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Apr 03

Final Four 2016: Clash of Historic Greats

Villanova WildcatsNorth Carolina Tar HeelsFinal Four 2016

As the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament comes to a close, we will see two of the three best teams in college basketball battle for a national championship. Perhaps some didn’t see it that way during a regular season of unprecedented parity. Every Division I team lost at least four games. All but one team in a major conference (Villanova) lost at least three conference games. And yet in the end, we will see two dominant forces clash during the season’s final game.

On one side, we have a North Carolina Tar Heels team that looks as strong this tournament as they did when lasting winning a national championship in 2009. Meanwhile, the Villanova Wildcats has the four blowout wins and one win over the top overall seed to their credit. In their own way, each team has established a historic level of dominance. Obviously, only one can win tomorrow night.

Before we get to watch that game, let’s analyze the statistical precedence behind North Carolina’s and Villanova’s dominance.

NORTH CAROLINA: DOUBLE-DIGIT WIN IN EACH ROUND
We predicted the Tar Heels to win it all when the bracket came out in mid-March. Since then, there’s been little threat of North Carolina being upset. All five UNC wins came with a scoring margin in the teens. It makes for some remarkable consistency: +16 v. Florida Gulf Coast, +19 v. Providence, +15 v. Indiana, +14 Notre Dame and +17 v. Syracuse. This is a true sign of dominance.

In fact, if the Tar Heels win tomorrow night by double digits, they would become the first national champions since the 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels to win all six games by double digits. Check out how it compares to past champions.

Table 1: Game-by-Game Point Differential (National Champions since 1985)

Year Team R1 R2 S16 E8 F4 NCG Tally
2016 UNC/Nova N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A ?? N/A
2015 Duke +29 +19 +6 +14 +20 +5 4 gms
2014 Connecticut +8* +12 +5 +6 +10 +6 2 gms
2013 Louisville +31 +26 +8 +22 +4 +6 3 gms
2012 Kentucky +15 +16 +12 +12 +8 +8 4 gms
2011 Connecticut +29 +11 +7 +2 +1 +12 3 gms
2010 Duke +29 +15 +13 +7 +21 +2 4 gms
2009 North Carolina +42 +14 +21 +12 +14 +17 6 gms
2008 Kansas +24 +19 +15 +2 +18 +7* 4 gms
2007 Florida +43 +7 +8 +8 +10 +9 2 gms
2006 Florida +26 +22 +4 +13 +15 +16 5 gms
2005 North Carolina +28 +27 +1 +6 +16 +5 3 gms
2004 Connecticut +17 +17 +20 +16 +1 +9 4 gms
2003 Syracuse +11 +12 +1 +16 +11 +3 4 gms
2002 Maryland +15 +30 +10 +8 +9 +12 4 gms
2001 Duke +38 +13 +13 +10 +11 +10 6 gms
2000 Michigan State +27 +12 +17 +11 +12 +13 6 gms
1999 Connecticut +25 +22 +10 +5 +6 +3 3 gms
1998 Kentucky +15 +27 +26 +2 +1* +9 3 gms
1997 Arizona +8 +4 +3 +4* +8 +5* 0 gms
1996 Kentucky +38 +24 +31 +19 +7 +9 4 gms
1995 UCLA +26 +1 +19 +6 +13 +11 4 gms
1994 Arkansas +15 +12 +19 +8 +9 +4 3 gms
1993 North Carolina +20 +45 +6 +7* +10 +6 3 gms
1992 Duke +26 +13 +12 +1* +3 +20 4 gms
1991 Duke +29 +15 +14 +17 +2 +7 4 gms
1990 UNLV +30 +11 +2 +30 +9 +30 4 gms
1989 Michigan +5 +9 +5 +37 +2 +1* 1 gm
1988 Kansas +13 +3 +13 +13 +7 +4 3 gms
1987 Indiana +24 +17 +6 +1 +4 +1 2 gms
1986 Louisville +20 +14 +15 +8 +11 +3 4 gms
1985 Villanova +2 +4 +3 +12 +7 +2 1 gm

R1: Round 1, R2: Round 2, S16: Sweet 16, E8: Elite 8, F4: Final 4, NCG: National Championship Game

Only three teams in the modern tournament era achieved what this Tar Heels can achieve with win by double figures tomorrow night. This speaks more to consistency in dominance than overall dominance. Two of these three champions (2000 Michigan State and 2001 Duke) didn’t win by 20+ points past the opening round. The third champion (2009 North Carolina) had no win bigger than 21 points past the opening round. That seems to fit in very well with what the 2016 Tar Heels achieved. However, it will be very tough for North Carolina to complete the job tomorrow night, given what their opponents have achieved so far in the tourney.

VILLANOVA: BUNCH OF BLOWOUTS COULD LEAD TO ALL-TIME BEST MODERN SCORING MARGIN
Most were shocked to see Villanova dismantle Oklahoma by 44 points in yesterday’s national semifinal game. However, this is far from the first blowout victory for ‘Nova this tournament. The Wildcats have actually won four of their five games by 19 points or more (North Carolina’s largest margin of victory). In fact, Villanova at some point held a 25+ point lead in each of those four games. The one exception? That was the victory over the overall number one seed, Kansas.

At first glance, the 2016 Villanova Wildcats have the makings of possibly becoming the greatest modern day tournament team, if they can pull off the victory tomorrow night. They have won their first five tournament games by a combined 121 points, which nears the record for best scoring margin in a single tournament. That also gives Villanova a 24.2-point average margin of victory thus far, which would also be a tie for the overall tournament record. We don’t think that average scoring margin will stick, given how good North Carolina is, but even a single-digit margin of victory tomorrow night still could make history for Villanova.

Here are all the teams with a +100 scoring margin or better in a single tournament (per College Basketball Reference):

  • 1996 Kentucky Wildcats: +129 scoring margin (in six games — 6-0)
  • 1999 Duke Blue Devils: +123 scoring margin (in six games — 5-1)
  • 2016 Villanova Wildcats: +121 scoring margin (in five games — 5-0)
  • 1993 Kentucky Wildcats: +121 scoring margin (in five games — 4-1)
  • 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels: +121 scoring margin (in six games — 6-0)
  • 1963 Loyola (IL) Ramblers: +115 scoring margin (in five games — 5-0)
  • 1981 Indiana Hoosiers: +113 scoring margin (in five games — 5-0)
  • 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels: +112 scoring margin (in six games — 6-0)
  • 1979 Michigan State Spartans: +103 scoring margin (in five games — 5-0)
  • 2001 Duke Blue Devils: +100 scoring margin (in six games — 6-0)

Look at it like this: Villanova could lose by 21 points tomorrow night and still be the first team with a +100 scoring margin or better since that famed 2009 Tar Heels team. (North Carolina would also having a +100 scoring margin or better with a win by 19 points or more.) And yet, we don’t think all this gives Villanova complete justice. Remember, the Wildcats held a 25+ point lead four times in this tournament. This included games against 7-seed Iowa, 3-seed Miami and 2-seed Oklahoma.

We unfortunately don’t have a significant amount of data to compare this to the other teams on the above list. There will be some necessary legwork to find an apt comparison. However, we can at least compare Villanova to North Carolina. Tar Heels faced no team better than 5-seed Indiana. They avoided Kentucky, Xavier and Virginia to get there. Villanova, on the other hand, faced the tougher possible road (re: we thought Oklahoma was better than 1-seed Oregon out west).

Judging by this, Villanova has the advantage heading into tomorrow’s game. However, because we picked North Carolina to win it all, we’re not convinced who will win. All we can do is hope this match-up lives up to its potential.

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