Thursday, April 02, 2009

Final Four: Villanova/North Carolina Preview, Part 2 - UNC's Starters

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

Here is Part 2 of the Final Four: Villanova/North Carolina Preview, in which I'll take a look at the Tar Heels' Starters...

(Note: I'm going to constantly add more content to this post throughout the day, so if you feel you haven't gotten enough detail on the Tar Heels starters, please check back for more details as they are added in...)

Before we begin -

Thanks to the Michigan State blog - Sparty and Friends - for unearthing the Sports Illustrated cover dated April 8, 1985, of Ed Pinckney scoring while surrounded by Georgetown Hoyas, with Patrick Ewing falling at his feet. If it looks familiar - it's mounted on the wall at the Pavilion. The publisher of Sparty and Friends has a great, blown-up image of it - so check it out... And not just the cover. Sparty has a great substantive analysis of the Wildcats from a Michigan State perspective, that's well worth reading...

Before I get started on the Tar Heels' key players, 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...
  8. The first part of the preview - Final Four: Villanova/North Carolina Preview, Part 1 - UNC's Road to Detroit...
Part 2 - Final Four: Villanova/North Carolina Preview - North Carolina Tar Heels Starters

Here are the starters - my analysis, in turn..

Overall Analysis of the Starting Lineup

The major reason why North Carolina was viewed as a significant national championship contender this season, is the fact that they returned all five starters from last season's Final Four appearance. Last year, the Tar Heels reached the Final Four, after receiving a #1 seed (rendering last year the statistical oddity of being the first one in the then-24 64/65-team tournaments, where all of the top seeds reached the Final Four), before being thrashed by Kansas in the national semifinals.

Ironically, one of those five starters, senior swingman Marcus Ginyard, isn't starting this year. He played only three games and scored just one basket, due to injury, and he's redshirting as a result. Danny Green, another senior, has taken his place in the lineup.

Tyler Hansbrough - #50 - Forward - 6/9 - Senior

21.4 pts/game, 52.2% FG%, 85.6% FT%, 47.4% 3FG%, 8.2 rebounds/game, 28 steals, 12 blocks

Hansbrough is clearly North Carolina's best player - as he is arguably the best player in the nation. He also is the single biggest (both literally and figuratively) obstacle, in the way to the national championship game on Monday evening. Because of his abilities, he causes an enormous matchup problem for the Wildcats underneath. When the defense sags, upon his arrival at the post in order to help out Dante Cunningham, he opens up a great deal of opportunities for the Tar Heels on the perimeter. And North Carolina has three significant perimeter weapons, just in their starting lineup - Ellington, Lawson, and Green.

The back cover of the North Carolina media guide - which was published prior to the season, obviously - lists these superlatives, which are a concise summary to Hansbrough's abilities:
  • 2007-08 National Player of the Year
  • 2007-08 ACC Player of the Year
  • 2007-08 ACC Male Athlete of the Year
  • 2008 NCAA East Regional MVP
  • 2008 ACC Tournament MVP
  • Three-time first-team All-America
  • Two-time consensus first-team All-America
  • Three-time unanimous first-team All-ACC
You get the idea. And he has undoubtedly piled up many similar accolades for this season... The back cover shows Hansbrough surrounded by trophies (I assume that after he goes to the NBA, he might need an entire room in his mansion, just to display all of the hardware...)

Some personal facts on Hansbrough:
  • "Talents I have outside of basketball" - "Ping Pong and golf".
  • "Non-basketball skill (or activity) I wish I could do better": "Dancing."
  • "My SportsCenter dream highlight would be": "Winning the NCAA tournament." (One that we hope won't be fulfilled... as with Deon Thompson, below.)
Wayne Ellington - #22 - Shooting Guard - 6/4 - Junior

15.2 pts/game, 46.8% FG%, 77.8% FT%, 39.5.% 3FG%, 4.8 rebounds/game, 34 steals, 4 blocks

A local product from Wynnewood, Pa. (just down the Main Line, of course, from Villanova), who attended Episcopal Academy, Ellington has been an impact player in all three years he's been at Chapel Hill. He's started nearly every Tar Heel game since he arrived. As a freshman, Ellington started all but one contest, averaged 23.9 minutes/game and 11.7 points. As a sophomore, he also started all but one contest, logged 31.1 minutes/game and boosted his scoring all the way to 16.6 points/game.

Jay Wright and his staff wanted Ellington very badly to play his college hoops on the Main Line (and were very disappointed when they couldn't land him), Ellington is a very significant three-point threat and a key cog in the North Carolina offensive engine. One enormous irony is the fact that Ellington is good friends with Gerald Henderson, who opted to go the other way on Tobacco Road to Duke. And Villanova had extensively courted them both while in high school.

This shows that the basketball gods have a sense of humor. Villanova does not land Henderson, then faces him in the Sweet 16, and shuts him down completely. Now Wright and the staff have the same opportunity with Ellington.

I speculate that due to their advanced and comprehensive knowledge of Henderson, Wright and the staff knew his weaknesses very well, and it was the major reason why they were able to effectively neutralize him. Time will tell, if it will also be the same outcome with Ellington, whom they know equally well.

