Final Four Preview: Each Team’s Biggest Weakness

    All the Final Four teams come to Houston on fire, but let's preview each team's biggest weakness and what Achilles heel could pour cold water on title hopes.

    March 30, 2016

    All the Final Four teams come to Houston on fire, but let’s preview each team’s biggest weakness and what Achilles heel could pour cold water on title hopes. 

    So many things have gone right for North Carolina, Oklahoma, Syracuse and Villanova in the last two weeks for them to all reach the Final Four.

    The stars are shining and teams are coming together to win the most important games they’ve ever played. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield has scored at will, while North Carolina’s Brice Johnson has hit the boards with authority. Syracuse’s zone defense and full-court press have shut down opponents and allowed a pair of remarkable comebacks. Villanova’s veteran leadership has resulted in consistent overall play at a very high level.

    Now, as the teams make their way to Houston for the Final Four, coaches and players alike shift their focus to winning one more game. And then, one more to achieve the ultimate goal. So what will it take to exploit a very good team’s weakness? Here’s a look at what could put a stop to each Final Four team’s momentum.

    North Carolina Tar Heels

    The Tar Heels are an overwhelming favorite to reach the NCAA championship game for the 10th time. They’ll match up with Syracuse, who enters Saturday’s game as a nine-point underdog. The teams squared off twice already this season with North Carolina winning both times, though both games were competitive. 

    While the Tar Heels are experienced, ultra talented and deep, they aren’t unbeatable. North Carolina was one of the country’s worst three-point shooting teams this season, connecting on just 31.4 percent of their attempts during the regular season – good enough for a ranking of 307th nationally. The third time could be a charm for Syracuse during this Final Four if their zone is successful enough to force North Carolina into an abundance of perimeter shots. 
    Need more evidence this is best way to beat the Tar Heels? In its only home loss of the season, North Carolina went 1-of-13 from downtown, ultimately falling to Duke, 74-73.

    Oklahoma Sooners

    The easy way to beat the Sooners is to shut down Buddy Hield, the prolific shooting guard who has carried his team all season and continues to do so in the tournament. It worked for West Virginia, who held Hield to six points on 1-of-8 shooting  in the Big 12 Tournament and narrowly escaped after Hield’s half courter was ruled to be a fraction of a second late. 

    However, teams simply cannot bank on shutting down Hield during the Final Four. While defenses must make him work for his points, not allowing his teammates to do more damage than usual is essential for downing the Sooners. Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard are very capable scorers in their own right. If Villanova can lock one or both of them down, even a big night from Hield may not be enough.

    Syracuse Orange

    It doesn’t feel right to call a major program like Syracuse a Cinderella team, but that’s exactly what they are after becoming the first No. 10 seed in tournament history to reach the Final Four. This is a team that struggled considerably early in the season while Jim Boeheim served a suspension for NCAA violations. But the Orange never gave up. They stuck together through the early adversity and fought until the end despite facing double digit deficits in the second half against Gonzaga and Virginia. 

    So how can they be defeated? Effective guard play, as the Orange employed a potent full court press to get back into both of the aforementioned games. Guards, more than anyone, will be counted on to limit turnovers and attack Syracuse’s zone. Break the press and you’ll break the Orange.

    Villanova Wildcats

    Villanova is as balanced of a team as you’ll find – the Wildcats have seven players averaging more than six points per game with four in double digits. They’re explosive offensively, and allowed just 63 points per game during the regular season. 

    There are a few holes in the Wildcats’ defense, but rebounding is an area where they can be exploited. Villanova lost five times this season and didn’t win the battle of the boards in any of those contests. Specific to the semifinal game: on Dec. 7, Oklahoma defeated Villanova 78-55 with a 41-33 edge on the boards. Out-toughing the Wildcats down low may be the most effective way to send them home from Houston with an early Final Four exit.

    MORE: Five-Year Projections For The Final Four Programs


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