Tomorrow night, the Final Four happens. That is definitely exciting.
Here, I’m looking at each team’s most important player in their respective matchup. We all know guys like Sindarius Thornwell and Justin Jackson are the best players, but which guys are necessarily the most important?
For South Carolina, I’m looking at sophomore big Chris Silva. His season stats aren’t gaudy, but he’s scored in double figures in every tournament game while shooting 83% (24/29) from the charity stripe.
Silva’s most significant impact, however, will be on the defensive end where he’ll deal with the nearly impossible task of defending the rim against Karnowski and Collins. Freshman Maik Kotsar has been a huge boon to South Carolina’s interior defense so far in the tournament, but it’s never ideal to lean to heavily on a freshman’s impact, let alone in the Final Four. It’s imperative for the Gamecocks that Silva stays out of foul trouble and holds Gonzaga’s bigs in check. South Carolina has the advantage in the backcourt, and if Silva can play big inside and neutralize the Zags’ size advantage, the Gamecock guards should be able to win the battle against Williams-Goss and company.
For Gonzaga, I’m staring right there. A Final Four appearance has long eluded Mark Few, and now that he’s here, it’d be a damn shame for his best player to lay an egg and get bounced before having a chance to play for a National Title. This time of year, so much rides on who’s got the best player. South Carolina touts Thornwell, while Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss was far and beyond the best player in the WCC this year and earned Second Team All-American honors. Gonzaga NEEDS Williams-Goss to win that battle.
While Mark Few’s teams have long been great, they’ve consistently lacked that dynamic, do-it-all guard. Williams-Goss is just that. If he shoots smart shots, doesn’t turn the ball over, and takes over the game when necessary, Gonzaga will have a date with the other side of the bracket on Monday night.
On Oregon’s trail to the Final Four, they’ve leaned on Dorsey’s heroics and Jordan Bell’s athleticism to guide them to the Pacific (here, the Pacific being “Phoenix”). Dana Altman can count on Dorsey, Pritchard, and Brooks to make plays on the perimeter against an average North Carolina backcourt, but can the Oregon bigs survive against the Tar Heel’s slew of front court fiends?
I do think Jordan Bell will play well, but the Ducks will need a contribution or two from Kavell Bigby-Williams to get it done on Saturday.
I’ll say this:
If you find yourself at any point saying or thinking, “Wow, Oregon literally only has Jordan Bell down low,” Oregon will be losing the game by a lot of points.
If you find yourself at any point saying or thinking, “Wow, what a play by Bigby-Williams,” Oregon is probably hanging in there.
If you find yourself multiple times saying or thinking, “Wow, what a play by Bigby-Williams,” then Oregon will be beating North Carolina.
All Altman and the Ducks need is a little defensive spark plug to subdue the inundation of Carolina’s bigs, and my finger is pointed at Kavell.
For the Tar Heels, the Vegas favorite at this point in the Tournament, all eyes are on Joel Berry’s ankles. We know Hicks/Meeks will get theirs down low and we can always count on a few unorthodox floaters from Justin Jackson, but Carolina’s backcourt has really been their achilles (Tar) heel all year. Carolina needs Joel Berry to not only play 34+ minutes, but also to hit a couple of big treys.
If Berry misses significant time, Roy Williams will have to lean too heavily on Pinson, Britt, and even… don’t make me say it… (gulp) Stillman White to run the Carolina offense. That backcourt has no prayer at holding Oregon’s dynamic perimeter attack in check.
North Carolina will go as Joel Berry goes. I guess it’s been that way all year.