A week of anticipation has been building up to Saturday’s Final Four match-up between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Villanova Wildcats. The contest has be analyzed from all angles, as is often the case when there are only only three college basketball games remaining in the season.
In the last five days there have been stories written about Tyler Hansbrough’s last hurrah, Villanova’s height issues, Danny Green’s father and Scottie Reynolds’ decision making. However, the statistics and the four factors tell their own story.
The known commodity going into the game is UNC’s offense.
The Tar Heels pack a potent punch when they have the ball, often able to score efficiently from all four or five positions. In fact no opponent has held the Heels below one point per possession in any game this year. The closest anyone has come in the tournament is Oklahoma, who held the Heels to a healthy 1.11 points per possession. UNC’s offense relies on solid shot selection, limiting turnovers and getting offensive rebounds to score points.
Unfortunately for Villanova they’re only prepared to stop one of UNC’s three strengths, offensive rebounding. When considering their height, 170th nationally, the Wildcats have been nothing short of ferocious on the defensive glass this year ranking 50th. Those numbers have improved in the tournament where the Wildcats have been reeling in over 77 percent of their opponents’ misses.
The other two strengths of UNC’s offense, lack of turnovers and shooting, aren’t places Villanova can expect to make up much ground. The Tar Heel big men can expect less defensive interference from the small Wildcat front line than they encountered in the past two rounds against Gonzaga and Oklahoma. The Wildcats are also foul prone, and though that isn’t a relative strength of Heels’ offense their free throw shooting ranks tenth in the country at over 75 percent.
The unknown commodities will be played out on Villanova’s end of the court. The Wildcats have multiple capable ball handlers and an offense that is driven by driving to the basket and drawing fouls. As any Tar Heel fan can tell you, one of UNC’s few achilles heels this season has been an inability to stop penetration by quick guards (see: Teague, Jeff and Rice, Tyrese).
The North Carolina defense has been outstanding this tournament. Clinics on double teaming and defensive rotation could be taught with the Oklahoma game film. The Heels have faced two of the nations top five offenses by efficiency already in Gonzaga and Oklahoma, and they held both under one point per possession. North Carolina seems to be playing with a renewed intensity on the defensive end of the floor. Is this new UNC defense a product of beneficial match-ups and luck or is it the real thing? Playing Villanova, with offensive stylings that have given the Tar Heels fits this year, should provide the answer.
A balanced offense will be the key for the Tar Heels. In the South Regionals Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Danny Green shot the Heels through to the Final Four. In two games in Memphis the trio scored 57 percent of the team’s points, shot 45 percent from behind the arc, and only turned the ball over 10 times. Villanova’s guards match up much better defensively with the UNC backcourt than Oklahoma and Gonzaga’s guards did. If the Tar Heels are going to better last season’s results, the front line will bear the offensive load for the night. Look for the Tar Heels to win again by playing better offense than the opponent and just enough defense to get by.
Prediction: UNC 83, Villanova 76