Final Four Game 2, Saturday, April 4, 2009
Ford Field, Detroit, MI
(1) North Carolina (32-4) (-7, 158 1/2) (3) Villanova (30-7) 8:47 pm - The dark horse from the Big East, Villanova, is also possibly the most balanced and talented team overall from the conference. It's fitting that they'll face off with North Carolina, as both teams possess very subtle, but important similarities. Both teams are solid in the backcourt, strong up front, rebounds well and has no single player without which they cannot survive, though it could be argued that if Carolina is without either point guard Ty Lawson or forward Tyler Hansbrough, or the Wildcats are missing Dante Cunningham or Scottie Reynolds, their games would suffer on both ends.
So, there are the first and second similarities, at point guard and strong forward, where the Tar Heels seem to have edges. While Reynolds is as fine a point guard as can be found, Lawson is simply extraordinary, a gifted ball-handler with speed and quickness that has yet to be matched in this tournament. Where Reynolds evens things out, however, is in the strength department. Lawson probably won't be able to handle Reynolds man-to-man, and that could cause trouble for North Carolina. It's easy to see how both point guards will be able to penetrate into the lane and raise havoc. In that regard, the matchup becomes a draw.
In the power forward area, Tyler Hansbrough has a heft advantage over Cunningham. He is the more physical of the two, though Cunningham has better range and is quicker on his feet, so once again, the edge, if there is one, is marginal. Both players can play to their strengths within the offense. Look for Cunningham to set up either at the foul line or on the wing away from the basket. From either of those positions, he can either aid the offense with ball movement and screens or, should he so choose, shoot over Hansbrough while also drawing him away from the basket.
When Hansbrough is on offense, he'll want to be active in the low post, where he can hope to overpower his opponent for layups and dunks or feeds to his teammates for the same.
Cunningham will stand his ground, though he's not going to get a whole lot of help from teammates, and Carolina can also go very large, inserting either of their big freshmen, 6'10" Ed Davis or 7'0" Tyler Zeller. 6'8 Deon Thompson starts and plays much bigger. Compare those beasts with what Villanova puts on the floor. Cunningham is 6'8", Dwayne Anderson checks in at 6'6", and sub Shane Clark is 6'7". Also crashing the board will be Reggie Redding, who goes 6.5", but the Tar Heels have an obvious height edge in the lane.
A wild card in this game, as he usually is, is Danny Green, who lit up Oklahoma for 18 points in the Tar Heels' 72-60 win. Green is a do-it-all kind of player who will stick his nose in anywhere, can get out on the break, hit jumpers and rebound with the big boys. His counterpart on the Wildcats is Anderson, who has had some big games during the tournament, is seasoned and capable of guarding the best athletes on the floor. Again, whatever advantage North Carolina has with Green, it is offset by the defensive abilities by the corresponding Villanova player.
If there's an edge in terms of coaching, it has to go to Roy Williams, who is making his 7th appearance in the Final Four and has a championship ring, earned in 2005 with the Tar Heels. Villanova coach Jay Wright is the only coach in the Final Four (his first) without an NCAA championship. Williams has an experience edge. Wright will get some here.
In the final analysis, North Carolina looks indomitable on the inside and, with Lawson healthy, he's going to be difficult for even Reynolds to contain. The overall size and depth of the Tar Heel bench, plus the smarts of coach Williams makes North Carolina the team most likely to advance. Villanova's defense and heart will keep them in the game and not allow the Tar Heels to establish a huge runaway lead, but down the stretch, North Carolina has the players who can come up with the really big plays in Lawson, Hansbrough and Green. They're no lock to cover the spread, which will probably come down to the final minutes and free throws vs. three-pointers, but they seem capable of prevailing. The Over/Under is an equally risky proposition, as the oddsmakers seem to have that number nailed.
PREDICTION: North Carolina 85 Villanova 75