NCAA Championship Tale: 1 Gonzaga Vs. 1 North Carolina
- OffenseThe Bulldogs have averaged 80 points in the last two games against low seeds Xavier and South Carolina, after posting 83 points per contest this season. Putting up 77 points against the Gamecocks’ elite defense was impressive for Gonzaga, especially considering the South Carolina comeback in the second half on Saturday. The Bulldogs had four players score in double figures against the Gamecocks, although they did commit 12 turnovers. That stat hurt Oregon against UNC, and it could hurt Gonzaga, too, on Monday night. If the Bulldogs protect the rock, they’re hard to slow down offensively.The Tar Heels have been slowed down somewhat in their last two games, scoring just 76 points per contest against Kentucky and Oregon, respectively, down from the team’s mid-80s average. As a result, UNC has squeaked out two wins by a combined three points. Its offense is still capable of exploding at any minute, but against Top 20 defensive efficiency from the Wildcats and the Ducks, the Carolina schemes haven’t looked as good lately. Senior forward Kennedy Meeks had the game of his life against Oregon with 25 points and 14 rebounds, but he’ll find it tougher going on Monday night in the title tilt.
- DefenseThe Bulldogs still have the No. 1-rated defense in the country, according to kenpom.com, and that defense was huge against South Carolina. Gonzaga blocked eight shots while holding the Gamecocks to under 38 percent shooting from the floor. Considering the Tar Heels shot just 36.8 percent against Oregon’s athletic defense, the Bulldogs should be in good shape to handle whatever the North Carolina offense throws at them. Without Meeks’ effort on Saturday, the rest of the Tar Heels shot a meager 25.4 percent. Gonzaga can’t count on that kind of night again from UNC, but the Bulldogs can stifle any offensive scheme that comes their way.Considering the Ducks turned the ball over 16 times on Saturday, it’s a shock that the game even went down to the wire the way it did. But the Tar Heels defense did just enough to win the game, just as it did against Kentucky. The next challenge for UNC on defense is similar, as Gonzaga’s offensive efficiency ranks about the same as the last two Tar Heel opponents. To win on Monday, though, UNC will need to generate its best tournament effort yet on defense, because what it had on Saturday was barely enough. The Tar Heels were outclassed on the glass by the Ducks until the final 10 seconds of the game, and it almost cost them dearly.
- BenchIt was the Bulldogs’ eighth man (freshman Killian Tillie) that sealed the deal against the Gamecocks on Saturday with two clutch free throws at the end, and that bodes well for Gonzaga in the NCAA Championship Game. UNC can run nine guys out there without missing much, and you never know which Tar Heels player is going to be the one to hurt you. Tillie logged only seven minutes against South Carolina, but he came up big when he needed to. The Bulldogs need to have eight men ready on Monday if they want to win their first national championship.Remember, it was ninth-man Luke Maye who sank the winning shot in the Regional Final against Kentucky. Against Oregon, two players scored 61 percent of the Tar Heels’ points, but the UNC bench runs very deep — and it will need to show off that depth to win the NCAA title. The Tar Heels primarily used eight players to beat the Ducks, but half of them contributed minimally to the victory (including Maye). That can’t be the case again versus Gonzaga, which has a solid bench, too, with a lot of versatility. UNC will need its big bodies against the Bulldogs, more than it did against Oregon.
- CoachingMark Few has guided his Bulldogs through tough matchups in this tournament so far, winning three games by a combined 13 points against feisty lower seeds, while winning two other games in blowouts. This team is a well-oiled machine in many ways, and a lot of that cohesiveness comes from the head coach and his staff. Few has a 25-17 record in March Madness, which is impressive considering Gonzaga’s mid-major status. The Bulldogs’ 37-1 record is a reflection of his methods, and it’s probably a good thing Gonzaga isn’t undefeated at this point, because that would create pressure for Few -- something that is squarely on Williams right now instead.This will be Roy Williams’ sixth appearance in the March Madness final, and he’s had mixed results with two wins and three losses. Last year in the title game, the Tar Heels were the last-shot victims against Villanova, but this year, UNC has won the close ones in the NCAA Tournament so far. In addition to winning the last two games by three combined points, the top-seeded Tar Heels beat No. 8-seed Arkansas in the second round by just seven points. Williams has a mature team with nine upperclassmen at his disposal, and he’s one of the best coaches ever for a few reasons. He’s always a tough out in the tourney, and this team is quite talented, even though it sometimes loses focus.
The nation could not have asked for a better title game, as two No. 1 seeds battle for the NCAA Championship on Monday night. The two teams are matched pretty evenly, and both squads have what it takes to win. Due to Gonzaga’s “small school” status, the Bulldogs are the underdogs, but they should not be considered inferior. Gonzaga has proven itself to be the best team in the country this season, and the Bulldogs play as more of a team than the Tar Heels do. A lot of the UNC players will find their way individually to the NBA, but the Gonzaga squad will win the championship on Monday. Look for the Bulldogs to win, 80-76, and perhaps change the March Madness landscape forever in doing so.