Road to the Final Four

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EL CENTRO – From a field of 68, beginning with the First-four win-in games on March 14, to the Final-four that remain dancing, this year’s March Madness Men’s College Basketball NCAA Division 1 National Tournament has boosted the spirits of few and broken the hearts of many as only the South Carolina Gamecocks, Gonzaga Bulldogs, Oregon Ducks, and North Carolina Tar Heels have the chance to cut down nets on Saturday.

As #1 seeded Gonzaga and North Carolina have held true throughout the tourney thus far, the overlooked ‘Giant Killers’ of South Carolina and Oregon have defied the odds to knock off power house front runners and make it through the Sweet 16 and passed by the Elite 8.

The Gamecocks cruised to a 93-73 blowout over Marquette in opening round one and then shocked the Duke Blue Devils 88-81 in the second session as South Carolina continued to advance.  A big 70-50 win over Baylor and a nail biting 77-70 victory against the Florida Gators puts South Carolina one game away from the National Championship for the first time in school history.

After losing their emotional leader and on court spark-plug to injury before the Tournament began, the Oregon Ducks appeared to be counted out, but have continued to pull off upsets.  The Ducks even ended the Cinderella run of the Miracle Michigan Wolverines squad (that survived a plane crash incident) 69-68 in the Sweet 16 and then ruffled up the #1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks 74-60 in the next round to punch their Final Four ticket.

Gonzaga continued to roll during one of the Bulldogs best regular season performances yet with only one loss.  First timers, Northwestern challenged Gonzaga in the opening round but could not keep up with the big dog’s falling 79-73.  In the Sweet 16 West Virginia was within three points of pushing the game into over-time but Gonzaga’s big game experience shut down the Mountaineers last offensive possession to win 61-58.  A stellar 83-59 victory over the Xavier Musketeers gave the Bulldogs a head of steam coming down the stretch.

Dominating performances in the first three rounds over Texas Southern, Arkansas, and Butler catapulted North Carolina into an Elite 8 thriller where the Tar Heels tripped up the Wildcats’ last minute surge to win a 75-73 squeaker on Sunday in Memphis.  North Carolina now heads back to familiar championship territory where the programs 20 Final Four appearances and 5 National Championships are a testament to the Tar Heels experience and potency.

On Saturday, April 1, the Final Four will tip-off with South Carolina playing Gonzaga at 3:00 p.m.,  followed by Oregon against North Carolina at 5:45 pm.  The two winners will meet on Monday, April 3, for the National Title.