Final Four Betting: North Carolina-Villanova Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/31/2009
For the North Carolina Tar Heels, this weekend's assault on Ford Field marks the end of a long journey. Not a journey through this tournament, but a three-year quest that has led to this exact place and this exact moment in time.
The next step in the journey takes place at 8:50 p.m., on Saturday, April 4 at Ford Field in lovely downtown Detroit. The top-seeded Tar Heels, conquerors of the South Region, will take on Villanova, the champions of the East. North Carolina has been instilled as a 7.5-point favorite and the total is set at 160.0.
In 2007 the Tar Heels were stunned by Georgetown on the cusp of the Final Four. North Carolina blew an 11-point second half lead - making only one of their last 23 shots - en route to an overtime loss in the Elite Eight. Then in 2008 UNC actually did reach the Final Four in San Antonio. However, after running roughshod through the first four rounds they were bum-rushed by the eventual champions, Kansas. So this year is the last attempt by Ty Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington to carve their names into the annals of Tar Heel lore along with the other UNC greats that won national championships.
North Carolina was the clear-cut No. 1 team in the country through the first two months of the season. It seemed like they started every game with a 16-point lead, and that included a 35-point mauling of fellow Final Four participant Michigan State on this very same Ford Field court. At one point there was talk of a potential undefeated season and the question was often asked as to whether anyone could take the court with the Tar Heels and stay within double digits.
Then January hit. The Heels lost a stunner to Boston College and then just a week later fell again to Wake Forest. And as the season progressed their victories became less and less impressive, as evidenced by a 7-17 run against the spread that reached a low point with an early exit from the ACC Tournament. Granted, part of that run coincided with an injury to point guard and ACC Player of the Year Ty Lawson. But late in the season it looked like the Heels had lost their edge and that this group was due for another season of unfulfilled promise.
Then we hit Tournament Time. Ty Lawson came back healthy and now the Tar Heels are focused, determined, and clicking on all cylinders. They have won all four of their tournament games - all of them against very, very skilled teams - by an average of 22.5 points per game. It has been an absolute bloodbath and right now North Carolina can't be stopped.
Or can they?
Villanova is not some just-happy-to-be-hear participant in Detroit. This is yet another talented team from the mighty Big East and is loaded with pit bulls and pythons from the toughest conference in the country. Here's a quick lesson for you: if you ever come across a team from Philadelphia, no matter what sport, that is an underdog in a Big Game, bet on them, and bet on them hard. Those boys from Philly are all heart and are always a tough out.
The key to Villanova's success this year has been that toughness and heart, along with tremendous balance on both ends of the court. The Wildcats have four talented guards, led by the perennially underrated (except by me!) Scottie Reynolds. This kid is a stud. And although he's battled injuries all tournament long he has still been the undisputed linchpin for this team, and Reynolds was the one who sunk the shot to beat in-state conference rival Pittsburgh in the Elite Eight.
Villanova also has four outstanding forwards that are all big and strong, but also skilled. That group is topped by the team's leading scorer, forward Dante Cunningham, and this group has battled against some of the best big men in the country while navigating the Big East. And like the backcourt players, these guys are absolute pit bulls.
The Wildcats advanced to this position after dominating UCLA and Duke and then surviving that game against Pitt. To back up my previous statement, this team has been an outstanding underdog, winning five of their last six games as a dog outright and covering nine of their last 14 games as a puppy dating back to last year.
So we've established that Villanova can play. But are they up to the task of taking down the Tar Heels? North Carolina has a huge edge in experience, as they have played in and won many of these types of games over the last few seasons. Over the past two years North Carolina has won 11 of 13 games against teams rated in the Top 15. Villanova is just 5-8.
North Carolina will attempt to bludgeon Villanova with its interior force. While all of the ink has gone to the return of Lawson from injury, getting Tyler Zeller back from a preconference wrist injury has allowed the Heels to throw three talented players 6-11 or taller (Hansbrough and Ed Davis are the others) at opponents. With three other starters between 6-5 and 6-8, UNC is simply enormous. And when you consider the lightning-quick assault that they unleash on opponents they are simply bigger, stronger, faster, and more experienced than any team in the field.
I have been on record all year saying that when North Carolina is playing well there are only about 10-12 teams in the country that can take the court and not get embarrassed. If you are going to make a move on the gritty underdogs from Villanova you have to ask yourself: are the Wildcats one of them?