8:49 PM EST, CBS – Line: North Carolina -4.5, Over/Under: 153
While the debutantes of the Final Four compete in the earlier matchup, both participants in tonight’s latter matchup have history at this level, as the Three-Seeded Oregon ducks battle the One-Seeded North Carolina Tar Heels for the right to move on to compete in Monday Night’s National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona. While everyone is well acquainted with the Tournament History of their opponent, Oregon (33-5, 16-2 in Pac-12) hasn’t reached the Final Four since 1939, which just so happened to be the inaugural year of the tourney. In case you were wondering, they cut down the nets in that year, which means tonight’s contest has been a long time coming for Dana Altman’s charges, who have been knocking on the door for a few years now. Now in his seventh term in Eugene, Altman has taken the Ducks to the Tournament in each of the past five seasons, advancing to the Elite Eight in 2016, before shocking Top-Seeded Kansas in last weekend’s Regional Final to get to this point. With the deck stacked against them entering the Midwest Region’s Final in Kansas City, Missouri, Oregon took the No. One Overall Seed to task from the jump, racing out to a 44-33 Halftime lead, before fending off a furious late rally from the Jayhawks en route to a statement-like 74-60 victory. As they have all year, the Ducks filled up the basket , shooting a blistering 50.9% from the field, including 18-of-32 inside the three-point arc (56.3%) and 11-of-25 beyond it (44.0%), led by Sophomore Guard Tyler Dorsey (14.5 PTS, 47.2% FG, 42.3% 3FG, 3.4 REB, 1.8 AST), who scored a game-high twenty-seven points on 9-of-13 shooting (6.2%), including 6-of-10 from downtown (60.0%). This kid has been in the zone over the past three weeks, totaling at least twenty points in seven consecutive games, while shootign a scorching 25-of-40 from beyond the arc (62.5%) over his last six outings. Altman only played eight players, with four of his Starters accounting for all but seven of the team’s points. The remarkable thing though, was how they were able to lock down Kansas on the defensive end, where the virtual home side appeared overwhelmed at times; the Ducks relegated the Jayhawks to a miserable 35.0% shooting overall, including 16-of-35 from inside the arc (45.7%) and 5-of-25 beyond it (20.0%), while absolutely crushing them on the boards where they outrebounded them 33-25, and blocked eight shots. This has been the story for this unit all tourney, as they have successfully made up for the loss of Senior Forward Chris Boucher (11.8 PTS, 52.4% FG, 35.0% 3FG, 6.1 REB, 2.5 BLK), who tore his ACL in the Semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. The void left behind by the rangy 6’10” big man was viewed by many as a death sentence for this team, but credit Altman and his troops, who have manufactured a way to remain increasingly staunch on the defensive end without the services of the ace deterrent. However, he wasn’t the only reason that Oregon led the nation in blocks (6.3), for Junior Forward Jordan Bell (10.9 PTS, 63.4% FG, 8.6 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.3 STL, 2.2 BLK) has put up a firewall around the rim, using his athleticism to swat away eleven shots in the Tournament, including all eight of his team’s blocks against Kansas. This kid has personified what Altman has built in the Pacific Northwest, for while they aren’t the biggest team in the tourney, they wreck havoc on the opposition courtesy of their athleticism and tenacious attitude, which they must continue against North Carolina tonight. As we’ll get into in a bit, the Tar Heels’ have a wealth of size at their disposal, which will make it difficult for the Ducks to get second-chance opportunities around the rim. It’s absolutely imperative that they find a way to hold their own on the glass, which would go a long way towards kick-starting their own transition attack, where the likes of Junior Forward Dillion Brooks (16.3 PTS, 49.6% FG, 41.0% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 2.8 AST, 1.1 STL) is lethal.
Meanwhile, after all of these new faces in the Final Four, we have North Carolina (31-7, 14-4 in ACC), who are making their twentieth trip to this stage of the Dance, in search of their sixth National Title in School History. The two-time reigning Atlantic Coast Conference Champions have been on a mission ever since their crushing defeat in last year’s National Championship Game, in which Villanova’s Kris Jenkins’ miraculous buzzer-beating three-pointer burned their victory parade to ashes. Now after a long season, Roy Williams and his charges have returned to this stage with what has to appear at least on the surface to be a favorable draw to finish the job. After all, they are the only Blue Blood left standing after a chaotic two weeks of madness. With that said, this won’t be easy by any means for the Tar Heels, as they well know after outlasting Kentucky in a 75-73 thriller in the South Regional Final. Leading 38-33 at Halftime, Carolina fended off rally after rally from the Wildcats, who tied the game on a contested Malik Monk three-pointer with under ten seconds remaining. However, the late-game heroics would side with the Heels this time, as Joel Berry (14.6 PTS, 44.1% FG, 39.4% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 3.6 AST, 1.4 STL) quickly dribbled down the court, found Theo Pinson (6.0 PTS, 40.6% FG, 4.2 REB, 3.7 AST, ), who met resistance as he drove to the rim, and calmly kicked it out to Luke Maye (5.8 PTS, 49.1% FG, 41.0% 3FG, 4.0 REB, 1.2 AST) camping out beyond the elbow, who would knock down the winning score. Sunday’s victory wasn’t the cleanest offensive performance by an means, as Williams’ troops shot a terrible 3-of-15 from three (20.0%), and committed nearly as many turnovers (fifteen) as they had assists (seventeen). However, they did the dirty work, pummeling the ‘Cats inside the arc (24-of-43, 55.8%), outrebounded them 38-33, and made the most of their time at the Charity Stripe, where they owned an 18-12 advantage. Justin Jackson (18.2 PTS, 44.7% FG, 38.0% 3FG, 4.7 REB, 2.8 AST) and the aforementioned Berry handled the scoring load with thirty combined points on 11-of-29 shooting from the field (37.9%), while totaling nine rebounds, seven assists, and three steals, but at the end of the day Maye was the hero; the Sophomore scored seventeen points off the Bench, netting six of his nine attempts from the field (66.7%), including 2-of-3 from downtown (66.7%), with three rebounds, a pair of assists, and a steal. As we touched upon earlier, Carolina’s size will be a huge obstacle (pun intended) for Oregon to overcome as this team uses that to their advantage in cleaning up around the rim; no team rebounds better than these guys (43.7), who have beaten their opponents by an average margin of 13.0 rebounds per game, also best in nation. Six different players rack up at least four boards per outing, with Kennedy Meeks (12.3 PTS, 54.2% FG, 9.3 REB, 1.1 AST, 1.2 BLK) chief among them with 9.3 per game. The 6’9″ 290-lb Senior has been a bonafide wrecking ball in the paint this season, singlehandedly throwing Kentucky’s bigs around like rag dolls, totaling seventeen rebounds (five offensive), four blocks, and a steal in last weekend’s victory. If this kid can stay out of foul trouble, he should be able to eventually wear down the Ducks inside, which should open up the opportunity for transition points. Few teams are better at transferring defensive rebounds to fast break points better than the Tar Heels, who will need to limit Oregon’s athletic lineup around the rim as much as possible. One potential snag in their championship designs is Berry’s bulky ankle, which he suffered in the latter stages against the Wildcats, and has since kept the Junior out of practice all week. In addition to piloting their Break, this kid is one of their most effective three-point shooters, stretching the court so Meeks and Company have plenty of space to operate below.