The reason the NCAA Tournament is so popular, and referred to as March Madness, is because of the upsets. They are great. However, by the time we reach the championship game it’s generally pretty chalk. That’s the case Monday night when a pair of top seeds, Gonzaga and North Carolina, square off in the desert. The Tar Heels are slight Sports Interaction favourites to win a sixth men’s basketball title in school history.
Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Odds
Spread: North Carolina -1.5
Date: Monday, April 3, 9:20 p.m. ET
Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Gonzaga (37-1) had never been to a Final Four previously, but it shouldn’t be a surprise the Zags are here as by nearly every statistical metric they were the best team in the country this season (No. 1 in defensive efficiency and Top 15 offensively). They also have just the one loss, which no other school can match. That program is a testament to loyalty.
Coach Dan Monson put Gonzaga on the map but was hired away by Minnesota following the 1998-99 season. The Zags replaced Monson with his little-known assistant, Mark Few. Turned out to be a stroke of genius. Few’s career winning percentage of .818 is tops in the country among active coaches. No. 2? North Carolina’s Roy Williams at .790.
It’s not easy to recruit players to come and play at a little Catholic school in Spokane, Wash. Gonzaga always does well landing international players – guard Dustin Triano is from Vancouver — and in luring transfers. Three of the Bulldogs’ best players, guards Nigel Williams-Goss and Jordan Mathews and forward Johnathan Williams, are transfers from Washington, California and Missouri, respectively. Few also has a future NBA lottery pick in freshman center Zach Collins, who had offers from pretty much every blue-blood program in the country.
Collins had his best game of the season in Saturday’s 77-73 win over No. 7 South Carolina in the Final Four with 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks. He doesn’t even start. Williams-Goss led the Zags with 23 points, and he’s likely to be named NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player if Gonzaga wins this game.
History seems to hint that Gonzaga won’t win as no school has won the national championship in its first appearance since Maryland in 2002. In the past 50 years, schools in their first title game are 8-15 overall.
This is Gonzaga’s first game this season against an ACC school. It has covered five of its past seven overall as an underdog of 6.5 points or fewer. It’s the first time this season the Zags have been dogs.
North Carolina Tar Heels
It’s the sixth national championship game for the Heels’ Roy Williams including his Kansas days. His teams have won two of them. A third would place him solo second among active coaches for the most titles behind only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
UNC (32-7) was rather fortunate to beat No. 3 Oregon in the Final Four, 77-76, as the Heels missed four straight free throws late but kept rebounding them. In our preview of that game here at Sports Interaction, we mentioned that North Carolina’s size was likely going to be the difference and it was. Senior big man Kennedy Meeks dominated with 25 points (11-for-13 from the field) and 14 rebounds – he rebounded that last missed free throw to clinch it. Justin Jackson added 22 points; either he or Meeks should be named Most Outstanding Player if the Heels win. UNC is the nation’s No. 1 rebounding team, but the Zags are just as big as UNC if not bigger.
North Carolina struggled from the field against the Ducks in shooting just 36.8 percent and that’s not going to cut it against Gonzaga. Point guard Joel Berry II is playing through two sprained ankles and was 2-for-14 from the field. He’s the engine that makes one of the country’s top offenses go.
Of course, the Heels lost last year’s title game to Villanova on Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer. UNC is looking to become the fourth team in history to win the title the year after losing in the championship game. North Carolina was one of the previous three, losing the 1981 final to Indiana and beating Georgetown the next year.
The Tar Heels are 0-3-1 ATS in their past four games as a favourite of 6.5 points or fewer. They haven’t played Gonzaga since a 98-77 victory in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinal March 27, 2009.
Gonzaga vs. North Carolina Predictions
My choice to win the tournament before it began was North Carolina so can’t really go against the Heels now. I am a bit concerned about Berry’s health. Sometimes experience on this big stage does matter, and that’s where UNC has the edge. Give the points and go under the total.