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NCAA Basketball ACC BasketballBig East BasketballMarch MadnessNorth Carolina Tar HeelsVillanova Wildcats

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Villanova Wildcats Preview: Guard Play Likely to Decide Outcome

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 8 seed North Carolina Tar Heels and No. 9 seed Villanova Wildcats match-up provides one of the most intriguing games in the NCAA Tournament, as it’s nearly impossible to predict the outcome.

Most eight seed versus nine seed contests are competitive but given the season these two schools have had, the game could easily go either way due to a number of factors.

North Carolina is playing its best basketball of the season, having only lost to the Duke Blue Devils and Miami (FL) Hurricanes since the end of January. Losing to those two teams are hardly anything to hang their heads over.

Meanwhile, Villanova has been inconsistent in conference action with a 10-8 record and 20-13 overall, but have proven it’s impossible to count the Wildcats out of any contest after they’ve defeated three top-five ranked opponents throughout the season.

For the Tar Heels to be successful, they’ll need their trio of James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston to continue to lead the way, like they have been in the past month and a half. All three have gotten significantly stronger on the court since the beginning of the year, as their confidence has grown and turned them into legitimate double-double threats.

On Villanova’s side, they have a starting-five unit that is capable of having every player finish in double-figures on their best night. Led by leading scorer JayVaughan Pinkston, double-double threat Mouphtaou Yarou, along with scorers James Bell and Darrun Hillard, the Wildcats aren’t scared of the North Carolina brand name.

Where the game will likely be determined is the point guard match-up featuring a pair of freshmen. Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono and the Tar Heels’ Marcus Paige will have all eyes on them despite having two completely different roles for their schools.

Both players lead their teams in playmaking, however, Arcidiacono is the Wildcats’ second leading scorer whereas Paige is tied for fourth in North Carolina’s scoring. Villanova depends on Arcidiacono to score a lot more than the Tar Heels depend on Paige to produce, as they rely on Paige to be more of a facilitator.

Arcidiacono is the type of young guard who can go off for 30 points by shooting the lights out, or go off for three points while shooting his team out of the contest by trying to reach 30 points. When Arcidiacono has scored 15 or more points, the Wildcats are 9-2. Paige is the type of freshman guard who can flirt with a double-double on his best day, but finish the game with more turnovers than assists. When Paige records six or more assists, North Carolina is 9-1.

The one major benefit for the Tar Heels that could turn into the game’s x-factor is senior Dexter Strickland. Strickland has been a major help to making Paige’s development easier on the freshman, playing alongside him in North Carolina’s backcourt. His leadership and nearly on-par playmaking with Paige has been invaluable to the Tar Heels. It’s a luxury Arcidiacono does not have as the only seniors on Villanova are two frontcourt players.

Having Strickland’s experience is something that cannot be overlooked when facing the relatively young guard line-up the Wildcats will throw at the Tar Heels. Paige and Arcidiacano have certainly impressed in their first year of college basketball, but they’ve also stumbled at times this season. When push comes to shove in the NCAA Tournament, it’s often experience that emerges victorious.

Both teams have frontcourts that can score, although most would favor North Carolina’s trio, Villanova has done more than enough to prove they can battle against the nation’s top teams and come out on top.

This game will likely come down to the backcourt battle, and despite the Wildcats owning the best scorer in their backcourt, North Carolina owns the experience.

For that reason, expect the Tar Heels to advance and likely face the Kansas Jayhawks in the next round, in what will be another edition of the Roy Williams showdown.