March Madness: Taking a closer look at the Final Four

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Photo Cred: Yahoo Sports!

The Men’s Final Four is set. Now the real question is who will come out of New Orleans alive as the blue bloods battle for a National Championship

Jason Williams, Scribe Reporter

I think we can all agree that this year’s 2022 men’s NCAA tournament has been one of the best NCAA tournaments in recent history. If you haven’t been paying any attention to this year’s tournament, here are some headlines of which you should be aware: 

  • Saint Peter’s: A school with just under 3,000 total enrolled students was the first-ever No. 15-seed to reach the Elite Eight in tournament history
  • 1-seed madness: Three out of the four top seeds (Gonzaga, Arizona, and Baylor) were eliminated before the second weekend
  • ACC/Big Ten: The ACC sent three teams to the Elite Eight (Duke, North Carolina, and Miami FL.), while the Big Ten sent ziltch

And now, we look ahead to who remains: the blue bloods. How’d we get here, you may ask? Early round madness. Isn’t that why it’s called March Madness?

Since the 2007-08 season, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and Villanova have claimed seven of the last 14 National Championships (per ESPN’s Stats and Info). So regardless of who’s playing on April 4th, we’re in for a powerhouse title game matchup. 

Before I go into too much detail, to help you best prepare for the final stretch of the 2021-22 season, we’ll take a deep dive into the four remaining teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament, how they got here, and of course, predictions. 

 

Duke Blue Devils

Photo Cred: Ball Durham

2021-22 record: 32-6

Final Four appearances: 17

No. of championships: 5 (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010, 2015)

Path to Final Four: 78-61 v. No. 15 Cal State Fullerton – 85-76 v. No. 7 Michigan State – 78-73 v. No. 3 Texas Tech – 78-69 v. No. 4 Arkansas

 

How’d They Get Here

It’s simple; Duke’s offense. The Blue Devils’ offense is talented enough to make everything look effortless with freshman Paolo Banchero leading the charge. He is a threat to score in the paint, on the perimeter, and with his mid-range game. Opponents have struggled to keep tabs on the projected lottery pick. Per hoop-math.com, 41% of his shots have been at the rim, 34% of his field goals attempts have been jump shots and 26% of his shots have been from beyond the arc. Banchero has made 65%, 40%, and 33%, respectively, of those shots (per ESPN Stats and Info, hoop-math.com).

In every game Duke has played so far, there was at least one time every American watching the Blue Devils was reminded: Oh yeah, Duke has way more NBA talent than we do.

Next game: v. No. 8 North Carolina (Saturday, April 2nd – 8:49pET on TBS)

Prediction: Duke over North Carolina

 

Kansas Jayhawks

Photo Cred: CNLS Media

2021-22 record: 32-6

Final Four appearances: 16

No. of championships: 3 (1952, 1988, 2008)

Path to Final Four: 83-56 v. No. 16 Texas Southern – 79-72 v. No. 9 Creighton – 66-61 v. No. 4 Providence – 76-50 v. No. 11 Miami

 

How’d They Get Here

Kansas has displayed more stretches of brilliance than any other team in the NCAA tournament. 

The Jayhawks had a 47-19 lead at halftime in their first-round win over Texas Southern. Creighton kept the game close in the second round, but Kansas managed to sneak past with a 7 point victory against the best defensive team in the Big East during the regular season. In Kansas’ third-round game, Providence took a 38-37 lead heading into the second half but didn’t quite have enough gas. The Friars lost by 5. And on Sunday, Kansas outscored Miami – the same Miami squad who upset No. 2 Auburn in the second round – 47-15 in the second half to advance to the Final Four.

No wonder why 42.5% of Americans (per ESPN Tournament Challenge Bracket Trend and Notes) selected Kansas as one of the Final Four teams standing.

Next game: v. No. 2 Villanova (Saturday, April 2nd — 6:09pET on TBS)

Prediction: Kansas over Villanova

 

North Carolina Tar Heels

Photo Cred: The Washington Post

2021-22 record: 28-9

Final Four appearances: 21

No. of championships: 6 (1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009, 2017)

Path to Final Four: 95-63 v. No. 9 Marquette – 93-86 (OT) v. No. 1 Baylor – 73-66 v. No. 4 UCLA – 69-49 v. No. 15 Saint Peter’s

 

How’d They Get Here

On Saturday evening, coach Hubert Davis will lead the Tar Heels against Duke in a never-seen-before Duke-UNC NCAA Tournament matchup, let alone in the Final Four. North Carolina spoiled Coach K’s “senior night” on the last game of the regular season, splitting the regular-season series. 

Looking at North Carolina’s offense, Armando Bacot has recorded a double-double in each of UNC’s four tournament games, including having 20 points and 22 rebounds in the Elite Eight win over Saint Peter’s. Brady Manek has scored a total of 54 points in just the first two games against Marquette and Baylor, including shooting 16-for-34 from beyond the arc thus far. Caleb Love and RJ Davis also deserve to be mentioned. Love torched Marquette and UCLA scoring 23 and 30 points. RJ Davis had 30 against Baylor. 

North Carolina may not be the best team in the country, but they have made huge improvements throughout the dance.

Next game: v. No. 2 Duke (Saturday, April 2nd – 8:49pET on TBS)

Prediction: Duke over North Carolina

 

Villanova Wildcats

Photo Cred: San Francisco Chronicle

2021-22 record: 30-7

Final Four appearances: 7

No. of championships: 3 (1985, 2016, 2018)

Path to Final Four: 80-60 v. No. 15 Delaware – 71-61 v. No. 7 Ohio State – 63-55 v. No. 11 Michigan – 50-44 v. No. 5 Houston

 

How’d They Get Here

There have been many questions circulating around Villanova and their offense, and rightfully so. But the Wildcats should be getting more credit for their defense this tournament. According to KenPom.com, Villanova held Ohio State, Michigan, and Houston — three teams that rank in the top 25 in adjusted offensive efficiency (per KenPom.com) — to a combined 53.3 points per game and 36.8 shooting percentage. Villanova has also been remarkable from the free-throw line. Going 53-for-59 (89.8 percent). The Wildcats went a perfect 15-for-15 from the line in their Elite Eight win over Houston. 

Speaking of Nova’s defense, this is the second straight year a major injury could take away Villanova’s chance at a title. Last year, Nova entered the tournament without Collin Gillespie, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. This season, it’s Justin Moore (who averages 14.8 points per game), who suffered a torn Achilles in his team’s win over Houston in the Elite Eight and will be unavailable to play in the Four Four, the team announced Sunday. 

Even though Villanova will be without Moore, many consider the Wildcats a contender, which I agree. Gillespie (15.6 points per game and 41% from beyond the arc) is arguably one of the best players in the country. Perhaps even from beyond the 3-point line.

 Next game: v. No. 1 Kansas (Saturday, April 2nd — 6:09pET on TBS)

Prediction: Kansas over Villanova

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