Villanova North Carolina

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North Carolina

NCAA College Basketball

Championship Pick


No one else deserves to be in the championship Game, that’s all that needs to be said for Villanova and North Carolina, who have both been dominant en route to the final. Villanova disposed of Oklahoma almost too easily Saturday in a 95-51 win. North Carolina didn’t win by as much over Syracuse (83-66), but the result was never in doubt for the Heels.

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If these teams met before the Tournament, UNC would probably be a larger favorite, but because of how ‘Nova has beat up on teams, the spread is only a couple points for the Heels.

Villanova’s only real challenge this Tourney was against Kansas, when they confounded the Jayhawks offense to just 59 points. OUtside of that Game, it’s been easy pickings with all other Four wins by at least 19 points. Their 44-point win against Oklahoma was revenge from a 78-55 loss they took earlier in the season to the Sooners.

The Tar Heels have continued their dominant play since the ACC Tournament and have won every Game by at least 14 points. Indiana was supposed to be a challenge, but they cruised to 101 points in that matchup. Notre Dame already beat UNC once this year, but that didn’t matter in a 14-point win for the Heels.

OUtside of the Nova-Kansas Game, these teams haven’t played in many exciting Games. This one will hope to buck that trend.

The first order of issue for Villanova will be dealing with the size of North Carolina. They haven’t really played a team in the Tourney that could dominate the paint and the Heels provide just that. Their toughest challenge was actually against Kansas and Perry Ellis and the Wildcats held him to nothing. But UNC is a different animal in that aspect.

It’s hard to argue that there has been a better player than Brice Johnson in the Tournament so far. Johnson has carved up front cOurts and is averaging close to 20 points and 10 boards per Game. Throw him down there along with Kennedy Meeks (15 and 8 last Game) and Isaiah Hicks, and ‘Nova doesn’t really have the tools to stop those guys. Kris Jenkins bottled up Perry Ellis, but Johnson is a different challenge and close to unstoppable in the college Game.

However, there is a question for UNC on the other end of that matchup as Jenkins is a stretch-4 that could give Johnson problems. Johnson had issues with that in previous Games against Notre Dame and Indiana, but his consistency on the other end was too much even with his guy hitting a three once in a while. Of course, Jenkins is 15-of-31 from distance in the Tournament and if he shoots like that again, it will be an issue for Johnson.

Villanova’s backcOurt and defensive pressure has been a key to their wins, in addition to them shooting at a ridiculous rate in the Tournament. Once again, the Wildcats shot above 50% from the field and three-point line, hitting 71.4% of shots against Oklahoma and going 11-of-18 from deep. UNC isn’t known for outstanding defense and shooting is exactly what could get ‘Nova a win.

UNC’s backcOurt is a bit smaller, but that wasn’t a huge factor in the Game against Syracuse. Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson had solid Games, but neither was dominant by any means, especially with Gbinije going just 5-of-18 from the field in the loss. Ryan Arcidiacono has been better and more consistent than those guys, while Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth provide an added defensive spark off the bench. The Heels dealt just fine with the length and pressure of Syracuse last Game and that’ll need to be the case for them here.

Point guard Joel Berry is at the head of UNC’s success as he now has 26 assists and just five turnovers in the Tourney. He finished with eight points, seven boards and 10 assists against a larger backcOurt last Game if that says anything. For the Heels to be in control of this Game, Berry will need to continue what he’s done, and that won’t be easy. Nova has troubled every backcOurt that it has come up against in the Tourney so far, including Oklahoma last Game in a dominating performance.

Another key matchup will be at the 3-spot with Josh Hart and Justin Jackson. Hart did whatever he wanted last Game, but could find more issues going against a taller and lengthier Jackson. If Jackson can keep Hart in check, that would be huge.

Both of these teams have great benches, so neither has a big advantage in that aspect with the Wildcats using Booth and Bridges a combined 42 minutes last Game. And of course, UNC still has Hicks, Theo Pinson, Nate Britt and another big body in Joel James if needed.

Villanova has defied odds up to this point and they’ll need to do more of the same to win the championship. North Carolina seems destined to go all the way, but underestimating Villanova hasn’t done many people favors in this Tournament.

Our Pick – Villanova +3

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