An atypical quartet is making its way to Phoenix for the Final Four this weekend.
North Carolina is a frequent national semifinalist, but opposing Oregon hasn’t been on this stage since before World War II. The winner of that matchup will face either Gonzaga or South Carolina, both of whom will be playing their programs’ first Final Four game.
In advance of Saturday’s matchups and Monday’s national championship game, here’s a look at each team’s strengths.
The Tar Heels, the top seed from the South Regional, are an elite offensive unit. UNC ranked top 10 nationally in scoring and assists, and is D-1’s top team on the glass — both offensively and cumulatively.
Led by junior forward Justin Jackson, a player of the year candidate, and two-time national champion coach Roy Williams, North Carolina is the safest bet to be cutting down the nets late Monday night.
Longtime coach Mark Few finally guided the Bulldogs to the tournament’s third weekend with a team built to succeed on defense. The Zags, the West Regional’s top seed, rank top-four nationally in scoring defense, field goal and 3-point field goal defense, and defensive rebounds.
Junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss, also a player of the year finalist, runs the show for a Gonzaga team that lost just one time all season.
No D-1 school in the nation swatted more shots than the Ducks, the No. 3 seed from the Midwest Regional. Senior Chris Boucher and junior Jordan Bell each average more than two blocks per game.
The centerpiece for coach Dana Altman’s team is junior forward Dillon Brooks, the Pac-12 Player of the Year. If any one player is to be responsible for Oregon winning it all, it’s Brooks.
The surprise winner of the East Regional at Madison Square Garden, the No. 7 Gamecocks are the only team left standing to not rank in the top 10 for scoring margin. Although most of their numbers don’t stand out on paper, South Carolina is eighth in turnover margin.
Top-scoring senior guard Sindarius Thornwell (21.6 ppg) and coach Frank Martin are the clear underdogs in Phoenix, but they’ve played that role for most of the Big Dance.