North Carolina (33-6)
vs. Villanova (34-5)
■ Site/time: NRG Stadium, 6:18 p.m. PST
■ How they got here: North Carolina, on a 10-game win streak, defeated Florida Gulf Coast, Providence, Indiana, Notre Dame and Syracuse, with the highest seed being a No. 5 in the Hoosiers; Villanova has impressed more than any team in the draw, beating a 15 seed in North Carolina-Asheville, a 7 in Iowa, a 3 in Miami, a 1 in Kansas and a 2 in Oklahoma.
■ Coaches: Jay Wright (Villanova, 15th season); Roy Williams (North Carolina, 13th season).
■ The lowdown: What was a Final Four of two blowout wins on Saturday might ultimately produce an incredible championship, given the best and most consistent teams over the last three weeks have advanced to the final. Simply, size matters. We haven’t seen a better low post team than North Carolina for some time, and all the switching of screens and pressure that has made Villanova so good defensively might not be enough against the Tar Heels front line of Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. North Carolina shot 24 percent on 3-pointers in a semifinal win against Syracuse and still managed 1.23 points-per-possession. That means the Tar Heels again owned the paint. Villanova won’t shoot the ridiculous 71.4 percent by which it buried Oklahoma by a record 44 points on Saturday, but it needs to make enough jumpers behind leading scorer Josh Hart (10-of-12 shooting against the Sooners) to stand a chance. Not an easy task, given North Carolina is playing its best defense of the season. Another potential issue for Villanova: Much of its offensive production depends on forcing turnovers, and yet in North Carolina you have a team that plays two point guards in Marcus Paige and Joel Berry II, and one that ranks among the Top 20 nationally in fewest turnovers. Villanova has forced an average of 13.8 turnovers through five NCAA games, but now faces its toughest opponent in which to create havoc.
■ Individual matchup to watch: It’s really about four players. Paige and Berry are interchangeable parts handling the offense for North Carolina much as Jalen Brunson and Ryan Arcidiacono do for Villanova. The game very well might be decided inside, where North Carolina owns a notable edge, but there is a reason college basketball today is built around perimeter players. At some point, someone is going to have to make a critical decision that could lead to their team cutting down the nets tonight.
■ Possible unsung hero for the Wildcats: Kris Jenkins. He’s a 6-foot-6-inch junior forward who averages 13.6 points and 3.9 rebounds, a player Wright said was too overweight when he arrived and needed to change his diet to avoid being “the fat kid.” Tough love from his coach has transformed Jenkins into a significant member of the Wildcats and, ironic as this seems now, if he could play bigger than his frame tonight, Villanova might avoid being dominated by the trees of North Carolina.
■ Possible unsung hero for the Tar Heels: The bench. North Carolina goes 10 deep and players such as Hicks and Joel James and Theo Pinson would start on most teams nationally. Villanova can’t wear people down when it begins to substitute. North Carolina can and does.
■ Key stat: If there was a negative to such a historic win against Oklahoma — and it’s difficult finding one — it’s that Villanova allowed the Sooners 19 offensive rebounds. With its four-guard lineup, the Wildcats rank outside the Top 100 in defensive rebounding, which could cause all sorts of issues again the bigger Tar Heels. Daniel Ochefu is Villanova’s best inside presence, but the 6-11 forward can only defend so much space. Unless he can guard multiple bodies at once, North Carolina could again feast on the glass.
■ Did you know?: Villanova has won five NCAA games by an average of 24.2 points, which puts the Wildcats on pace to break UCLA’s scoring margin mark of 23.75 in 1967.
■ Quoting Wright: “We’ve been around long enough to know that we need to put that (Oklahoma victory) away. We don’t expect to play like that again. Just one of those nights. It’s not just about North Carolina’s length and athleticism. It’s the scheme. It’s the desire. We need to have the toughness and aggressiveness to want to go get the ball like they do.”
■ Quoting Williams: “I think coaching and playing at North Carolina is a tremendous advantage, I really do. The history, traditions, it’s a nice school, pretty color, all those kinds of things. The only thing I think is that you always get everybody’s best shot. You don’t ever catch somebody on a bad night. But I’d take all those advantages over that disadvantage. I like that part. I like the fact that I’m pushing our guys to know every day we go out there, that we’re going to catch that other team’s best.”
■ Prediction: North Carolina 78, Villanova 72.