Matchup between brothers ‘great for our family’

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Houston — When Kris Jenkins sat behind the North Carolina bench in Philadelphia last weekend cheering on the Tar Heels in their East Regional Final win over Notre Dame, it was sure to get a few second glances.

After all, Jenkins is a junior at Villanova, and he and his teammates had just punched their ticket to the Final Four the day before when they beat top-seeded Kansas in the South Regional Final.

But Jenkins had a good reason to be there — he was cheering on his brother, Nate Britt, a junior at North Carolina.

OK, the two aren’t biological brothers, but that would be a mere technicality for them. Jenkins and Britt became friends when they were 10 and by the time they were in middle school, Britt’s parents had become the legal guardians of Jenkins.

And now the “brothers” will face off in tonight’s national championship game.

“I am super excited about it,” Britt said. “Who else is there to beat than someone in your household and have permanent bragging rights? There is not a better place to be playing him than here.”

Playing each other in the national championship game is something they talked about when they saw the bracket released and realized that was the only way they would face each other.

But now that it’s reality, it’s all business.

“No talking,” Jenkins said. “I hope he plays well and he’s injury free. I’ll talk to him. I won’t talk to him today or tomorrow. We’re getting ready to play each other. He wants to beat me just as badly as I want to beat him. Maybe before the game give him a hug, tell him, ‘Have a good game.’ We talked about this happening. But what are the chances? It’s special to us.”

It will be a challenge for Nate Britt Sr. and his wife, Melody, when the game tips off. Last weekend they bounced back and forth between Louisville, Kentucky, and Philadelphia, vowing not to miss their boys play.

“God willing, we were going to make every game,” Britt Sr. told the Raleigh News and Observer. “And we were fortunate enough to make every game, never missed a tip-off.”

They surely won’t miss this one, and regardless of which team wins, the family will feel like champions.

“They’re just excited we’re both in this position,” Jenkins said. “They don’t really care who wins. Either way they’ll be happy. It’s a win-win. It’s great for our family. We’re blessed. We don’t take it for granted. But at the end of the day, it’s Villanova vs. North Carolina.

“They helped me become a man. It shows how much they love and care about me. I’ve got two families. I owe them everything. Anything I can do for them, I will always do.”

Embrace the underdog

It’s natural for fans to root for the underdog, and nowhere is that magnified quite like the NCAA Tournament.

That means Villanova will likely have its share of fans at NRG Stadium tonight. It’s not like the Wildcats are the Cinderella they were in 1985, but they are an underdog against North Carolina, the bluest of the blue bloods.

And the Wildcats are embracing their role as a fan-favorite. On Sunday, they were asked if they’d become America’s team.

“That’s the first I’ve heard it. I hope every neutral fan in here will be a Villanova fan,” Villanova guard Josh Hart said. “We always take the underdog mentality. Our game isn’t pretty. We’re going to be the hardest working team out there. We’re going to be diving on the floor for loose balls. We’re going to be taking charges, doing all the little things and just playing hard. That’s the mentality that we have and what the program is built on. That’s a nice title for it.”

Slam dunks

North Carolina and Villanova will meet for the seventh time in the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina is 5-1 vs. Villanova in the NCAA Tournament and 11-4 all-time against the Wildcats.

It will be the first time the two teams face off for the national championship. The two teams met in the 2009 Final Four in Detroit with North Carolina winning, 83-69, to advance to the national title game where it beat Michigan State.

… Entering tonight’s national championship, North Carolina is 117-44 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels’ win total ranks second in NCAA history behind Kentucky (121). UNC’s .727 winning percentage ranks second behind Duke (.754, 107-35) and ahead of UCLA (.723, 99-38) and Florida (.722, 39-15).

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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