NCAA March Madness 2016 – Villanova 77 vs. North Carolina 74
The Wright Tactics for Villanova As I had hoped: A classic finals game that we 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 generally played really well. 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 10 points with 5 minutes to play. What we will remember is Ryan Arcidiancono 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
To review this game, I want to revisit the three keys to the game I posed the other day. The first key area of interest I was watching out for in last night’s game was UNC’s high tempo offense versus the multiple defence of Villanova. 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: very 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 very 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 utilise their pressure, and the results were mediocre, as UNC turned the ball over 11 times, compared to Nova’s 10. Generally, the two up-tempo styles negated one another. The biggest affect 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 just 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 pretty 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 to 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 3 throughout the night, finishing 8 of 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, quite pronounced rebounding edge, especially with their offensive rebounding, UNC did not dominate the paint as usual. Frequently UNC would get in good positions, and take quality shots around the rim, but then miss their shots, which they did too often. Defensively, as well, UNC was unable to dominate the paint, allowing Nova to find reliable offense around the rim, as I mention above. Instead, to nearly everybody’s surprise, UNC was simply on fire from 3-point range. They made 7 of 9 3-point shots in the first half, and 4 of 8 in the second half. If, going into the game, we knew that 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 coach in Roy Williams and Jay Wright, and both had to be on point to counter the other’s moves. Firstly, 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 well from outside, the biggest surprise was UNC’s ability to deny Nova dribble penetration to the hoop. Paige, Berry, 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 10 points with 5 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 being heralding 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, in order to isolate their players down low. Clogging the paint would certainly 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 certainly 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 5 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 was able to 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.