In so many ways, the NCAA Tournament has consistently, without fail delivered one quality game after another for literally decades, and nowhere has that consistency been more able to be counted on than in the Final Four.
The record books don’t lie; you can go back for 40 years of this event, and it is rare to find even single national semifinal games that one would classify as uncompetitive, to say nothing of having two in the same years. All of which makes Saturday’s results more surprising, yet perhaps also indicative of the way this year’s tourney has gone.
Villanova and North Carolina are the last two teams standing in this season after winning by margins ranging from comfortable to mind-boggling. The Wildcats steamrolled Oklahoma 95-51 in the first semifinal before Carolina easily handled Syracuse 83-66 in the second.
The Wildcats’ 44-point margin of victory is a record for the largest in a Final Four game. The combined margin of victory of 61 points also is easily a record for the largest between two semifinal games (the previous high was 53, set all the way back in 1963).
This year’s national semifinals and title game already have the third-highest combined margin of victory for those three games-and we haven’t even played the championship game. Not since 1968 have the three combined for a higher total margin (69 points), and that plus only the 1949 tourney (64 points) are more than this year’s already through just two games.
Villanova also neared another record with its shooting, hitting an unreal 71.4% from the field, second-best in Final Four history to the school’s remarkable 78.6% against Georgetown in that memorable 1985 NCAA final. If you think the Wildcats have little shot against North Carolina on Monday then you haven’t been watching them in this tourney, because unquestionably this is a team clicking in every way, playing incredible on offense while also disrupting on defense. Villanova will be at a size disadvantage against North Carolina, but it also was against Kansas, and that was no problem.
For the record, it should be remembered that Oklahoma was actually within nine points of Villanova early in the second half. This one got completely away from the Sooners with a 25-0 Nova run midway through the second half. What a dominating performance by the Wildcats, but also it was tough watching a terrific OU team unravel and have such a bad day on such a big stage.
North Carolina again displayed the clinical efficiency it has now for this entire tournament. The Tar Heels have won their five games by margins of 16, 19, 15, 14 and now 17 points.
It says something about how talented UNC is that the team started out 0-for-11 from three-point range yet still won so handily. Despite not being great from the outside, Carolina was 31 of 48 from two-point range. Add in 9-for-11 free throw shooting, and you have the Heels at better than 67% from inside the three-point arc, which is very…Villanova-like.
We should be set for an excellent championship game, “should” being the operative word, at least in past years. As much as the margins of Saturday’s games were very un-Final Four-like, they are very much par for the 2016 NCAA Tournament course. Of the 66 games played in this year’s tourney now, 39 of them have been decided by 10 points or more.
- All is quiet on the men’s side as we await Monday’s championship game and the conclusion of the 2015-16 season.
- The Connecticut Invitational, er, NCAA Division I Women’s Final Four (sorry, couldn’t resist) takes place with UConn taking on Oregon State and Syracuse against Washington. It is good to see some new faces in the Final Four, though; for those who have followed the women’s game for a long time, they know that new faces at this stage used to be the rule, not the exception.
Have a blessed Sunday.