March Madness Final - A Deserving Conclusion!
It started with 68 hopeful teams on 16th March vying for the chance to compete in the NCAA Championship final. After two weeks of electrifying basketball, full of the thrills, spills and some madness, we are down to two teams. Not just any two teams, but two powerhouse teams: Gonzaga Bulldogs vs North Carolina Tar Heels. Both number one seeds in their respective divisions, they will face off for the Championship Title on Monday night in a packed Phoenix stadium.
Many pundits and spectators agree that the matchup of North Carolina (UNC) and Gonzaga (Zags) is the grandstand finish this tournament needed. The cheapest tickets are said to be selling for $133 each. In Saturday's Semis, Gonzaga outstayed a briefly resurgent South Carolina (77-73) and North Carolina grimly hung on to shatter Oregon Ducks (77-76) dreams. Oregon exit the tournament ruing missed chances to play in a first final since 1939.
A toss up of a final that is so tight to call has divided opinion on who will be crowned champions. The buzz building up to this game is what finals are all about. When you start comparing the finalist's strengths and weaknesses, you realize why this game is a tough one to call.
Online bookmakers narrowly favor North Carolina by 1.5 points. In such a tight game with so many key questions to consider, it makes finding profitable bet lines a bit more challenging. A bit like trying to guess the outcome of a casino table game such as blackjack when unknown, wild-card punters suddenly join the table and stir things up. But the pre-game betting value is with Gonzaga and pro-bettors have been heavily backing the Zags.
Make no mistake, this is no David and Gmarch madnboliath clash. Sure, this is the Bulldogs first ever final. Jokes about Gonzaga being a backwater Jesuit college are no longer fair or justified. They may have never got past the elite Eight round before but their program is well run and financed. You would be wise to ignore any romantic misgivings that this is in anyway a mismatch in terms of quality.
North Carolina credentials
The main reason, maybe the only real reason why North Carolina is narrow favorites is experience. Defeated finalists last year after Villanova stole the title when Kris Jenkins drained a remarkable buzzer-beater. That shot has been a difficult pill to swallow for this UNC squad. Many of UNC's star players are in their fourth and final year of college football. Avenging that defeat and vanquishing the locker room hurt is all the motivation these guys need.
In their last two games, it seems that experience got them through. Against both Kentucky and Oregon, neutrals felt that UNC rode lady luck to the limit to scrape by. Will they be able to pull off one last Houdini act in Monday's final or have they drained the luck bucket dry already this year? Forty minutes of basketball will give us that answer.
If that was not enough drama, North Carolina have point guard, Joel Berry II out there playing with two sprained ankles. Poor figures in the Semis were hardly surprising. Two days rest is not enough recovery time so it will be interesting to see if he can improve in any big way.
UNC are the best rebound offensive outfit, they have maximized second-chance opportunities into points. Add to that UNC know how to have fun and relax between big games are the credentials many believe sway momentum in the Tar Heels favor.
Gonzaga Bulldogs credentials
This Zags team have only lost once in 38 games this season, boast the meanest defense and have added a poignant offense to their arsenal in 2017. They have discovered what all Championship title contenders need to, the ability to win basketball games.
Even when their "A" game is not firing on all cylinders the team from Spokane have been masters at closing out games. This was clearly evident against South Carolina. You wonder if there will be any way back for UNC should they find themselves playing catch-up in the fourth quarter.
Not only do coach Mark Few's team boast the best defensive record this year, squad rotation has made it impossible to identify any real weaknesses in their team. The Zags will not care about the Tar Heels quest for redemption one bit and will keep on coming at UNC.
One thing is for certain, whoever gets to cut the nets after this year's final will write a story remembered long after the final buzzer has sounded.