Zags And Tar Heels Monday If Saturday Goes To Form
By John Ventola
Perennial basketball power North Carolina will be joined in this weekend’s Final Four by three upstarts, Gonzaga, Oregon, and South Carolina. Of the three, only the Ducks have ever been to the Final Four, and that was in 1939 when they won the title. The Tar Heels have survived two close encounters with Southeastern Conference teams (Arkansas and Kentucky) on their journey to a 20th Final Four appearance, its fifth under the tutelage of Coach Roy Williams.
North Carolina (31-7) will play Oregon (33-5) Saturday and Williams will have his
veteran squad poised to put pressure on any opponent while staying focused for a complete game. UNC lost last year’s championship game when Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hit a shot at the buzzer after their own Marcus Paige hit an acrobatic three-pointer to tie the game with four seconds left.
The Tar Heels beat Arkansas with a late-game surge, and bested Kentucky, 75-73, when Luke Maye hit a jump shot with 0.3 seconds remaining in their South Region finale. Apparently, Williams has used last year’s last-play loss to Villanova to motivate his veteran squad. North Carolina scored 12 straight points at one point in the final five minutes against the Wildcats, reminiscent of its late push against the Razorbacks. Williams is masterful in coaching transition offense, and uses gifted athletes like Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Maye to usually score more “easy baskets” than the opposition. Berry has recently been bothered with ankle problems and should the ailment crop up over the three-day finish to the season, it could deny the Tar Heels a championship for the second straight season.
Oregon lost a key contributor when Chris Boucher, the PAC-12’s top shot-blocker, went down with a torn ACL injury during the conference tournament. Coach Dana Altman has made the necessary lineup adjustments to take advantage of his club’s offensive
manpower and keep opponents off balance with its zone defense. The Ducks were victorious over a hot Michigan team, and upset top-seeded Kansas 74-60 to capture the Midwest Regional. Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks, and Jordan Bell led the upset over the Jayhawks. If the trio stays hot, and the confidence must be at its peak after the KU embarrassment, the Ducks’ first NCAA trip in 78 years could be special. (Hey, if the Cubbies can do it after 108 years, why can’t the Ducks do it in 78?)
With both Gonzaga (Spokane, Washington) and Oregon (Eugene, Oregon) in the Final Four, West Coast basketball is back on the national map. Kentucky took out talented UCLA, but the No. 1-seeded Zags (36-1) and the third-seeded Ducks will have Far West viewers hoping for two semifinal victories to set up an all Northwest area championship game. ,
Gonzaga won their Elite Eight Jesuit battle with Xavier to gain its first Final Four berth. The program has been solid since 1999, often reaching Sweet Sixteens and Elite
Eights. The Bulldogs have won 28 NCAA tournament games, the most by any Division I team before making a Final Four. Nigel Williams-Goss, a University of Washington transfer and the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, leads Coach Mark Few’s Zags. Williams-Goss tops this year’s Final Four guards by averaging 4.6 assists per game. He and fellow guard Josh Perkins handle outside shooting duties while dishing inside to Zag big men, led by 7-1 Przemek Karnowski. Gonzaga has averaged over 15 points a game on post-up plays, by far the most by Final Four participants. Gonzaga is the most efficient team in the tournament.
Williams-Goss has been named one of five finalists for the John R. Wooden Award as college basketball’s player of the year. Lonzo Ball of UCLA, Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan, Villanova’s Josh Hart, and Frank Mason III of Kansas join Williams-Goss on the list. The winner will be announced next Saturday.
Southeastern Conference representative South Carolina (26-10), one of three league schools to reach the Elite Eight (along with Kentucky and Florida), also makes its first Final Four appearance after overcoming three halftime deficits in its four tournament
games. In fact, it has been 44 years since two first-time Final Four teams have faced each other in the tournament. That year, 1973, was also when South Carolina won its last NCAA tournament game before this year’s magical four-game run.
The Gamecocks must match up inside with the girth of Karnowski and the rest of Gonzaga’s frontline, but improved offensive production was responsible for South Carolina’s movement through the East bracket. Guard Sindarius Thornwell led USC to victories over Marquette and the region’s No. 2 (Duke), No. 3 (Baylor), and No. 4 (Florida) teams. Volatile Frank Martin, a coaching disciple of demanding Bob Huggins (Cincinnati, West Virginia), has resurrected the proud Gamecock program by highlighting tough, hard-nosed defense, particularly on outside shooters. Defense, along with Thornwell’s overall game, and key contributions by P.J. Dozier, Chris Silva, and Maik Kotsar, has the lowest seeded team (No. 7) in the tournament confident and ready for an upset.
Themes/background stories usually work their way into almost everything. Sports is no
exception. Kansas is interwoven into this tournament. Roy Williams formerly coached at Kansas University, Dana Altman and Frank Martin are both former Kansas State coaches. Williams and Altman faced off in ten games of the KU/K-State rivalry in the early ‘90s with Williams winning eight of those games. They will match wits again Saturday.
This blogger predicts a defensive struggle between South Carolina and Gonzaga. Williams-Goss should be the difference maker. Oregon and UNC should be a shootout, with Berry’s ankles determining the winner. If Berry stays healthy, Tar Heels win in a close encounter.
Outstanding players, top-notch coaches, it should be three highly competitive games. The team that can quickly detect mismatches and take advantage will be cutting down the nets Monday night. March Madness gets extended by three days, and Roy Williams wins his third national championship at North Carolina.Thanks For Visiting JV Sport Shots .Com’s Website And Viewing Our Latest Blog(s) / Page(s). We Would Really Appreciate It If You Would Leave Us A Comment Or Remark Below. This Helps Us Provide Great Sports Content; You Would Like To See In Future Posts.
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