On this week’s episode of Tar Takes, Ryan Lipton and David Matlock give their takeaways from the North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils’ early exits from NCAA March Madness and why the exits might not have been as surprising as one might think.
Tar Takes also examines whether it is the right decision for Nassir Little to enter the NBA draft, if Coby White should follow Little’s footsteps and leave for the NBA, looks forward to possibly landing the No. 1 G in the country in Cole Anthony and Zion Williams/Ja Morant talk.
Tar Takes 4/1 Topics:
Thoughts on UNC’s loss to Auburn in the Sweet 16 and Duke’s loss to Michigan State in the Elite 8.
UNC F Nassir Little declares for NBA draft. Is that the right move for Nassir?
Should Coby White declare for the NBA draft? His decision is still unknown.
What are the prospects for next year’s Tar Heel team? Armando Barcot is committed, Cole Anthony is looking hard at UNC but some think his decision depends on Coby White.
Would a Cole Anthony and Coby White back court work together?
No. 1 North Carolina Tarheels vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
After an unpredictable tournament sprinkled with cinderella stories, two number one seeds are playing for the National Championship.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs beat the South Carolina Gamecocks last night 77-73. Gonzaga held a solid lead for most of the game, but allowed South Carolina to go on a late 16-0 run. The Bulldogs then regained control and played solid basketball down the stretch to win.
The North Carolina Tar Heels barely hung on last night against the Oregon Ducks in a 77-76 win. UNC got down early, but came back before halftime and controlled the game for the majority of the second half. They let the Ducks creep back into it late, though. With possession and just over five seconds on the clock, UNC missed four consecutive free throws. Luckily, the best rebounding team in the country corralled two offensive boards on those misses to seal the win.
After two hard fought wins, Gonzaga and UNC will compete Monday night for the National Championship.
What to watch for
Big men (Karnowski vs. Meeks)
Both teams are dominant inside.
When forwards Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley were limited by the Ducks last night, Kennedy Meeks exploded for 25 points and 14 rebounds. North Carolina has arguably the most dominant inside presence; they have the best rebounding margin in the country.
Gonzaga is a great rebounding team, too, ranked 11th in the country. Against South Carolina, Gonzaga’s big men took over. Center Przemek Karnowski scored 13 points and had five rebounds, while forward Zach Collins, had 14 points and 13 rebounds off the bench.
Karnowski has the ability to exploit small teams because of his height. He’s not as dominant on the boards as he should be, though, averaging just under six rebounds per game. It wouldn’t surprise me if he struggles against North Carolina’s elite big men.
It’s hard to bet against either teams big men, but I think as long as North Carolina’s can avoid foul trouble, they’ve got the upper-hand.
Slight Advantage: North Carolina
When everyone is healthy, North Carolina has the advantage at the guard spot. Joel Berry II’s playing ability has been hindered, though, due to his recent ankle injuries. He shot 2-14 against Oregon, and after playing 35 minutes on Saturday, his ankle’s not going to be any better.
Gonzaga has a group of solid guards led by Nigel Williams-Goss, who scored 23 points against the Gamecocks, many of which game at crucial points in the game. Their guards are tough and play with sound fundamentals.
Williams-Goss is arguably better than Berry and is playing without any injury concerns. He has also shown the ability to do everything: score, assist without turning the ball over, exude toughness, and perform in clutch moments.
Stars win games late and win championships.
Williams-Goss has shown himself to be a star, but I expect Berry to play solid defense against him, limiting his scoring.
I don’t see anyone being able to control forward Justin Jackson. He’s been the best player for the Tar Heels this season and down the stretch. His clutch shooting will keep UNC in the game early and help them pull away late.
UNC has more star power and size than Gonzaga. Not to mention, UNC has the experience of playing in a National Championship game. Even though they lost on one of the most memorable shots in March Madness history, the experience will help them on Monday.
Championship games are won with experience, so last years game might be the difference for the Heels; their guys have been here before.
