Arguably the two best teams in college basketball this season will match up tonight for a chance at the National Title. The game can be seen on CBS with an estimated start time of 9:20 ET.
North Carolina is out to avenge last season’s heartbreak and their focus all season was to return to this moment.
Gonzaga is aiming to prove the doubters wrong and prove that they belong and are a legit program (not that it should be doubted since they have made 19 straight tournament appearances and have sent 15 players to the NBA during that time).
Both teams have tremendous size in the front court, are efficient on the offensive and defensive side of the ball and possess players capable of taking over a game and leading their respected teams to victory.
Each team scores a ton of points as Gonzaga averages 83 a game while North Carolina puts up 85.
Here’s a look at each teams projected starters:
Gonzaga: North Carolina:
G: Nigel Williams – Goss G: Joel Berry II
G: Jordan Matthews G: Theo Pinson
G: Josh Perkins F: Justin Jackson
F: Jonathan Williams F: Isaiah Hicks
C: Przemek Karnowski C:Kennedy Meeks
Key Reserves: Key Reserves:
F: Zach Collins F: Luke Maye
F: Killian Tillie F: Tony Bradley
G: Silas Melson G: Nate Britt
Match ups to watch:
Tonight provides the opportunity to watch two throwback centers battle against one another.
Kennedy Meeks of North Carolina and Przemek Karnowski have been immovable forces in the paint this tournament. Both star centers have a great ability to score around the basket and are tremendous post passers providing easy opportunities for teammates to score. Both do not possess a great leaping ability but are excellent at positioning themselves using their large bodies to clear out space for resounding opportunities.
The second match – up of note is how well Theo Pinson will be able to defend first team All-American selection Nigel Williams-Goss. Pinson, North Carolina’s most versatile defender has the size to bother Williams – Goss. Pinson will draw the assignment to defend Williams – Goss as Roy Williams will likely want to conserve some of Justin Jackson’s energy for the offensive side of the ball.
Pro Prospects to watch:
Gonzaga’s best pro prospect comes off their bench. Freshman forward Zach Collins plays only 17.3 minutes per game but provides an excellent amount of value in those minutes. The seven foot forward has shot 65.2% from the field and 74.1% from the foul line. He has three point range as well making 10 of 21 from distance on the season. Collins played his best game of the year in the Final Four win over South Carolina notching 14 points on 6-10 shooting, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking 6 shots in 23 minutes of play. Some NBA scouts have him graded as high as a lottery pick if he declares.
North Carolina’s best pro prospect is ACC player of the year Justin Jackson. The junior forward is averaging 18.3 points per game while adding 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Jackson has the best floater in college basketball and has really improved his shot from distance making 105 threes on the year on 38.2% shooting. The 105 makes set an all time record for North Carolina in a single season. Jackson has proved to be a versatile defender as well capable of defending multiple positions. His 6’8 frame gives him the opportunities to play as a small ball four as well. NBA scouts have Jackson has a first round selection in this draft.
Gonzaga wins if Nigel Williams – Goss continues to play as a first team All – American and Jordan Matthews hits at least 4 threes. Gonzaga will need to shoot the ball well from distance to spread out the Tar Heels distance. Gonzaga is a great rebounding team but they are going against an outstanding one in North Carolina so each player on the court will need to be dedicated to crashing the glass. If Gonzaga is able to control the tempo and play efficient offense they will put themselves in a good position to cut down the nets.
North Carolina wins if Joel Berry II ankles hold up and is able to play a good game. Berry struggled immensely against Oregon shooting 2 of 14 from the field and 5 of 9 from the free throw line. Berry cannot play as poorly against Gonzaga for the Tar Heels to win. North Carolina needs to out rebound Gonzaga in tonight’s matchup as they are unbeaten this year when out rebounding their opponents. If Meeks, Hicks, Bradley and Maye are able to outplay Gonzaga’s front court, the Tar Heels will be in prime position to avenge last season’s heartbreak. Pinson is North Carolina’s x factor tonight as his defense on Nigel Williams – Goss will set the tone as Williams – Goss is the focal point of the Gonzaga offense.
North Carolina 78 – Gonzaga 73
North Carolina will be cutting down the nets tonight competing their redemption story. The team has been here before and have experienced what it was like to be so close and to walk away with nothing. Tonight, they complete the mission in a tight, physical game. North Carolina will make enough shots, out rebound the Zags and defended well enough to come out on top. Tonight’s game has the making of an all time classic but the play of Meeks and Jackson will get the Tar Heels the championship.
-All statistics were used from ESPN.com and basketballreference.com unless otherwise noted.