NO. 1 GONZAGA
Coach: Mark Few, 18th season, 502-112.
Starting five: G Jordan Mathews, G Josh Perkins, G Nigel Williams-Goss, F Johnathan Williams, C Przemek Karnowski.
Why the Zags will win: We’re still searching for a weakness with this team. Williams-Goss is one of the top lead guards in the country. The inside-out action Karnowski enhances with his passing out of the post is a weapon no other Final Four team has. Another weapon no other team has: a 7-footer off the bench like Zach Collins, the team’s most promising NBA prospect.
Why the Zags will lose: They haven’t faced an elite opponent since beating Arizona in early December, so a final-game matchup with UNC or Oregon would be a lot to deal with. That’s if they get past Thornwell — big “if.”
Prediction: Onward and upward — they eke out a close one over the Gamecocks. After that? Well, it sure gets harder.
NO. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA
Coach: Frank Martin, fifth season, 96-73 (career: 213-125).
Starting five: G P.J. Dozier, G Duane Notice, G Sindarius Thornwell, F Maik Kotsar, Chris Silva.
Why the Gamecocks will win: It’s not just about Thornwell, though the SEC Player of the Year — 6-5 and strong as all get-out — seems to find the ball in his hands on every crucial possession. The most impressive thing about Martin’s is how hard it plays at both ends of the court, at all times. The focus is so intense, it seems to drain opponents mentally. That’s why this is such a good second-half team.
Why the Gamecocks will lose: It’s going to be the challenge of 6-10 freshman Kotsar’s career to stay out of foul trouble against Karnowski and Collins. Also, about that 33.7 percent shooting from three-point range this season? It’s not good.
Prediction: Martin will burn with the fury of a thousand suns.
NO. 1 NORTH CAROLINA
Coach: Roy Williams, 14th season, 396-115 (career: 814-216).
Starting five: G Joel Berry II, F/G Justin Jackson, F/G Theo Pinson, F Isaiah Hicks, F Kennedy Meeks.
Why the Tar Heels will win: Where to start? They have the ACC Player of the Year in Jackson and an extraordinary running mate in clutch fellow junior Berry. They have a monster rebounder in Hicks and one of the nation’s best defenders in Pinson. They’re long and fast and — after the heartbreak of last April’s championship game — driven to reach the mountaintop once and for all.
Why the Tar Heels will lose: As spectacular a career as Williams has had, there’s always fear among Tar Heels fans (as there used to be among Kansas fans) about the late-game decision-making from the bench. Perhaps of greater significance: All the pressure is on UNC. Oregon, Gonzaga and South Carolina are playing with house money.
Prediction: If Jackson doesn’t run cold from the three-point line, the Heels should keep winning.
NO. 3 OREGON
Coach: Dana Altman, seventh season, 187-69 (career: 597-312).
Starting five: G Tyler Dorsey, G Dylan Ennis, G Payton Pritchard, F Dillon Brooks, F Jordan Bell.
Why the Ducks will win: Did you see the Kansas game? It was a defensive clinic, most of it put on by Bell. Seriously, if it’s a cold-blooded shot-block or a man-size offensive rebound you need, Bell is your guy. And then there’s the can’t-teach-that shot-making of Dorsey and Brooks — what a dangerous duo. This year’s Villanova? Maybe.
Why the Ducks will lose: UNC is bigger, stronger and longer than Kansas and plays at an even faster pace. It’ll be a huge challenge for a Ducks team that isn’t very deep.
Prediction: Whatever happens, these guys won’t lose their swagger.
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