“How is your bracket doing?” The phrase echoed thousands of times throughout the month of March, an expression that goes hand-in-hand with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
This year’s tournament was one for the ages, culminating with the University of North Carolina hoisting the trophy for their redemption year.
After the final buzzer on April 3, I had a winning bracket — and was the only member of The Signpost staff to pick UNC as the champion.
So why did I pick UNC as my tournament champion this year? I look for teams with chemistry, experience and at least one stand-out player.
The Tar Heels had all of these traits and showed it during the regular season. UNC returned ten players from last year’s team and added a few key freshman to the roster.
Roy Williams brings players into his program who want to play for multiple years, not just the one-and-done mentality of today’s top college basketball athletes. Returning this many players helps the chemistry and gives the team the experience they need to succeed.
Watching the team this year, you could tell they had not just one — but multiple stand-out players. The Tar Heels leaned on their two junior stars, Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson.
Berry was impressive all year, averaging 14.7 points per game and shooting 42.6 percent from the field. Jackson had even more impressive season numbers with 18.3 points per game, while shooting 44.3 percent from the field. Watching these two players, it was hard to imagine they wouldn’t shine in the tournament.
When the brackets were released, I knew ahead of time that UNC had what it would take to win it all — it was up to the selection committee to decide how hard the road to their championship would be. Thankfully, the Tar Heels came out with a favorable draw in their opponents.
UNC had an easy first three rounds, showing their skill and experience. I felt that if the Tar Heels could get past the young guys of the University of Kentucky, they would win it all.
UNC won that game in dramatic fashion with Luke Maye hitting a late jumper to give them the victory. The Tar Heels then won an even closer game against Oregon.
They were to face another No. 1-seeded team, the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the championship game. Gonzaga dominated UNC in most categories: 3-point percentage, turnovers and rebounds. Gonzaga committed 14 turnovers compared to UNC’s four — which was a major factor in UNC’s win.
Jackson scored the last eight points for the Tar Heels to secure the 71–65 win over the Bulldogs, and UNC players were able to redeem themselves after losing on a buzzer-beater to Villanova the year before.
While brackets from this year are being thrown in recycling bins around the country, that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start looking ahead to next year.
Moving forward, watch as many games as you can before the tournament. Focus on teamwork and how they handle pressure in tough moments. Study player chemistry and how well they work together.
While I’m no expert, I hope this insight will help you have better luck with your bracket next year.