(2) Villanova Wildcats vs (1) North Carolina Tar Heels (-2.5, 149.5 o/u)
Both the Villanova Wildcats (34-5, 21-17 ATS) and North Carolina Tar Heels (33-6, 19-18-2 ATS) have been dominant in their March Madness runs. Something will have to give tonight when the two powerhouses meet for the national championship at NRG Stadium in Houston (7:19 PM Eastern).
Both teams are led by preeminent coaches, but their resumes look very different at this point in their careers. UNC’s Roy Williams has two national titles to his name already, while Villanova’s Jay Wright is still looking for his elusive first championship. A win by the Heels tonight would make Williams just the sixth coach in NCAA history with three or more championships.
In the Final Four, Wright’s Villanova squad played arguably the best basketball game by a team from Philly since Iverson was in his prime with the Sixers. The Wildcats obliterated Oklahoma, 95-51, scoring more points in the second half (53) than the Sooners scored all game.
The story for Villanova all tournament has been its balance. Nova has showed that it can win with an offensive explosion or with a stifling defensive effort.
They got both against Oklahoma.
The team held Wooden Award favorite Buddy Hield to just nine points after he lit up Oregon for 37 in the Elite Eight. Meanwhile, six different Wildcats scored in double-figures, led by Josh Hart with 23.
The blowout ran Nova’s record to 5-0 against the spread in the tourney, but evidently that’s not enough to earn them “favorite” status for the finals. And it’s hard to argue with UNC having a slight edge in the spread. North Carolina hasn’t had to face the same level of competition as Villanova. (Nova already knocked off a no. 1 seed (Kansas), a no. 2 seed (Oklahoma), and a no. 3 seed (Miami); UNC’s highest-seeded opponent was no. 5 Indiana.)
But you can only play the teams put in front of you, and UNC has dominated each and every one in the tourney. They’re 4-1 ATS in the tournament (only failing to cover as massive favorites in an 83-67 win over Florida Gulf Coast in the opening round.
Perhaps the scariest part about UNC is that the high-scoring squad has yet to play its best for a full 40-minutes. In nearly every game in the tournament, they’ve let their opponent hang around in the first half – or crawl back in the second – only to find another gear and turn the game into a rout.
Like Villanova, the Tar Heels have great balance on offense. Forward Brice Johnson leads the team with 17 points per game, but Marcus Paige, Joel Berry, and Justin Jackson are all averaging a shade over 12; junior forward Kennedy Meeks, who’s long been a disappointment in Chapel Hill, has finally started living up to his potential, scoring in double-figures in the last three games while shooting 72-percent from the floor.
Williams and UNC will be looking for the sixth national championship in school history and first since 2009. Villanova has just one title, back in 1985 when they upset Patrick Ewing and heavily favored Georgetown.
Both teams have great guards and both teams can score at clip, but Villanova’s defense, which allows just 60.9 points per game, should be the difference under the bright lights at NRG. Look for the likes of Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Ryan Arcidiacono to pressure the UNC backcourt hard, forcing the Heels into contested shots.
(Photo Credit: By Jeff Turner (Bird’s Eye View) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)