No. 1 seed North Carolina is one step closer to avenging its national runner-up finish from a season ago, knocking off No. 2 seed Kentucky 75-73 on a last-second shot by Luke Maye in the South Regional final.
The Tar Heels are Final Four-bound for the fifth time since Roy Williams took over the program.
UNC will face Oregon in Phoenix on Saturday in the Final Four at 8:49 p.m. ET.
1. North Carolina is the odds-on favorite to win it all
Of all four teams left in the tournament, there are only two 1-seeds left: Gonzaga and North Carolina. The latter has won five national titles, most recently as 2009, and the former is playing in a first-ever Final Four. Tell me which team you think should be favored? History certainly leans one way.
Experience trumps luck, and the Tar Heels not only have experience with all five starters juniors or seniors, they have a program where national titles are the expectation. With all five veteran starters on the team that fell a second short of a national championship last season, I have to think this is the most motivated team left in the field, too. They will be the favorite, as long as ...
2. Joel Berry II can remain healthy
Coming into Sunday, the health of North Carolina point guard Joel Berry II was a concern. And against Kentucky that concern was only raised further. He’s been dealing with a lingering ankle injury for the majority of the season, tweaking it again earlier this week. He tweaked the other ankle on Sunday.
Berry still managed to play 33 minutes and finished with 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting, but the dings are starting to add up here for him. He’s second on the team in points scored and minutes played per game, and leads the Tar Heels in assists. When he’s at full health, they’re nearly unbeatable. But a half-healthy Berry might not bode well for a fully healthy Oregon team that has surged to its second-ever Final Four.
3. The region of death doomed Kentucky
No matter your thoughts on Kentucky, it’s hard to argue that it didn’t have the most difficult path to a title. In the second round, it faced a terribly under-seeded Wichita State team that played more like a 5-seed than a 10-seed. Then it had a rematch against No. 3 seed UCLA, a team it lost to in the regular season, followed by a matchup with No. 1 seed North Carolina. And the ‘Cats nearly survived the gaunlet.
It’s easy to play the ‘what if?’ scenario, but if the Wildcats were a 1-seed rather than a 2-seed, it would have likely had a much easier path. It only stresses the importance of securing a top seed. Who knows if Kentucky is in the Final Four if it wins out a top seed, but there’s a reason the odds are far and away better.