How Villanova Can Win the National Title Tonight
The Simpsons are rooting for the Villanova Wildcats.
Who knows why — maybe because Simpsons executive producer Matt Selman has a Philly connection (he went to Penn), maybe because Villanova’s history graduate program writes about the show, or maybe because Barney Gumble was once a guest lecturer at Villanova — but the chalkboard gag in last night’s Simpsons episode was, “If Villanova doesn’t win we lose everything.” So the Villanova Wildcats have the writing staff of The Simpsons on their side. Game over, right?
Of course not. (Nor do I believe the situation is as dire as Bart’s teacher thinks it is — some people will be happy if Villanova loses!) Tonight’s National Championship Game against the North Carolina Tar Heels will be, appropriately, the toughest game the Wildcats have played in all year. It will be for North Carolina, too — they’re just 2.5-point favorites.
“This is going to be a hell of a game,” Jay Wright said at a press conference yesterday. “This is going to be a good game.” It’s true: John Gasaway says that these are the two best offenses to reach the national final over the past 15 tournaments.
“With only a minor exception here and there,” he writes, “basically every single player in this national championship game is having a phenomenal tournament on offense.” He notes that Ryan Arcidiacono, the Langhorne native who has been Villanova’s third option this tournament, has taken 54 shots (including free throws) this tournament. He’s made 40 of them. He’s shot almost 75 percent over five games so far. That’s incredible!
But it goes deeper than just the tournament. Ken Pomeroy‘s rankings have North Carolina the No. 1 rated offense in the game. His No. 1-rated player in the country is UNC’s Brice Johnson. His 5th-rated player is Villanova’s Josh Hart. (The Massey Ratings have UNC’s offense No. 1 and Villanova’s offense a little lower — No. 12. But Massey’s system rates the Wildcats the No. 2 defense in the country; Pomeroy has them 6th. Both systems have UNC’s defense in the 20s.)
To summarize, Jay Wright is correct: This is going to be a hell of a game.
Despite North Carolina’s run through the tournament — the Tar Heels have won every game by double digits — it’s tempting to think Villanova will shoot the lights out again and run away with the national championship. And that could happen! North Carolina’s three-point defense is 294th in the country. If Villanova gets open looks, it might happen again: The Wildcats hit 11 of 18 threes in Saturday night’s 95-51 blowout of Oklahoma.
But they also dominated inside in that game, hitting 24 of their 31 two-point shots. North Carolina is a much bigger team that Oklahoma — the Tar Heels’ rotation is on average about a half-inch taller than the Wildcats’. Brice Johnson is 6-10. Kennedy Meeks is 6-10. Isaiah Hicks is 6-9. Justin Jackson is 6-8. They play much tougher inside D. And they rebound the ball effectively: Their offensive rebounding percentage is 40.6 — third in the nation. Villanova gave up 16 offensive boards to Oklahoma on Saturday night; the Sooners just couldn’t hit many of their second-chance shots. If Villanova lets North Carolina grab 16 offensive rebounds, the Wildcats will be in trouble.
The key player tonight may be senior forward Daniel Ochefu. At 6-11, he’ll actually be the tallest player on the court tonight. In the only close game either of these two teams have played in the tournament — the regional final win over Kansas — Ochefu was the star. He shot 5-8 from the field for 10 points, but also held Kansas big man Perry Ellis to just 4 points. He will have to keep Johnson, Meeks and Hicks off the offensive glass.
What’s nice for Villanova is that the Wildcats have multiple ways to win. They can play great lockdown D, as they have almost all season, and win. If North Carolina scores a bunch, the Wildcats can shoot the lights out again and win. But although these teams play completely different games — Villanova bombs from three, while UNC scores mostly from inside — they’re an even matchup. Neither team even fouls that much, or takes that many free throws. It should be a really exciting game. And if ’Nova hits their threes or manages to keep UNC off the glass, they’re going to win it.
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