On Sunday, March 17th, Villanova gathered as a team to watch 'Selection Sunday". After not making the tournament last year, the players were anxious to see where the team would land in this year’s March Madness tournament. The Wildcats heard their name called and will be the 9-seed taking on 8-seed North Carolina on Friday, March 22nd at 7:20pm. The game can be seen on TNT.
Villanova improved greatly this year after last year’s dreadful 13-19 season, ending with the ‘Cats not making the NCAA tournament for the first time in 7 years. Many thought the Wildcats would struggle again this year after losing their two leading scorers, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek to the draft, along with losing soon-to-be sophomores Markus Kennedy and Ty Johnson due to transfer.
Villanova looked like they would continue that losing trend from the previous year after they lost to Ivy League squad Columbia by 18 points early in the season. Villanova continued to show a slow but steady improvement throughout the year, and had a number of very significant upset wins later in the season including top-5 wins against Louisville, Syracuse, and Georgetown. Additional significant wins included Connecticut on the road and Marquette at home. They finished the season 20-12 and 10-8 in the Big East.
Senior Mouphtaou Yarou and junior James Bell stepped up and took leadership roles for this young basketball team. JayVaughn Pinkston and Ryan Arcidiacono were arguably Villanova's best players this year. A growing chemistry was also a key factor for Villanova this year, which they did not seem to have much of last year. Ryan Arcidiacono stated after the overtime win over St. Johns in early January,
"We have great chemistry, we really do, we just play together, stick together through the ups and downs, we were really hot today playing, we were up 12 and then they came back and got a lead and we just stuck together with our core values. Our chemistry is just out of this world."
North Carolina has played much better basketball in the second half of the season. After struggling offensively and defensively earlier in the season, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams decided to go to more of a 4-guard offense and it has paid huge dividends, with UNC finishing 8-2 over their last 10 games. However, while the Tar Heels finished the season at 24-10, they are just 1-6 vs AP top 25 teams.
They do not have many big wins, but on the flip side, they don’t have any glaring bad losses either. Unlike Villanova, UNC beat the teams they were supposed to beat, but just didn't have enough firepower against the better teams in the ACC like Duke and Miami. However, they are still a very dangerous team. At this point in time, North Carolina does not compare to the teams of five or six years ago with players like Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson, yet they are still a formidable opponent that will be tough to beat come tournament time.
I expect that this will be a very good match-up.
Here are some things to watch for:
JayVaughn Pinkston Has to Assert Dominance Over North Carolina's Reggie Bullock.
This will be one of the better personal matchups to watch in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. JayVaughn Pinkston and Reggie Bullock are two players who love to score. However, they play two different styles. JVP loves getting the ball on the low block where he is able to show off his plethora of moves to the basket. He also has a decent mid-range game. On the season he is averaging 13 points per game while grabbing 5 boards per game. It seems that when Pinkston is on, Villanova has much better flow on offense. Bullock, on the other hand, is a great 3-point shooter. He shoots 44% from downtown which is 65th best in the nation and the best on the Tar Heels squad. Bullock averages 14 points and 6 rebounds per game. If Pinkston is able to control this matchup, both offensively and defensively, the 'Cats have a great chance at winning the game.
Villanova Has to Defend the 3-Point Line.
North Carolina shoots 37% from deep on the season. They attempt an average of 20 3’s per game and knock down 8 of them. You could say they live and die by the 3-ball. For those that watch Villanova regularly you know that the ‘Cats have struggled trying to effectively defend against hot 3-point teams. While ‘Nova has pretty good help-side defense, one of the main reasons why the opposition has been so successful against the ‘Cats at times this season is due to ‘Nova’s weak-side defense not rotating properly, leaving shooters open for wide open 3’s or easy layups. With this North Carolina team, you cannot afford such defensive lapses.
In addition to shooting the 3-ball, the Tar Heels, in general, are a very good offensive team. They are averaging 77 points per game which is 14th in the nation. Villanova and Jay Wright haven't given Nova fans any reason to believe they can limit 3-point shots, but they will need to do so in order to stop the Tar Heels’ 3-point shooting tandem of P.J. Hairston (39%) and Reggie Bullock (44%). If Jay Wright can get his team to properly defend the perimeter, the ‘Cats have a real opportunity to take down UNC. With five days to prepare for the Tar Heels, ‘Nova should be prepared for a game plan that will see their opponent stretching the floor and letting it fly from deep.
The Wildcats Have to Limit Turnovers.
Ryan Arcidacono will be playing in the biggest game of his life on Friday night. As a freshman, he will be playing on a huge stage versus one the premier tournament and postseason teams of all time. With that being said, you have to expect him to have big game jitters, somewhat similar to how he was against St. Johns in his first Big East Tournament game at MSG. In that game he turned the ball over 8 times. Yes, St. Johns pressed and Arch and company had a tough time bringing it up court. The North Carolina press isn't like St. Johns, but they are certainly capable of putting the pressure on the ‘Cats on out of bounds plays.
Villanova has shown that they are vulnerable to the press, and I expect Roy Williams and UNC to exploit that weakness. Villanova needs to focus on getting the ball inbounds quickly and not wait for the defense to set up. Once past half court, ‘Nova will need to get into their offensive sets and make sure to focus on making crisp sharp passes, moving the ball quickly, all while making smart decisions to put them in a position for good solid offensive looks. They need to come out with confidence and get on the board quickly to spark their confidence.
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