Final Four 2017: Key to beating each school, and why Gonzaga should win it all

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Only one of Phoenix’s four can win it all, so we sought the insight of coaches who scouted and played Gonzaga, Oregon, North Carolina and South Carolina to figure the best way to beat each Final Four team. I gathered quotes from coaches who beat these schools this season, with the exception of Gonzaga.

How will these teams lose? Here’s your preview for Saturday night. Keep these thoughts in mind as you watch how the games play out in the desert.


General feeling: South Carolina is in massive trouble if Sindarius Thornwell doesn’t again perform like the best player in the tournament.

Best way to stop them

“The No. 1 way to exploit or survive South Carolina is to take away the one guy who can beat you. Sindarius Thornwell is the guy making tough, big-boy plays. He can mask them with the great things he does. He does all the heavy lifting. Let’s say it’s you, me, Sindarius and two other dudes. We go 5-on-5 against another team. We’re winning because we have Thornwell. With [Duane] Notice, it’s just, ‘Defense and make shots’. The big kid, [Maik] Kotsar, can protect, rebound, sort a little on the inside. They don’t have to do hard things because Thornwell does all the hard things. Frank [Martin] doesn’t have to call the other things, just fu--ing guard, rebound and make an open shot.”

Primary weakness

“In the first half against Florida, South Carolina came off the shooters because they had to. In the second half, Florida just missed shots because of being worn out. South Carolina wears on you. ButGonzaga has depth. If Gonzaga’s able to use its bench to get good shots and not wear down, South Carolina will be in trouble. Florida couldn’t do that.”

Susceptible if Gonzaga can get physical

“USC must play great physical defense. They are strong and if the game gets physical they are really hard to beat. USC can switch their defenses to keep you not comfortable. When they make shots also are very had to beat. Thornwell will [be] there to score but when other guys do that, then they are really good. Dozier makes 3s, then he becomes really hard to guard. Supporting guys play well, they win.”

“Justin McKie is a part-time, two-bit player right now. He was a big player for them two years ago. Dozier was a f--ing McDonald’s All-American. So start playing like that. Frank is a master motivator. It’s a great boost for the league. We talk about SEC football. What separates SEC football from everybody else? It’s the defensive line, it’s big athletes that can move. You can match up with the SEC in every place, but you can’t match up with those motherf--ers on the defensive end. South Carolina has to have that mentality again, because they are like SEC football players when they impose their will on defense.”

Big difference from now vs. a month ago: Role players.

“Duane Notice is the greatest example. He is a great 3-point shooter, yet shot the ball for s--- all year long. Look at his 3-point shooting numbers. They were awful. I don’t know why. He started to make, not tough shots, but open shots. He’s been the best on-ball defender of point guards in our league. Thornwell is defensive player of the year, had an unbelievable year. There were times Silva was a great rim protector, Silva is tough enough that you can be afraid of him. He’s intimidating. He’s stronger than what you think, physical to a fault and will hurt you.”


General feeling: Tyler Dorsey isn’t going to stay hot, so contain Dillon Brooks and Oregon will lose

Best way to stop them

“You better be good with your one-on-one defense. Not many traditional bigs can guard Jordan Bell. Traditional 4s can’t guard Dillon Brooks. All five of those guys can get on the floor and shoot the ball, aside from Bell. They spread you out with dribble penetration. Everything’s going right, right off the dribble. Now, Dillon Brooks is the guy. Tyler Dorsey, none of those guys are hard to guard. But if Dillon Brooks is rolling he’s hard to [guard]. He’s a roamer on defense so you have to make him work. Not that he doesn’t play hard, but he might miss on some plays and I think the best way to stop these guys is make everything go left off the bounce.”

How to score on them

“Dribble inside and penetrate. Not a great defensive team but they give you different looks. Just run your man offense and pound. The best way to attack is what UNC is going to do: Pound it inside. The chess match will be: Carolina will score but can they stop Dillon at the 4. I don’t think Carolina’s a great team but they have all the parts. Jordan Bell can’t sustain enough blows with all those big guys coming at him. He’ll eventually give. Once Oregon goes to their bench they’re not nearly as strong. The big guy form London [Kavell Bigby-Williams], he can’t carry the weight like Jordan Bell. If Jordan Bell gets in foul trouble, then they’re in trouble.”

