South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs
The Gamecocks come into this games feeling good, reaching it’s first ever Final Four. Beating Duke, Baylor and Florida was nothing short of amazing, considering how they ended the regular season. They have been carried by their exceptional defense, especially in the second half of games. They play great team defense with an emphasis on help and recover. A major key will be the post defense of 6’10” freshman Maik Kotsar and 6’9″ sophmore Chris Silva.
If they can rebound and stay out of foul trouble, it will allow the guards to stay close to Gonzaga’s perimeter players. South Carolina is not deep, especially up front, so any foul trouble would doom them. On offense, they have been carried by guards Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. They will need to be much better than 2-10 from beyond the 3-point line for balance. Getting all the way to the basket will be tough against the Bulldogs length and size around the rim. They must still make a concerted effort to attack the basket. Who will be the “other” player to step up and be that third option on offense? Senior guard Duane Notice could be that guy.
The Bulldogs are peaking at the right time after struggling early in the Tournament. They routed Xavier to reach the Final Four, a result few expected. Like it’s opponent, their defense has been stellar. Their rim protection has been key in not allowing easy baskets. What makes this team different from past Zags’ teams is their ability to defend the perimeter. They rotate four guards who can all get after it. On offense, guard Nigel Williams Goss gets the most attention but don’t be fooled, Gonzaga has plenty of weapons.
From forward Jonathan Williams to guard Jordan Mathews to center Przemek Karnowski to guard Josh Perkins to big man Zach Collins, all can hurt you any game. That’s why defending them will be a tall order. The Bulldogs must do a better job shooting free throws. They can’t allow South Carolina to hang around by missing them.
My pick: The Gonzaga Bulldogs- They will prove too much for South Carolina to handle on both ends of the court.
Oregon Ducks vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
Will this be the game they finally miss 6’10” Chris Boucher? After easily dispatching Kansas, a team many thought was the favorite to win it all, the Ducks have seemed to have found a balance on both ends. Their defensive pressure, without fouling, has been outstanding. One of the keys will be limiting easy transition baskets. They will need to TEAM rebound against North Carolina. 6’8″ forward Jordan Bell and 6’11” center Kavell Bigby-Williams will need to play “Big” in the post.
They are one of the few teams who would not mind an up and down tempo. On offense, they have plenty of firepower. Oregon will try and spread the Tar Heels out and attack them. Versatile Dillon Brooks can score from anywhere on the court, Jordan Bell has been a pillar of consistency and guard Tyler Dorsey has simply been phenomenal. An X-factor for the Ducks will be the production of guards Casey Benson and Payton Pritchard. One of them will need to make some shots. They can’t afford another 3-10 performance on mostly open looks.
The Tar Heels just escaped against Kentucky (an instant classic). They will need to play solid perimeter defense and not allow open looks. Just keep players in front of you, sounds simple. A major key will be defensive minded guard, Theo Pinson, who will have the task of guarding Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey (maybe the hottest player in the Tournament). North Carolina must DOMINATE the boards, limit them to one shot and get extra possessions on offense.
On offense, they will need more production in the post from 6’10” Kennedy Meeks, 6’9″ Isaiah Hicks and 6’11” Tony Bradley. They combined for just 17 points last game but did a great hobby protecting the basket with nine blocks. Can they count on Luke Maye to bail them out again? I would not bet on it. Going 3-15 from beyond the 3-point line won’t help either. That will allow the defense to pack it in. Forward Justin Jackson has led them offensively and could be a problem for the Ducks. Guard Joel Berry II’s ankles are a concern. He’s the engine that spearheads the attack and they could sputter if he’s not close to 100%. Getting their lethal transition game going will make things a lot easier.
My pick: The Oregon Ducks- They are playing with house money and all the pressure is on North Carolina. They will make enough plays down the stretch.