The Final Four of the N.C.A.A. men’s tournament will be determined on Sunday, with two round of 8 games including the lone No. 1 seed remaining and two regional semifinal newcomers.
No. 1 seeded Kansas will face No. 10 seed Miami in Chicago on Sunday afternoon (2:20 p.m. Eastern time, CBS). And No. 8 seed North Carolina will take on No. 15 seed St. Peter’s in Philadelphia (after Kansas-Miami, around 5:20 p.m. Eastern, CBS).
Here’s what to watch for in the games.
How many more close wins does Kansas have in it?
As the only No. 1 seed to make it to the tournament’s round of 8, the Kansas Jayhawks are the tournament favorite now. They’re facing a Miami team that is playing in its first national semifinal game after beating Iowa State, soundly, in the round of 16.
The Jayhawks’ success under coach Bill Self to this point has been well documented: Eight round of 8 appearances, three Final Fours, two trips to the title game and a national championship in 2008.
Kansas can clearly grind out close wins, but its choppy performances raise questions about whether that can last for three more games to win the championship.
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- A Team From Everywhere: Arizona has an international roster dedicated to unselfish basketball. Their coach wouldn’t have it any other way.
- St. Peter’s Celebrates: The small Jesuit university in Jersey City is in high spirits after upsetting Kentucky and advancing to the round of 16.
The Jayhawks were never quite able to pull away from Creighton in the first round, and they blew a double-digit lead against the Friars in the round of 16. After the team’s win over Providence, Kansas forward Jalen Wilson said the team can rally because players do not get rattled. Self thought differently.
“I don’t know that I totally buy in 100 percent that we don’t ever get rattled,” he said. “But I do think that, as Jalen said, I think our league has prepared us in a way, we play so many close games. And every game is a fistfight.”
That is the type of game the Jayhawks can expect the Hurricanes to give them.
Miami has enough experience to reach its first Final Four.
Miami has played the underdog role well to reach its first round of 8 matchup in program history. The Hurricanes, after stunning the No. 2-seeded Auburn Tigers in the second round, topped Iowa State 70-56 in the round of 16.
The Hurricanes have a veteran roster — four players are in their sixth year — and that experience is part of what has carried the team this far, with different veterans impacting the game on different nights.
In Miami’s first-round win over Southern California, it was third-year sophomore Isaiah Wong’s 22 points. Against Auburn, it was sixth-year senior Charlie Moore, a former Kansas guard, who poured in 15 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. And against Iowa State, Kameron McGusty scored 27 points.
“We got picked to finish 12th preseason in our conference eight months ago,” McGusty said after beating Iowa. “It’s a long season, but at the beginning of the season if we would have told you we were going to the Elite Eight, everybody would laugh at us and look at us crazy.”
A Final Four juggernaut vs. a tournament novice.
North Carolina has been to the Final Four six times since 2000 and has one of the richest histories of any team left in the tournament. Some of the greatest players in basketball have passed through the program.
The Tar Heels used a 30-point game from sophomore guard Caleb Love to move past U.C.L.A. in the round of 16. And even under first-year head coach in Hubert Davis, this is a team few would expect to falter under the bright lights, even as a No. 8 seed.
So why does it feel like this matchup is a lot closer than a storied program versus a No. 15-seed?
St. Peter’s, the small Jesuit school from New Jersey that stunned No. 2 seeded Kentucky in the first round, has captured the nation as the only 15th-seeded team to ever reach the round of 8. It has played with the poise of a team that had been there before.
The Peacocks’ fans, packed inside Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, roared as their team got past the No. 3-seeded Purdue Boilermakers, some stroking their makeshift mustaches every time St. Peter’s junior guard Doug Edert, who’s facial hair has been a popular talking point throughout the tournament, made free throws.
“Jersey City has been unbelievable for us,” Peacocks Coach Shaheen Holloway said after their win over Purdue. “But I want to give a shout-out to our student-athletes and the whole student body. They’re taking buses down here, they’re doing videos, watch parties. It’s been tremendous.”
St. Peter’s has shot the ball well against taller, bigger teams featuring big men like Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe and Purdue’s Zach Edey. The Peacocks face another lofty frontcourt in North Carolina’s Brady Manek and Armando Bacot, who combine for more than 30 points per game.
Can the Peacocks’ magic last for one more game?
“I’ve got guys from New Jersey and New York City,” Holloway told reporters this week. “You think we’re scared of anything?”