Friday, March 31, 2017

NCAA: South vs. Midwest National Semi-Final, North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Oregon Ducks

North Carolina vs. Oregon, Saturday, April 1, 2017, 8:49 pm ET, CBS

The nightcap of the National Semi-Final includes one team that's been to the Final Four on multiple occasions - the North Carolina Tar Heels - and one that hasn't been since winning it all in 1939, the Oregon Ducks from the vastly underrated PAC-12 conference.


As shown below in CBD's Tournament Conference Scoreboard, the PAC-12, which sent a mere four teams to the tourney, has outperformed nearly all other conferences with 10 wins and just three losses. Only the SEC, now represented only by South Carolina, has more wins, with 11. The ACC, which sent nine teams - the most of any conference - has just nine wins, and the Tar Heels have accounted for four of them. Three ACC teams went down in their opening tournament game, and none, other than Carolina, won more than one game.

Thus, the dichotomy between the ACC and PAC-12 is clear, muddying the waters of the Final Four with an unusual conference set-up.

Statistics may tell another story about the relative chances of the Ducks and Tar Heels to advance to Monday's championship game. The most telling is North Carolina's dominance on the boards. They were the leading rebounding team in the nation during the regular season (43.5 per game) and that has continued during the tournament. The Tar Heels have grasped an average of 45.3 rebounds per game during their tournament run, winning by an average margin of 14 points, the most of any remaining team.

By contrast, Oregon has hauled in 37 rebounds per game during the tournament, wining their four games by an average margin of just 8.5 points per game, the lowest of the four competitors heading to Phoenix.

Oregon's wins are something of an oddity in themselves. After dropping #14 seed Iona in the opening round by 16, 93-77, they slipped by #11 Rhode Island, 75-72 and held on against #7 Michigan by a mere point, 69-68. Thus, when the Ducks met up with #1 seed in the Midwest, Kansas, there were doubters, but the Ducks played remarkably well on defense, holding the Jayhawks to a season-low 60 points in a no-doubt, 74-60, victory, posting their decond-largest winning margin.

See CBD's Final Four team stats here.

With the win over Kansas in hand, the task before the Ducks is daunting, because North Carolina has more scoring options than the Jayhawks, rebounds far better, share the ball better (18.0 assists per game during the tourney) and have an assist to turnover ratio of 1.36.


In the paint, the Ducks are short-handed, with stalwart Jordan Bell the only defender and rebounder of excellence since the injury to Chris Boucher. Bell had a monster game against Kansas (11 points, 13 board, 8 blocks), but will have his hands full against 6'10" Kennedy Meeks and 6'9" Isaiah Hicks. North Carolina will no doubt be going strong to the hole on every opportunity, as point guard Joel Berry II and forward Justin Jackson have driving, scoring and passing ability on a par with any team in the country.

Oregon may have to lean heavily on Tyler Dorsey, who has scored 20 or more in every tournament game thus far and has been on target from three-point range. They;ll also get scoring from Dillon Brooks and hope that Dylan Ennis steps up his game. The Ducks may play a lot of zone defense against North Carolina, forcing them to shoot threes, the one area of North Carolina's game that may be considered a slight weakness. The 31-7 Tar Heels are shooting just 32% from beyond the arc in the tourney. 33-5 Oregon is hitting threes at 43%, with Dorsey the main contributor.

Head to Saturday, the oddsmakers have North Carolina a mere five-point favorite. While Oregon has demonstrated throughout the tournament that they can defend well, they have not faced a team as deep and talented as the Tar Heels. North Carolina's rotation goes nine deep; Oregon is a stretch to get seven quality players into the game at this juncture.

North Carolina's depth and general advantage in the paint could produce a monstrous blowout, especially if the Tar Heels establish a lead early and defend the three-point line. There's also the intangible factor of North Carolina's last-second loss to Villanova in the tournament final last season that comes into play. The Tar Heels are hungry for retribution which only a national championship can provide, making them the overall favorite to emerge victorious, not just in this game, but again on Monday night. Oregon could see the end of the line despite a solid run.

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through Sunday (3/26) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 9-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (4)
Big East (7) 6-7 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (3)
Big Ten (7) 8-7 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 9-6 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (3), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 11-4* Florida (3), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (3), South Carolina (4)
PAC 12 (4) 10-3 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (4), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 5-1 Gonzaga (4), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) (4-23) Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

*One SEC loss and one SEC win occurred in the East Regional Final, South Carolina 77, Florida 70