The 2017 Final Four picture is almost set, with Gonzaga, Oregon and South Carolina already booking a place for next weekend in Glendale, all making it this far for the first time or simply after an incredibly long drought. The fourth team, as mentioned in our earlier post, is going to be one that’s been at this stage a time or two: North Carolina or Kentucky.
But the Tar Heels and Wildcats get plenty of attention as is. This is a moment for the small guys of college basketball. Sort of. Because while Oregon aren’t exactly a Pac-12 or national powerhouse, there’s been a very big change in Eugene, and not just in football. The money coming in from Nike is making a big difference across the board, and it was only a matter of time until it was felt on the basketball court.
The Ducks are the first team from the Pac-12 since its expansion to make the Final Four, coming off their second consecutive regular season title, only their 6th in history. They made the Elite Eight for a second straight season, something that’s never been done in this program. They are national champions from 1939, which is also the first and last time the Ducks made it to the Final Four, until now.
For Gonzaga, this has been a Final Four almost 20 years in the making. They took over the WCC and have been making the tournament every year since 1999. This year, they’ve lost just one regular season game, as they made it into the Final Four for the first time in the tiny school’s history, getting into the Elite Eight for only the third time, and finally getting through.
But while the Zags success has been something that’s been building for years, South Carolina breaking through is the stuff of legends. The Gamecocks made it into the tournament this year for the first time since 2004. Their previous sweet Sixteen was in 1973. They’ve never been to the Elite Eight. Their win over Florida was nothing short of sensational. Historic. And it might not end with just a Final Four appearance. It’s almost a shame that they or Gonzaga will have to go home.