It has been a wild couple of weeks in the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Top seeded teams, such as Michigan State, Baylor and Cal, all lost in the first round, and many other upsets in later rounds destroyed the brackets of countless people. My bracket was destroyed within the first days of the tournament, as I had picked Michigan State to win the title this year. Michigan State lost to Middle Tennessee in the opening round. As the tournament is drawing to a close, and only four teams remain, I would like to offer my predictions for the final four teams left in the tournament.
The four teams that remain are Oklahoma, North Carolina, Syracuse and Villanova. North Carolina will play Syracuse, and Oklahoma will play Villanova on April 2nd. Each team has a unique story going into the Final Four. North Carolina, the only No. 1 seed left, is clearly the favorite to win it all, with a strong front-court and a veteran back-court leading the way. Oklahoma is arguably the hottest shooting team remaining, with the scoring superstar Buddy Hield averaging close to 30 points per game while shooting nearly 50% from the three-point range. Villanova, one of the top teams for the past few years, is proving that it should have been the number one seed, as they are fresh off of a nice win over Kansas. Finally, Syracuse, the big underdog, is arguably one of the biggest Cinderella stories in the history of college basketball. With the Final Four stage set, here are my predictions:
Game 1: North Carolina vs Syracuse
Prediction: North Carolina wins by a big margin
While Syracuse has had an improbable run, it avoided a likely second-round loss when Michigan State was upset by Middle Tennessee. Other than Virginia, the teams Syracuse has faced haven’t been great, meaning Syracuse has not been really tested. While the win over Virginia was huge, the lapse Virginia seems to have had is unlikely to occur with the veteran North Carolina team, a team that seems to have the knack of pulling ahead after getting a modest lead. Despite the strong play of Syracuse guards Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson, I believe the formidable North Carolina front court consisting of Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks and Justin Jackson, as well as its star guard Marcus Paige will be too much for Syracuse to overcome. North Carolina will win.
Game Two: Oklahoma vs Villanova
Prediction: Oklahoma wins by a tight margin
The game comes down to one player and one player only: Buddy Hield. If Hield continues to explode on offense, Oklahoma will win and play for the national title. If Hield falters, as he did against West Virginia in the Big 12 Final, then Villanova will win. Villanova’s back-court is extremely strong, with star guards Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins leading the way. Villanova can easily take this game if Hield has trouble producing, making it even more vital that Hield continues to play well. Despite the pressure, I believe Oklahoma will play through Hield, and his hot streak will continue, leading Oklahoma into the final.
Prediction: North Carolina vs Oklahoma in the National Championship
North Carolina wins, despite strong play by Hield. While Hield might be the best individual player in this year’s tournament, North Carolina’s overall unit is too strong, and I believe it will win it all this year.