Two NCAA champions were crowned this week, but the games, and the champions, could not have been more different.
Villanova handled a game University of North Carolina on the men’s side, winning on a last second three-pointer by Kris Jenkins. The game would prove to be one of the most exciting in NCAA men’s basketball history, with UNC’s Marcus Paige hitting a double-clutched three to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left. Villanova had been on a tear in the tournament, winning four of their six games by at least 19 points. The only games that proved to be a test for Villanova were the games involving tournament favorites Kansas and UNC, which they won by a combined eight points. Despite all of this, the champions came, essentially, out of nowhere. Villanova was not a consensus tournament favorite, as evidenced by only 2.3% of brackets were filled out with them as the champions. In fact, they beat three of the five most popular teams on their way to the championship, so you might as well call them bracket-busters.
Villanova won the championship for the second time in school history, with the first coming in 1985. For the vast majority of recent history, Villanova has been viewed as a team that chokes once the postseason comes around. Since 2010, Villanova had not even made it to the Sweet 16, despite being the second seed in a division twice and the top seed once. Their coach, Jay Wright, was not considered to be one of the top coaches in college. Both of those labels might be shed with this incredible tournament win.
The University of Connecticut women’s team was about as different from the Villanova men’s as a team can be. They were led by a star player in Breanna Stewart, on their way to a fourth straight national championship. An undefeated season was capped, and a promise fulfilled. When Stewart was a sophomore she said in an interview that she wanted to win four championships in a row with UConn, it is not often that such lofty goals are met.
Prior to the Final Four, pundits such as Bill Simmons were saying that they didn’t plan on watching the women’s finals because it had been a foregone conclusion all season that UConn would win, and they were not wrong. UConn won their tournament games by an average of 40 points, including the 31 point victory against Syracuse in the championship game. While UConn continues its dominance of women’s basketball, it also continues to suck all excitement from the game for fans that enjoy not knowing the outcome prior to the game.
Two champions, two programs that couldn’t be more different. One program that won at the last second to the surprise of many pundits, one that won in a blowout that was predicted by just about everyone. Let’s be honest though, UConn going undefeated and winning every game in a blowout is about as impressive as it gets. Winning at the last second is fun, but it isn’t dominating.
UConn was dominating.