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Saturday June 15th

The Signal’s sports staff’s Final Four predictions

<p><em>UConn has a chance to be the first repeat champion since 2007 (Photo courtesy of Ken Lund / </em><a href="" target="_blank"><em>Flickr</em></a><em>).</em></p>

UConn has a chance to be the first repeat champion since 2007 (Photo courtesy of Ken Lund / Flickr).

By Eddie Young, Tyler Morello, Joseph Caruso, Aidan Mastandrea and Joey Bachich
Sports Editor and Staff Writers

After four rounds of March Madness, the Final Four is finally upon us. Purdue University will take on North Carolina State University in the first matchup in Phoenix on Saturday night, and the University of Connecticut will battle the University of Alabama afterwards. The two winners will face off the night of April 8. Our sports staff has predicted what they believe will happen in the Final Four.

Eddie’s predictions:
NC State beats Purdue - Purdue has been amazing all season. After getting bounced by Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round last season, they have fixed their most glaring weakness in their three-point shooting. As a team, they shot 32.2 percent from three last season, good for 277th in the nation. This year, they have made a massive jump to 40.6 percent, which is second best in the nation. They can now offer perimeter support to senior center Zach Edey, who will be controlling the paint. However, NC State has looked like one of the clutchest teams in March. They won five games in five days to win the ACC tournament, and have not stopped their roll in March Madness. Senior guard DJ Horne was their best player in the regular season, and he has been amazing in postseason play. However, DJ Burns Jr. has taken over the lead role of the offense, and his massive frame along with his elite footwork and touch around the rim have made him hard to stop. While Purdue seems unbeatable, a good defensive gameplan can slow down Edey, paving the way for Burns and Horne to take over the game. NC State will continue their improbable run and become the first 11-seed to play in the National Championship, as they upset Purdue, 67-62.

Alabama beats UConn - UConn has looked like the best team in the nation all season. They have been dominant on both sides of the ball, and have only lost three games all season. All signs point to them repeating as champions this year. However, while Alabama may not have as talented of a squad as UConn, they have a style of play that helps them match up well against any team they play. They have one of the fastest teams in the nation, getting 76.6 possessions a game, and all tournament long, they have been forcing their opponents to play the game at their speed. They have also had the toughest strength of schedule of any team, showing that they have been consistently battle tested against top teams. If Alabama can play fast and force UConn to speed up their offense, then Alabama can easily leave this game with a victory. The first team to get to 100 points will win, and Alabama has more experience playing in shootouts. Alabama will upset UConn in a high scoring affair, 110-104.

Championship: Alabama beats NC State - Alabama and NC State is a championship matchup that no one would have predicted entering this tournament. Both teams have made amazing runs in March, and a meeting in the final would see two high powered offenses facing off. While NC State has looked amazing, their Cinderella run will end in the championship. Alabama guard Mark Sears has had an amazing tournament, and he will be able to lead this offense in the championship. Senior forward Grant Nelson has been playing well all tournament, and he will be able to cement his status as an NBA Draft pick in this game. His defensive prowess will help his team handle Burns, along with other NC State bigs in Will Middlebrooks and Mohamed Diarra. NC State will keep it close, but Alabama will win 85-78, proving they are more than a football school. 

Most Outstanding Player: Mark Sears, senior guard, Alabama

Tyler’s predictions:
Purdue beats NC State - This game could easily go in either team’s favor. The one-seeded favorite has the best player in college basketball, and the 11-seed Cinderella story has been on an absolute tear since the ACC tournament. Purdue’s Zach Edey has been the story of the tournament so far, and no player — or even team —  has been able to slow him down. Purdue certainly is not a one-man show though. Edey is surrounded by sharpshooters up and down the roster. Guard Braden Smith has done an excellent job of controlling the offense and setting the tempo for Purdue. NC State is highlighted by their two DJs, Horne and Burns Jr. The matchup between Burns and Edey is what will determine the game. In the tournament, Burns has gotten the best of his opposition by either scoring on them or getting them into foul trouble. However, Edey succeeds in being a fantastic rim protector without fouling. Edey will be too much for the Wolfpack with the Boilermakers pulling away late, 78-68.

UConn beats Alabama - Alabama has been a force on the offensive side all season long but has lost games due to their subpar defense. This has not been a problem in March for them. They have been able to get timely stops on defense and convert on offense. Alabama has had great guard play thanks to seniors Mark Sears and Aaron Estrada, and have a great supporting cast around them. UConn just faced a team almost identical to the Crimson Tide in Illinois and blew them out by 25. They have been far and away the best team in college basketball for over a year now, and they may just be too much to handle for Alabama. While Alabama does have some great guards, the Huskies may have better. The trio of Tristen Newton, Cam Spencer and Stephon Castle is a three-headed monster that has been balling out all season. The Huskies’ center Donovan Clingan is just such a catalyst on the defensive side of the ball that completely disrupts the opposing team’s game plans. Ultimately, UConn will be too overpowering for Bama, and they will win 74-64.

