Running down the 2016 Final Four, from A to Z …
A is for Arcidiacono. Villanova senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono is the school’s career leader in games played with 142, and more importantly is having a stellar NCAA tournament. Arcidiacono is averaging 16 points while shooting 62.5 percent (20 of 32) from the floor for the Wildcats.
B is for Buddy, as in the one player left in the field who is instantly recognizable without a last name. Buddy Hield, the two-time Big 12 player of the year, is arguably the most explosive scoring left in the field. The senior guard dropped 37 points on Oregon in Saturday’s West regional final and is averaging 25.5 points on the season.
C is for cable television, where the national championship game will reside for the first time. The same massive television contract that produces late Sunday night tip times for second round and regional final games also is responsible for TBS securing the entire Final Four this season. It marks the first time since 1981 that CBS won’t televise the national title game.
D is for D.C., the area where Villanova collected some significant pieces of its latest Final Four team. Juniors Josh Hart (15.3 points per game) and Kris Jenkins (13.5) are the Wildcats’ top two scorers and both attended high school in the nation’s capital.
E is for expansion, which continues to pay off for the ACC in basketball. Syracuse is the first of the conference’s Big East imports to advance to the Final Four since joining the league, though it’s not as if Louisville (Elite Eight last year) and Notre Dame (back-to-back Elite Eights) haven’t enjoyed postseason success as ACC members, either.
F is for familiarity. Both semifinals are rematches of regular-season games. Oklahoma ripped Villanova 78-55 on Dec. 7 in Honolulu as Isaiah Cousins had 19 points and 10 assists for the Sooners while the Wildcats shot 4 of 32 from 3-point range. North Carolina swept a home-and-home from Syracuse, winning 84-73 at the Carrier Dome on Jan. 9 and 75-70 in Chapel Hill on Feb. 29.
G is for Gbinije. Silent G himself, Michael Gbinije began his career at Duke and was something of a placeholder at forward for Syracuse before necessity forced the Orange to move him to point guard in the middle of last season. He then, rather unexpectedly, evolved into one of the country’s most valuable players and is averaging 17.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists while making a team-high 91 3-pointers.
H is for Houston, home to the Final Four for the third time. The Astrodome hosted the 1971 Final Four and UCLA defeated Villanova 68-62 behind Henry Bibby’s 29 points in the final. In 2011, Reliant Stadium (now NRG Stadium) was the site of Connecticut’s 53-41 triumph over Butler behind Kemba Walker’s 16 points.
I is for infractions, and you very well could hear about those this week. Syracuse self-imposed a postseason ban last season as it was awaiting its fate from the NCAA committee on infractions, while North Carolina awaits word on the NCAA’s long-running investigation into its program.
J is for Johnson. Brice Johnson is North Carolina’s walking double-double and now owns the school’s single-season double-double record with 23 after a 25-point, 12-rebound showing against Notre Dame in the regional final. A first team All-America pick, Johnson is the best big man left in the field.
K is for KenPom. According to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings system, North Carolina now ranks as the country’s most efficient offensive team, followed by Villanova (No. 4), Oklahoma (No. 13) and Syracuse (No. 51). Villanova owns the most efficient defense left in the field (No. 7 nationally), with Oklahoma (No. 13), Syracuse (No. 16) and North Carolina (No. 21) all stout units as well.
L is Lattin, a surname with some Final Four history. Oklahoma’s Khadeem Lattin, a Houston native, has started all 36 games for the Sooners and averaged 5.7 points and 5.3 rebounds. A half-century ago this month, his grandfather David “Big Daddy” Lattin had 16 points and nine rebounds to help Texas Western (with an all-black starting lineup) upend Kentucky (with an all-white starting lineup) in a historic national title game credited for accelerating the integration of college basketball in the south.
M is for Massimino. Former coach Rollie Massimino remains something resembling the patriarch of Villanova’s program. He led the Wildcats to the 1985 national championship and employed a young assistant coach named Jay Wright for a combined seven seasons at Villanova and UNLV. Wright is now Villanova’s coach and is in his second Final Four with the Wildcats.
