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Mazurek: Villanova earned this year’s title

| Wednesday, April 6, 2016

As a North Carolina fan, last night left me understandably unfulfilled.

The No. 1-seeded Tar Heels had been playing some of the best basketball we’ve seen this year in the NCAA, including commanding wins over Notre Dame and Syracuse. The Tar Heels had the best front court in college basketball and one of the greatest coaches in the game in Roy Williams.

But last night, the preseason favorites met their match in a feisty Villanova team who made its living on heart and defense. And an insane shooting percentage.

Because that’s what last night’s national championship game came down to: shooting.

First, it was North Carolina senior guard Marcus Paige who stepped up. With 4.7 seconds left, Paige pump-faked in mid-air and launched an impossible shot that somehow found the bottom of the net.

But fate was not on North Carolina’s side.

As time expired, Wildcats junior forward Kris Jenkins dropped a 3-point dagger to write himself and No. 2 seed Villanova into the history books.

Even Michael Jordan could only nod in admiration as he looked on from the North Carolina section.

And though I was, and still am, upset — the loss cost me first place in The Observer’s bracket pool — a realization hit me when the NCAA’s signature “One Shinning Moment” montage started.

Villanova is the best team in college basketball this year.

That may seem obvious given the Wildcats just won the NCAA tournament, but the winner of the tournament is not always the best team in the game that year. For example, had last year’s Kentucky team played the eventual champions, Duke, in a 10-game series, Kentucky would have won nine of them.

But for Villanova, we won’t have to resort to hypotheticals. The Wildcats are as close to perfection as any team in 2016 will come.

The Wildcats simply took care of business: They blew out an experienced Miami team in the Sweet 16. They outlasted the top-overall seed, Kansas, in the Elite Eight, and they blew Oklahoma out of the water in the Final Four — the same Oklahoma team the Wildcats lost to by 23 points in December.

And against the second-best team in the tournament, Villanova didn’t back down. All of North Carolina’s length and talent only earned them a five-point halftime lead before the Tar Heels fell short of earning Williams his third title.

But make no mistake: North Carolina did not lose the game. Villanova won it.

The Tar Heels shot 65 percent from 3-point range, both members of their backcourt scored at least 20 points and they pulled down 16 offensive rebounds to Villanova’s two.

But Villanova just played better. It shot 58 percent from the field and got a key contribution off the bench from sophomore guard Phil Booth, who had a career-high 20 points on the night. Oh, and there was Jenkins’ game-winner thrown in there somewhere.

My point? North Carolina played about as well as a team can play. But Villanova matched them, punch for punch, and hoisted the trophy.

And while I still feel for my Tar Heels, I have to admit that they couldn’t have lost to a more deserving team. Wildcats head coach Jay Wright is a class act as far as coaches go, and if there’s anyone who deserved the chance to win it all, it’s him.

And if there is a team that deserved some revenge against the Tar Heels, it was the Wildcats. In both of North Carolina’s recent championship runs, 2005 and 2009, the Tar Heels knocked off the Wildcats along the way. In 2005, it was in the Sweet 16 on a last-second traveling call, and in 2009, it was in the Final Four. In 2013 as well, the eighth-seeded Tar Heels knocked off the ninth-seeded Wildcats in the first round.

Maybe it was this karma — or the karma of crying piccolo girl — but whatever it was, Villanova finally exorcised its demons against North Carolina in dramatic fashion.

And so, while this year’s run may not have the same magic as the 1985 tournament, the 2016 installment of the Wildcats played some of the best college basketball we may ever see.

And at least they aren’t Duke.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

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