All four No. 1s advanced to the Sweet 16 but only one – North Carolina – survived the weekend. The Tar Heels are joined in the Final Four by No. 2 Villanova, No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 10 Syracuse, the first 10-seed to reach a Final Four. With three games to go, the college basketball world will converge on Houston to see which team can manage two more wins. We used the WhatIfSports.com college basketball simulation engine to play the Final Four 1,001 times and predict the outcome.
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 10 Syracuse
When you are the only one-seed left in the tournament, you’re odds of winning increase tremendously (shocking, I know). In 2013, Louisville was the only No. 1 seed in the Final Four and went on to win the title. The year before that, it was No. 1 Kentucky accomplishing the same feat. In fact, a one-seed has won the March Madness tournament seven of the past nine times. The two exceptions belong to UConn, with a 2014 championship as a No. 7 seed (a run that included a Final Four win over No. 1 Florida) and a 2011 title as a No. 3 seed.
North Carolina and Syracuse met twice in ACC play this season. Roy Williams’ boys won both contests, but only by an average of eight points per victory. After 1,001 simulations, we’re predicting a similar result in the third meeting. The Tar Heels advanced to the championship game 72.8 percent of the time, outscoring Syracuse by an average of 83.3-75.8. North Carolina has the best odds to win it all, doing so in 41.2 percent of simulations. Syracuse, meanwhile, won the tournament just 8.8 percent of the time.
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 2 Oklahoma
We have both the fortune and misfortune of looking back at the regular season when sizing up the two Final Four matchups. In early December, the Sooners stomped Villanova 78-55 in Hawai’i. In that game, seniors Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins combined for eight three-pointers. Oklahoma shot 53.8 percent from downtown and nearly 47 percent from the field. Nova made only 12.5 percent of its three-point attempts (4-for-32) and was 31.7 percent from the field. Yet, both Vegas and our simulation engine give the Wildcats the edge. Villanova is a two-point favorite and won in 51.7 percent of the results. Jay Wright’s Wildcats also have the second-best odds of bringing home the title at 25.9 percent. The Sooners cut down the nets in 24.2 percent of simulations.