By Ruslan Crosby
#1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. #1 Gonzaga Bulldogs: 9:20PM EST
And then there were two. Gonzaga and North Carolina, the two teams playing the best in this year’s tournament, will meet up on Monday to decide who the national champion is. Will it be the Bulldogs, who are making their first championship game appearance, or the Tar Heels, who are making their second consecutive of eleven appearances?
The last team to appear in back to back championship games was Butler, in 2010 and 2011; they lost both. Last year, UNC lost to Villanova, and this year, they will lose to Gonzaga.
Gonzaga has been by far the best team in the tournament field, with elite and consistent offensive and defensive efforts by the entire team. Gonzaga has five players averaging at least 10 points, so if one player is having a bad game, another will step up.
They also have the top performing player in the tournament, Nigel Williams-Goss. He has been averaging over 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists per game, shooting 49%. His contribution is sure to help Gonzaga claim the title.
In the NBA finals last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers mirrored this year’ Gonzaga Bulldogs. In addition to having the best player, they were able to win because they did not have to rely on their tired legs for their jump shot; they just pounded the ball to the basket and ground out wins.
I see a similar outcome in this game. UNC loves to shoot the ball, with Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II taking most of their deep shots. While they do make those shots with a high percentage and rebound 49% of those misses, the Tar heels will get tired, and will not have great form on their shots by the end of a physical game.
Gonzaga, on the other hand, is driven by strong, powerful offensive players. Przemek Karnowski, 7’1” and 304 lbs, and Zach Collins, 7’0” and 230 lbs, have been able to get good shots at a high percentage and lead Gonzaga’s dominant offense.
Even when Gonzaga has been unable to find points early in games, like when South Carolina went on a 16-0 run on Saturday, the Bulldogs have always been able to eventually start running their offense effectively against great defensive teams.
UNC does have better talent and does have a better head coach in Roy Williams, but Gonzaga has more heart, and more will. They have been trying to quiet the critics since their first deep run in the tournament in 1999, and nothing’s going to stop them now.
Gonzaga will top UNC, 72-67