Was North Carolina simply the best?

North Carolina's Theo Pinson (1) and the rest of the team celebrate after the finals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament against Gonzaga, Monday, April 3, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. North Carolina won 71-65. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

North Carolina cut down the nets after defeating Gonzaga 71-65.

The story:

The shadow of 2016 is gone for the North Carolina Tar Heels, its place taken by the smiles and hugs and cut-down nets on a hard and gritty Monday night in Arizona. Nothing would haunt them this time. Neither their sub-arctic shooting – would you believe a national champion going 4-for-27 from the 3-point line or missing 11 free throws? — nor Gonzaga’s relentless physical defense, nor the whimsy of fate and someone else’s famous shot. If it is redemption they sought, redemption they have. And they have it for keeps.

Last season:

If you want the big, dramatic story of North Carolina’s sixth national championship, here you go: In last year’s title game, Tar Heels senior Marcus Paige hit an impossible, elbow-way-down, knee-way-up three-pointer that tied the game with 4.7 seconds left, but then Villanova’s Kris Jenkins responded with a game-winning three-pointer of his own that broke the Tar Heels’ hearts, forcing them to go to med school to perform open-heart surgery on themselves, and then they each tattooed a picture of Jenkins’s shot over the scars on their chests, came back with the anger of a thousand defeated armies and avenged the loss, robbed Villanova’s endowment and hoisted the 2017 trophy.

Very emotional:

Meanwhile tears started to hit Pinson and Hicks and everyone else who was on the court for those final seconds, all those who’d endured the heartbreak almost exactly a year ago. The final moments before the buzzer were blurry — as the Tar Heels tried to see their history-making through their tears. They’d become just the fourth team ever to lose the title game the previous year, and come back and win it the next. “I really couldn’t see nothing,” Hicks said. “You know, it’s a complete 180 from last year. I feel like this is what we worked for. It’s finally here. It’s hard to describe it. It’s so surreal. And I had to pinch myself one time. I just couldn’t believe it.”

Theo Pinson:

“It’s the hat we were missing. I told myself in the summer, fellas we’re missing one hat, this year we’re going to get it. I dreamed about it all week since we got here. This is exactly what I dreamed of. That feeling when the clock was going down, I didn’t dream of that one, though. That’s something you can’t even describe.”

Justin Jackson:

“That’s the storybook ending to a journey that we’ve had from last year until now that’s unbelievable,” Jackson said. “I can’t reiterate it enough, how proud I am of these guys.”

Joel Berry:

“We talked about how we get another shot at this,” Berry said. “We weren’t going to let it get away from us. Theo made a joke – he was like, ‘Man, even if I have to steal that trophy from Gonzaga if we lose, I’m not leaving that gym without that trophy.’ ”

Very impressive:

Michael Rosenberg from SI:

The great trick of North Carolina basketball is that it thrives in 2017 while still acting, in many ways, like it is 1982. The Tar Heels have not had a freshman leave for the NBA since Brandan Wright in 2007. They have not had a player transfer into or out of the program since ’11. Hang around the gym after a Tar Heels practice, and you’ll find one of Carolina’s assistants coaching the junior varsity team. The UNC JV competes against small schools and community colleges. Dean Smith believed every Carolina student not already on scholarship should have the chance to try out for the JV team. So does the guy who coached that squad for eight years: Williams. North Carolina runs the most self-­assured program in the country. The Tar Heels expect to win their way, no matter what decade it is or what the media says or what the hot trend in the game is. Ask Williams if he is a fan of advanced stats, and he responds, sincerely, “Is that the same thing as analytics?” Then he laughs and says, “O.K. No, I’m not.”

Did UNC get lucky:

For North Carolina, redemption was never preordained. It could have slipped through their fingers so many times. The Heels nearly blew a big lead to Arkansas in the second round, and Williams was quick to note they were lucky to survive. The Elite Eight game against Kentucky came down to a wild final sequence, with Williams electing to let his team attack the Wildcats rather than call a timeout after Malik Monk’s incredible three-pointer tied the game with nine seconds left. Maye ended it at the buzzer. The win over Oregon on Saturday was just as dramatic. UNC missed four straight free throws late, but grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds to seal the victory as Ducks center Jordan Bell broke down in tears. Gonzaga was the better team for much of Monday night. If freshman star Zach Collins didn’t get called for a questionable fourth foul early in the second half, it might be a different story. Same goes for the non-call on Meeks with his hand out of bounds for that key loose ball with under one minute remaining.

Roger Sherman from The Ringer:

UNC won the national championship game 71–65 over Gonzaga on Monday, but the result is a side plot. What we witnessed was one of the greatest performances in refereeing history. While the Bulldogs and Tar Heels fought over some stupid trophy, the Zebras whistled a whopping 27 fouls in the second half, including a breathtaking double foul that sent both teams to the free throw line for what easily could have been ruled inadvertent contact. We never got to watch Kobe play in college, but I imagine this is what it would’ve felt like to watch him ref in college. I wanted the refs to burst into my home and start calling me for fouls, frightening my dog with high-pitched whistles and then forcing her to shoot free throws with her front paws.

Unfortunately, the game will also be remembered for the refs:

Will not be forgotten:

Already thinking about next season!:

What do you think? Were they deserving?

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