In what seems like a blink of the eye, 64 teams have been eliminated from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Only four remain; the Final Four, as upsets have dominated the tournament. Many thought Big Ten juggernaut Michigan State could run through its competition and win the tournament, but the Spartans lost to Middle Tennessee State in the Round of 64. Others saw the perennial Big 12 champions, the Kansas Jayhawks winning, but they were eliminated in the Elite Eight. So who is left? Which team will be able to finish a magical run through the craziest event in sports? Villanova, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Syracuse are the only four left with a chance. Each team has played hard to get to this point, and very few predicted this would be the tournament’s Final Four.
In addition to having a great run in the tournament so far, Villanova also had a pretty dominant regular season, going 16-2 and finishing first in the Big East Conference. Nova’s regular season performance showed the selection committee enough to grant them a No. 2 seed in the tournament, first pitting them up against No. 15 seeded UNC-Asheville, whom they cruised through in an 86-56 victory. Villanova’s dominant play continued in the round of 32 and the Sweet Sixteen, beating Iowa 87-68 and Miami 92-69. The biggest challenge came in the Elite Eight, when Nova won a tight game against No. 1 Kansas, whom many thought was a lock to get to the Final Four.
The team that Villanova will have to play on April 4, however, is no slouch. Oklahoma is also a No. 2 seed, but has arguably had a harder path through the tournament. OU beat CSU Bakersfield, VCU, Texas A&M and Oregon, which was the highest seeded team in the region. Oklahoma may have a slight edge over Villanova in the Final Four because it has the biggest x-factor in the entire tournament: Buddy Hield. Buddy is a favorite to be the NCAA player of the year and has been on an absolute tear in the tournament, averaging 25 PPG. If Villanova wants to make it to the final, it needs to find a way to stop Buddy.
On the other side of the Final Four lies a team that many thought shouldn’t be in the tournament to begin with. No. 10 Syracuse finished with 13 losses in the regular season, which could arguably be blamed on head coach Jim Boeheim’s suspension early in the season. However, the adversity has not affected the Orange, who have had an amazing run in the tournament, coming back late in the second half against Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen and then overcoming a 16-point deficit to Virginia in the Elite Eight. If Syracuse wants to continue its post season magic, however, it will have to knock off another No. 1 seed.
UNC has a history as a basketball powerhouse, but has been absent from the Final Four in recent years. However, this year the Tar Heels put together quite a season, finishing first in the ACC with a 14-4 record. As the No. 1 seed in the East region of the tournament, UNC beat Florida Gulf Coast, Providence, Indiana and Notre Dame all in a very convincing fashion. Heading into the Final Four, UNC appears to be the team to beat especially when one considers their momemtum and athleticism. However, this is March, and all bets are off.