NCAA March Madness 2016 – Final Preview: Villanova vs. North Carolina
After a two uncompetitive, yet intriguing, semi-final games, this year’s tournament final between the Villanova Wildcats and the North Carolina Tar Heels promises to a closely contested match, the kind of classic we reminisce about in 10 years. Villanova comes into the Finals fresh off thumping Oklahoma and, Wooden Award winner, Buddy Hield. They have been, in my opinion, the most impressive team in the tournament so far, having commanded every game so far, including their take down of the tournament’s number one overall seed, the Kansas Jayhawks. Additionally, this dominant run to the finals, including the 2nd highest all-time team shooting performance in a Final Four game, dispels any suggestions that Villanova, under Head Coach Jay Wright, are historical underachievers in the tournament. North Carolina also comes into the Finals tonight as an equally dominating force in the tournament, having trailed for a combined total of 50 seconds in the second half of this year’s tournament games. The preseason number 1 Tar Heels started the season off slowly, losing to Northern Iowa and Texas. However, for the past two months, they have been perhaps the most dominant team in college basketball. A team with a refined balance with their offense and defense, and with an inside and outside attack, North Carolina has few weaknesses to expose. Keys to the game:
- North Carolina’s Tempo vs. Villanova’s 3/4-court Press
North Carolina is at their best when they are able to push the tempo on offense, led by their star Point Guard Marcus Paige. They average an impressive 88 points per game this season, and so far, this tournament, they have not slowed down a beat. This presents an interesting match-up then between this up-tempo attack, and Villanova’s 3/4 –court press. Nova uses the press, not to necessarily cause turnovers, because they are able to do that anyway, but rather to slow down attacks. Additionally, as we witnessed Saturday night, Villanova is also effective at preventing transition play because they simply do not miss on offense. If Villanova can effectively slow down UNC offensively with their press and by making their shots consistently, then expect UNC to have to attack the paint for a reliable source of offense.
- North Carolina Shooting vs. Villanova Shooting
In North Carolina’s six loses this season, they shot an average of 31.3% from 3-point range. However, when you take away their outlier against Notre Dame, when they shot 6-12, but Marcus Paige made 5-8 that game, North Carolina shot just 26% from 3-point range. Therefore, Villanova’s best odds to win tonight’s Championship may come from stifling UNC’s outside game, and turning them into a one-dimensional offense. While UNC struggles from 3-point range, Villanova certainly does not, as Saturday’s performance when they shot 11-18 (61.1%) from 3-point range displays. What makes Villanova’s outside shooting so spectacular is both their patience and balance from outside. At the start of their tournament games, Villanova has not sought the three-point shot. Instead, they first attack inside, building confidence, and space, off higher quality close-range shots. Then, as the game progresses and space opens up, Villanova will begin to attack from outside, but they never force this attack. Additionally, with the emergence of Kris Jenkins from outside, Villanova now possess 4 legitimate 3-point shooters in their starting line-up. This means that the odds of Villanova going cold from outside are much less, and this will certainly create a fascinating match-up versus the bigger UNC frontcourt.
- Coach Roy Williams vs. Coach Jay Wright
Perhaps more so than most other games, tonight’s Championship game will depend heavily on tactics. Neither team is one-dimensional, even though UNC does struggle with shooting from outside, both team’s starting line-up and benches have a plethora of quality, and each team utilises a variety of systems throughout a game to negate their opponents. Villanova frequently rotates between a 3/4-court press, a 2-3 zone, and man-to-man defences. On offense, they alternate back-and-forth between an inside and an outside attack to complement the other. UNC also frequently presses on defence, and they boast a national defensive efficiency ranking of 23rd. Offensively, UNC is most effective, as I mention above, playing at a high-tempo with their great ball-handlers. This makes pressing them incredibly difficult. Additionally, UNC also has a strong and tall frontcourt that provides them with very reliable offense in the paint. Therefore, whichever coach is able to adjust best to the other’s systems is likely to be crowned NCAA Tournament Champions. Prediction: Villanova 79- UNC 75