The 2017 NCAA Tournament is down to four teams. In the second of two Final Four contests, No. 1 North Carolina will play No. 3 Oregon from the University of Phoenix Stadium.
Tar Heel fans were surprised to note that they are indeed playing a game before the National Championship on Monday. I know, it’s shocking. North Carolina STILL has to play and expend energy before they’re crowned victor. As we draw closer to game time, we need to project a winner.
Oregon has “run into” their fair share of celebrity guests this season. And sorry, I am not talking about when Bill Walton broadcasts a Duck game. Bill is only a celebrity in Walton’s World.
During the weekend of the Sweet 16, broadcaster and former NBA great Reggie Miller took some time to talk with the team. He implored his passion on them, explaining the need to start the Kansas game with a sense of urgency. Oregon’s players obliged against a partisan Kansas crowd.
On Friday, the team was headed to a “film session” at their hotel, so they thought. Instead, head coach Dana Altman shocked them with none other than Kobe Bryant. The NBA legend took some time to lend his opinion. We shall see how well they listen.
Well, here goes nothing! Let the projection begin:
If you glanced over my Final Four Preview: No. 3 Oregon vs No. 1 North Carolina, then you know the numbers, individual match-ups and coach-speak. It’s game day and we are way past the stats at this point.
This game will come down to a few factors, but the most-telling will be second-chance opportunities. If Oregon limits UNC second-chance points, then the Ducks should win. If Carolina dominates the glass, like they have against most opponents, then UNC will make it tough on Oregon.
Of course, a majority of the “experts” are taking the comfortable road with the Tar Heels. They don’t want their precious ratings to go down or to be trolled on Twitter, so they take the safe route. I am going the opposite direction. The odds of me being wrong are higher than normal, yet I have one thing going for me and that is belief in the Ducks’ system.
The Ducks will slow down the game. North Carolina’s “usual” tempo will help that. It will be Oregon’s stifling, frenetic defensive pressure that will lure UNC into quick and bad shots. The Tar Heels will force the ball from the perimeter, equating in their worst shooting performance of the season. The No. 1 seed will shoot 39 percent from the floor.
I believe this is the Dillon Brooks game. Oregon’s star of stars we will refocus the national attention upon himself on 8-for-18 shooting from the floor. He will bury four triples, alongside nine tallies from the charity stripe in front of 70,000-plus fans. His aggressiveness to drive the lane will pay huge dividends for Canada’s finest.
Mr. March will cool down to the tune of 20 points on 6-for-15 shooting. Dorsey will extend his streak of 20 points or more to eight straight games. Yet, this game will be all about Brooks. Dorsey will struggle to find shooting room against 6-foot-6 UNC guard Theo Pinson. Regardless, Dorsey will find other ways to contribute on defense.
Assuming my final score is correct, Brooks and Dorsey would combine to score 50 of Oregon’s 73 points. Therefore, Jordan Bell just needs a typical Jordan Bell performance. I can see 14 rebounds, 10 points, five blocked shots, four assists and two stolen passes.
That leaves 13 points to the remaining Ducks. Dylan Ennis will score six points, with eight rebounds and six assists. He is as consistent as they come, exhibiting that with 18 games of 10 points or more in the regular season.
Kavell Bigby-Williams, Payton Pritchard and Casey Benson will find their way to seven total points combined. It may not sound like a lot, but they will all prove to be critical.
Benson will drill a huge 3-pointer down the stretch. The former 3-time Arizona High School Player of the Year will leave his mark on the Final Four contest.
Bigby-Williams may not overwhelm the scoring column, but he will secure six crucial rebounds, including two on the offensive glass. He will add two blocked shots of Kennedy Meeks in 17 minutes of action. Before KBW fouls out, his biggest impact will be made in the paint. UNC will avoid him, but when they do drive he will make them earn it from the free throw line.
Joel Berry II may have two sprained ankles entering action, but it will matter little as the gamer has himself a night. He will score 15 points on 5-for-8 from the field. He will distribute eight assists to keep UNC around for the entirety.
Justin Jackson will play better defense than offense in this showdown. He will shoot 3-for-12 from the field, but it will be his defensive impact that will deliver.
Meeks will have his way down low with a team-high 18 points. The 6-foot-10 big man will show signs of life at the end of the first half. It will continue until 10 minutes left in the game, when he will fade fast.
He will get Bell in early foul trouble. The time Bell is on the bench will allow Meeks to shine. UNC’s forward will secure 10 boards and one blocked shot.
UNC will lead for parts of this game. They may even control the game for the first 30 minutes, but Oregon’s intensity will wear them down over the final 10 minutes.
Oregon’s match-up zone defense will cause problems for North Carolina. The Tar Heels will turn the ball over uncharacteristically 11 times. UO will score 20 points off those turnovers, leading to the difference in this game.
UNC will win the rebounding margin, 43-36, but Oregon will win the second-chance points 16-13 on Saturday night.
Isaiah Hicks will be held to two points on 0-for-8 from the floor. His two tallies will come from the charity stripe.
Luke Maye will come off the bench to shine once again. The 6-foot-8 sophomore will score 14 points off the bench to keep the game close. He will miss more shots than usual, as his volume of attempts will be a career-high. Whenever North Carolina takes the lead in game, it will be off Maye’s buckets.
In the end, Brooks and Dorsey will lead Oregon to their first national title appearance in 78 years. The veterans will attack UNC relentlessly, getting to the foul line three times as many as they did vs Kansas (7).
The 21 free throw attempts will guide the Duck success. It will break down UNC’s elite length and interior size. Meeks will foul out. Hicks will have four fouls and Pinson will conclude with three.
It’s April. Nobody outside of Eugene expected Oregon to be here. After the loss of Chris Boucher, even that support lessened.
North Carolina is the annual favorite, making their 20th Final Four appearance. A UNC win would not surprise anyone. It certainly wouldn’t register as a blip on their historic college basketball radar. They ONLY want championships.
On the flip side, a win for Dana Altman’s team and mass hysteria would ensue. An elite brand would be born, if it hasn’t been already. If we fail to achieve this great test, it’s simply the perfect step in the right direction for a program teetering on the brink of greatness.
The real game between No. 3 Oregon (33-5) and No. 1 North Carolina (31-7) in the Final Four will take place later today. Tip is set for 5:49 p.m. PT from the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. UO is seeking their first title appearance in 78 years. The game will be televised by CBS.