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Friday September 17th

What to expect when Gonzaga battles UNC men's basketball for national title

<p>Gonzaga center Przemek Kanowski (24) pulls up for a shot over South Carolina on Saturday. The Tar Heels will face Gonzaga for the NCAA championship final Monday night.&nbsp;Photo courtesy of Gavin Doremus/Gonzaga Bulletin&nbsp;</p>
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Gonzaga center Przemek Kanowski (24) pulls up for a shot over South Carolina on Saturday. The Tar Heels will face Gonzaga for the NCAA championship final Monday night. Photo courtesy of Gavin Doremus/Gonzaga Bulletin 

GLENDALE, ARIZ. — The North Carolina men's basketball team will try for its sixth national title when it takes on Gonzaga at 9:19 p.m. on Monday in Glendale, Ariz. 

The Tar Heels and Bulldogs have met just twice before. The last time the two teams played, UNC claimed a 98-77 win in the Sweet 16 of the 2009 NCAA Tournament. 

How do they play?

Much like North Carolina, Gonzaga looks to run its offense through the post, which seems like an effective strategy for a Bulldog roster featuring multiple 7-footers. 

Gonzaga is an extremely effective team inside the three-point arc, ranking fifth nationally in two-point percentage (57.0 percent). But that doesn't mean the Bulldogs can't convert from outside, as well. They have several athletic guards that can create their own shots, and the team as a whole is shooting 38.1 percent from three. 

As formidable as Gonzaga is on the offensive side of the floor, it might be even better on the defensive end. The Bulldogs rank first in the country in defensive efficiency, effective field-goal percentage defense (41.2 percent) and two-point defense (39.8 percent). The Zags also force their opponents to shoot just 29.5 percent from the behind the arc, good for fourth in the country. 

Who stands out?

In the backcourt, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss is a national player of the year candidate that can hurt a team in so many different ways. The Bulldogs' top scorer (16.9 points per game) is also their second-leading rebounder (5.9 per game). 

Gonzaga also features a stable of talented big men in the frontcourt, led by Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins. And both players bring something different to the table. 

For as physically imposing as Karnowski is (7-foot-1, 300 pounds), his most underappreciated skill is his passing. He ranks third on the team in assists, and several times in this tournament he has shown he can find his teammates for open looks. Collins, on the other hand, is one of the nation's premier shot blockers. Against South Carolina in the Final Four, he swatted six Gamecock attempts while also tallying 14 points and 13 rebounds. 

What's their weakness?

In two of the Bulldogs' closest games of the tournament (wins against West Virginia and South Carolina), the one thing that caused them issues was a defense with constant pressure.

The Mountaineers and Gamecocks are two of the top defensive teams in the country because they are extremely aggressive on the ball. Over the course of those two games, Gonzaga turned the ball over 28 times and looked overwhelmed on the offensive end. 

North Carolina is at its best when playing inspired defense, and if the Tar Heels can turn up the pressure against the bulldogs, they could grab the momentum early.

How could they win?

The Bulldogs match up better than any North Carolina opponent has this season. They have the size to negate a UNC advantage on the offensive boards, and they can run step for step with some of the Tar Heels' quickest perimeter players.

If North Carolina has an off night, like it has several times this tournament, Gonzaga will seize control of the game and the national title and never look back.


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