Primary weakness

“Low post/interior defense. Boucher [out due to injury] and Bell are great shot-blockers but not great interior defenders. In the post. The other part, you can get cuts on them, you can get your looks, but the key is you can’t get stagnant. Without Boucher it should be even [easier]. Kansas didn’t have a low-post scorer. And Jordan Bell isn’t someone you worry about too much on one end of the floor.”

“Bell is scoring on dunks, if you lose him in the offense or via the backboard. You can’t leave him alone, but you don’t have to worry about it. He’s not going to shoot it and he’s not going to post you up.”

“I don’t think Casey hurts you. They need to play him more because he’s a pass-first guy. Pritchard’s good, but he hasn’t done much in the tournament. The stage is pretty big.”

Two-way strength

“Oregon was the best Pac-12 team on both ends. They can play with the score up at 80/90 or in the low 60s. The thing you’re counting on is if Dillon Brooks gets in foul trouble or if Jordan Bell gets in foul trouble.”

“You can beat this team with pace. We like to rebound and score quickly. We knew they couldn’t stop us defensively. If we ran our offense we could get what we want. We guarded them well. That was the way we beat them. Not too many, only been a couple of teams, Kentucky obviously did. Oregon should have never beat us.”

Dorsey coming back down to earth, but Brooks will break out

“Carolina can guard Dorsey one on one. When you look at the Kansas game, if you allow those guys to penetrate and pitch. That’s the thing about UNC. I don’t think Oregon can beat North Carolina by trying to make a lot of layups.”

“You can’t egg Brooks on. That’s music to his ears. He’s a ball player and he wants that stage. He went from, ‘Does he belong at this level?’ to playing with a chip on his shoulder. [Josh] Hart, [Caleb] Swanigan and Brooks are probably the three toughest guys in college basketball. Once you rev him up, it’s only going to make him go harder. And those guys are going to follow his lead. You never see him get bad fouls, wild fouls, technical fouls. There’s a method to his madness.”

“Brooks is a grown man with a lot of energy. If you can control Brooks and Dorsey, you’re going to win the game. Carolina, they’ll have problems with Carolina. I watched Carolina. If Carolina’s healthy, they win on Saturday. If Joel Berry plays to the level he can play it, it will be hard to beat them. Justin Jackson is that good, man. Meeks inside, Maye is shooting the heck out of it. Pinson’s good enough. They’ve got big guards. Oregon will have problems.”

All you have to do is run man plans. You cannot run zone plays against their defense.

North Carolina

General feeling: You must disrupt their system continually in order to win

Biggest strength

“The strength of Carolina is their system is so good, they kind of do what they do. Luke Maye having a game he had in the tournament against Kentucky and then to hit that shot? … I’m in awe of the Carolina way. They’re not going to change their style per the opponent. They’ll go with their two bigs, send to the glass, trap out of timeout, they’ll trap first possession of the half, you know all of the stuff they’re going to do and they’re going to do it anyway and really well.”


“If they were going to lose it would be because you cut off the head of the snake, Joel Berry. He did not play well [against us]. He’s the guy that was the difference-maker. He pushes the pace, makes decisions, but when he’s making shots gives them a different dynamic. If you look at their roster, if he’s not making 3s, it’s really just Justin Jackson. Luke Maye can make a 3, but you wouldn’t say he’s a 3-point shooter. We played a lot of zone against them, and I think it surprised them. That’s good and bad of a system-based team, they run a certain [set] of plays. And if you run stuff and it’s effective, they don’t always know how to respond. The knock sometimes is the Carolina way: they don’t change what they do.”

Defending Justin Jackson

“Some teams it’s like, hey, they’re going to run these plays for this guy to get this points, and if you fix that, you’ve got a great shot. With him, it’s transition and it’s their team. I think to be a 6-7 guy, he’s got a great mid-range floater, one of the best in the country i would think for his size. The way he can be moving so squick, so fast to the rim and still be able to rise up and shoot flatters and runners int he paint for a guy that size in impressive. I thought thought knock on him was how consistent of a shooter from 3 and how tough was he, but in the league I thought he did a good job of dispelling that. He’s thin, a straight-line driver athlete, but I think he’s tried to take the big shots for them. If he makes 3s, then they’re gong to be tough to beat.”

