Tennessee coach Rick Barnes has faced every team in the Final Four and has a prediction regarding a potential championship game matchup.
“I bet you this right now,” Barnes said. “If North Carolina and Gonzaga make it to the championship game, I'll bet you the bookies will say it’s a pick'em game. If there’s a point (spread), it’s going to be half a point. They’re that close. I believe they are the two best teams that we’ve played.”
Better than Oregon and South Carolina, which North Carolina and Gonzaga must beat, respectively, to advance.
The Volunteers went 0-5 against the Final Four teams and are the first team since the 2004-05 Iowa squad to have played each team in Final Four during the regular season.
Tennessee lost 69-65 in overtime to Oregon at the Maui Invitational, an event that was won by North Carolina . They led the Tar Heels most of the way before falling 73-71 at North Carolina , which played that game without injured guard Joel Berry II. They lost 86-76 to Gonzaga in Nashville, Tennessee. And they were swept by South Carolina, which beat the Vols 70-60 in Knoxville and 82-55 in Columbia .
“My gut feeling is (North) Carolina’s the best team,” Barnes said, “but my gut feeling now tells me I think Gonzaga’s going to win it.”
Barnes acknowledged both teams will have trouble just getting to Monday’s championship game. He cited Oregon’s Midwest Regional final victory over Kansas as the most impressive performance of the NCAA Tournament and noted that South Carolina arguably handed the Vols their most thorough beating of the season.
Barnes’ breakdown of each team in the Final Four:
SCOUTING REPORT: “I thought there were teams that maybe could take advantage of (7-foot-1, 300-pound center Przemek) Karnowski by getting him in high ball screens, and teams have tried to do that, but they haven’t been able to do it consistently. There’s not a team in this tournament that can do that, that’s left.”
TOUGH ENOUGH: “After they beat West Virginia , (Gonzaga coach Mark Few) said it was the most physical game they’ve been in all year, but he said, ‘Hey, we’re physical, too.’ That game’s going to help them against South Carolina. They’ve been in physical games.”
HOW THEY'VE CHANGED: “I think they’ve got their feet under them. I think they had to withstand the pressure of being the only undefeated team … not getting to a Final Four (before this). Right now they’re experienced. I agree with Mark, I think they’re tough. But all the teams that are there have got some toughness to them.”
SCOUTING REPORT: “I’ve said all along that I’ve thought North Carolina was the best team because they’ve got experience, they’ve got the inside stuff. … If they don’t shoot it well, they can still win basketball games.”
GOOD FROM THE START: “When we left Maui, I made this comment, that I’d never seen a team play at such a high level as North Carolina did that early in the year. They dominated that field in Maui. … I hadn’t seen a team play that well in November.”
REASON FOR CONCERN: Barnes said the uncertainty surrounding Berry’s ankle should worry North Carolina. “I guarantee you Roy Williams is scared to death right now wondering about that kid.”
SCOUTING REPORT: “The most impressive win in this tournament has been Oregon going into Kansas City and smacking Kansas. I’m telling you, that was impressive. They just didn’t go in and hang on. They went in and won it from start to finish.”
WHAT TO EXPECT SATURDAY: “I do think Oregon will try to control tempo against North Carolina. … They run that little matchup zone they run, and they'll try to do that.”
BELL'S EMERGENCE: “A player that changed the whole game against Kansas was Bell. The first play of the game, you saw where Kansas tried to bring the ball down the lane real quick and (they) got fouled. The next time, (Frank) Mason came in and got it blocked. I’m telling you, from that point on, they were looking for (Bell). Bell changed that game.”
SCOUTING REPORT: “In their matchup against Gonzaga, I don’t think they can go a half of not playing good offensive basketball. They’ve really hit their strides in the second half (during the NCAA Tournament). If you think about it, they’ve played (three) straight pretty good games offensively, and I don’t know if you can find that at any point in time throughout the whole year.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH: “A guy that’s got to play really big for South Carolina is (forward Chris) Silva - Silva and (forward Maik) Kotsar. I'll be surprised if Kotsar doesn’t get in foul trouble because (Gonzaga’s) coming at them. They’re coming at those two guys. … They’re going to get tested early.”
HOW THEY'VE CHANGED: “I actually thought South Carolina’s zone has been very effective. Everyone talks about their man defense. I think their zone has helped as much as anything. It’s been very effective through this tournament, that 3-2 zone they run.”