Villanova Wins A Thriller Against North Carolina

In what turned out to be an exhilarating title game, Kris Jenkins became a tournament legend by hitting a buzzer beater to give Villanova its 2nd national championship in school history. Just one possession prior, Marcus Paige hit an improbable game-tying 3-pointer that knotted the game at 74. But for a college basketball season characterized by wacky unpredictability, the final sequence was a fitting end.

Jenkins on the final shot:  “When Arch threw the ball, one-two step. Shoot ‘em up, sleep in the streets.’”

Taking a look back at the game, there were a few things that stood out in Villanova’s victory over the Tarheels:

Slowed pace:

One of the main factors that sealed North Carolina’s fate was slowing the game down after halftime, which played right into Villanova’s hand. Roy Williams’ teams always push the ball in transition, and the Tar Heels did just that in the first half even when Villanova employed the 1-2-2 trap. At first, the UNC’s guards broke the press fairly easily, leading to a sometimes scrambled Villanova defense that gave up open 3’s and alley-oops. But after the half, that all seem to disappear. A lot of that is on the coaching staff, and I’m interested to know why they didn’t continue going downhill.

The entry pass is really a lost art:

Charles Barkley made a great point at the half. He suggested that UNC be more patient on offense and look to exploit mismatches in the post. Villanova was confident in their trademark halfcourt 1-5 switching, which often guards on Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and even Joel James. Carolina was unable to take advantage of those matchups, which is quite unacceptable. Part of the reason Villanova was successful in gumming up the paint was North Carolina’s lackluster 3-point shooting ability.

Booth stepped up:

Last year, Grayson Allen saved Duke from defeat, as he provided a punch of energy and scoring that the team lacked. This year, Phil Booth did that exact same thing for Villanova, posting 20 points on 6-7 shooting from the field. Booth went through an early season slump that took a toll on his shooting percentages, but he never got down on himself and persevered. He started shooting better at the end of the season, and it all culminated in a championship performance.

Regression to habits:

Before the game, many expected both teams to play to their strengths. North Carolina, the bigger team, was to dominate on the boards and get most of their points in the paint, as they aren’t a good 3-point shooting team. Villanova, armed with a guard heavy roster,  was expected to space the floor, hit 3’s, or drive to the bucket.

In the opening half, however, both team’s did the opposite of expectations. Villanova, a team which is normally fundamentally sound, looked rattled, coughing up the ball and missing easy layups. Even Kris Jenkins got in early foul trouble, which could have had serious consequences. Nonetheless, they Wildcats actually scored more points in the paint than UNC while the Tar Heels shot 7-9 from deep.

The 2nd half, Villanova proved to be the more disciplined and tougher team as they have been all season. You could see the experienced teaching they receive from coach Wright. They took care of the ball, kept their pivot, and locked in on defense. Meanwhile Brice Johnson was nowhere to be found, as he had been in previous games. UNC lost their composure and the lead. Even though they made a comeback, it was too late.


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