NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.
Every champion in every sport will always be compared to those before and after them, it’s our duty as Americans to rank and compare things in the sports world to spark conversation. Arguably the most polarizing sport to dissect championship teams is college basketball, because of the magnitude that the NCAA Tournament brings, the aptly-named ‘madness’ if you will.
Monday night’s title game between the Villanova Wildcats and the North Carolina Tar Heels was just another example of why the NCAA Tournament is easily one of the best if not the absolute best sporting event in American sports. The absolute craziest *bleep* happens at any given moment and Monday night defined that perfectly.
What was a thrilling and exciting back-and-forth game for the entire 40 minutes was capped off fittingly with two incredible shots. One by Tar Heels senior Marcus Paige, a mid-air pump-fake circus shot to tie the game at 74 apiece with under five seconds to go. What seemed like a shot to give the nation an extra five minutes of outstanding basketball play from both sides was topped by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, knocking down the game-winning buzzer-beater from long range to give the Wildcats their second national championship and first in 31 years.
Part of the reason we as sports fans love the big dance is that is purely unpredictable. I mean, just ask Michigan State and West Virginia, two championship favorites heading into the tournament, particularly the former. The team that ends up coming out on top is often broken down based on how they got there, who they beat, how they beat them, etc.
One can safely argue with no strong rebuttal that Villanova not only caught fire at the right time, but they had one of the more difficult roads to the title, certainly in recent years. It was fitting that their near perfect play for those six games ended with a picture-perfect ending that will be firmly ingrained in sports history.
Just how good was Villanova in this year’s tournament? A closer look reveals some eye-popping numbers.
- The ‘Cats shot better than 58 percent from the field throughout their tournament run, the highest field goal percentage for any championship-winning team, topping Michigan State’s 56.6 percent during their 1979 tournament run.
- ‘Nova shot a cool 50 percent from behind the long line, which is also a record for any college basketball championship team.
- In their two Final Four games alone, they shot a tick below 65 percent from the floor and nearly 60 percent from 3-point land, both also the highest ever.
- Not only did Villanova average 83.5 points in their six tournament games, and one of those they scored only 64 in their Regional final game against top-ranked Kansas, but they won all six of their games by an averaged of more than 20 points, including 44-point drubbing/shellacking/steamrolling of Oklahoma in the national semifinal.
Need some more numbers? Senior point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, who was named Most Outstanding Player in both the Final Four and for the entire tournament, was scorching hot from the field all tournament long. He was 15-21 (71.4 percent) from 2-point range and 16-26 (61.5 percent) from downtown. He averaged 2.5 rebounds and 3 assists per game in the tournament, including the one to set up teammate Kris Jenkins for the game-winning title-clinching shot.
So Villanova alone shot the ball better than anyone in the dance, and their senior point guard highlighted that and led the way for the ‘Cats. But let’s look at who they played en route to their second national championship in program history.
They dispatched 15-seed UNC-Asheville by 30 points in the round of 64. Who the hell would have thought that margin of victory would not be the largest for a championship team? Then then dropped 7-seed Iowa, who was ranked in the top 3 of the AP poll earlier in the season, by 19 points and frankly, the game was not even that close.
On to the Sweet 16. They absolutely rolled ACC power and 3-seed Miami (FL) in the regional semifinals. The Hurricanes were considered a dark horse candidate by many along with Villanova to win the title. All the Wildcats did was blast them by 23 points.
After winning by an average of 24 points in their first three games, they then had a date with the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, the Kansas Jayhawks, led by AP Second Team All-American Perry Ellis. The Jayhawks averaged more than 85 points in their first three games, and Villanova completely shut them down, giving up just 59 points. Perry Ellis finished with just 4 points and was 1-5 from the field.
If their Sweet 16 matchup vs Miami didn’t sell people yet, their strong defensive performance over Kansas definitely did the job. So then they squared off with 2-seed and West Regional champion Oklahoma, led by everyone’s favorite player and Naismith Player of the Year Buddy Hield. Hield, who was the second best scorer in Division-I this season averaging 25.0 PPG, scored more than 115 points and knocked down 15 triples in the West Regional, the second player ever to do that in a single four-game regional.
What Villanova did to Buddy and his buddies was simply stunning, borderline unbelievable actually. Winning by 44 points is probably convincing enough, but to hold the Sooners, another team that was averaging more than 80 points per game in the tournament, to one scorer in double-figures is very impressive, and it wasn’t even Buddy Hield. He finished with 9 points, 4-12 FG and 1-8 3PT, only his second game he did not finish in double-figure scoring.
The the championship game against the Tar Heels, one of the biggest storylines on the Villanova side was how they would be able to compete inside with all the big bodies that North Carolina possesses. If one were to look at just the box score of Monday night’s game, they would think UNC has no front-court presence. Now they did give up more than 40 points to UNC Marcus Paige and Joel Berry II combined, but the big men for the Heels were virtually a non-factor.
Carolina played six forwards last night, all of them combined for 31 points and First Team All-American Brice Johnson was responsible for 14 of those such points.
A recap of Villanova’s powerful performance through the tournament: they ran almost all of their opponents out of the gym with sharp shooting all across the board, they completely diffused the more notable players on the most high-profile teams on their slate (Ellis for KU, Hield for OU, front-court for UNC), and they clinch their second basketball championship in school history in the best-possible way to win any basketball game at any level, in exciting fashion on the biggest stage.
Villanova as a program is no slouch either over the last decade plus. They’ve been in the tournament in 11 of the last 12 seasons and easily have been one of the more successful regular season teams during that 12-year stretch, averaging more than 25 wins per season, headlined by a program-best 35 victories this season. The biggest bugaboo for them all those years has been making a deep run in the tournament and validating all that regular season success.
Now for Villanova and head coach Jay Wright, they got that final monkey off their back and have firmly cemented themselves among the nation’s elite programs in this current era without any “yeah, but…” doubts or second-guessing.