5 things to watch for at the Fi­nal Four

Metro USA (New York) - - Sports - EVAN MACY

1. First timers

It is a guar­an­teed that a first-time Fi­nal Four squad will play for the ti­tle Mon­day. That’s be­cause nei­ther No. 1 Gon­zaga nor No. 7 South Carolina has ever ad­vanced this far.

Could a first-time team bring home a ti­tle over a more ex­pe­ri­enced crew like No. 1 North Carolina or No. 3 Ore­gon? Frank Martin, head coach of the Game­cocks thinks so.

“Once the game starts, I think ev­ery­thing is ir­rel­e­vant. Ev­ery­one’s ner­vous,” he said. “I don’t care, you can play in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game nine years in a row, if you go the 10th time, you’re go­ing to be ner­vous be­fore the ball goes up in the air.”

2. Fu­ture NBA stars

Ore­gon’s Tyler Dorsey has av­er­aged 24.5 points per game on 66.7 per­cent shoot­ing in the NCAA Tour­na­ment and is lethal from be­yond the arch.

South Carolina’s Sin­dar­ius Thorn­well is the front-run­ner for the Most Out­stand­ing Player net­ting 25.8 points per game — best in the tourney.

UNC has a hand­ful of fu­ture NBAers led by Justin Jack­son and Joel Berry, while Gon­zaga’s Nigel Wil­liams-Goss could be play­ing him­self into first-round pick ter­ri­tory.

3. The coaches

Martin was once the an­gry, red-faced for­mer coach of Kasas State, but he has turned into a master mo­ti­va­tor and re­cruiter. UNC’s skip­per Roy Wil­liams has two ti­tles un­der his belt while Ore­gon’s Dana Alt­man burst onto the na­tional scene af­ter suc­cess coach­ing Creighton when it was a mid­ma­jor.

And of course fi­nally is Gon­zaga’s Mark Few, who has been to 18-straight NCAA Tour­na­ments with the Bull­dogs.

4. The fa­vorites

The Tar Heels are big fa­vorites to win it all. Most of the key parts of last year’s team are here, with Berry lead­ing the of­fense like a true point guard and Jack­son pro­vid­ing a high-vol­ume scor­ing ap­proach that is hard to stop. They also have size and ex­pe­ri­ence in se­nior big men Kennedy Meeks and Isa­iah Hicks.

5. Any­thing can hap­pen

His­tory has shown that while the big-name fa­vorites are usu­ally fa­vored, there is a rea­son why the games are played. Es­pe­cially with such con­flict­ing styles of play.

It’s not a seven-game se­ries, it’s one and done. And with one chance to win it all, some­times the best team isn’t the last one stand­ing.

GETTY IM­AGES

Gon­zaga’s Nigel Wil­liams-Goss could be a first-round pick.

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