National Championship Game Pick

Posted: 04/03/2017 by levcohen in NCAA

After two close, weird games that were eventually won by the better teams, we have the National Championship Game we were hoping for. Upsets are nice, but at the end of the day you want the two best teams in the country playing for the title. I can’t say for certain that Gonzaga and North Carolina are the two best teams (and they certainly haven’t been playing great basketball in the tournament), but they’re definitely two of the four or five best (I’d throw Kansas in the mix for sure). It’s also a fascinating matchup.

Usually, college basketball is dominated by guards who take advantage of lackluster perimeter defending and draw lots of fouls. But while Gonzaga has a heck of a point guard in Nigel Williams-Goss, both of these teams are oriented around big men. The Zags start Polish menace Przemek Karnowski down low and often pair him with fellow seven footer and likely lottery pick Zach Collins, who had the best game of his short college career on Saturday. They also start Johnathan Williams, a 6’9″ forward who is a matchup nightmare. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels are the best offensive rebounding team in the country (as we all know after they grabbed two crucial rebounds after missed free throws down the stretch against Oregon) because they start Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks and bring Tony Bradley and Luke Maye off the bench. North Carolina generally wins games by wearing down opponents inside. It’s one thing to put a body on Meeks and Hicks in the opening minutes of the game. It’s another to then have to guard Bradley and Maye in the post before being greeted by an onslaught of Meeks and Hicks down the stretch. But if anyone can slow the red-hot Meeks down, it’s Gonzaga. Karnowski and Collins make for a heck of a rim protecting and rebounding duo when they’re on the floor together, and Williams-Goss is one of the best rebounding guards in the country (5.9 per contest). They won’t be able to shut down the offensive rebounding and interior scoring, but they should put a dent in UNC’s efficiency.

The matchup that could swing this game in Gonzaga’s favor is Joel Berry vs. Williams-Goss. I don’t think Berry will be tasked with guarding Williams-Goss (it’ll likely be Theo Pinson or Justin Jackson), but I do think that Williams-Goss is going to eat Berry alive on the defensive end. And as we’ve seen over the course of this tournament, North Carolina’s offense is nowhere near the same when Berry is off, because the Tar Heels just don’t have much in the way of perimeter scoring outside of Jackson. Gonzaga, on the other hand, has Jordan Mathews, Josh Perkins, and Silas Melson, all of whom shoot 39%+ from three point range. If the interior game is played to a draw, as I think it may be, and the Zags find a way to guard Justin Jackson, which I think they’ll do relatively well, then the difference could be three point shooting, and I just trust the Zags’ gunners more than I do the Heels’. Give me Gonzaga 82-77.

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