#1 Gonzaga vs #1 North Carolina. Two great stories are at play in the 2017 National Championship game. Gonzaga has long been the program that represents the underdog and a true “mid-major”. Even with several high-major recruits, Gonzaga still manages to keep a relatively low profile in the WCC. And we don’t mean they haven’t been a highly-ranked program for a while now, it’s more that the expectations from your average fan still aren’t as high as they should be.
Then you have a North Carolina program who struggled all season long to gain much of an identity or to step up as a true contender. The parts of the sum have always been there, but they just weren’t clicking all together until the last month. Even when losing to Duke in the ACC Championship game they looked like a team worthy of the #1 seed they were ready to walk into.
Joel Berry’s ankles will be important tonight, but the help he receives from guys like Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks will be vital. Justin Jackson will need to be the versatile defender/scorer/athlete that came to Chapel Hill as a top 10 potential one-and-done guy. Free throws will be important, but rebounding will be perhaps even more important.
The Zags have both in spades and have plenty of help off the bench this year (something they’ve struggled with in comparably promising seasons). Nigel Williams-Goss was a superstar when he went to Washington and then when he transferred to Gonzaga. Przemek Karnowski has to be a big contributer (pun intended), but Zach Collins will need to provide the depth from the bench that has NBA execs salivating.
Getting down to it, each of these teams can run while Gonzaga is better known for their defensive prowess. Guys like Josh Perkins and Silas Melson can create offense off the dribble within reason, but when the game gets tight Williams-Goss is limited who will step up? The Tar Heels just have too many options and I’d hate to fail to mention Nate Britt. He’s a guy who was a top 10 guy coming in (at one point the top PG in his class) and he’s been underwhelming in his time. But getting shown up by adopted brother Kris Jenkins in the championship game last year couldn’t have felt too good. There’s just too much good karma work from UNC this time around. North Carolina 76, Gonzaga 68