Photo courtesy of Manningmbd
In a tournament which featured inexperienced schools getting their first chances at Final Four glory, it was the University of North Carolina, one of the sport’s most prestigious schools of all-time, that ended up cutting down the nets. The Tar Heels avenged last year’s final loss to Villanova by beating Gonzaga 71-65 to win the school’s third title in the last 12 years, and sixth total. The title was also UNC head coach Roy Williams’ third title, becoming just the sixth men’s basketball coach in Division I NCAA history to win at least three titles.
The national championship game on April 3 certainly was not one of the prettiest in recent memory. Both teams shot under 36 percent from the field, which included UNC shooting a horrendous 4-of-27, just 14.8 percent, from three-point range. It certainly was not expected from two teams that were ranked as two of the best teams in the nation in offensive efficiency during the season to have such a poor offensive showing. An equally shocking statistic showed the game having almost as many fouls called, 44, as shots made during the game, 46. The infamous men in stripes known as referees called more than a foul per minute, causing a disruption in game flow and leaving fans, both at the game and watching on TV, scratching their heads and asking themselves, “What now?” 12 minutes into the second half, 21 fouls had already been called in that half alone. On more than one occasion during the game, Jim Nantz and the CBS broadcasting crew commented on the absurd amount of foul calls, echoing the frustration of fans across the nation.
Despite the referees stealing part of the spotlight, UNC ultimately took matters into their own hands to capture the crown. The Tar Heels grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, a common theme during their March Madness run, and forced Gonzaga into committing 14 turnovers. UNC used the size in its frontcourt, led by Kennedy Meeks, to bully the opposition all tournament long on the boards. This was complimented by Justin Jackson and Final Four Most Outstanding Player Joel Berry in the backcourt. Proving to be one of the more consistent teams all season long by winning the ACC regular season title, UNC would not allow a repeat of last year’s final loss.
UNC entered this tournament’s Final Four as the only school with experience; Oregon had not reached a Final Four since 1939, and both Gonzaga and South Carolina had never reached a Final Four in school history. Apart from UNC, having entered the tournament as one of the favorites, the other teams headed into the Final Four with a chip on their shoulders having to prove the doubters wrong. In many brackets and according to the experts, Gonzaga was going to be the first No. 1 seed to be upset in the tournament, despite having only one loss all year. Oregon’s best interior defender, Chris Boucher, went down with an injury and missed the tournament, causing the seeding committee to drop the Ducks to a No. 3 seed for the tournament. South Carolina, as a No. 7 seed, had 150-1 odds to win the tournament. Out of the near 19 million brackets filled out on ESPN, only 0.001 percent of brackets picked the Final Four teams correctly this year.