After watching the Irish try to run out the clock even while they were losing to the Tar Heels in the Elite Eight game last Sunday, it is not much of a surprise that Notre Dame fans will not be cheering for their basketball team in a Final Four matchup this weekend.
However, there are still two incredible Final Four matchups lined up for basketball fans everywhere. Villanova is facing Oklahoma in a second-seed showdown, and North Carolina, the only remaining number one seed, will take on the dark horse of the tournament, 10-seed Syracuse.
The Villanova Wildcats have a brilliant 33-5 record this year, and they are coming off a huge win against Kansas, the number one seed of the South.
Averaging 77.5 points per game, Villanova has a lot to work with from behind the arc. Their three leading scorers, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Ryan Arcidiacono all shot better than 35 percent from the three-point line, and each has attempted 150 or more three pointers this season. Hart is averaging 15.3 points per game, Jenkins, 13.5 points, and Arcidiacono, 12.3 points.
However, they are still efficient inside with Daniel Ochefu, who is averaging more than 10 points per game and has 266 rebounds and 54 blocks on the season. Ochefu’s inside game could be important against a team like Oklahoma, another three-point shooting team.
The important thing to remember, however, is that it’s the Final Four. In a tournament known for madness, anything can happen.
Jay Wright, the Villanova head coach, is well aware of the emotion and the pressure that will accompany his players all the way to their competition this weekend. “When you get to the Final Four, it’s off the charts,” he said. “Thank God we were there once before so we have a little bit of a feel, and we can hopefully help the players handle it.”
The Oklahoma Sooners are currently 25-7, and coming into the NCAA tournament they ranked as a strong number three in the Big 12 conference. For the Sooners, senior guard Buddy Hield is undoubtedly the key to their success during the season and throughout the tournament.
In the 32 games leading up to and during the tournament, Hield has drained a total of 297 field goals, 146 three-pointers, and 176 free-throws, and he has tallied up 205 rebounds, 73 assists, and 40 steals. He has scored more than 30 percent of Oklahoma’s total points this season.
If Buddy Hield shows up to the game on Saturday, the Wildcats had better watch out. However, if he has a bad day, a bad day it will be for the Sooners. Either way, the Oklahoma players are excited to be competing for a spot in the National Championship.
After all, the loss to Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen last year was a tough one. This year, Hield and his teammates are more motivated than ever before. “We had a bad taste in our mouth last spring, and we wanted to work hard,” Hield said. “Guys really wanted to get to this point.”
On the other side of the tournament bracket, the North Carolina Tar Heels will take on the Syracuse Orange in one of the most unlikely Final Four matchups. Barely making into the tournament, the Orange successfully executed upset after upset, and they now find themselves in one of the most coveted games of the year.
While basketball fanatics are still wondering how the Orange qualified for the tournament, the Syracuse nation is hyped as never before because they have an opportunity to tally yet another upset against what seems to be an unstoppable North Carolina offense.
However, some critics have asked whether Syracuse even deserves to be called a Cinderella team. As for the Syracuse players themselves, they would prefer not to make that call. “That’s for you guys to tell,” Syracuse senior Michael Gbinije said. “I’m just enjoying the moment.”
And so it is for the fans to decide, but whether Syracuse wins or loses to North Carolina, and whether they are in fact a Cinderella team or not, the important thing to remember is that they are a tenth-seed playing in the Final Four. That is something special.
James Pratt is a junior studying political science. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.