Thursday, April 02, 2009

Final Four: Villanova/North Carolina Preview, Part 1 - UNC's Road to Detroit

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

Here is Part 1 of the Final Four: Villanova/North Carolina Preview, in which I'll take a look at the Tar Heels' Road to Detroit...

Before I get started on the Tar Heels' impressive season, I've already posted a great deal of content on Villanova/North Carolina, and so here's a concise collection of the links thus far (and there will be more...) Enjoy...
  1. I look back at the 1985 Villanova/Georgetown national championship game, 24 years later...
  2. Villanova/North Carolina Rivalry History - how the Wildcats upset the Tar Heels in the 1985 Elite Eight, en route to that national championship...
  3. Everyone wants to know about Jay Wright's "lucky pigs", which have been instrumental in getting the Wildcats to the Final Four - Wright himself has kidded that "Those Pigs Are Important to Our Team's Success"...
  4. Looking back at the 2005 NCAA Sweet 16, which was the last time Villanova and North Carolina battled in the tournament - what has become known in Villanova lore as the "Allan Ray Travel Game"....
  5. Villanova/North Carolina Rivalry History - How Michael Jordan stopped Villanova in the 1982 tournament and the Wildcats' upset of the Tar Heels in the regular season, the following year...
  6. Villanova/North Carolina Rivalry History - The first three meetings, prior to the 1982 tournament...
  7. My initial post that the Wildcats would face North Carolina in the national semifinal...
Nonconference Schedule

The Tar Heels rocketed off to a glittering 13-0 start this season, in nonconference play. Here are their 13 wins to start the season:
  1. Penn, by 15
  2. Kentucky, by 19
  3. @ UC-Santa Barbara, by 17
  4. @ Chaminade, by 45
  5. Oregon, by 29
  6. @ Notre Dame, by 15
  7. UNC-Asheville, by 68 (yes, 68 - 116-48)
  8. @ Michigan State, by 35 (yes, 35 - 98-63)
  9. Oral Roberts, by 16
  10. Evansville, by 18
  11. @ Valparaiso, by 22
  12. Rutgers, by 22
  13. @ Nevada, by 23
It's true that of the 13 opponents, only Michigan State received a NCAA bid - and ironically, they shook off the 35-point loss to North Carolina easily enough, and it would be a remarkable rematch if they faced each other on Monday evening... That being said, Notre Dame and Kentucky were both bubble teams, and Rutgers and Oregon, although both had dreadful seasons, are from power conferences...

ACC Schedule

North Carolina ended up with a weak nonconference schedule and many easy victories (the smallest margins of victory were a pair of 15-point wins), and so it was very surprising when the Tar Heels dropped their opening pair of ACC games. They fell - at home - to BC by seven in the ACC opener. After crushing the College of Charleston by 38 points, they headed over to Winston-Salem, but were edged by Wake Forest, 92-89, and they fell to 14-2 overall, 0-2 ACC.

At that point - perhaps because of the two ACC losses - the pulverizing power that characterized the non-ACC schedule reappeared in the Tar Heels' performances. North Carolina then ripped off ten consecutive victories over ACC foes, many by large margins. Their ten victories:
  1. @ Virginia, by 22
  2. Miami, by 17
  3. Clemson, by 24
  4. @ Florida State, by 3
  5. @ NC State, by 17
  6. Maryland, by 18
  7. Virginia, by 15
  8. @ archrival Duke, by 14 (a very impressive win for UNC at Cameron Indoor Stadium)
  9. @ Miami, by 4
  10. NC State, by 9
North Carolina then stumbled, falling @ Maryland, 88-85, on Feb. 21 (in a game that probably got the Terrapins into the NCAA tournament, despite finishing two games under .500 in the ACC). The Tar Heels recovered well, though, crushing Georgia Tech by 30, winning @ Virginia Tech by 8, before hosting Duke in the ACC regular-season finale.

The Tar Heels bested the Blue Devils once more, winning 79-71 and taking the season series, as well as the ACC regular-season crown at 13-3 (Duke came in second). After receiving a bye in the opening round of the ACC tournament in Atlanta, the Tar Heels really struggled in their two games, both with less formidable opponents. In the quarterfinals against Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels defeated the Hokies by just three points, 79-76. And in the semifinals against Florida State, the Seminoles edged the Tar Heels in turn, 73-70.

As a result, the Tar Heels sported a 28-4 overall record, 13-3 ACC regular-season record, and a split in the ACC tournament. The NCAA Selection Committee justifiably awarded them a #1 seed, given the body of work. North Carolina had just four losses, with three of them coming against NCAA tournament qualifiers (BC, @ Wake Forest, @ Maryland, and Florida State on the neutral court in Atlanta). And although margin of victory isn't measured by the RPI (and in theory, shouldn't be a subjective criterion, either), the many lopsided victories didn't hurt the Tar Heels' standing...

NCAA Tournament

In the NCAA tournament, the Tar Heels' juggernaut hasn't skipped a beat. They were rewarded for their outstanding regular season with de facto home games in nearby Greensboro for the first two rounds. They had no trouble crushing #16 Radford by 43 points, 101-58, and also cruised past #8 LSU, 84-70.

In the Sweet 16, North Carolina traveled to Memphis, and surprisingly demolished #4 Gonzaga by 21 points, 98-77. In the Elite Eight, facing #2 Oklahoma, the Tar Heels once again crushed their opponent, beating the Sooners by a dozen points, 72-60.

By the standards of the 2009 Tar Heels, a 12-point victory is a fairly close outcome, but having watched the entire game against Oklahoma, I have to say that it really wasn't competitive past the middle of the first half, as North Carolina was in control for the entire time.

About the only thing that the Tar Heels could be faulted for, was the fact that Oklahoma was able to put together an entire highlight-film reel full of dunks, especially from Blake Griffin. Had I not known the score and was just shown the highlights, I would have been astonished that Oklahoma not only hadn't won, but had lost badly - given both the frequency and the spectacular nature of the dunks.

Part 2 of the Final Four: Villanova/North Carolina Preview, will be coming up soon... in which I'll analyze the Tar Heels' rotation and key players...

Of course, there will also be more content, both on Villanova's 1985 tournament run, and the Villanova/North Carolina Rivalry History as well...

Over the course of the week, I'll be writing up previous games in the all-time Villanova/North Carolina series, culminating the complete Villanova/North Carolina Rivalry History. And of course, there will be a comprehensive preview of Saturday's Final Four clash - so please check back for more...

In the meantime...

You can also take a look at the other Villanova blogs included in Various Viewpoints on the right sidebar, for their takes...

Go Wildcats!
Beat North Carolina!

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