Kris Jenkins connecting from three as time expired set a course of immense ramifications throughout the basketball world. Not only did Villanova secure their 2nd national title in school in history and help to validate the “new” Big East, but Jenkins turned himself into a college basketball icon. Because of his heroics he will be honored in the same manner as Lorenzo Charles, Keith Smart, and even Michael Jordan for years to come.
And finally, my long felt prognostication about Villanova falling in the NCAA tourney was invalidated.
At the beginning of the season, certain characteristics stuck out and influenced my thinking for how the Wildcats would perform in the 2015-16 campaign. I knew from the get-go that they had tremendous guards with Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, Phil Booth, and Jalen Brunson. Finding playing time for the quartet would be a fortunate challenge that many college coaches wish they had. Yet there were weakness on paper for Jay Wright’s recent teams and many of them were shown in their field of 32 game against NC State in the 2015 NCAA tourney.
The first limitation was on the interior where NC State outrebounded the Wildcats 45-32 and NC State outscored ‘Nova 34 to 14 in the paint. The second chink in the armor was the Wildcats reliance on the three point shot, and on that day against the Wolfpack, Villanova shot 9-29 from deep.
As is true in sports, each season is different but those same two areas were exploited against Oklahoma on December 7th in Pearl Harbor. In that game the Sooners were +8 on rebounds while the Wildcats were a horrid 4-32 from three. This game against a quality opponent on the road validated my opinion that while ‘Nova was good, they could face an early exit come tournament time because of their consistent weaknesses in the past couple years under Wright.
While I respected Villanova as a team and would say they are the model program in the Big East, I had a gut feeling that Xavier was more equipped for a deep tournament run. The reasons had to do with Xavier’s guards, who were just as talented as Villanova’s, and their depth in the frontcourt. Bronson Koenig and Wisconsin proved me wrong as Koenig’s three pointer at the buzzer moved the Badgers on and eliminated the Musketeers.
Villanova did eventually move on to the Sweet 16 and looked unstoppable against a top ranked Miami team, as the Wildcats racked up a 92-69 victory. In the Elite Eight against number 1 seeded Kansas, I just felt that the Wildcats run was destined to end and eventually Villanova would be unable to connect from three and their weakness inside would be exploited. Once again I was wrong as the Wildcats added to their DNA a tenacious defense that was not illustrated through the course of the season until tournament time. The Wildcats were able to suffocate the Kansas Jayhawks and were able to force live ball turnovers and convert in transition. This was a dimension that was not truly visible against the top tier teams in the Big East or anyone else in the regular season.
That suffocating defense showed their tenacious side in the national semifinal as Buddy Hield, one of the best collegiate players this year, was locked down by the Wildcats. Hield shot a pedestrian 4-12 from the field and his teammates did not do much better as ‘Nova shot an incredible 67% from the field en route to a 95-51 victory. While I was surprised of the lopsided result, the Wildcats played with that “defense wins championship mentality.” However, despite their strong play as of late, I felt that ‘Nova would keep it close but would ultimately fall to the Tar Heels in the championship game.
As had happened all through the tournament, I was wrong once again. The Wildcats not only kept it close but were able to hold a lead and were just one stop away from securing the title until Marcus Paige did his best Mario Chalmers impression, and hit a double clutch three pointer to tie the game.
Unfortunately for Paige, he was morphed from being Mario Chalmers to being Sean Woods, who hit the shot that would have sent Kentucky to the Final Four in 1992 if not for some guy named Christian Laettner. The Wildcats had one more opportunity and made it worthwhile as Arcidiacono pushed the ball up the floor and did a dribble handoff to Jenkins, who let the shot fly. And as the ball sailed in the air the final horn sounded and when the ball dropped through the net, pandemonium occurred. Villanova celebrated what many thought could not be done: winning an NCAA tournament title.
Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Villanova won their second national championship in program history against North Carolina, 77-74, on a Kris Jenkins buzzer-beater. The Tar Heels tied the game at 74 before the game-winning shot when senior Marcus Paige hit a double-clutch three pointer.
The two teams went shot for shot throughout the night but ‘Nova had the ball last and made the most of their opportunity. Although only playing 21 minutes in this game because of foul trouble, Jenkins remained on the court down the stretch despite the four fouls. He made the most of that opportunity.
Jenkins’s shot may have won the game for the Wildcats, but Phil Booth kept them in the contest. The sophomore guard had a career-high 20 points off the bench in 25 minutes of play. Jenkins and redshirt freshman Mikal Bridges were both in foul trouble throughout the night, which gave Booth the opportunity to shine.
