We have made it to the end - or at least close enough. Over the last three weeks we have dissected the NCAA Tournament from every possible angle. Thousands and thousands of words later we were right about a bunch of things and, sadly, wrong about a bunch, too (I'm looking at you, Michigan State). All that is left now is to make six Final Four predictions - what we will see, what will impact the outcome of the games, who has the edge, and so on. Without further ado:
A former national coach of the year will coach in the Championship Game: We'll start off with an easy one - you build confidence with predictions when you are right, so you might as well cheat and make one you can't lose. Jay Wright, Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams have all won a Naismith as the nation's top coach, so we are certain that at least one will make the final. It's more likely than not that it will be just one, in my eyes.
Hield will continue to shine: Buddy Hield isn't the only first team all-American or the only player of the year contender in the Final Four - North Carolina's Brice Johnson is as well - but he is the biggest star remaining in the field and it's not even close. On this stage one of two things tend to happen - the star shines as brightly as ever, or he fades under the spotlight of the situation. In Hield's case it will be the former. He has played well when the team needs it most, and he has found ways to do so even when things aren't going exactly as he hoped. He is absolutely not afraid to carry his team on his back, and he will be ready and able to do so again here.
Shooting is going to be an issue: Remember the 2011 national final when UConn beat Butler 53-41? If you don't that's probably because your mind has blocked out the horror of the event to save your brain cells. UConn shot poorly. Butler shot worse than any team ever has in the championship game. It was hideous. So what? Well, that was the last time the Final Four was in Houston. This is an extremely tough place to shoot. The floor is elevated and has a big drop off around the edge. The fans are much further away than normal, so depth perception is an issue. The roof is clear, so lighting is far different than most arenas. Add it all up and you have a tournament not set up to favor the deep-shooting teams. The Tar Heels are the least dependent on the deep shot, so that has the potential to be a big asset for them.
The slipper will quit fitting Cinderella: Syracuse was widely viewed as undeserving of being in the tournament field. They have made it this far, though. The run has been impressive, but it is going to end here. They have benefited from the softest path through the tournament of any team here. Combine that with the emotion of that crazy comeback against Virginia, and the week they have had to think about that, and you have real reasons for concern. And then there is the simple fact that they are the least-talented team remaining, and the gap is fairly wide. It's been a good run, but the finals will feature two highly-seeded teams.
We'll see a close game - but only one: This tournament has been split between highly-competitive, crazy games and total snore-fests that were never even sort of interesting. That's always the case in the tournament to some extent, but it seems to be truer this year - especially in the second weekend when there were several games that were close to unwatchable for long stretches. With three games remaining, it's my prediction that one will be an instant classic and two will be much less so. I don't know which games will fall into which group, but odds seem in the favor of Oklahoma being involved.
The winner will come from south of the nation's capital: There is a convenient geographical divide in this Final Four. If you draw a line across the country at Washington D.C. then North Carolina and Oklahoma are to the south of the line, while Villanova and Syracuse are to the north. I am not entirely confident who will win the tournament - though I lean to the favorites from North Carolina. Regardless, though, it will be one of the two more southern teams that ultimately cut down the nets. Actually, let's not be so wishy-washy - bottom line, North Carolina will beat Oklahoma in the finals.
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