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Bracket Breakdown: Figuring out the Final Four

The men’s NCAA tournament has advanced into its climactic closing weekend with the Final Four and national championship just days away. Stakes have reached an all-time high, as four formidable teams gear up for Saturday’s semifinals in Phoenix.

Annika Morris | Senior Graphic Artist

The weekend kicks off with the Cinderella story of the tournament, No. 11 seed NC State Wolfpack, taking on the menacing No. 1 seed Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday night.

In a classic David vs. Goliath match-up, the Wolfpack will seek to shock the world once again and advance to the championship. But in their way stands a true Goliath, in Zach Edey and the rest of the Boilermakers.

NC State enters the final four coming off an impressive weekend which included a Sweet 16 win over No. 2 seed Marquette and an Elite Eight win over No. 4 seed Duke, during which the Wolfpack’s duo of DJs led the way. 

The crafty senior guard DJ Horne contributed 19 and 20 points in those two games, while the tournament star, DJ Burns, added 29 points against Duke after struggling versus Marquette.

The ACC Tournament Champion Wolfpack will now chase the 10th straight win of this magical run on Saturday. Along the way we’ve learned this resilient squad is no stranger to pressure as every game on this run has essentially been “win-or-go-home.” Following their 17-14 finish to the regular season, which included losses in four of their last nine games, something has shifted within this NC State team. 

DJ Burns spoke to this new identity of the Wolfpack after the win over Duke. “There’s just been a total switch in our commitment. Nobody’s being late to things,” he said. “Nobody’s being a problem on the court. Everybody’s come together.”

On the other side of things, the season-long powerhouse, Purdue, awaits the Wolfpack after facing one of the toughest tasks of the tournament in No. 2 seed Tennessee. In a classic tournament duel, the Boilermakers relied heavily on Edey, who delivered in iconic fashion. 

The 7’4 center dominated, dropping 40 points on 13-21 shooting, with 16 rebounds. If it wasn’t apparent already Edey cannot be stopped, when this dominant force is paired with the stellar supporting defense of Purdue, the Boilermakers are a very difficult team to beat.

It will be interesting to see how NC State will approach Edey. While the Wolfpack has looked like a team reborn since the end of the regular season, Purdue has remained a powerhouse throughout the year.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the bracket, the No. 4 seed Alabama Crimson Tide meet the No. 1 seed UConn Huskies in an offensive showdown. 

The Crimson Tide are always an entertaining team to watch, with an offense that can light up the scoreboards in an instant. Last weekend the Tide took down No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 6 seed Clemson in two electric wins.

Senior guard Mark Sears has continued his phenomenal tournament run providing the spark necessary on offense to push Alabama forward. Sears gave Clemson 23 points, including 7 threes, to power the comeback. 

However, for Alabama to compete with the juggernaut that is UConn they will need to play a complete game and not allow the Huskies to get out to a lead early. 

But even so, UConn might just have their way regardless — this team has looked to be among the most impressive to ever enter the tournament, playing at a level far above their competition thus far. 

Over the weekend UConn eliminated San Diego State in a 30-point win and Illinois in a 25-point victory, in games that frankly weren’t very competitive. The Huskies have simply outclassed their opponents, dominating on each end. 

7 ‘2 sophomore center Donovan Clingan owned the day against Illinois, blocking five shots and totaling three steals, all while adding 22 points on offense.

Not to mention, UConn’s backcourt of Cam Spencer and Tristen Newton might be the best in the country. The star-studded UConn lineup is rounded out by other top draft prospects in Stephon Castle and a savvy stretch-four in Alex Karaban.

UConn is a complete team and will require a complete performance from the other teams in order to be toppled. Alabama’s offense may be powerful enough to make up for some deficiencies on the other end, but they’ll certainly need to take another step on Saturday.

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