HOUSTON -- We're not here to discuss. We've come to beg. North Carolina and Villanova: please give us a great game, the proper conclusion on Monday night. The right finish to a season laced with suspense and surprise. A season that turned the top-25 rankings into a Las Vegas roulette wheel. A 2015-16 campaign that featured one of the greatest first weekends in NCAA tournament history.
But the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight lacked the upsets and intrigue of past years. Beyond Syracuse's 16-point comeback over Virginia in the Elite Eight, the chalky results of the second week have made us forget what came before.
On Saturday, we watched the Tar Heels and the Wildcats drag a pair of carcasses across the NRG Stadium court for two halves. This is only the third time in the last 50 years that both national semifinals were decided by 15 points or more.
We deserve better. You owe us.
We're confident you will answer the call.
Because North Carolina and Villanova will decide the best team in America on Monday. That's not always the case. But the Tar Heels began the year as the No. 1 team in the country and they justified that distinction with their dominance of the ACC and a "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out" trip through the NCAA tournament. They're not the most complete team in the field, though. That title belongs to a Villanova squad that defeated Oklahoma by 44 points -- no typo, it really was 44 points -- in the most lopsided Final Four matchup in college basketball history. Remember, the Wildcats enjoyed a three-week stretch at No. 1 during the regular season. Perhaps Monday will offer the clash between two powerhouses we crave. The ones we didn't see Saturday.
North Carolina's size and ferocity in the paint seems too destructive if an opponent intends to do anything against the Tar Heels within 15 feet of the rim. But Villanova's 71.4 percent success rate from the field against an elite Oklahoma defense made the possibility of the first national title for the Wildcats since 1985 feel real.
A North Carolina-Villanova matchup -- two teams that last met when the Tar Heels orchestrated a 78-71 win over the Wildcats in the opening round of the 2013 NCAA tournament -- for the national title never seemed improbable. Not in November. Not on Selection Sunday. Not before Saturday's results.
North Carolina roared into the national title game with five consecutive wins by 14 points or more. The Tar Heels overwhelm their opponents with an attack that centers on its frontcourt. Brice Johnson (16 points, nine rebounds against Syracuse) leads a group that has overpowered every NCAA tournament opponent near the bucket.
On Saturday, the Tar Heels outscored the Orange 50-32 in the paint. They manufactured that effort against a Syracuse team that held previous NCAA tournament opponents to only 23.0 points in the paint per game, the lowest mark in the field. Villanova's pursuit of the title began with an effort that flipped the narrative of what Villanova would do -- must do -- to win the national championship.
In the expected dismissal of an overmatched UNC-Asheville squad in the first round, Nova made 69 percent of its shots inside the arc and 46 percent of its 3-pointers. Sure, the Wildcats dashed the hopes of an offense that scored only 56 points that day, but Villanova's offensive output led to the early theory that this team, with its usual defensive pressure and a revival on offense, could emerge as North Carolina's greatest threat. It backed that up by keeping Kansas under 60 points in the Elite Eight.
And Villanova is deep. Josh Hart never drew the hype of his peers around the country, but a 23-point outing against Oklahoma -- six Wildcats recorded double figures --
should will change that.
Villanova's 44-point win over Oklahoma shifted the tone of the conversation: Can any team stop the Wildcats if they continue to shoot at this clip?
The Tar Heels can -- must -- will their way to the rim against Daniel Ochefu and a defensive attack that held Buddy Hield to nine points (4-for-12) and probably followed him back to Norman, Oklahoma, on the team bus because they never left him alone in Saturday's semifinal. The Wildcats can pressure North Carolina full court or half court. They'll rotate often if necessary and chase Marcus Paige, the focus on UNC's schemes, to limit his mobility and encourage errant passes to the big bodies in the paint.
But Nova's historic offense -- the Wildcats entered Saturday's game shooting 55.1 percent, the highest field goal percentage in the NCAA tournament since 2008 -- will encounter a North Carolina team with length at every position. It's a group that will aim to turn Jay Wright's 0-3 record against North Carolina into a 0-4 mark with a talent cache no past Villanova opponent possessed.
Beyond the numbers and the matchups, however, it's important to remember the significance of aesthetics. We tossed out numbers and predictions before the Final Four. And the games did not excite. Dominance is impressive but not always entertaining.
North Carolina and Villanova can fix this on the final day of the 2015-16 season. They can salvage the season with a memorable national title game Monday night.
"Marty Schottenheimer, the coach of the [Kansas City] Chiefs a long time ago, had the greatest saying in the world," Roy Williams told reporters after his team's 83-66 win over Syracuse on Saturday, "'Enjoy the dickens out of it until midnight and then worry about that other team.'"
Well, we're worried about that other team, too, and its role in the final chapter of this season.
This college basketball season deserves more than Saturday's games provided.
So, North Carolina and Villanova: make it good.
We'd all enjoy the dickens out of that.