The Madness is finally over. The North Carolina Tar Heels are the 2016-17 NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions. This time last year, the Tar Heels were on the receiving end of a game-winning buzzer beater by Kris Jenkins and the Villanova Wildcats. One year later, the Tar Heels’ season ended with victory that can be summed up in one word: redemption. North Carolina beat Gonzaga 71-65 in the National Championship Game at the University of Phoenix Stadium. The win marked the sixth championship in North Carolina Men’s basketball history, and the first since 2009.
The win put North Carolina head coach Roy Williams in some elite company, as he is now one of six Division I men’s basketball coaches with three or more titles. That list includes legendary coaches John Wooden of UCLA, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, Adolph Rupp of Kentucky, Jim Calhoun of Connecticut, and Bobby Knight of Indiana.
While not as close as last year’s contest, North Carolina’s win over Gonzaga was a hard-fought, back-and-forth victory. Some would say that the Tar Heels were actually outplayed for the majority of the game. They went into the locker room at halftime trailing 35-32. During the halftime meeting, Williams lit a fire under his team and North Carolina came out firing. A 8-0 run to open up the second half gave the the lead back to the Tar Heels. Overall, the game was a slugfest, with multiple lead changes that kept not only the players on their toes, but also the fans.
With under a minute left and North Carolina up 66-65, senior forward Isaiah Hicks hit a bank shot that put North Carolina up by three. Kennedy Meeks then sealed the game for the Tar Heels by blocking Nigel Williams-Goss shot that led to the game-clinching dunk by senior forward and AP All-American Justin Jackson. Joel Berry was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding player, scoring 22 points and dishing out six assists.
Before March Madness began, North Carolina was a heavy favorite to win the title by most analysts and fans. According to ESPN.com’s Tournament Challenge, more than 15% of users selected the Tar Heels to with the National Championship Game before the March Madness tournament began. This wasn’t quite the same trend in the PLNU bracket (hosted by ASB), as only about 8% of users (21 out of 261) selected North Carolina. Still, the fact that more than 90% of students in the PLNU Tournament Challenge were incorrect in selecting the champion shows that even when there are favorites, March Madness is always difficult to predict. With that said, congratulations to furnie96 for successfully winning the PLNU Bracket Challenge.