In the aftermath of what is being called the best national championship game ever, the constant analysis of the final ten seconds of the North Carolina/Villanova game focuses on the final two shots. However, one aspect that struck me almost immediately has been overlooked by most of the game recaps – how wide open Kris Jenkins was on the shot.
Brice Johnson was in no man’s land on the play, standing in the paint despite Villanova’s need to go the entire length of the court to get a shot off. The half-hearted screen set at half court erased the one Carolina defender that actually came out to defend the ball and the hand-off to Kris Jenkins was unmolested.
So why, with the season on the line, did Roy Williams set up his defense to put minimal pressure on the ball?
Ben Mathis-Lilly pointed out that in the post-game press conference, Roy Williams explained his set-up by referencing a previous play run by the Wildcats. In the Oklahoma game, Villanova ran an inbound play that was a full-court pass for a quick basket. Williams explained that he was afraid that Villanova would run that play again, thus positioning Johnson under the basket to stop any passes down court.
Does this decision make sense? In a vacuum, yes. Villanova has run the play before, and a lay-up is an easier basket to make than a long three pointer. However, in context, it does not. Villanova would not risk a turnover by heaving the ball down court when it had the time to dribble up court and get the ball to Jenkins or another shooter. It makes more sense to deploy a full-court defense to ensure that Villanova’s players get minimal open looks, regardless of where they are on the court.
Sometimes as a coach it is easy to get too inside your head. In the moment, you overthink and forget the basics of a game. You can assume a team will run an unusual play because why would they run something vanilla in such a tense situation. So you overthink and defend against the unusual. This is not a condemnation of Roy Williams; the man is a very good coach. This is just a good example that sometimes even a good coach can get too carried away at out-thinking his opponent, and the result is a game-changing error.