Oregon vs. North Carolina Odds: NCAA Final Four Picks

Ricky Rothstein | Updated Mar 28, 2017

theo pinson

What an interesting Final Four we have this Saturday outside Phoenix! It’s two football-first schools in Oregon and South Carolina, one mid-major in Gonzaga and then one true basketball blue-blood program in North Carolina. The Tar Heels are +110 favorites to cut the nets down next Monday and so also expected to beat the Ducks in Saturday’s second semifinal.

Oregon Ducks vs. North Carolina Tar Heels

Spread: North Carolina -5 Total: 151.5 Date: Saturday, April 1, 8:50 p.m. ET Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

Oregon Ducks

When you’re a school with a football mentality located in the remote outpost of Eugene, Oregon, you have to get creative when recruiting top basketball talent. Schools like North Carolina, Kentucky or Duke can land players from anywhere in the USA. The top players in California generally go to one of those schools or perennial powers out West such as UCLA or Arizona.

That leaves Oregon – even with all that financial backing of Nike founder and super-booster Phil Knight — searching for diamonds in the rough. Where the program has succeeded in a big way with this year’s team is in Canada. Junior forward Dillon Brooks (Mississauga), senior center Chris Boucher (Montreal) and senior guard Dylan Ennis (Brampton), have all been huge contributors. Brooks was the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Boucher was among the nation’s top shot-blockers before suffering a season-ending injury in the Pac-12 Tournament. Ennis started his career at Rice, spent one season there before heading to Villanova for two and then landed at Oregon last season. He normally would be out of eligibility by now but played in only two games in 2015-16 due to injury and was given a medical redshirt by the NCAA.

Much of the secret to Oregon’s recruiting success north of the border can be attributed to assistant coach Mike Mennenga, in his third season at Oregon. He started mining Canada for talent back as an assistant at Maine, then Buffalo and then Canisius – all close to the border. He immersed himself in the Canadian AAU culture and became friendly with Tony McIntyre, one of the top youth coaches in the Toronto area. McIntyre runs the powerful AAU program CIA Bounce, which Mennenga helped establish. Former No. 1 overall NBA picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett have come from the program. So did Brooks, who helped sell Boucher and Ennis on the Oregon program after committing — McIntyre is also Ennis’ stepfather.

Third-seeded Oregon (33-5) is the Midwest Region champion. We previewed the Ducks’ Sweet 16 game as a 1-point underdog against No. 7 Michigan, recommended the Ducks and they won 69-68 when Wolverines star Derrick Walton Jr. missed the potentially winning shot at the buzzer. In all honesty, this writer didn’t believe that Oregon could then upset No. 1 Kansas in Kansas City in the Elite Eight, but the Ducks were clearly the better team in a 74-60 victory.

Tyler Dorsey has been Oregon’s best player in this tournament in averaging 24.5 points. It’s the first Final Four trip for the school since it won the first-ever eight-team NCAA Tournament in 1939. Oregon is +400 to add a second championship.

North Carolina Tar Heels

This writer projected before the NCAA Tournament began that North Carolina (31-7) would win it all. The South Region No. 1 Heels, after all, were the regular-season champions of college basketball’s best conference, the ACC. They were somewhat fortunate in the Round of 32 against No. 8 Arkansas but had little trouble with No. 4 Butler in the Sweet 16.

The game of this tournament thus far was North Carolina’s Elite Eight 75-73 win over No. 2 Kentucky. Nearly 25 years to the day after a tall white player wearing the No. 32 beat Kentucky on a last-second shot (Christian Laettner), it happened again when former Tar Heels walk-on Luke Maye hit the winning jumper with 0.3 seconds left. Kentucky’s Malik Monk had hit a ridiculous tying 3-pointer with 7.2 seconds to go and neither UNC coach Roy Williams nor UK’s John Calipari opted to call timeout after.

Carolina point guard Theo Pinson drove through the Kentucky defense to find Maye on the wing near the 3-point arc. Maye had a career-high 17 points off the bench. His basket was the fourth last-second shot to secure a Final Four berth by any school since 1985, including Laettner’s. It was the first time a Tar Heel scored a game-winning shot in the last 10 seconds of an NCAA Tournament game since Rick Fox in 1990. ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson added 19 vs. UK. Jackson was also named first-team All-American this week.

There is one injury concern for Carolina and that’s to junior point guard Joel Berry II. He injured his ankle against Arkansas and tweaked it against Kentucky. There’s no question that Berry will play, but he may not practice this week. He is second on the team in scoring at 14.6 points per game and leads the team with 3.6 assists per game It’s the 20th overall Final Four for the Tar Heels – the most of any school — and second in a row. They were beaten in the national championship game last year on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins. UNC is 5-4 against the spread and straight up in its past nine Final Four games as a favourite.

Oregon vs. North Carolina Predictions

This could be the game where Oregon misses the injured Boucher the most as North Carolina has plenty of size, led by senior Kennedy Meeks. He averages 12.3 points and 9.3 rebounds and dominated Kentucky inside with 17 rebounds. The Heels are 31-3 when outrebounding foes this season. They lead the nation in rebounding and are Top 10 in points and assists. Oregon isn’t as strong offensively but better on defence. The magic number is likely 80 points. The Heels are 7-5 this year when held under that number.

North Carolina covers – although it might be wise to use an alternate line of 2.5 (-172) — and faces Gonzaga in Monday’s national championship game. Go over the total in this one.

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