Final Four Madness
It's North Carolina versus the upstarts in intriguing Final Four matchups
And then there were four.....
North Carolina's season has been much of an extension of where the team left off last April with a dramatic defeat to Villanova in the final seconds of the National Championship Game at Houston's NRG Stadium. The theme of redemption has carried the Tarheels all season, and under coach Roy Williams, they return to their 20th Final Four as a program. For the record, that's four more berths than their arch-rival Duke, six more appearances than Kansas, and three more appearances than either Kentucky or UCLA.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs and South Carolina Gamecocks are each making their inaugural debut in the Final Four. Two years ago, Gonzaga went deep into the tournament advancing to an Elite 8 Final. Under Mark Few, the WCC power has dominated their conference and qualified for the tournament every year that Few has been head coach. The average sports fan probably doesn't appreciate Few nearly enough, as this season, he became the third fastest head coach to reach 500 career wins in the history of college basketball.
The Gamecocks are lead by head coach Frank Martin, a former bar bouncer, who has the demeanor at times of a pit bull. If Hollywood ever wishes to remake the movie Full Metal Jacket, central casting would certainly be intrigued by Martin to play the lead sergeant who trains the Marines. His demeanor and attitude are reflected in his teams gritty style of play.
The No. 7 seed Gamecocks will tip things off first vs. Gonzaga, joining 2014 U-Conn as the only other No 7 seed to advance to the Final Four in the history of the big dance. It will be Martin vs. Few. Polar opposites in demeanor, but identical in maxing out the effort from their players. (The game will tip off at 5:09 pm Saturday on CBS, Channel 11.)
Few's contemporary on the West Coast is Oregon Ducks head coach Dana Altman. Interesting enough, in March 2009, Oregon put on a full-court press to hire Few away from Gonzaga. The Ducks recruited Tom Izzo, Jamie Dixon and Brad Stevens (amongst others) before ultimately settling on Altman.
Under Altman, the Ducks are making their first appearance in the Final Four since 1939, the same year that Amelia Earhart disappeared and that the Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind captured the world's imagination in cinemas all over the world. Prior to the Saturday night, the most notable item on Altman's award sheet was receiving the Distinguished Eagle Scout award from the Boy Scouts. That all changes this weekend when the former Boy Scout attempts to topple a Blue Blood — "Carolina Blue" from Chapel Hill (tipoff at 7:49 pm on CBS, Channel 11).
Fasten your seatbelts. This isn't just an amazing Saturday night that will unfold, this is the beginning of even more parity amongst the ranks of College Basketball, with more amazing stories and upsets to come in the years ahead!
Craig Larson Jr. is chief operating officer and program director of SB Nation Radio Network.