Some personal facts on Ellington, from the North Carolina media guide:
  • On "I chose my jersey number because", Ellington answered, "A friend of mine, who passed away, wore 22."
  • On "The best player I ever guarded": "Gilbert Arenas."
  • Unsurprisingly, "My best friend on another college team:" "Gerald Henderson (Duke)."
  • "Non-basketball skill (or activity) I wish I could do better": "Play tennis."
  • "Favorite food": "My grandmom's shrimp linguine."
Ty Lawson - #5 - Point Guard - 5/11 - Junior

15.9 pts/game, 53.8% FG%, 80.9% FT%, 46.7.% 3FG%, 2.8 rebounds/game, 59 steals, 4 blocks, 6.5 Asst/Game, 2.0 Turnovers/Game

Lawson against Scottie Reynolds will be one of the most important matchups. Lawson's lethality on the perimeter means that he must be constantly defended, as he is always a threat to score. Lawson ranks a distant third in three-point shots attempted (90) to Ellington (172) and Green (154), but he is far more accurate than either of them. One thing that does work in Villanova's favor is the fact that this is a rare situation, where Reynolds will actually be bigger than the guy he's assigned to guard.

Lawson has always played a great deal while at Chapel Hill. He started 31 out of 38 games as a freshman two years ago, averaging 25.7 minutes and 10.2 points a game. Last year, despite an injury in February, he started all but three games, averaging 25.3 minutes and 12.7 points. Heading into the season, he was already 16th on North Carolina's all-time assists list, with 378, and had an assist/turnover ration of 2.47/1, with just 153 miscues... Lawson has improved upon that assist/turnover ratio this year, dealing 196 assists to 59 turnovers, a ratio of 3.3/1.

Some personal facts on Lawson, from the North Carolina media guide, including two interesting Philadelphia connections, although Lawson is from Clinton, Maryland, and went to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia (which produced, among many others, former Villanova guard Jermaine Medley).
  • "If I could play another sport at Carolina" - "Soccer".
  • "The best player I ever guarded" - "LeBron James."
  • In a related answer - "My favorite NBA player" - "LeBron James".
  • "Talent I have outside of basketball" - "everything."
  • Philadelphia connection, first - "I pretended to be (this player) as a kid" - "Allen Iverson".
  • Philadelphia connection, second - "Person in history I'd most like to meet" - "Ben Franklin... Always wondered what he was thinking..."
Danny Green - #14 - Guard/Forward - 6/6 - Senior

13.3 pts/game, 47.6% FG%, 83.3% FT%, 41.6% 3FG%, 4.7 rebounds/game, 56 steals, 43 blocks

Despite being just 6/6, Green is second on the team in blocks, as only reserve Ed Davis has more (57). Green averages 1.3 blocks a contest. Green ranks second to Ellington in both triples made and attempted, although Green is slightly more accurate.

In terms of playing time, Green's minutes have vacillated, since he arrived in Chapel Hill four years ago. As a freshman, he came off the bench, averaging an impressive 7.5 points/game and 3.7 rebounds/game, in spite of the fact that he averaged only 15.3 minutes a contest.

However, as a sophomore, he regressed slightly, as he played fewer minutes (13.6), and had fewer points (5.2), and fewer rebounds (3.7). Nonetheless, he was still North Carolina's top scorer off the bench. It wasn't anticipated that Green would start this season, but he began doing so due to the injury to Hilyard. And the move has paid off, as Green is averaging over 13 points a contest and getting his share of rebounds for a swingman.

Some personal facts on Green:
  • "Nobody can believe I watch": "The Discovery Channel".
  • "The best part about being a Tar Heel basketball player is": "Being able to run out of the tunnel and playing in front of 22,000 people."
  • "Talent(s) I have outside of basketball": "Dancing"
  • "Non-basketball activity that I wish I could do better": "Sing."

Deon Thompson - #21 - Power Forward - 6/8 - Junior

11.2 pts/game, 50.3% FG%, 65.7% FT%, 6.1 rebounds/game, 32 steals, 36 blocks

Unlike most of the Tar Heels, Thompson is not a perimeter threat. However, he is a solid interior defender, rebounder, and shot blocker. Thompson has not been a starter for as long as the others. His first season, 2006-07, he started only one game and averaged 12.4 minutes off the bench, with 4.7 points and 2.4 rebounds a contest.

Last year, he moved into the starting lineup and started all but one game, with his minutes moving up accordingly - up to 21.4, low for a starter, but nearly double those of his freshman year. His rebounding doubled, from 2.4 to 4.8 per contest, and his scoring increased also, to 8.4 points. Perhaps most importantly, though, he led the Tar Heels in blocked shots with 51, up from 17 blocks as a freshman. Interestingly, Thompson's blocks have dipped this year, and he ranks third on the squad, behind Green and 6/10 freshman Ed Davis.

Some personal facts on Thompson:
  • "I chose my jersey number because": "It was Kevin Garnett's number."
  • "My SportsCenter dream highlight would be": "Game-winning shot in the Final Four." (Hopefully, this is a dream highlight that won't be fulfilled on Saturday.)
  • "Talent I have outside of basketball": "Playing the guitar."
  • A probably related answer - "Non-basketball skill or activity I wish I could do better": "Play the guitar."
In Part 3, I'll take a look at the North Carolina reserves, as bench strength could make the difference on Saturday... so check back for that...

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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