(8) North Carolina vs. (9) Villanova
(8) North Carolina Tar Heels
After losing Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall to the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft, the Tar Heels (24-10, 12-6) have understandably taken a step back this season. However, as one of the premier programs in the country, that step back hasn’t been anywhere near as big as it would be at other programs if they lost four first-round talents. While James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston aren’t stars of the same magnitude, they’ve had very good seasons in their own right and could end up playing in the NBA eventually as well. They combine to score over half of the Tar Heels’ 76 points a night, which ranked 17th in the country in the regular season. Dexter Strickland and Marcus Paige do a really good job of setting them up, averaging four assists apiece. What has kept the Tar Heels out of the national title conversation that they’re accustomed to being in is their mediocre defense, which surrenders 68 points a night. They simply can’t contain elite teams on that end of the floor, going 2-7 against the RPI top 50. Their small ball lineup thrived late in the season and it will be interesting to see if it holds up during the tournament.
(9) Villanova Wildcats
The Wildcats (29-5, 14-4) are making their return to the NCAA Tournament after missing out on it in 2012. They were able to earn an at large bid thanks to their 21st ranked strength of schedule, 52nd ranked RPI and their 4-2 mark against teams in the top 25. Their spot in the tournament was questioned due to their 1-6 mark against teams in the 26-50 RPI range, but their big wins made it impossible to deny them a spot. The Wildcats score 67 a night and have a long, athletic squad. JayVaughn Pinkston is the team’s top offensive option, averaging 13 points and just under five rebounds a game as a sophomore. Guard play is typically the strength of the Wildcats and in freshman Ryan Arcidiacono they have a potential star. He’s the team’s leading playmaker, dishing out 3.5 assists a game, but he struggles with turnovers as this team as a whole does really. The Wildcats give it away almost 16 times on average, a habit that must be broken in the tournament if they are going to go on any kind of extended run. The Wildcats don’t defend the three particularly well either, allowing their opponents to shoot 36 percent from deep on the year. The Wildcats are not the most consistent team in the tournament, but they will be a difficult out if they are on.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: North Carolina. The Tar Heels have found a combination that is really working for them and while the Wildcats will be tough, we like the Tar Heels to survive and advance.