How North Carolina, Villanova match up in the NCAA Championship

 

The stage is set. Villanova and North Carolina each have five impressive wins, and to this point have looked like the best, most consistent teams in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Villanova set a Final Four record with a 44-point win and the best shooting performance since the Wildcats cut down the nets in 1985, and yet Jay Wright’s team is still a slight underdog against the No. 1-seeded North Carolina team that has been surging since the end of the regular season.

With the NCAA championship set, we take a look at the X’s and O’s behind North Carolina-Villanova.

Likely starting lineups

Villanova: Jalen Brunson (G), Ryan Arcidiacono (G), Josh Hart (G), Kris Jenkins (F), Daniel Ochefu (F)

North Carolina: Marcus Paige (G), Joel Berry (G), Justin Jackson (F), Brice Johnson (F), Kennedy Meeks (F)

Spread: North Carolina (-1.5)

Villanova’s offense vs. North Carolina’s defense: Villanova and North Carolina have the two highest efficiency ratings of the Final Four teams in the NCAA Tournament, but it might be another three decades before someone puts together a performance as impressive as the Wildcats’ Saturday night showing against Oklahoma.

Villanova’s 71.4 perfect field goal percentage is the second-best in Final Four history. The best? None other than Villanova’s lights-out night against Georgetown in the 1985 national championship game (78.6). The fifth win for this Villanova team in Final Four has pushed the average margin of victory into record territory; the Wildcats’ 24.2-point scoring margin for the tournament is on pace to break the record, set by 1967 UCLA (23.75).

Of course, there is a North Carolina team playing some of its best defense here in the postseason that could put a drastic dent into that margin of victory average. A North Carolina team that has won 10 games in a row, all by double digits.

North Carolina offense vs. Villanova defense: North Carolina’s size could present an issue for Villanova, and that’s where most of the conversation starts. Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and even Joel James overwhelmed Syracuse down low and finished with 50 points in the paint.

Villanova has been an efficient team all season, but its defensive pressure has been a difference-maker here in the NCAA Tournament. That pressure has helped force 69 turnovers across the team’s five tournament victories, with the 10 steals against Oklahoma playing a huge role in the blowout win.

But all the pressure defense in the world won’t help Villanova if the Wildcats don’t provide relentless effort keeping the Tar Heels off the offensive glass. North Carolina missed each of its first 10 3-pointers against Syracuse but still held a halftime lead thanks to playing volleyball around the rim against the 2-3 zone defense.

Bench: Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges each scored in double figures and combined for 21 points against Oklahoma, but Villanova’s bench does not have the ability to wear down an opponent like North Carolina, at least the way the Tar Heels have been playing recently. Isaiah Hicks, Joel James, Theo Pinson and more are capable of coming off the bench and giving a starter’s value in contribution.

Coaching edge: Roy Williams has it here. Not only with two national championships, but also a Final Four win against Jay Wright and Villanova the last time both programs were here — meeting in the semifinals in 2009. Wright’s Wildcats seem to be on a magical tear, but the sideline advantage goes to the Tar Heels.

Villanova and North Carolina have cruised to the title game. (USATSI)

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