If you’re the best defensive team in the country and you’re up 16 points in the second half – which Virginia was on Sunday – that’s a game you have to win, especially when you’re vying for your first Final Four since 1984.
And if you don’t win that game, it’s a choke job, right?
“Well, not only do you choke, but I think it’s a high-level choke job,” CBS Sports college hoops insider Jon Rothstein said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Virginia was about as un-Virginia-like when you really look at the situation down the stretch. They had a 15-point lead with nine minutes to play, and then, for all intents and purposes after that, you look at the way Virginia played down the stretch. They were so un-Virginia-like. They were showing a total lack of composure, they didn’t seem confident, they didn’t really . . . (have) a great sense of belief.”
Malachi Richardson scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half to take Syracuse from the bubble to the Final Four. Virginia, down three, had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds, but Devon Hall’s attempt from long distance was way off the mark.
“How can (London) Perrantes or (Malcolm) Brogdon not take the shot to tie the game?” Rothstein wondered. “Devon Hall, who was a terrific, terrific player for them as a role guy, is the guy who makes the attempt at the game-trying shot. The ball wasn’t even close.”
No. 10 Syracuse (23-13), which limited Brogdon to 12 points on 2-of-14 shooting from the floor, will face No. 1 North Carolina (32-6) in the Final Four this Saturday at 8:49 p.m. ET.
The Tar Heels, who have won each their four tournament games by 14+ points, head to Houston as heavy favorites to cut down the nets.
“No question,” Rothstein said. “Their point guard play has finally caught up with the rest of their team. In North Carolina’s two wins against Indiana and Note Dame, Joel Berry has 13 assists and one turnover. North Carolina has a capable ball-handler, they have a playmaker to go with the four horsemen upfront and a renewed Marcus Paige, a revved-up Marcus Paige.”
All five North Carolina starters finished in double figures on Sunday, including Paige, who had 13, and Brice Johnson, who had 25 points and 12 rebounds.
Notre Dame, which advanced to back-to-back Elite Eights, shot 55.1 percent from field and 50 percent from three-point range – and still lost by 14.
“That’s how good North Carolina is right now,” Rothstein said. “They are a cut above the rest.”
Looking at the other side of the bracket, Buddy Hield put on a show on Saturday, scoring 37 points in a 80-68 win over Oregon and leading the Sooners to their first Final Four since 2002. Hield was unflappable from distance, hitting eight threes in the rout.
“The way he gets separation, it looks like he’s pushing off, but he’s not pushing off,” Rothstein said. “He gets separation on his shot better than anybody else.”
Hield reminds Rothstein of Jodie Meeks, while Brandon Tierney sees a lot of Brandon Roy in the Oklahoma star.
“He’s getting all of his baskets from deep,” Rothstein said of Hield. “Brandon Roy could break you down and get to the rim. Buddy is a long-distance guy. I’m saying 70 or 80 percent of his buckets are jump-shots from long distance. This guy is not somebody who I think is always going to be able to get to the rim whenever he wants. This guy makes his living by getting his buckets from deep.”
No. 2 Oklahoma (29-7) plays No. 2 Villanova (33-5) in the Final Four this Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET.