by Kyle Flynn
March Madness – arguably the pinnacle of American sports – is what everyone is waiting for all year long regardless of age, gender or interest in sport. Filling out a bracket and rooting for crazy upsets while pulling for an alma mater to go all the way, is a thrill like no other.
The North Carolina Tar Heels are possibly the most storied university in the realm of college basketball, and best team in the 68-team field in 2017. They carved their path to the championship game by beating Texas Southern, Arkansas, Butler, Kentucky and Oregon.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs, the mid-major school that has always been a Final Four hopeful, made it into the Elite 8 this season for the first year. This year was an anomaly for the Bulldogs, as they finished the regular season with just one loss before defying all odds and making it all the way to national title game against the Tar Heels. Gonzaga defeated South Dakota State, Northwestern, West Virginia, Xavier and South Carolina to get to the final game.
This was the eighth ever national championship game that featured two number one seeds, and as expected, it came down the wire. North Carolina, who lost the 2016 title game at the buzzer to Villanova, was looking for redemption against the Zags. This year’s rendition of the championship had a total of 46 made shots and 44 fouls called. Many would agree that the game was too much in the referees hands, as the officiating was so tightly called that neither team was able to get a great rhythm going in the game. Joel Berry II, Carolina’s star guard finished with 22 points, six assists and three rebounds. Berry made all four of North Carolina’s three-point tries, and became the first player to score 20 points in back-to-back title games since Bill Walton (1972-73).
The two sides were trading blows and exchanging leads throughout the game, especially during the second half of the final game of the 2017 season. In the second half, Gonzaga went eight entire minutes without scoring a basket, but was able to create foul calls and get to the free throw line to keep themselves in the game.
Nigel Williams-Goss was Gonzaga’s top scorer in the game with 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but he shot just 5-17 from the field. Only one other Gonzaga player finished the game with more than 10 points (Perkins, 13).
Tar Heels frontcourt stars Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks, who average 34 points per game during their tourney run, finished with just 23 points on 9-24 shooting. Meeks blocked a shot in the final minute of the game, which led to North Carolina being crowned champion for the first time since 2009.
The victory was head coach Roy Williams third national championship win and 100th overall tournament victory.
Joel Berry II earned MVP honors for his performance in the Final Four, while dealing with an ankle injury.
This was North Carolina basketball’s sixth national championship win in their school’s history, third most in history behind UCLA (11) and Kentucky (8).