First things first. Let’s not confuse a close game with a great game. Or even a good game. Because it wasn’t. It was an ugly game, with poor shooting, no flow or rhythm, and badly officiated.
Not that North Carolina is going to give it back, or apologize for it; especially after what happened to them last year in the finals. But make no mistake, on the sport’s biggest night and on its biggest stage, when they have a chance to hook the casual viewer that only shows up that game every year, that was not exactly Masterpiece Theater.
As for Gonzaga; I did pick them to win a close game yesterday. And they had every shot to do so. Every shot to shut everyone up once and for all about how overrated they are, that at this level, it’s a man’s game, and playing in a small conference doesn’t prepare them for the biggest stage. It did. And they proved last night they are elite. And they do belong. And I think they’ll be back. That wasn’t a great season. That is a great program. And they every shot at winning it all. And probably should have.
One of the reasons I picked Gonzaga is I just don’t see Final Four MVP Joel Berry stepping up the way he did. Busted up, on two bad wheels, he had a terrible game against Oregon in the semi-finals. My thinking was, they might be able to overcome him shooting 2-14 against the Ducks, but there’s no way they beat Gonzaga with him playing like that. That they go as he goes, and 48 hours was not going to be enough time for him to recover from his ankle injuries and the game he just had. But I was wrong. Dude showed how much heart and grit he has in leading the Tar Heels last night and ripping the MVP award for the Final Four.
That’s not the best Carolina team Roy Williams has had. Far from it. But it may be his toughest. These dudes are relentless. And so active. And they just keep coming out you. Especially in the second half when they locked the Zags up defensively. That was the difference in this one. And the fact that I’ve never seen a college team eat the offensive glass the way these dudes do. That’s the thing. You know that’s their deal. Just like you know they’re looking to get out and kill you in transition. Just as you know they’re crazy athletic and freaky long. You know all that about Carolina. It’s right there in the tape for everyone to see. But knowing it and stopping it are two different things. And just being big isn’t enough against these guys. Not with their length.
I also thought the Zags had the bigs to neutralize North Carolina in the front court. Because there is no neutralizing that crazy length. Ask that lumberjack, Przemek Karnowski. That dude looks like he goes 8-4, 480. And he couldn’t do anything with Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. Really, Karnowski didn’t do much of anything last night, on either end of the floor, other than just occupy some space. And they were going to need a helluva lot more from him than that if they were going to win. And they didn’t get it. And he knows it.
But Carolina got their redemption. And they got it on a night when they shot just 15% from beyond the arc, and just 58% from the free throw line. If you would have told me before the game that that would be their numbers, I would have told you they’re gonna get hammered. But their defensive effort in the second half and their overall relentlessness was the difference.