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MBB Preview: UNC, Semi-Final of B4A

Brian Luppy/Villanovan Photography
Senior Eric Dixon had 19 points in Villanova’s quarter-final win.

2,789 days after Kris Jenkins’ historic shot to beat the final buzzer for a national championship in Houston, Villanova and No. 14 North Carolina meet again. 

On Nov. 23, the Wildcats will face the Tar Heels in the semifinal of the Battle 4 Atlantis. 

Since their last meeting, North Carolina captured its sixth national championship in 2017, and Villanova won its third in 2018. Both teams also reached the Final Four in 2022. 

This season, Kyle Neptune’s Wildcats have started with a 4-1 record. Following their loss to Penn, the Wildcats picked up a win at home against Maryland, but the nationally-ranked Tar Heels will provide the team’s biggest challenge so far this season.

North Carolina is a team with depth and experience, though all four of its wins this season have come against low or mid-major programs. 

Offseason Changes  

After reaching the Final Four in 2022, The Tar Heels started the 2022-2023 season ranked No. 1 in the nation. While they started off strong, they failed to meet expectations. 

After missing out on the NCAA tournament, the offseason saw seven Tar Heels enter the transfer portal. Junior guard Caleb Love headlined these departures. Love had been a key piece of Carolina’s run to the 2022 Final Four.  

Following Love’s departure, head coach Hubert Davis had six scholarships to fill. 

By the end of May, Davis had landed five transfers and convinced one recruit to come a year early. That recruit, five star point guard Elliot Cadeau, is expected to be selected in the 2024 NBA Draft. 

The transfers are highlighted by junior guard/forward Harrison Ingram and graduate forward Cormac Ryan. 

Ingram averaged 10.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and a team-best 3.7 assists at Stanford last season, while Ryan averaged a career-best 12.3 ppg at Notre Dame. 

Keys to the game 

This year the Tar Heels are led by senior guard RJ Davis. Davis was one of 20 candidates named to the preseason watch list for the Bob Cousy Award, which is given to the nation’s top point guard. Also returning is graduate center, preseason All-American Armando Bacot. Bacot is Carolina’s all-time leader in rebounds.  

For the Wildcats, the game plan will revolve around both these players. Containing Davis will be key to the game’s outcome. The New York native is a pure scorer who initiates contact, scores in the paint and knocks down clutch shots late in the game. Graduate guard Justin Moore will likely be tasked with slowing Davis down. 

Moore has the size advantage on Davis. Moore is six-foot-four, 215 pounds while Davis stands at six foot, 180 pounds. Although he is smaller, Davis uses his frame to his advantage, speeding by opponents and drawing fouls. 

Moore likes to post up, but Davis’ ability to draw charges could limit this. 

Despite being a top NBA prospect, Cadeau has yet to start for the Tar Heels this season. Brown transfer graduate guard Paxson Wojick has started in place of Cadeau in the first four games. 

Once Cadeau enters the game, the responsibility of guarding him will likely fall on sophomore guard Mark Armstrong. 

Cadeau’s speed, elite passing and athletic ability make him dangerous on the court.

The matchup for Armstrong will be personal, as Cadeau is a former teammate of Armstrong. Armstrong is from South Orange, New Jersey and Cadeau is from West Orange, New Jersey. The two guards were once AAU teammates for the New Heights Lightning but will now share the court as competitors.

While pressuring Cadeau and Davis will be important, the game will be won in the paint. 

The matchup of Bacot and graduate forward Eric Dixon is one in which the Tar Heel center has the edge. 

At six-foot-eleven, Bacot is three inches taller than Dixon. While Dixon outweighs Bacot by 15 pounds, Bacot’s All-American nomination comes from his rebounding, creation of second chance shots and shot blocking ability. 

Series History 

The Wildcats trail in the all-time series 11-5. The Tar Heels also have a 5-2 record against the Wildcats in the NCAA tournament. 

If Villanova wants to be strong in all phases of the game, limiting the scoring of Bacot, Davis and Cadeau will be vital. Making the extra pass, diving for the loose ball and staying out of foul trouble are key if Wildcats want to pick up an early season statement victory. 

The game will be televised on ESPN or ESPN2 and is scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. tip off.

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    Phili ComptonNov 22, 2023 at 11:16 pm

    Superbly written and researched article. This author is quite the talented and knowledgeable journalist. This is a must read for certain.