Scottie Pippen spoke with Campus Insiders to break down the Final Four teams gunning for a championship.
Having attended the University of Central Arkansas, which at the time was an NAIA school, Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen didn’t get to experience March Madness first-hand. But that doesn’t mean the Hall of Famer doesn’t appreciate this time of year.
“This is why these guys put in all the hard work in the summer,” said Pippen, who will attend the Final Four in Houston. “They’ve gotten through the regular season and now it’s time to lay it all on the line for the trophy.
“Most everyone else is already at home and preparing for next year. For the ones who have been able to survive, it’s an exciting time,” added Pippen. “It’s a dream come true just to get to this point, but I know they all want to win on Saturday so they can play Monday for the championship.”
Because of Pippen’s role with the Bulls, he is not allowed discuss specific players. However the six-time NBA champion can comment on the Final Four’s teams in general terms, and he’s intrigued by the Villanova-Oklahoma matchup as much as anyone.
“All of these teams are obviously playing at a high level, but to me Villanova looks as good as they have all season,” Pippen said of the Wildcats. “They’re clicking at the right time. That starts with the play of their guards but their big men have been dominating on the inside. That’s been the key for them, having their bigs get the job done in the paint, because it opens the game for their guards.
“You can’t help but be impressed by their defense,” Pippen continued. “They play very physically. Their guards get at you and again, they’re really solid down low. With a longer shot clock in the college game, it gives a team like Villanova a chance to get in there and cut up a defense.”
Though Pippen couldn’t talk about Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, the leading candidate for national player of the year, he is quick to credit the Sooners for being a high powered offensive team.
“If you want to compare them to an NBA team, Golden State comes to mind with how they can put a lot of points on the board,” Pippen said of the Sooners. “Their strength is that they can take you out of a game early.
“That being said, the competition only gets tougher as the games are played,” Pippen added. “So some of the individual performances will dwindle down a little bit. Watching guys carry their team in the tournament is a thrill but it’s some of the best teams left who are still standing. And those teams are usually going to be more focused and better defensively. It takes a total team effort to win a championship.”
On the other side of the bracket, with North Carolina facing Syracuse, Pippen acknowledges that the Tar Heels are the favorite to win it all, and with good reason.
“They have such tremendous size,” said Pippen of North Carolina. “They’ve dominated the boards all season long and that makes a big difference. They are another team that’s playing at a very high level right now, from top to bottom, and with a lot of confidence. It’s a lot easier to do that when you have a frontcourt that is so imposing.”
As for the Orange, who became the first No. 10 seed to reach the Final Four after knocking off Virginia, Pippen respects the way they operate.
“It’s always great to see an underdog get this far,” noted Pippen. “But Syracuse is not your typical underdog. It’s a program that has championship pedigree and they’re going to bite, claw and do whatever they have to do to win and that’s what we’ve seen their last couple games.
“They play the game the right way, they work hard, and they’re fundamentally sound,” continued Pippen. “That’s what it takes to continue to move on in the tournament. At this point you can’t be surprised anymore by what they do. That being said, I do think they’ll find themselves a little overmatched against North Carolina.”
Though he feels Villanova “plays a very sound game” and expects a back-and-forth affair that will go down to the wire, Pippen believes that Oklahoma’s shooting ability will get them to the title game. He’s picking North Carolina to get past Syracuse and cut down the nets on Monday night.
“They’ve got senior leadership and a ton of talent,” said Pippen in picking the Tar Heels.