Though the Villanova Wildcats have a reputation as a guard-heavy team their leading scorer has taken no 3-pointers this tournament and a grand total of two for the season.
The focus for this team might start on the perimeter but 16.2 points a game from 6-foot-8 senior forward Dante Cunningham certainly can't be ignored by North Carolina when Saturday's Final Four matchup rolls around.
Not that the Wildcats' reputation is unwarranted. Cunningham is the biggest player in the starting lineup and is joined by 6-foot-7-inch forward Shane Clark. With North Carolina featuring a variety of post players in Tyler Hansbrough Deon Thompson Ed Davis and now Tyler Zeller post defense will no doubt be a focus for Jay Wright's squad during this week of practice.
UNC thrives on offensive rebounding at times but the undersized Wildcats have been tenacious on the boards themselves during the tournament and are averaging better than a plus-11 rebounding margin. That margin drops down to less than plus-five when you look at the entire season's statistics.
Post players aside fans will be looking forward to the intriguing perimeter matchups this game brings. Along with Elite Eight hero Scottie Reynolds the Wildcats feature Reggie Redding and Dwayne Anderson in the starting lineup. Guards Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes both play significant minutes off the bench.
To state it plainly" Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington will have some talent coming right back at them on Saturday.
""We've been going against guard-heavy teams all year so we know exactly how to play them" Lawson said Tuesday. And we already took our bumps and bruises early playing against them" so hopefully we all learned from that and we're going to be able to shut them down.""
For all that versatility outside" Villanova is shooting just 29.6 percent from long range during the NCAA Tournament. But they've shot it at around 36 percent for the season and Saturday would be the perfect time to break out of that minislump.
The issues Lawson referred to were the struggles UNC went through against opposing guards at times this season including losses to teams led by Tyrese Rice Jeff Teague" Greivis Vasquez and Toney Douglas.
Danny Green talked about the multitude of guards the Wildcats can throw out on the court.
""They have a lot of good guards" and none of their guards I think are like great scorers but some of them are good scorers he said. In the ACC we've had some tough matchups with guards that are really good and score the ball — Tyrese Rice Jeff Teague — but I don't think they have any of those. But they have a number of amount of good guards that can penetrate and score but we just have to I think" just keep them out of the lane.""
But with Lawson and Ellington" the Tar Heels also have a pair of guards they can throw out on the floor. Lawson has been a key for them all season" and Ellington has been heating up since the latter part of the regular season.
""(Ellington) didn't have a great game yesterday against Oklahoma" but he's been big-time big-time the last three weeks to say the least" UNC coach Roy Williams said Monday.
Ellington has averaged 19 points, 5.3 rebounds and three assists during UNC's run to the Final Four.
The Wildcats have been playing the nation's elite all season in the ultratough Big East, and Reynolds was asked this week whether the Tar Heels reminded him of a team the Wildcats have played.
We have played some pretty good teams in the Big East" like Louisville and Connecticut and others" he said.
North Carolina has been up at the top of the rankings all year long. They have done a great job of battling through some injuries.""
Still" while the guards are easy to focus on in this one the story could come down to whether Villanova's undersized front line can rebound and hold their own against UNC's big men.
Wright said it's the completeness of the Tar Heels that concerns him and the smaller Wildcats will be looking to mirror that quality on Saturday as they look to continue their magical run.
Keys to the game: UNC vs. Villanova
- Will the undersized ‘Nova lineup be able to play effective post defense against UNC's big men for all 40 minutes?
- Expect Villanova to test UNC's perimeter defense early and often with the numerous versatile guards they possess.
- ‘Nova has plenty of athletes but will they try and play UNC's transition game? Not many teams take that risk.