UNC makes its second straight appearance in the Final Four with redemption on their minds after being run out of the Alamo Dome by eventual national champion Kansas last year.
They will face a red hot Villanova team that is the decided underdog in Detroit. Many expected UNC and UConn to be here and Michigan State is the home town team.
But can Villanova channel some magic from and even bigger Cinderella, their 1985 national championship team?
The favored Tar Heels are the most talented team on the offensive end of the floor in college basketball. Villanova does not have the stars that Carolina has, but they do have five players who average more than nine points per game—UNC’s five starters average in double figures.
Like North Carolina, Villanova is a good free throw shooting team hitting 75 percent on the season including 22 of 23 in the win over Pitt.
Villanova’s defense is small, but athletic, and has multiple players who can guard multiple positions. Head coach Jay Wright’s team held a hot shooting Duke team to under 30 percent from the floor in their Sweet 16 thrashing of the Blue Devils. But Wright will have much tougher questions to answer on Saturday night guarding Carolina.
Do they double down on Hansbrough and leave Ellington, Green, and company open from the outside?
In the win over Pitt, DeJuan Blair was double teamed much of the game. But the Panthers do not have the outside shooters to hurt Villanova like Carolina has. And when Blair was left alone he was nine-for-nine from the field.
The Wildcats have to play great defense and not allow easy shots because when Carolina hits 45 percent or better they are undefeated.
It has been three paragraphs and you are probably wondering about Ty Lawson’s injury and how will that affect his play. What injury I ask?
I have not seen any ill effects from his toe in the last two games. If you are injured then you are not playing and if you are playing then you are not injured.
He will face his sternest test of the tournament when matching up with Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds whose style is very similar. But everywhere else you look on the floor, North Carolina will have the advantage.
You might think I am glossing over North Carolina’s biggest weakness, their defense. But if the Heels are hitting their shots I don't think it matters. In their four losses this season, North Carolina has shot under 45 percent in all four.
The Tar Heels defense is improving as the stakes are raised in this tournament. In the Elite Eight win over Oklahoma, Blake Griffin scored 23 points but it was a very quiet 23 points largely due to the double teams he faced on every touch. The Sooners were just 2-for-19 from three point land.
Even though Villanova is playing well, I still like North Carolina to advance to the championship game.
Former UNC coach and player Matt Doherty compared this Tar Heel team to Noah’s Ark because they have two of everything. They have two inside scorers in Tyler Hansbrough and Deon Thompson. They have two three point shooters in Wayne Ellington and Danny Greene.
They have two point guards in Ty Lawson and Bobby Frasor. And they even have two shot blockers named Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller in their “weak” defense. Remember Davis’ name for Monday’s game. His size and athleticism could be a great equalizer against UConn or Michigan State.
See how I didn’t even mention one North Carolina player twice in their Ark of Talent? That is how deep this UNC team is and only a poor shooting night can prevent them from making it to Monday night’s championship game.
Pick: North Carolina
Season: 46-29 SU through 3/30
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