Senior Ryan Arcidiacono, who was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, scored 16 points in his final game as a Wildcat, while junior Josh Hart had 12 points of his own.
Paige scored a game-high 21 points in his last game as a Tar Heel. Paige got off to a slow start on the offensive end by only scoring 4 points in the first half, but he rebounded in the second period with 17 points. Joel Berry II and Brice Johnson added 20 and 14 points respectively for UNC.
This game will go down as one of the best NCAA tournament games ever. Both teams played their hearts out but the team with the ball on the last possession ultimately won the game. What a way to end this year's tournament?
Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Benjamin Simon, Simon Williams, & William Derry
For the first time since 1985, the Villanova Wildcats will be returning to the NCAA Championship game. In 2009, they came the closest, fighting their way to the Final Four, falling to the eventual champion North Carolina. Four years later, they lost in the first round to North Carolina again. On Monday night, Villanova will face off with North Carolina once more, in hopes of a national title.
Star Players for Villanova
Ryan Arcidiacono (12.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 4.3 APG, .833 FG%, .389 3P%)
The senior leader for this Wildcat team provides the intangibles only the greats can boast. Arcidiacono runs the offense and is the main cog in the 4-guard system that head coach Jay Wright has made signature at Villanova. Arch’s unparalleled drive has been a main factor in Wright’s trust for him ever since freshman year. He started all but one game in his ‘Nova career, (which he only missed because he allowed a senior friend to take his spot on Senior Night during Arch’s freshman season) proving his unmatched worth. The Langhorne, PA native combines his unique mental awareness of the game with the raw ability you want out of a point guard. He can spot-up shoot, rebound, and pass incredibly well. His defense is always lockdown, which helped to limit the successes of Oklahoma star Buddy Hield to a 4/12 performance worth 9 points.
Josh Hart (15.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG, .515 FG%, .752 FT%)
What Ryan Arcidiacono doesn’t do, Josh Hart does. The shooting guard from Maryland is the complementary piece to Arch. Hart is quick and scrappy, but has more of an inside game than Arch. Standing at 6-foot-5, Hart is always mixing it up with the best of them in the paint, grabbing offensive rebounds, batting balls away, and using his impressive motor. He has great anticipation and sees the floor well, too, giving him an edge over the competition. Having elevated his game over the past three seasons, the junior continues to thrive under pressure. He’s been in double digits in points in every game this tournament but one and has a field goal percentage of .556% as well.
Daniel Ochefu (10 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.5 BPG, .623 FG%)
Daniel Ochefu is ‘Nova’s anchor in the paint. He get it’s done at both ends of the court. His 6-foot-11 frame allows him to score over most big men in the country, while also giving him the ability to guard any big in the nation. His ability to pass out of post and find open teammates around the perimeter adds another dimension on the offensive end for the Wildcats. Ochefu is able to do this despite being the only true starting big man for Jay Wright and company.
Star Players for North Carolina
Brice Johnson (17 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.5 BPG, .614 FG%)
In much of his time at UNC, Johnson has never played to his full potential. But this season, Johnson has undoubtedly stepped up and has become the focal point of the North Carolina offense. His athleticism and relentless attacking of the basket has made him unstoppable at times while scoring and rebounding. His ability to also step out and hit a midrange jump shot makes him a top forward in the nation. Against the top teams in the country, his energy ultimately allowed him to consistently produce, earning him First Team All-American honors.
Marcus Paige (12.3 PPG, 3.7 APG, 1.2 STL, .398 FG%, .348 3P%)
Prior to the season, Paige was considered one of the top guards in the nation. But an injury and a season long slump, marred his senior campaign. However, he is still one of the most experienced guards in the country and has found ways to contribute in positive ways, despite not shooting well. He still is one of Carolina’s top two players and his leadership and ability to affect the game without hitting threes shows his value. The thing is though, Paige is starting to find his touch, as he has scored double digits in each of the NCAA Tournament games, and has also shot 40% or above in all but one of the games.
Joel Berry II (12.6 PPG, 3.8 APG, 1.5 STL, .442 FG%, .368 3P%)
The small guard has pleasantly surprised many North Carolina fans this season. He was thrust into the starting point guard position at the beginning of the year when Marcus Paige went down with an injury in the preseason. He hasn’t looked back, as he is second on the team in scoring and has also consistently ran the offense. Although his percentage may not say so, he is also one of the few three point threats for the Tar Heels.
