If you are still rocking a perfect NCAA Bracket, congratulations on your successful thievery of Biff’s Almanac. Use it wisely, my friend…
There is always a lot of angst at this point of the proceedings, “oh my broken bracket” and “how did I not see Team X coming?” I’m here to tell you to give yourself a break. No one had this bracket; not the best handicappers in the world, not the Vegas folks, not Lunardi or any of the Bracketologists. No one. And why should they have? Two weeks ago, South Carolina was one of the worst offensive teams in the country who finished the season 3-6 after losing their defensive identity. They looked like a soft #7 seed and you’d have been crazy to pick them to advance more than a few rounds. Oregon was a Top Five-Top Ten team all season, but they lost their best interior player in their final game before the Tourney. You’d have been ignoring a MAJOR piece of information had you blindly picked the Ducks to still be quacking. North Carolina, sure, we could have seen that one. Ditto for Gonzaga. But let’s be real, the Zags were a late melt-down away from losing to West Virginia, and North Carolina needed a favorable whistle to stave off Arkansas, let alone the buzzer beater to beat Kentucky this weekend.
Picking an entire Bracket is a fool’s errand. In a one-game, neutral-court, make-or-miss game under intense pressure, weird results are delivered. But now, we don’t need any conjecture. We don’t need any perfectly falling of the dominoes. We have two games in front of us to break down, so let’s see if we can finish the season strong.
FINAL FOUR OVERVIEW:
Gonzaga is the Vegas favorite in some books, partially on the strength of their matchup against South Carolina being theoretically less difficult than Carolina’s draw against Oregon, while Carolina, due likely to the name brand recognition advantage over the field, is drawing the slimmest number in some books. Both are right in the +140 to +160 range. If one can assume that a Carolina vs. Gonzaga matchup would be a basic pick ‘em, I have trouble with any future wager that isn’t over +150 at this point. Not enough muscle in the line for my liking.
The two longshots are Oregon at +450 and South Carolina at +800. Both are decent prices if you like either to get past their opening matchup. I personally do not, but neither would floor me at this point. Athletically, the teams are similar. The biggest difference is the size depth of the Zags and Heels. The Ducks and ‘Cocks need to avoid early foul trouble if they want to spring the mild upset.
If CBS gets to weigh in, their vote is PLEASE GOOD GOD DON’T MAKE US TELEVISE AN OREGON V. SOUTH CAROLINA GAME. PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE!
My Pick to win the Title: I’ll go Gonzaga, but am not laying down at +150.
For those of you who read my stuff often, you have heard the mantra “data is great, but when the variables change, so must we.” It often applies to injuries or a major trade. Sometime it just applies to a team that is “reborn” or “flips the switch.” The latter criteria could certainly be applied to South Carolina. They are defending with a ferocious intensity; like the team we saw back in January- but they are now also suddenly, stunningly, offensively proficient. Sindarius Thornwell, or “Latrell Spreewell 2.0” as I like to call him, has been the best player in the NCAA Tournament, and they are getting contributions from everyone on the floor.
But the Zags don’t suffer fools. In fact, not only do the win games, they manhandle opponents and have all year long. They are a bananas 24-10-1 ATS this season, remarkable considering the amount of points they often lay and the fact they are favored even against good teams like Arizona, Florida, Seton Hall and St. Mary’s. They win by an average of more than 22 points a game and are much bigger and deeper than South Carolina. I think their versatile bigs and Nigel Williams Goss will be able to stay composed against the South Carolina intensity and will eventually wear down the lesser-talented South Carolina roster.
This has been an amazing story, and South Carolina shouldn’t be taken lightly. But in the end, the Zags are a GREAT story too, and one that I think will keep going through Monday night.
MY PICK: Gonzaga Bulldogs -6.5
This is a game where I’ll back the underdog, but will be honest in saying I can see a scenario unfolding where if we lose this pick, we lose it badly. I’ll explain.
Oregon is athletically suited to play at the Heels tempo. In fact, they have better overall scorers than does North Carolina. Tyler Dorsey is in the conversation with Sindarius Thornwell, Jordan Bell is blocking shots at a pace so ridiculous the absence of Chris Boucher has been managed, and the Pac-12 Player of the Year, Dillon Brooks has been good – and STILL only the Ducks third best player.
This team is LEGIT and can score points. Their ceiling is as high as anyone in the country as anyone who watched their Arizona game can tell you, and there is no reason they can’t beat North Carolina.
The FLIP SIDE/WORST CASE scenario – Jordan Bell picks up a few early fouls against the stable of Carolina bigs, Justin Jackson shoots well and proves an impossible matchup, the Tar Heels get a dozen extra possessions and twenty-plus second chance points and the Ducks get squashed. I can see a scenario in which this plays out.
But all in all, if I can get a comparably talented team AND five points on a neutral floor, I am interested.
MY PICK: Oregon Ducks +5
Good luck this weekend – enjoy a unique and intriguing Final Four!