In their opening game of the NCAA tournament, Villanova takes on a familiar nemesis in the North Carolina Tar Heels. These two programs have met twice in the NCAA tournament fairly recently. Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansborough led a stacked Tar Heels squad as they handily defeated the Wildcats in the 2009 Final Four, on their way to a national championship victory over Michigan State. The game that really sticks in the craw of Villanova fans across the country, though, was the Sweet 16 matchup in 2005. It looked like the quirky four-guard line-up of Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Mike Nardi, and Kyle Lowry would take down the #1 Tar Heels, until a controversial traveling call against Ray in the final minute extinguished the last hope for a Wildcats victory. Once again, the road through to a national championship for North Carolina had led through Villanova. The current versions of these two teams are not as highly-touted as in those past meetings, but the action should be no less intense.
Without a dominant interior presence, Roy Williams made the great coaching decision to build his team’s philosophy around getting out in the open court and shooting the deep ball. The Tar Heels thrive on the transition game, ranking among the 20 fastest paced teams in the country, and rely heavily on the three point game, averaging 22 points per game on three pointers. North Carolina features a trio of players averaging double figures on the season in James McAdoo (14.4 ppg), P.J. Hairston (14.3 ppg), and Reggie Bullock (14.2 ppg). After their mediocre start to the season, North Carolina has hit their stride down the stretch, going 8-2 in their last 10 games. The biggest reason for the recent surge has been Hairston, who has taken his game to another level in recent weeks. In the last 10 games, Hairston has reached double figures in every contest while averaging 17.6 points and 3.2 made threes per game.
North Carolina’s excellence behind the arc directly exploits the Wildcats’ biggest weakness, as Villanova ranked just 289th in the nation in allowing opponents to make 7.0 threes per game. Villanova fans learned time and again this season (especially in the recent Seton Hall loss), that no matter how well the team grinds out points from the free throw line, it doesn’t matter if they give up points from downtown on their other end. Villanova has beaten a number of teams of North Carolina’s caliber this season but it was almost always within the friendly confines of the Pavilion or the Wells Fargo Center where the Wildcats were a much better team this season. In Kansas City, where there’s likely to be a larger partisan crowd for the Tar Heels, the offensive firepower for North Carolina will be too much to overcome. The Tar Heels use their long distance barrage to take down the Wildcats.