Duke. Done. Villanova. Done. Kentucky. Done. Kansas. Done. UCLA. Done.
This year’s NCAA tournament lived up to its March Madness name. The 2017 NCAA tournament has been the year of the underdog. The Final Four is comprised of two No. 1 seeds in the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Gonzaga Bulldogs, and a couple of bracket busters in the No. 3 Oregon Ducks and the No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks.
Coming out the East Region, South Carolina has been putting on a defensive clinic. Prior to this year’s tournament, the Gamecocks had not been in the NCAA tournament since 2004 and had never been to the Elite Eight in school history. Since Frank Martin became head coach in 2012, the Gamecocks have improved each year, but nobody could see them taking this big of a leap, especially for a team that finished third in the SEC. They are led by their best player, senior guard Sindarius Thornwell, who has been an absolute beast this tournament, averaging six rebounds and more than 24 points per game. During their run to the Final Four, South Carolina has beaten three top fifteen teams in one week, including Duke, Baylor, and Florida.
Emerging out the West Region, Gonzaga has transformed from a former Cinderella team to a Final Four team. This marks the first Final Four appearance in Gonzaga’s entire history and the first Final Four appearance for head coach Mark Few. Gonzaga, a program historically known for regular season success but underachieving tournament performances, has finally ended the Final Four drought. After a 32-1 regular season, the Bulldogs continued their regular season dominance into tournament play. Led by junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss and sporting a versatile nine-man rotation, Gonzaga had a couple of close games in the tournament, narrowly beating both West Virginia and Northwestern. In the Elite Eight however, Gonzaga handily defeated Xavier 83-59 to win the West Region.
Prevailing out of the Midwest Region is the Oregon Ducks, and the last time that the Ducks won the NCAA tournament was in 1939, the inaugural NCAA tournament. The Pac-12 regular season champions are led by their trio Dylan Ennis, Dillon Brooks, and Jordan Bell. Oregon, like Gonzaga, was tested in the early tournament. After routing Iona in the first round, Oregon had a pair of nail-biting victories over URI and Michigan. However, in the Elite Eight against the No. 1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks, Oregon was clicking on all cylinders. Jordan Bell transformed into Dikembe Mutumbo and had eight blocks against Kansas, which was a NCAA tournament record for a Pac-12 player. His outstanding play helped Oregon pull off the 74-60 upset over the Jayhawks, allowing them to return to the Final Four for the second time in school history.
Coming out of the South Region is the North Carolina Tar heels. After losing to Villanova in last year’s championship game by a buzzer-beater, the only thing on North Carolina’s mind is revenge. The Tar Heels are the Final Four’s most talented team and have depth at every position. Coached by two-time NCAA champion Roy Williams and with a roster full of All-Americans, North Carolina is determined to bounce back from last year. North Carolina is led by Joel Berry and Justin Jackson, but they are more than a two-man team. They have an imposing frontcourt that has led them to victories over Texas Southern, Arkansas, and Butler. They also passed a tough test in a 75-73 win over a young but talented Kentucky team in the Elite Eight on a buzzer-beater by Luke Maye.
The Final Four will begin play on April 1 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, with South Carolina taking on Gonzaga followed by North Carolina vs. Oregon.