Cleat Geeks

Then They Played the Game: NCAA Championship Thoughts

And just like that, after sixty-six exhilarating games that engulfed three weekends of our lives, the 67th and final game of March Madness was played. But, did it answer the question that so many people struggled with this year: Who is the best team in college basketball?  Well, Villanova and North Carolina have both proved their dominance through their tournament performances, with Nova completely annihilating opponents by 24 points per game on average, and UNC beating all five of its tourney foes by over fourteen points apiece. Each team makes a strong case for why it should be crowned champion, so were you happy with the outcome of the game?

Here were Our Notes Pre-GameVillVSunc

Game Breakdown:

Offensive dominance is what makes this such an anticipated and intriguing match-up. Tonight, North Carolina will try and control the key like it has all year, scoring over fifty points in the paint against a Syracuse zone designed specifically to keep the ball outside.  Villanova, on the other hand, likes to score in a variety of ways with different weaponry, from Josh Hart and his all-around versatility to Ryan Arcidiacono’s and his outside shooting skill. Nova has a proven defense that is one of the best in the nation and just held the high-powered Sooners to just 51 points. However, the Heels have a proven offense that still looked almost unaffected by both Boeheim’s zone and Virginia’s #1 defense back in the ACC Tournament. Look for another high scoring affair and an overall exhilarating ball game.

Nova’s Keys for Success:

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

First, the Wildcats are going to need to keep the ball out of the post as much as possible and force outside shots; UNC started 0 for 12 from behind-the-arc against Syracuse.  Nova will be outsized in this match-up, making it imperative to get a body on Johnson and Jackson or whichever other big man is in every single time Paige and Berry are forced to take outside shots, something Cuse failed to do. If UNC can’t hit outside shots, then its big men can’t be able to clean up the misses and create second or even third chances on every possession; Johnson needs to be bodied early and often so he can’t be as big of a factor as he has been.  Next, they’ll need to pressure the heels and force turnovers, just like they did to Hield and OU.  Offensively, Ryan Arcidiacono is going to have to be a big contributor on the offensive end of the court.  Josh Hart looks primed for another strong performance, but when he’s cold or pressured, Arcidiacono needs to be able to step up and knock down big threes.  Similarly, Kris Jenkins needs to be able to create looks around the rim for himself or step back and make mid-range shots. If the Cats shoot like they did on Saturday (71.4%), it’ll be tough to beat them.

UNC’s Keys for Success:

UNCDefensively, the Heels are playing their best of the year, disrupting shots and grabbing rebounds all tournament long.  They’re especially athletic and matchups should work in their favor.  Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson are each athletic enough to guard Kris Jenkins effectively, plus they might even see some time manning up Hart himself.  Berry needs to be glued to Arcidiacono so he can’t have a big night from downtown.  Paige needs to force turnovers on freshman Jalen Brunson and create extreme pressure on Hart if he plays on him.  Offensively, the Heels need to make their threes.  They may have still held a lead after struggling from deep against Cuse, but Paige and Berry helped propel their squad to a double-digit lead late in the second half with several made jumpers.  When the guards are cold, the big men need to be just as relentless as usual in terms of fighting for offensive rebounds and creating second chances.  If Carolina dominates the boards, Williams will earn his third title.

Prediction:

I don’t see how Nova can match up with Carolina’s size and athleticism. The Wildcats will start off strong on both sides of the ball and may jump ahead to a lead, but UNC’s control of the glass will overwhelm Nova. The Heels will frustrate the Cats by creating second chance opportunities offensively and forcing turnovers defensively.  I’ve got Carolina pulling away late in an otherwise nail-biting game.

Then They played the game:

Villanova’s epic 77-74 victory over North Carolina had everything synonymous with March Madness. There were wild momentum swings, thunderous roars, heroic performances and a dramatic finish that left one team stunned and heartbroken and the other spilling onto the floor in celebration. In this case there were two shining moments, Marcus Paige’s leaning, twisting 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left that seemed destined to force overtime and Jenkins’ rebuttal at the buzzer to end the game in regulation.VillanovaUNC

What We Learned From this Villanova Team?:

The season-long improvement of this year’s Villanova team is proof the Wildcats have a good mix of talent and character. They’ve evolved from a good team to one of the nation’s best as Brunson and Bridges grew more comfortable at the college level and Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds adjusted to increased responsibility.

“Talent is the first thing we look for,” Villanova assistant coach Baker Dunleavy said. “It would be a lie if I said otherwise. But I think we also try to find a fit for our culture. If we bring this guy in, will our current roster enjoy being with this guy? How’s he going to respond to coaching? I think a lot of times you can tell that by spending time with their current coaches and getting to know their parents. It’s certainly not an exact science, but we do try to look beyond the court.”

“All of our guys are putting the team first and playing hard and together every game,” Villanova assistant Ashley Howard said. “If our guys were on other teams, they would probably put up better individual numbers, but that’s what makes our team special. Our guys are willing to sacrifice to win.”

I think most people think elite talent trumps character and work ethic. After watching this team win the NCAA Mens National Title in Basketball, with no presumed 1st round pick, does it make you believe in the concept of team is sports more than the talent of individuals?

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