North Carolina and Villanova have consistently managed to find each other in the NCAA Tournament over the years. They’ve played six times in March Madness covering a period from 1982 to 2013. Four of those games have been won by the eventual national champion and we know for a fact that it will be 5-for-7 by the time the clock strikes midnight on the East Coast tonight.
UNC came to Birmingham as the favorite to win the regional. They were the 2-seed and top-seeded Michigan had already been ousted by Villanova, who was on the 8-line. This was a regional stocked with NBA talent. North Carolina had to play Auburn and their excellent power forward Chuck Person. Villanova matched up with Maryland, whose brilliant forward Len Bias would become the #2 overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft, before dying of a cocaine overdose two days later.
The Tar Heels were stacked themselves. Center Brad Daugherty would be the first player picked in the same draft that Bias went 2nd. North Carolina also had a point guard who would be pretty good in the pros himself and will be familiar to everyone who watches tonight—Kenny Smith quarterbacked the two-time NBA champion Houston Rockets in 1994-95, and will be part of the TBS studio crew tonight.
Rollie Massimino’s Villanova were the only team that weren’t loaded up with future pros, although before we romanticize them too much, we know in retrospect that point guard Gary McClain had a serious drug problem that was at least strongly suspected by the coaching staff.
Villanova forced Len Bias into 4-for-13 shooting and won an ugly 46-43 game in the Sweet 16. North Carolina beat Auburn 62-56. Massimino would get his fourth chance at making his first Final Four and his third in the last four years.
The Wildcats’ defense was the story of the day. After UNC built up a ten-point halftime lead, the Tar Heels came completely undone. Smith played poorly and even though Daugherty posted 17 points/12 rebounds, ‘Nova countered with a balanced attack that smothered North Carolina in the second half and pulled away to a 56-44 win. Of course they went on to win the NCAA title in a magical upset of Georgetown.
Once again, Villanova comes into a game with North Carolina having just shut down a great player two days earlier—Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield in this case. Once again, Villanova has to face a quality Tar Heel big man, this time Brice Johnson. Once again, Villanova has the more balanced lineup, but not the star power. Even Kenny Smith will be in attendance. Once again, Villanova is the underdog—getting a modest 2 ½ points. The Wildcats can only hope that the similarities to 1985 extend to the final result.