How the Final Four Teams Got Here

The Syracuse Orange are the most unlikely Final Four team. Syracuse came into the season following a one-year postseason ban, and their Hall of Fame coach, Jim Boeheim, was suspended for the first nine games of the season. In his absence, the Orange were 4–5. Even after Boeheim returned, things were still rocky. 

Syracuse lost to a St. John’s team that was 1-17 in Big East play, and the Orange finished the season losing five of six games. After a first-round ACC Tournament exit, an NCAA Tournament berth looked unlikely. However, the selection committee cut the ‘Cuse some slack.

Syracuse cruised past Dayton in the first round, 70–51. That same day, Michigan State shockingly lost to No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee. That meant Syracuse would play the Blue Raiders in the second round instead of the No. 2 Spartans.

Syracuse’s signature win, of course, came against Virginia in the Elite Eight. The Cavaliers had a 16-point lead with nine minutes left, but the Orange turned up the heat on defense, using a press to speed up Virginia. The Orange made a stunning comeback, going on a 25–4 run to defeat the Cavaliers, 68–62 and complete one of the most unfathomable Final Four runs ever.

North Carolina 
Going by final scores, North Carolina has been one of the most dominant teams in the tournament. But the Tar Heels have gotten off to slow starts in three of their four games. UNC started the tournament with a matchup against 16th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast. After struggling in the first half, they dominated the second half to cruise to an 83–67 victory. That set up a Second Round meeting with Providence. The Friars flirted with an upset in the first half, but again the Tar Heels cruised late, winning 85–66. 

That set up a matchup in the Sweet Sixteen with the Indiana Hoosiers. UNC continued its dominant stretch by beating IU, 101–86. In the Elite Eight, UNC faced off against ACC foe Notre Dame. The game was tight until midway through the second half, when the Tar Heels pulled away to an 88–74 win. 

After three number one seeds were bounced from the Elite Eight, UNC is the only top seed left. Senior Brice Johnson, who is having a monstrous season and had 25 points against Notre Dame, leads the Tar Heels. 

Now the Tar Heels play upset-minded Syracuse, a team they’ve beaten by a combined 16 points in two meetings this season. UNC seems like a heavy favorite, but the way the Orange have been playing, no game is a lock anymore.

The Sooners have thrived this season behind their senior star, Buddy Hield. He is having as dominant a tournament performance as Steph Curry did in 2008. Hield has scored 30 or more points in a pair of tournament games. 

The Sooners flirted with a first-round upset against Cal State-Bakersfield, but they used a late game run to win 82–68. Then, in the Second Round against VCU, they jumped out to a huge lead but faltered late. They hung on and prevailed over the tourney-tested Rams, 85–81. That set up a matchup with Texas A&M. Behind Hield, who had 17 points, OU dominated and won 77–63. They would next play No. 1 seed Oregon in the Elite Eight. Behind strong shooting and another dominating performance from Hield, OU defeated Oregon, 82–68. 

Now they are in the Final Four to face the team they dominated early in the season. OU will face No. 2 Villanova, who they defeated 78-55 at the Diamond Classic in Hawaii. OU is returning to the dominating form they used in that game, and with Hield, they may be the most lethal team left.

The Villanova Wildcats are a team that we know for regular season success, as well as for early round exits. ‘Nova has not made it past the first weekend since 2009. This year they had a chip on their shoulder, and now they are finally in the Final Four again. 

Villanova has cruised through most of the tournament. They dominated 15 seed UNC- Asheville in the first round, 86–56. That set up a second round matchup with Iowa, who they dominated from the start. The Wildcats used a strong start, to win 87–68. They rode the domination wave through the Sweet Sixteen, when they defeated three seed Miami, 92–69. Finally, they had to scratch and claw to win a game. In the Elite Eight, they went back and forth with No. 1 seed Kansas, but they finally prevailed 64–59. 

The Cats love to shoot from beyond the arc. They rank fourth in the NCAA, as they shoot 46% from beyond the arc. ‘Nova also starts four guards, which helps them shoot the long ball. Another team that has a lot of seniors, the Cats chance to win is now. 

Photo credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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