Benjamin Simon, Simon Williams, & William Derry
For the first time since 1985, the Villanova Wildcats will be returning to the NCAA Championship game. In 2009, they came the closest, fighting their way to the Final Four, falling to the eventual champion North Carolina. Four years later, they lost in the first round to North Carolina again. On Monday night, Villanova will face off with North Carolina once more, in hopes of a national title.
Star Players for Villanova
Ryan Arcidiacono (12.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 4.3 APG, .833 FG%, .389 3P%)
The senior leader for this Wildcat team provides the intangibles only the greats can boast. Arcidiacono runs the offense and is the main cog in the 4-guard system that head coach Jay Wright has made signature at Villanova. Arch’s unparalleled drive has been a main factor in Wright’s trust for him ever since freshman year. He started all but one game in his ‘Nova career, (which he only missed because he allowed a senior friend to take his spot on Senior Night during Arch’s freshman season) proving his unmatched worth. The Langhorne, PA native combines his unique mental awareness of the game with the raw ability you want out of a point guard. He can spot-up shoot, rebound, and pass incredibly well. His defense is always lockdown, which helped to limit the successes of Oklahoma star Buddy Hield to a 4/12 performance worth 9 points.
Josh Hart (15.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG, .515 FG%, .752 FT%)
What Ryan Arcidiacono doesn’t do, Josh Hart does. The shooting guard from Maryland is the complementary piece to Arch. Hart is quick and scrappy, but has more of an inside game than Arch. Standing at 6-foot-5, Hart is always mixing it up with the best of them in the paint, grabbing offensive rebounds, batting balls away, and using his impressive motor. He has great anticipation and sees the floor well, too, giving him an edge over the competition. Having elevated his game over the past three seasons, the junior continues to thrive under pressure. He’s been in double digits in points in every game this tournament but one and has a field goal percentage of .556% as well.
Daniel Ochefu (10 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.5 BPG, .623 FG%)
Daniel Ochefu is ‘Nova’s anchor in the paint. He get it’s done at both ends of the court. His 6-foot-11 frame allows him to score over most big men in the country, while also giving him the ability to guard any big in the nation. His ability to pass out of post and find open teammates around the perimeter adds another dimension on the offensive end for the Wildcats. Ochefu is able to do this despite being the only true starting big man for Jay Wright and company.
Star Players for North Carolina
Brice Johnson (17 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.5 BPG, .614 FG%)
In much of his time at UNC, Johnson has never played to his full potential. But this season, Johnson has undoubtedly stepped up and has become the focal point of the North Carolina offense. His athleticism and relentless attacking of the basket has made him unstoppable at times while scoring and rebounding. His ability to also step out and hit a midrange jump shot makes him a top forward in the nation. Against the top teams in the country, his energy ultimately allowed him to consistently produce, earning him First Team All-American honors.
Marcus Paige (12.3 PPG, 3.7 APG, 1.2 STL, .398 FG%, .348 3P%)
Prior to the season, Paige was considered one of the top guards in the nation. But an injury and a season long slump, marred his senior campaign. However, he is still one of the most experienced guards in the country and has found ways to contribute in positive ways, despite not shooting well. He still is one of Carolina’s top two players and his leadership and ability to affect the game without hitting threes shows his value. The thing is though, Paige is starting to find his touch, as he has scored double digits in each of the NCAA Tournament games, and has also shot 40% or above in all but one of the games.
Joel Berry II (12.6 PPG, 3.8 APG, 1.5 STL, .442 FG%, .368 3P%)
The small guard has pleasantly surprised many North Carolina fans this season. He was thrust into the starting point guard position at the beginning of the year when Marcus Paige went down with an injury in the preseason. He hasn’t looked back, as he is second on the team in scoring and has also consistently ran the offense. Although his percentage may not say so, he is also one of the few three point threats for the Tar Heels.
Villanova Frontcourt vs. North Carolina Frontcourt
North Carolina has prided themselves all season on their big man play. Villanova has often been critiqued for their lack of depth in the frontcourt. Here comes the ultimate test. Despite only having two true big men in Darryl Reynolds and Daniel Ochefu, the Wildcats will have to face up against the deepest and most talented frontcourt in the country. If they can slow UNC down and limit the talented North Carolina frontcourt on the defensive end, the Wildcats will have a good chance at bringing home a trophy. If Villanova can additionally take advantage of the height of UNC on the other end by playing small ball, they could prove to get the most of the frontcourt matchup. However, whoever wins this battle will more than likely bring home the hardwood.
Darryl Reynolds (3.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, .649 FG%)
The Tar Heels are known for their strong big man play and their ability to exploit teams in the paint. To counter UNC’s frontline, ‘Nova will rely more heavily on junior forward Darryl Reynolds, who is Villanova's only other true big man besides Daniel Ochefu. Reynolds’s defensive presence of off the bench will be crucial against the big men off UNC’s bench.
Isaiah Hicks (9.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, .616 FG%)
Hicks played much of the season in the shadow of Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks. While Hicks only averages 18 minutes per game, he has consistently produced. This season, he played only two games with single digit minutes and had one game with less than 4 points. His success and ability to produce on the offense end puts a lot of pressure on defenses, and if he can do that Monday night, Villanova will be in for a long outing. Strong play for him allows Johnson and Meeks to rest and also gives the Tar Heels a much needed punch off of the bench.
While Villanova has had a fantastic run, their season will unfortunately end Monday night at the hands of the sizzling hot North Carolina Tar Heels. In a great game, the Tar Heels will prove to be too much for the Wildcats, especially in the frontcourt. In a well played, hard fought game, UNC wins in high scoring affair, 83-76.
Photo: Nati Harnik/Associated Press
-(1) Villanova faces (5) West Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament