This year March Madness has been exactly that, madness. The 2017 NCAA tournament definitely has a different feeling than tournaments in years’ past. Out of the teams left in the Final Four, only one of them has had recent tournament success and that’s basketball powerhouse University of North Carolina. The other three finalists, Oregon, Gonzaga, and South Carolina, are all entering unfamiliar territory. Oregon has at least been here before and even won a national championship, but that was way back in 1939 and the program has not been to a Final Four since.
Each of the remaining teams left deserve to be in this position and each of them got there by a combination of hard work, dedication, and some serious desire. North Carolina was already viewed as a favorite to win it this year after losing in the championship game last year to Villanova on a buzzer-beating three by Kris Jenkins, which will probably go down as one of the most clutch shots in NCAA history.
The North Carolina Tar Heels are no doubt reminded of the loss every time they see a replay of the shot and are hungry to rectify things this year. The other three schools may be considered underdogs and are happy to be a part of the dance but they are not ready to give in just yet. Let’s take a look at each “underdog” school and examine why they have a legitimate shot to win it all starting with Gonzaga.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs have come close to reaching the Final Four so many times in recent years. Led by head coach Mark Few, the Spokane, Washington-based school has been in the NCAA tournament every year since 1999 reaching the Sweet Sixteen five times and the Elite Eight once during that span. Gonzaga has outright dominated the West Coast Conference for the last 20 years almost always either winning the league outright or in the WCC tournament.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 28, 2017
Gonzaga has produced quality NBA players over the last several years and has turned itself into a basketball powerhouse despite its stature as a small mid-major school. This year’s team is led by WCC player of the year Nigel Williams-Goss and freshman standout Zach Collins. They compiled a 36-1 record this season and were once ranked as the No. 1 team in the country. They boast tremendous size with three starters listed at 6-feet-9-inches or taller.
The team plays excellent defense and knows how to put the ball in the hole. The fact that Gonzaga has come so close so many times before will actually benefit them because the coaching staff will know how to get the team prepared. Gonzaga is a No. 1 seed for a reason, and having only lost one game the entire year will give them tons of confidence heading into the Final Four as they try to capture the school’s first national championship.
— Gamecock Athletics (@GamecocksOnline) April 1, 2017
South Carolina has been known as a football school for the past few years because of the success the program has had in the sport recently. That’s about to change with the way the basketball team has marched its way into its first-ever Final Four appearance. The South Carolina Gamecocks have most certainly been the “Cinderella” of this year’s tournament after having not won a single tournament game since 1973.
This tough, gritty team is led by senior, and SEC player of the year, Sindarius Thornwell, who has been averaging over 25 points per game during the tournament. South Carolina’s play has been a total reflection of their fiery head coach, Frank Martin. They have suffocated teams on defense and have made timely shots on the offensive end. The saying is true that defense wins ball games and the Gamecocks have it in spades.
They’re both making their #FinalFour debuts.
One will play for a #NationalChampionship
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) April 1, 2017
The South Carolina Gamecocks’ mantra all season has been to “secure the bag” and it looks as if they have done exactly that. As far as Thornwell is concerned, they’re not finished.
“If we’re in it, why not win it?” he said. The way the Gamecocks have been playing lately would make any opponent nervous and South Carolina has more than a legit shot at cutting down the nets when all is said and done.
Lastly, we have the Oregon Ducks who also have been known as more of a football school recently. The Ducks are led by Junior forward Dillon Brooks, who was recently named Pac 12 player of the year. Brooks and Tyler Dorsey have carried this Ducks team to a height they haven’t reached since 1939 when they won the national title. The fact that they have gotten so far without Senior and defensive anchor Chris Boucher is an impressive feat in itself. Boucher suffered a season-ending injury last month and was the team’s unquestioned leader.
The world was a little different the last time Oregon was in the Final Four. https://t.co/9SyqK54J86
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 1, 2017
Oregon is a very dangerous team because they can shoot the three ball with consistency and they are fast and athletic and can get out and run. The Ducks will face the daunting challenge of playing the highly-favored UNC Tar Heels in the Final Four, but with the adversity they have overcome in just a short period of time, they should be up to the challenge. North Carolina better not take this team lightly or they could be going home in disappointing fashion.
Whatever happens this weekend, we should definitely be in for one of the most interesting Final Fours in a very long time. This just may be the year where the underdog will reign supreme in the college basketball world.
[Featured Image by Christian Peterson/Getty Images]