The ACC in the NCAA: Previewing UNC vs. VillanovaPosted by KCarpenter on March 22nd, 2013
Villanova is like Michigan State or Kansas to North Carolina. For whatever reason, these teams just feel fated to meet in the tournament. The last two times these teams met in the tournament were 2009 and 2005, with UNC headed towards a National Championship both times. Though hopes are not nearly so high for either of these teams this year, this match-up feels very familiar, even if all the players have changed. In a normal year, this Villanova team would be very well-equipped to deal with a Roy Williams coached North Carolina team. Jay Wright‘s squad is tough on the interior, allowing very few easy inside buckets and rebounding on their own glad with quite a bit of skill. Offensively, the team relies heavily on penetration to get to the foul line more than any other team in the country. It’s not hard to see how a team like this would frustrate the likes of Sean May, for example, with tough defense and eventual foul trouble.
Of course, this year’s Tar Heel squad is starkly different from the typical squads Williams has fielded in the past decade. Tough interior defense is all but irrelevant to a UNC team that attempts (and makes) more threes than just about any Carolina line-up of the Williams era. This perimeter oriented squad happily bombs away, using drives more than post-ups to earn a little space from the defender, and unfortunately for Villanova, this team isn’t particularly well-suited to handle this approach.
The Wildcats are an abysmal team against the 3-pointer with opponents converting 36.8% of attempts, good for 299th in Division I. Now, a clever critic might point out that 3-point defense is really more about limiting attempts than how many treys the opponent can successfully make, but this clever critic would be disappointed by this measure too. Villanova’s opponents have been able to take a rather high proportion of threes, attempting long bombs on 35.7% of field goal attempts. Offensively, it looks like the Tar Heels are a good fit to exploit the Wildcats’ flaws.
But what about defensively? It’s tough skating for Villanova on this end too. The Wildcats offense has been fairly inconsistent all year with the exception of drawing fouls and getting to the foul line. Unfortunately, UNC is pretty good at defending without fouling. Whether they can continue to avoid fouls against the best foul-drawing team in the nation is a fair question, but one historical trend that has continued in this otherwise aberrant season is that Williams’ teams simply don’t foul very much. Another tough area for Villanova is going to be turnovers. This team simply doesn’t take care of the ball, and amazingly, it does seem to be a truly team-based shortcoming with everyone getting in on the action. The team turnover percentage of 22.9% is 314th best in Division I. Every rotation player on the team is close to turning the ball over on 20% of possessions (with Mouphtaou Yarou being the notable exception) and many are closer to 25%. This isn’t a good look against a North Carolina team that relishes causing opponent turnovers and feeds on getting out in transition.
This game is hardly a gimme for the Tar Heels, but, on the surface, it appears to be a very favorable draw for the Tar Heels. As always, this UNC team will be vulnerable to foul trouble on P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo. With these two out of the line-up, North Carolina becomes a lot more dysfunctional on both ends of the court and the Wildcats penchant for drawing fouls makes foul trouble on one or both a distinct possibility. Similarly, North Carolina’s interior defense, even with those two (especially with those two?) is a distinct vulnerability. While Villanova hasn’t shown great aptitude for exploiting mismatches inside, a big game from Yarou would go a long way towards carrying the day for the Wildcats. Otherwise, expect a barrage of Tar Heel threes to rain down upon Villanova with disastrous results for the team from Philadelphia.