Previewing Villanova

Many have labeled North Carolina as the hottest team in the NCAA Tournament, but Villanova deserves consideration, having steamrolled UCLA and Duke and then outfighting Pittsburgh. The Tar Heels and Wildcats meet Saturday (approx. 8:47 p.m. on CBS) with a spot in the national title game on the line.

North Carolina (32-4) vs. Villanova (30-7)
Detroit, Mich. - Ford Field
8:47pm, CBS (Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg)


"A Big East game, there's fewer possessions. It's more of a grind-it-out game. [UNC's] system is built on never getting into that kind of game. In the Big East, if someone scores on you, there's a second where you're ticked off that they scored and you have to regroup. Those guys, if they give up a basket, the ball's out and up and in again. That's very difficult to do. It really is. People might see that and say, 'Well, they just go up and down.' But you have to work really hard to do that consistently for 40 minutes." -- Villanova head coach Jay Wright on the differences in style of play

"We needed more of an inside presence, to give more help for the guards. (Last season) everybody was just denying the guards, you know. They were stepping off of us, and everybody knew it. Now it's easier for them to get off their threes, easier for them to get to the hole. If I'm bringing the biggest defender out of the post, there's no one at the rim big enough to block shots or make them take tougher shots. It makes a difference." -- Villanova forward Dante Cunningham on how his development has helped the team


Season to Date: Villanova enters Saturday's contest with a 30-7 (13-5 Big East) record. Despite a weak nonconference schedule, the Wildcats defeated the opponents they were supposed to all season long, minus a 56.54 loss to a free-falling Georgetown squad on Feb. 28. Villanova's six other losses occurred against Texas, Louisville (twice), Connecticut, West Virginia and Marquette.

NCAA Tournament Results: The Wildcats rallied from a double-digit deficit to No. 14 seed American in opening round action on Mar. 19, before posting back-to-back 20-point victories over UCLA and Duke to reach the Elite Eight against top-seeded Pittsburgh. After knocking off the Panthers, 67-57, in the regular season, Villanova needed a Scottie Reynolds' flailing off-balance runner in the lane with 0.5 seconds remaining last Saturday to post a 78-76 victory and advance to the 2009 Final Four.

Guard Driven: Villanova has been described as a guard-oriented squad, and rightly so – five of the Wildcats top-six scorers reside on the perimeter. Junior Scottie Reynolds leads the charge, averaging 15.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game on the season. Corey Fisher (10.7), Corey Stokes (9.5), Dwayne Anderson (9.1) and Reggie Redding (6.9 ppg) all provide different styles and capabilities for Wright's program, creating a multi-layered attack on both ends of the court.

Big Man Down Low: Dante Cunningham may not be the most intimidating post player UNC has encountered this season, checking in at 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, but the senior has been instrumental in Villanova's run to the Final Four. The Silver Spring, Md. native leads the Wildcats in scoring (16.2 ppg.), rebounding (7.4 rpg.), blocks (47) and field goal percentage (.529). The second-team All-Big East member has increased his scoring average from 2.2 points per game as a freshman, to 8.7 points as a sophomore, 10.4 as a junior and now 16.2 as a senior.

Team Effort: Six different Wildcats have led their team in scoring this season, with Cunningham's 17 topping the list through 37 outings. Group work on the boards is even more telling, as seven different players on Nova's roster have led the team in that category (Cunningham's 19 is tops).

Random Fact: Villanova's win over Pittsburgh was its 15th as the lower seed in an NCAA Tournament game since teams began to be seeded in 1979. The 15 wins are the most of any team in tournament history, leading UCLA (11) and Purdue (10), which are the only other schools with at least 10 such victories. Villanova has two "low-seed wins" this year, over No. 2 Duke and No. 1 Pittsburgh.

NCAA Tournament History: This season the Wildcats are making their fifth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, as well as their fourth overall appearance in the Final Four and its first since winning the national championship in 1985. Villanova has reached the title game in two of their three Final Four appearances, in 1985 and also in 1971, when the team lost to UCLA.

Last Meeting: No. 1 seed North Carolina held on to defeat Villanova, 67-66, on March 25, 2005, in the NCAA Tournament Syracuse Regional semifinal at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. Rashad McCants scored 15 of his team-high 17 points after intermission, and the Tar Heels were forced to play the final 2:11 without Raymond Felton (11 points, 11 rebounds), who fouled out of the game. Marvin Williams added 16 points for North Carolina.

Series History: North Carolina leads the overall all-time series with Villanova, 9-4. Saturday's game will be the fifth NCAA Tournament meeting between the two schools and the second in the last five seasons. UNC is 3-1 in those contests.

Projected Starters:
 1 Scottie Reynolds (6-2, 190, Jr.) – 15.2 ppg, 3.3 apg
15 Reggie Redding (6-5, 205, Jr.) – 6.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg
22 Dwayne Anderson (6-6, 215, Sr.) – 9.a ppg, 6.0 rpg
20 Shane Clark (6-7, 205, Sr.) - 5.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg
33 Dante Cunningham (6-8, 230, Sr.) – 16.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg

Key Reserves:
10 Corey Fisher (6-1, 200, So.) – 10.7 ppg, 2.8 apg
24 Corey Stokes (6-5, 220, So.) – 9.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg
 0 Antonio Pena (6-8, 235, So.) – 5.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg

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