How They Got Here: Well, the easy answer is by winning five straight, but the much longer answer is they did it under a blitzkrieg of daunting play. In the Round of 64, they played close to Florida Gulf Coast in the first half before kicking it into hyper drive in the second half, defeating the Eagles by a score of 83 to 67. In the Round of 32 and it what would be continuing trend for the rest of the tournament, North Carolina breezed by Providence by a score of 85 to 66. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Tar Heels fired on all cylinders from the onset as they hammered the Hoosiers of Indiana to a final score of 101 to 86. In the Elite Eight, the Tar Heels dispatched Notre Dame by a score of 88 to 74. Finally in the Final Four, the Tar Heels sent Syracuse home after another uneven affair, defeating the Orange by a score of 83 to 66. Over the course of their run in the tournament, they're average points per game has been 88, in what appears to be unstoppable to anyone who comes across them on the court.
Head Coach: Roy Williams.
In a career spanning twenty-eight years at the helm of both Kansas and North Carolina, accolades don't come short for Roy Williams. To start off, he is the only coach in NCAA History to have 350 or more wins at two Division I schools. Has taken conference coach of the year honors in three different conferences, Big 8 (1990, 1992, 1995, & 1996), Big XII (1997, 2002, & 2003), and ACC (2006 & 20011) and Naismith Coach of the Year honors in 1997. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. Overall his career record is 783-208. He was an assistant coach to Dean Smith prior to becoming a head coach.
In terms of success in March, Williams has only missed the tournament on two occasions. He has made the Final Four eight times. Four times with Kansas (1991, 1993, 2002, and 2003) and four times with North Carolina (2005, 2008, 2009, and 2016). He has finished as a runner up in the national championship game twice with Kansas (1991 and 2003), and has taken home the title twice back home to Chapel Hill with North Carolina in 2005 and 2009. If North Carolina win on Monday, Roy Williams will join an elite list featuring the likes of Adolph Rupp and Bobby Knight of coaches who have won at least three titles.
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Joel Berry
SG: Marcus Paige
SF: Justin Jackson
PF: Brice Johnson
C: Kennedy Meeks
The High-Profile Acts
Brice Johnson: Marcus Paige may be the heart of this Carolina team, but Brice Johnson is the soul. He never envisioned starring for the blue blood program in the national championship, but here he is, averaging 21 points a game this tournament and close to 10 rebounds, all while shooting 63% from the field. He's matured into a team leader through his tenacity at both ends of the floor. He's an excellent rebounder, and is long and rangy enough to get his fair share of blocks, totaling 14 for the tourney. Johnson can play above the rim, gets off the pick-and-roll well and has a comfort zone shooting away from the basket. Villanova will have to guard him tough in order to limit his effectiveness.
Justin Jackson: Carolina's long and lean swingman does a bit of everything for them offensively. Jackson has the ability to get to the rim, a strong mid range game, and can knock down the occasional three pointer. On the season, he averaged 12.3 points per game, at an efficient 46.8% field goal percentage. Jackson is a good distributor of the ball as well, as he was 4th on the team with 2.8 assists per game. While he may not have the gaudy rebounding numbers that some of his teammates have, Jackson is very effective on the glass himself. The sophomore averaged 3.9 rebounds per game, including 1.79 offensive boards a game. Standing at 6'8" with a 6'11" wingspan, Jackson has the physical advantage over pretty much anyone opponents throw at him.
Marcus Paige: The leader of the Tar Heels has actually had a down year by his lofty standards. Paige's scoring, shooting percentages, and assist numbers are all the lowest they've been since his freshman season. And yet, despite not playing up to his caliber for the whole season, Marcus Paige has stepped up his play in the postseason. Paige has scored in double figures in all but one of UNC's ACC and NCAA tournament games, including making at least 40% on 3 pointers in six of those eight contests. For all the talent North Carolina has in the front court, when Paige can hit shots from the outside they become nearly impossible to defend. .
Kennedy Meeks: Meeks reminds me of a less-talented Sean May: he's a big, bruising defender who is comfortable with the rock underneath. His impact is on the defensive side of the ball, but Meeks has shown he can be relies on offensively, tying his NCAA Tournament high with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting in Saturday's win over Syracuse. He has struggled this season with inconsistency and knee issues, but he is heating up at the most opportunistic moment. Meeks will be a tough task for anyone down low.
Isaiah Hicks: While six players log more minutes per game than Hicks, the junior forward makes the most of his 18 minutes of action per game, averaging 9.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. The rebounding average is good enough for third best on the Tar Heels behind Johnson and Meeks. North Carolina is the third best offensive rebounding team in the country. Their OR% (percent of available offensive rebounds grabbed) is a robust 40.6%, compared to the national average of 29.8%. Hicks plays a big role in the offensive rebounding success, as he holds an OR% of 12.6%, which is 80th of 2219 players nationwide.
Joel Berry: Berry is often forgotten when discussing North Carolina, as he shares a backcourt with Paige. In his first season at point (Paige ran the point last season), Berry started 38 of UNC's 39 games this season, averaging 12.6 points in 30.5 minutes per game. Additionally, Berry is one of the country's best free throw shooters, as he's 90-104 from the line this season (86.4%).