Mark Armstrong predicts UNC victory

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Watching Gonzaga systematically dismantle South Carolina Saturday night, they looked every bit the best team in the country. Then SC slapped a 16-0 run on them and Gonzaga had to hold on for dear life to advance. They did what they had to to keep playing.

UNC has rarely looked its best this March run. Maybe that first half vs Butler? The closing stretch vs Kentucky? Still - one way or another, they did what they had to to keep playing.

Now, there's one game left. 40 minutes that will leave either team with lifelong regret or unmatched pride. I don't need to remind any of you what happened to Carolina last year. The fact they've made it back to this point is an incredible feat in itself. There's an inherent cruelty to the reality that getting here isn't enough. As Joel Berry said Thursday - this Heels team won't be happy unless they leave the building with the trophy.

UNC has superior personnel to Gonzaga. Whether or not we see that reflected tonight is anyone's guess. It's no secret that Joel Berry and Isaiah Hicks have struggled to provide the punch we're used to seeing from them. My guess is that Justin Jackson will continue to throw fire, that Kennedy Meeks will more than hold his own inside against Przemek Karnowski, and that UNC's bench will make some big plays.

For my money - the game will be decided by defense. Will it be Theo Pinson's primary job to lock up Nigel Williams-Goss? Slowing him will go a long way towards winning. Guys like Jordan Mathews, Johnathan Williams, and Zack Collins can also jump up and bite you. It's the role player battles that will make the difference for me.

UNC has talked at length this week about the benefits of having an experienced team and a group of guys that generally love each other. This is when that camaraderie and toughened wisdom should matter most. Will these Heels be known for coming excruciatingly close twice in a row or will they be known as champions? I say the latter. UNC wins 79-73.

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