NCAA March Madness: Gonzaga vs UNC Championship Preview

#1 Gonzaga vs #1 UNC: Who will cut down the nets in Phoenix? The Fourth String team previews the NCAA Championship game.

9:20 PM on CBS
UNC -1.5 | Gonzaga 62%

Why #1 Gonzaga could win

#1 Gonzaga may be championship newcomers, having never won an NCAA tournament in program history, but they have entered this tournament having only lost one game (to BYU) and are undefeated during tournament play. Junior Guard Nigel Williams-Goss has scored 23 points in both of Gonzaga’s last two games, and even went on to play after rolling his ankle against #7 South Carolina. 7’2″ Senior Polish Center Przemek Karnowski has been a force to reckon with in the paint, and 7’0″ Freshman Forward Zach Collins stepped up when Karnowski injured his eye in the Bulldogs’ last game. Gonzaga sports one of the best defenses in college basketball, holding opponents to under 62 points on average, while also shooting more than 50% from the field. They are the number one overall ranked team in the NCAA, and have proved why so far this tournament.

Why #1 Gonzaga could lose

“But who have they beaten?” has been the constant criticism of Gonzaga, a team that plays in a relatively weak West Coast Conference. This still somewhat rings true, as Gonzaga’s highest ranked tournament opponent was #4 West Virginia and they barely beat #7 South Carolina in the Final Four despite Sindarius Thornwell’s sickness. Speaking of the injuries, the damage that this Gonzaga squad has taken throughout the tournament should worry Bulldogs fans: Karnowski’s eye looked swollen at the end of their Final Four game and Williams-Goss was struggling with his foot after his injury. Normally, Gonzaga would have the depth to not worry about minor injuries, but in a championship game they can’t afford to bench either player. These injuries combined with UNC’s strength and offensive pressure could put an end to Gonzaga’s championship hopes.

Why #1 UNC could win

#1 UNC has to be hungry for a NCAA championship win after losing to Villanova’s buzzer-beater last year, and they have not had an easy road to another chance. The Tar Heels have defeated #4 Butler, #2 Kentucky, and #3 Oregon in the tournament, and they’ve done so with star Junior Guard Joel Berry II playing on two sprained ankles. Junior Forward Justin Jackson has been on fire in the tournament, averaging over 20 PPG, while Senior Forward Kennedy Meeks dropped 25 points against Oregon. UNC also slightly outrebounds and outscores Gonzaga on average, mostly thanks to their increased speed and agility. Overall, this UNC team is slightly more offensively threatening than Gonzaga but will have to thrive on the glass and through turnovers to keep their offense going.

Why #1 UNC could lose

In a word: defense. Tournament junkies will tell you that explosive offenses (like #3 UCLA’s) will eventually betray you when your shots simply stop falling. Defensively great teams (like #7 South Carolina, who was #2 in overall defense) often get farther than offensively great teams. This is not to say that the Tar Heels are slacking on defense, just that Gonzaga has the #1 defense in the NCAA while UNC’s is only above average. Gonzaga’s opponents score 10 less points on average than UNC’s, while the two teams score almost the same amount on average. In addition to their defensive woes, UNC still has to deal with Joel Berry II’s ankle sprains. Outside of a 26 point performance against #4 Butler, Berry has been unable to score more than 11 points in a game despite averaging 14.5 in the regular season. Berry will have to have a return to form or his teammates will have to pick up his slack if UNC wants to win another NCAA tournament.

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