by: Robert Williamson
I. The Matchup
The Oregon Ducks have been middling on the brink of true tournament for a few years now. Dana Altman has lead the program to five tournament appearances in his seventh year in the role of head coach at Oregon. They entered March atop the Pac-12 standings and have convincingly advanced to the Final Four for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 1939. What this breakthrough team comes up against on Saturday night? The powerhouse North Carolina Tar Heels. One of the most successful teams in tournament history, the Tar Heels have qualified for the program’s twentieth ever Final Four appearance. Oregon can’t really be classified as an underdog, though the program is nowhere near as storied as the Tar Heels and face a huge hurtle in their dreams of reaching the program’s first national championship in 78 years.
II. North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels have a spectacular road to the Final Four so far this year. Crushing Texas Southern 103-64 in the round of 64, North Carolina went on to beat both Arkansas and a well put together Butler by seven and 12 points, respectively. Their toughest challenge came in the final game of the Elite Eight last Sunday as they took on John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats in Memphis last Sunday. On paper, the Tar Heels didn’t have the most stellar game – sure they shot 47 percent from the field, but they only nailed a poor 20 percent from deep.
They won the contest by outmuscling rival Kentucky, out-rebounding the Wildcats 44-34, with 7 more blocks. The Tar Heels are the best rebounding team in the country for a reason, as they carry a plus-13 margin per game and hunting almost 42 percent of their missed shots – an incredible number. Their play in the paint and on the glass is where they have the best shot of edging out the Ducks, especially as Oregon is missing star big man, Canadian Chris Boucher.
What they have to watch out for come Saturday against Oregon will have to be their turnover rate. They gave up the ball a staggering 16 times to Kentucky on Sunday and were lucky Calipari’s team weren’t able to capitalize on more of those gifted chances.
III. Oregon Ducks
Believe it or not, the Oregon Ducks will be relying on a couple of Canadians to step up in a big way if they have any hope of getting by North Carolina come Saturday. Both Canucks Dylan Ennis and Dillon Brooks have played a major part in Oregon’s success as of late. Senior guard Dylan Ennis, a Brampton native, has been contributing a steady 10.7 points per game, over four rebounds a game and a respectable 3.3 assists per contest. He’s been a regular contributor on both ends of the floor for the Ducks this season. Mississauga native Dillon Brooks has been an absolute stud. Leading the team with 16.3 point per game on the season, Brooks’ play this year was enough to warrant him the Pac-12 player of the year award. Along with the injured Boucher, Brooks and Ennis made up three of Oregon’s five starters at season’s beginning.
After a slight scare against eleven seed Rhode Island in the round of 32, Oregon edged out Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen, a team many picked to be this year’s Cinderella story. Though after a convincing 14 point win over tournament favourite Kansas Jayhawks, Oregon found themselves facing one of their toughest ‘on-paper’ matchup yet. Without Boucher, their best big man, the Ducks may have a tough time against the number one rebounding team in the nation.
The two teams vie for a trip to the National Championship on Saturday night in Phoenix, after the conclusion of the Gonzaga/South Carolina game.