The 2017 Final Four starts this Saturday, April 1. No joke. East Region winner South Carolina battles West Region winner Gonzaga in one Final Four Semifinal. In the other Final Four Semifinal, East Region winner North Carolina takes on Midwest Region winner Oregon.
March Madness 2017 Final Four Preview
Check out my preview where I discuss each team’s odds to win the National Championship, and pick the winner of each semifinal game. I also pick the winner of Monday night’s Final Four Championship.
Odds to Win Final Four
The Zags broke out with an excellent 83 to 59 win over Xavier in the Elite Eight. Before beating the Musketeers, Gonzaga beat South Dakota State 66 to 46 in Round 1, Northwestern 79 to 73 in Round 2, and West Virginia 61 to 58 in the Sweet 16.
The Zags didn’t open as favorites. Final Four future bettors wagered on the Zags to favoritism. In some ways, it makes sense. Gonzaga plays South Carolina, the longest shot on the board, in the Final Four Semifinals. Many consider South Carolina to be the weakest of the four remaining teams in the NCAA Tournament.
I don’t agree with that assessment about South Carolina. That’s why I don’t see any value here.
North Carolina +155
2017 is the second season in a row that North Carolina has made it to the Final Four. Roy Williams and the Heels appeared on their way to a National Championship victory before Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hit a game winning three.
North Carolina’s experience from last season’s National Championship near miss is why bettors are flocking to the Tar Heels. Like Gonzaga, it’s hard to see the value here. North Carolina held on desperately to beat Arkansas. They needed a game winning shot from Luke Maye with .3 of a second left to beat Kentucky in the Elite Eight.
There’s no value on the Heels at +155.
Here’s where we start seeing some value. The Oregon Ducks were better defensively against Kansas in their Elite Eight win than any team has been versus an opponent during the NCAA Tournament. Kansas only hit 21 of 60 shots from the field. That’s 35%. They hit 5 of 25 shots from three against the Ducks. That’s 20%
Oregon made it to the Elite Eight last season. This year’s team is better because the Ducks relied primarily on Dillon Brooks while this year the Ducks can rely on both Brooks and Tyler Dorsey.
+350 odds aren’t bad in a four-horse race.
South Carolina +700
South Carolina is the value play. +700 odds in a four-horse race are downright awesome. This is especially true since the horse we’re talking about is the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Gamecocks beat Marquette 93 to 73 in Round 1. In Round 2, they beat Duke 88 to 81 as a +6.5 dog. They punished Baylor 70 to 50 in the Sweet 16 as a +3 dog. They beat SEC rival Florida 77 to 70 as a +3 dog in the Elite Eight.
At +700, South Carolina looks like a great play to win the 2017 Final Four National Championship.
Final Four Semifinal: South Carolina +6.5 vs Gonzaga -6.5
Gonzaga’s breakout game against Xavier was nice to see. The Zags had given up an 18-point lead at halftime in Round 2 versus Northwestern to only beat the Big Ten Wildcats 79 to 73. Gonzaga struggled to a 3-point win over West Virginia.
The Zags needed a breakout game. But, like I alluded to in my other blog this week, Gonzaga may have benefited from Xavier bouncing after playing so well for so long. The Musketeers had gone 7-0 straight up and 6-1 against the spread before running into the Zags in the Elite Eight. Xavier was bound to take a big fall.
What I worry about Gonzaga versus South Carolina is their penchant for turning over the ball. Gonzaga committed 9 turnovers versus South Dakota State. They committed 13 turnovers versus Northwestern. West Virginia forced the Zags into 16 turnovers. Gonzaga turned the ball over 10 times against Xavier in the Elite Eight.
South Carolina is used to forcing turnovers. Marquette handed the ball over to South Carolina 17 times, Duke gave it up 18 times, and Baylor gave it up 16 times. Even a team like Florida, who played as slow as they could against the Gamecocks, committed 14 turnovers.
