National Championship

North Carolina vs. Gonzaga: The Game That We Wanted and Needed to See

This year’s national championship may not feature Kansas, Duke or Kentucky. It may not have the potential top pick in the NBA draft and it may not be the championship that sports fans wanted to see. However, it’s the championship that we needed to see.

National Championship

UNC looks to avenge their lose in last years National Championship game afer a last second shot by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins (Photo/Greg Nelson).

It’s the championship that we as kids all dream of playing in. We may not be participating in it, but we get to witness it. Two teams with everything to prove, chasing their dreams of being a national champion.

Granted, both teams are in two very different scenarios. On one side you have UNC coming off of potentially the most devastating loss in national championship history last year. On the other hand you have a Gonzaga team looking to make school history and solidify themselves in college basketball history.

UNC is largely the same team that understandably went sobbing into the locker room after last year’s national championship. After Kris Jenkins of Villanova hit what many to believe to be the most iconic shot in NCAA championship game history, UNC was left devastated. We saw Villanova cutting down the nets, not UNC.

They’re not the only one’s who believe they have something to prove.

Gonzaga’s basketball program has been criticized for not playing in a tough conference. Those on the east coast, who don’t get to see them play on a normal basis, believe the program could be bad for basketball. Now after years and years of Gonzaga disappointment in the NCAA tournament, they are finally here.

A league dominated by the Duke’s and Kentucky’s one-and-done players, UNC and Gonzaga tend to do it a little bit differently.

UNC has six returning key players, all upperclassmen, and all apart of last year’s team. Instead of dwelling on the past, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Kennedy Meeks, Nate Britt, Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson continue to look forward.

When asked about last year’s national championship, Pinson said, “It keeps giving us ammo, it makes us want to get here again and again.”

National Championship

Gonzaga players celebrate after their Final Four victory over South Carolina Saturday (Photo/ David J. Phillip).

Gonzaga, on the other hand, has their own motivation factor. Despite the motivation of making school history, the Bulldogs look to their own past for a little motivation.

Gonzaga has players from all over the globe, including Przemek Karnowski from Poland, freshman Rui Hachimura from Japan and Killian Tillie, who is a freshman from France. In order to stay in contact, what else would a bunch of young men in this day in age do? Start a group chat.

Some of it’s inside jokes most people wouldn’t understand. Other times it’s just to stay in touch. It is also for motivation. For instance, junior guard and the leader of this Bulldog team, Nigel Williams-Goss, posted the infamous video of sobbing Adam Morrison after Gonzaga’s loss to UCLA in the Sweet 16 in 2006 and simply wrote “Not this year fellas.”

The tiny Jesuit school versus an all powerful college basketball franchise, it sounds like a David and Goliath scenario. But it’s not.

These are the two best teams in college basketball, and we get it for the last game of college basketball this year. North Carolina is 40 minutes away from redemption. Gonzaga is 40 minutes away from program history. We can’t ask for anything better than that.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Mark Few and Crew Working toward First Final Four Appearance

Few coaches have been as dominant in their conference as Mark Few. Few entered the year with the highest winning percentage among active coaches. With Gonzaga at 10-0, Few has done nothing to hurt that. Currently at 475 career wins, sometime at the end of this season or the beginning of next he will reach 500. There has only been one season in Few’s tenure that the Bulldogs did not win the West Coast Conference regular season or tournament title. Additionally, he will reach 18 consecutive tournament appearances barring a titanic implosion.

Those are all great stats, but there is one glaring accomplishment missing: A Final Four Appearance. Under Few the West Coast juggernaut has been to six Sweet Sixteens, one of those turning into an Elite Eight appearance. Despite all of the tournament appearances and wins he has amassed, none have begotten a Final Four.

This year is a game changer for him. Better yet, a tournament changer. His team has the ability to go deep into the tournament. A strong combination of new faces and returnees has made this team as balanced as ever.

