Quick Takes: 4 key Final Four questions
As North Carolina, Oregon, Gonzaga, and South Carolina complete final workouts in advance of Saturday’s Final Four, four key questions come to mind. They are …
How healthy are Joel Berry ankles? Given his game-winning shot against Kentucky, it would be tempting to look at Luke Maye’s bench production (12.5 ppg in NCAAs vs. 4.9 ppg in regular season) and wonder if he can sustain those numbers in Phoenix. No question, North Carolina would like that to continue. But the Tar Heels chances of reaching Monday’s title game and avenging last year’s loss hinge more on the health of Berry’s ankles. How many minutes can he play? How effective will he be? Will his ankles be 70 percent? 80? We don’t know. He may not either until he takes the court. Standing between Carolina and another NCAA title are three solid defensive teams. Oregon shut down Kansas, and South Carolina and Gonzaga are elite defensive groups. As we saw against Duke in the ACC tourney, UNC can struggle when Berry’s off the floor. How healthy are Joel Berry’s ankles? The answer could well map out UNC’s final journey.
Can Tyler Dorsey sustain his offense prowess? Have you looked at Dorsey’s offensive numbers through four 2017 NCAA tournament games? If not, he’s making nearly 67 percent of his FG attempts (34-51) and connecting on 65 percent of this three-point FGs (17-26). Incredible. Unbelievable, really. Rightly so, Jordan Bell’s work (8 blocks, 13 rebounds) against Kansas received a lot of attention, but would the Ducks have survived Rhode Island or Michigan (a combined winning margin of four points) without Dorsey’s offense? He’s averaging 24.5 points a game in the tournament, compared to a 14.5 season average. Perhaps Dillon Brooks will have a game for the ages Saturday or Monday. He could be due. If not, will Dorsey sustain his torrid pace? The Ducks may need him to.
Will South Carolina continue its offensive output? It’s been a magical, wonderful ride for Frank Martin and the Gamecocks. They’ve used a stingy, tenacious defense to bully opponents. Combined, they’ve held four NCAA teams to 68.5 points per game. While the adage that defense wins championships is valid, offense helps, too. Through four tournament games, the Gamecocks are averaging 82 points a game, an increase of nearly nine points a game (73 ppg in regular season). That’s astonishing, a much larger difference than it appears. USC’s offense begins with Sindarius Thornwell, who is pouring in 25.75 points a game during the 2017 tourney. Will South Carolina keep up its offensive output in Phoenix? If so, the Gamecocks will be a tough out.
Will Gonzaga’s offense support its defense? Through four NCAA tournament games, Gonzaga has scored the fewest points among Final Four contenders: 289. The other totals look like this: UNC (342), South Carolina (328), and Oregon (311). Not that we should be surprised by the Bulldogs’ defensive success, they rank No. 1 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency at Ken Pomeroy. Offensively, the Zags rank 14th. Which begs the question … will the Zags’ offense come to life and support its defense? We saw a glimpse of their capability against Xavier, making 12 three pointers while shooting 47 percent overall. If there’s a secondary question for the Zags, its free throw shooting. In a close game, it could prove costly. Then again, free throws count for offense. So the primary question remains: Can their offense match their defense?
Enjoy what should be a terrific Final Four.