Yesterday I previewed a game that displayed two balanced teams. Duke and Villanova were similar in both personnel and in the Four Factors. The ACC's second Sweet Sixteen contest has matching skin-deep similarities. Both Gonzaga and North Carolina have skilled big men, silky smooth shooters and lightening quick point guards.
However, looking past the lineup similarities, the Gonzaga Bulldogs go about winning games in different ways than the Tar Heels do.
The Bulldogs strength lies in the most important of the Four Factors, shooting. They rank fifth in the nation in both offensive and defensive effective field goal percentage, doing an excellent job of making field goals and keeping their opponents from making theirs. The Bulldogs also rank sixth nationally, turning the ball over on only 16.1 percent of their own possessions.
The Tar Heels' strengths lie in different factors. The Heels defend without fouling, ranking fourth in opponent free throws per field goal attempt. They also offensively rebound well, retrieving over 40 percent of their own misses. However, there is one four factor similarity. Both the Heels and the Bulldogs share a low turnover rate, which should make for clean offensive basketball without many sloppy turnovers.
The Tar Heels should have a fairly open path to the offensive boards and as usual second chance points will be a large part of their offense. Gonzaga isn't terribly adept at getting to the free throw line and UNC doesn't often put opponents there. Look for the Heels to force the Bulldogs to earn their points from the field, something they are fully accustomed to doing.
Gonzaga's largest advantage will come from their ability to hit shots. Any North Carolina fan will tell you that North Carolina is prone to defensive lapses. If they fail to defend the Bulldogs, the Heels will find themselves taking the ball inbounds after a made basket.
Simply put Gonzaga is one of the few teams in the tournament, and the only team in the South region, with the talent and depth to compete with the Tar Heels. They have a tall front line that can defend Hansbrough and score both inside and out along with guards that can defend and score with UNC's backcourt. The Bulldogs are one of the most balanced teams in the country, ranking in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and will prove quite a test for the Tar Heels.
Prediction: UNC 87, Gonzaga 84