In the final game of one of the wildest college basketball seasons in recent history, the North Carolina men’s basketball team will face off against Villanova in Houston in the 2016 NCAA National Championship Game.
After his team’s 17-point win over ACC foe Syracuse on Saturday, Coach Roy Williams is leading the top-seeded Tar Heels (33-6, 14-4 ACC) to their first national title appearance since 2009 — when UNC rolled past the Wildcats in the Final Four before stomping Michigan State in the championship game.
On the other side, Coach Jay Wright is coaching in the first national title game of his 15-year tenure at Villanova (34-5, 16-2 Big East). Since losing to North Carolina in the 2009 national semifinals, the Wildcats had failed to reach the Sweet 16 — until this season, when second-seeded Villanova stormed through the tournament and trounced No. 2 Oklahoma by 44 points to set up the championship showdown with the Tar Heels.
Here is how North Carolina and Villanova match up for tonight’s game, which tips off at 9:19 p.m.
POINT GUARD: Joel Berry v. Ryan Arcidiacono
Though Berry had his lowest scoring total of the tournament against Syracuse, he played arguably his best game — falling two points and three rebounds shy of a triple-double.
Meanwhile, Arcidiacono has posted double-digit points in each of the past five games, shooting 60.9 percent from the 3-point line this tournament.
Each point guard has proven to be pivotal parts of their team’s offensive attack. Either could win their team the title. This one is a push.
SHOOTING GUARD: Marcus Paige v. Jalen Brunson
After a hot shooting start to the NCAA Tournament, Paige cooled off considerably in the first half of Saturday’s game against Syracuse, shooting just 1-of-6 from the field.
But as he has done so many times in his career, “Second Half Marcus” came alive, nailing three 3-pointers to lift UNC over the Orange.
Brunson is the lone first-year in the Wildcats lineup, and while he has shown the ability to score in bunches, he will have a tough time competing against the experience and skillset of Paige.
SMALL FORWARD: Justin Jackson v. Josh Hart
Jackson might have had the quietest 16-point game of all time in UNC’s win over Syracuse in the Final Four.
The sophomore made a living along the baseline, often receiving passes from Berry and finishing at the rim.
But Josh Hart has been Villanova’s top scoring threat since the season began, scoring 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting against Oklahoma on Saturday.
Hart has scored 18-plus points in a game 17 times this season, and he should get be able to get the better of Jackson on Monday.
POWER FORWARD: Brice Johnson v. Kris Jenkins
Both Johnson and Jenkins won the Most Outstanding Player award for their respective regions in the NCAA Tournament, and the two are slated to face off against each other on Monday night.
Jenkins has averaged 15.8 points per game in the Big Dance, but despite his strong showing, Johnson has shown that he can take games over.
Johnson is averaging 20 points per game in the tournament, and with the chance to cement his legacy with a win, his dominance should continue on Monday night.
CENTER: Kennedy Meeks v. Daniel Ochefu
Meeks has become an X-factor for North Carolina after a rough regular season, scoring double digits in three straight games to help the Tar Heels reach the title game.
Ochefu has been a constant post contributor on a team known for its stellar guard play, averaging 10.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting 62.3 percent.
Ochefu has scored in double figures in 17 games this season — compared to Meeks’ 13 — and Villanova is 16-1 when he does so.
Ochefu has the advantage.
SIXTH MAN: Isaiah Hicks v. Mikal Bridges
Neither Hicks nor Bridges has been overly impressive in the NCAA Tournament, as both players have averaged less than nine points per game in five contests.
To find separation between the two, you have to look at their respective regular season resumes.
Hicks acted as a catalyst off the bench for UNC and tallied 15 games in double figures, including a stretch of seven-straight games from December to January.
Bridges, on the other hand, scored 10-plus just four times during the regular season.
While Wright has his team playing its best basketball of the season, Williams has the advantage of being on this stage before.
The 28-year veteran has been to four previous NCAA title games, losing two as the coach of Kansas (1991, 2003) and winning two with the Tar Heels (2005, 2009). Williams is one of five coaches to appear in the title game five times.
The edge goes to experience.
Compiled by C Jackson Cowart and Jeremy Vernon
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