And then there were 2:
The table for the National Championship is now set following the Final Four match-ups Saturday evening. Gonzaga and North Carolina remain the only two teams left standing. It was Gonzaga putting an end to the season and deep tournament run for the Gamecocks of South Carolina. While South Carolina threatened late, the overall talent of Gonzaga took over and was able to close out the game. In the other game, we saw Oregon fall to North Carolina as the overall height, length, and experience of the Tar Heels was the deciding factor in preventing the Ducks from advancing. We are now awarded the chance to experience what should make for a very exhilarating National Championship.
#1 Gonzaga – 77 vs #7 South Carolina – 73
#1 North Carolina – 77 vs #3 Oregon – 76
3 Heroes of the Final 4:
Nigel Williams-Goss – G, Gonzaga
Stats: 23 points/ 5 rebounds/ 6 assists/ 9-16 FG
Driven by his will to win, Nigel Williams-Goss continues his tremendous postseason by scoring a game high 23 points against South Carolina. Williams-Goss had his fingerprints all over this game and his players rode his level of energy throughout. Asserting his dominance early on South Carolina was left scrambling to find ways to stop him, it didn’t work. After turning an ankle early in the second half, he remained in the game. Williams-Goss was still able to penetrate the lane and find his teammates both on the perimeter and down in the post.
Williams-Goss will be matched up against a slew of defenders in the National Championship game. Look for penetration to be a point of emphasis in William-Goss’ game. If matched with Joel Berry II, although he is healed from his rolled ankles he suffered in the Elite 8 match-up versus Kentucky, Berry II may lack some of the lateral quickness needed to defend Williams-Goss. North Carolina would be wise to put Theo Pinson or Justin Jackson on Williams-Goss in hopes of matching his athleticism and quickness. Point to be made, Williams-Goss will have to be the main focus of North Carolina’s game-plan. Gonzaga goes as he goes.
Kennedy Meeks – North Carolina, F
Stats: 25 points/ 14 rebounds/ 8 Off. Rebounds/ 3 Steals
Heading into the season, the talk of North Carolina‘s height and length was labeled as their strong suit. Nobody on this North Carolina side carries that label more proudly than Kennedy Meeks. Meeks was nearly impossible to box-out in this game, coming away with 14 rebounds, with 8 of them coming on the offensive end. Meeks was too much for Oregon forward Jordan Bell offensively as well, as he was able to tie his career high with 25 points. North Carolina won this in large part due to their aptly labeled “bigs”. There were two big offensive rebounds (one by Pinson and the other by Meeks) off of missed free throws that helped punch their ticket into their second consecutive National Championship.
The battle of the bigs will be one of the many story-lines heading into the title game Monday night. The task of banging down low with Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski gets handed off to Meeks. Meeks gives up three inches to Karnowski. Although Meeks and Karnowski both share wider frames, it all comes down to who can have the greater impact rebounding. In this instance the overwhelmingly better rebounded is Meeks. Meeks is averaging 11.6 rebounds per game this tournament, to Karnowski’s 4.6. This game may balance out in term of the the back-court, but it will be the front-court that decides who will be cutting down the nets.
Zach Collins – F, Gonzaga
Stats: 14 points/ 13 rebounds/ 10 Def. Rebounds/ 6 blocks
Mark Few does not recruit a lot of well-known names coming out of high-school. In fact, he has only signed one McDonald’s All-American to the Gonzaga program. As you may have guessed by now it is none other than Zach Collins. Collins was monumental in the win versus South Carolina. Collins came off of the bench and contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds. It was Collins who broke the scoring drought after the late surge (16-0 run) put on by the Gamecocks late into the second half. Not only did he have the answer on the offensive end but he made his presence felt down low with six blocks.
Collins has a game similar to former Gonzaga Bulldog (current Houston Rocket) forward Kyle Wiltjer. Collins has begun to climb up draft boards proving he is ready to make the leap to the next level based off of his production off the bench both in season and in the tournament. He will have to prove how his game translates to the NBA by playing against bigger bodies similar to the ones he will see in the NBA in Isiah Hicks and the aforementioned Kennedy Meeks. If Collins can have a similar performance against the Tar heels as he did versus South Carolina, then you have to like Gonzaga’s chances of winning their programs first title.