No matter how you slice it, this is going to be a tough game for Nova.
But you could have said that about Pitt. Or Duke. Or UCLA.
The key for the Wildcats is going to be toughness, as it has been all tournament. UNC is going to be the more talented team at every position on the floor. But an argument could be made that that has been the case for Nova all season long. It is the Wildcats versatility that makes them so tough. They run a physical, pressuring, half court man-to-man defense where, most of the time, they are switching everything.
Why are they able to do that? Two reasons.
For starters, everyone on the floor is so versatile. Dwayne Anderson and Shane Clark are technically front line players, but they can both defend point guards on the perimeter as well as posts in the lane. Even guys like Dante Cunningham and Reggie Redding are able to guard multiple positions.
But the Wildcats are also as good at any team in the country at communicating on the defensive end. They switch well, they play great help side defense, but what they might be best at is their ability to help on post ups. Especially when a guy like Corey Fisher or Scottie Reynolds gets matched up with a big man. Mark my words, there are going to be at the very least a handful of times where one of those two little guards is going to end up guarding a Tyler Hansbrough or Deon Thompson on the block. Watch how well the rest of the Nova team helps. Whether it is a case of the guard fronting and the help side defenders protecting the lob pass or the guard playing behind and someone coming down and doubling, Nova moves so well defensively that it makes it difficult for teams to take advantage of that.
Another thing they do very well is pressure the ball. Getting off a clean pass against these guys is difficult in itself, let alone getting a clean look at the basket.
On the offensive end, Nova needs to avoid their tendency to settle for threes. Don't get me wrong, this team has a ton of shooters. But the one thing that has almost cost them in this tournament is when they shoot quick threes. I've said this numerous times on this blog - threes are great shots when they come from the inside-out. Whether it is off of a post touch, a guard's penetration, or an offensive rebound, the best look you are going to get at a three is when the defense has to collapse on the interior. When the ball comes out, not only are you going to be able to step into the shot, but you will be receiving the ball with your body already squared to the rim.
For UNC, their key is going to be, well, their transition game. Obvious, right? Nova is a very tough team on the defensive end, but the best way to avoid a team's half court defense is to beat them down the floor. Nova just does not have the horses to get into a foot race with the Heels. If UNC is able to attack the Wildcats before they can set up their half court defense, this game could get out of hand in a hurry.
If it does turn into a halfcourt game, UNC's biggest advantage is going to be on the inside. Don't get me wrong, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Danny Green are supremely talented, but the Heels are going to be more talented at every position on the floor. They have as many as seven guys that could end up being NBA draft picks. The Wildcats? Maybe one.
But I digress.
As I was saying, Nova is much smaller inside than the Heels. If this game does turn into a half court battle, the Heels need to be able to get baskets from Hansbrough, Thompson, and Ed Davis. As good as guys like Anderson, Cunningham, and Clark are, they are still small. The Heels should have no problem no scoring on the interior.
Defensively, the key is going to be slowing down Nova getting to the rim. The Wildcats have guys at every position that can penetrate and get to the rim, and attack the offensive glass as hard as anyone in the country. Ellington and Lawson are not known as defenders, and Reynolds and Fisher, while not necessarily NBA prospects, are both excellent players at this level.
On the glass, the Wildcats love running guys at the rim, especially from the perimeter. Anderson and Clark especially. Since one of those two is going to be guarded by a big man, and since they love to float around the perimeter offensively, those two guys should have some chances to get offensive boards. The Wildcats are going to need all the points they can get to hang with an offensive juggernaut like UNC.