Two college-basketball blue bloods face off at the top of the South Region in Kansas City Friday night, as the No. 9 seed Villanova Wildcats (20-13, 10-8 Big East) battle the No. 8 seed North Carolina Tar Heels (24-10, 12-6) at 7:20 p.m. in the Sprint Center. North Carolina Coach Roy Williams will attempt to fulfill sportswriters’ dreams by advancing past the Wildcats to face more blue-jerseyed basketball royalty in the Round of 32, pitting Williams against his former team in the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks.
But before the world gets ahead of itself, teams need to win NCAA Tournament games on something besides the paper holding your office pool’s brackets. Villanova has knocked off No. 1 seed Louisville and No. 3 seed Syracuse this season and provides a major road bump for the Tar Heels.
What to watch for:
North Carolina has hit its stride since switching to a smaller lineup following a 26-point loss to Miami in early February. The change to small-ball has resulted in an 8-2 record over the past 10 games. What seemed a reloading season doomed by youth is suddenly a year where UNC could make some serious noise in the tournament. P.J. Hairston (44 percent) and Reggie Bullock (38 percent) are raining down from three while James Michael McAdoo makes this offense sing.
The Wildcats also match the narrative of a young team not expected to achieve this quickly after being picked to finish 12th in the Big East preseason. However, while UNC loves firing from downtown Villanova does not seem quite so keen, having given up nearly 37 percent from three on the season. The Wildcats’ ability to keep up will lean heavily on star freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono.
North Carolina’s just grown too hot down the stretch this season after finding its optimal lineup. I’ll take the Tar Heels in a close one.