On Monday, we'll see North Carolina finish a redemption story or Gonzaga win its first men's NCAA national title. Either way, there's a compelling narrative to examine following the outcome.
The Tar Heels went through the NCAA tournament with a bitter taste in their mouths after a heart-wrenching buzzer-beater loss to Villanova in the championship game a year ago.
Head coach Roy Williams' group went through tough obstacles on their way back to the title game. They won their last two games by three points combined. Guard Joel Berry II has struggled in all but one game against Butler. North Carolina has benefitted from different players contributing timely highlight performances, which bears the mark of a championship-caliber team.
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Gonzaga has matched up against programs that pushed the pace in the scoring department such as South Carolina and schools that will attempt to grind the game down into fine basics like West Virginia. When taking a look further backward, the Bulldogs have only lost one game (to Brigham Young) and embody consistency. They have a big-body roster with a go-to scorer in junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss and a sharpshooter in senior guard Jordan Mathews.
Regardless of the pathways to this point, both schools deserve spots in the championship game, but only one program will reign victorious in a field that started with 68 teams.
Here's the viewing information below for those who'd like to watch from their television or mobile device:
|Gonzaga vs. North Carolina|
|April 3||9:20||University of Phoenix Stadium||CBS||NCAA.com|
North Carolina's Deciding Factor: Dominate the Boards
Despite missing multiple clutch free throws in the previous outing, North Carolina shut the door on Oregon's title hopes via offensive rebounding. Forward Kennedy Meeks took over the game in the paint. He scored 25 points and grabbed 14 boards while shooting 84 percent from the field. The 6'10" senior logged double-digit rebound totals in each of the last four contests.
With Oregon as the exception, North Carolina outrebounded each tournament opponent. In the previous outing, turnovers provided the Tar Heels more scoring opportunities to compensate for shooting 36 percent from the field.
On Monday, the Tar Heels will play against a team equally effective near the basket. The Bulldogs' two 7-footers, Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, won't allow Meeks to dominate the game with countless rebounds and clear shot attempts near the hoop. North Carolina's entire unit will need to focus on cleaning up the glass and providing second-chance opportunities in case of another inefficient overall shooting performance.
You can pencil Meeks in for a double-double. Forwards Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley will also need to come close to the same mark to defeat the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga's Deciding Factor: Three-Point Shooting
In Gonzaga's previous outing, Collins logged a double-double and blocked six shots for a breakout tournament performance. He's less skilled than Karnowski on the offensive end, but he's vital to the team's resistance in the paint. The Tar Heels will certainly pound the ball inside with their size if the shots continue to clank off the iron at a high rate.
Nonetheless, it's the Bulldogs' three-pointing that should put them in command late in the game. Gonzaga doesn't have a prominent secondary long-distance shooter. Unless guard Josh Perkins showcases another timely shooting performance or guard Silas Melson chips in with a few triples off the bench, the onus falls on Mathews. The senior guard hit a critical shot against West Virginia in the Sweet 16 round. He shot 50 percent from three-point land in the previous outing.
With Berry struggling to knock down shots, Gonzaga's three-point shooting can put immense pressure on forward Justin Jackson to deliver a sparkling gem-like offensive performance. Percentagewise, Gonzaga has the edge in firing shots from beyond the arc.
Through the year, the Bulldogs converted on 38 percent of their triples while the Tar Heels nailed 36 percent. The margin doesn't seem substantial until you factor how well the Bulldogs have shot from three-point land over the past two games (21 of 43) compared to the Tar Heels (11 of 36) in the same span.
Stats provided by Sports Reference unless otherwise noted.