#601 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Tar Heelsvs.#602 Gonzaga University Bulldogs
Monday, April 4 2017, at 9:20pm EDT
Written by Chris Kubala
#2 Gonzaga Bulldogs (37-1 SU, 23-10-2 ATS, 17-18 O/U) vs. #6 North Carolina Tar Heels (32-7 SU, 19-16-3 ATS, 15-21-1 O/U)
NCAAB: Monday, April 3, 2017, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona, 9:20 pm ET
Spread: North Carolina -1.5, Over/Under: 153.5
Less than three weeks ago, the NCAA Tournament began with 68 teams chasing a national title: we’re now down to two. The Gonzaga Bulldogs seek their first national championship in school history as they face the North Carolina Tar Heels, who are looking for their sixth national crown, in the NCAA Championship Monday night. Gonzaga advanced by edging South Carolina 77-73 in one national semifinal Saturday. North Carolina’s margin of victory was even slimmer as they slipped past Oregon 77-76 in the other national semifinal. The teams split two previous meetings, with North Carolina rolling to a 98-77 win in the Sweet 16 of the 2009 tournament on March 27, 2009 in the last matchup. The Tar Heels went on to win their most recent championship that year.
Gonzaga took another step toward immortality as they withstood everything South Carolina threw at them to advance to the NCAA title game for the first time in school history. The Bulldogs regrouped after a 16-0 Gamecocks run gave South Carolina a 67-65 lead with 7:06 to play. Gonzaga outscored South Carolina 12-6 the rest of the way in a stretch marked with tough defense and a lot of bricks on both sides. The Bulldogs shot 48.3 percent from the floor and hit nine of 19 from beyond the arc in the win. Gonzaga won the rebounding battle 41-36 and held South Carolina to 37.9 percent from the field. Nigel Williams-Goss paced the Bulldogs with 23 points, five rebounds and six assists in the win.
The Bulldogs are 15th in the nation in scoring offense with an average of 83.1 points per game. Gonzaga is 6th in rebounding with 40.5 boards a night and stands 62nd with 15.4 assists per contest. The Bulldogs are 7th in the nation in scoring defense as they allow 61.2 points per game. Gonzaga is shooting 50.8 percent from the field as a team this season, which is 2nd in the country. The Bulldogs are averaging 7.3 three pointers a night on 38.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Przemek Karnowski is one of five Bulldogs in double figures with 12.3 points plus 5.8 rebounds per game. Zach Collins puts up 10 points plus 5.9 boards a night, Nigel Williams-Goss contributes a team high 16.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists a night and Jordan Mathews is good for 10.8 points a game. Josh Perkins (eight ppg) and Johnathan Williams (10.2 points, 6.5 rebounds) also are scoring at a solid clip. Silas Melson, Killian Tillie and Bryan Alberts are all seeing double digit minutes as well for coach Mark Few.
North Carolina was here a year ago before falling at the buzzer to Kris Jenkins and Villanova. The Tar Heels will try to do what they couldn’t a year ago: give Roy Williams his third national title at Chapel Hill. That’s something not even the legendary Dean Smith could accomplish. North Carolina advanced to the title game but it wasn’t easy: they started 3 of 17 from the floor and ended up shooting 36.8 percent in the game, including an 8 of 21 night from three point range. Joel Berry II went 2 of 14 from the floor while Isaiah Hicks was 1 of 12. Then there were the closing seconds: with North Carolina up one, Kennedy Meeks missed a pair of free throws but North Carolina got the offensive rebound to set up Berry II for a pair with four seconds to go. He missed them both as well but Meeks atoned for his misses and saved the Tar Heels’ season with another board. Meeks led North Carolina with 25 points and 14 rebounds, eight of which came on the offensive glass.
The Tar Heels are 12th in the nation in scoring with 84.8 points per game. North Carolina is currently leading the nation in rebounding by collecting 43.7 boards per game and 4th in assists with 18.1 dimes per contest. The Tar Heels are an average team defensively as they are 133rd in the nation allowing 70.7 points per game. North Carolina is shooting 46.9 percent from the floor. The Tar Heels are averaging 7.2 threes per game and shoots 36.2 percent from three point range. Justin Jackson leads the team with 18.3 points plus 4.7 rebounds per game. Joel Berry II contributes 14.5 points, 3.1 rebounds plus 3.6 assists a game, Kennedy Meeks chips in 12.7 points plus 9.4 boards a night and Isaiah Hicks adds 11.8 points a night. Tony Bradley, Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams, Nate Britt and Luke Maye each average better than 4.6 points a game.
It’s only fitting to have these two teams battle for the title. There are a lot of similarities between the programs: they both have excellent offensive statistics and they are terrific on the glass. Both schools have a solid group of experienced talent and have players that will likely go in the first round of the NBA Draft in June. Experience in games like this is where North Carolina gets the edge: Williams is coaching in his sixth NCAA Championship Game while Few is in his first. The Tar Heels have a slew of guys that felt the heartbreak of last year’s buzzer beating defeat. While both teams are battle tested from earlier tournament games, North Carolina’s experience in the championship game gives them the slimmest of edges. In a game where you hate to have a loser, the Tar Heels pull one out.
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Christopher Kubala has been crunching stats and following sports for over 30 years. His in depth analysis and passion for sports have led him to writing books about sports, regularly being featured on sports talk radio and as the go-to person for any obscure trivia. He keeps an eye on transactions and statistics like a hawk, especially when it comes to football, both the NFL and college, the NHL, the NBA and college basketball and MLB.