azcentral sports’ Jay Dieffenbach and Kent Somers go over their NCAA predictions and break down the National Championship Game in Glendale.
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Having trouble picking a side in the national championship game between UNC and Gonzaga? Maybe these weird factoids about each squad will help.
USA TODAY Sports
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Grand Canyon University’s student section, The Havocs, were gifted tickets by their school administration to attend the Final Four.
USA TODAY Sports
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North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson discuss what it will take to defeat Gonzaga in the national championship. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss talks about their David vs. Goliath status against North Carolina in the upcoming national championship game. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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A look at the paths taken by the remaining teams in this year’s mens NCAA basketball tournament.
By Jim Sergent and Ramon Padilla, USA TODAY.
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Oregon coach Dana Altman and players on Final Four loss to North Carolina.
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North Carolina coach Roy Williams and players react to Final Four win over Oregon.
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South Carolina coach Frank Martin and players react to Final Four loss to Gonzaga.
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Gonzaga coach Mark Few and players on win over South Carolina in Final Four.
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USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken previews the NCAA championship game, which will be a frontcourt-heavy battle between UNC and Gonzaga.
USA TODAY Sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken recaps the two Final Four semifinal games, won in nail-biters by Gonzaga and North Carolina.
USA TODAY Sports
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FINAL FOUR: Fans react as Gonzaga survives late S. Carolina rally, advances to championship 77-73. (Alden Woods/azcentral)
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Fans arrive early for the festivities before the Final Four games Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium. (Patrick Breen/azcentral)
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USA TODAY Sports’ Nicole Auerbach thinks you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t keep an eye on these players in the Final Four.
USA TODAY Sports
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South Carolina players answer the question that’s on the minds of so many college basketball fans: what the heck is a Gamecock?
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North Carolina’s Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II discuss being back to the NCAA Final Four and trying to win it all, in the locker room at University of Phoenix Stadium on March 30, 2017. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, Dylan Ennis and Casey Benson, discuss counting their blessings, meeting Kobe Bryant and playing a Final Four in their home state, respectively, in the locker room on March 30, 2017. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews and Nigel Williams-Goss talk about rising to the moment of the NCAA Final Four in the locker room at University of Phoenix Stadium on March 30, 2017. (David Wallace/azcentral sports)
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The court for the NCAA Final Four tournament is put together at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral
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Shot Clock: Breaking down UNC-Gonzaga
Six strange story lines in the national championship
The rowdiest student section at the Final Four isn’t even in the game
North Carolina on what it will take to defeat Gonzaga
Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss on their status against North Carolina
Road to the Final Four means a lot of miles traveling
Oregon reacts to heartbreaking loss in Final Four
North Carolina on advancing to 2nd title game in a row
South Carolina on tough loss to Gonzaga
Gonzaga reacts to Final Four win over South Carolina
North Carolina-Gonzaga will be throwback national title game
Semifinal games come down to final plays
Gonzaga fans in Glendale react to win over S. Carolina in NCAA semifinal
Fans pack University of Phoenix Stadium lawn for Final Four
Top players to watch in the Final Four
Gamecocks explain what a gamecock is
North Carolina on being back to the NCAA Final Four
Oregon on counting their blessings
Gonzaga on rising to the moment
Piece by piece, the court for the NCAA Final Four tournament is put together in Glendale
Admit it: Outside of the entertainment options, the local enthusiasm for this Final Four took a hit when Arizona lost in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals. It’s OK. State pride is important.
But there’s something special about Monday’s national championship between Gonzaga and North Carolina. To start, this tournament is so crazy that the two best teams don’t always reach this point. This year, that’s not the case.
North Carolina was a preseason favorite, while Gonzaga darn-near entered the tournament perfect. The Bulldogs’ only blemish is a late-season home loss to BYU, one a Gonzaga assistant Sunday called a blessing in disguise.
“I think it’s good we have that monkey off our back, so to speak,” Tommy Lloyd said, “and we can just concentrate on winning Monday.”
Three reasons why this game is important:
Death to Cinderella
For most college basketball die hards, this story line is stale, but it’s reality. Much of the general public views this matchup as David vs. Goliath. And in some ways, it makes sense. Despite Gonzaga’s 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament streak, this is the Bulldogs’ first title-game appearance.
This is North Carolina’s 11th.
In fact, the Tar Heels dribbled on this stage just last season, losing in the final second to Villanova, a memory that has fueled them this season. To many, that gives them an advantage. Don’t buy it.
“People talk about their conference (the West Coast), but they’re not 37-1 for no reason,” North Carolina forward Theo Pinson said. “They’re one of the best teams in the nation. They know that, and we know that.”
Oddsmakers list North Carolina as a slight favorite. Efficiency expert Ken Pomeroy, however, gives Gonzaga a 63 percent chance to win. The Bulldogs already have proved themselves by making the Final Four, but cutting down the nets at University of Phoenix Stadium might silence the doubters once and for all.
“We’ve heard it all year,’’ Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins said. “We weren’t supposed to be here. Weak conference. We can’t win close games. I think we’ve done enough to put that to rest.”
But if you want to play up the underdog label one last time, go ahead. They’re cool with it.
“You said David and Goliath,” Perkins said. “I think we all know what happened at the end of that story.”
You may have heard of this thing called the “East Coast bias.” It’s not fake news. It’s real. Only issue: When it comes to college basketball, the West doesn’t have much of an argument.
No team west of Kansas has won a national championship since Arizona cut down the nets in 1997. That’s a stunning streak, and it has a chance to end.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few on Sunday was asked about the eastern bias.
“We have a western bias,” he said. “I don’t think you guys know the first thing about fly fishing or getting out and enjoying (the outdoors).”
This was reflected in this week’s media sessions. The Gonzaga players spent a lot of time discussing what attracted them to a place like Spokane, Wash. (Their answers varied from nice lakes to cool sweatshirts, but they usually came around to fan support. “You can’t go nowhere without taking at least one or two pictures or signing autographs,” forward Johnathan Williams said.)
But the bias is reality.
“It’s harder for us to pay attention to the West Coast teams, them being in a different conference,” North Carolina guard Nate Britt said. “We’ve got the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, so we’re paying attention to the Big Ten teams because we know we might have to play them in the future. But me personally, I haven’t seen much of Gonzaga before I started preparing for this game.”
Chase for No. 3
With nine Final Fours, North Carolina coach Roy Williams already is a college basketball legend, but with a third national championship, he has a chance to join an elite fraternity. Only five others (John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp, Bob Knight and Jim Calhoun) have produced three or more.
Not that this is important to him. Asked what a third ring would mean for Williams, North Carolina assistant coach Hubert Davis said simply, “I think it would make him feel happy for that day.”
Then, Davis told a story.
“When North Carolina won the national championship in ’82, Coach Williams went up to (former North Carolina) Coach (Dean) Smith and said, ‘Coach, I’m so glad that you won. Now people can’t say anything about you. You’ve been to all these Final Fours, and now you’ve won it. You’re such a great coach, and I’m just happy that you won.’
“And Coach Smith said, ‘You know what, I’m not a different coach than I was two hours earlier.’ And the same thing applies to Coach Williams. I know that’s what he thinks and I know that’s what he feels. If we’re fortunate enough to win (Monday), he’s going to be so happy for his kids. Putting him up on elite status, he doesn’t think about stuff like that.”