N is for North Carolina. The 32-6 Tar Heels claimed the East regional as a No. 1 seed with victories over Florida Gulf Coast, Providence, Indiana and Notre Dame and are making their 19th Final Four appearance and first since 2009. North Carolina has won the NCAA tournament on five previous occasions (1957, 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009).
O is for Oklahoma. The 29-7 Sooners secured the West regional as a No. 2 seed, defeating Cal State Bakersfield, Virginia Commonwealth, Texas A&M and Oregon on their way to their fifth Final Four. Oklahoma has never won the tournament and last advanced to the Final Four in 2002.
P is for Paige. North Carolina senior guard Marcus Paige is a four-year mainstay who ranks 12th on the Tar Heels’ career scoring list (1,810 points), eighth in career assists (593) and first in career 3-pointers (292). After a productive regional weekend, Paige will look to cap his career by snipping the national championship nets in Houston.
Q is for quick, the sort of pace two of the remaining four teams prefer to employ. North Carolina (62nd nationally) and Oklahoma (89th) rank in the top 100 of KenPom.com’s adjusted tempo rankings, while Villanova (270th) and Syracuse (318th) are decidedly more deliberate teams.
R is for Richardson. Syracuse freshman Malachi Richardson tied his career-high with 23 points in Sunday’s regional final against Virginia. His other 23-point game? Also against Virginia. While Richardson shot 9 of 17 from 3-point range in two games against the Cavaliers, his performances against North Carolina (13 points per game on 9 of 24 shooting, including 5 of 14 from the outside) aren’t quite so scorching.
S is for Syracuse. The first No. 10 seed ever to reach the Final Four, the Orange (23-13) navigated Dayton, Middle Tennessee, Gonzaga and Virginia in the Midwest regional en route to the program’s sixth trip to the season’s final weekend (and fifth under Jim Boeheim). Syracuse, which won its lone national title in 2003, is in the Final Four for the first time since 2013.
T is for twenty-two, the gap in years between Final Four appearances for Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger. The well-traveled Kruger took Florida to the Final Four in 1994 before bouncing to Illinois, the Atlanta Hawks, UNLV and now Oklahoma. The only coach with a longer gap between semifinal appearances was DePaul’s Ray Meyer, whose Blue Demons got there in 1943 and 1979.
U is for undefeated, a storyline that was eliminated long ago for this Final Four. The four remaining teams in the field have combined for 31 losses, and all of them had absorbed at least one setback by Jan. 4 (when Oklahoma fell at Kansas).
V is for Villanova. The South regional winners, the Wildcats (33-5) handled UNC Asheville, Iowa, Miami and Kansas to reach the Final Four for the fifth time. Villanova last reached the Final Four in 2009 and is seeking to add a second NCAA title to its 1985 crown.
W is for Williams. North Carolina coach Roy Williams is in his eighth Final Four (more than every coach other than John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith) and now has more NCAA tournament triumphs with the Tar Heels (35) than he did at Kansas (34).
X is for (e)xperience, in the absence of anything that really fits. Only one player in this Final Four has appeared on this stage before: Syracuse’s Trevor Cooney, who scored three points in five minutes against Michigan in the 2013 national semifinals.
Y is for youth, something that won’t be as present in this year’s Final Four as it was a season ago. Only two freshmen – Syracuse’s Malachi Richardson and Villanova’s Jalen Brunson – have started for any of the remaining teams in the field. Syracuse allocates 36.7 percent of its minutes to freshmen, far more than Villanova (23.1 percent), Oklahoma (14.6 percent) and North Carolina (3.9 percent).
Z is for zone. As if it could be anything else in a Final Four that includes Jim Boeheim. Syracuse will employ its 2-3 zone as it always does, and plenty will be written about it, as is always the case. But the true key for the Orange will be what it’s been all season: Outside shooting.
Saturday’s Final Four
No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 2 Villanova
6:09 p.m., TBS
No. 1 UNC vs. No. 10 Syracuse
8:49 p.m., TBS