HOUSTON, T.X. – The North Carolina Tarheels and Villanova Wildcats will face off for the college basketball National Championship tonight in Houston.
Both teams enter the championship game coming off impressive wins in their semi-final match-ups. Villanova embarrassed Oklahoma in record setting fashion, winning 95-51. North Carolina pulled away from Syracuse in he second half to win 83-66.
Villanova shot an impressive 71.4 percent from the floor including an equally impressive 61.1 percent from behind the three point line. It would be surprising if they were able to duplicate that effort tonight against North Carolina, but that is just what they will need if they want to cut down the nets. Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiarcono, and Kris Jenkins shoulder the scoring load for the Wildcats. Coach Jay Wright has shaped the team in to a tough, scrappy bunch that plays excellent team defense and scores well in transition.
The Tarheels are where many people thought they would be at the beginning of the season. They were ranked number one in the preseason AP poll, and stayed in the top 10 all season. North Carolina has overwhelmed teams with its size and depth, and will look to continue that trend versus a solid Villanova squad. Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks are a formidable duo down low. Johnson uses athleticism while Meeks uses his big body to carve out space around the rim. They both have good hands and are excellent passers, so when teams double team them they are adept at finding cutters or open teammates on the perimeter. Marcus Paige has not been spectacular, but he and Joel Berry have shot well enough to keep defenses honest. The Heels would like to shoot better than 23 percent from deep, but with the way they score inside, it may not matter.
Villanova has the talent and heart to defeat North Carolina, and if they shoot as well as they did Saturday they will. However, UNC seems to have a formula that no team in the tournament can figure out.
I expect role players Justin Jackson, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt, and Theo Pinson to provide a level of sustained energy and skill that Villanova does not have the depth to match. Including Joel James, the Tarheels have nine players capable of making winning plays on any given night, and that is the secret to their success. My prediction is Carolina over Villanova 77-70.
I think North Carolina has been the deepest and most balanced team in college basketball all season. The decision of Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige to return to school has led them to the championship game and may ultimately culminate in the program’s sixth National Championship.