There is a significant segment both of the media and of ordinary sports fans who simply cannot accept the idea of a “mid-major” program being on par with a blue blood. After all, these mid-majors aren't stacked with one-and-done guys like Duke or Kentucky, or getting steady 4- and 5-star guys like North Carolina or Kansas. They play too many white guys, damnit!
And so the excuses come thick and fast. We hear that they didn't play anybody in the regular season and got an unjustified seed:
My man @stlappas nails on Gonzaga. Great season, but 3 of their 6 top 50 wins vs St Mary's. Not a better resume than North Carolina.
— Peter Yannopoulos (@PeteYannopoulos) March 12, 2017
But it doesn't matter because Gonzaga always falters in the NCAA Tournament:
The two laziest NCAA Tournament takes:
1. Gonzaga will choke
2. You have to pick a 5-12 upset
— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) February 28, 2017
And if Gonzaga wins? Meh, who did they play, anyway?
Because the committee wants to help Gonzaga FINALLY get to the Final 4. A love letter to Mark Few. Hey, we love Mid-Majors! https://t.co/JnnZHEZF9M
— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) March 12, 2017
Gonzaga road to Monday:
16 South Dakota St
7 South Carolina
No conference champ
No conference tourney champ
— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) April 2, 2017
Of course, the idea that Gonzaga's path to the Final Four was any easier than North Carolina's path to the Final Four is simply not borne out by the facts (Gonzaga's route to the Final 4 is on the left while North Carolina's is on the right, with both images from KenPom.com):
No matter what happens tonight, there will be some who will find a negative angle for Gonzaga – there will still be whining about how easy of a path they had to get here. But if they defeat 1 seed North Carolina in a title game, it will be a fitting topper for an extraordinary nearly-two-decade run for Gonzaga hoops as one of the premier programs in the nation.
It's been a weird NCAA Tournament picking the spread, and easily my worst performance ever, but let's do this one more time:
Saturday ATS: 0-2-0
2017 Tournament ATS: 32-31-3 (51%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)
Gonzaga (+1) over North Carolina: This is a “public” line, as they say. Most every computer rating, including Pomeroy, Sagarin, and BPI all have Gonzaga as a narrow favorite here. And Gonzaga has played better throughout the NCAA Tournament thus far.
As has been obvious for a long time, the way to beat North Carolina is to neutralize them on the glass, and if you can't do that then you need to shoot the lights out from deep (North Carolina was dead last in the ACC in defensive 3PA/FGA ratio, so if you get hot from behind the arc they won't do much to slow you down). Gonzaga certainly has the size to withstand North Carolina and they are a solid defensive rebounding team, though not a great one. The fact that North Carolina does not draw a lot of fouls should help Gonzaga's front line stay in tact more than it was during their foul-prone game against South Carolina.
Defensively, North Carolina certainly has the size to throw at Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins. As noted above, North Carolina is far more vulnerable to outside shooting than paint scoring, and Gonzaga is a solid shooting team but hardly great. It's trite to say this, but if Gonzaga shoots well then they likely win this game but if they go cold then they probably won't.
In the end, I think Gonzaga is just a good value here. They are likely the better team, have been playing better over the last few weeks, and match up reasonably well in terms of personnel. They are my pick to win.