March Madness 2017: Ranking the most compelling potential Final Four matchups

The NCAA tournament field has been whittled down from 68 to 16, and the process of further slashing that number to eight, and eventually to four, is about to begin. The Sweet 16 tips off on Thursday with games from the Midwest and West regionals, and concludes Friday with games from the East and South. Winners advance to Saturday and Sunday.

In fact, we’re only four days away from the Final Four being set. While the Sweet 16 will be great and the Elite Eight even better, part of the fun is that these games set the stage for the pinnacle of the sport. So it’s important that they set the stage well and give us the matchups we crave — the games that the 2017 NCAA tournament will be remembered for years down the line.

There are plenty of mouthwatering potential Final Four combinations. Below are the best:


1. Kansas vs. North Carolina — The obvious choice. Arguably the two best teams left in the field. Josh Jackson vs. Justin Jackson. Roy Williams vs. his former school. Ol’ Roy has never beaten the Jayhawks since taking the North Carolina job in 2003; he’s 0-3, with all three losses coming in the NCAA tournament.

2. Kansas vs. UCLA — We need Lonzo Ball vs. Frank Mason. We just do. They’re the two best guards in college basketball, and might be the two best players left in the tournament. There’s a chance Mason would draw Bryce Alford on defense and Devonte’ Graham would take Ball, but regardless of matchups, this game would be all kinds of fun.

3. Kansas vs. Kentucky — The January showdown between these two teams was great, but not necessarily memorable. A rematch would be memorable because of the stakes. The backcourt battle would be a sight to behold.

If Kansas and Kentucky both win two more games, we’ll spend a week salivating over the matchup between the two backcourts. (Getty)
If Kansas and Kentucky both win two more games, we’ll spend a week salivating over the matchup between the two backcourts. (Getty)

4. Michigan vs. UCLA — The two best offenses in college basketball would give us a doozy of a Final Four game. UCLA’s overwhelming pace would contrast Michigan’s surgical half-court offense. There’s a very good chance neither team would be able to stop the other. When the two played back in December, the Bruins won 102-84, but Michigan has taken massive strides since.

5. Purdue vs. North Carolina — Enough about guards. How about Caleb Swanigan against the fiercest (and deepest) frontcourt in the nation? Swanigan will get his crack at a depleted front line in the Sweet 16, and could see a similarly thin one in the Elite Eight. If he powers through both of them, he’d meet his match in the Final Four.

6. Oregon vs. UCLA — Bill Walton would be in dreamland. In fact, we all might be if this grudge match played out anything like either of the two regular-season meetings between these Pac-12 rivals.

7. Michigan vs. Kentucky — Any game involving the Wolverines is going to be rich with narratives. This hypothetical one — between two teams that would have won a combined 24 games in a row — would be no exception. And despite it being a No. 7 seed vs. a No. 2 seed, it wouldn’t lack quality.

8. Purdue vs. Butler — The battle for Indiana. These two programs play each other every other year in the Crossroads Classic. They missed each other this year. Both happen to have their best teams since the in-state series began.

9. Kansas vs. Butler — If we’re looking for David vs. Goliath on the right side of the bracket, this is as close as we’re going to get.

10. Oregon vs. North Carolina — No special backstories or side-stories … Just a high-level game of basketball.


1. Wisconsin vs. Arizona — Sean Miller has never made the Final Four. If there’s one program he can blame for the ongoing drought, it’s Wisconsin. The Badgers beat Arizona in the Elite Eight two years in a row, in both 2014 and 2015. If Miller finally got there, it would be an ideal time to exact revenge.

2. Florida vs. Gonzaga — The best team remaining in the East vs. the best team remaining in the West. KenPom No. 3 vs. KenPom No. 1. Enough said.

3. Florida vs. Arizona — A coach who had, prior to last week, never participated in an NCAA tournament game vs. one who will coach in his 40th on Thursday. A rising star vs. a proven veteran. And on the court, an intriguing matchup, especially on Arizona’s offensive end. The Gators have the athletes to make life difficult for the Wildcats.

4. Wisconsin vs. Gonzaga — A duel between Przemek Karnowski and Ethan Happ would be a joy to watch. This game would be as physical as any other in the tournament.

5. Wisconsin vs. West Virginia — West Virginia would do anything in its power to speed the game up. Wisconsin would do anything in its power to slow it down. The ball-handling skills of Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ would be key to Wisconsin’s press break.

6. South Carolina vs. West Virginia — Mentor vs. protege. Frank Martin got his first major conference assistant coaching job under Bob Huggins at Cincinnati in 2004. He followed Huggins to Kansas State two years later, then got his first college head coaching job when Huggins left for West Virginia. The two now play different styles, but the familiarity and friendship between them would be an interesting angle.

7. Baylor vs. Gonzaga — The coach that people think can’t win in March against the big boys (Mark Few) vs. the coach that people just don’t think is a very good coach, period (Scott Drew). The game might not be all that exciting, but one would be able to further prove fans wrong.

8. Baylor vs. West Virginia — These two played twice during the regular season. West Virginia won at home by 21. Baylor won at home by 11. A winner-take-all rubber match would be fascinating.

9. Florida vs. West Virginia — Two insanely athletic teams would put on a show, even if this game would lack the big names typically associated with the Final Four. There’s also a coaching connection: Darris Nichols, now an assistant at Florida, played for Huggins at West Virginia.

10. South Carolina vs. Xavier — Heck, why not?