NCAA Basketball: Final Four Odds

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Will North Carolina win it all?

[Sports]

Two weeks of shocking upsets, ugly blowouts, and intense college hoops action will culminate in one of the greatest events in all of sports: The Final Four. Beginning this Saturday, Gonzaga, South Carolina, Oregon, and North Carolina will do battle for the opportunity to cut down the nets on Monday night. All four teams took very different paths to reach this point, but all four are worthy enough to call themselves champions when all is said and done.

As the hype builds over the next few days, now is the perfect time to dig deep into this fortunate quartet to see which one is best equipped to seize the title, and of course, which team the online sportsbooks have installed as the favorite. North Carolina +125 It took a late rally against Arkansas and a buzzer-beater versus Kentucky, but the top seeded Tar Heels are back in the Final Four for a second straight year.

The ACC regular season champs are a classic Jekyll-Hyde team, looking thoroughly dominant one game, then unusually pedestrian the next. But their overall skill is by far the most of the four remaining teams. Led by Conference Player of the Year Justin Jackson, UNC boasts a dangerous and experienced starting five that rivals any in the country. Beating the Tar Heels means beating them at their own game: Push the pace and convert three-pointers. Duke knocked them off twice by knocking down 23 shots from beyond the arc.

Oregon has the shooters to do the same, plus they play sound defense. However, no team controls the glass like Roy Williams’ gang, ranking first in the nation on the season. They excel at making and preventing second-chance opportunities. Opponents must either hit all their open shots or find a way to win the rebounding battle. North Carolina is a poised team determined to not repeat last year’s second-place finish.

Gonzaga +150 After 16 WCC regular season titles, 14 WCC Tournament championships, and over 500 wins in 18 seasons, head coach Mark Few has finally reached the Final Four. Years and years of bittersweet endings, coming up short in the spotlight, and failing to exceed their mid-major label has hardened the 2016-17 Zags. An impressive 36-1 record includes wins over Arizona, Iowa State, and a trio against rival St. Mary’s.

Although their path to the Final Four didn’t feature elite competition, both West Virginia and Xavier posed formidable threats. A balanced roster featuring two seven-footers has played exceptional defense in four games. They have survived subpar shooting, especially from the free-throw line, and received clutch play down the stretch from senior guard Jordan Matthews. They also exude a level of confidence that previous Gonzaga teams have lacked. It’s not always pretty, but the Zags find ways to win, which is a common characteristic of championship teams.

Oregon +500 It should came as no surprise that the overlooked Ducks are in this spot. They tied for the regular season Pac-12 title, went 4-2 against USC, UCLA, and Arizona with a pair of three-point defeats, held off a dangerous Michigan squad in the Sweet 16, and just dismantled a Kansas team that was arguably the best in the country. Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks has been steady as ever, and sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey is averaging 24.5 points, hitting an absurd 17-26 from three-point range.

Oregon has inflicted all their Big Dance damage without versatile big man Chris Boucher, who tore an ACL in the Pac-12 tourney. His shot-blocking prowess, three-point shooting, and work on the blocks is sorely missed, but junior forward Jordan Bell has picked up the slack, pulling down 50 rebounds in four games. A lot of pundits wrote this team off after Boucher’s injury. Instead of pouting, the Ducks have used his loss as fuel to prove the naysayers wrong. Anyone who continues to underestimate them does so at their own peril. They are very reminiscent of last year’s championship-winning Villanova team.

South Carolina +600 Without question one of the most unlikely teams to reach the Final Four in recent memory. The Gamecocks stumbled into the NCAA Tournament going 3-6 down the stretch, including a defeat to Florida and pair of losses to Alabama. After surviving the bubble, they were handed a difficult draw in a loaded East bracket.

Then they proceeded to tear through the region with blowouts over Marquette and Baylor, a stunning upset of odds-on favorite Duke, and an avenging victory over SEC rival Florida in the Elite 8. How did they accomplish this feat? Head coach Frank Martin has taught tenacious defense his entire career and this Gamecocks team plays it in spades. With SEC Player of the Year Sindarious Thornwell handling the offensive load, the rest of the team can focus on the dirty work.

This is a physical bunch who refuse to panic when things go wrong. They have trailed at halftime in three of four games and gone on to outscore their opponents by 53 in the second half.

Martin’s ability to adjust his defense to neutralize the competition’s strength is uncanny. It will take discipline and patience to send them packing.

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