NCAA Basketball Championship Preview
IT'S A CLASH OF TITANS WHEN #1 SEEDS NORTH CAROLINA AND GONZAGA MEET FOR NCAA TITLE
Back when the 2017 NCAA Tournament began, there was talk from some pundits that we might not have any #1 seeds make it to Final Four weekend. And, if anyone was a "lock" to get there...it was Kansas because they basically got to "host" Sweet 16 and Elite 8 action.
Well, Kansas didn't get here. Villanova didn't get here. But, pre-tournament betting favorite (in the futures prices) North Carolina has made it all the way to the finals. And, virtual betting co-favorite Gonzaga is still around as well. Neither could cover the spread in this past Saturday's semifinals...winning by just 1 and 4 points respectively (both wins for Kelso!). Both had to win last second thrillers earlier in the tournament against respected computer powers Kentucky and West Virginia respectively. The 2017 Dance is down to the royal couple. Let's see how they advanced Saturday, and match up Monday...
Gonzaga 77, South Carolina 73
2-point Shooting: S. Carolina 39%, Gonzaga 49%
Three Pointers: S. Carolina 7/20, Gonzaga 9/19
Free Throws: S. Carolina 16/22, Gonzaga 10/13
Rebounds: S. Carolina 36, Gonzaga 40
Turnovers: S. Carolina 5, Gonzaga 12
Phantom Score: S. Carolina 72, Gonzaga 80
For you first timers, Phantom Score is a handy stat that estimates what a final score "should" have been based on key fundamentals that loom large in tournament basketball. It's simply the sum of two-point scoring plus total rebounds. It was virtually on the money in BOTH of Saturday's matchups. This tells you how important those two fundamental categories are, and always have been since we invented that stat more than a decade ago! Gonzaga wasn't quite able to win by that Phantom projection because of a loss in the turnover category. This gives you a hint of what's going to happen Monday night. Gonzaga doesn't force turnovers. They dare you to drive at their bigs. North Carolina will be happy to oblige. On the whole, GREAT offensive stats from a Gonzaga team that was facing a very tough defense.
North Carolina 77, Oregon 76
2-point Shooting: Oregon 47%, N. Carolina 36%
Three Pointers: Oregon 7/26, N. Carolina 8/21
Free Throws: Oregon 25/28, N. Carolina 19/27
Rebounds: Oregon 43, N. Carolina 43
Turnovers: Oregon 16, N. Carolina 11
Phantom Score: Oregon 73, N. Carolina 77
This might have been the least dramatic one-point game ever. North Carolina seemed comfortably ahead most of the way in terms of the straight up victory. They gagged the finish...but Oregon couldn't do anything about it because the Ducks couldn't rebound when it mattered most. North Carolina made up for poor shooting inside by winning the turnover battle and shooting better on treys. Definitely a point of concern for the Tar Heels that they had trouble making shots fall inside the paint. That challenge will be even tougher vs. Gonzaga.
Now we move to the key handicapping stats which are gathered from publicly available computer information from college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy and USA Today computer whiz Jeff Sagarin.
Gonzaga: #1 at Kenpom, #1 at Sagarin
N. Carolina: #3 at Kenpom, #2 at Sagarin
Sagarin has these teams 1-2. And, at this point you have to question Pomeroy about why he doesn't (Villanova is still #2 in his). Clearly the best two teams in the country, even if this kind of a watered down season with no real major conference superpowers. Carolina has moments where they're that good...but can't sustain excellence. Gonzaga is a very good team that's been blessed with an easy regular season scheduled, followed by a manageable postseason schedule. Should be a great game...but both of these teams would be dogs to the best Kentucky teams in the recent Calipari era. Many in the markets believe this North Carolina team would be a short dog to last year's National runner-up.
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
Gonzaga: 119.3 per 100 possessions (#12 in the nation)
N. Carolina: 120.9 per 100 possessions (#7 in the nation)
Both offenses have a lot of weaponry. Both offenses can score inside, or kick it out to make three pointers. They actually do things in very similar ways. North Carolina has more speed and more depth. Gonzaga plays more in control even while playing at speed. Otherwise, same philosophies.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
Gonzaga: 86.6 per 100 possessions (#1 in the nation)
N. Carolina: 93.2 per 100 possessions (#16 in the nation)
Gonzaga probably wouldn't grade out as the best defense in the nation if they had to play full major conference schedule. That would take its toll on them. But, they certainly emphasize this side of the floor with players who know how to defend. The old "defense wins championships" saw is already a lock be true again this season, as is the one about having quality guards.
N. Carolina: #42
You saw Gonzaga race up and down the floor in the first half against South Carolina. They got the best of it doing so. That can be dangerous against North Carolina because the Heels have more scoring threats at that pace. Also, North Carolina is better able to handle foul trouble than Gonzaga is. It will be very interesting to see what Mark Few does tactically as Gonzaga coach. You don't want to take your own foot off the gas...but you don't want to race with North Carolina either.
Against the Spread
N. Carolina: 19-16-3
Gonzaga's cooled off in terms of covering spreads in the tournament. They didn't get the money against South Carolina or Northwestern, and were lucky to push against West Virginia. North Carolina has had trouble playing to expectations vs. quality of late as well. The pointspread value these teams offer comes in their ability to run away and hide from mediocrities. Not much help for handicappers here we're afraid.