The blueblood vs. the first-timer. The old guard vs. the underdogs.
Monday night's storyline writes itself.
The 2017 NCAA men's basketball national championship game will be fought between a pair of top-seeded teams, the North Carolina Tar Heels and Gonzaga Bulldogs, at University of Phoenix Stadium. North Carolina will play in its 11th championship game and will look for its sixth title, while the Zags are in uncharted waters, making their first-ever Final Four appearance.
Who wins Monday night? Here are predictions for ABC15 sports director Craig Fouhy, sports anchor Jason Snavely and ABC15.com sportswriter Shane Dale.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs have had their doubters because they play in the weaker West Coast Conference, and their last two games in the tournament were against upstarts -- 11th-seeded Xavier and No. 7 seed South Carolina.
But senior center Przemek Karnowski is a load inside, along with freshman 7-footer Zach Collins, who many predict will be a future first-round NBA draft choice. He had 14 points against the Gamecocks in the semifinals, setting career highs with 13 rebounds and six blocked shots.
They’ll be matched up in part against North Carolina senior Kennedy Meeks. He’s not often called on to be a leading scorer, but when the Tar Heels went cold against Oregon, Meeks dominated with 25 points on 11 of 13 shooting. He added 14 rebounds, eight on the offensive glass. North Carolina leads the country in rebounding margin and offensive rebounds.
But despite all that, I’m going with my heart, and I want to see the Zags win their first national championship. Why? Because it’s just good for basketball! Gonzaga 78, North Carolina 73
It’s going to be tough to top the excitement of the semifinals this weekend at University of Phoenix Stadium, but this year's national championship between Gonzaga and North Carolina will find a way. Expect to see one of the most physical college basketball games you’ve seen in quite some time. There are many different matchups to watch in this one.
Up top, I believe the Bulldogs have the edge with their star point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who’s dangerous even on a bum ankle. As for the frontcourt? This will be an epic battle of the behemoths. The main event: UNC’s Kennedy Meeks vs. Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski.
But here’s why the Zags also have the edge in the paint: They have a bonus 7-footer in freshman Zach Collins, and the frosh is playing some of his best basketball late in the tournament. Gonzaga 74, North Carolina 72
Gonzaga's road to the national championship game, both in the regular season and the tournament itself, has been a cakewalk compared to North Carolina's. The Tar Heels have beaten three teams in this tourney -- Oregon, Kentucky and Butler -- that are better than any team the Zags have faced.
That's not to say Gonzaga doesn't belong in Monday night's title game. The Zags are one of the most well-rounded teams in the nation, and few opponents (including South Carolina in Saturday's semifinal) have been able to cope with their size. In fact, Gonzaga is the nation's 11th-best rebounding team.
But Gonzaga hasn't faced a team with the size and depth as North Carolina, which is by far the nation's best team in terms of rebounding margin. North Carolina senior Kennedy Meeks, who's coming off the best game of his collegiate career and is capable of neutralizing Gonzaga's 300-pound Polish monster, Przemek Karnowski.
Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss has been outstanding for the Zags, but the difference Monday will be UNC junior forward Justin Jackson, a matchup nightmare who's averaging 20 points per game in this tournament. Jackson and the battle-tested Tar Heels will win the national championship that Villanova denied them in last year's title game, and they'll do so in convincing fashion. North Carolina 78, Gonzaga 67