Pick your spots to run

“When we game plan for them, we like to run in transition every opportunity we get. Our pace wouldn’t say that, but we’re selective when we run. When we play them, we only run on long rebounds and turnovers. They’re going to be more uncomfortable not playing at their pace then you’re going to be comfortable beaten them at their pace, if that makes sense. Like anything else, like all teams, if they’re having a hard time scoring and you don’t give up a few offensive rebounds, guys tend to not go for them as hard.”

Kennedy Meeks can’t guard ball screens

“Berry did something really well when we lost to them. He is almost impossible to screen. His ball-handling had it so the big guys didn’t have to be involved in the pick-and-rolls for them. Any time you can get Kennedy Meeks to come out there and defend pick-and-roll, you’ve got a great shot at beating them. I remember watching one game, I think against duke, and the announcers kept praising how much better Kennedy got in ball screens we were like, ‘What’s he talking about?’ Whether it’s him bailing out too quick on the ball or him staying too long, you hit the roller for a dunk, or a guy has to over help on him and we kicked it to a guy for a 3. They are weak there.”


General feeling: This is the best team. Will win if it plays the way it likes to play

Best inside-out team

“They’re better on the interior than I think a lot of people realize. They throw it inside more and more with Collins and Karnowski. It shows you how many ways they can score in different positions. Throwing it inside and shooting the 3, it’s when they’re the most difficult to defend. What makes their bigs really good is how they pass and know when to work the inside.

“I think you’ve got to score in the open floor. You have to get it in transition as much as possible and do your best to turn them over. When their half-court defense is set it’s really, really solid. It’s very different from South Carolina, but it’s more discipline-based, scouting-report based. Very sound, very intelligent, very prepared. Things that stuck out offensively, we were so impressed with their plethora of utility guards. You try to get keep it out of one guys’ hands and it didn’t matter. All three of those guys can play the point, can make decisions, can pull the team.”

No glaring weakness, but here’s how you get them

“They’re an athletic team, but to me, if you gave it a percentile, they’re probably in the 75th percentile in terms of college basketball. Skillset you’d put them 95 to 100, size you’d put them 95 to 100. It will be interesting to if South Carolina can bother them with their guys.”

“I think think South Carolina could potentially bother them, but the fact all three of their guards could handle them is a concern. South Carolina gets you with a lack of ability to handle the ball, a lack of ability to handle guys who can make a number of good decisions. With those guys, at any given time, Gonzaga’s top three guards can resist what you want to do. I don’t anticipate South Carolina punking them like they have other teams. If Gonzaga plays well overall, and plays the game they want to play, I don’t see them losing.”

“Gonzaga is a good rebounding team, not a great rebounding team. South Carolina has Chris Silva, a f--ing badass, and those guys go to the offensive glass they can really bother Gonzaga on the boards. Gonzaga’s ability to keep them off the boards, Gonzaga’s ability to drive, draw, dish or play inside-out, that will be critical.”

Style of play

“Offensively, I think they’re unique. The fact they play three utility guards and they always have two post guys, there’s not too many teams in the country like that. I would say Wisconsin has two bigs on the floor they can throw it to the interior to. No one in our league, though. Their guards are very different.”

“So what is Gonzaga going to do? They’ve got to find a way and get in there and penetrate the matchup zone defense and go inside-out. South Carolina will over-help. If they can withstand ball pressure, if they can enter, if they can play enough east-west to be able to not turn the ball over, because it’s hard to go north-south on South Carolina. If Gonzaga need to run their patterns, SC will beat them. They will f--ing taking away their patterns. They will extend and deny the first catch and pass. Kotsar can really move his feet and guard as a 4 man. Can Gonzaga not turn the ball over? Can Gonzaga keep USC them off the glass?”

Williams-Goss is the key guy

“Williams-Goss is their most important player. He’s the guy who can go on an 8-0 run by himself. He’s the guy most capable of getting 25 on you. I think a couple of those other guards are very similar. You group all the bigs together, two or three of those bigs are going to play well and you’ll be able to see what’s coming. But that cat, Williams-Goss, has an ability to go crazy on you. I remember watching Gonzaga in November and it seemed like he provided a little bit of one East Coast toughness vibe to them.”

Matt Norlander, CBS Sports Writer

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