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Final Four: North Carolina, Villanova, Oklahoma and Syracuse

There were a few electrifying games in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 but there were also some blow outs that weren’t fun to watch. Yet, we have whittled the teams down from 68 to four.

The Final Four begins Saturday evening in Houston, Texas at NRG Stadium. The Final Four teams remaining in the tournament are North Carolina, Villanova, Oklahoma and Syracuse.

How did each team get to the Final Four from the previous two rounds?

Well, North Carolina destroyed its two opponents, Indiana and Notre Dame, in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. Neither game was ever in doubt thanks to forward Brice Johnson and guard Marcus Paige. Johnson has put up 23 double-doubles this season, which set a UNC record for most in a season. The forward has also averaged 22.5 points and 11 rebounds last weekend. And the Tar Heels next opponent is a familiar foe in another member of ACC, Syracuse. UNC has already defeated the Orange twice this season, but its March (well, April) so who knows what could happen.

Syracuse did not have as easy road to the Final Four as their next opponent, UNC, did. The Orange faced off with Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. The Bulldogs took an early double digit lead, but Syracuse fought back to cut the deficit to one before half. The Orange were down nine with just under seven minutes to play and went on a 15-3 run to close the game and squeak by with a three-point victory over the ‘Zags. Next, the Orange squared off against the Virginia Cavaliers. This time Syracuse jumped out to a lead but then fell behind by double digits once again. The Orange fought back after being down 14 with 10 minutes left in the game. With the help of Malachi Richardson, Syracuse went on a 31-11 run to defeat the Cavaliers 68-62.

Villanova probably faced the toughest opponents in their Sweet 16 and Elite 8 matchups. In the Sweet 16, the Wildcats faced a good Miami team. But the Hurricanes stood no match for Ryan Arcidiacono and the Wildcats. Villanova shot 63 percent from the field and 67 percent from three, and Miami shot over 50 percent from both as well. But, it’s impossible to defeat a team when they shoot that well. In the Elite 8, Villanova faced the number one overall seed Kansas Jayhawks. The game was close throughout with the Wildcats holding a five point lead at halftime. The game remained close with the Jayhawks even taking a four point lead in the second half, but Villanova fought back and hit some clutch shots to rout Kansas by a score of 64-59.

Oklahoma came out firing in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 against Texas A&M and Oregon. The Aggies took an early lead, but the Sooners jumped out to a 19 point lead behind Jordan Woodard and Buddy Hield, who is a finalist for Wooden Award. Woodard finished with 22 points and Hield had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead Oklahoma over the Aggies 77-63. In the Elite 8, Oklahoma faced a streaky Oregon team. The Ducks shoot a lot of threes but aren’t consistently accurate. However, Hield put up one of the best performances in recent tournament history. The senior guard hit eight 3-pointers and finished with 37 points. The Sooners were never in any real danger last weekend, but all of that could change against Villanova on Saturday.

But who is going to advance to the National Championship, or win it all?

Villanova and Oklahoma have already played once this year. The two teams competed against one another in the Pearl Harbor Classic and Oklahoma came out on top with a 78-55 victory. But, that was back in December. This should be the better game of the two National Semifinal matchups. The game pits Buddy Hield versus Ryan Arcidiacono, both of whom have carried their teams throughout the season and in the tournament. Both teams go as their star players go. Villanova is a slight favorite but only by two points. Oklahoma is the better team from top to bottom, but the Wildcats have played extremely well this season and took down Kansas, a team that Oklahoma failed to beat twice during Big 12 Conference play. However, the Sooners lost both games by a combined 7 points. Hield should lead the Sooners into the Championship Game with help from Isiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard. But, the game really is a toss-up.

In the second game of the National Semifinals, North Carolina will go up against the Syracuse Orange. The two teams faced off twice during ACC Conference play with UNC winning the first game by 11 points and the second game by just five. The Tar Heels are led by senior forward Brice Johnson, while the Orange go with senior forward Michael Gbinije. Johnson has had a double-double in all but one of the tournament games and will be a key for the Tar Heels to keep their dominance over the Orange. To go along with Johnson, guard Marcus Paige will need to keep his turnovers to a minimum against Syracuse’s vaulted 2-3 zone defense. Gbinije and Malachi Richardson will have to come up big again for Syracuse to knock off the Heels. This game is pretty close throughout, but North Carolina should be able to pull away late to advance to Monday’s National Championship Game.