We got a number of preludes to this season’s Final Four.
Both of the national semifinal matchups are rematches from earlier this season, with Oklahoma and Villanova meeting in a non-conference neutral-site game, and North Carolina and Syracuse meeting twice in ACC play.
All three games provide insight into what might matter most when these teams meet again in Houston with much, much more on the line.
December 7, 2015: No. 7 Oklahoma 78, No. 9 Villanova 55: The good news for the Wildcats was this game was a long, long time ago.
Because it was a good old-fashioned thumping.
The Sooners made as many 3-pointers (14) as 2-pointers, shooting 53.8 percent from beyond the arc. Buddy Hield was 4 of 9, Isaiah Cousins 4 of 4 and Dinjiyl Walker 3 of 5 in the game played in Hawaii. While certainly a hot-shooting night for Oklahoma, the problem for Villanova this weekend is that type of performance isn’t so outside the norm. The Sooners are second nationally in 3-point shooting percentage at 42.8 for the season, and 3-pointers make up 38.9 percent of their season point total. When Jay Wright is watching film this week, he’ll see what goes wrong if you can’t at least chase the Sooners off the line a little bit.
The good news for the Wildcats are they aren’t likely to repeat the 4-of-32 performance they put up form the 3-point line. That’s 12.5 percent for a team that went on to shoot 35.4 percent from 3-point range.
How either team shoots from distance in the rematch Saturday could largely determine who plays for a national title Monday.
January 9, 2016: No. 6 North Carolina 84, Syracuse 73: Much of the commentary on this Final Four matchup has been the NCAA turmoil both programs have been in, and that was at the forefront during this first meeting earlier this year as it was coach Jim Boeheim’s first game back from a nine-game suspension for violations.
The Tar Heels, though, spoiled his return to the Carrier Dome as they mostly controlled the game from the outset. They were able to beat the Orange’s zone near the basket, shooting 64.4 percent from inside the arc for the night with 6-foot-9 junior Isaiah Hicks going for 21 points, more than half of which came at the free-throw line. Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson combined for 32 points. Together, the trio was 20 of 26 from the floor, decimating the Orange inside.
The bright spot for Syracuse was Trevor Cooney’s 27 points on 10 of 21 shooting, but Michael Gbinije struggled to the tune of a 0 of 6 mark from 3-point range.
February 29, 2016: No. 8 North Carolina 75, Syracuse 70: The rematch in Chapel Hill was more of a one-sided affair than the final score indicates.
UNC pummeled the Orange on the glass, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds (46.3 percent). Johnson had 14 points and 10 rebounds while four other Tar Heels also finished in double figures scoring.
Syracuse got 17 points and seven assists from Michael Gbinije and 11 rebounds from Tyler Roberson, but shot 5 of 20 (25 percent) from 3-point range while turning it over 15 times. The Orange were able to better corral UNC’s bigs in this go-round, but the Tar Heels still were able to find success inside as they shot 6 of 25 from 3-point range.
Syracuse’s bid to play for its first championship since 2003 could rest largely on the adjustments the Orange make to keep the damage UNC’s posts do to a minimum.