Vegas still doesn’t believe in Gonzaga, but the stats say the Bulldogs are for real.
By Neil Paine
Filed under March Madness
After a couple of nail-biters in Phoenix on Saturday, we’re down to one game remaining in the 2016-17 NCAA men’s basketball season. So trust your gutand be sure to box out under the basket — here’s your cheat sheet of what to watch for in Monday night’s championship game.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 1 North Carolina
Where to watch: CBS, 9:20 PM EDT
Who’s favored: According to the FiveThirtyEight model, Gonzaga has a 62 percent probability of winning the national championship. If that surprises you, you’re not alone — in a break with the stats, Vegas has the Tar Heels favored by 2 points. (More on that later.)
Why Gonzaga can win:
- Simply put, the Zags are the statistical darlings of this championship game. They rank ahead of UNC not only in the FiveThirtyEight statistical power ratings, but also in those of college-hoops stats guru Ken Pomeroy, USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin, and plenty of other analysts. Going into the tournament, Gonzaga faced questions about whether its weak strength of schedule was properly accounted for in these systems’ various adjustments, but by now, even the most hardened Bulldogs skeptic has to admit that the Zags are for real. By the numbers, at least, Gonzaga deserves to have the edge.
- Gonzaga’s defense is the best in the country according to Pomeroy’s ratings. It specializes in forcing teams into poor shots in the half court by using a good transition D that takes away quick buckets — the Zags are allowing the 14th-fewest transition chances per play of any team in the tourney — and an impenetrable interior defense of preposterous size. That formula might be custom-made to defeat a North Carolina squad that is efficient in transition but hasn’t been very effective in the half court during the tournament thus far. I’d thought the Heels’ recent poor shooting might reverse itself against Oregon, but instead UNC had one of its worst nights of the season from the field. (Using a twice-injured Joel Berry II didn’t help — he went 2-for-14 from the floor, while teammate Isaiah Hicks went 1-for-12.) With one game left, against a team whose defensive strengths match up particularly well against North Carolina’s offensive tendencies, the Tar Heels might not be able to avoid another disappointing shooting night.