Villanova Frontcourt vs. North Carolina Frontcourt
North Carolina has prided themselves all season on their big man play. Villanova has often been critiqued for their lack of depth in the frontcourt. Here comes the ultimate test. Despite only having two true big men in Darryl Reynolds and Daniel Ochefu, the Wildcats will have to face up against the deepest and most talented frontcourt in the country. If they can slow UNC down and limit the talented North Carolina frontcourt on the defensive end, the Wildcats will have a good chance at bringing home a trophy. If Villanova can additionally take advantage of the height of UNC on the other end by playing small ball, they could prove to get the most of the frontcourt matchup. However, whoever wins this battle will more than likely bring home the hardwood.
Darryl Reynolds (3.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, .649 FG%)
The Tar Heels are known for their strong big man play and their ability to exploit teams in the paint. To counter UNC’s frontline, ‘Nova will rely more heavily on junior forward Darryl Reynolds, who is Villanova's only other true big man besides Daniel Ochefu. Reynolds’s defensive presence of off the bench will be crucial against the big men off UNC’s bench.
Isaiah Hicks (9.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, .616 FG%)
Hicks played much of the season in the shadow of Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks. While Hicks only averages 18 minutes per game, he has consistently produced. This season, he played only two games with single digit minutes and had one game with less than 4 points. His success and ability to produce on the offense end puts a lot of pressure on defenses, and if he can do that Monday night, Villanova will be in for a long outing. Strong play for him allows Johnson and Meeks to rest and also gives the Tar Heels a much needed punch off of the bench.
While Villanova has had a fantastic run, their season will unfortunately end Monday night at the hands of the sizzling hot North Carolina Tar Heels. In a great game, the Tar Heels will prove to be too much for the Wildcats, especially in the frontcourt. In a well played, hard fought game, UNC wins in high scoring affair, 83-76.
Photo: Nati Harnik/Associated Press
(2) Villanova has reached the Final Four for the first since 2009 and will match up against (2) Oklahoma at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX tomorrow. The Wildcats are coming off of a 5 point win against #1 overall seed Kansas, where they were able to limit All-Big 12 First Team forward Perry Ellis to 4 points. Jay Wright and company will try to slow down another All-Big 12 First Team member in star Buddy Hield, who is averaging 25 points per game and has a 50% field goal percentage, a three point percentage of 47%, and free throw percentage of 88%, which has him drawing comparisons to NBA star Stephen Curry.
The last time the two teams met was in early December during the Pearl Harbor Classic in Hawaii when the Sooners blew out the Wildcats, 78-55. Hield tallied 18 points but it was senior guard Isaiah Cousins who scored a game-high 19 points for Oklahoma. ‘Nova, who heavily relies on three pointers, shot 4-32 that night from long range although senior Ryan Arcidiacono led the way with two three’s of his own.
‘Nova finished the regular season with a 27-4 record and are a much different team than they were in the Classic. Although they lost in the Big East Championship Final by two against Seton Hall, they’ve won four straight tournament games and are playing some of their best basketball of the season right now.
A big reason for that success is Nova’s defensive prowess. Against the Jayhawks, the Wildcats forced 16 turnovers and limited them to 59 points, which is pretty good, as Kansas averaged 81 points per game this season. Furthermore redshirt freshman Mikal Bridges had a game-high 5 steals and played solid defense in his 26 minutes of play. Bridges’s number will most likely be called upon again against the Sooners and if ‘Nova wants to repeat this performance they'll need a similar outing from the Great Valley graduate.
Sharp-shooting junior Kris Jenkins has also helped ‘Nova go on this March Madness run. The Maryland native has shot 57% from the field, 46% from three, and averaged 15.3 points per game during the tournament. If Jenkins can continue on this hot streak, his sweet stroke may just be enough to get ‘Nova into the next round.
That being said, Oklahoma has been just as good. Head coach Lon Kruger has led the Sooners to a 29-7 record and they are coming off of a 12 point victory over (1) Oregon in the Elite Eight. Hield is obviously their star, but Cousins, junior Jordan Woodard, and senior Ryan Spangler also play a major role for the West Regional Champions.
Cousins and Woodard make up Oklahoma’s backcourt. The two average 13 and 12.8 points, respectively and will most certainly be guarded by Arcidiacono, freshman Jalen Brunson, sophomore Phil Booth, and Bridges.
Spangler is fourth on Oklahoma in scoring with 10.3 points per game and leads the team in rebounds per game with 9.2. ‘Nova’s senior, Daniel Ochefu, will have to battle down in the paint with Spangler, although he will have added assistance from reserve big man Darryl Reynolds. The battle of the bigs in this game will be a key factor into who will advance on to the Final.
Photo: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
-(1) Villanova faces (5) West Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament