What. A. Game! The #1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels and #2 seed Villanova Wildcats were the rightful owners of the final two spots in the tournament, and didn’t disappoint. In what may be the greatest National Championship game in history, Kris Jenkins ripped the hearts out of the Tar Heels at the buzzer, to bring the trophy back to Villanova. Here’s how they did it.
Cats Camouflaged the Defense:
From the outset of the game, Villanova continuously ran varying defensive looks at North Carolina. The Wildcats deployed a light three-quarter court press periodically, just to keep the transition in check. By mixing up man-to-man and hybrid zone looks, the Tar Heels could never really get into a great rhythm. Even when North Carolina would get a guard defending Brice Johnson, or Kennedy Meeks, they struggled to get the ball inside. The Villanova guards pulled the old trick of not making body contact. Post players hate that move.
Lettin’ Them Play:
In a season in which several rule changes were implemented, and there was heavy concern about the competency of referees across college hoops, these officials did a solid job of letting the game play out. They were inconspicuous for much of the first half and allowed a lot of bumping, and physical play, while at the same time, not rushing to call the travels which resulted from the bumping. Credit the refs for not taking center stage.
Flip the Script:
Early on, Villanova inverted its guards on a number of opportunities. They focused on posting up Ryan Arcidiacono and Josh Hart, taking the Carolina bigs away from the paint, and allowing paint touches. This took pressure off of the perimeter, and freed up some clean looks. Late in the game the Tar Heels did a solid job of taking that away, and blocked a number of shots on Villanova drives, which put them in position to tie the game late.
Joel Berry and Justin Jackson displayed extreme efficiency at the start, going 6-6 from three-point range in the first half. Nova did a solid job of limiting the offensive boards that UNC got, almost eliminating the threat of the put-back, but it did provide opportunities for open threes. Although Carolina dropped off slightly in the second half, it still came up with enough big shots, including Marcus Paige’s ridiculous double-clutch to tie the game with less than five seconds to play.
Crisp Offensive Sets:
The Wildcats were extraordinarily patient all game. They never went away from what got them to this point. Drive and kick action, dribble penetration leading to backdoor cuts, and avoiding challenge shots allowed them to shoot at a high percentage once again.
On the flip side, you could see the frustration on the faces of the Tar Heels in the second half when they got behind. North Carolina played into the Nova game plan on offense, forcing challenged shots and attempting to create faux transition chances in order to jump-start a run. It’s a credit to how talented the Tar Heels are that they were within seconds of winning, despite the execution of Villanova.
Man Up on the Glass:
The glaring weakness heading into the game was Villanova’s lack of size and depth compared to North Carolina. I pictured a load of offensive put-backs by the Tar Heels as I analyzed this match-up. The Wildcats completely nullified that. Aside from the constant changing of defensive looks, Villanova’s energy and physicality outmatched Carolina. Surprisingly, Josh Hart was one of the most important guys on the glass, snaring seven defensive rebounds. The inability of North Carolina to be effective on the offensive glass was a deciding factor.
The Closing Sequence:
After going up by three with a couple of free throws from Hart, the Wildcats simply had to defend for one possession to claim the title. It appeared that they would foul UNC to avoid a game-tying three-point shot, but chose not to, which I absolutely agree with. Despite the result, Nova played some solid defense. There’s no way you can account for what Marcus Paige was able to do with that insane double-clutch three. And, if they had fouled, the College Basketball world would have been denied a legendary finish.
With barely more than four seconds left, it appeared Arcidiacono would simply pull up for a long triple. Instead he showed tremendous patience, teeing up Kris Jenkins for as clean a look as you can ask for, and he absolutely laced it. Thank you Kris for making me look like a genius.
Carolina isn’t exactly a lockdown defensive team, so Nova should find clean looks. Kris Jenkins is the X-factor. #NationalChampionship
— Damon Del Rosario (@DamoKnowsSports) April 5, 2016
What may have been the greatest National Championship game in College Basketball history ended in the best possible fashion. I don’t care what anyone says, this was an unbelievable season, and it culminated with an outstanding NCAA Tournament. Next season can’t come soon enough.
E-mail Damon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.