By Will Brown
College basketball’s biggest event occurred recently, with the Final Four last Saturday night and the National Championship Game on April 4. This year’s Final Four featured two teams that had never been this far in South Carolina University and Gonzaga University, one team that has not been there since before WWII in Oregon University, and a team that has been to the Final Four many, many times in the University of North Carolina. Here is a brief recap of what occurred into and leading up to the Final Four.
The East regional was supposed to be a battle between Villanova University, the defending champions, and Duke University, one of the title favorites coming in to this season. However, neither of those teams made it past the first weekend. Villanova was upset in the second round by Wisconsin University, ending their hopes of being the first national champion to repeat in a decade. The big story from this region was the emergence of South Carolina University. Picked by many to be a first round exit, the seventh seeded South Carolina Gamecocks upset Duke in the second round and rode the momentum all the way to their first Final Four in school history, beating Marquette, Duke, Baylor, and Florida to get there.
The West region was headlined by the top seeded Gonzaga University Bulldogs. Gonzaga lost only one game during the regular season, but questions about their weak strength of schedule made some wonder how good they really were. They answered those questions in the tournament, winning the region to make their first Final Four in school history. Elsewhere in the region, the eleventh seeded Xavier University Musketeers upset the third seeded Florida State Seminoles and second seeded Arizona Wildcats to make the Elite Eight, before falling to Gonzaga. Gonzaga defeated South Dakota State, Northwestern, West Virginia, and Xavier to make the Final Four.
In the Midwest region, the Kansas Jayhawks were seen as the team to beat. They blew out their first three opponents and looked like a good bet to make the Final Four. However, in the Elite Eight they got upset by the Oregon Ducks, who made their first Final Four since 1939. Oregon defeated Iona, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Kansas to make it to the Final Four.
The South region was viewed as the toughest region, and it did not disappoint. The two top teams in the region, North Carolina and Kentucky, played a thrilling game to determine who would go to the Final Four. Kentucky hit the game-tying three pointer with about ten seconds left, but North Carolina hit the game winning shot on their next possession. North Carolina went to the Final Four for the 20th time in school history and second year in a row, looking to avenge their heartbreaking loss to Villanova in last year’s title game. North Carolina defeated Texas Southern, Arkansas, Butler, and Kentucky to make it to the Final Four.
The Final Four was last Saturday night with two games. South Carolina played Gonzaga and Oregon played North Carolina for the right to go to the National Championship Game.
South Carolina vs Gonzaga was a fun game between an excellent offensive team in Gonzaga and an excellent defensive team in South Carolina. Gonzaga jumped out to a big lead early, but South Carolina came back from a 14 point deficit to briefly take the lead in the second half. However, Gonzaga was able to respond in the last few minutes and walked away with a 77-73 win to advance to the title game for the first time in school history.
Oregon vs North Carolina was a fun, back and forth game. Oregon jumped out to an early lead, but North Carolina went on a big run before halftime to take the lead back. North Carolina extended the lead in the second half, but Oregon came back in the final few minutes. In the end, Oregon was unable to get a crucial rebound off a missed free throw by North Carolina, and the Tar Heels held on for a 77-76 win to get back to the championship game for the second year in a row.
The National Championship Game between Gonzaga and North Carolina was expected to be a close, intense game and it was exactly that. Gonzaga led for much of the first half, taking a 35-32 lead into halftime. However, North Carolina went on a run at the beginning of the second half to regain the lead. The second half of the game was dictated by free throw shooting, and several key players for both teams wound up in foul trouble. At the end of the game, North Carolina’s experience made the difference, as Gonzaga struggled to score and had several bad turnovers near the end of the game. North Carolina won 71-65, winning their sixth championship in school history and first since 2009.