Column: Was this year’s NCAA title game worse than 2011?

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few talks to Nigel Williams-Goss after the finals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament against North Carolina, Monday, April 3, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. North Carolina won 71-65. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Anyone who is a college basketball fan generally agrees with the consensus that the 2011 national championship game between UConn and Butler was the worst national championship game in history.

Monday night’s game may give that one a run for its money.

The much-anticipated matchup between UNC and Gonzaga had a lot of storylines going for it. Gonzaga was in the title game for the first time ever, and UNC was shooting for its sixth title of the program amidst an NCAA investigation for that scathing fake class scandal.

For all intents and purposes, last night’s game should have been a historic fight between a college basketball blue blood and a national newcomer. Instead, it was an effort just to sit through, watching as each team missed shot after shot, going minutes without scoring, and watching the refs stop play too frequently to call a foul, only to watch free throws clang off the front of the rim.

Both of these teams boasted some of the best offenses and defenses in the country. Gonzaga was ranked No. 1 in KenPom, and UNC was No. 3. But the Zags shot 20-for-59 from the floor, and their star center, Przemek Karnowski, went 1-for-8. The Bulldogs shot just 65 percent from the free throw line (17-for-26) and 8-for-19 (42 percent) from three, and went five whole minutes without a basket immediately after scoring the first eight points of the second half.

UNC, despite being the winner (although it’s only a matter of time before the NCAA takes this championship away), took 14 more shots than Gonzaga and made six more for a field goal percentage of 35.6. They shot horribly from beyond the arc, going 4-for-27 (14.8 percent); Joel Berry  II was the only player to make a 3-pointer, going 4-for-13. Theo Pinson went 0-for-4, and Justin Jackson went 0-for-9 and played 37 minutes. No other Tar Heel took a three.

Surprisingly, the box score doesn’t even do the sluggish nature of the game justice. It was a game defined by runs and scoring droughts, often broken up by the sharp whistle from the referees. The only excitement came in the final minutes, where teams finally started hitting baskets and the nation realized that game was still anyone’s for the taking with 1:25 left.

I will give credit where credit is due: the end of the first half was pretty exciting, and it was fun to watch both teams fight for the lead as the first half came to a close. There’s no question that UNC and Gonzaga were better teams, and a better matchup, than UConn and Butler were in 2011.

But they sure didn’t play like it, and the nation sat through a slow, poorly-played (and arguably poorly officiated) title game that fell so short of expectations. Is it worse than 2011? I don’t think so. Is it one of the most disappointing? There’s a good case for it.

Here’s to hoping 2018 will be better.


Stephanie Sheehan is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus, covering men’s basketball. She can be reached via email at stephanie.sheehan@uconn.edu. She tweets @steph_sheehan.