Final Four Tale: 1 North Carolina Vs. 3 Oregon
- OffenseThe Tar Heels are the best offensive unit left in March Madness, and that advantage will serve them well in any matchup. They average 85 points per game, which is ninth in the nation this year. The top four players average 57.2 points combined, and the next five players are all capable of scoring when called upon. Junior forward Justin Jackson leads the team in scoring (18.2 ppg), and UNC leads the nation in offensive rebounding this season. The Tar Heels were also second in assists. This is a relentless offense, and on paper, it’s hard to determine just how UNC lost seven times this year.When the Ducks lost third-leading scorer Chris Boucher right before the Pac-12 Championship Game, many experts figured Oregon’s chances at the Final Four were over. However, the Ducks have stepped up, barely losing anything off their offensive output. Sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey has stepped up, posting 24.2 points per game since Boucher’s injury (almost 10 points more than his season average). Junior forward Jordan Bell has posted four double-double efforts in the last five games, too, replacing Boucher in the lineup. This is a very good offensive team, ranked 16th in efficiency, although it’s not quite on the Tar Heels’ level.
- DefenseDefensive rebounding is a big strength for the Tar Heels, as they are second in the nation overall for grabbing the opponent’s missed shots. UNC is also 23rd in the nation in total steals, averaging seven thefts a game. Combine those two abilities, and it’s easy to see why the Tar Heels have held opponents to just 70.6 points per game this season. UNC’s adversaries have launched the sixth-fewest shot attempts in the nation. It’s hard to score when you can’t get a lot of shots off, and that’s what the Tar Heels’ defensive scheme relies upon for victory. If there is a flaw, it’s that the offense is so good, UNC’s defense is always being tested.The Ducks have held opposing shooters to just a 40.4-percent effort from the floor this season, which is the 24th-best mark in the country. A lot of that is due to the fact Oregon leads the nation in blocked shots (241) this year. Boucher was a big part of that total, though, averaging 2.5 blocks per game. However, Bell rose up against the Kansas Jayhawks in the regional final, blocking eight shots on his own, while picking up just one foul. The Ducks defense is also very strong in defensive rebounding (13th in country) and steals (49th in country). All of this adds up to a tough defense to crack: Ask the Kansas Jayhawks, after they scored just 60 points against Oregon — more than 23 points under their season average.
- BenchNine players on this roster average at least 14 minutes per game, so the Tar Heels can rotate four players into the game effectively. In truth, only two starters average over 30 minutes, so UNC sends wave after wave of substitutions into the game, depending on the ebb and flow of momentum. Getting junior forward Theo Pinson and his all-around game back into the rotation in early January helped the Tar Heels’ depth tremendously.This is where the loss of Boucher hurts the Ducks the most. With him, Oregon went seven deep reliably, and now, it’s a thinner bench than it already was before his injury. The Ducks relied on just six men to beat both Michigan and Kansas in the regionals, but “new” seventh-man Kavell Bigby-Williams is going to have to step up in the Final Four. Then again, if Oregon could bury Kansas with just six players, anything is possible against UNC.
- CoachingEveryone knows Roy Williams can coach. In 29 seasons at two blueblood programs (Kansas and UNC), this is his ninth Final Four. He led the Tar Heels to the NCAA Championship in both 2005 and 2009. His winning percentage at these two top schools is stellar (.790). This is the second season in a row Williams has led UNC to the Final Four, and his team is going to be the prohibitive favorite to win it all. However, the ongoing NCAA investigation into longtime academic fraud at UNC casts a very negative shadow over the success Williams has had in Chapel Hill.Dana Altman doesn’t have the pedigree of his adversary in this game, but he has built the Ducks into a Pac-12 power over the past handful of seasons. Two straight regular-season titles in a competitive league are impressive, and this is the fifth-straight March Madness appearance for Oregon, too. The Ducks have averaged almost 27 wins a season under Altman, and prior to coming to Eugene, he led Creighton to seven NCAA Tournament appearances and also took Kansas State to March Madness once (1993). This is Altman’s first Final Four in a 28-year career, after grinding away in lesser programs to earn his way here the hard way.
The Tar Heels have a slight edge on offense and a distinct edge in depth, which points to a solid victory over the Ducks. However, there’s something about Oregon that is defying logic right now. The Ducks shut down a comparable offense machine from Kansas to get here, so the question is if they can do it again against UNC. If Oregon got to the Final Four on adrenaline and emotion, in addition its prodigious talent, those are big intangibles to go up against on national television under pressure. The Tar Heels are on a mission, though, to avenge their loss in the title game last season. Look for UNC to escape — barely — against the Ducks, 85-82, in overtime.