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.