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Previewing North Carolina’s competition in the Final Four

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A look at North Carolina’s potential competition among the three other teams in Phoenix.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Preview Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina has made the Final Four for the second straight year. Among the other three teams, only one has made the Final Four before. That team is Oregon, and their last final four was 78 years ago in 1939. While the other three teams may not be as experienced as the Heels in Final Fours, they’re all good teams. Here are previews for each of them:

Oregon Ducks

Seed: Third in the Midwest

Record: 33-5 (16-2 Pac 12)

Tournament Wins: 13 seed Iona (93-77), 11 seed Rhode Island (75-72), 7 seed Michigan (69-68), 1 seed Kansas (74-70)

Key Players: Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Jordan Bell

Nobody expected Oregon to make it this far, especially after Oregon’s leading rebounder and shot blocker Chris Boucher went down with a hurt knee in Oregon’s Pac 12 Tournament semifinal game vs. Cal Berkeley. He would play twelve more minutes after his injury. Only postgame medical analysis showed that he had torn his ACL, an injury that would end his senior season and likely cut Oregon’s season short, too. Boucher was Oregon’s leading shot blocker (he averaged a monstrous 2.5 bpg), second leading rebounder at 6.1 rpg, and third leading scorer at 11.8 ppg. How could Oregon replace him?

The answer came in the form of 6’9” junior forward Jordan Bell. Bell stepped up in Boucher’s absence and has been an absolute beast. He had 11 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 8 blocks. Yes, you read that right, eight blocks. He almost had a triple double with blocks! That’s absolutely insane. Oregon as a team is averaging 6.3 bpg, which is almost twice as much as UNC’s 3.4 bpg.

Oregon is also a good three-point shooting team, and they have two great players in Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey. Brooks was named the Pac 12 Player of the Year and is Oregon’s leading scorer at 16.3 ppg. He is also shooting 41% from three, and almost 50% from the floor. Tyler Dorsey is Oregon’s second leading scorer at 14.5 ppg and is shooting a blistering 42.3% from beyond the arc. These are two dangerous perimeter players, and their three-point shooting prowess make them a very dangerous duo indeed. Oregon will be no pushover, the Heels will likely have to fight tooth and nail with the Ducks if they want to go to their second straight championship game.

South Carolina Gamecocks

Seed: Seventh in the East

Record: 26-10 (12-6 SEC)

Tournament Wins: 10 seed Marquette (93-73), 2 seed Duke (88-81), 3 seed Baylor (70-50), 4 seed Florida (77-70)

Key Players: Sindarius Thornwell, PJ Dozier, Chris Silva

South Carolina is the Cinderella of this tournament. The Gamecocks hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1973, and they had never been to an Elite Eight, let alone a Final Four. But Sindarius Thornwell and the Gamecocks survived the toughest road of any Final Four team to get to Phoenix, and they did it with an average margin of victory of 13.5 points. They blew out a ranked Baylor team by twenty, and they scored 65 points in the second half against Duke to take down Coach K and the Blue Devils.

South Carolina is led by senior forward Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell hasn’t scored under 24 points so far this tournament, and he is averaging 21.6 ppg on the season. He is also South Carolina’s leading rebounder at 7.2 rpg, and is tied with PJ Dozier for first on the team in assists averaging 2.8 apg. He is also shooting 39.7% from three point range, he truly does it all.

Sindarius Thornwell does so much for the Gamecocks that they don’t really have another star player. They have another decent player in PJ Dozier, who is their point guard and is averaging 13.8 ppg on the season. Chris Silva is decent for the Gamecocks, as he averages 10.1 ppg and 5.9 rpg in just 20.7 minutes per game, but South Carolina is not a very deep team. They really do live and die by Sindarius Thornwell. They don’t shoot the three well at all, averaging just 33.7% from the three as a team, and they don’t rebound that well, either, averaging just 36 rebounds per game. They don’t assist the ball well, either, as they average just 13 assists per game. The only real way for them to win if through defense and for Sindarius Thornwell to go full beast mode, however that’s worked for them so far this season.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

Seed: First in the West

Record: 36-1 (17-1 WCC)

Tournament Wins: 16 seed South Dakota State (66-46), 8 seed Northwestern (79-73), 4 seed West Virginia (61-58), 11 seed Xavier (83-59)

Key Players: Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews

Gonzaga lost only one game this season, their last home game of the season vs. BYU, however that one loss cost them their chance at the #1 overall seed. The Zags were still given a one seed after beating Saint Mary’s in the WCC tournament championship and have survived some close games in the tournament. They only beat 8 seed Northwestern by six in the round of 32, and then they only beat 4 seed WVU 61-58 in the Sweet 16 on a night that the Mountaineers shot just 26.7% from the floor.

Gonzaga’s best player is junior Guard Nigel Williams-Goss. The junior played his first two seasons at Washington before transferring to the Zags and sitting out last year. Williams-Goss was named the WCC Player of the Year and is averaging a team-best 16.7 ppg. He also leads his team in assists, averaging 4.6 apg, and is second on the team in rebounds at 5.9 rpg. He’s just a great player all around.

Przemek Karnowski is also a good player for the Zags. He averages 12.2 ppg and 5.8 rpg, and shoots a very good 60% from the floor. The 7’1” senior from Poland was projected to be taken in the first round of the NBA draft last year, but Karnowski returned and has improved significantly to become a dominant big man for the Zags. Jordan Mathews is also a good player for Gonzaga. The senior guard transferred from Cal to Gonzaga and has had a solid senior season. He has led the Zags with 79 made 3 pointers this season, and is shooting 38.7% from three point range this season.

All three of these teams are good, and they will provide stiff competition for the Heels. Currently Gonzaga has an 88% chance to beat South Carolina according to BPI, and Oregon has a 44% chance to beat UNC according to BPI. We shall see.