After a season defined by parity and one of the wildest NCAA tournaments in history, just two teams are left standing. North Carolina and Villanova will battle for the National Championship on Monday night at 9:19 pm ET. You can listen live on SiriusXM College Sports Nation (Ch. 84), powered by Westwood One.
Here’s a look at how both teams got here and who has the edge.
UNC, which last won the national title in 2009, was the only one-seed to reach this year’s Final Four. The Tar Heels were thought to be the favorites to win it all prior to the season, but stumbled out of the gate with some early losses. Everything is clicking at the right time for the boys in Carolina-blue however, as they’ve dominated their opponents with an average margin of victory of 16.2 points during the tourney. North Carolina used a balanced scoring attack to get past Syracuse in the national semifinal, with Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson putting in 16 points apiece to go with Kennedy Meeks’ 15 and Marcus Paige’s 13.
The Wildcats are also playing their best basketball of the season on both sides of the ball. Villanova, a two-seed, has scored 80 or more points in four out of the five tournament games and held opponents to under 60 points in three games. Seeking their second title in school history after winning it all in 1985, the Wildcats trounced Oklahoma 95-51 in the Final Four, the largest margin of victory in a national semifinal game. Naismith Player of the Year Buddy Hield was held to just nine points thanks to ‘Nova’s stingy defense. Josh Hart has emerged as a star and the team’s go-to option, pouring in 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting while adding eight rebounds, four assists and two steals against the Sooners. Check out ‘Nova’s head coach, Jay Wright, discussing the team’s effort against the Sooners and how they’re anxious to “still get better.”
Monday’s game will be a clash of contrasting styles as North Carolina likes to pound the ball inside while Villanova plays a smaller, run-and-gun lineup. UNC’s combination of Johnson and Meeks inside gives the Tar Heels a “Twin Towers” look that not many teams can handle due to their strength and activity on the offensive glass. The old-school approach of playing two bigs at the same time is a clear divide from the small-ball fad that dominates basketball today.
‘Nova, however, is more-than-adept at said fad, usually featuring four players who can stretch the floor in its lineup. In addition to Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono, Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson are all sharpshooters who can play at a fast pace. Center Daniel Ochefu will need some help to contain the UNC big men, but the Wildcats’ defense has been outstanding lately so that may not be an issue.
Both teams can score, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s Villanova that has the edge defensively. Don’t expect them to put up 95 points again, but If this game becomes a shootout the Wildcats are more capable of locking down in the game’s key moments. North Carolina allowed over 60 points in each of its tournament games and relied on outscoring opponents down the stretch. It won’t be that easy against the Wildcats.
Still, this just feels like UNC’s game to lose. The Tar Heels have looked like the team we all expected them to be throughout this tournament and should be able to pull this one out.
Prediction: North Carolina 87, Villanova 79.
Tags:brice johnsonbuddy hieldcollege basketballdaniel ochefujalen brunsonjay wrightjosh hartjustin jacksonkennedy meekskris jenkinsmarch madnessmarcus paigencaa tournamentncaa tournament 2016north carolina tarheelsryan arcidiaconouncvillanova
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