A breakdown of the Final Four teams that will be traveling to Houston to compete for the national championship.

Two wins away.

After a chaotic first two weeks of the NCAA tournament, the Final Four is set.

Who’s the favorite in Houston? According to Villanova coach Jay Wright, nobody: “I think all four of us are saying, ‘Look, anybody could win this thing.’ More than any other year, I really think that’s true.”

Here are some keys to victory for each team:


It starts on the defensive end. The Wildcats knocked out top overall seed Kansas by playing with a ferociousness that destabilized the Jayhawks’ normally sound offense, forcing them into 16 turnovers — including key ones in down the stretch — and limiting them to a season-low 59 points. “We wanted to make it a street fight, make it an ugly game,” point guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. Villanova will need a similar plan of attack defensively to disrupt the potent offense of Oklahoma.

Stopping Buddy Hield isn’t really possible, but making him uncomfortable and limiting his transition buckets will obviously be crucial in advancing to the title game. There’s no star on this team, but the Wildcats beat teams with a balanced offense that’s been bolstered by the heightened play of Arcidiacono and stretch 4-man Kris Jenkins. If the game is close, Villaova shoots close to 80% from the free-throw line, making 18 of 19 against Kansas.

X-Factor: Josh Hart


Though it’s beyond obvious, shooting the ball well is at the top of the list.

That starts with Buddy Hield, who is on an absolute a tear. He’s been the best offensive player in the country all season, but he has been especially prolific in this tournament. He’s averaging 29.2 points and shooting a 56.7% from the field (47.5% from three-point range). Hield also is the reason complementary guards Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins get the looks they do.

The whole defense wins championship motto applies in the Final Four, but Oklahoma has shredded plenty of championship-caliber defenses this season. The major key for this team will be limiting its turnovers. Oklahoma had 15 in the easy Elite Eight win against Oregon, six of them from Hield. That won’t cut it against a Villanova team that will thrive off any OU faltering.

X-Factor: Khadeem Lattin

North Carolina

The lone No. 1 seed has steamrolled opponents by an average of 16 points a game, and that’s a testament to coach Roy Williams and this team’s fire and determination.

Though most teams struggle to find a player who can shine in the middle of Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone, North Carolina has three or four — most notably All-American Brice Johnson. North Carolina has a punishing offense (83.0 ppg) that relies heavily on points in the paint.

The weakness, at least in the regular-season, was outside shooting; the Tar Heels are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country (32.1%, ranking 285th). But if Marcus Paige finds his touch like he did against Indiana, pouring in 21 points on 6-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc, the Tar Heels will be hard to stop.

X-Factor: Marcus Paige


Throw out the history here …A No. 10 seed has never won, blah blah blah. The Orange don’t fit the normal categories. They evolved into a title contender right after they snuck into the field on Selection Sunday. The team that lost five of six entering the NCAA tournament is gone and shows no signs of reappearing.

Gonzaga was a better team on paper than Syracuse. Virginia was a better team than Syracuse until the closing stretch. Even if North Carolina leads by double digits inside the last 10 minutes in the semifinals, don’t expect Roy Williams to relax. He saw how Syracuse stormed back with a thrilling 15-3 run in the final 6:30 against Virginia. Basketball is a game of runs, and Jim Boeheim’s team has delivered the best runs (outside of Texas A&M, that is) in this tournament.

If any team in this Final Four knows how to play with its back against the wall, it’s Syracuse. Season statistics will be of no help, because the Syracuse of the last four games is a whole different team. The mix of old — seniors Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney — and new — Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon—  has found a winning chemistry that didn’t fully click until the Orange drubbed Dayton in the opening round.

X-Factor: Malachi Richardson.



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