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NCAA Tournament – National Championship
Monday, 9:20 (ET) on CBS
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
No. 1 North Carolina Tarheels vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
After an unpredictable tournament sprinkled with cinderella stories, two number one seeds are playing for the National Championship.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs beat the South Carolina Gamecocks last night 77-73. Gonzaga held a solid lead for most of the game, but allowed South Carolina to go on a late 16-0 run. The Bulldogs then regained control and played solid basketball down the stretch to win.
The North Carolina Tar Heels barely hung on last night against the Oregon Ducks in a 77-76 win. UNC got down early, but came back before halftime and controlled the game for the majority of the second half. They let the Ducks creep back into it late, though. With possession and just over five seconds on the clock, UNC missed four consecutive free throws. Luckily, the best rebounding team in the country corralled two offensive boards on those misses to seal the win.
After two hard fought wins, Gonzaga and UNC will compete Monday night for the National Championship.
What to watch for
Big men (Karnowski vs. Meeks)
Both teams are dominant inside.
When forwards Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley were limited by the Ducks last night, Kennedy Meeks exploded for 25 points and 14 rebounds. North Carolina has arguably the most dominant inside presence; they have the best rebounding margin in the country.
Gonzaga is a great rebounding team, too, ranked 11th in the country. Against South Carolina, Gonzaga’s big men took over. Center Przemek Karnowski scored 13 points and had five rebounds, while forward Zach Collins, had 14 points and 13 rebounds off the bench.
Karnowski has the ability to exploit small teams because of his height. He’s not as dominant on the boards as he should be, though, averaging just under six rebounds per game. It wouldn’t surprise me if he struggles against North Carolina’s elite big men.
It’s hard to bet against either teams big men, but I think as long as North Carolina’s can avoid foul trouble, they’ve got the upper-hand.
Slight Advantage: North Carolina
When everyone is healthy, North Carolina has the advantage at the guard spot. Joel Berry II’s playing ability has been hindered, though, due to his recent ankle injuries. He shot 2-14 against Oregon, and after playing 35 minutes on Saturday, his ankle’s not going to be any better.
Gonzaga has a group of solid guards led by Nigel Williams-Goss, who scored 23 points against the Gamecocks, many of which game at crucial points in the game. Their guards are tough and play with sound fundamentals.
Williams-Goss is arguably better than Berry and is playing without any injury concerns. He has also shown the ability to do everything: score, assist without turning the ball over, exude toughness, and perform in clutch moments.
Stars win games late and win championships.
Williams-Goss has shown himself to be a star, but I expect Berry to play solid defense against him, limiting his scoring.
I don’t see anyone being able to control forward Justin Jackson. He’s been the best player for the Tar Heels this season and down the stretch. His clutch shooting will keep UNC in the game early and help them pull away late.
UNC has more star power and size than Gonzaga. Not to mention, UNC has the experience of playing in a National Championship game. Even though they lost on one of the most memorable shots in March Madness history, the experience will help them on Monday.
Championship games are won with experience, so last years game might be the difference for the Heels; their guys have been here before.
North Carolina will win a nail-biter late thanks to a few timely rebounds from Meeks and a few clutch shots from Jackson.