North Carolina will win a nail-biter late thanks to a few timely rebounds from Meeks and a few clutch shots from Jackson.
No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks
NCAA Tournament – Final Four
April 1, 6:09 pm (ET) on CBS
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
For Gonzaga and South Carolina, this is their first trip to the Final Four. Amazingly, this year was the first time South Carolina even won back-to-back tournament games.
It’s incredible that these two teams are playing each other for the right to go to the National Championship.
Gonzaga has always been a good program, but hasn’t succeeded in the tournament. South Carolina came out of nowhere, guided by star guard Sindarius Thornwell and coach Frank Martin.
Gamecocks keys to victory
Guard Sindarius Thornwell
Thornwell is the reason that the Gamecocks have made it this far. There’s no doubt he’s been the best player in March.
He’s leading the tournament in scoring at 25.7 points per game, shooting lights out, and getting to the line at will (32-39 from the line).
He’s rebounding well for a guard, too, grabbing 7.5 boards per game. Thornwell has played lock down defense as well, guarding the opposing team’s best player each game. In the second round against Duke, he held Luke Kennard to 11 points. Against Baylor, he held junior guard Manu Lecomte to just eight points. Finally, in USC’s win over Florida, he held KeVaugh Allen to 13 points.
Thornwell is a force on offense and consistently locks down good players from the opposition.
Pressure on the wings
In terms of size, South Carolina doesn’t match up well with Gonzaga. However, the Gamecock’s guards are quick and great on defense. They’ll have to put a lot of pressure on the Gonzaga guards, making it difficult to throw the ball inside. Every time Gonzaga gets the ball in the post, it’ll be an easy two points.
South Carolina has the talent to limit Gonzaga’s inside touches, it is just a matter of executing.
Gonzaga keys to victory
Pound it inside
Gonzaga has a huge advantage inside.
South Carolina will struggle to stop Gonzaga Center Przemek Karnowski, who is over seven feet tall. Karnowski has underperformed in this tournament, but a lack of execution from the Gamecocks will lead to easy buckets and rebounds for Karnowski.
Six foot nine Johnathan Williams will also be tough to stop. He’s played better in the latter stages of the tournament, scoring 13 against West Virginia and 19 against Xavier.
Stop Sindarius Thornwell
This one is obvious. Playing against the best player in the tournament, they’ll need to find a way to stop him. If they can’t, he could easily go for 30 points and take South Carolina to their first ever National Championship appearance.
Gonzaga is the better team. They have solid guards who will score double-digits points and big men to wreak havoc. They just need to keep doing what they’ve done all this season and they should knock off South Carolina.
Cinderella teams can make it to the Elite Eight and sometimes the Final Four, but history tells that they rarely go all the way.
The Gamecocks will move on. They have just enough size to stop Gonzaga from going off inside, and they have guards that could present a lot of defensive trouble for Gonzaga. Frank Martin is a great coach, too. I loved him during his time at Kansas State and I believe he’ll make the right adjustments to limit Gonzaga’s big men.
Thornwell will be the difference. Expect him to have a big day with a few clutch shots late to move South Carolina past Gonzaga.
No. 1 North Carolina Tarheels vs. No. 3 Oregon Ducks
NCAA Tournament – Final Four
April 1, 8:49 pm (ET) on CBS
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
Last week’s UNC-Kentucky game was the unofficial National Championship. I decided that whichever team came out on top in that nail-biter, I’d pick to win it all.
Predictions in the month of March are erratic, anyone can figure that out by looking at their bracket. Take my prediction with a grain of salt. Here are the keys to victory for both teams.
Oregon’s keys to victory
Ride the experience of Dorsey and Brooks
Guard Tyler Dorsey and forward Dillon Brooks are averaging more than 14 points per game this season. Dorsey, the point guard and leader, is a gritty player who embraces big moments. He’s been Oregon’s best weapon in the tournament, averaging 24.5 points per game.
