When Carolina’s 2018-19 basketball schedule was announced, everyone circled Saturday’s matchup. A showdown between one of college basketball’s most storied programs and its newest powerhouse, a rematch of 2017’s National Championship game, UNC faces off against fourth-ranked Gonzaga this Saturday in Chapel Hill in the early basketball season’s most anticipated game.
And while Roy Williams is still trying to sort out his team’s identity, Mark Few’s Bulldogs know exactly who they are. They are big, they are fast, they are dangerous, and they can score a lot, as they’ve topped ninety points in six of their ten games this season.
They’re also the only team to beat Duke’s supposed super squad.
Unlike Gonzaga teams of the past, which were too often one-dimensional in their reliance on big, strong forward play, this Bulldog squad can beat you in a multitude of ways.
Pairing one of America’s best frontcourts in early National Player of the Year candidate Rui Hachimura, six foot eight forward Brandon Clarke, and six foot eleven hybrid Filip Petrusev with a quick and dangerous pair of guards in Zach Norvell and Josh Perkins, Gonzaga is as well-rounded a team as there is in college basketball. With four of those players averaging double digits (and forward Corey Kispert coming into the game just under, at 9.7), Carolina is going to have to find the defense that apparently stayed home a few weeks ago against Michigan.
Known as one of basketball’s masters of the screen, Coach Few should have no problem getting his shooters open in space. The question is whether the Heels can adjust quickly enough to force bad shots and whether they can outrebound the Bulldogs’ very athletic bigs.
While Hachimura will draw some combination of Luke Maye and Nassir Little defensively, Carolina’s backcourt needs to pressure the often mistake-free Norvell and Perkins into a few errant passes and misguided shots. Of course, if Corey Kispert—who is shooting over 40 percent from three this season—can find open looks, it’s going to be a long night for Carolina.
Meeting for only the fourth time in both school’s history, Carolina holds a 2–1 edge over the Zags, with one of those wins coming in the National Championship game two years ago.
While this year’s Bulldog team might be too far removed from that one for this to be some kind of revenge game, Gonzaga is coming off of its first loss of the season and will be looking to bounce back with a statement win and show America that their win over Duke wasn’t a fluke.
For Carolina, it’s going to be a night to finally show America exactly who they are at their best, as they won’t beat Gonzaga with anything less.