| March 20, 2018

Column: The Moment of Truth

March 31, 2016

If someone had said the NCAA Final Four would contain just one No. 1 seed and include a No. 10 seed, they would have been deemed crazy.

Surprisingly, that’s what happened last weekend. As the four finalists prepare to battle for a berth in the national championship, the country now understands the meaning behind March Madness.

Although many brackets were busted in the first round following victories by Cinderella stories such as Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas-Little Rock, some brackets are still hanging on, as fans wait anxiously for Saturday’s games.

One great obstacle that all four teams will be facing is not the playing style of their opponents, but the venue itself.

The NRG Stadium in Houston can seat over 71,000 spectators, and the court is notorious for decreasing the presence of the perimeter offense.

The arena has a history of ruining the night of many shooting guards, and sports analysts claim the empty backdrop behind both baskets negatively impacts shooters.

While a team’s performance from the 3-point line is helpful in generating offense, that aspect is not the only contributing factor to success. No team understands this better than the Tar Heels.

North Carolina has not relied greatly on its shooting guards this season, but instead the powerhouse forwards in the paint. Only one-third of the shots the Tar Heels take occur behind the arc, and the team relies heavily on the athleticism with its transition offense.

But as North Carolina prepares for Syracuse’s daunting two-three zone, the Tar Heels are going to have to work harder to find gaps in the sea of orange jerseys. The Orange reduce the percentage of opponents’ shots behind the arc to 40 percent, which could work greatly in their favor. After all, everyone says defense wins championships.

On the other side of the bracket, a bad night on the perimeter could mean trouble for the teams that rely primarily on their outside shooting. One of these teams is Oklahoma — the second most accurate team in the nation from behind the arc.

Senior guard Buddy Hield, who is 57 treys shy of tying the all-time Sooners record, is averaging 29.3 points a game. Will the intimidating backdrop behind the baskets throw the Sooner senior for a loop?

Villanova’s dynamic duo of Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu will also be forces on Saturday, but they will most likely be relying on the team’s defense to carry them to the championship.

The Wildcats will have their work cut out for them against the Sooners’ “Core Four.”

The Core Four includes seniors Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler, along with junior Jordan Woodard. These upperclassmen will be stepping onto the court together for the 105th consecutive game, and their teammates will be looking to them to take control on Saturday.

This weekend’s matchup won’t be the first time these two programs have gone toe-to-toe. In a preseason tournament in Hawaii, the Sooners defeated the Wildcats. However, there is no indication that Oklahoma’s performance will be repeated.

Teams could potentially live or die from the 3-point line this weekend. While the venue seems to be catered to UNC’s athleticism in the paint, if a player catches fire from the perimeter, it could transform the tempo of the game.

This year has certainly proved that anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament.

Mihaela Karst can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu

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