Future NBA stars? Check. Upset potential? Check. Academic fraud scandals? Double check. Saturday’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament Final Four games have it all.
No. 2 seeds Villanova and Oklahoma will square off for a spot in the championship game at 6:09 p.m. on TBS. When the teams played earlier this season, the Sooners routed the Wildcats 78-55. Will Villanova get its revenge?
The second semifinal game, airing on the same network right after ‘Nova versus Oklahoma, features No. 10 Syracuse trying to prolong its improbable tournament run by toppling No. 1 UNC. The run-up to this game, however, has been mostly focused on the programs’ off-the-court activities, as both teams are dealing with fallout from major academic fraud scandals.
Even though March has ended, the madness is at its peak. Here’s what you need to know about Saturday’s games.
No. 2 seed Villanova versus No. 2 seed Oklahoma
- Oklahoma’s senior sharpshooter Buddy Hield is widely regarded as the most complete player left in the tournament, and possibly in all of college basketball. He averaged 25.4 points per game this season and 29.3 points per game in the NCAA tournament so far. He scored 37 points in the Sooners’ win over No. 1 Oregon in the Elite Eight and he leads the NCAA in 3-pointers made, with 127. Hield’s accuracy and evident enjoyment of the game have earned him numerous comparisons to the NBA’s hottest player, Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry. The Washington Post compared the two players, saying, “The last time a college player looked this unstoppable was in 2008 when Stephen Curry helped carry Davidson to the Elite Eight.” Whether or not Hield lives up to this massive hype, it’s easy to imagine him making his mark on the NBA next season.
- Hield is Oklahoma’s best shooter, but his teammates aren’t just standing idly by. As a team, Oklahoma makes 42.8 percent of its 3-pointers, the second-best rate in men’s college basketball this season, according to the NCAA.
- Oklahoma may have trounced Villanova in December, but Villanova is a different team than it was earlier in the year. Need proof? Look at the Elite Eight game. The Wildcats beat No. 1 overall seed Kansas, holding one of the best programs in the country to a season-low 59 points. Led by senior Ryan Arcidiacono, who’s no slouch from the 3-point line, and junior Josh Hart, ‘Nova’s leading scorer and stalwart defender, the Wildcats will be an even match for Hield and Co.
- Villanova is the winningest team in the NCAA over the last three seasons with 95 wins, according to ESPN. It says the senior class, including Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, have 115 over four seasons.
No. 1 seed UNC versus No. 10 seed Syracuse
- Both of these teams have been found to have committed systematic and prolonged academic fraud. It’s difficult to talk about this matchup without delving into what it means to be a student-athlete, the role of amateurism in sports and the nature of the NCAA.
- Syracuse, whose NCAA tournament invitation raised eyebrows considering its middling, 13-loss season in which the Orange lost five of their last six games, has turned itself into the Cinderella story of the tournament. Its scrappy underdog status, however, is marred by the fact it’s on probation for academic violations. Last year, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim was suspended for nine games by the NCAA and the team was stripped of 108 wins after an investigation dating back more than a decade revealed cash payouts to players, forged homework and other instances of wrongdoing. The program also self-imposed a postseason ban last year.
- UNC, which has been one of the top teams in the country for most of the season, is facing its own academic fraud violations. Basketball players, as well as other athletes, enrolled in so-called paper classes, which didn’t really exist. The students simply needed to turn in a paper to get credit. And many of the papers, it was found, were written by people other than the student-athletes. Although the violations were brought to light more than a year ago, the program is still “under investigation.”
- For more information, analysis and opinions on the programs’ wrongdoing and what it means for the NCAA, check out Pat Forde’s Yahoo Sports column “On Probation vs. Under Investigation: Final Four marred by schools with scandals,” CBS Sports’ “North Carolina Vs. Syracuse In The Final Four Is A Headache For The NCAA,” and The Associated Press’ take, “Final Four matchup as much about scandals as baskets.”
Stay tuned for the women’s Final Four preview!