It’s the first Monday in April and that means only one thing to college basketball fans. The National Championship Game. One game for all the marbles in what has to be the craziest season on record in college basketball history. It’s been a wild ride in the regular season and one of the most entertaining tournaments we’ve ever seen, but it’s time to get to the business end. Villanova and North Carolina. Jay Wright’s Wildcats against Roy Williams’ Tar Heels. Forty minutes in Houston to be remembered forever.
Villanova played as close to a perfect basketball game as you possibly can on Saturday night against Oklahoma. They held the #1 three point shooting team in the tournament to just 51 points, and 23 points in the second half. They also forced 17 turnovers and Oklahoma into shooting 6/27 from beyond the arc. On the offensive end Villanova shot 71.4% from the field. Only one player even committed more than two personal fouls as well. It was as close to basketball perfection as possible.
North Carolina on the other hand played very well. I don’t think they are getting the credit they normally would because of the historically high levels that Villanova played at, but taking nothing away from the ACC champions. The best part was the ball movement. 18 of their 35 field goals came from assists. Overall it was good play on both ends of the court. The 16 offensive rebounds helped them get second chances as well, and a late three from Marcus Paige was the dagger.
As for this game it’s all about guard play on both ends of the court. For the Wildcats it is about the three-headed monster of Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, and Jalen Brunson. Those three combined for 46 points on Saturday night. The two guards off the bench Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges combined for 21. On defense they were the driving force behind the team getting 12 steals, as Phil Booth had five of those being a defensive star. They get in the passing lanes, and just make life difficult for the opponent.
For North Carolina Marcus Paige had 13 points and was the only UNC starter to make a three-pointer in this game. Joel Berry II is the other starting guard for the Tar Heels, and he himself on Saturday night had eight points, seven rebounds, and ten assists in the win over Syracuse on Saturday.
The guard play is very even, but don’t discount the forwards. North Carolina’s three forwards had 47 points on Saturday, and Villanova’s Kris Jenkins had 18 points. It will be a pretty even battle down low, but I don’t think that will really decide this game for a few reasons. One, Villanova are one of the best teams at not letting the ball get to the post. In the last two games combined, forwards for Oklahoma and Kansas have scored 18 points total against Villanova. When they get beat it’s by guards. North Carolina have similar numbers.
Also, these teams just aren’t the style on offense to post up and try to win the physical battle. It’s about strong dribble drives, ball screens, and outside shooting. You can look on paper and it will tell you that North Carolina have the better forwards and centers and that could maybe tip this game in their favor, but I still see it coming down to the ball handlers.
These two teams do have some recent tournament history under coaches Jay Wright and Roy Williams. They met in the first round in the 2013 tournament, with North Carolina winning a very even game 78-71 in Kansas City. The Tar Heels would lose to Kansas in the next round, but the seniors on both teams will remember that game. Even before that in 2009 they met at the Final Four in Detroit, with North Carolina running away 83-69. This is the seventh time they have played in the tournament, and the only time Villanova have won was in the elite eight in 1985. Villanova went on to win the championship that season.
This game is going to be really tight all the way through. I see it going back and forth throughout the game, with both teams holding small leads at a point. It will never get out of reach for either team, and I even see it being tied at halftime. From there it goes on in a similar way until the final eight minutes.
At the under eight minute media timeout Villanova will get hot. I see the guards taking over and their defense stepping up. I see freshman Jalen Brunson having a huge impact down the stretch. The defense will tighten up a little bit and the Wildcats will hit just enough shots to get the lead. From there the defending they have will be enough to shut down the game. It ends with the Wildcats winning it all.
Villanova 66 North Carolina 63