Week after week, game after game, college basketball teams during the past 2 1/2 months have encountered the familiar. Thats how conference play is.
Coaches have prepared strategies for facing some players theyve seen for years. And players have often matched up against those theyve shared a court with for parts of a season or two maybe longer.
Entering the NCAA tournament, that sense of familiarity often disappears. In the early rounds, especially, coaches will prepare for teams theyve never scouted before, and players will often match up against strangers.
For North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Davidson, we look at some of those strangers who will become more familiar. Villanova, Temple, Albany and Marquette present various degrees of challenges for the Tar Heels, Wolfpack, Blue Devils and Wildcats, but in Dukes case they may have a bigger concern: themselves.
No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Villanova, Friday, 7 p.m.
Player of concern: Villanova sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston
After being selected as a McDonalds All-American in 2010, Pinkstons collegiate career didnt get off to an ideal start. He sat out the 2010-11 season for what Villanova described as a university code of conduct violation.
Since then, he has become an integral part of the Wildcats success. Pinkston, 6-foot-7, has averaged a career-high 13.1 points this season, and his versatility makes him a difficult matchup.
He has the size and, at 260 pounds, the bulk to excel on the interior, and he also has some shooting range and isnt hesitant to attempt 3-pointers.
Ever since the Tar Heels began using a four-guard starting lineup, they have created matchup problems. But Pinkstons presence neutralizes some of North Carolinas advantage because hes quick enough to guard the perimeter, and stout enough to overpower defenders on the interior.
During the Wildcats surprising 67-57 victory against Georgetown on March 6, Pinkston scored 20 points on just six field goal attempts. He did most of his work at the free-throw line, where he made 11 of his 14 attempts.
Villanova leads the nation in free-throw attempts, and Pinkstons ability to draw fouls is one of the reasons why. He has shot at least 10 free throws in six games this season.
The Wildcats needed Pinkston to be at his best in recent weeks, and he has been. He has scored in double figures in 11 consecutive games.
No. 8 N.C. State vs. No. 9 Temple, Friday, 1:40 p.m.
Player of concern: Temple senior guard Khalif Wyatt
Wyatt, a 6-4 shooting guard, led the Owls and the Atlantic 10 in scoring with 19.8 points per game, eight points more per game than anyone else on the roster, but also led the team with 4.1 assists per game.
Wyatt has had 16 games of 20 or more points and five games in the 30s, including 30 in an 84-76 home win against Virginia Commonwealths swarming defense. Wyatts one of three seniors in the Owls veteran lineup, along with two graduate students.
Fridays matchup with the Wolfpack offers a shot at tournament redemption for Wyatt and the Owls. They were blown out by South Florida, 58-44 last March. Wyatt finished with 19 points but was just 1 of 6 from 3-point range as the fifth-seeded Owls bowed out of the tournament without a win.
The Owls are 1-4 under coach Fran Dunphy in the tournament. Wyatt helped Temple beat Penn State in 2011, with 10 points and three steals in his first NCAA tournament game.
N.C. State was able to contain All-ACC guards Erick Green (Virginia Tech) and Joe Harris (Virginia) in the ACC tournament but allowed Miami guard Durand Scott to score 32 in Saturdays loss in the semifinals.
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Albany, Friday, 12:15 p.m.
Player of concern: Actually, the five in Duke blue
Lets get something straight: not all mid-majors are the same. There is a difference between a less-heralded team with an NBA prospect (Lehighs C.J. McCollum, or from this years field, South Dakota States Nate Wolters).
For Albany there is Mike Black, the 6-foot senior point guard who leads the team in scoring (14.9) and was a first-team all-conference selection. There is Jacob Iati, a 5-foot-10 senior 3-point specialist. And forward Peter Hooley was an all-rookie team selection off the bench.
But what the Blue Devils should be most concerned about in their first round matchup is themselves.
In their most recent outing, a surprising 83-74 loss to Maryland in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, the Blue Devils looked flat. They lacked the necessary energy and drive to compete, on defense especially early, as Maryland rolled out to a 12-2 lead and never looked back. It was the second time this year that the Blue Devils had looked flat against the Terrapins-and they got beat both times.
Duke will need to come with the type of energy it showed against marquee teams like North Carolina, Miami (the second time) and Louisville earlier in the year.
Lehigh beat Duke in last years tournament. Krzyzewski wont have to tell his team twice that 15 seeds are capable of beating a 2 seed playing at less than its best.
No. 14 Davidson vs. No. 3 Marquette, Thursday, 3:10 p.m.
Davidsons frontcourt could have its hands full with Davante Gardner when the Wildcats play Marquette on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Gardner poses the toughest matchup for the Wildcats, who havent matched up against an athletic big man the caliber of Gardner since they played Duke at the beginning of the 2013.
Gardner, a 6-8, 290-pound junior, owns the paint for the Golden Eagles. He averages 11.5 points while grabbing a team-high 4.9 rebounds per game. And while he takes high percentage shots (he averages 58 percent from the field), Davidson wont want to foul him. Hes 84.2 percent from the line this year.
The Wildcats could struggle against Gardner for a number of reasons. Starting power forward Jake Cohen doesnt have the mass to consistently keep Gardner out of the paint, and Cohen has had four fouls in three of Davidsons past five games.
Davidson cant afford to let its leading scorer and rebounder sit on the bench with foul trouble like he had to for most of the conference tournament. Conversely, despite his size, Gardner has finished only three games with four fouls and has not fouled out once this season.
Should Cohen get into foul trouble, the health and availability of Clint Mann will be placed at a premium. The teams sixth man hasnt played in nearly two months with concussion symptoms and may not be able to come off the bench and spell Cohen should he get into foul trouble.