From 64 to two, Gonzaga Bulldogs and North Carolina Tar Heels remain the last teams standing in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship tournament. They’ll play for the coveted title on Monday night (9:20 PM ET on CBS) at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
When it comes to Gonzaga, the Bulldogs are not your typical one-seed. Representing the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga is no powerhouse. In fact, their rise to prominence has been met with as much as surprise as it has been skepticism. The Bulldogs have shattered every expectation and gotten past every hurdle just to find themselves in the national tournament and as a one-seed. Now, just one last obstacle stands in their way of finishing their Cinderella story that began several years ago.
Meanwhile, their opponent is one of college basketball’s absolute best, a perennial participant in the Final Four and beyond. North Carolina has won five championships, which is tied for third most of all-time. The Tar Heels have reached 20 Final Fours, which is the most in tournament history. They have the experience on their side, not to mention, this is the second straight year they’ll be vying for college basketball’s biggest prize.
This is probably one of the most interesting championship finals in some time and both teams are definitely fighting for history. If their early games are any indication, this should be a great matchup. This preview will analyze it a little closer before deciding on our predictions and betting picks.
Offensive Efficiency to Play Big Role
North Carolina escaped the Final Four by little more than the skin of their teeth against No. 3 ranked Oregon. The Ducks had their opportunities late in the game thanks to UNC’s terrible free throw shooting, but in the end a little bit of luck helped the Tar Heels get over the line.
That being said, offensively, North Carolina was less than efficient, shooting just 37 percent from the floor. From the free throw line, they were just 19-of-27, which is just over 70 percent. In any other game North Carolina’s shooting woes probably would have cost them but fortunately Oregon didn’t shoot much better. While the Ducks were fantastic from the free throw line, it was their three-point shooting, just under 27 percent compared to 38 percent for North Carolina, and 16 turnovers compared to 11 for North Carolina, which largely made the difference.
Gonzaga on the other hand, shot fantastically against No. 7 South Carolina. The Bulldogs hit on 48 percent of their shots, including 47 percent from three-point range. With South Carolina playing a near blemish-free game, committing just five turnovers, Gonzaga needed every last bit of that lethal shooting performance to come away with the four-point win.
Over the course of the season, Gonzaga was one of the NCAA’s most efficient teams offensively, ranking fifth in that category, compared to 10th for North Carolina. On Monday, those numbers are going to come into play because if Gonzaga continues to shoot the way they did on Saturday and during the regular season and North Carolina repeats their performance in the Final Four, this is going to be the second straight year the Tar Heels come up short.
Can UNC Compete with Gonzaga’s Size?
Compared to North Carolina, boasting a lineup of all five upperclassmen who played in last year’s championship final, Gonzaga is outclassed. But what the Bulldogs lack in experience, they make up in size in a big way.
During the regular season North Carolina excelled because they often were able to win the size advantage against their opponents. This helped the Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounds per game, a crucial element in getting second chance opportunities, and in total rebounds per game as well. Against Oregon, the offense suffered but defensively North Carolina was carried thanks to 17 offensive rebounds and over 40 overall. Kennedy Meeks alone, who led the team with 25 points, also had 14 rebounds, making the paint his own personal playground.
North Carolina has never faced a team like Gonzaga, which out-bodies them and has the clear height advantage as well.
Gonzaga’s frontcourt is comprised of four players who are 6’9 or taller. This includes 7’1, 300 lb, Przemek Karnowski (pictured), who scored 13 points in Gonzaga’s Final Four win in just 25 minutes on the court. Karnowski has been a big piece of Gonzaga’s run thus far and if this game does turn into a battle of the bigs, the advantage will belong to him and his Bulldog teammates.
This Preview’s Gonzaga Bulldogs vs North Carolina Tar Heels Predictions & Picks Verdict
Is this the year of the underdog or does the perennial powerhouse add another trophy to the case?
Both teams have shown that they are legitimate contenders and proven worthy of their top seeds and of their place in this final game of the season. When it comes down to it, not much separates the two outside of experience, which disproportionately favors the Tar Heels. But Gonzaga has brought a passion and heart that is unmatched. They are clearly the sentimental and crowd favorites.
Recent betting trends have not been kind to the Bulldogs as far as their ATS record goes. Gonzaga is just 1-3-1 ATS in their last five games. However, North Carolina hasn’t fared much better, going 2-3-1 ATS in their last six. The spread we’re looking at for Monday’s game is modest, just 1.5 points in favor of North Carolina (books opened at 2pts).
- During the season, Carolina covered the spread just 20 out of 39 times so put your money on Gonzaga, even with the spread sitting at just over a point. Take the Bulldogs to grab the win on the moneyline and bring home their first title in school history. When it comes to our picks and betting prediction, the best option is Gonzaga +1.5pts @ -105 betting odds with 5Dimes or Bovada Sportsbooks. It is generally -110 for the same spread with the rest of the major USA offshore sports betting sites.
- As for the total points to be scored in this NCAA championship game, it’s set at 153.5pts. It’s a fairly safe bet that the score stays under that margin given the defensive efficiency and proclivity of both teams. The best odds are -105 to go under 153.5pts with 5Dimes.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.