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Final Four matchups that could make the difference

JOHN MARSHALL
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Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski shoots over Josh Perkins during a practice session for their NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Friday, March 31, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Exploiting matchups is the key to winning any basketball game. Those matchups tend to become magnified at the Final Four, where preparation time and the pressure of the game's biggest stage factor in prominently.

This year's Final Four has some intriguing matchups that will decide if Gonzaga or South Carolina and North Carolina or Oregon get through to Monday's title game.

Here's a few to keep an eye on:

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Oregon's defensive rebounding vs. North Carolina on the offensive glass.

The Tar Heels were the national leader on the offensive glass during the regular season, snatching 15.74 per game, nearly a full rebound more than the next-closest team. North Carolina cleans up nearly 42 percent of its misses, so their best offensive play is often a missed shot.

The Tar Heels grabbed 13 offensive rebounds on 31 shots, leading to 17 second-chance points in their Elite Eight win over Kentucky, one of the longest teams in the country.

Kennedy Meeks is the biggest O-rebound producer, grabbing 3.68 per game, good for 10th nationally.

The Ducks have two starters taller than 6-foot-4 and were 114th nationally in clearing off defensive rebounds. Oregon handled one good offensive rebounding team by knocking out Kansas, but will have its hands full on Saturday.

Two words likely to be heard from Oregon coach Dana Altman a lot: "Box out!"

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South Carolina's front court vs. Gonzaga's bigs.

Gonzaga has a massive 1-2 punch up from with Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins. At 7-foot-1, 300 pounds, Karnowski may be the biggest player in the country. He's also an adept passer who picks apart double teams and has great footwork for maneuvering in the paint. Collins is an athletic 7-foot freshman who can score inside, outside and may be the best NBA prospect in the Final Four.

South Carolina counters with Maik Kotsar and Chris Silva.

Kotsar is 6-10, but gives up more than 50 pounds to Karnowski. Silva is an inch shorter and more than 75 pounds lighter than Gonzaga's big man. Keeping those two out of foul trouble while getting help from everyone else will be a big key Saturday.

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Pace game, Oregon vs. North Carolina.

The Ducks are often thought of as a fast-paced, high-flying team. They are high fliers, but a fast pace is not their thing. Oregon has an adjusted tempo that's 241st nationally and was able to slow Kansas and Michigan, two fast-paced teams, on its way to the Final Four.

North Carolina, on the other hand, is one of the fastest teams in the country. The Tar Heels love to get out and run under any circumstance, sometimes scoring five seconds after a made free throw by their opponent.

Fast or slow, that could determine this side of the bracket.

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Gonzaga's 3-point shooting vs. South Carolina's perimeter defense.

The Gamecocks play defense along the perimeter as if they have six players on the floor. South Carolina is seventh nationally in 3-point defense, holding teams to a tick under 30 percent from the arc and reached the Final Four by holding Florida to 7-of-26 shooting from 3 in the Elite Eight.

Gonzaga is one of the nation's most efficient offensive teams, but the Zags don't usually do it with a lot of 3-point shooting.

Gonzaga has scored 807 of its 3,080 points this season (26 percent) on 3-pointers, though it does shoot 37 percent from the arc. The Zags made 12 of 24 3-pointers to beat Xavier in the Elite Eight, but went 12 for 46 in wins over South Dakota State and Northwestern.

Gonzaga likes to work its offense from the inside out, so having an effective inside game could help free up its shooters, like it did in the Xavier game.

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Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss vs. Sindarius Thornwell.

As individual matchups go, this is a good one.

Williams-Goss is the Zags' leader, running their offense while scoring on a variety of drives, 3s and step-back jumps. He also an underrated defender — just ask West Virginia's Jevon Carter, who was unable to get a clean look in the closing seconds of the Sweet 16.

Thornwell has been an unstoppable force in the NCAA Tournament, leading the bracket with 26 points per game while practically carrying the Gamecocks to their first Final Four.

No telling how much they'll get matched up, but it sure will be fun when they do.

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