Slaying the sportsbook is a monstrous task. Some days bettors take up residence in a penthouse suite. Other times, they curl up in the nearest ditch, shirtless. In an attempt to avoid complete destitution, I will post my picks, whether profitable or penniless, through the NCAA tourney. Check out National Title selections below:
For the cursory viewer a national title clash between ACC and WCC schools is bound to be a lopsided affair. After all, most pundits east of the Mississippi widely believed the former league was the greatest conference Zeus ever created. To critics, a piddling Jesuit school from Spokane doesn’t stand a chance against Michal Jordan-U.
Though UNC has reached college basketball’s ceiling – or is it the roof, MJ? – it will have a difficult time puncturing through it.
Gonzaga, undoubtedly the most complete team to take the floor this season, is beautifully balanced, deep and sports the stingiest defense in the land. Its length, immovable meat in the post and execution whether in zone or man has typically left opponents vexed. In the NCAA Tournament, the Zags have surrendered just 0.89 points per possession, thwarted shots, generated numerous second-chance opportunities and sealed off the defensive glass. Shem Karnowski, Final Four hero Zach Collins, Jonathan Williams and French import Killian Tillie possess the size and skills to neutralize Carolina in the post, a critical component.
In the backcourt, the Bulldogs own the starkest advantage. Nigel Williams-Goss, who earned AP All-American second team honors, has delivered in every facet this postseason. His creativity off-dribble, crisp distributions and all-points scoring have wrecked the opposition (17.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg in NCAAT). He’s flanked by sharpshooter Jordan Matthews (39.2 3PT%) and supported by adept backups Silas Melson and Josh Perkins, a deadly and productive quadruple. How they penetrate, dish, protect the ball and sprint back on defense will be paramount.
Throughout this NCAA Tournament, North Carolina has walked the tightrope, but somehow kept its footing. It faced near deaths against Arkansas, Kentucky and Oregon, but still emerged the victor. Its underrated blanketing defense have overcome numerous scoring lulls. Equipped with a number of long drinks, the Heels alter many shots, both inside and out, and can force plentiful turnovers. But it’s on the offensive glass where Carolina really makes its hay. In the Dance UNC has logged a second chance on an astounding 39.8 percent of its possessions, none bigger than the pair off missed free throws to finish off Oregon. In that area, Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks are extremely difficult to contain.
Bottom line, each team has its advantages. For Carolina, it’s Jackson. Can Jonathan Williams prevent a 30-point explosion? Meanwhile, for Gonzaga, it’s Williams-Goss. Will Joel Berry and his rickety ankles keep the point man at bay? Ultimately, I foresee Mark Few going zone more often than not to pack the paint, limit Carolina offensive boards and dare a below average three-point shooting opponent (31.4 3PT% in the tourney) to beat him. The Bulldogs’ ability to get back in transition and control tempo will also be key. Achieve in those areas and the Zags will check another box off their wish list.
Naysayers, who probably also believe Cristiano Ronaldo’s bust is spot on, continue to spit venom at Gonzaga’s West Coast affiliation, unfavorable postseason history and supposedly “easy” championship game path, which is unfair. Ask the Big 12, Arizona, Duke and Florida about the legitimacy of West Virginia, Xavier and South Carolina. And let’s not forget North Carolina faced a 46 (16, 9, 5, 6, 10) seed total, the same as Gonzaga’s, in last year’s tourney before getting upended by Villanova. Point blank, they need to give credit were credit is due. The one-loss Zags have been the unrivaled best team in the country this season.
I picked Gonzaga to win the national title midseason and doubled down before the tourney tipped. There’s zero reason to put the guns away now. The Bulldogs are cocked, locked and primed to hoist the hardware in another postseason first.
Fearless Forecast: Gonzaga (+1.5) 76 North Carolina 73
BONUS PICK: Under 154
More Final Four coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Here’s the most crucial aspect of Monday’s UNC-Gonzaga title game
• Phil Knight, Nike have ‘an interest’ in Lonzo Ball, but $1 billion is ‘a little steep’
• How Grant Hill went from having ‘no clue’ to calling the Final Four
• Gonzaga coach, 54, celebrates win with handstand
Throw elbows at Brad on Twitter @YahooNoise