Brooks, the 6 foot 7 forward, is clear-cut NBA talent. He hasn’t had a 20 point game in the tournament yet, but has been a solid force for the Ducks, scoring in the mid-teens and rebounding well.
Brooks will have to pick up the slack on offense for the Ducks to win this game.
Take advantage of the ankle
North Carolina’s Joel Berry II won’t be 100 percent on Saturday after rolling his ankle several times over the past few weeks; Dorsey should look to take advantage of his immobility.
For Oregon to have a chance tomorrow, Dorsey will need to score close to 30 points.
The emergence of forward Jordan Bell gives Oregon a dynamic new weapon.
The one advantage that UNC has over everyone in the country is size. Bell will have to continue his dominance on the glass if Oregon wants to keep the game close. Bell has averaged almost four more rebounds per game in the tournament (12.5) than his season average (8.6).
Cause foul trouble
With Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley in the UNC front-court, Bell is going to have a tough day. In an effort to mitigate North Carolina’s size, Bell will need to go after Hicks to induce foul trouble.
If Oregon can reduce Hick’s minutes, Meeks and Bradley might struggle to stay in front of Brooks and Bell.
To combat UNC’s size, Oregon will have to play small-ball. Oregon only has one quality big man, Bell, while the Tarheels have three. The Ducks need to quicken the pace of play, forcing UNC’s bigs to struggle going up and down the court. Dorsey and Brooks will flourish in an open-court environment.
UNC’s keys to victory
Justin Jackson needs to continue his clutch play. UNC goes through stretches where they struggle to score because they lack shooters. Jackson’s their only star shooter, so he’ll need to hit threes and clutch shots to prevent the Tar Heels from just relying on short range baskets.
UNC has the means to dominate the glass. Oregon only plays one person above six-nine, Bell, while the Tarheels play three. It’s a glaring mismatch, and the number one rebounding team in the country, UNC, needs to take advantage.
Despite UNC’s love for running and gunning, it makes sense for them to slow it down sometimes and throw it into the post. Oregon won’t be able to stop Meeks, Bradley and Hicks down low. Any foul trouble on Bell created by action down low would kill Oregon’s chances, too.
This is the main reason why I don’t see Oregon winning this game. If Oregon slows the game down, UNC’s size will take over. If Oregon speeds the game up to combat the Tarheel’s size, UNC’s depth will take over.
UNC consistently goes ten guys deep in a game, and those five bench players aren’t inept.
Campus legend, Luke Maye, has been rebounding and hitting shots left and right, including the game-winner against Kentucky.
Tony Bradley provides an inside presence that will be hard to stop, and senior guard Nate Britt can provide rest for Berry.
North Carolina’s bench also features guard Stillman White, who played well for Berry in his absence, and guard Seventh Woods, a star in the making.
In their 74-60 win over Kansas, Oregon used just three players off the bench. Two of those three, Keith Smith and Kavell Bigby-Williams, combined for only nine minutes, one point, one assist and one rebound. The other sub, Casey Benson, played 21 minutes, scoring only four points and grabbing two rebounds.
Oregon’s starting five might be great, but they lack size and depth. They’ve gotten away with it up to this point, but UNC boasts the best big men and the deepest team in the country.
The ACC was unanimously considered the best conference in all of college basketball. Some dare said that this might be the best conference season of all-time.
People were saying the ACC was a shoe-in for ten tournament teams, and it looked like they would be until Syracuse, who probably got gypped, didn’t make the cut. Nine teams made the tournament from the ACC, still an impressive feat for a conference, making it the premier conference this season.
However, the tournament proved otherwise. After just two rounds, the ACC is down to just one contestant, the University of North Carolina.
Not only did the teams lose, they were embarrassed. The average margin of defeat for the ACC was 13.9 points per game. Most of the games were never even a contest. Florida State lost to an 11 seed by 25, Virginia lost to Florida by 26, and Miami lost to Michigan State by 20. The ACC lost almost every game they were in, and when they lost, they lost by a large margin.
