2016 NCAA Men’s College Basketball Title Game Preview
Published on April 04, 2016
Roy Williams returns to the promised land to nab his third college basketball national title in what could be his last show in the Big Dance. Jay Wright, on the other hand, is just getting to the NCAA’s biggest stage for the first time.
Wright’s first toe dip into the national title game could prove to be his finest hour, of course, as he’s guided his best Villanova squad yet, having dominate during their five-game run through this year’s edition of March Madness. A 45-point throttling of the Oklahoma Sooners in the Final Four and an upset win over the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks give Wright and the Wildcats all of the street cred they need, as they prepare to deny #1 seed North Carolina in the biggest game of the year.
Vegas is calling this one as they see it: a potential barn burner. Neither team has endured much adversity during the tournament, with Villanova winning four of their games by almost 24 points per contest and also ousting the expected national champion in Kansas. North Carolina’s journey has been even easier, as their closest game in their 2016 NCAA run was a 14-point win over Notre Dame.
No one is surprised then by the Tar Heels entering as -2.5 favorites, or that the Total is slated as a gaudy 149.5. Both teams bring potent offenses and deep rosters to the table, which could very well have this matchup living up to such lofty expectations in both manners, providing bettors with a tight and high scoring affair.
Often the case is a very obvious national champion and one underdog trying to work it’s way into the public’s eye as a plausible upset pick. That could have been the story just a few years ago when Butler was a halfcourt heave away from shocking the world, but this year’s NCAA title game boasts two heavy hitters that left very little doubt as to whether or not they’ve belonged in the final stanza of this year’s poetic college basketball journey.
Poetic, of course, in the sense that the first two rounds were jam-packed with crazy upsets and shocking clutch plays and now on the other spectrum, we get a heavyweight bout in the title game. From Wisconsin’s buzzer-beater to take down Xavier, to Texas A&M’s thrilling comeback in a 40-second span, college basketball fans certainly weren’t left wanting for more to get the tourney started.
Syracuse then carried the torch even further, getting to the Final Four as a 10-seed and making us all think for a second that true magic could step foot on the stage in the national title game.
Of course, when the dust finally settled, it was two very deserving teams in the 2-seeded Wildcats and the 1-seeded Tar Heels, and here we are, stuck trying to poke out any flaws we can find to reveal an eventual winner.
Both teams have been stout over the course of the season. Let’s take a look at their most eye-popping numbers:
These teams have endured very different journeys, starting way back in the preseason. The two combine for just 11 losses on the year, as well.
North Carolina lost games to Northern Iowa, Louisville, Texas, Notre Dame, Duke and Virginia. NI ended up being a brief Cinderella team, Texas made the NCAA tournament, Notre Dame made it to the Elite 8, Duke made it to the Sweet 16 and Virginia was a #1 seed. Overall, the Tar Heels didn’t have a truly bad loss on the year, ran the table in the ACC tournament and have now won 10 consecutive games going into Tuesday night’s championship showdown.
As impressive as North Carolina’s run has been, they haven’t been challenged at all during the tournament. That really isn’t for lack of competition, of course, as they took down Providence, Indiana, Notre Dame and Syracuse. Some experts will say their dominance shows they haven’t played anybody, but it’s also worth noting that they just dominated some quality opponents.
Villanova’s story is just as good, as they lost five games during the regular season to Oklahoma, Virginia, Providence, Xavier and Seton Hall. The Sooners were a 2-seed and the Wildcats exacted revenge in the Final Four, Virginia was a 1-seed, Xavier was a 2-seed and both Providence and Seton Hall were solid teams that made it into March Madness.
Much like the Tar Heels, Villanova doesn’t have a truly bad loss on their resume and has been even more dominant on their road to the national title game. Their only game that didn’t result with a win by at least 19 points, in fact, was a tough battle with the tourney’s top overall seed (Kansas).
None of this tells us one way or the other which team wins on Tuesday, but it does show that from start to finish, both teams have been very battle tested and do not exhibit tendencies for extreme mental or performance lapses.
Brice Johnson is where it all starts and ends for the Tar Heels, as he’s averaging a stout 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game during March Madness. He’s also blocking over a shot per game on the year. Simply put, he’s a total menace down low on both ends and he’s just not a guy the Wildcats can really account for. Unless he’s pushed outside or gets into foul trouble, he’s very likely going to dominate this game.
North Carolina is deeper than just one guy, as Justin Jackson, Marcus Paige and Joel Berry II all contribute 12 points per game. Kennedy Meeks also drops in 10 points per game and Isaiah Hicks scores over nine points per contest. The obvious takeaway? This is a deep and balance North Carolina team that definitely works around Johnson, but branches out to several very effective offensive weapons. They are not quite the one-man show they’re painted out to be with a quick glance at the numbers, and instead can penetrate the paint at will and carve up defenses in a number of ways.
Their outside shooting has long been their obvious flaw, with just three players shooting even 30% from outside. Their best bet is Joel Berry II (36%), but against a very stout Villanova defense that held Buddy Hield to just nine points, getting off good outside shots is no guarantee.
Josh Hart (15 points and seven rebounds per game) and Kris Jenkins (12 points per game) are the two key standouts for the Wildcats, while guard Ryan Arcidiacono chips in 11 points per game as the team’s third leading scorer. While Hart and Jenkins are very good, neither take over consistently enough to be seen as a go-to star. That could be a weakness for Villanova, but really it just gives them more outs when pinned into a corner, as they’ve found great success by leaning on team basketball, rather than just giving the ball to one guy. Needless to say, that style forces them into small lineups and can hurt them in rebounding and overall size, but it also gives them a potent offense that is tough to both stop and match.
That notion is best put on display from the outside, where the Wildcats can absolutely destroy defenses. North Carolina does tend to struggle against quicker guards that can penetrate and kick the ball out, too, as we saw this year in a loss to Virginia and another loss to Duke. That is their Kryptonite, so to speak, and it could be problematic against a Villanova team that sports four players who can launch three’s at a 34% clip or better.
You’re in trouble either way here if you’re wrong. If you pick UNC, you’re going chalk just like Vegas and everyone else. If you pick Villanova, you’ll look like a fool for doubting the Tar Heels.
North Carolina is technically the safe play, but with such a weak spread, there is no safe play – it’s just the main play. But this is the team with the more prolific coach, the better talent, the bigger names, the title game experience and the preseason #1 ranking.
For all intents and purposes, the Tar Heels absolutely were supposed to be here. There’s no knocking the Wildcats for making their way through their side of the bracket, though, as they got past Kansas and made a good Oklahoma team look extremely pedestrian. They completely stifled one of the best players in March Madness in Buddy Hield, and they have the coaching, offense and defense to ride with North Carolina until something breaks their way in the end.
NCAA champs usually win on the shoulders of a great player, though. Villanova would be an upset because Vegas says so, but also because they lack a marquee, standout player. North Carolina has a big man in Brice Johnson that can absolutely crush them down low on both ends, and given Villanova’s small ball tendencies, that’s precisely what will happen. It remains to be seen if North Carolina’s weak outside shooting will help to give the Wildcats the edge they need, but if the outside shooting is even moderate, Johnson should prove to be the difference in a close but seemingly already decided NCAA title game.