Creature vs. Creature: Villanova Wildcats, UNC Tar Heels Clash In Detroit
Destiny, let me introduce you to Cinderella.
As the lowest remaing seed in the Final Four, No. 3 Villanova is the closest thing that can pass for Cinderella in this NCAA Tournament.
North Carolina, the unanimous preseason No. 1, remains on the path that many in the media said they were predestined for.
But the hurdle that stands in the Tar Heels' way is a team that shellacked Duke 77-54 before upending the East's No. 1 seed, Pittsburgh.
For its part, the Tar Heels simply destroyed their opponents in the South regional, winning every game by an average of 22 points (16 if you discount the blowout of No. 16 seed Radford).
The last time these teams met was a 2005 Sweet 16 battle, in which UNC took the victory in controversial style; many Wildcat fans felt robbed by the zebras in that matchup.
UNC rode the momentum of that victory all the way to the 2005 National Championship.
It's the Big East versus the ACC one more time, and as the clash approaches, B/R writers Ryan Brennan (Villanova) and Nathan Bitner (North Carolina) lock horns in an effort to determine which prize fighter will be left standing on Sunday.
Is the 2005 Sweet 16 Game in the Back of Anyone's Mind?
Ryan: That game is definitely on everyone's mind. While the game occurred five seasons ago, Jay Wright was Villanova's coach and Roy Williams was UNC's, just as they are today.
More importantly, though, the game would have left an impression on recruits about to sign (who are now seniors). These players include Villanova's Dante Cunningham, Shane Clark, and Dwayne Anderson, and UNC's Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green.
Nathan: Coaches say they have no long-term memory, but who really believes that? They have the memory of elephants. Roy Williams knows how smart of a coach Jay Wright is, and just how dangerous the current Wildcats are.
While I find it unlikely that the players will be focused on the result of 2005, I'm sure Jay Wright wouldn't enjoy a little payback. UNC, as it has all season, needs to stay focused on 2009.
Does Your Team Represent the Best Conference in College Basketball?
Ryan: Absolutely. This has been a season-long debate and my answer has been the same throughout.
Nine different Big East teams have been in the top 25 this season, with eight in the top 10 at one point or another and three of them atop the overall rankings.
The top of the Big East is comparable to the top of the ACC (both conferences have three teams that were ranked No. 1 during the season), but it's the depth at the middle of the conference that gives the Big East the slight edge.
The size of the conference does come into play, but the Big East teams play 18 conference games (three teams twice). That means that an unranked team could potentially play 12 conference games against ranked opponents, and possibly 11 conference matchups against the top 10.
If Notre Dame was in Conference USA, do you think they would have lost seven straight at one point this season?
The Big East is the best conference in college basketball, and what makes this game even better is that Villanova is one of the best teams the conference has to offer.
Nathan: The conferences are pretty even, but the ACC has the edge when you compare bodies of work and all of the teams, not just Nos. 1-12.
Big East aficionados conveniently like to ignore the flotsam and jetsam at the bottom of their conference, but the fact remains that 44 percent of the Big East got into the NCAA Tournament while the ACC managed 58 percent.
Even the worst of the ACC, Georgia Tech, is a more dangerous team (ask Wake Forest) than the bottom five or six in the Big East.
The Big East tournament's success, on its face, looks significantly better than the ACC's, but it's actually quite comparable.
The Big East lost two No. 1 seeds (Louisville and Pittsburgh) as well as a No. 3 seed (Syracuse) and two No. 6 seeds (West Virginia and Marquette). The mid-tier ACC teams were less than successful and Wake Forest laid an egg.
Ultimately, given the seeding, the ACC has the one team in the Final Four who is supposed to be here. The Big East only managed to land one of the three teams they should have sent.
It's just a media-generated battle "for fun," but anyone who thinks one of these conferences is "far and away" the better conference has lost their mind.
Which Team Has the Coaching Edge?
Ryan: Both teams have great coaches. Yes, Williams has plenty of history while this is Wright's first trip to the Final Four, but he has already proven this year that history means very little.
Wright is the Big East Coach of the Year and has shown a penchant for making the tough decisions, including benching Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, two sophomore stars who improved noticeably after the move.
Wright has been successful as the underdog throughout the entire season, and by now the Wildcats relish the role.
Williams may have the history, but Wright has the accomplishments from the season that give Villanova the coaching edge in this game.
Nathan: I have all the respect in the world for Wright, but Williams has the experience, and he is in the Hall of Fame for a reason. He knows how to win in these situations.
Despite unprecedented media hype and pressure, the loss of key reserve Tyler Zeller (now back), senior starter and defensive specialist Marcus Ginyard, and role-player Will Graves (both out for the season), Williams led the Tar Heels to a regular season ACC title.
He can manage talent and egos, and he has this team focused on one goal: a national championship.
The Final Four is a step on the journey, not the destination.
What is the Single Most Important Key to Victory for Your Team?
Ryan: Great defense—especially from the backcourt.
During the tournament, the Wildcats have been switching on every screen and have held outstanding shooters to near-season lows, including Jrue Holiday to 1-for-6, Gerald Henderson to 1-for-14, Jon Scheyer to 3-for-18, and Levance Fields to 2-for-8.
The run-and-gun offense may be a lot of fun for fans to watch, but it's defense that's going to get 'Nova to the championship.
Nathan: It's two of the intangibles: focus and intensity. There have been times in games when UNC seems to lose one or the other, or both.
At this level, they can no longer afford lapses.
Villanova is an elite perimeter team. Intensity will lead to the key stat you need to watch for this game: both team's assist-to-turnover ratio.
If UNC clicks at a 3:1 pace or better, they will be tough to beat.
Who is Going To Be the Game's MVP and Why?
Ryan: Dante Cunningham will once again prove that he can dominate the frontcourt and will win the MVP.
In addition to his explosive offense and clear presence on the court, Cunningham has been playing great defense, denying big men the ball, no matter their size.
Look for Cunningham to grab his 11th double-double of the season, with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Nathan: It will be the same man who will be the MVP of the tournament: Ty "The Toe" Lawson. He's UNC's engine and has reemerged after a painful toe injury that he had the guts to play through.
When he's on, the Tar Heels are virtually unstoppable. Oklahoma's Blake Griffin shut down Hansbrough last weekend, but Lawson spread the ball out and North Carolina dominated the game from tip to whistle.
Look for his outstanding numbers to continue against 'Nova, as he notches 19 points, 11 assists, four rebounds, and just two turnovers.
Ryan: If there is a backcourt that can slow down Lawson, it belongs to Villanova.
Look for the 'Nova guards to consistently drive at Hansbrough, getting him into early foul trouble.
The Sooners forgot how to play basketball in the first half. Don't expect Villanova to make the same mistake.
Cunningham will establish himself in the frontcourt early, and once the Tar Heels are forced to guard him up close, he'll have the option to kick the ball out to the open man.
Villanova 78, UNC 74.
Nathan: No one in the country has the backcourt to slow down a healthy Lawson.
He's had six days' rest and will be fresh. The Tar Heels are playing their best basketball of the season and played their best half of defense against Oklahoma last Sunday.
That's a real bad sign for Villanova, who doesn't have the slashing, speedy, elite point guard that typically causes UNC fits.
UNC takes one more step in a fairytale season as long as its focus stays on the task at hand and the intensity stays up.
North Carolina 90, Villanova 81.
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