Last Updated: 2017-03-29
Both the Oregon Ducks and the North Carolina Tar Heels will know who their next opponent will be by the time their Final Four matchup tips off. The only thing they won’t know is whether or not they have another game to play. The second of the two national semifinal games features two household names and two programs that have been at or near the top of the futures board throughout the season. The Tar Heels are a 4.5-point favorite for the scheduled 8:49 p.m. ET tip-off in Glendale, Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium. For those that filled out a bracket, Oregon vs. North Carolina wasn’t a big surprise at this point. South Carolina vs. Gonzaga certainly is, so it will be interesting to see the betting handles compared for the two games. With North Carolina favored by a couple of possessions, the total is gradually increasing at 151.5 and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see those two trends continue.
No disrespect to South Carolina and Gonzaga, but these are the types of teams that we would expect to see in the Final Four. Oregon and North Carolina are both loaded with high-upside talent and a lot of recruits that had a galaxy’s worth of stars next to their names. Like the previous game, there is an interesting West vs. East angle to this one, but travel situations don’t really matter when you get to this point in the NCAA Tournament. These games are scheduled for the East Coast Bias, so they will both be played at reasonable times for South Carolina and North Carolina. Oregon heads to the desert with a 33-5 record straight up. They’ve run through Iona, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Kansas to get to this point. Certainly the Ducks are used to playing in the Grand Canyon State with annual trips to Tucson and Tempe. North Carolina is 31-7 on the season with wins over Texas Southern, Arkansas, Butler, and Kentucky to get to this point. This is the first time that North Carolina hasn’t faced the highest possible seed in the tournament, but Oregon was downgraded a bit for losing Chris Boucher right before the tourney.
That Chris Boucher loss hasn’t been a factor for Oregon yet, but this is the type of matchup where it could really stand out. Head coach Dana Altman needs to figure out a way to keep North Carolina off of the offensive glass. The Ducks have enough scoring threats, but this is going to be a game won down in the tough areas because Oregon is a pretty mediocre rebounding team without Boucher’s services. Fortunately, the format of the NCAA Tournament allows Altman several days to figure out what he wants to do in terms of protecting the rim and the glass. The Ducks certainly come into the Final Four on a high note. After making the Elite Eight last season for the first time since 2007, the Ducks fell short of the Final Four. This is Oregon’s first Final Four appearance since 1939 and, as you can imagine, the tournament was much, much different back then. There were eight schools and it was the first NCAA Tournament. Oregon beat Oklahoma 55-37 and Ohio State 46-33 to win the title. Altman has zero minutes coached in the Final Four. Roy Williams has 520 minutes coached in the Final Four, per ESPN’s stats department.
What Altman lacks in Final Four coaching experience, he more than makes up for with a tremendously talented roster. Dillon Brooks is arguably the best player in the country. Brooks has scored 16.3 points per game in just 25.1 minutes per night of action. He’s been right around his season average with 16.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, but Brooks is 19-of-51 in his last three games. Playing in an enormous venue like University of Phoenix Stadium isn’t a great place for finding your shot. Tyler Dorsey has been the standout star for Oregon in the tournament. He’s scored 20 or more in every game and has been splendid from the field shooting 34-of-51. The unsung hero, though, and arguably the most important player in this particular game, has been Jordan Bell. Bell has seen a big increase in minutes with Boucher out and has been spectacular. Bell had 11 points, 13 rebounds, and eight blocks against Kansas. He’s had at least 12 rebounds in every NCAA Tournament game and had 10 rebounds in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament loss to Arizona. The crazy thing is that Bell, even with all those boards and that effort inside, has committed only four fouls over his last five games.
It is very unfortunate that a championship-caliber game had to be played in the Elite Eight, but North Carolina and Kentucky were seeded in the same region and Kentucky’s gauntlet of a schedule finally caught up with them in a buzzer-beater loss to the Tar Heels. UK got a raw deal to say the last and North Carolina has had one of the easier routes with Arkansas and Butler prior to getting a fellow blue-blood program in Kentucky. We’d have the opportunity to fade North Carolina if the game was Tuesday or Wednesday, but with nearly a full week to prep for the Final Four, the dramatic win over Kentucky isn’t going to have a whole lot of carryover. The Roy Williams coaching experience advantage probably doesn’t mean as much as people think. Some have speculated about Williams’s in-game coaching abilities in recent years. His recruiting certainly speaks for itself, but the Tar Heels haven’t won an NCAA Tournament title since 2009. They lost at the last second in 2016. They’ve only made three championship game appearances in Williams’s 14 seasons. It seems disingenuous to say “only”, but with the talent regularly in place in Chapel Hill, that seems surprising. From 2013-15, UNC didn’t even make the Elite Eight.
There is national championship level talent on this team and a lot of it has to do with the fact that North Carolina, unlike some of the other recruiting powerhouses, doesn’t have a whole lot of one-and-done players. Leading scorer Justin Jackson is a junior and so is second-leading scorer Joel Berry II. Kennedy Meeks has grown into his frame and has grown as a player over his four years. The same can be said about Isaiah Hicks. One thing that could help North Carolina from an X’s and O’s standpoint in this game is that the Tar Heels get a lot of second-chance points and like to get the ball inside the arc. Just over 30 percent of UNC’s field goal attempts were threes. On the flip side, 38.6 percent of Oregon’s shots were three-point attempts. In a deep shooting backdrop like this, North Carolina will be getting the higher-percentage looks. That cannot be overlooked in a game like this, with two teams that stack up from a talent standpoint, but there are some edges to like for both sides.
College Basketball Free Pick: North Carolina Tar Heels -4.5
That’s the key for me. North Carolina should have an easier time getting those interior looks. Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks don’t have to worry about Chris Boucher. Jordan Bell has really stepped his game up, but he can only cover one guy. Oregon faced three jump-shooting teams before playing Kansas, who does like to drive to the rim, but the Jayhawks were 5-of-25 from deep and that was the end of it for them. They didn’t have the interior players that North Carolina has. There’s an X’s and O’s and a stylistic mismatch in this game that very clearly favors the favorite, so we’ll side with the Tar Heels and expect them to move on to the title game.