2017 NCAA Basketball National Championship Prediction
Mark Few has long built impressive teams up in Spokane, Washington, but there is a different feel about this Gonzaga squad. They are the deepest and most talented they maybe have ever been, and have so many offensive weapons it is dizzying at times. The conservation begins with Nigel Williams-Goss, a great story within himself. Williams-Goss was a big-name recruit who didn't win enough at Washington so he joined the Bulldogs. His amazing poise, playmaking ability and finishing touch have led him to become Gonzaga's leading scorer, and their leader. He is, however, far from their only option on the offensive side of the ball. Przemek Karnowski is 7'1" and weighs in at over 300 pounds, yet still has the footwork and mobility of somebody much smaller. Karnowski is not a guy that will take over games but the Polish big man is an absolute force on the block, and should give a deep UNC frontcourt constant headaches. He is aided by true freshman Zach Collins, who put on a show in the Bulldogs Final Four victory over South Carolina. Collins was a highly touted prospect out of Las Vegas, but has still surprised many with his wonderful production all season long. His offensive versatility is extremely impressive and his length defensively is a major factor. He looked like the best player on the court in that win, and NBA scouts love his insane upside. Missouri transfer Jonathan Williams gives the Bulldogs another wiry forward to work with inside, while fellow transfer Jordan Matthews (California) is a tremendous scorer. Add in valuable sophomore guard Josh Perkins, the go-to ball-handler and Gonzaga has a ton of weapons. This offense plays very smart and composed, and that should serve them well no matter the opponent. Yet, if there is a huge question mark for this team, it is their lulls offensively. They aren't incredibly common, but there have been many times over the course of the year where the offense has disappeared (like it did late against South Carolina). The thing is, the defense has stepped up or the opponent hasn't been able to step up usually, but that isn't going to be the case with the Tar Heels. If 'Zaga has a stretch where they can't score, it could be game over. With Williams-Goss, Karnowski and Collins, it shouldn't be a question but it is the biggest worry I have for this team going into the National Championship.
For UNC, the Tar Heels have been terrific all season long, despite the absence of two cornerstones from last year's team, Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige. Much of their success can be contributed to the wild improvement of many veterans, namely Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson. Berry has been wonderful taking over the reigns of the offense from Paige, but is far from 100 percent entering this one. He is struggling with ankle problems, and his health was a major reason for his struggles in their Final Four victory over Oregon. Even if he struggles again, the Tar Heels have many options to pick up the flack, namely Jackson. The junior has long been an athletic swingman that can score close to the rim but his improvement from three-point land has made him extremely dangerous. He played terrific against the Ducks, and is such a tough defensive matchup, which should give Gonzaga some problems. Another huge reason for UNC's Final Four victory was the forceful play of Kennedy Meeks, who recorded a double-double. Meeks has cut down his weight significantly since he arrived in Chapel Hill but at 260-plus pounds he can still push around smaller defenders and become a major impact on the glass, particularly offensively. Meeks and Karnowski should give us quite the battle in the low post, and a battle that could well decide the game. In order for the Heels to win this one, they will need fellow forward Isaiah Hicks to play much better than he has in this tournament. Hicks is a polished finisher around the rim and he can run the floor, but he has still been terribly inconsistent. If he can form a scary punch underneath with Meeks, this team should have that consistent scoring they need to overcome such a talented 'Zaga team. Much like Gonzaga, however, the concerns about their offense over the course of 40 minutes are there. The Tar Heels are so good when they are playing well, but they let Oregon back into the game last night, a trend they have done so often this year.
Talent and experience-wise it is completely understandable why these two teams are the ones left standing heading into the National Championship on Monday night. Yet, both of these teams have questions they need to address in order to finish the job. For Gonzaga, can Karnowski and Collins overpower UNC down low? Can their inconsistent offense play great over the course of the entire game? For North Carolina they need Berry to hopefully feel better and play better in this one and also ensure they don't allow the Bulldogs back into the game themselves if they are able to get a lead. I've gone back and forth on who is going to win this one, because both are deep and balanced and they match up really well against each other. Yet, with Berry's health a serious question and Hicks struggling, my pick is Gonzaga. This team has heard for years they can win all they want in the regular season but aren't good enough to do anything significant in March. With the weapons they have everywhere, and a chip on their shoulder, I like them to win a thriller, and finally bring a National Title to the Pacific Northwest.
Gonzaga by four