NCAA March Madness 2016 – Villanova 77 vs. North Carolina 74
The Wright Tactics for Villanova: A classic final game we all will reminisce about for years to come. We saw a game with constant lead changes, tactical nuance, and dramatic late-game heroics. Each team made strong pushes and played well throughout. Amazingly, we will likely forget Marcus Paige’s double-clutch three point shot to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left, after UNC trailed by ten points with five minutes to play. What we will remember is Ryan Arcidiacono dribbling up the court, creating separation around the 3-point line, dishing off to Kris Jenkins, and watching his shot splash through the net as time expired, to give Villanova their 2nd national championship in school history.
Three Keys Going into Game
UNC Tempo vs Nova Press
The first key area of interest I was watching out for in last night’s game was UNC’s high tempo offense against the multiple defenses Villanova showed. UNC’s success all season relied on Marcus Paige running the offense and increasing the tempo of the game, wreaking havoc. This presented an interesting challenge for Villanova as they relied heavily on defensive pressure themselves. Could their press unsettle UNC, or could it even be effective against a team with so many quality ball-handlers?
The results were mixed. Early on, Nova’s pressure unsettled UNC causing turnovers and ill-advised passes. However, as the game progressed through the first half, UNC became adept at breaking Nova’s press. After 3 or 4 passes, UNC was frequently finding an open man down low for an easy lay-up or dunk. With UNC’s success in breaking the press, Nova would only sporadically utilize their pressure, and the results were mediocre, as UNC turned the ball over 11 times, compared to Nova’s ten.
The two up-tempo styles negated one another for much of this contest. The biggest effect of these two intense styles was, however, the frenetic play throughout most of the game. Both teams throughout the tournament seemed to grow accustomed to dominating and dictating play. If they wanted to press or sit back, attack the bucket or spot up for 3-point shots, they could switch at will.
However, last night, against an equal foe, both teams struggled to control the game. Their frustrations manifested themselves in the game as persistent attacks with increasing intensity. Most of the time, players on each team tried to force their will on the other, thinking, well it worked before, maybe if I try harder it will work again. This lead to very sloppy play at times, forced outside shots, dribbling into no-man’s-land, and errant passes.
UNC Shooting vs Nova Shooting
Going into last night’s game, the narrative around both teams shooting was black and white: Nova shoots well from three, and UNC struggles but scores well in the paint. However, in a game of Freaky Friday, both teams arrived at the stadium last night with a reversal of styles. Nova, as usual, did not force 3-point shots early on, but instead attacked the basket. Yet, as the night progressed, and UNC continued to deny their dribble penetration, Villanova at moments forced their outside shots.
Then, in an odd twist of fate, during their massive 17-7 run in the second half, Villanova was incredibly successful posting up down low with their guards. Nova still shot well from deep throughout the night, finishing 8-14. But, their consistent success came with their play inside the paint. This was surprising because UNC had been so successful dominating the paint, offensively and defensively, throughout the season.
Aside from their pronounced rebounding edge, especially with their offensive rebounding, UNC did not dominate the paint as usual. UNC would often get in good positions, and take quality shots around the rim, but then miss their shots. Defensively UNC could not dominate the paint, allowing Nova to find reliable offense around the rim, as I mention above. Instead, to nearly everybody’s surprise, UNC was on fire from 3-point range. They made 7-9 3-point shots in the first half, and 4-8 in the second half. If, going into the game, we knew UNC would make 11 three-point shots, shooting 64.7%; I think we all would have guaranteed their victory.
Coach Williams vs Coach Wright
Last night featured two of college basketball’s best coaches in Roy Williams and Jay Wright, and both had to be on point to counter the other’s moves. First, Williams deserves credit for allowing his defense to play their normal man-to-man set. Trusting his guards abilities to defend on the perimeter paid off immensely, because while Nova still shot decently from outside, the biggest surprise was UNC’s ability to deny Nova dribble penetration to the hoop.
Paige, Berry II, and Jackson, were all effective at unsettling Nova’s guard play, as we frequently saw them hesitating and having to shoot as the shot clock was winding down. Additionally, at UNC’s biggest moment, down ten points with five minutes to go, Williams dialled up the pressure, causing Jenkins to commit a charging violation, and Arcidiacono to throw a pass away, uncharacteristically.
Villanova was on the verge of running away with the title, but Williams’ defensive switch reignited UNC, and if Jenkins doesn’t make his game-winning shot, we would herald Williams for his great defensive adjustments. If there is one criticism of Williams’ coaching last night, it is not finding a solution to stop Villanova’s offensive superiority in the paint.
Nova frequently spaced the floor out, to isolate their players down low. Clogging the paint would have left Nova more open three-point shots, but some balance was needed on defense by UNC to slow down Villanova. Regarding coach Wright, he deserves a lot of credit for using the threat of Nova’s outside shooting to create isolation for players on the post, as I mention above. Furthermore, by waiting to exploit this space until the last quarter of the game, Wright gave Nova a massive advantage over UNC, just at the tipping-point of the game.
Throughout the game, Wright also had to manage Kris Jenkins’s foul troubles, as he picked up his 2nd foul within the first five minutes. His absence was apparent on offense, however, Wright guided his team past those lengthy moments with constant high-ball screens, which lead to many UNC fouls. On defense, Wright made all the right calls. He sporadically used the 3/4-court press, because UNC grew more comfortable with it as time went on.
So, by holding back on the press, Wright could use it as needed to maximize its effectiveness. This meant Wright now had to choose between man-to-man and their 2-3 zone. Intuitively, against a normally poor shooting UNC team, the 2-3 zone would seem preferable. But, the few times they switched to the zone, UNC found easy passes down low, and last night, UNC had an unusually effective outside shooting game.
Therefore, Nova stuck with their man-to-man defense, which aside for a few moments when Nova lost their assignments, worked well at pressurizing UNC ball handlers in the half court. Ultimately, both coaches displayed their tactical nous during last night’s chess match. Both coaches put their players in great positions to win the game, and ultimately, it was the return of Kris Jenkins, and Villanova’s exploitation in the paint with their guards, that won them last night’s National Championship.
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