March Madness 2017: Tar Heels win it allBy Matt Verderame
The North Carolina Tar Heels are the national champions. North Carolina was able to topple the fellow one-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs in the title game in Glendale, winning 71-65 in front of a capacity crowd.
For the Tar Heels, it is the continuance of a great program. For the school that put forth Michael Jordan into the NBA, this is the sixth men’s basketball championship and third under Roy Williams, who continues to move up the pantheon of great head coaches.
Williams saw his team play anything but a perfect game. The Tar Heels were down three points at halftime to a Gonzaga team that couldn’t get out of its own way. Nobody is going to accuse either outfit of playing a magnificent 40 minutes, but that matters little in the final analysis. History will only remember who won, and North Carolina walks away with the net and trophy raised triumphantly.
Kennedy Meeks was brilliant in the win against the Oregon Ducks on Saturday night, but he was ineffective on Monday night. Meeks only scored seven points while collecting four fouls, rendering himself largely a bystander. Justin Jackson was a first-team All-America this year and projects to be a lottery pick for the NBA this June, but he struggled as well. Jackson scored 16 points but did so on 6-of-19 shooting. It was ugly, but it was enough.
Gonzaga out-rebounded the Tar Heels 49-46. This is notable because North Carolina was the best rebounding team in D-I basketball this year, averaging a +12 margin (per the CBS broadcast). This was the first time all year that an opponent won the rebounding battle and North Caroina was able to overcome it.
If there was one defining difference, it was the turnover battle. The Bulldogs amassed 14 turnovers, with a bevy of them coming in the second half. North Carolina only turned it over on four occasions, creating more shots for itself in a game that needed all attempts possible to score.
Now, the season is over. Gonzaga, which reached its first Final Four in program history, will go home a devastated loser. The Bulldogs have been called chokers in March for the better part of the last 20 years, and were a few plays away from changing that narrative forever. Head coach Mark Few will have to live with another defeat, this one more brutal than any of the others.
For North Carolina, its 20th trip to the Final Four resulted in a title. After losing on a buzzer-beater to Kris Jenkins and the Villanova Wildcats in last year’s championship game, the Tar Heels avenged their pain. For that effort, this collection of young men will live in lore, something that can never be taken from them.