, if either of those fail, the Sooners are going to need to prove they can score in the paint.  Ryan Spangler will need to be a huge post presence, even with big Josh Hart combatting him.  Lastly, they can’t come away empty in their offensive trips.  Nova thrives on defense, so the Sooners need to keep their offensive momentum up throughout the entire game, making their shots or grabbing rebounds for second chances.

Nova’s keys for success: Obviously, the Wildcats need to stop Hield first. Oregon was unable to corral the future NBA star, and he lit them up for it. Next, they’ll need to contest Oklahoma’s three point shooters.  Let Cousins pick up Hield’s slack and they’ll be in for another long one like December was.  Lastly, Nova needs to keep up their own offensive success.  The Wildcats obliterated teams early in the tournament and proved themselves against Kansas; if they have the same success from behind-the-arc and in transition, the Wildcats win the game.  Stop Hield and make the Sooners find other ways to score.

Prediction: Villanova proves itself in a second-chance match-up against the Sooners. Oklahoma will struggle from the three-point line at some points in the game, allowing Nova to get ahead and keep the lead. Wright gets his first chance at a title.

1 North Carolina vs 10 Syracuse

SU Exhibition Game 11/15Syracuse went from a bubble team on Selection Sunday to a Final Four team this Saturday.  You can argue that the Orange never should have even made the field of 68, holding a 19-12 regular season record and an eighth seed in the ACC tournament, where they failed to win a game.  However, they got in and proved themselves already, becoming the fourth double-digit seed to reach the Final Four.  They’ve trailed in the second half of each tournament game this year, which means they’re experts at hanging around in the second half before stealing the game; ask Gonzaga and Virginia about it.  Malachi Richardson made a name for himself in the Elite Eight, and he will need to follow up that strong showing with another if the Orange want any chance at keeping up with UNC’s machine of an offense.  The 2-3 zone unfortunately does not play well for Boeheim’s squad, as the Heels completely work against its strengths: the zone makes teams beat the Orange from deep, which Paige and Berry have the ability to do, while it can give up offensive rebounds and second chances, things the Heels – Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Justin Jackson, specifically – thrive on.  Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney might be stifling defenders, but Lydon, Roberson, and Richardson will have to completely lock down the paint for the Orange to have a chance.

Syracuse’s keys for success:  The Orange MUST limit offensive rebounds.  When a shot goes up, they need to find a body and grab defensive boards the hard way.  Johnson and company murdered the Irish by means of second chance points, grabbing offensive rebounds like it was their jobs.  Second, Cuse must turn the tables on the Heels, grabbing boards on their own offensive glass.  Most importantly, they’ll need to make their shots, answering the Heels’ high-powered offense with buckets of their own.

tarheelMascotUNC’s keys for success:  Luckily for the Heels, they don’t have too much to change to secure a victory in Houston.  Most significantly, they can’t allow the Orange to hang around like Gonzaga and UVA did.  Notre Dame started changing leads and scaring UNC before they put them down once and for all with a strong second half performance.  A 10-point lead isn’t enough against Cuse; the Heels need to add to it throughout the entire second half.  In addition, Paige and Berry need to make their threes against the zone and the Heels will run away with it.

Prediction: UNC dominates this match-up.  Paige might not hit all of his threes, but he’ll be given enough opportunities to alter the game, not to mention he has Brice Johnson corralling his misses.  The Tar Heels will compete for their first title since 2009.

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