Tony Chennault knows what Villanova is up against

Tony Chennault watches Villanova teammate James Bell shoot. Before transferring from Wake Forest, Chennault played against North Carolina.
Tony Chennault watches Villanova teammate James Bell shoot. Before transferring from Wake Forest, Chennault played against North Carolina. (   RON CORTES /Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 20, 2013

Almost as soon as he enrolled at Wake Forest for what would be the first of his two seasons of basketball there, Tony Chennault knew why they call North Carolina the "Tar Heel State."

"Everybody in North Carolina is a North Carolina fan," Chennault, now a junior playing in his first season at Villanova, said Monday. "It's unreal.

"You could be in Raleigh, where N.C. State is at, or you could be in Charlotte, where Charlotte University is at, and there's a good percentage of North Carolina fans at both places. So it was kind of exciting."

At least Villanova doesn't have to go to North Carolina to play the Tar Heels in its second-round game in the NCAA South Regional on Friday night. The Wildcats are going to Kansas City, Mo., where UNC coach Roy Williams still has a lot of fans dating back to his days at Kansas.

North Carolina's popularity extends beyond its home state, given its record of NCAA tournament success. The Tar Heels are making their 44th NCAA appearance and have posted 108 wins in 149 games, ranking them second in all three categories on the all-time list behind Kentucky. They have won five national championships.

The 6-foot-2 Chennault, a former Neumann-Goretti High star, transferred last May to Villanova and received a hardship waiver to play right away. As the season progressed, he flourished as the Wildcats' sixth man with his ballhandling and tenacious defense.

His defense will come in handy Friday. Having played North Carolina twice while at Wake (a pair of losses), he is familiar with the Tar Heels' high-tempo style of play, which has produced 77.2 points per game this season - 14th in the nation.

"We always have to make sure we get back on defense, because they score a lot of their points in transition," he said. "This is not a typical North Carolina team. They don't have as many big men as they had in previous years. I saw them go small in games this year, but they still get out in transition and score a lot of points."

The Tar Heels lost four players to the NBA after last season, including point guard Kendall Marshall. Chennault said he knows starters Dexter Strickland and P.J. Hairston.

Chennault has been playing more point guard lately, with Ryan Arcidiacono, the usual starter at the point, on the floor.

"He's enabled us to move Ryan off the ball and been able to give Ryan a break," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "He's also been a great defender and a guy that can break down a defense off the dribble, which is going to be important against Carolina. He's getting better and more comfortable every day."

Wright said Chennault tried "maybe kind of too hard" to do what he was asking and now is "really happy for him." Chennault said he needed time and patience to learn his role, and eventually became more comfortable and confident every day.

"I think if you're a competitor, any competitor would be disappointed that things didn't happen for him right away," he said. "But I'm a mature person, so I had to understand it and the mentality, and know it eventually would come."

Contact Joe Juliano at Follow on Twitter @joejulesinq.

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