The Slatest

Why Didn’t North Carolina Defend Kris Jenkins Before His Game-Winning Shot?

Kris Jenkins takes the game-winning three-pointer in Monday night’s NCAA men’s basketball championship game.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Villanova’s Kris Jenkins made one of the biggest shots in basketball history on Monday night, a long buzzer-beating three-pointer to give his team a 77–74 victory over North Carolina in the NCAA men’s basketball championship game:

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If you watch the shot a few times, you might notice something unusual: No one on North Carolina appears to have been assigned to guard Jenkins, a known outside shooting threat, at any point on the final play. (The Tar Heels’ Isaiah Hicks—No. 4—attempted to block Jenkins’ shot, but Hicks was playing help defense after having been initially matched up with a different Villanova player.) Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Brice Johnson—No. 11—appears to spend the entire play standing under his team’s basket, nowhere near any of Villanova’s players. Watch:

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What gives? College basketball writer Matthew Giles directed me on Twitter to a piece in the Fayetteville Observer that explains what was going on. Apparently, North Carolina coach Roy Williams intentionally assigned Johnson to stand under the basket because he was afraid that Villanova would throw a full-court pass to someone cutting toward the hoop.

As Giles pointed out to me, Villanova had run a successful full-court pass play against Oklahoma in Saturday’s semifinal:

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Here’s what Williams said after the game:

“Kris made a heck of a play,” Williams said. “Brice was guarding him. Kris was taking it out. Brice was all deep. Make sure they didn’t throw anything long.

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“We got what we wanted. They threw it in right in front of them. They had to go the length of the court. We made Arch [Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono] give it up, but we didn’t get Kris picked up, and he made a heck of a shot.”

Hindsight is 20-20, but we can still say that this was probably a pretty bad decision on Williams’ part, especially given that he’s claiming that forcing the ball to Jenkins was “what we wanted.” While it is theoretically possible that the Wildcats could have drawn up a full-court pass in this situation, they had five seconds to run their play; given all that time, having someone dribble up the court and throw the ball to a quality outside shooter almost certainly has a higher likelihood of success than trying a long pass. (Long passes are called “Hail Marys” for a reason.) If anything, North Carolina voluntarily gave Villanova exactly what it wanted: a chance for one of its best shooters to run unimpeded into position to receive a pass and take a jumper in rhythm. Kris Jenkins should send Roy Williams a thank-you card.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

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