NCAA Championship Game 2017: TV Info, Game Time for UNC vs. Gonzaga

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2017

Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss (5) celebrates after the semifinals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament against South Carolina, Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. Gonzaga won 77-73. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Something has to give when North Carolina and Gonzaga in Monday's title game. 

The Tar Heels (fifth in ESPN's RPI rankings), one of the most recognizable brands in the basketball world, boast an impressive wealth of offensive weapons and potency ready to claim another title for the program.

On the other side, the Bulldogs (eighth RPI) set out on a mission to prove they belong and have plenty of staying power, an endeavor furthered by one of the nation's best defenses.

With the bracket conquered and a rather fitting war of opposing strengths set to decide the finale, all fans can do is simple—wait. Given the nature of the teams and the storylines involved, the two programs promise to match the hype.

      

March Madness 2017 Bracket and Title Game Info

MatchupDateTime (ET)TelevisionOdds
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 1 North CarolinaMonday, April 39:20 p.m.CBSNorth Carolina (-2)
ESPN.com.

       

What They're Saying

The Bulldogs aren't a typical just-happy-to-be-here squad going into the title game—and they aren't afraid to address the topic.

On the merits of rankings first in adjusted defensive efficiency at KenPom.com, Gonzaga has cruised through the tournament while flustering high-octane attacks. Leading scorer Nigel Williams-Goss talked with the media about his team's underdog status, according to Stats LLC (via ESPN.com).

"No one's here by accident. I think the respect thing has to go out the window. You have 37 wins in a college season—I mean that's just unbelievable. And to be playing the last game of the season, we have a chance to play for it all. And we're here to win it," Williams-Goss said.

North Carolina wouldn't dare underestimate the Bulldogs, not after opponents have shot 31.0, 40.9, 26.7, 35.5 and 37.9 percent from the floor against the vaunted defense, in a large part because of the 7'1", 300-pound Przemek Karnowski clogging the lane.

In fact, those associated with Gonzaga aren't afraid to view it through a long-term lens. Head coach Mark Few did recently, according to Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton:

We don't pretend or think we're anywhere near the level with the tradition of Carolina or Duke or Kentucky. But I think we do feel we've been a national entity for quite some time. The product, the brand, the players, the team that we're putting out there on the floor—we feel we can compete with anybody in the country on any given night. We understand we don't have that tradition that dates back 40, 50, 60 years.

North Carolina set the example, of course. Head coach Roy Williams has his guys playing at a high level, even around ankle issues suffered by star point guard Joel Berry II.

Berry is usually the guy behind an explosive offense sitting sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency at KenPom (Gonzaga ranks 12th). This was true enough in a 92-80 rout of fourth-seeded Butler, where he dropped 26 points while looking fully healthy. Otherwise, though, he hasn't scored more than 11 points in a tournament game and others around him have needed to compensate.

It was Kennedy Meeks in the Final Four, who came out of nowhere to score 25 points with 14 boards in a one-point escape of third-seeded Oregon.

Meeks is a good example of Williams' approach with the program, as he explained his budding role within it, according to the Arizona Republic's Jeff Metcalfe:

It took 3 1/2 years, but I realized he really doesn't mean bad. You can definitely see the transition from me trying to buy in more to helping the team in any way I can instead of just trying to score. It's a little bit of being selfless. I'm sure he appreciates that because I definitely think I've grown as a player. I don't know if I just woke up one morning and it kind of clicked.

Someone other than Berry stepping up at all is a good representation of what the Tar Heels can do on a nightly basis. They certainly have the size to match Gonzaga's huge frontcourt and the offense that can run with any team in the nation. But it's the former that will decide Monday's contest.

"I think our main objective every game is to hit teams early in the mouth, whether that's attacking them on the offensive end or playing great defense," Meeks said, per Stats LLC.

       

Prediction

ESPN Stats & Info's Basketball Power Index gives the Bulldogs a 58.8 percent chance to win. 

It's hard to disagree.

Gonzaga is one of the few teams in the country able to bang down low with the Tar Heels. And Williams-Goss is one of the better two-way players in the country, meaning he could draw the assignment of shutting down Justin Jackson—especially if Berry isn't playing at his best.

Berry's inability to cut as he usually does and create space is bad news against what many would consider the top defense in the country. The paint wasn't going to be open much in the first place, injuries and an opponent who can win the battle on the glass makes the uphill climb ever harder.

Gonzaga's ability to slow this game down and fluster a North Carolina team with a point guard not running at 100 percent will have an obvious draining effect on the Tar Heels as the game comes to a close. Look for the Bulldogs to pull ahead in the second half and stay there.

Prediction: Gonzaga 76, North Carolina 74 

       

Advanced metrics courtesy of ESPN.com. Odds via OddsShark.com.

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