UNC or Villanova? SI experts make their national championship picks

Will North Carolina or Villanova cut down the nets on Monday night? SI experts make their picks for the national championship game.
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Seth Davis

North Carolina over Villanova

Villanova’s defense and overall toughness have been extremely impressive in the tournament, but I am picking the Tar Heels to win for two reasons. First, I do not believe Villanova can continue performing offensively at this rate. They shot 71.4% from the floor against Oklahoma and have been making threes at a much higher rate than they did during the regular season. Second, the Wildcats, like every other team in the country, are going to have an awfully tough time keeping the Tar Heels off the offensive glass. Unlike the Sooners, North Carolina can score through the post and clean up their own misses. That means the Heels are operating on a much greater margin for error. And in case you haven’t noticed, North Carolina can play some pretty mean D itself.

Luke Winn

Villanova over North Carolina

Vegas doesn’t agree—the line has hovered between 2.5 and 3 points in North Carolina’s favor—but I can’t bring myself to pick against Villanova’s defense. Three times in a row now, first with Miami, then Kansas, then Oklahoma, I’ve watched an elite offense get thrown completely out of sorts by the Wildcats’ hyper-active combo of switching man-to-man, 1-2-2 press and 2-3 zone. And while the Tar Heels are peaking, scoring on Indiana, Notre Dame and Syracuse is nothing like trying to score on ‘Nova. I see a reprise of the Wildcats’ Elite Eight game against the Jayhawks, where ‘Nova, without its magical shooting powers, grinds out a one-possession win in the 60s.

Michael Rosenberg

Villanova over North Carolina

The Wildcats are underdogs but don’t carry themselves like it. They act like they know they are the toughest team and expect to win. The Tar Heels can dominate inside, but their weak three-point shooting could finally cost them.


Greg Bishop

North Carolina over Villanova

The strengths that make North Carolina unusual also make them the best pick to win the national championship. That starts with experience, with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige, and a roster devoid of major freshman contributions. The Tar Heels don’t rely on the three-pointer—if they did, they would have lost to Syracuse. Their strength is their frontcourt, which starts with Johnson but is deep. When Johnson sat out for 11 minutes of the first half against the Orange, junior forwards Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks stepped up. On Monday, it could be Justin Jackson, or Theo Pinson, in a similar role. For those reasons—UNC’s depth, its experience and its interior players—the Tar Heels will beat the Wildcats.

Pete Thamel

North Carolina over Villanova

Three things to watch for in the national championship game

This should be a fun and engaging game between two teams that prefer an up-tempo and free-flowing style. Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins said in the losing locker room Saturday that for the Wildcats to have a chance, they’ll need to turn UNC over. It’s hard to imagine senior guard Marcus Paige and the experienced and poised Tar Heels getting rattled, as they are No. 21 nationally in turnover percentage. I took Carolina to start the NCAA tournament, and even Villanova’s historic performance on Saturday hasn’t shaken that stance. Look for the Tar Heels’ depth and dedication to pounding the ball inside to make Villanova vulnerable by putting them in foul trouble. Eventually, the Tar Heels will be able to overpower and outlast the Wildcats. (Unless, of course, Villanova continues to channel 1985-level shooting percentages.)

Brian Hamilton

North Carolina over Villanova

There will be some regression to the mean for Villanova, which can’t possibly play as well offensively as it did in the national semifinal destruction of Oklahoma. Compounding that, North Carolina’s big men should be athletic enough to chase smaller players around the perimeter and prevent Roy Williams from having to go small and surrender his team’s one glaring advantage in most games. More anecdotally, the Tar Heels are going to have spent more than 24 hours hearing about how great the Wildcats are; on Sunday, one reporter actually asked North Carolina big man Brice Johnson if Villanova was “beatable.” There’s Tar Heels will certainly be locked in and there’s a good chance they’ll contrive some disrespect to use as motivation. That, plus their talent advantage, will be enough.

MORE: The Case For—and the Case Against—each team on Monday night

Dan Greene

North Carolina over Villanova

With Saturday night’s slaughter of Oklahoma fresh in mind, it is hard to imagine Villanova coming out on the wrong end just 48 hours later. The Wildcats have been defending tenaciously and, against the Sooners, shot historically. But the Tar Heels have been low-key dominant as well, winning each of their five tourney games by 14 points or more. Against Syracuse, the depth and skill of North Carolina’s bigs was on full display, and given Villanova’s relative lack of size, that is going to be a handful to deal with even for a suddenly elite and well-connected defense. That inside presence, mixed with a more grounded shooting performance from Villanova, should give North Carolina the edge in the kind of thrilling finale this tournament deserves.