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Championship Game Preview: North Carolina Versus Villanova

After three weeks of tournament basketball, the field has been whittled down to two. Two teams that were ranked in the Top 10 and even number one in the polls this season.

North Carolina and Villanova square off tonight at 8:19 on TBS in Houston, Texas. The Tar Heels are two and half point favorites to take home the hardware. But, Villanova won’t just lay down and let UNC take it.

In the National Semifinal game against Oklahoma, Villanova came out firing. The Wildcats shot 71 percent from the field and 61 percent from behind the arc. Villanova jumped out to a 14 point halftime lead and never looked back. Nova forced 17 Oklahoma turnovers and even outrebounded the Sooners.

The Wildcats crushed the Sooners 95-51. It is the largest margin of victory in a Final Four game in history of the tournament, besting the 34-point wins by Cincinnati in 1962 and Michigan in 1979. That wasn’t all. Nova shut down the Naismith Player of the Year winner in Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. The Wildcats held Hield, who had averaged 29 points a game in the tournament, to just nine points.

North Carolina hasn’t won a title since 2009, which is a drought in the eyes of Tar Heel fans. But UNC has been playing lights out in the tournament. The Tar Heels were a preseason favorite to make it to Houston and cut down the nets.

The Tar Heels have been playing through senior forward Brice Johnson. Johnson has already set a UNC record for double-doubles in a season, which he has collected three more in the tournament. He has also thrown down some monster slams and put backs in the tourney. If Johnson continues rolling and gets some help from Marcus Paige and Joel Berry II, UNC could roll to a victory.

The National Championship should be one of the best games this tournament, if not the best. We have seen plenty of blowouts and fans want to see a close, hard fought game.

But who wins? And, how?

Villanova has already defeated the number one overall seed in Kansas and took out the Naismith Player of the Year winner in Buddy Hield. The Wildcats have been sharpshooters throughout the postseason, with the exception of the Kansas game. But, Nova has played tremendously on defense. The Wildcats have forced their opponents into double-digit turnovers in every game during the tournament. Villanova held Kansas to 20-points below their season average for points per game. Nova also held Hield to 20 points below is per game average for the tournament in the Final Four matchup.

The Wildcats have also been on fire from the free throw line and from behind the arc. Realistically, Nova has just simply been shooting the ball thinking they can’t miss. On Saturday, the Wildcats finished with a field goal percentage of 71 and 61 percent from three. That is absurd for any team to shoot that well, but the ‘Cats did it. They shot nearly that well against Miami in the Sweet 16, but then came out flat against Kansas in the Elite 8.

Villanova will be led by hot shooting duo of Ryan Arcidiacono and Josh Hart. Arcidiacono was three of four from three against the Sooners, while Hart was the game high scorer with 23. However, Kris Jenkins, the team’s leading scorer, was four of seven from three against Oklahoma and will be the difference maker against the Tar Heels.

So, if the hot shooting, tough defensively minded Wildcats show up, they could win the game. But if Nova comes out cold and can’t get any stops or rebounds, it could be a long night for the Villanova faithful.

North Carolina is playing in the school’s 10th Championship Game and going for a sixth National Title. For UNC to win, Marcus Paige has to protect the ball. The Tar Heels can’t have silly turnovers or play lackadaisical. Nova has forced their opponents into a ton of turnovers in the tournament, the Tar Heels need to play focused, talk to one another on the court and make crisp passes.

The Heels must also play great defense. Nova has a ton of sharpshooters that like to run off ball screens and be ready for a drive and dish in the corner. North Carolina is more athletic and has a ton of size to disrupt long distance shots, and even shots in the paint. Brice Johnson has been a force to reckon with in the paint and has swatted a few shots deep into the crowd. Locking down on defense will help give North Carolina an edge.

Rebounding is another key for the Tar Heels. Villanova isn’t a very big team, but they play smart and managed to outrebound a bigger Oklahoma team. If UNC can get easy basket from offensive rebounds, it could be a long night for the Wildcats.

In the end, the game should be enjoyable. Villanova probably won’t shoot 71 percent again, but, if they do, the Wildcats should win. And if UNC puts up 50 points in the paint like they did against Syracuse, then the Tar Heels should win.