Even UNC was minutes away from not advancing to the Sweet 16. They should have been eliminated but got lucky with a 12-0 run and a few good calls from the refs to barely beat out Arkansas.
2. The referees have been horrible
The referees have had an impact in too many games this weekend.
Northwestern’s cinderella story was cut short by the refs. A horrible miscall of goaltending cost NU two points, momentum, and a technical foul leading to more points the opposite way.
With 49 seconds left in the North Carolina Arkansas game, Joel Berry, up by one point, was driving and obviously traveled. The refs didn’t blow their whistles and let Berry throw up an errant shot that was then tipped in by center Kennedy Meeks. The lead extended to three and essentially wrapped up the game.
March Madness is always filled with “teams of destiny”. Teams that lack the talent to be elite, but seem to make an improbable tournament run.
This year, Northwestern, South Carolina and Michigan are making their cases for this year’s team of destiny.
Sadly, Northwestern’s case ended this weekend because of the poor call mentioned above.
However, Michigan and South Carolina are still alive with a ton of momentum and confidence.
South Carolina knocked off no. 2 Duke by scoring 65 points in the second half in an impressive 88-81 win. They are led by underrated coach Frank Martin and have a realistic chance to continue their run of destiny. With the no. 1 seed also knocked out from their region, their road to a Final Four is that much easier.
They take on the no. 3 Baylor on Friday.
Michigan has also continued their improbable run. It all started with an almost plane crash, to winning the Big-10 tournament and now an appearance in the Sweet 16. It is going to get much tougher with no. 3 seed Oregon on Thursday, but with the feeling of destiny attached to this Michigan team, it wouldn’t surprise me if they upset Oregon.
Our team and everyone in our travel party is safe. Update on today's travel accident.
UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is a stud. Ball played 38 minutes, scored 18 points, had 9 assists and 7 rebounds against Cincinnati. He seems to be the closest thing to LeBron James we have seen in a while, minus the once in a generation athleticism.
Lonzo, who is a better shooter than James, has a very similar play style. He isn’t going to will his team to victory by scoring 35 points on 30 shots. Rather, he is going to fill out the stat sheet like he did against Cincinnati. He is a 6-6 point guard, who can also lead his team in rebounds (averages 6.1 per game), can score when he wants (14.7 ppg), but most importantly, sets up his teammates (7.6 assists per game).
No matter where Lonzo goes he wins. He has turned UCLA back into the big-time program they once were with his arrival. As a member of Chino Hills, his high school, he went undefeated with his two younger brothers and won the California Open Division State Championship. He expects to win every time he steps on the court and it is rare that doesn’t happen.
UNC, Kentucky and Butler better watch out. This man is no joke and he is coming for them.
5. Worst first-round of March Madness followed up by best second-round ever
The first two days of March Madness had barely any upsets. The upsets that occurred were upsets based on seeding. If the number next to their name was taken away, no one would be surprised by the results of those so-called “upsets”.
Nevertheless, it has been worth these first two boring days for one of the best weekends in college basketball history.
We saw powerhouses like Duke, Notre Dame, Villanova, Virginia, Louisville and Michigan State go down, while other top-tier programs, UNC, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Baylor and Oregon, hardly survived near-death experiences to advance.
The last two days were amazing to watch with almost every game coming down to the last few minutes with many resulting in major upsets of the most recognizable college basketball programs.
After an exciting week of conference tournaments, the bracket has been announced and March Madness is underway. Here are the major headlines, some sleepers to watch out for, exciting games to watch and some favorites to make it to Phoenix.
Northwestern has earned their first ever NCAA tournament bid. First ever. It’s amazing to think that it would take this long for a school in a major conference. It’s time to celebrate in Evanston.
The Wildcats are a solid team and there is no better time to believe in a team like them than in March. It’s possible they can shock a few people by beating no. 1 seed Gonzaga and advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Gonzaga has had an easy schedule and Northwestern is battle tested with the possibility of having destiny on their side.
