With the Final Four set, we are left with two intriguing match-ups leading into the last game of the season. The South region’s top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels will face off against the Oregon Ducks who came out on top of the Midwest.
Oregon has played inspired basketball since losing big man Chris Boucher to a season ending injury. Many doubted the Ducks chances of advancing deep in the tournament with Boucher, but this talented team has picked up their play and are playing some of their best ball of the year. Dana Altman has sported a smaller lineup, featuring Jordan Bell primarily as the lone big man and surrounding him with guards.
The athletic, small-ball lineups have paid great dividends for the Ducks, as they’ve been able to play exquisite defense even without the rim-protecting presence of Boucher, holding the offensive juggernaut Jayhawks to just 35-percent shooting from the field in their Elite Eight match-up. Bell has proven that he’s a top-tier defender, and deserving of his Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award, highlighted by his eight block performance in that game against Kansas.
On offense, it’s been a heavy dosage of Dillon Brooks and breakout star, Tyler Dorsey. Brooks, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, has been key for the Ducks all year long, his playmaking and shot-making ability make him a threat anywhere on the floor, and he allows the other guys on the team to settle in their spots. He’s struggled with his shot in the tourney (40-percent from the field), but has found other ways to contribute and continues to be the focal point of Oregon’s offensive attack.
With Brooks struggling from the field, Oregon has needed an extra punch on offense and that’s what Dorsey has given them. The sophomore from Los Angeles has gone over the 20-point mark in every game in the tournament, most notably a 9-for-10 performance against Rhode Island and recently a 9-for-13 game against Kansas. He’s been near unstoppable from the field, hitting clutch shots in each of the last three games. When Oregon has both Brooks and Dorsey going offensively, they become an elite team on both ends.
North Carolina enters as a slight favorite being the top-seed out of the South region. Roy Williams’ team is coming of the most thrilling game of the tourney, a 75-73 victory over Kentucky that went down to the final buzzer. Sophomore Luke Maye hit the game-winning bucket with just ticks left on the clock to secure the victory for North Carolina, and a second consecutive trip to the Final Four. Williams and his team remembers what happened in March last year, and hope to finish the job with a roster filled with layovers from the team that lost to Villanova in the 2016 title game. Justin Jackson was more of a role player for the 2016 squad, and has matured immensely since then, evolving into a player that can lead this team to another tournament final.
Joel Berry has been another player that has been huge for the Tar Heels this year, taking over the team from Marcus Paige. Berry’s health will be a major area of concern for North Carolina heading into the Final Four, having rolled his ankle multiple times over the course of the tourney. They’ll have five days from their last game before the match-up with Oregon, hopefully enough for Berry to be at full strength come game time.
The game itself will come down to – like most North Carolina games – the Tar Heels size versus their opponents speed and versatility. Oregon’s best lineup down the stretch against Kansas featured Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks as the team’s biggest players on the floor, making it so the Ducks could switch on every screen without losing much foot speed. The Ducks like going to a match-up zone to mask any size deficiencies caused by not having Boucher, but that will leave them vulnerable to the offensive boards. The size of the Tar Heels make them one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league, and if they can dominate that area it will be a long night for the Ducks.
On the defensive end, the Tar Heels will have to do everything in their power to not allow Tyler Dorsey to get into a rhythm. Dorsey can get hot in a hurry from the field, and if he’s knocking down jumpers early it sets up the rest of the Ducks for a big game. Dillon Brooks is a phenomenal player that will get to his favorite spots on the floor regardless of how well you play him, but containing Dorsey could be the key for North Carolina in slowing down Oregon’s offense
It will be a highly-contested game throughout, and both teams deserve to be here based upon their performances in the tournament. This won’t be a game you’ll want to miss.