Back in the fall, 351 teams lined up with hopes of playing on Monday night. Well over 5,000 games and many more practices later, the end is near. Two teams remain, and their play over the past three weekends makes them deserving participants.
North Carolina and Villanova are not surprises getting this far. The Tar Heels were the preseason No. 1 of a lot of people, while most had Villanova as a top 10 team. The Wildcats’ appearance might be a mild surprise, but that they have reached this point should shock no one, not even those who could only talk about how the Wildcats had not gotten past the first weekend for several years.
These two teams have not only earned their way here, they have done it well. North Carolina has been playing the best basketball of anyone of late, winning all five of their games in the NCAA Tournament by double figures. Villanova isn’t far behind, though, as the Wildcats have played like a team on a mission, winning all but one of their games – the regional final win over Kansas – by double digits, including Saturday’s surprising annihilation of Oklahoma.
North Carolina has played like a team that most figured would have a chance to win it all. Villanova is playing like a team that has embraced the challenge of changing their story from a team that couldn’t get past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, but without going overboard about it. North Carolina has a front line that has been tough to stop, but Marcus Paige seems to have his jump shot falling again as well. Villanova has a big man who has emerged in the NCAA Tournament, and the Wildcats have shot the ball better than any other team in NCAA Tournament history leading up to the championship game.
There’s a conference angle as well. The ACC has had a historic run this season in the NCAA Tournament, with its teams winning a record 19 games this season and 36 over the past two seasons, 16 more than Big Ten teams, who are second. The Big East, meanwhile, in its current configuration has had some great non-conference stretches but not good months of March. A Villanova win can start to change that story.
It’s been quite a season of college basketball from a number of angles. One act remains, and there is every reason to think it could be a very good one.
Central Connecticut State will hire a former star in the state to lead the program, as former UConn All-American Donyell Marshall will take over as the head coach. Marshall has been in the college game as an assistant coach for a while, most recently at Buffalo this past season as the Bulls won the MAC title for the second straight year. You can keep track of all the coaching changes right here.
One coach who is not going anywhere is Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, although he did make a notable trip to see a surgeon on Sunday morning. The legendary coach had knee replacement surgery on Sunday morning, but said he will be ready for the Rio Games starting on August 5.
There is also more news with players headed to the NBA Draft. Marquette big man Henry Ellenson nearly averaged a double-double and will declare for the draft and sign with an agent. The move is not surprising as he is expected to be a lottery pick. Also, Thon Maker will likely not play college basketball, in a move that surprises few if any people, as he announced he will declare for the draft, but he awaits word on his eligibility. While Maker is 19 years old, he is still a student at Orangeville Prep in Canada, so the question is if the NBA accepts that he was a member of the high school class of 2015, which would make him one year removed from high school. You can keep track of all the early entrants to the NBA Draft right here.
It call comes down to one final game. At 9:19 p.m. Eastern, Villanova takes on North Carolina for the national championship.