HOUSTON — One of these two teams was ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press poll. The other was ranked 11th. And both were ranked No. 1 at some point during the regular season. And both won their league’s regular-season championship. And these two schools are ranked first and second at KenPom right now.
So there will be no fluky national champion.
No matter what happens, it’ll make sense. Whichever team wins, it’ll make sense.
Because all of the Cinderellas are gone. All of the double-digit seeds are gone. All that’s left is the ACC champion and the Big East champion — two teams with a combined record of 77-11, two teams mostly led by upperclassmen, two teams that have never, at any point in this crazy season, been ranked outside of the top 15 of KenPom. And they were fourth and fifth at KenPom when this NCAA Tournament began three Tuesdays ago.
So there will be no fluky national champion.
It’s North Carolina vs. Villanova. Here are the four best storylines for the final game of this Final Four:
1. The brothers — Nate and Kris
By now you probably know the story. Or, at least, you’re aware of the story. But, if not, the story is this: Nate Britt and Kris Jenkins are legally brothers. They played AAU basketball together. They played high school basketball together. Now one plays for North Carolina, the other for Villanova. So it’ll be a family affair on the court at NRG Stadium. And, yes, this is the first time in history that two people who are legally brothers have ever faced each other in the national championship game.
2. Villanova’s historically impressive dominance
It can’t be a surprise that Villanova is in the title game considering the Wildcats A) were ranked No. 1 during this season, B) are the champions of the nation’s third-best league, according to KenPom, and C) are a No. 2 seed in this NCAA Tournament. But how Villanova got to the title game — i.e., by absolutely destroying folks — is a bit surprising. The Wildcats beat UNC Asheville by 30 points, Iowa by 19, Miami by 23, Kansas by 5 and Oklahoma by 44. That means they’re winning games in this NCAA Tournament by an average of 24.2 points. If you’re wondering, the margin-of-victory record for a national champion is 23.7. It was set by the 1967 UCLA Bruins. So now I’m writing about the 1967 UCLA Bruins and the 2016 Villanova Wildcats in the same paragraph. And that’s kinda crazy, isn’t it?
3. Villanova is doing this without pros
I’ve written about it consistently for years — how having multiple future first-round NBA Draft picks is basically a prerequisite to winning a national championship. It’s historically improbable to win a title without at least two. Most have at least three. Duke had three last season — and four if you count Grayson Allen alongside Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones. But Villanova? Villanova has zero. Because even though Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Josh Hart and Daniel Ochefu could all theoretically play in the NBA, it’s highly unlikely any of them will be first-round picks. So not only are the Wildcats killing opponents in this NCAA Tournament, they’re doing it without the type of pro talent it usually takes, and that’s remarkable.
4. Roy Williams’ chance to join an elite club
Only five men have won more than two national titles in men’s basketball — namely John Wooden (10), Mike Krzyzewski (5), Adolph Rupp (4), Jim Calhoun (3) and Bob Knight (3). UNC’s Roy Williams won the 2005 and 2009 championships. So now he has a chance to become the sixth. And, if he does it, he’d obviously be elevated into a special category of all-time greats, and he’d be responsible for 25 percent of the past 12 national championships. Not bad.
Final thought: The more I think about this game, the more I realize no matter which team you pick, you’re guaranteed to feel really stupid if the team you pick doesn’t win.
Here’s why: If you pick Villanova, you’re picking against the preseason No. 1 team, against the ACC regular-season champs, against the ACC Tournament champs, against the most talented team on the court, against the favorite and only No. 1 seed that made the Final Four. And how in the world could you do that? On the other hand, if you pick North Carolina, you’re picking against the Big East champs, against a team that’s winning games in this NCAA Tournament by 24.2 points, against a team that just beat Oklahoma by 44, against a team that’s shooting 48.9 percent from 3-point range in this event, and against the team that’s ranked No. 1 at KenPom right now. And how in the world could you do that?
So you see the dilemma, right?
Only one team can win. But it’s hard to imagine either team losing.
Pressed for a pick, I’ll take North Carolina.
But both teams are playing so well right now. Either will be a worthy champion.