North Carolina comes into the Final Four as the top-heavy betting favorite to win the national championship on Monday night. The Tar Heels’ odds are 5-7. No one else is better than 3-1. UNC is a nine-point favorite in their Saturday national semifinal against Syracuse.
The Tar Heels have the most imposing frontline of all four teams in Houston, they have an explosive point guard and they have an elite coach. It begs the question of whether it’s even realistic to hope that any of the other three teams have a shot.
I expect Roy Williams to win his third crown on Monday, but I don’t see it as quite the foregone conclusion that the Las Vegas odds show. Here’s a brief rundown on the hopes that the three challengers have…
Villanova: The Wildcats’ case is simple. If you look at where each team ranks in terms of offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency, Villanova is the best team on the board. They rank 8th and 20th respectively, which beats North Carolina’s 5th & 29th by a little bit.
Oklahoma: Buddy Hield has been the best player in the tournament and when you have the best player and only need one more great two-game push, you have to be respected.
Syracuse: In spite of barely making the NCAA field and getting the luck of the draw in upsets (avoiding 2-seed Michigan State and 3-seed Utah), don’t sleep on the Orange. They ranked 16th nationally in defensive efficiency all season and the uniqueness of their zone can make that rank even more effective in a one-game shot. They also have good size underneath and a talented swingman in Michael Gbinije. To say nothing of their own elite coach in Jim Boeheim.
I’m particularly intrigued by Syracuse’s chances against North Carolina in the late game on Saturday. Even though the Heels will be familiar with the zone because of two regular season meetings with the Orange, familiarity doesn’t help if you can’t hit outside shots.
UNC relies on its inside game, starting with Brice Johnson who has been great in the NCAA Tournament. But against the zone, Marcus Paige will need to light it up from the perimeter the way he did against Indiana. If Paige is cold—and he’s been up-and-down this season—this game is going to get tight and that will favor Syracuse.
In the end, Williams is too good a coach to be outmaneuvered by Boeheim and Williams has the better talent so I think North Carolina survives. And if Paige is hot and Carolina is able to push the pace it has the potential to get ugly. But it will be worth watching.
I’m not at all sold on Oklahoma’s chances. As great as Hield has been, it just asks too much for a shooter to stay that hot. In the NBA, the best player theory often works because the best players are so outstanding. LeBron James can make an undermanned Cleveland team competitive against Golden State in the NBA Finals. But even the best college players usually have some inconsistencies, and it’s even worse when that player relies on outside shooting.
I think OU loses to Villanova and would not give them a serious shot against North Carolina. The Sooners would be favored over Syracuse if it comes to that, but I would pick the Orange.
Villanova is who I’m rooting for at this point, but I just worry that they can’t match up inside with North Carolina’s deep frontcourt. I’d see Johnson having a good game against the Wildcats, and then you throw Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson in there and it’s too much for ‘Nova to keep up with. The ability of Villanova to defend would make this an interesting game, but in the end North Carolina would win it.
And perhaps that’s the way to sum up this Final Four as a whole—the two games on Saturday and the potential matchups on Monday are all interesting. But in the end, the favorite holds sway.