March Madness is now down to the final two, UNC and Villanova. The final showdown is on Monday night and will hopefully be a bit more of a close game than the blowouts from the Final Four — UNC defeating Syracuse, 83-66, and Villanova crushing the Oklahoma Sooners, 95-51. The Wildcats’ win by 44 points is the largest winning margin in a Final Four game in history. Great for Villanova, not so great for the Sooners, as head coach Lon Kruger admitted, “We got whipped in every way.” This is only the third time in the last 50 years that both national semifinals were decided by 15 points or more. So while it does prove both UNC and Villanova worthy of vying for the national title, it also makes for a boring game.
Though the last two games of the Final Four themselves were not filled with edge-of-your-seat intensity, there have been some notable highlights leading up to the Final Four. There was North Carolina’s Justin Jackson’s hockey-like assist, a one-handed touch pass to teammate Kennedy Meeks who flushed a two-handed slam to help the Heels maintain their win against Syracuse. And the Orange’s forward Tyler Lydon losing his shoe mid-play and still making a 3-pointer with just a sock on his left foot in the first half against Virginia, or Villanova’s Mikal Bridges jumping stomach first on a loose ball during the second half against Kansas as the clock ticked down the last few seconds before Villanova sealed their victory and sailed on to the Final Four. These are the sort of moments that make these games fun to watch, and hopefully what Monday night’s game will deliver.
These two teams have made it to the final rather easily, which inspires hopes that this game will not be a torturous blowout but an intense game that comes down to the last second, the kind of game that builds suspense and anxiety in the only way that sports can. The Tar Heels began the year ranked first, and dominated the ACC and their games through the NCAA tournament. They came into the national title game with five consecutive wins by 14 points or more. UNC is lead by senior Brice Johnson (who had 16 points and nine rebounds in the Tar Heels’ win against Syracuse this Saturday). They have effectively overpowered every NCAA tournament opponent with an attack that centers on their frontcourt throughout the tournament. However, the Wildcats are a different story than the Tar Heels’ other recent opponents.
The Wildcats also displayed their prowess early, as they enjoyed a three-week stretch at No. 1 during the regular season, and in the first round of the NCAA tournament the team made 69 percent of their shots inside the arc and 46 percent of their 3-pointers. This early on, strong offensive showing demonstrated the threat that the team could bring to UNC. They have the highest field goal percentage in the NCAA tournament since 2008, shooting 55.1 percent as they entered Saturday’s game.
The last time these two teams met was in the opening round of the 2013 NCAA tournament, when the Tar Heels won 78-71. With teams as strong as these two, Monday night’s game should (hopefully) be an exciting event, two strong offensive teams battling it out to claim the National title.