Officiating cloud hangs over UNC national championship, and LeBron can't take it

North Carolina and Roy Williams claimed a third national title since 2005 on Monday night, 364 days after getting buried by Villanova on a buzzer-beater on the same stage. But while last year’s college basketball finale is most memorable for one of the NCAA Tournament’s greatest shots, the sixth national title for one of the game’s blue bloods came in a clunky game in which both UNC and Gonzaga played hard but not particularly well, and the officiating generated as much buzz as the buckets. 

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Monday night’s national championship game, a 71-65 win for the Tar Heels, finished with an average of more than one foul for every two possessions (44 fouls, 73 possessions) and only 46 field goals as both teams failed to crack 36 percent shooting for the game. Making matters worse, UNC and Gonzaga combined to miss 20 free throws in 52 attempts so even when the fouls started racking up it didn’t feel like anyone was benefiting. 

Quick whistles after halftime put both teams in the bonus with 14 minutes left in the second half, with Gonzaga’s 7-foot freshman Zach Collins picking up his fourth foul with 15:53 left and 7-1 senior Przemek Karnowski getting his fourth with 8:02 left. 

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Collins’ fourth, an offensive foul, drew intense scrutiny for its quick whistle and the dramatic impact it played on the game. 

The Tar Heels dealt with foul trouble as well -- Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks each finished the game with four fouls -- but the fact that Collins, an NBA talent who took over with 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks against South Carolina, played just 14 minutes, six minutes in the second half, will always sting for Gonzaga fans when thinking back to the program’s first national title appearance. 

There is also the matter of this jump-ball call in the final minute, after Przemek Karnowski knocked the ball from Meeks’ hands under the basket and he was tied up by Killian Tillie. Fans circulated this photo from the CBS broadcast, which shows Meeks’ hand out of bounds during the battle for possession.

This was a monster call. The Heels were up one, 66-65 at this point, and not only did they score on the ensuing possession, but they went on to score the next six points while Gonzaga never scored again. 

In total, the officiating became an unfortunate storyline that cannot be ignored in the discussion of this year’s title game. Even LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were weighing in with complaints about the tight whistles on Twitter. 

For North Carolina, winning the 2017 title has some parallels to 1993 when a team led by George Lynch, Donald Williams and Eric Montross beat the Michigan’s Fab Five on the back of Chris Webber’s timeout call-turned-technical foul. Both were tight games between top seeds and a little bit clunky in their execution, decided by a few choice whistles down the stretch.

CBS Sports Writer

Chip Patterson has spent his young career covering college sports from the Old North State. He's been writing and talking about football and basketball for CBS Sports since 2010. You may have heard him... Full Bio

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