The NCAA Basketball National Championship airs tonight on TBS at 9:19 p.m. Impact reporters Joey Ellis and Kyle Turk give their predictions for which team – the North Carolina Tar Heels or the Villanova Wildcats – will emerge victorious.
Joey Ellis: This is by far the toughest game to make a prediction. It is a fantastic problem to have considering it is the national championship game, but look, all I’m asking for is a close contest. After Saturday’s ugly Final Four games, I would be be grateful to have the finale come down to the final minutes. Both of these teams are playing exceptionally well, expectant of teams who make it to this part of the tournament.
After coming off one of the best single-game tournament showings, we will see if the Wildcats’ can mirror that brilliance again tonight. If Villanova comes out playing like they did against Oklahoma, there is no doubt in my mind that Jay Wright will win his elusive title.
The Tar Heels pose a much greater obstacle though. UNC has dominated the paint this tournament on both sides of the ball. Look for the Heels to put a lot more pressure on Nova’s deep ball shooters and be very active down low. The Tar Heels can really put Villanova in a tight spot, forcing them to become a one-dimensional team, something that isn’t in Villanova’s comfort zone. If Carolina can shoot the deep ball better than they did against Syracuse, they will be too overpowering. Nail-biter for sure, but the Tar Heels are cutting down the nets.
Key Player: Has has been inconsistent at moments throughout the season, but look for Marcus Paige to be the catalyst to this dominant offense. Paige is the guy that gets the engine going, he keeps the flow of the game dependent by how the other team is playing them. More often than not this season, when Paige plays well, the Heels play well.
Joey’s Prediction: North Carolina 83, Villanova 79
Kyle Turk: The Villanova-Oklahoma game was a microcosm of this tournament: just as most of the nation predicted the Wildcats and Sooners to go down to the wire, Jay Wright’s team pulls off the most impressive tournament win in decades, smashes the Final Four margin of victory records, and throws a huge wrench into how to predict tonight’s game.
The result from Saturday night raises more questions than it answered. Will Villanova shoot the ball as well under the pressure of a potential national title? How well can a good, but not great, North Carolina defense match up with the balanced scoring attack of the Wildcats? Will it even matter if one of the Villanova starters gets into foul trouble, given Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth’s play off the bench in recent weeks? It’s tough to say in the aftermath of such an impressive result how much that changes things psychologically for both teams, given what’s at stake.
North Carolina, to their credit, played like a championship team against Syracuse. They took care of business against a team that was full of momentum, and with the slight edge inside, they could wear down Villanova over forty minutes. If UNC can play at the tempo they want, and continue to limit turnovers (15.3 percent of possessions, good for 18th in the nation), then the title should be theirs. Paige and Brice Johnson individually are stars that could win this game on their own, and it very well could happen on the largest stage in college basketball.
There will be regression from Villanova, that much cannot be denied. However, it cannot be too severe given that the Wildcats are shooting the three better than any team in the nation (sample size caveats apply), and already have the second-best two-point field goal (57.3) and free throw percentages (78.2) in the nation. Is another 70 percent performance possible? Highly unlikely. That said, given the legendary performance that made America stand up and take notice on Saturday evening, a game like the one Villanova played cannot be ignored. North Carolina is a great team, but not every great team can win a national championship.
Key Player: I highlighted him in our roundtable on Friday, and Josh Hart already delivered a solid game against Oklahoma. March (and April) are where the stars are born, and Hart has elevated himself from role player to star during this tournament. Another 23 point effort in the title game, and Mr. Hart may find himself the Final Four MOP. The two-way 2-guard may now be the number one scoring option on this Wildcat team, and unless the Tar Heels find a way to slow him down, it could be 1985 all over again.
Kyle’s Prediction: Villanova 78, North Carolina 75