Final Four Teams Feature Upperclassmen: Savvy Veterans Led Their Teams to the Final Four in Houston

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Marcus Paige and his deadly three-point shooting led  a veteran-laden Tar Heels team all the way to the National Championship game. 

David Minster, Maroon-News Staff

In this year’s NCAA tournament, the field consisted of teams led by tournament veterans and some led by underclassmen hungry for a championship. After Syracuse, Villanova, UNC and Oklahoma made the Final Four, it was clear that the NCAA’s upperclassmen outshined the underclassmen. These teams have different styles of play and varying levels of talent, but one overarching similarity is that they were led by upperclassmen. From Final Four-regular North Carolina to the newly emerging Villanova, all teams had veteran leaders contributing to the success of the program. 

Although Oklahoma suffered the worst loss in Final Four history, their seniors and juniors led the team on a deep run through four rounds. No. 2 seeded Oklahoma’s brightest star was Naismith Player of the Year Buddy Hield. Hield averaged an astounding 25 points per game, the most in the tournament. Hield has proven that he shines on a big stage, dropping 37 points on No. 1 Oregon in the Elite Eight. Hield was accompanied by seniors Isaiah Cousin and Ryan Spangler as well as junior Jordan Woodward, who all chipped in to the tournament run. While these experienced team leaders didn’t perform well in their game against Villanova, it’s clear that these upperclassmen had a stellar season and kept their team alive in the tournament. 

No. 10 seeded Syracuse, the most surprising team of the Final Four, was the team that used underclassmen most during their historic run. Although seniors Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije played largest roles throughout the season, the team seemed to lean on freshman Malachi Richardson as they advanced deeper into the tournament. Richardson got big minutes this year, drastically improving his draft stock and possibly making him a first-round pick. Freshman Tyler Lydon also established himself this tournament, averaging over ten points and two blocks per game. It looks as if Lydon is the future of Syracuse basketball, so he’s a player to watch next season as Syracuse looks to make another amazing run. 

UNC and Villanova squared off in the championship with Villanova prevailing, but both teams were stacked with veterans that led their respective teams to the season’s final game. Seniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson have successfully led their team to the finals and have led their Tar Heels all season long. Brice Johnson was a monster this year offensively and defensively, averaging a double-double while also picking up steals and blocks. Sophomores Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II have consistently produced during the tournament, but it is clear that winning lies on the shoulders of the UNC upperclassmen. As for Villanova, they only have one player in their starting lineup, Jalen Brunson, who is not an upperclassman. Senior Ryan Arcidiacono has been getting big minutes since his freshman year and producing better in the tournament than he has all season. Along with Arcidiacono is Josh Hart, a junior guard with killer instinct and the ability to get to the basket. Villanova’s upperclassmen helped them capture their first national championship since 1985, with junior Kris Jenkins hitting the game winner.