NCAA Tournament: Championship Notes

3 Apr

SEASON PREDICTIONS: 2053-1858-89, 403-339-19

NCAA TOURNAMENT: 33-27-2, 13-10-1

Before we get to tonight’s title game, I want to thank everyone for reading and generally being positive and constructive with the feedback. It’s been another fun year talking hoops here. On to the game…

This is the first time this tournament UNC has had to play a team that’s bigger than they are, and can match or out physical them pound for pound in the frontcourt. Roy Williams plays almost exclusively a two big lineup, and Mark Few’s frontcourt with Karno, Collins, and Williams can more than matchup, and Few won’t hesitate to go jumbo just as often. Against the Heels, there are three areas you want to be able to check off 1) Can you limit their frontcourt in the post? 2) Can you limit transition opportunities? 3) Can you rebound the ball defensively? For the Zags, the answer to all three is a general yes. Per hoop-math.com, no one is tougher to score against at the rim than Gonzaga, and with such a big lineup they rebound well defensively (and they’ve already faced three of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country in WVU, XU, and USC, and limited all but WVU to below their typical offensive board rate). The real issue for Few tonight will be guarding Justin Jackson. He can’t match his height at the 3, but NWG, Perkins, and Melson can all stay in front of him. If Jackson’s jump shots are falling, it could be good night early for the Zags, as there’s essentially nothing they can do to keep him from cleaning looks over the top.

For the Zags offensively, they really have to make Meeks and Hicks guard in pnr away from the rim (Collins and Williams can accomplish this), and I think you’ll see Few test the post defense of those two against the athleticism of Collins and the pure heft of Karno. We know Roy won’t double the post and won’t adjust to that even if Collins/Karno are scoring/drawing fouls. Roy is Roy. He’s going to continue to extend his outstanding perimeter defense led by Pinson and Berry and let his bigs work alone. That was an outstanding plan against Oregon’s four out penetrate and kick, as Oregon’s motion stagnated against the extended UNC perimeter and with Bell not really being a true post scorer, the Ducks had no recourse other than a million contested jumpers over the length of Pinson and Jackson. That won’t be the case tonight against Gonzaga, who has dual posr threats and two bigs who are fluid in pnr.

The transition battle will be the game within the game. As I mentioned, UNC’s extended perimeter defense has been suffocating guards this tournament, as Pinson, Berry, and Jackson have frustrated the hell out of some of the best scorers in the country like Brooks, Dorsey, Monk, and Fox. NWG has shown he can get frustrated as well when you bottle him and get in his jersey. Few made a clearly conscious effort to avoid that against a suffocating USC defense and pushex in transition whenever the opportunity arose, and NWG is a locomotive with outstanding vision in transition. That’s why limiting UNC on the glass is of mega huge importance tonight. It’s hard to run on the Heels because they typically grab all their misses. However, if you rebound consistently, you can beat their heft down the floor. UK did it in the regular season, and even IU did too, and Collins runs the floor so well in transition for a seven footer. Of course Few on the other end has to basically send everyone back off misses because you want UNC to have to operate in the halfcourt against the best set defense in the country. UNC is lethal in transition, but their big lineup jumbles up the floor in the halfcourt, and they don’t have a spacer in that regard (unless Luke Maye has a “Kentucky game”). That said, it’s all easier said than done, and UNC’s often irrepressible transition game has found opportunities against even the best transition defenses in the country (see Oregon on Saturday). In short, UNC’s game plan is out there in bold print. It takes a minor miracle for Roy to adjust (although the switch to zone late against UK was inspired), and if you’re not able to take advantage of single post coverage, limit second chance points, and limit transition opportunities, you will lose. I think Gonzaga is more than capable of doing those three aspects (deep x factor: the ankle health of each PG as both Berry and NWG have some issues there and you hope it doesn’t have any consequence on this game).

PREDICTION: Gonzaga +1.5

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