March Madness finishes with a bang

Aro Majumder


In one of the most thrilling college basketball games of all time, Villanova sank a buzzer-beating three-pointer to pick up the win against a devastated University of North Carolina. It was a back-and-forth affair all night long with both teams having a chance to close it out, but in the end it would take the heroics of Kris Jenkins for Villanova to become champions.

Right from the get-go it was clear that this was setting up to be a final for the ages. Neither team was able to gain a big edge in the first half, until UNC cracked the game open with clinical three-point shooting. They were lights-out from beyond the arc, shooting over 70 percent, and finished the first half with a 39-34 lead. Both teams were shooting remarkably well from the field, and seemed to be unaffected by the size of the stadium, which had been notorious for poor shooting after Butler and the University of Connecticut shot a combined 26 percent from the field in 2009.

Unsurprisingly, UNC was unable to keep up the ridiculous shooting in the second half, and Villanova’s advantage in points-in-the-paint began to show. Even with the smaller lineup, strong drives by the guards and valuable contributions in the post by Daniel Ochefu and Josh Hart allowed Villanova to gain a slight edge inside. UNC did show their physical prowess in the rebounding department however, and won that battle 36-23.

Villanova’s grinding style of play payed off towards the end of the game. It appeared that the Wildcats had closed out the game, when they went up by 10 points. UNC scrapped together a big comeback, capped off by one of the most ridiculous shots in the tournament  — a deep contested three-pointer by Kris Jenkins while off balance. With just five seconds left on the clock, Villanova would set up a play off their remaining time-out. Ryan Arcidiacono was able to draw in defenders to the top of the arc and dump it off the the trailing Kris Jenkins who nailed the shot of his lifetime.

It was a well-executed play, but many will point to the surprisingly poor defensive structure of the Tar Heels. With just five seconds left on the clock, you would expect them to play tight defense to defend the three-point-line as that was Villanova’s most likely chance to end the game before overtime. UNC chose to sit back behind the line however, and Jenkins was given a relatively open look.

It’ll be a disappointing loss for coach Roy Williams, who has faced speculation of retirement and has lost support from UNC fans. After their win against Syracuse, Williams was insistent that he wants to hear nothing of his retirement, but now, the rumours are sure to resurface, and more importantly, a decision has to be made by him. He’s been at North Carolina for 13 years and started his college-coaching days in 1988 with Kansas. Currently sitting second in all-time wins in the NCAA tournament behind Mike Krzyzewski, retiring now doesn’t seem to be that bad of a choice. On the other hand, Chapel Hill is embroiled in the “paper-class” scandal, which could make this a very controversial time for him to leave. Many of their student-athletes were allegedly given academic help and fake classes to meet the academic requirements needed to be eligible to play.  

For Villanova, this championship brings back all the joy they received from their last triumph in 1985. The 31 year gap marks the second-longest championship drought in NCAA Division 1 Basketball history. Although their 1985 win was special considering they were an eighth seed and tossed out of having any chance of winning the tournament, this win will surely be no less special. Their 71.4 percent shooting in the semifinal was second only in a Final Four game to their 1985 title game performance, and this was the first time a championship had been decided on a buzzer beater since the 1983 NC State win over the University of Houston. To make it all the more memorable, Rollie Massimino, the head coach of the ‘85 team, was there at the NRG Stadium to witness this historic win and celebrate with first-time-champion, head coach Jay Wright.
There truly could not have been a better way to cap off this year’s NCAA Tournament. Even with the disappointment of the semifinal games, the final more than made up for it. Not only did viewers get to enjoy a tight game throughout with exceptional shooting by both teams, but they were also treated to one of the craziest finishes in college basketball history. For UNC it was nothing but heartbreak, but on the other side of the spectrum it was sheer joy for Villanova.