Saturday, April 4, 2009

North Carolina Pregame -- Grasping at Straws?

I will try to post a few numbers before game time. For most of the week I have been looking around for some positive press about Villanova. And there are quite a few feel good stories about the squad, the staff and the school. I could probably put together a separate post for each team member, chock full of links to stories. But not many analysis that suggest the Wildcats have more than a very remote possibility of beating the Tar Heels.

But there are one or two. For the Villanova fans out there who have had problems finding them...

Steve Ginsburg writing for Reuters posted a "looking back at 1985" piece that featured how the traditions set by the earlier teams have bolstered the confidence of the current team. There are 4 generations of Villanova players taking the back of the guys on the court.

ESPN conducted a round table with four of their principal college basketball writers (Pat Forde, Andy Katz, Dana O'Neil and Mark Schlabach). The four engaged in a conversational breakdown of the Final Four teams, bounded by a series of eight questions. Only Dana O'Neil (DPO to her fans) picked the 'Cats to win their game with North Carolina. A writer for the Philadelphia Daily News for a number of years, during which she worked as the Villanova beat writer (basketball), DPO has been far from a homer for the 'Cats since moving over to ESPN. Her nod to Coach Wright and the team was something of a surprise. Mark Schlabach tabbed Scottie as "one player most important to his team's success", but DPO tabbed Ty Lawson. Nova's game plan may well involve taking Lawson out of his game.

Pete Thamel over at the NYT did a 100 word breakdown on the semi-final match ups that gives a nod to each team. He mentioned the physical play, but also the speed of the Villanova squad as factors that may neutralize the Tar Heels' size and perimeter shooting.

Todd Rosiak long time Marquette Golden Eagle beat writer for the Journal Sentinel wrote a complementary break down of the surviving Big East teams. The piece featured comments from Jerel McNeal, Marquette's outstanding combo guard.

"Most definitely," McNeal said. "I don't think a lot of people gave them a chance against Pitt. It's a situation where Villanova's a scrappy team. They're going to play as hard as anybody that's left in the tournament, and they have the talent, athleticism and guard play to do it. Cunningham is a lot better than people think...

"All those guys are playing at a high level and playing as hard as they do, and playing together, they have a chance to beat anybody."

I will take that.

AccuScore, a simulation service hosted over at ESPN this season does predict a North Carolina win (going out on a limb...), but Stephen Oh did write a short essay on the characteristics of a Villanova win. According to Oh, Villanova will have to defend the 3 while shooting at least 38% from beyond the arc. They will also have to out rebound the Heels. The Wildcats, according to Oh, will have to keep turnovers down, below their season average, but do not need to have fewer than North Carolina. While article is subscription only (linked here), the Fact on Villanova Sports blog has reproduced a number of the tables. Interesting material, even if Fact's headline ("AccuScore Likes 'Nova's Chances") is not exactly accurate.

Over at the Basketball Prospectus stats maven John Gasaway takes his own "numbers first" look at the semi-final match-ups. The backcourt's ability to penetrate the lane may pose a bigger problem for the Tar Heels than some imagine -- it did early in the Tar Heels' ACC schedule -- have the Heels learned to defense it better? In the end however, Gasaway believes height -- or lack of it vis a vis the Tar Heels -- will spell the difference.

Also over at the Basketball Prospectus, Ken Pomeroy posted for only the 2nd time this season. His latest essay, "Transition Game", looks at the effect of pace (numbers of possessions) on North Carolina's game (or more specifically, their chances of winning). While Pomeroy does not think a lower paced game will diminish UNC's chances of beating Villanova, I noted in my look at those numbers that the Tar Heels' offensive and defensive efficiencies suffered (albeit not by large numbers) when possessions are limited.

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