And then there were four. Oklahoma, Villanova, Syracuse and North Carolina have all advanced to the Final Four in Houston after one of the wildest tourneys in recent memory. All four teams certainly have their unique strengths and, maybe more importantly, their own uniquely exploitable weaknesses, so let’s break down the two semifinals to try and gather some clarity on who could come out on top of this woolly scrum.

Villanova vs Oklahoma:

Both the Wildcats and the Sooners have rampaged through the tourney at times and both have had to face very stiff tests at times. For ‘Nova their test of mettle came against the bruising and never-say-die Kansas Jayhawks, a KU squad that was the overall #1 seed when the brackets were drawn up. Aside from that, the Wildcats have destroyed their competition, they manhandled Iowa and Miami and now face an Oklahoma squad that roundly defeated them back in December. The revenge narrative shouldn’t be an overarching aspect when a national championship berth is at stake, but for the sake of media hype and, to a certain extent motivation, the beat down at the hands of the Sooners has to play a factor for this Villanova squad. In that December game, Buddy Hield was largely held in check, but the rest of the Sooners had a field day. If there’s a team that can slow down Hield and the rest of the OU team, it could be this ‘Nova team –yes, in spite of previous results.

Coach Mike Krzyewzki during his weekly show on SiriusXM spoke at length about Villanova’s season largely flying under the radar and why that could matter against OU.

For the Sooners? Keep challenging the Wildcats with three-point attempts (and make them of course), while also getting Hield free, a similar enough game plan from December, but ‘Nova’s pressuring man-to-man defense can show cracks when stretched along the perimeter and the athletic, sharpshooting Sooners can continually test this weakness.

Prediction: Villanova 68, Oklahoma 66

Syracuse vs North Caorlina

In a classic “blue bloods” matchup, the increasingly dominant UNC Tar Heels face the surprising and white-hot Syracuse Orange. On paper the Heels should have no trouble with ‘Cuse, the same could have been said for Dayton or Gonzaga. While it’s reductive to say that the Orange are only in the Final Four because Michigan State lost to Middle Tennessee and while Syracuse is certainly a college hoops blue blood, this run has been as improbable as it has been fun. Still, certain fans are justifiably agitated about a team with such a low RPI qualifying to start with, included in that group? Our own Greg McElroy and Taylor Zarzour. Check out what they had to say about the Orange’s inclusion:

Not mentioned? Syracuse is playing very well in the tournament. However, the buck stops here for the Orange as North Carolina is hitting on all cylinders at this point and are battle-tested after running through the ACC tournament and dispensing of Providence, Indiana and Notre Dame just to get here.

Prediction: North Carolina 70, Syracuse 54

Other factors:

Houston’s NRG Stadium

Jim Nantz dropped by College Sports Today this week and weighed in on Houston’s cavernous NRG Stadium. While venues shouldn’t weigh too heavily, the noise, draftiness and strangeness of being in such a large stadium, combined with the magnitude of, y’know, playing in the Final Four could be a factor.

The Pundit factor

A few weeks back we asked our hoops experts for their predictions, as you can plainly see our panel of hoops experts did “not so hot.” Only three individuals total predicted any one Final Four participant and NOBODY predicted more than one team correctly. So, as always, take our predictions with a grain of salt and caveat emptor for anyone ducking the books in Vegas this week.

 

Mascot prediction: No preview worth its salt is complete without a mascot preview.

  • Sooner: A homesteader who moved into the Oklahoma Territory before it was technically legal. Opportunistic, much like OU’s offense.
  • Wildcat: Feral feline whose survival instincts, grittiness and retractable claws are typically adopted by lazy-minded university and high school athletics administrators alike.

Prediction? The Sooners shall triumph over the Wildcats. Sooners probably had guns and that could stop a wildcat, guys. Plus, historically-relevant mascots always beat generic mascots.

  • Orange: Formely the “Orangemen,” and “Orangewomen” and now just the “Orange,” ‘Cuse gets cred immediately with the produce aisle of any grocery store.
  • Tar Heel is a little tricky to pin down etymologically, but the consensus seems to have that it originated with walking barefoot in Carolina’s once vast pine forests and having tree sap/”tar” stick to your heels.

Prediction? Definitely the Heels.

Enjoy the games, folks, and don’t forget you can catch the Final Four on SiriusXM College Sports Nation (channel 84),  powered by Westwood One’s live broadcasts of the Men’s Final Four games on Saturday night, the Women’s Final Four semifinal games on Sunday night, the Men’s National Championship game on Monday and the Women’s National Championship game on Tuesday. All of the games are available at home, on your phone or in the car with SiriusXM‘s app.

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