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Gonzaga has what it takes to beat UNC


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My bracket says North Carolina will beat Gonzaga on Friday in the Sweet 16, and then flatten whoever else falls into its path. My bracket says North Carolina is the best team in the 2009 NCAA tournament.

My bracket is full of crap, as usual.

And this is a tough year to say that, because my bracket has been way out in front in the CBSSports.com "experts" pool since games began last Thursday. Not sure what that means, though. One of the "experts" is Freeman. Apparently, expertise ain't what it's cracked up to be.

But my bracket, as good as it is compared to the experts around here, is wrong about North Carolina. Or at least, I hope it's wrong about North Carolina.

And that's not a swipe at North Carolina. I don't like many coaches, but I like the coach at UNC. I love Tyler Hansbrough. Lawson and Ellington and Green, oh my. Deon Thompson is very good, and next year Ed Davis will prove he's even better. North Carolina is loaded, and North Carolina is classy, and that's all there is to say about that.

But Gonzaga is better.

Or at least, I hope Gonzaga is better.

Don't you? Come on now. Not including the legions of UNC fans out there, aren't you ready for Gonzaga to make some real noise in the NCAA tournament? The Zags burst onto the scene in 1999, reaching the Elite Eight while the rest of the country was learning the school pronounced itself Gun-ZAG-uh, as opposed to Gon-ZAW-guh. Or maybe that was just me. It took Richie Frahm and Casey Calvary and F.P. Matt Santangelo for me to learn how to say that **** word "Gonzaga."

Anyway, the Zags burst onto the NCAA tournament scene in 1999 ... and haven't done much since. They've been to the tournament every year since then, but in those nine appearances the Zags have won a grand total of nine games. No regional finals since the first one in 1999, and this is a program that has had great talent: Dan Dickau, Ronny Turiaf, Blake Stepp, J.P. Batista, Adam Morrison, Derek Raivio. I could go on. Not far enough to include David Pendergraft, but still. I could go on.

But it's time for the Zags to grow up and become the big boys they've been threatening to become for the past decade. It's time, and they're ready.

Time will tell, but I'm saying Gonzaga has as much NBA talent as North Carolina. And North Carolina is the same team that three months ago was being fitted with Superman shirts and being predicted for perfection and even being mentioned as one of the best teams in NCAA history.

The Tar Heels aren't perfect, but they are sensational. When freshman Davis, who will average close to 20-and-10 as a sophomore, with three or four blocks per game, is coming off your bench ... wow. Clark Kent, your team isn't.

• The Edge: Gonzaga-North Carolina

But Gonzaga has similar NBA talent. You'll see. If Josh Heytvelt had Tyler Hansbrough's motor, he'd be the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Nobody has Hansbrough's motor, of course, but Heytvelt is bigger, taller, more athletic and more skilled on the perimeter. And when the two went head-to-head two years ago in New York, a game Gonzaga won by the way, Heytvelt outplayed Hansbrough: 19 points and eight rebounds compared to Hansbrough's nine-and-nine. Not saying Heytvelt will be a better pro than Hansbrough -- but if he is, well, remember where you heard it first. (If he's not, feel free to forget.)

The best pro prospect on the floor will be Austin Daye, a willowy 6-foot-11 sophomore for Gonzaga who is built like a young Rashard Lewis and shoots like a young Rashard Lewis. And if you didn't know, Rashard Lewis has grown into a 29-year-old man about to pass 13,000 career points in the NBA. And Daye is a monster shot-blocker.

Gonzaga senior Jeremy Pargo won't be the NBA point guard Lawson will be -- Lawson's a much better shooter -- but on Friday night Pargo will match his quickness and strength.

Gonzaga junior guard Matt Bouldin is a comparable prospect to North Carolina's Wayne Ellington. Bouldin reminds me of Kirk Hinrich. Ellington reminds me of Joseph Forte. If my memory is as good as my 2009 bracket, Bouldin wins.

Gonzaga senior small forward Micah Downs might play in the NBA. Might not. Just like North Carolina's Danny Green.

North Carolina pulls ahead in the talent race from sheer numbers, what with Thompson also being a borderline pro and with Davis and Tyler Zeller coming off the bench. But Gonzaga is close. And very few teams in college basketball are even close to North Carolina.

So it can happen, is my point. Not saying it will happen. Not trying to kick over the UNC ant hill and see how many of you come running, although feel free. But it can happen, and that's assuming Lawson's toe scare is finished, or under control. Freeman says Lawson's courageousness should inspire songs for future generations. I'm not going that far. In fact, I'll go the other way: He's fine. He sat out the ACC tournament and the Radford game because he could, but now he's fine. Any more talk about the toe is a bunch of hot air being blown up Lawson's shorts. Enough is enough.

And that's what I'd say to you, too, Gonzaga. Enough is enough. Stop teasing us with March greatness. You're no longer the little engine that just might. You're a runaway freight train.

Time to steamroll the No. 1 seed in the South Regional.

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