I wouldn’t worry so much about Gonzaga in this game if they had a big offensive advantage over South Carolina. The Zags don’t. While South Carolina relied on its defense to win during the regular season, the Gamecocks are running opponents out of the building during the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina scored 93 versus Marquette, 88 against Duke, 70 versus Baylor when the Bears tried to play a half-court game and win, and 77 against Florida.
If Gonzaga speeds up the game, they’re going to be in trouble. If the Zags slow the game down, they’re really in trouble. I like the Gamecocks to upset the Zags straight up.
Pick: South Carolina
Final Four Semifinal: Oregon +4.5 vs North Carolina -4.5
To say North Carolina got lucky when beating Kentucky in the Elite Eight is an understatement. The Tar Heels didn’t outplay the SEC Wildcats. Kentucky turned the ball over only 9 times. North Carolina turned it over 15 times.
The Heels hit a game winning shot with .3 seconds left in regulation. What are you going to do?
But, North Carolina’s lucky win over Kentucky isn’t the only reason I dislike them versus Oregon in the Final Four. The Tar Heels haven’t found their stroke from three yet in the NCAA Tournament. The Heels went 8 out of 22, 36.4%, in their 103 to 64 win over Texas-Southern in Round 1. Arkansas held North Carolina to 29.4% from three, 5 of 17, in North Carolina’s 72 to 65 Round 2 win. Even Butler, who lost 80 to 92 to North Carolina, kept the Heels at 37.5% from three.
North Carolina shot only 20% from three versus Kentucky. Ah, but the Tar Heels are big inside, right? Sure, but North Carolina’s going to have to hit three point shots to beat the Oregon Ducks.
Oregon has a plethora of three-point shooters on their team. Tyler Dorsey was phenomenal against Kansas in the Elite Eight. He scored 27 points when going 6 of 10 from three. North Carolina won’t be able to stop Dorsey because if they do, how are they going to stop Dillon Brooks, the Pac 12 Player of the Year?
Oregon has so many weapons, and the defense is playing so well, that it’s hard for me to see North Carolina beating the Ducks. I just don’t see it. I like Oregon to upset North Carolina on April 1.
Final Four National Championship: South Carolina vs Oregon
This section is meaningless if I’m not right about South Carolina and Oregon. I think I will be. What’s going to happen when South Carolina battles Oregon on Monday night, April 3?
South Carolina has a great guard in Sindarius Thornwell. The man is unstoppable. Plus, the Gamecocks know how to play fast on offense. Oregon has two great guards in Dorsey and Brooks. These two teams should provide an excellent game that could go either way.
But, the Ducks have a big advantage. My gut tells me that Oregon wins the game on Monday night (should it happen!). It comes down to Oregon’s third great player, Jordan Bell.
After Chris Boucher went down with a season-ending injury during the Pac 12 Tournament I, like so many other college basketball fans, thought the Ducks were toast in the NCAA Tournament. Boucher was Oregon’s best big man.
But, Jordan Bell stepped it up…big league. Bell scored 17 points and grabbed 12 boards versus Iona in the Ducks 93 to 77 win. When Oregon beat Rhode Island 75 to 72 in Round 2, Bell only provided 6 points, but he blocked 2 shots, and grabbed 12 boards. Oregon beat the on-fire Michigan Wolverines 69 to 68 in the Sweet 16 because Bell scored 16 points and grabbed 13 boards.
Then, versus the favored Kansas Jayhawks in the Elite Eight, Jordan Bell was magnificent. Bell almost got a triple-double in the game with points, rebounds, and blocks. He scored 11. He grabbed 13 rebounds. He blocked a ridiculous 8 Kansas shots.
The game should be close, but at the end, I just don’t see South Carolina stopping Dorsey, Brooks, and Bell. I like Oregon’s Big Three to lead the Ducks to their first men’s college hoops championship since 1939.