Przemek Karnowski is more than a big body, he also has grace for the Bulldogs. (Photo courtesy of bustingbrackets.com)

Przemek Karnowski is more than a big body, he also has grace for the Bulldogs. (Photo courtesy of bustingbrackets.com)

Przemek Karnowski’s return to the floor is the biggest impact for the team thus far.  The stand out center played 5 games in 2015-16 before being sidelined with a back issue. Listed at 7-1 and 288 pounds, he is definitely a big body but there is more to him. He is one of the most graceful passers in the WCC.

This year has been no exception as he has done much more than be the team’s second leading scorer at 12.4 points per game. He has added on 6.2 rebounds per contest as well as 2.0 assists thus far. Not to mention he has accomplished everything with a highly efficient 27.7 PER. The numbers, however, do not reflect the precision with which he finds the open man cross court from the low post. Karnowski sends defenses into a tizzy by beginning his approach to the basket then flipping the ball with ease 15 feet away to a teammate.

Other significant returning players include Josh Perkins and Silas Melson.  Perkins averaged double figures for the Bulldogs in 2015-16. With the departures of Domantas Sabonas, Kyle Wiltjer and Eric McClellan he became the team’s leading returning scorer. So far he has 11.7 points per game, but shows versatility by adding in 2.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals per contest. Perkins very much buys into Few’s offense that moves the ball frequently, but he has the ability to hit the shot that the team needs when necessary.  Perkins currently sits at a 53.7% mark from three point land. Silas Melson, on the other hand, averages 7.9 points per game, 2.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists. He is doing this as the Bulldogs seventh leading scorer. The team legitimately plays eight players. Their depth and balance is one of their main strengths.

Gonzaga would be in a different place without Nigel Williams-Goss (Photo courtesy of emeraldcityswagger.com)

Gonzaga would be in a different place without Nigel Williams-Goss (Photo courtesy of emeraldcityswagger.com)

Much of that depth comes from the plethora of transfers that Mark Few has coaxed over to his Spokane. Starting from the top, there is leading scorer Nigel Williams-Goss. Williams-Goss had a productive year for the Washington Huskies but decided to bolt for greener tournament pastures. The guard has put up numbers across the board with 13.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Williams-Goss’ defensive numbers have improved as well, allowing 88.8 points per 100 possessions dropping from 104.8 with Washington.

 Jonathan Williams and Jordan Matthews are two additional transfers that have had an impact thus far. Matthews came over from California while Williams came from Missouri. Both players have seen a dip in their production from their previous locations. This does not mean that they are any less important. Each have had their respective impacts. Matthews has reached double figures in five games. This included a season high 17 points and three of five from deep in a trouncing of the Washington Huskies. For Williams it was a 16 point showing against Florida in which he made his mark. He has had a few other gems this year including 20 points against Bryant.

The balance of Few’s team reaches new heights when two freshman enter the discussion. Zach Collins is only playing 16.7 minutes per game, but is still the team’s fourth leading scorer at 10.0 points. Collins is currently shooting 69.4% from the field and has a PER of 30.5.  That is a dangerous weapon for Few to have off his bench. Killian Tillie provided more at the beginning of the year, but he currently is playing 14.7 minutes per game. In his short stints he has provided 4.7 points and 3.9 rebounds. The scary figure is the six foot ten forward’s three point percentage: 46.7%. Few can insert him at any point in the game and spread the floor. Bigger players will be made uncomfortable playing outside the paint.

Their major strength is their ability to move the ball with extreme accuracy. The Bulldogs love to get out in transition and score quickly. They also possess the ability to slow the game down offensively and create in the half court. The West Coast team also has been efficient on defense, allowing 63.1 points per game to their opponents.

Gonzaga’s diversity and versatility under Mark Few has led to several key wins already. Early in the season they have already beaten the likes of Florida, San Diego State, Arizona and Iowa State. This has led the Bulldogs to a top ten ranking by the Associated Press. This is one of the teams in the country most worth tuning in to see and come April they will be in the mix with the giant programs.