Making the tournament is an accomplishment in and of itself for the Wildcats, but don’t be surprised if they make a run. Their tough loss against Wisconsin will have them focused for their game on Thursday against Vanderbilt.
The South Region
The South region hosts North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA. In short, incredible. No history of college basketball is complete without mentioning UNC, Kentucky and UCLA. They are the most recognizable schools in college basketball and are one, two and three respectively in Final Four appearances (53 combined).
Butler is also the four seed in the region and should not be overlooked. As of recently, they have been very successful in March with two championship appearances in 2010 and 2011. They are always a fan favorite and an upset pick for many in their bracket pools.
This region might be one of the best in NCAA tournament history. The top three teams in this region are always in the conversation to win it all, but this year it will only be possible for one of them to make it to the Final Four. However, if Butler can recapture their magic, it could even be zero.
Kentucky’s Malik Monk scores 47 points against UNC earlier in the year in Las Vegas (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
This region also has the potential to provide incredible games down the stretch:
UNC vs. Kentucky
UNC vs. UCLA
UCLA vs. Kentucky
Butler vs. UNC
This bracket also hosts the Wichita State Shockers and the Dayton Flyers, who are both known for making noise in March. This is easily the best bracket of all time. It hosts the traditional heavyweights of college basketball with some of the greatest cinderella teams of recent years.
Mentioned above, this is the Wildcats’ first appearance in March. They have found the magic this season, including their full court pass and lay-up to win against Michigan. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for NU to have more in store.
People tend to underestimate the first four teams. However, they can be very dangerous.
A win in the first four provides added momentum and a boost of confidence that can be carried into the second round matchup.
Look for Wake Forest to win against Kansas State and then put up a fight Friday against Cincinnati.
Despite making it to the ACC tournament final, Notre Dame was only given a five seed in the tournament. The combination of being underestimated and being placed in an easier bracket gives Notre Dame a perfect chance to make a surprising run to the Elite Eight.
The Fighting Irish finished second during the ACC regular season (12-6) and were the runners-up in the ACC tournament. The ACC is easily the best conference in basketball, yet Notre Dame was not rewarded.
However, Notre Dame’s region has the weakest top seeds in the tournament. West Virginia is the four seed and Gonzaga is the one seed. The two teams the Fighting Irish would most likely need to beat to advance to the Elite Eight, which is not out of the question.
The Seminoles are also in the same weak region as Notre Dame. They are ACC tested and could look to make a run, possibly to the Final Four.
Arizona will be very tough to beat, and in all honesty should have been a no.1 seed. They won the Pac-12 tournament and had a share of the regular season title. The difference between the no. 1 seed and the no. 2 seed in this region is minimal, but Arizona is much more deserving than Gonzaga.
Middle Tennessee celebrating after beating no. 2 seed Michigan State last year (Darnell Harris/Getty)
Just a year removed from upsetting Michigan State as a 15 seed, Middle Tennessee should be a popular pick to do the same this year. They face no. 5 Minnesota, who did not boast many impressive wins out-of-conference and have not historically been good in March.
The Gophers have three players who average over 14 points a game and have the potential to create a lot of trouble for Minnesota (JaCorey Williams 17.3 ppg, Giddy Potts 15.8 ppg and Reggie Upshaw 14.5 ppg) and many teams going forward.
Xavier also has a three-headed monster with three players averaging more than 14 points per game. They are led by Junior guard Trevon Bluiett who is scoring over 18 points per game and is averaging close to six assists per game as well.
The Musketeers lost six straight games during February and March and did not have the most impressive regular season. However, they have a strong tournament history, and seem to be playing better basketball, for instance with their win over Butler, which was their first win against a ranked opponent this season en route to the conference semi-final.
They are not a sexy pick, but have a good shot at upsetting Maryland this Thursday (49% chance according to Five Thirty Eight).