March Madness 2017: Gonzaga, North Carolina meetBy Matt Verderame
There is an old saying that opposites attract. Apparently, that holds true in college basketball. The North Carolina Tar Heels are the only men’s basketball program to get into the Final Four on 20 different occasions. The Gonzaga Bulldogs are currently in their first Final Four, after years and years of frustration in earlier rounds.
Now, the two teams will clash on Monday night in the National Championship, both looking to exorcise demons.
For Roy Williams and his Tar Heels, the memories of last year must linger night and day. It was a season ago that North Carolina reached the title game and squared off against the Villanova Wildcats, only to be beaten at the buzzer on a last-second shot off the fingertips of Kris Jenkins.
Despite the championships won in the career of Williams and the history of North Carolina, this particular group feels an acute pain. It’s a pain that can be numbed forever with one more win. One more great game.
Gonzaga is hoping to finally get the respect it so richly deserves. While nobody thinks of the Bulldogs as a Cinderella team or even much of a mid-major for that matter, they remain a school that flies under the radar. Playing on the West coast in the aptly named West Coast Conference, few people on the east cost ever see the Bulldogs while they steamroll opponents. Most only see the NCAA Tournament, where head coach Mark Few and his team has felt nothing but heartbreak.
Now, all that separates Few and his team from ultimate glory is 40 minutes and one of the best programs ever assembled. North Carolina has the size to matchup with Gonzaga, featuring Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks on the front line to go with Joel Berry II in the backcourt. Still the Bulldogs boast a bevy of size on the interior with foreign-born Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins. Both are seven-footers who can control the paint on both ends of the floor, evidenced by Collins’ career-best six blocks in the national semifinal against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
On Monday night, one of these programs will be erasing painful memories. It will be a moment of either adding to a long line of championships, or changing the perception of a program forever. Depending on where you come from and who you pull for, one storyline might be more appealing than the other. Regardless, both are true and both carry weight.
Forty minutes. Two teams. Two legacies. Other than that, it should be a walk in the park for these young men, who have nothing but history and dreams staring them in the face.