March Madness: UNC vs. Gonzaga - Men's National Championship Preview
After three weekends of great games, upsets, and game-winners, only two teams remain form the field of 68. Gonzaga and North Carolina will face off in a title game that features the most complete teams in college basketball. In an era of the one-and-done phenomenon, North Carolina and Gonzaga are led by upperclassmen. Roy Williams’ Tar Heels enter Monday night’s game just 40 minutes away from completing their season-long road to redemption. Mark Few’s Gonzaga squad enters their first title game in its school’s history with only one loss in their 38 games this season. In a rare matchup of #1 seeds in the season finale, UNC and Gonzaga should deliver fans the championship game we deserve.
What to Watch For
The Battle of The Bigs
For the first time all year, UNC’s frontcourt will not have the size advantage on the interior. Gonzaga’s frontcourt has two 7-foot centers in Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins; forwards Killian Tillie and Jonathan Williams are 6’10 and 6’9 respectively. Despite the size disadvantage, the Heels quartet of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Tony Bradley, and Luke Maye are more athletic, more experienced, and arguably more talented. Meeks has dominated the past two games on the boards, pulling down 31 rebounds during that span. The Zags offense runs through Karnowski, making it imperative that Meeks stays out of foul trouble since he’s the only big UNC has that can measure up to Przemek. The winner of Meeks’ matchup against Karnowski will go a long way in deciding which team wins the game. The refs will have to decide how much they are willing to let these teams bang inside because foul trouble could change the tide quickly for either squad.
Joel Berry’s ankles
After spraining both ankles during the weekend of the Elite 8, Joel Berry shot just 2 of 14 from the field in North Carolina’s win against Oregon. He couldn’t turn the corner like we’ve become accustomed to seeing and at times looked like a shell of himself. During a press conference on Sunday, Berry stated that he felt fine and would be ready to go for the championship. In a battle against the Zags first team All-American, Nigel Williams-Goss, Berry will need to bounce back in a big way on Monday night. Williams-Goss is Gonzaga’s leading scorer and he was great in the Bulldogs win against South Caroling, scoring 23 points along with 5 rebounds and 6 assists. Williams-Goss also has a considerable height advantage over Berry, if Joel’s ankles limit his effectiveness defensively, look for Roy Williams to place Theo Pinson or Justin Jackson on Nigel so Berry can better lead UNC’s offensive attack.
The Zags and Tar Heels are evenly matched across the board but the Tar Heels hold one key advantage – Justin Jackson. At 6’8, Jackson has the size advantage over Gonzaga’s wings Josh Perkins and Jordan Matthews. In the last game against Oregon, Jackson got his shot off over smaller defenders relatively easy. He nailed four threes against the Ducks and when he couldn’t get a clean look from three, he drove past defenders and displayed his patented floater. In the last two games, Jackson has also been huge for the Tar Heels on the defensive end. Roy Williams has used the ACC’s Player of the Year size to limit Kentucky’s Malik Monk and Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey. As previously mentioned, the Heels will also look to use Jackson’s size to help slow down Nigel Williams-Goss during the title game. If Jackson can continue his all-around brilliance on both ends of the floor, he’ll leave Phoenix as a champion and a lock for the first round in the upcoming NBA draft.
This should be another great game that comes down to the last two minutes of play. The Tar Heels experience should be the deciding factor down the stretch. Throughout the tourney, teams have played UNC tough for most of the game but the Heels always rise to the occasion. From the comeback against Arkansas, to Luke Maye’s game-winner against Kentucky, to the offensive rebounds in the final seconds against Oregon, North Carolina continues to find a way to get it done. Gonzaga is the team best suited to finish the job against UNC, but I’m picking the Heels to beat the Zags in another nail-biter, proving that the ceiling is indeed the roof. No Jordan crying memes this year.
Final Score: 80-76 Tar Heels