This Final Four has got it all!
by John Jastremski
Mar 30, 2016 | 9464 views | 0 0 comments | 219 219 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It amazes me how in life, in the world of sports, things can change in an instant. Remember two and a half weeks ago? Many pundits including yours truly had Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas playing in this year’s Final Four.

How’d that one work out?

Yes, I’m well aware my picks throughout this tournament haven’t been the greatest, but guess what? I’m still basking in the glory in one of my favorite sports moments as a fan in the last decade or so.

My alma mater Syracuse, who many said three weeks ago had no business playing in this years’ NCAA Tournament, has stunned the basketball world by becoming the fourth double-digit seed to find their way to the Final Four.

Syracuse’s consecutive remarkable second-half comebacks against Gonzaga and Virginia in Chicago had myself and the rest of Orange Nation in a state of shock and awe.

I’m fully aware that I’m a lot more pumped up about one specific Final Four participant compared to the other three, but it should make for compelling theater Saturday in Houston where you have four outstanding college basketball programs going at it.

The Favorites

The Tar Heels have finally resembled the team that I thought we would see throughout the course of the regular season.

To me, this is hands’ down the most talented team remaining in the tournament. They’re able to go nine deep. They’re size and athleticism is very tough to deal with, and they’ve won every game in this Tournament by double digits.

Bryce Johnson is the go-to guy down low, but if there’s any Achilles’ heel for the Goliath of this dance, it’s the inability to hit the outside shot.

Poor three-point shooting is the only thing that can keep Carolina from cutting down the nets next Monday.

The Difference Maker

The Oklahoma Sooners have been one of my favorite teams to watch all season long. In fact, I owe Oklahoma a big fat thank you, because they were the only Final Four team I correctly predicted. So thanks, Lon Kruger and crew.

Oklahoma is one of the most dynamic offensive teams in the country. The Sooners’ guard play is outstanding and they are fortunate to have the best player in college basketball on their side.

Buddy Hield has been the best player in America throughout the entire season. In the regional final, he dropped 37 points against Oregon. The scary part for the rest of the field is that his performance last Saturday is par for the course.

Hield is the sort of player who could win a game or two by himself. We’ve seen one individual player over the years will their teams to the national championship.

I can think of Danny Manning at Kansas, Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse and Kemba Walker at UConn just to name a few.

If Oklahoma is going to win it all, Buddy Hield will join that list.

The Revenge Tour

My apologizes to all of Nova Nation because I’ve doubted your team all season long. Rightfully so, may I add. Villanova had this reputation over the last couple of seasons for being a soft group that didn’t know how to play if they weren’t hitting three-point shots.

Villanova from 2013-2015 had a lot of success in the regular season, but they did not perform well in the NCAA Tournament. The group had failed to get past the first weekend all three years.

Now here we are in the 2016 season, and Villanova is in the Final Four. What’s changed? It’s very simple: their identity and style as a basketball team.

Villanova has become a gritty defensive bunch. They’ve put together marvelous defensive performances capped by an unbelievable effort against Kansas, one of the most explosive offensive teams in the country in the Elite Eight.

They’ll need that new mindset to propel them to Monday Night. Villanova was torched earlier in the year by the Oklahoma Sooners in a preseason tournament.

They’ve been well coached by Jay Wright, they’ve changed the entire narrative about their program and now they enter the Final Four with nothing to lose.

That’s always dangerous especially when it comes to a group that has a ton of experience.

Cinderella? Really?

If you would’ve told me three weeks ago after Syracuse lost in their opening round game in the ACC Tournament to Pittsburgh that the ‘Cuse would be playing in this year’s Final Four, I would’ve called you a lot of nasty names.

Nobody in a million years imagined that Syracuse would find their way to Houston for this year’s festivities.

Syracuse was able to take advantage of a favorable draw after Michigan State was upset by Middle Tennessee State, but they’ve put together two of the best comebacks I’ve ever seen in the NCAA Tournament against Gonzaga and Virginia respectively.

The ‘Cuse is led by a Hall of Fame Coach in Jim Boeheim and is a team playing their best basketball of the season.

Boeheim has coached Syracuse for 39 years, and this is the best job he’s ever done. He took a team that lost 13 games, was on the bubble for the tournament all the way to the Final Four. Enough said.

Syracuse doesn’t have a true point guard, they don’t have a true center, but their 2-3 zone is a difference maker.

On Sunday, freshman Malachi Richardson took the game over against the Virginia Cavaliers. He’ll need to put on the Superman cape yet again if the ‘Cuse has a chance to shock the world yet against North Carolina.

PREDICTIONS Villanova-Oklahoma

In a battle with the great offense vs. the great defense, I’m going against conventional wisdom and siding with the great offensive team. I can’t pick against Buddy Hield in this spot.

OU 68 Villanova 63


My heart says Syracuse, but sadly my head says that North Carolina appears to be a team that is on a mission. Too big, too deep, too good.

The ‘Cuse will give Carolina all it can handle, I expect the game to be close in the final moments, but it won’t be enough

UNC 73 Syracuse 66

UNC vs. Oklahoma

The North Carolina Tar Heels have been unstoppable in this NCAA Tournament. They’re impossible to matchup with, their size is overwhelming and it will propel Roy Williams to his third National Championship at Chapel Hill.

However, if this tournament has taught us anything, expect the unexpected.

Enjoy One Shining Moment, one and all.
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