Gonzaga vs. North Carolina, 8:20 p.m., Ch. 4
Two No. 1 seeds facing off in the NCAA championship game don’t seem like a story of David vs. Goliath. When you say the names North Carolina and Gonzaga, it’s hard not to think about the haves vs. the have-nots in college basketball. But it’s simply not the case. The Tar Heels’ annual operating budget is reportedly $7.5 million, not that far ahead of the Zags’ $7.4 million. Both teams are top 20 in the nation in offensive and defensive efficiency. Both teams have college and former prep All-Americas (freshman Zach Collins was the first McDonald’s All-America recruit for Gonzaga last year). What are the major differences? Program history and coaching experience in the big game. North Carolina has made 20 Final Fours and won five championships. Mark Few had never been to a Final Four and now is in his first championship game. Roy Williams could pass Tar Heels legend Dean Smith with his third title in six championship appearances.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Gonzaga: NBA scouts were salivating over the 7-foot Zach Collins for Gonzaga when he put up 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks Saturday against South Carolina. Collins dunked, hit three-pointers, played defense and crashed the boards. He can do it all. He seems destined to be the Zags’ first one-and-done player if he has a big championship game. But junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss could be the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player if he plays anything close to Saturday’s performance (23 points and six assists against South Carolina).
North Carolina: How about the intriguing center matchup between 7-1, 300-pound Przemek Karnowski vs. 6-10, 260-pound Kennedy Meeks, who had 25 points and 14 rebounds Saturday? Meeks has been a rebounding machine in the tournament, with four straight double-digit games, including 17 rebounds vs. Kentucky. His first 20-point game since Jan. 21 helped make up for poor shooting from Isaiah Hicks (two points, 1-for-12 from the field). Forward Justin Jackson leads the Tar Heels with 20.2 points per game in the tournament.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Zags win if: They can make at least eight three-pointers. Five of North Carolina’s seven losses this season have come when opponents have reached that mark. Gonzaga’s only loss came when it shot 3-for-16 from beyond the arc against Brigham Young.
Tar Heels win if: They can dominate the offensive glass. North Carolina, the nation’s top rebounding team, narrowly escaped Oregon 77-76, thanks to two offensive boards that followed four missed free throws in the closing seconds.
By the numbers
8 Times that two No. 1 seeds have played each other in the NCAA championship game.
10 North Carolina players who were on last year’s national runner-up team that lost to Villanova.
38 NCAA record for wins in a season that Gonzaga can tie with Kentucky (2011-12 and 2014-15)
PREDICTION: Gonzaga 77, North Carolina 74