For just the 8th time in the history of college basketball two #1 seeds will face off tonight for game's highest honor (of note three of the prior instances -- 1982, 1993, and 2005 resulted in UNC titles). Gonzaga and North Carolina have teams worthy of cutting the nets in Phoenix. Gonzaga can beat North Carolina if their shooters are hot, they defend well and their big men can match up with the Heels' size inside.
However, I think most people offering predictions are overlooking two rather significant factors in UNC's favor. The first is that UNC is by far the best team Gonzaga has played this season. The Zags strung together impressive, albeit not overwhelmingly decisive, wins over Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona (without Allonzo Trier) in the first few months of the season then rampaged through a weak West Coast Conference (which has four teams ranked below Boston College in Kenpom). In the tournament the Zags have taken care of business, but its hard to deny that they've enjoyed a somewhat beneficial draw, facing an 11 and 7 seed in the Elite Eight and Final Four, respectively. And look, you don't win 37 games and beat teams like West Virginia without being a really good team. But in UNC Gonzaga is for the first time all season facing down a team that can match them in terms of depth, talent, and balance. On the other hand the Tar Heels have played at least seven games against teams on par with Gonzaga.
The second factor is that in winning their 37 games Gonzaga hasn't faced much adversity. According to Ken Pomeroy the Zags have trailed by double digits for all of 17 seconds this season. In some ways of course that is a testament to the Zags greatness, but at the same time UNC is a team capable of throwing a haymaker or two during a game. Its plausible that if UNC at any point goes on a run to take a significant lead, the inexperience of Gonzaga in dealing with such a situation could cause them to panic.
Which brings me to the pick. There are plenty of reasons to doubt North Carolina. Joel Berry has not been himself this tournament due to multiple ankle sprains. Isaiah Hicks has failed to be the factor he was in the win versus Duke at the Smith Center. Yet I think in somethe pressure to make it back to this night that weighed heavy on this team may have been lifted after Saturday night. I think UNC comes out of the gate with an early haymaker, gets a double digit lead in the first half, Gonzaga hits some threes to make a run in the second but then ultimately runs out of gas. UNC gets NCAA title number 6.
UNC 91, Gonzaga 75