Final Four Saturday Preview: Part 1 (of ?)
Higher priorities mean that I never have enough time to do these things as I think I will, so I'll only look at one of Saturday's games. If I have time I'll try to do the other, or at least write up a few quick bullet points. These are more things to look for than my opinion of how the game will play out, but I'll drop in a thought whenever I it pops in my head.
I also hope to post updated net efficiency margin charts for all four teams.
(3) Villanova vs. (1) North Carolina
North Carolina has been the most consistent team among the Final Four (at least statistically), both all season and through the first four tournament games.
Despite the frequent media critiques during the tenure of Roy Williams, the Tar Heels (note to bloggers and journalists: it's two words) have played solid defense over the last five years. The Heels have managed to finish in the top 20 in adjusted defensive efficiency each of the last four seasons, and they rank 18th going into this year's Final Four. Of course, their up-tempo style masks their true defensive abilities if you're only looking at raw points-per-game allowed.
Over that span (including this year), the Heels' quality of defensive efficiency has a strong correlation to faster pace. It's not that they play better defense at a higher tempos; when they play better defense, they are able to push the tempo the way the want, which leads to faster pace. Villanova has to decide whether to run with Carolina or try to slow them down. Contrary to popular belief, the Heels don't need to run to be effective on offense; there is no meaningful relationship between pace and their offensive efficiency.
Likely because of their zone proclivity, Villanova allows a high rate of 3-point shots; 41.4% of opponent field goal attempts come from behind the arc. Opponents aren't taking great advantage by shooting 33.2%, which is one point below the national average. North Carolina has to make sure their three point shots come within the offense (which they have been doing lately) and not let Villanova entice too many forced threes. The Heels will have a marked interior advantage, and should try to exploit this early and often.
For a guard-heavy, perimeter-oriented team, Villanova rebounds well. The Wildcats are right around 50th in the country in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate. The Heels haven't been rebounding defensively as well as they have in recent years, but they take care of the offensive glass very well (39.5% OR rate, 16th nationally). Danny Green has been especially strong on the glass with a 7.4% OR rate, near that of some of Villanova's frontcourt players.
The striped shirts could play a big role in this game. If it feels like free throws have played a big part of Villanova's offense lately, that's because they have. Through the season, the Wildcats scored 23.9% of their points from the line (23rd among D-1 teams) by getting to the line frequently (ranked 30th in FT rate) and taking advantage once they get there (75.3% FT shooting, good for 19th). They've turned it up over the last two rounds, scoring 26.5% of their points from the line by canning 89% of their free throws.
Aside from Tyler Hansbrough's well publicized habit of getting to the line, the Tar Heels aren't particularly dependent on free throws for their scoring. Despite shooting 76.5% from the line, they only rank 114th in getting to the line. Even better, they keep their opponents off the line (5th nationally in defensive FT rate). The Heels kept Oklahoma off the line - the Sooners' 46.5 FT rate was 5th best nationally. If the whistles are swallowed in this one the advantage should go to the light blue.