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Final Four Picks 2016

Brice Johnson
1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. 10 Syracuse Orange
Who would have ever thought that Syracuse, who entered the NCAA Tournament 19-13 and extremely cold would be playing in the Final Four this season? The Orange certainly have gotten some help from sheer luck (such as Michigan State, their likely second round matchup, bowing out early) but they also have played great and have shown amazing will power late in games against Gonzaga and Virginia. The Orange will now get a chance to continue their crazy run against the tournament's last remaining No. 1 seed, the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Syracuse doesn't have a lot of big-name NBA prospects, but the talent on their roster is undeniable. Former Duke guard Michael Gbinije has been terrific this tournament, freshman Malachi Richardson has turned into a true weapon, and underrated Tyler Roberson has made his impact felt. The Orange lack a true point guard, but their entire lineup has great length and playmaking ability, and Jim Boeheim's patented 2-3 zone has worked to perfection throughout this tournament. North Carolina's biggest weakness is their three-point shooting, and it is hard to really have success against the 2-3 without at least hitting some threes. Marcus Paige has turned it on as of late, but beyond that, UNC may be pressed to score. Sharpshooting senior Trevor Cooney is sure to make an impact as well for Syracuse, and freshman Tyler Lydon has had a great couple of games. Though, the Orange run just seven guys, and UNC runs the floor extremely well, because their bigs are just so athletic. That could be a major problem for Syracuse, and it will be interesting to see how Boeheim counters it. Talent-wise, I think UNC is by far and away the best team left in the tournament. Paige can run the show, Justin Jackson has turned it on significantly after a turbulent year, and I don't think there is a team in the nation that can match up with the Tar Heels' frontcourt of Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Joel James. Johnson will play a huge role for the Tar Heels; the senior has been an absolute monster all year long and will be determined to go out on top. He likely will spend a lot of time positioned right in the heart of Syracuse's 2-3, where UNC will rely on him hitting mid-range shots, which he has proven he can do. He will also have to do work on the glass, because he is definitely a better rebounder than Lydon or even Roberson.

Talent-wise North Carolina is a better team, and they have more experience and depth. But, the Tar Heels also have choked away many games away throughout the Roy Williams era, and the Orange have capitalized this tournament, coming back in big ways against both Virginia and Gonzaga. However, I think UNC may just be too much for the youthful Orange too handle. Unless Richardson and Gbinije absolutely dominate, and Johnson struggles or gets in foul trouble, the Heels should roll. Physically no team can match up with UNC, and their experience and discipline should also help guide them to a win over the Tournament's dark horse.
North Carolina by eleven

2 Villanova Wildcats vs. 2 Oklahoma Sooners
Earlier this season, Oklahoma and Villanova squared off in a non-conference clash. The Sooners thoroughly dominated, winning by 23 points, and waking up the nation that this team is a legit National Championship threat. Months later, the two teams will meet again, but with vastly different circumstances. Villanova has made a very surprising Final Four run behind a veteran lineup and plenty of sharpshooters, while Oklahoma has continued to play great behind likely National Player of the Year Buddy Hield and scorching hot Jordan Woodard. While the Sooners will be a tough out, one thing is nearly certain: they will not be coming out with a 23-point victory in this one.

The Villanova Wildcats don't look a ton different this year than the past few years, when they have had disappointing and short lived NCAA Tournament trips. Though, they are much more balanced than in year's past, are on fire from three and have a dominant big man for the first time in a long time. The addition of Jalen Brunson has enabled Jay Wright to use two ball-handlers, with senior Ryan Arcidiacono also playing a huge role. It gives Villanova more options, consistent point guard play and a good offensive attack. It also helps that Arcidiacono is playing some of the best basketball of his long four-year career at Villanova. Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins are playing terrific as floor-spacers, and Hart has proven that he can take over games when this team needs him to. Perhaps even more important than these other things for 'Nova is the play of center Daniel Ochefu. Ochefu has been strong all year long but has been even better this NCAA Tournament, showcasing a tireless motor and an aggression we hadn't seen much before. Oklahoma is notoriously weak in their frontcourt beyond Khadeem Lattin and Ryan Spangler, and Villanova will likely use Ochefu as a serious advantage. On the other side, Oklahoma has well, Buddy Hield. Hield has only continued his absolutely dominant play throughout this March, and there doesn't appear to be a complete, lockdown defender on Villanova's roster. Also supporting Hield will be Isaiah Cousins and Woodard, who has stepped up in a big way this tourney. A former Gonzaga transfer, Ryan Spangler is another vet that should push Oklahoma to success. A very notable thing about these two teams: neither are extremely deep beyond their strong starting lineups. Both definitely have options off the bench but they don't go exactly 12 guys deep. Pace will be a major factor in this game, and so far Villanova has done a great job of dictating it in their run, which has been instrumental in wins over Miami and Kansas.

I will be the first one to admit it: I was not at all a believer of Villanova when the tournament began. Enough first weekend exits had convinced me the team was basically doomed when March rolled around, and a rather weak showing against Seton Hall in the Big East Championship did little to assuage me. However, their play this NCAA Tournament has made me a believer. I think Kansas may have been the most balanced and best team in the entire nation, and the Wildcats really outplayed them start to finish. Hield may be tough to stop, but forcing him to attack the rim instead of just chucking up threes can at least hurt him somewhat. Villanova also should employ a more up-tempo, attack offensive and defensive strategy, because it is very likely Oklahoma may not respond well. Like I said, the Sooners are going to be a very tough out. But, the way Villanova is playing, it is hard for me to pick against the Wildcats.
Villanova by nine

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