#1 North Carolina vs. #3 Oregon
Saturday 8:39, CBS
Player to Watch: Justin Jackson (Tournament Averages: 19.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists)
Tempted to talk about Luke Maye here but I had to write with my head and not my heart. Justin Jackson has taken major strides forward on the offensive end this year. His shot making ability has made him an offensive threat from anywhere on the floor. He can create his own shot as well. With Joel Berry’s injury limiting him, Jackson has stepped up to become a point forward for some possessions. Jackson took a back seat to Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson last year but this year he is the go to scorer.
Joel Berry’s ankle is going to be the story of the week leading into Saturday’s Final Four matchup. Berry has been hobbled by this ankle injury throughout the tournament and although he has played through the injury it is clearly bothering him. During the regular season Berry was fearless with his drives to the rim and was North Carolina’s best outside shooter. Berry was not himself in the Elite 8 struggling to trust that ankle and missed all five of his three point attempts. This is a big week for the Tar Heels as they need to get their point guard back on track. He is the only one on the roster that can handle the ball and will need his lateral quickness to guard Payton Pritchard. If Berry’s ankle is still an issue the Tar Heels will need huge games from their front court to keep pace with Oregon.
Player to Watch: Tyler Dorsey (Tournament Averages: 24.5 points, 4.5 rebounds)
Dillon Brooks received all the accolades coming into the year and the tournament by Tyler Dorsey has become the go to guy for the Ducks in the NCAA Tournament. His scoring outputs have been ridiculous and his shot selection was as well. He has shot the ball with confidence and after 4 games averaging almost 25 points he should be. Theo Pinson will have to step up on the defensive end of the floor to force Dorsey into taking tough shots. If Dorsey can have his way it will be a long night for the Tar Heel defense.
X Factor: Jordan Bell
When Chris Boucher went down in the PAC-12 tournament with a season ending injury I sold my stock in Oregon. I knew that Brooks and Dorsey were very good but I did not believe that Jordan Bell could contribute the way Boucher did on the defensive end. Welp, so much for that. Bell has been a monster in the paint and is the reason the Ducks shut down that high powered Kansas offense. Bell is not a major scorer but he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to defend the North Carolina front court, offer some rim protection, and crash the glass. Doing that will be more valuable than scoring 10 points. North Carolina is the best offensive rebounding team so the pressure will be on Bell to gobble up any Tar Heel missed shot.
Match-Up to Watch: Coaches Chess Match With Lineups
These two teams like to play very different in terms of a lineup. Oregon likes to play a small with 6’7 Dillon Brooks playing the 4 in their most frequent lineups. Roy Williams likes to play big with Justin Jackson at the 3, Isaiah Hicks at the 4, and Kennedy Meeks at the 5. That is a massive lineup. It is save to assume Isaiah Hicks could not cover Dillon Brooks and Brooks couldn’t bang with Hicks down low. There will be a chess match between the coaches to utilize their players correctly and put them in the best position for success.
Key Stat: Offensive Rebounds
As I said above, UNC is the best offensive rebounding team in the country. Oregon is not as good at grabbing offensive rebounds but Jordan Bell did snatch 7 offensive boards against Kansas in the Elite 8. Getting extra possessions can kill a team so securing the defensive rebound will be essential for each team.
Prediction: Oregon 81, North Carolina 78
I picked Oregon while previewing this game on our podcast and I am sticking with that pick. The Oregon shooters will be too much for the Tar Heel perimeter players to handle. Look for Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks to carry the load on offense and Jordan Bell continue his streak of playing great basketball.