What a story for the North Carolina Tar Heels. It’s been the kind of story-book ending for them that is one of the things we love most about sports. We all know what happened to the Tar Heels last year; when they lost in the final seconds as Kris Jenkins of Villanova sunk a heart-breaking buzzer-beater to win the game (just in case you forgot). But the fact that this team was able to bounce back, use last year’s loss as fuel for the future, and re-write the script is nothing short of awesome.
To be honest, though, this game really could have gone either way. If it weren’t for a sudden late-game run that the Tar Heels went on, Gonzaga would have won the game. It was probably one of the worst Championship games I’ve ever seen. It picked up late in the second half a little, but most of the game was plagued by sloppy play and poor shooting from both clubs.
Let’s take a look at some of the numbers. In terms of field goal percentage, Gonzaga came in at 33.9% while North Carolina came in at 35.6%. In terms of 3-point percentage, Gonzaga was pretty solid (42.1%), while North Carolina wasn’t (14.8%). Yeah, that’s right, 14.8%. Ouch. Gonzaga did a poor job protecting the basketball (14 turnovers), which was a huge reason why they lost the game. North Carolina only managed to turn the ball over 4 times, which is a big reason why they won the game. Lots of fouls took place, with each team committing 22. The stats prove that this game was very sloppy and at times frustrating to watch.
Despite the crushing defeat in the end, it was really one hell of a season for Gonzaga. After finishing the regular season 32-1, they still faced a number of doubters in the tournament due to their lack of top-level competition throughout the season. However, Mark Few’s squad was able to silence the doubters completely and prove that they belonged in the same category with the most respected teams in the nation. The championship game was a game in which many of the players who helped them get to this point just didn’t show up. Guard Nigel Williams-Goss, while he finished with 15 points, couldn’t find his shot and was only 5-17. Starting big man Przemek Karnowski (no I didn’t sneeze), who has been so great for the Bulldogs all season, was pretty much nonexistent. Shooting 1-8 from the field while collecting 4 turnovers and 4 fouls, the only spot where Karnowski was helpful was at the free throw line where he shot 7-9. Gonzaga just couldn’t get much going from most of their key players, and that is ultimately what hurt them the most.
With North Carolina, guard Joel Berry II was fantastic. Not really known for being a dynamic scorer, Berry racked up 22 points. That not only was the highest on his team, but of the entire game as well. Aside from Berry leading the way, the Tar Heels got nice contributions from star forward Justin Jackson (16 points), and big man Kennedy Meeks (7 points, 10 rebounds) who had a clutch block in the final minutes to help seal the win. This team, unlike Gonzaga, was able to get good production from their key players, which is ultimately what separated the two.
North Carolina has a big advantage that most big-time college basketball programs don’t have: consistency. Unlike Coach K’s Duke Blue Devils or John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats, who have one-and-done superstars every year, Roy Williams has the added benefit of getting to coach mostly the same group of guys for multiple seasons. Therefore a team like North Carolina is the better bet to contend for National Championships most years because they develop chemistry and a better sense of what they have to do in order to be successful. While it’s great to have dozens of one-and-done future NBA players go through your program, that puts you in a worse position to contend for national championships because you only get one season with the majority of your players. You don’t have nearly as much time to build the chemistry that leads to consistent success. That’s why you see a lot of stacked teams like ones Kentucky and Duke have had in the past not fare well once March Madness rolls along. Every year you need to start from scratch and try to transform a new group of guys into a winning team. That’s really hard. And that’s also a big reason why North Carolina is perennially successful while other powerhouses may be really good some years and not so good other years.
So, with all that being said, congratulations to Roy Williams on getting his third national championship and the North Carolina Tar Heels on erasing the bad memories created from last year. It wasnt a pretty game by any means, but a win is a win and it was definitely much deserved.