Gonzaga or North Carolina: Which is the real Final Four favorite?

They will now face the surprise 7-seed out of the East, South Carolina, who came out of a region that was presumed to belong to defending champion Villanova or preseason No. 1 Duke.

Each team made a little bit of history along the way, so let's look at what's been accomplished by each of the teams.

Jackson is the best player on the best team in the Final Four. Forget a Final Four, the Gamecocks had never won back-to-back tournament games in program history before. They really matted on Saturday when Gonzaga shot 12-for-24 from the arc while Xavier was just 2-for-16. Before this season, SC hadn't posted a win in the NCAA Tournament since 1973. The McCarthey brothers of Salt Lake City, benefactors of Gonzaga and Utah, wondered if they ever would get another Final Four opportunity.

The most surprising team in the final four by far is the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Kennedy Meeks finished with seven points, 17 rebounds and four blocks as North Carolina advances to face OR in the Final Four on Saturday. Few has coached the team for the past 18 seasons, reaching the NCAA tournament each year. He's been a key difference maker in the Ducks' run this year.

But some achievements are already secure in SC men's basketball history, win or lose Saturday night. He's made 32 free throws in the tourney and is 23 away from the all-time record. Even when OR was playing a bit not to lose late, KU could never make a big momentum basket despite numerous chances.

After trading leads to open the game, Gonzaga jumped ahead, leading by as many as five in the first 10 minutes after shooting 57 percent from the floor to open the game, including hitting three early threes. While hard, it's not out of the realm of possibility. Paige was Facetiming with Eric Hoots, North Carolina's director of player development.

So while the Final Four story lines may not be exactly what everyone expected when the bracket was unveiled two weeks ago, they're setting up for two compelling national semifinals - and hopefully a thrilling championship game as well. So this is not the Final Four I expected. "We believed from Day 1, when we all stepped foot on this campus, that we could go to Phoenix". You would think those teams would be successful, but you'd be wrong.

Like a top soccer team, Gonzaga built a title contender by dipping into the transfer market.

If the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament failed to overwhelm, the next two threatened to overload us with dramatic tension. There were 14 lead changes and 10 ties.

Per Elias Sports (via ESPN), South Carolina became just the fourth team to overcome three halftime deficits to reach the Final Four, with Georgetown in 2007 the most recent to do it.

  • Larry Hoffman