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The Final Four preview, and how Donald Trump is basically Syracuse

Handicapping the Final Four—both sets.


Kahron Spearman


Posted on Apr 2, 2016   Updated on May 27, 2021, 12:13 am CDT

We’ve made it to the Final Four, in college basketball and in candidacy for America’s highest office. Tonight North Carolina takes on Syracuse in the national semifinals, while Oklahoma tangos with Villanova.

This year, the team’s essences match candidates like ovals in perfectly round holes—which is to say it’s an imperfect science with which we will nevertheless experiment. (John Kasich didn’t make the cut.)

North Carolina is Hillary Clinton

The Tar Heels are the prohibitive favorites and resident blue bloods of the group and the college basketball world. Like Hillary Clinton and her strong foreign policy experience, the Tar Heels should win the national championship. The program is privileged, with just a smidgen of liberalism, but not too much blue. 

The state of North Carolina isn’t living its best life, with its legislature passing LGBT laws onto the public like kidney stones. The team, however, hasn’t looked better. They are experienced, have excellent guard play, and a dominant player with a knack for rebounding—which is, incidentally, one of Clinton’s best attributes. It runs in the family.

Despite his two national titles, coach Roy Williams has a reputation for buckling under pressure more recently, but also dating back to his days as the head man at Kansas. He continually plays with stacked decks, in regard to his usual NBA-level talent. But there’s always something in the way, the thing you should’ve seen coming. Similarly, Hillary couldn’t keep (future) President Obama out of the winner’s circle, when it seemed to be her time.

To prevent the upset, the Heels will need to keep Bernie Sanders from winning more states Syracuse to one shot per possession, and wear down the interior of the Orangemen’s vaunted 2-3 zone D.

Syracuse is Donald Trump

Perfect match, same color and everything. You have an annoying (and apparently dangerous) fringe entry, from a traditionally elitist set—a set that would much rather be represented by someone else—saying and doing whatever is necessary. Like Donald Trump, the Orangemen weren’t even supposed to be here at this juncture. They backed up into the tournament, simply through affiliation to the Republican Party, err, the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Yet, here they are, front and center—doing amazing things like dominating Virginia in the Elite Eight, during a most improbable comeback performance. Suddenly, the Washington Generals-recalling Virginia Cavaliers forgot how to make shots from the floor. It was so unusual—a choke job so unique and specific—that you’d think the game was thrown, if you didn’t know any better. Filled with upset fever, public sentiment is at an all-time high.

(The Cavaliers have to be Marco Rubio. I mean could he have lost to Trump given his money and good looks? He played it entirely too safe, on-message, when his trademark antagonism should have been the choice—because constant passive aggression was usually his political play. Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist stated, with prescience, “He may not be angry enough to win a Republican primary this year.” The same could be said about the Cavaliers’ smothered quest.)

Back to the Orangemen and Trump. They can’t win. (You know he’ll ruin America like the USFL, right?) As for the basketball team, Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson need to dominate Carolina’s wings, and consistently draw contact from Carolina’s magnificent front line—especially Brice Johnson, who’s basically a less crazy Kenyon Martin minus the shot-blocking presence.


Carolina, like Clinton below, should win comfortably, something like 77-65.

Why do you have the feeling it’s going to be closer than it ought to be? If you’re a betting person, take the points. Heels win by less than the 9.5 given over ‘Cuse.

Oklahoma is Ted Cruz

Makes sense—so red, it’s maroon. Politics aside, Ted Cruz is an impressive man. He graduated cum laude from Princeton, magna cum laude from Harvard Law. The senator was once voted one of the best 50 lawyers in the country, and then became Texas Solicitor General. Unfortunately, Cruz hasn’t proven himself quite trustworthy in the Senate—much less a presidential candidate—losing in odd situations

One of the principle reasons lies in his nebulous state of being. He’s almost American, technically a Canadian posing as a Texan. Like how Oklahoma pretends it’s almost Texas. The Sooners are close and the imitation is flattering. 

Psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” The problem with the perimeter-oriented Sooners, like Cruz and his hyper-agressive conservatism? A penchant for leaning too heavy toward one way to score—Buddy Hield’s outside shooting. The senior can be completely devastating. What happens if a team can turn off that valve?

Villanova has been defending like crazy, all over the floor. The Wildcats limited Kansas—one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country—to a paltry 4-of-18 from range. Like what Cruz should’ve done to Trump, Oklahoma must overwhelm the Wildcats early and often, and inform them of their slight talent advantage. If Nova is within low single digits with, say, four minutes left, the Sooners will probably lose. If Hield scores less than 25, the Sooners will probably lose. If the game hovers no higher than the lower 70s, the Sooners will probably lose.

There is a theme. Despite the Sooners’ domination of the Wildcats in a December non-conference matchup—a 23-point victory—Oklahoma must show the complete toolset to make the final.

Villanova is Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders just gets a lot done when you’re not looking. The “roll call amendment king” pulls up with an impressive record, by most counts. Fitting the Wildcats’ deep blue uniforms, Sanders’s resume, in regards to socioeconomic justice and equality, ranks first among his competitors by a country mile.

While significantly fuzzy across some fronts—chiefly economic equality specifically for African-Americans, or any minority grouping born starting life from behind—Sanders is on the same frontlines he fought along during the Civil Rights era. However, let’s be honest with ourselves. He doesn’t look presidential. Like Villanova, there is not one ounce of apparent star quality. The Big East champions actually don’t appear to be anything special at all.

But the senator from Vermont offers lessons for foes who underestimate and overlook. Led by Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Ryan Arcidiacono, Jay Wright’s Wildcats are likewise skilled, but do it by committee, no man more important that the other. What they lack in physical talent is more than made up with tremendous toughness, effort, and resolve. Holding most of the hallmarks of championship teams—excellent guard play, good-enough rebounding, efficient offense (1.27 points per possession in the NCAA tournament)—there is definitely some sense of destiny. Most junkyard dog-laden teams don’t find themselves with 30-plus wins in a season, after all.


Even as highly seeded team, it feels like Villanova shouldn’t be in this position. A program with the eighth-most NCAA appearances, five Final Fours, and a national championship on its resume—located in a city with deep basketball roots—shouldn’t require a double take, even among casual fans.

Wildcats win by five over Hield’s Sooners, 75-69, gaining an opportunity to add another banner. 

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*First Published: Apr 2, 2016, 2:11 pm CDT