GLENDALE, Ariz. - Gonzaga is a late second-half meltdown in its final regular-season game against BYU from entering Monday's national championship game unbeaten. From Nov. 11 through April 1, the Bulldogs (37-1) really have been America's most consistent team. They have bad stretches in games, but hardly any bad games.
The same can't be said for North Carolina (32-7). The Tar Heels have often baffled their Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams when losing by double digits at Georgia Tech and Miami and putting up 43 points in a Feb. 27 loss at Virginia.
It is not about any of that now. It is about the next 40 minutes, the last game of the college basketball season at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Just like last year in this game against Villanova, UNC is a 2-point favorite. You could make a pretty good case that last year's Carolina team was more talented than this and certainly more consistent. But the Tar Heels were playing the hottest team in the tournament, one of the hottest in the history of any tournament and everybody knows how that ended.
The kenpom.com numbers predicted a slight upset last year, going with Villanova 77-76 in the title game. It was 77-74 so close enough.
The kenpom.com numbers like Gonzaga in a slight upset this year, 79-75. The site projects 73 possessions.
Before we analyze how those possessions might play out, let's clear up a few misconceptions and consider some ramifications.
I can hear the skeptics say, well, Gonzaga had an easy route to the finals, playing seeds 16, 8, 4, 11 and 7 for a total of 46. Guess what? Last year, UNC played 16, 9, 5, 6 and 10 for a total of, you guessed it, 46. Villanova had a much harder path, playing 3, 1 and 2 seeds before the final game that was decided by that Kris Jenkins' shot at the buzzer.
Yes, the ACC is way better than the WCC. But the leagues ended up with the same number of teams in the Sweet 16. Those teams were Gonzaga and North Carolina. Also, consider that Gonzaga beat Pac-12 and Big 12 tournament champions Arizona and Iowa State, as well as Elite Eight Florida.
If Gonzaga wins, that will be two Catholic school champions in a row after none since Villanova in 1985. Think those Power Five conferences will be pleased if that happens? Think the day might be drawing closer when the cartel that has amassed all that football money might just act on what they have been thinking for years: Why don't we just lock out all those other schools from the basketball money and keep it all for our greedy selves?
That is for later. First Gonzaga-North Carolina.
Gonzaga's great defensive numbers have held through the tournament. On the season, the Bulldogs have held teams to a nation's best .866 points per possession.
The stat that jumps off the page is two-point differential. The Zags shoot 57 percent on twos, but give up just 39.8 percent. Their wings are good enough to stay in front of most ballhandlers and their bigs are terrific at defending ball screens and protecting the rim. Freshman big man Zach Collins was the best player on the floor in the second half of Saturday's win over South Carolina. He has 15 shot blocks in five NCAA games.
I really liked to watch Nigel Williams-Goss on television this season. As I was watching him live for the first time on Saturday, I realized he is even quicker and more athletic than I thought. I have no idea how the Tar Heels are going to keep him out of the lane or stop him from scoring.
Jordan Mathews has made 83 threes this season and 15 in the tournament. His shot is as pretty as any in college basketball.
This UNC offense is not as good as last year's which was the country's best. Still, what it doesn't have in overall skill, it makes up for on the glass. The missed shot is a weapon for this team. The Tar Heels get an incredible 42 percent of their misses back, a physical and psychological killer for any defense that thinks they have a stop.
"They're as good as it gets in college basketball with offensive rebounding,'' Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, "and they have a plan and they do it well and their guys understand it.''
With Collins, mammoth Przemek Karnowski (players who get screened must feel like they are lost in a cave) and Johnathan Williams, the Zags should be big enough not to get overwhelmed on the glass like so many others have this season.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect and maybe even some fear because I want to see how our guys are going to react playing against some other big guys like that,'' Williams said.
UNC starts four 1,000-point scorers, totaling over 5,000 points. That's some serious firepower.
Justin Jackson has made a school-record 105 threes this season. He has 101 points in five 2017 NCAA games and is playing with great confidence.
Kennedy Meeks is the rare 1,000/1,000 player with 1,475 points and 1,042 rebounds. He has taken 53 rebounds in his last four games and 23 offensive boards in his last five.
Joel Berry and Isaiah Hicks have been largely ineffective during the tournament, especially Saturday against Oregon when they were a combined 3-for-26 from the field.
UNC has one obvious edge because so many of these players were in this game last year. When a trophy is on the line, players sometimes react differently, overcome by the moment.
That said, I think Gonzaga played very relaxed Saturday and never lost its poise even when South Carolina ran off those 16 consecutive points. I was quite impressed by how they finished the game after that awful four-minute stretch.
"We're ecstatic to be here and getting ready to play what I think has been the best college basketball team all year long,'' Williams said.
This looks close, but I think the kenpom numbers tell the story just like they did in 2016.