The 10 Most Impactful Plays of North Carolina's National Championship Run
There's a lot that goes into winning a national title. Just ask the newly-crowned North Carolina Tar Heels.
In order to make it through a tough road to becoming champions, the Heels needed double-digit contributions from a total of seven players in the tournament. Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II each posted 10 or more points in all but one game (Berry failed to do so in the Round of 64) and Jackson himself had at least 15 points in every contest.
Along with Jackson and Berry, Kennedy Meeks made it three players to tally at least 21 or more points in a game. Jackson had three such games throughout the big dance while Berry did it twice, including 22 in the win over Gonzaga in the national final.
What if we could break it down further than that? To a single possession or play? Well, with the assistance of numberFire Live, we can.
numberFire Live is our real-time platform that allows you to follow a game and the ebbs and flows of its many changes in win probability. Among many things, you can see what each play adds or subtracts from each team's chances of winning the game.
As you could imagine, in the span there have been a number of significant plays in North Carolina's title campaign, which spanned six games. But which ones were the most impactful?
|Opponent||Round||Time Remaining||WP Added||Play Type|
|Kentucky||Elite Eight||0:02||40.26%||Luke Maye two-point jump shot|
|Gonzaga||Championship||4:17||19.40%||Joel Berry III three-pointer|
|Gonzaga||Championship||1:40||17.51%||Justin Jackson layup|
|Arkansas||Round of 32||2:16||14.31%||Isaiah Hicks dunk|
|Gonzaga||Championship||0:25||13.41%||Isaiah Hicks two-point jump shot|
|Arkansas||Round of 32||1:44||13.28%||Isaiah Hicks free throw|
|Kentucky||Elite Eight||0:33||12.98%||Justin Jackson layup|
|Arkansas||Round of 32||7:44||12.96%||Justin Jackson three-pointer|
|Arkansas||Round of 32||0:43||12.61%||Kennedy Meeks putback layup|
|Kentucky||Elite Eight||3:22||10.23%||Theo Pinson free throw|
Each of the above 10 plays added at least 10% to the Tar Heels' chances to either survive and advance to the next round of the tournament or capture the ultimate goal. The top three plays consist of at least a 17.5% swing in win probability.
The least game-altering of the three came with under two minutes to go in the national title game, with the Tar Heels trailing the Zags 65-63. But, after a Justin Jackson back-cut and layup, the game was knotted at 65 and UNC's odds of winning went from just 28.82% to 46.33%. This virtually made the game a toss up for the last 100 seconds of the contest.
Earlier in the second half, Berry's NBA three-pointer made even more of an impact. With the Tar Heels trailing 60-59 on the scoreboard and 53.39%-46.61% on the win probability chart, Berry's shot catapulted his team to a 62-60 lead and a win probability of 66.01%.
However, before UNC even reached the national championship, they first had to survive a battle with Kentucky to make it out of their own region. And boy, did the Elite Eight matchup go down to the wire. Three of the 10 most impactful plays come from the last 3:22 of that game, but none were more crucial than Luke Maye's two-point make with just seconds remaining.
Before hitting the perimeter jumper, the game was tied and the Tar Heels held a win probability of just 58.25% with the ball. After the clutch shot, North Carolina had a 75-73 advantage with less than a second on the lock. Accordingly, their win percentage rose all the way to 98.51% -- a near certainty.
As important as all the plays they made down the stretch in the national title game were, don't be misled. Far before the nets were cut in Glendale, Luke Maye made the most impactful play of the Tar Heels' championship run.