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Villanova Wildcats vs. North Carolina Tar Heels: NCAA Tournament Championship Preview and Prediction

Author:
Josh Hart

Josh Hart

Making history typically isn’t the easiest thing to do. Villanova made it look like child’s play Saturday night in the Final Four against Oklahoma. The Wildcats demolished the Sooners 95-51, setting an NCAA Tournament record for largest margin of victory in a Final Four game behind a near-perfect offensive performance.

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Can the Wildcats deliver a satisfying encore against North Carolina? The Tar Heels have been playing exactly how you would expect a team to play that began the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. North Carolina had no trouble with Syracuse in the other Final Four pairing, taking down the underdog Orange 83-66.

National Championship: No. 2 Villanova Wildcats (34-5) vs. No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (33-6)

When: 9:19 p.m. ET (Monday)

Where: NRG Stadium (Houston)

TV: TBS

Line: North Carolina -2.5

Keys for Villanova

Force Tar Heels outside

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North Carolina is one of the nation’s worst teams from the perimeter and it showed against Syracuse. The Tar Heels shot a paltry 4-of-17 (23.5 percent) from long distance. Villanova needs to keep North Carolina away from the rim as much as possible. The Tar Heels out-rebounded the Orange 43-31 and scored 16 second-chance points off of 16 offensive rebounds.

Stay active defensively

A potent offense has been Villanova’s calling card throughout the Tournament. The Wildcats are no slouch on defense either. Oklahoma committed 17 turnovers and shot just 31.7 percent (19 of 60) from the field for the game. If the shots don’t fall against North Carolina, the Wildcats can keep the game from spiraling out of control by contesting shots and making the Tar Heels work for a decent look on every possession.

Keys for North Carolina

Cool down the Wildcats early

Villanova has overwhelmed multiple opponents with efficient shooting and the story was no different against Oklahoma. The Wildcats shot a blistering 71.4 percent (35 of 49) from the field and missed five total shots after halftime. Josh Hart led the way with 23 points on a 10-of-12 shooting. It was the second-best shooting performance by a team in Final Four history. If North Carolina lets Villanova find its shot early, the Tar Heels may not slow the Wildcats down.

Feed the paint

There’s no reason why North Carolina shouldn’t attack the rim early and often. Brice Johnson exudes natural-born dominance in the post. Johnson has tallied three double-doubles in five Tournament games and is averaging 20 points and 9.6 rebounds in the Big Dance. He gives the Tar Heels an advantage against most teams and North Carolina would be wise to force Villanova to find ways to stop Johnson and it’s collection of skilled big men.

Final Analysis

It’s no fluke that Villanova and North Carolina are the last two teams standing. No other teams have churned out excellent performances on both offense and defense as often during this year’s NCAA Tournament. This title game has all of the makings of an instant classic and should go down to the final minute. Villanova may have enough of an edge to pull off an upset since the Wildcat offense has looked virtually unstoppable over the last three weeks.

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Prediction: Villanova 78, North Carolina 74

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.