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It’ll either be one for the other hand, or some brand new bling, but a champion will be crowned.
In a matchup of No.1 seeds, North Carolina and Gonzaga will meet for the National Championship Monday night. Both teams have been tested throughout their postseason runs, but with all the marbles on the line , who will come up big? Gonzaga has been great, but have always came up short when it really mattered. They’re now playing in their first NCAA National Championship as a program, so their respect has been earned. North Carolina is a storied program with many legends etching their name in gold on Tobacco Road. Unfortunately, last year they were stunned by Villanova in the final seconds of last years National Championship game thanks to Kris Jenkins. So who is going to take it? Let’s discuss each teams keys to victory and finally, who will be crowned king of the NCAA tournament.
Gonzaga Keys to Win:
1. Przemek Karnowski must get the best of Kennedy Meeks in the rebounding category.
Karnowski is 7’1 300 pounder who is nimble on his feet, but Meeks is a grown man on the boards. Meeks has 31 rebounds in his last two games including 17 against Kentucky. Kanowski is not a big rebounder by statistics (5.4 rebounds per game average this season), he’s actually more of a playmaker. But with his size, boxing out Meeks to make room for primary rebounders Jonathan Williams and Zach Collins will be his biggest task to date.
2. Jordan Matthews and Nigel Williams- Goss must continue to be effective.
Williams-Goss is averaging 17 points per game this tournament and came up huge against Cinderella hopefully South Carolina with 23 points. For Gonzaga to win, he will have to repeat his heroics against North Carolina. Matthews hit Gonzaga’s biggest shot of the tournament over West Virginia to keep their season alive. He has also contributed heavily to a stout offensive attack by the Zags. They’re the two primary scorers for Gonzaga, if they come up big, the Zags will stand tall as champions.
3. Do not allow moment to overtake you.
Again, this is Gonzaga’s first National Championship game ever, so the nerves will be there. North Carolina holds the experience battle over Gonzaga, but the heart of these Zags is not to be tested. They locked down a great West Virginia team when it mattered most, and also hung on against top-tier opponents, where their knock is that they do not play top competition in the West Coast Conference. Head Coach Mark Few has led Gonzaga to 15 WCC Championships, including another this season with an astounding 37-1 record. It’s time for Gonzaga to make it happen when it counts.
North Carolina Keys to Win:
1. Experience, Experience, Experience.
North Carolina will be playing in their sixth NCAA National Championship game as a program, they were also here last year. 11 players from last season’s championship runner-up are returning for retribution including standouts Justin Jackson, Joel Berry and Kennedy Meeks. Each player has had key moments in their run to the championship game this season, resulting in their potential draft stocks to elevate. I’m sure they aren’t worried about that right now. Remember, everything is easier the second time you do it.
2. Offensively, they must control the rebounds.
Yes, scoring more points will always win you the game, but effective rebounding will make it easier for you. North Carolina is a big basketball team, they’re also statistically the best rebounding team in the country (averaging 44 rebounds per game). After missing potential clinching free throws against Oregon, who prevented Oregon from getting the ball back? Kennedy Meeks, the big man in the middle for North Carolina, also had 14 rebounds in the game. Expect second chance opportunities to be the saving grace for North Carolina yet again.
3. Action Jackson
With Joel Berry’s gimpy ankle on the mend, Justin Jackson will have to step up one more time to cut down the net for North Carolina. Jackson has shined in every game this postseason for the Tar Heels, including 22 big points against Oregon and an effective 19 in a thriller against Kentucky. Throughout the tournament, Jackson has averaged 20 points and 5 rebounds per game. Jackson withdrew from the NBA draft last season, and I believe he did so to see Carolina-blue colored confetti falling in their honor this time.
Prediction: North Carolina
Everyone needs a do-over every now and again, this is North Carolina’s time to redeem themselves. I don’t believe that Gonzaga will be able to keep North Carolina off of the boards, generating more possessions for North Carolina. The combination of Jackson and Berry will come alive, resulting in a 76-70 win over Gonzaga.