Championship: UConn beats Purdue - These two teams match up very well with one another. They each have 7-foot-plus centers that they can give the ball to to get a bucket and protect the rim at an elite level. Purdue will go to Edey, and they will go to him early and often. If Clingan can stay out of foul trouble for the first half, UConn should be able to hang with them. If Clingan can somehow shut down Edey, UConn should coast to a win. This will not happen though, because Edey is too good. However, UConn is the more complete team. They have the experience that this Purdue team does not have, and they have a championship winning coach that has put on a coaching masterclass throughout the tournament. This game should be back and forth the entire game, but UConn will prevail 80-77.

Most Outstanding Player: Tristen Newton, senior guard, UConn

Joseph’s predictions:
Purdue beats NC State - NC State is having a run to remember, regardless of what happens next. This year's Cinderella has taken the country by storm. After going on an improbable run just to even make the big dance, the Wolfpack have not slowed down, defeating Texas Tech, Oakland, Marquette and Duke to advance to the Final Four. Unfortunately for them, they are up against a figurative giant in Purdue University, who is led by a literal giant, Zach Edey. Whether people like it or not, Edey is the most dominating force in the country, averaging over 25 points and 12 rebounds per game. Unless Purdue forgets how to shoot a basketball, the size of Edey should lead them to a National Championship opportunity, as they will beat NC State, 76-62. 

UConn beats Alabama - It has been much of the same for the defending champion Connecticut Huskies this season, and the postseason has been laughably easy for Dan Hurley's team. Despite losing arguably their two best players coming into this season, Jordan Hawkins and Adama Sanogo, the Huskies have not missed a beat, charging into March as the No. 1 seed in the tournament. In this year's tournament, they have most notably beaten last year's runner-up San Diego State, along with a scary Illinois team. In the four games they have won to get to this point, they have not had a game end within single digits. Their lowest margin of victory was 17 points against Northwestern, and they beat their Sweet 16 and Elite Eight opponents by a combined score of 55 points. Alabama is a really solid squad, led by coach Nate Oats. Simply, UConn is a buzzsaw, and Alabama respectfully has little to no chance against the squad led by Donavan Clingan and Cam Spencer. They will continue their domination and beat Alabama, 84-69.

Championship: UConn beats Purdue - In a matchup of two No. 1 seeds, Purdue seems to have the best chance to be able to dethrone the Huskies and prevent the first back-to-back champions since the University of Florida nearly 20 years ago. Unfortunately for Purdue, Clingan has proven to be potentially the best defensive player in the country this March, racking up multiple games with more than five blocks, including eight against Northwestern. For the Boilermakers, it is going to come down to the production outside of Edey to match the firepower of the Huskies. Guys like Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith will have to have great shooting days from outside the arc, and Lance Jones and Mason Gillis will need to come through as well. In the end, the UConn is machine-like and has looked almost like professionals playing against amateurs for nearly two seasons now. UConn will repeat as national champions, defeating Purdue 77-68. 

Most Outstanding Player: Cam Spencer, senior guard, UConn

Aidan’s predictions:
Purdue beats NC State - Led by 6-foot 9-inch, 275 pound center DJ Burns, who has captivated America with his size and touch around the rim, the 11th-seeded NC State have gone further than almost anyone could have imagined about three weeks ago. Unfortunately, they are now slated to face a juggernaut in Purdue. Reigning Player of the Year Zach Edey is the most dominant player in the country, and NC State will not be able to slow him down as their miracle run will end against the Boilermakers on Saturday.

UConn beats Alabama - These two teams have completely different mindsets heading into this Final Four. Alabama, a four seed that seemed to be sputtering at the end of the regular season, is just happy to be there, while UConn has been unbeatable in this tournament for two years. Alabama’s head coach, Nate Oats, has implemented a run and gun offense that is predicated on the three ball that could give the Huskies trouble. However, Illinois' highly touted offense was completely thwarted last week by UConn, and that will happen to the Crimson Tide on Saturday as UConn advances to the National Championship.

Championship: Purdue beats UConn - Purdue and Connecticut have been the two best teams for most of the year, so it is fitting that they play in the last game of the season. Edey against Clingan will be a battle that Edey will win, so it will come down to guard play. UConn has tremendous guards that will make it difficult on Purdue. However, the Purdue supporting cast has improved drastically from last year's March Madness embarrassment. Ultimately, Edey will score 30 or more and the role players will hit timely shots to give Purdue the edge in a legendary game, 74-70.

Most Outstanding Player: Zach Edey, senior center, Purdue

Joey’s predictions:
NC State beats Purdue
UConn beats Alabama

Championship: UConn beats NC State - It’s hard to pick against the Huskies. All season, they have dominated and recently they’ve looked unbreakable. Alabama plays fast and the tempo of their game is high, so expect a close game, but UConn to still win. NC State is good, but they need to stop Edey and just be relentless on offense in going right at him. In the final, UConn is just going to straight up dominate and win. 

Most Outstanding Player: Zach Edey, senior center, Purdue


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