National Championship Preview: North Carolina/Villanova Will Win If…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Bennet Hayes on April 4th, 2016

Only one game remains this college basketball season, and it tips off in about six hours. What needs to happen for North Carolina and Villanova if they expect to win a National Championship in Houston later tonight? Here are the keys to victory for both sides.

North Carolina Will Win If…

Brice Johnson and North Carolina must rule the interior on Monday night.(Photo: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Brice Johnson and North Carolina must rule the interior on Monday night.(Photo: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

  • The Tar Heels’ front line imposes its will. Five North Carolina regulars are 6’8” or taller, a fact that will matter even more than usual against a Villanova team with a de facto starting power forward (Kris Jenkins) who is just 6’6”. The Wildcats will have their hands very full with Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and the rest – particularly on the backboards. Jay Wright has found plenty of advantages to exploit with his smaller lineup, but there’s no denying that the undersized Wildcats will be playing at a significant disadvantage when the ball comes off the rim. Villanova ranks 209th and 134th nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, respectively, and gave up 19 offensive rebounds to Oklahoma on Saturday (about the only thing the Wildcats didn’t do well). No shift in offensive philosophy is needed tonight, but expect North Carolina to wage a full-blown assault on its offensive backboard.
  • Joel Berry is effective offensively. Senior Marcus Paige is usually noted as the most effective barometer for the Tar Heels’ offense, but it has been the play of Berry this season (not Paige), that has more closely correlated with the overall success of North Carolina. Berry has averaged 12.6 points and 3.8 assists per game this season, but has managed only 9.8 PPG and 2.2 APG in UNC’s six losses. He had eight points, 10 assists and seven rebounds on Saturday against Syracuse; finding a way to have a similarly significant impact against Villanova’s tenacious perimeter defense will take a lot of the pressure off the UNC frontcourt.
  • They make Villanova take difficult three-point shots. Carolina’s length is sure to bother a Villanova team that has excelled inside the arc this season (the Wildcats rank second in the country in shooting 57.3 percent on two-point field goals), so expect them to rely on the three-point shot even more than they normally do. Forty-three percent of Villanova’s field goals come from behind the arc, (29th highest mark in the nation), and while they don’t shoot an outstanding percentage from there (35.9%), nearly every Villanova regular is a threat to convert — six Wildcats have made at least 23 three-pointers this season. North Carolina has not defended the arc well this season – the Heels rank 247th nationally in allowing opponents to shoot 35.9 percent from three – but must be able to challenge Villanova’s shooters tonight.
  • They don’t turn the ball over. The North Carolina recipe for offensive success, in its most succinct form, is to limit turnovers and collect offensive rebounds. Doing the former will not be easy against a pesky Villanova team that will surely look to utilize its disruptive 1-2-2 press, but it will be no less important. The more field goal attempts that go up, the more offensive rebounds that will be available to a North Carolina frontcourt that is the Tar Heels’ biggest advantage in this game.

Villanova Will Win If…

Josh Hart and the Wildcats hope to do more celebrating tonight. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Josh Hart and the Wildcats hope to do more celebrating tonight. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • It holds its own on the defensive glass. For as historically dominant as Villanova was against Oklahoma on Saturday night, the Wildcats struggled mightily in the one category that may be a difference-maker tonight: defensive rebounding. The Sooners grabbed 19 of their missed shots at a 43.2 percent rate, prompting Villanova big man Daniel Ochefu to note “we have to do an extremely better job” against the Tar Heels in order to win. And he’s probably right. The ACC champions, brimming with size and athleticism, rank third nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (40.6% OReb) and absolutely clobbered Syracuse on the glass Saturday night, finishing with 16 offensive rebounds at a gaudy 51.6 percent rate. If Ochefu and friends can minimize North Carolina’s second chance opportunities – limiting it to, say, below 35 percent – the Wildcats may slow down the Tar Heels’ blistering offense just enough to win.
  • It keeps applying the pressure. For the third straight game and the fourth time this tournament, Villanova forced its opponent into double-figure turnovers at a rate exceeding 20 percent (far worse than the national average). The Wildcats, just as they did against Kansas last weekend, swarmed the Sooners at every turn, giving Buddy Hield little room to operate and continuously forcing Oklahoma’s guards into forced shots and bad decisions. In four of North Carolina’s six losses this season, the Tar Heels turned the ball over at a rate well beyond their season average, including a 16 turnover (22.5%) effort against pressure-happy Louisville back on February 1. If Jay Wright’s crew – with its enhanced 1-2-2 zone press – can hassle Marcus Paige and disrupt North Carolina’s offensive flow (and perhaps limit Brice Johnson’s touches the way it did with Kansas forward Perry Ellis in the Elite Eight), a National Championship may be in the books.
  • The Wildcats dictate tempo. Villanova’s defensive pressure and crisp rotations slowed down Oklahoma’s usually-uptempo offense to great effect on Saturday night, preventing the Sooners from ever finding a groove on that end of the court. North Carolina also likes to operate quickly – at 15.5 seconds, its average offensive possession length is among the shortest in college basketball – so slowing down possessions and forcing the Tar Heels to operate in the half-court may be essential to the Wildcats’ success. A plodding North Carolina offense is much less scary than a North Carolina offense in transition.
  • Its penetrate-and-kick game remains on point. The Wildcats, which shot 24-of-31 from inside the arc against Oklahoma on Saturday night, probably won’t find as many good looks near the basket against the larger and lankier Tar Heels. The good news, however, is that North Carolina does not do a great job of running teams off the three-point line, enabling its opponents to score more than one-third of all points from behind the arc. Villanova’s 4-out 1-in motion attack is predicated on crisp ball movement and the ability of its many capable ball-handlers to attack the lane and kick out for open threes. If Josh Hart (who was able to penetrate at will against the Sooners), Ryan Arcidiacono, and the other Wildcat dribble-penetrators are able to attack the teeth of North Carolina’s defense and draw help defenders, open perimeter looks will be there. And if Villanova can shoot anywhere near the way it did on Saturday night – an absurd 14-of-19 (73.7%) from long distance – there’s a very good chance the Big East Champions will be National Champions by night’s end.
Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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