UNC title run proves value of veteran teams

By Jacob Hoag, Commentary
On April 4, 2017

UNC junior Joel Berry II scored 22 points in Monday's championship game en route to being named Final Four Most Outstanding Player. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/RONALD MARTINEZ

It started with a floater.

With 25.4 seconds remaining in the National Championship, North Carolina’s Isaiah Hicks banked in a shot from the post to put the Tar Heels up 68-65 over Gonzaga.

On the ensuing possession, Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Gross spun in the lane to try and cut into the lead with less than 15 seconds remaining only to be blocked by UNC’s Kennedy Meeks.

The block led to an outlet pass to Justin Jackson for the championship dagger and eventually a 71-65 win over the Bulldogs for UNC’s sixth title.

Both Tar Heel seniors. Both clutch plays.

In the era of one-and-done players, those who rent a room for a year before fleeing to the NBA after their freshman season, the NCAA has seen continued success in teams with veteran leadership.

The teams that maintain consistency with players who stick around for more than eight months.

With teams like Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA falling in the middle rounds despite boasting arguably the nations best freshmen and possibly best players, when it came time to muster up a clutch performance to advance, the veteran teams prevailed.

Monday’s championship game further proved that.

When it came down to the waning moments, it was seniors that sealed the game for the Tar Heels. But prior to those moments, the game was still paced by upperclassmen.

The game’s leading scorer and Final Four Most Outstanding Player, junior Joel Berry II, found ways to carry his team offensively. Berry shot 4-of-13 from 3-point range, scoring 22 points.

"I wanted to see this confetti fall on us and we're the winners," Berry said. "We came out here and we competed. It came down to the last second, but we're national champs now."

Watching the confetti rain down on the Tar Heels, you couldn’t help but remember the last-second, heartbreaking loss they suffered a year ago at the hands of Villanova’s Kris Jenkins.

But Berry and most of the 2015-16 squad remained with eyes on another shot at a title.

For them, the future could wait.

"They wanted redemption," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "I put it on the locker room up on the board -- one of the things we had to be tonight was tough enough. I think this group was tough enough tonight."

One-and-dones don’t look like they are on their way out anytime soon. It’s a fad that is making certain programs very popular. But when it comes to building a winning program, coaches need to look to programs like UNC and Gonzaga and find players in it for the long haul rather than their 15 minutes of college fame.

 

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