BOSTON - One team will wear blue uniforms with "Villanova" across the front. The other will have on white with "Duke" emblazoned on the jerseys.

But if you were to watch them play a shirts-and-skins game tonight, instead of an NCAA East Regional semifinal at TD Banknorth Garden, you might have trouble telling the teams apart.

The similarities between the Wildcats (28-7) and the Blue Devils (30-6) are significant. Both can score points in bunches. They both go after the opponent defensively. They possess a toughness that tells the other team right away that they will be in for a battle.

The coaches of each team, however, appreciate that they don't have to follow the usual lineup rules calling for two guards, two forwards, and a center on the court at all times.

"I think we'd all love to have a major low-post presence and a shot-blocker," Villanova's Jay Wright said yesterday. "But if you don't, you've got to find a way to play. I think both of us are basically playing the best players, regardless of position. That can be difficult to play against. I think that's where the similarities really lie."

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski agrees, saying simply that both teams "have basketball players."

"You're not going to call [Dante] Cunningham a center, but you call him a really good player," he said. "[Scottie] Reynolds can play with the ball or off the ball. We're very similar in that regard. I think Jay has done a good job in allowing his kids to use their abilities and trusts them, and I think we do, too."

The Wildcats have been interchangeable all season. They will start the game with two inside players, Cunningham and Shane Clark, then Wright will substitute Corey Fisher for Clark, put him at the point, and give the Cats four perimeter players.

The Blue Devils are 10-1 since Krzyzewski made changes in his lineup, moving Jon Scheyer to point guard and inserting freshman Eliot Williams in the backcourt. One of their biggest players, 6-foot-8, 235-pound junior Kyle Singler, is their second-most-proficient three-point shooter.

"I've heard people say this isn't your typical Duke team," Wright said. "But they've got great length. They can switch a lot. Everybody can guard every position. And they're all skilled. They can put it on the floor and pass it."

The teams' statistics are comparable. Duke averages 78.1 points and 65.6 points allowed. The Cats' figures in those categories are 77.0 and 67.1. Villanova's shooting numbers are slightly better, but the Blue Devils force four more turnovers than they commit, while the 'Nova turnover margin is plus-2.

Asked what stood out to them in film study of Duke this week, Villanova's starting guards immediately mentioned toughness as the main connection.

"Their toughness mentally and physically reminds me of us a little bit," Reynolds said. "I think that's the biggest thing that stands out. I don't think they let anything rattle them mentally if something doesn't go their way. You always see them clapping and keeping a great attitude, and that's something we do as well."

"You see the competitiveness and the way both teams go out and play hard," Reggie Redding said. "Both teams are tough."

The Wildcats displayed toughness from the opening tip last Saturday in their one-sided 89-69 second-round victory over UCLA to earn their fourth berth in the Sweet 16 in the last five years. But they know they have to play the same way tonight and not allow Duke to set the tone.

They can't afford a repeat of last year's regional semifinal, when Kansas jumped out to a 26-10 start in the opening nine minutes and coasted to a 72-57 victory.

"Duke likes to come out and smack you in the mouth from the beginning," Redding said. "Some games this year, it took us a couple of minutes to get it going, and you can't do that against Duke or else we'll be down 10-0 from the beginning."

Reynolds said that while Villanova hasn't been able to get the jump on its opponent in every game, "we were very glad that happened against UCLA."

"We always want to come out there and set the tone," he said. "Sometimes that doesn't happen, but we always want to do that, and we know Duke likes to do that. We know when we come out on the court, we have to match their intensity."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.