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Heel Tough Blog: Virginia Preview


University of North Carolina Athletics

This afternoon, the Tar Heels travel to Charlottesville, Virginia, seeking their first win in John Paul Jones Arena since 2012, and in the process, further position themselves to win an ACC regular season championship. Carolina didn’t have a midweek game this week, but as Hubert Davis expressed in his press conference yesterday, that didn’t mean that his team didn’t put the work in during practice. Despite being the best rebounding team in the league, and one of the best defensive teams, they reinforced how important it is to get stops and win the battle of the boards, something that will play a big part in today’s game, and the remaining games down the stretch of the regular season. 


Two weeks ago, it looked like this game was going to be for first place, after Virginia rattled off 8 straight victories, to put themselves in the conversation as the best team in the ACC. Since then, they’ve lost two of three, including on Monday night, when they scored just 41 points in a road loss at Virginia Tech, which happened to be the largest margin of defeat under Tony Bennett. Now 1.5 games out of first place, UVA is in desperate need of a win, to secure themselves as an NCAA Tournament team, and avoid falling in the latest NCAA Tournament projections. Reece Beekman leads them in scoring at 13.9 points per game, and Isaac McKneely is the only Cavalier to average double figures scoring, as a team, UVA is 352nd in points per game. But as you could expect, they are stout defensively, holding teams to under 55 points per game, the best mark in the ACC, and the third-fewest in all of college basketball. 


The week off allowed Carolina to catch its breath, and regroup before the final 5 games of the regular season, all of which will play a factor in the regular season title race. Fatigue had started to set in, with the number of games being played in a short amount of time, combined with a bench that has struggled to be productive consistently, outside of Seth Trimble. This is the freshest Carolina will be until the start of the ACC Tournament, but they still need the bench to give them more of a lift like they were at the beginning of conference play. 


First place may no longer be on the line, but this is still a big game for both teams and for different reasons. For Carolina, it’s about ending a losing streak in Charlottesville that goes back over a decade, and gives them an inside track to a regular season conference championship, something they haven’t won since 2019. Here’s how Carolina can get one step closer to achieving one of their regular season goals: 


  1. Fast Start: Carolina needs to be prepared for a UVA run out of the gate. They will be motivated to get off to a better start than they did on Monday night and will look to play off what figures to be their best home crowd of the season so far. That means Carolina needs to be engaged defensively from the opening tip because unlike against Clemson, it’s hard to come back against Virginia if they hit with a 12-2 run out of the shoot. On the other hand, Carolina needs to get off to a good start offensively, by taking smart shots and establishing Armando Bacot on the block. How the Tar Heels set the tone on the offensive end to start the game will give us a good indication of how the rest of the game will be played. 

  2. Limit Turnovers: As hard as Carolina will try, it’s almost impossible to speed up Virginia, meaning that possessions will be as valuable today, as in any game so far this season. That means Carolina has to value the basketball, and not let the turnover issues, that have shown up on the road, show up today. Elliot Cadeau has been up and down with his turnovers recently, and Hubert Davis can’t afford to play him extended minutes if he can’t protect the basketball. Armando Bacot has to be strong down low when he faces the double team that he will see the entire game. With how few possessions are likely to be played today, Carolina can’t afford to commit any more than 10 turnovers, if they have any hope of winning today. 

  3. Defend 3 Point Line: As a team, UVA shoots 37% from behind the arc, and it’s how their offense is so efficient at scoring when you consider how few possessions they play. Of their core group of players, Isaac McKneely is the best perimeter shooter, at 46%, so Carolina can’t allow him to get hot, because he can and will quite literally shoot them to a win. 

  4. Rebounding: The most important today is for Carolina to dictate the pace of the game as much as possible, knowing it won’t be easy to do so. The best way to achieve that is to win the battle of the boards, which shouldn’t be hard because statistically, UNC is plus-9 on the glass, with them averaging over 41 rebounds per game, and Virginia averaging 32. This has to be a game where Armando Bacot and Harrison Ingram impose their will on the offensive and defensive glass, to overwhelm UVA on the backboards. If Carolina can dominate the glass as they have at times this season, it will allow them to control the pace of the game, create second-chance scoring opportunities, and limit Virginia to one shot per possession, all of which lends its hand to a UNC victory. 


Series History:

  • UNC is 134-62 All-Time Against UVA. In Charlottesville, UNC is 44-38. Carolina Has Lost the Last 8 Games at John Paul Jones Arena. Last Win Came in 2012. That 8 Game losing Streak is the Longest in the Same Venue Since UNC Lost 7 Straight at Duke From 1951-1956 (Played at Duke Twice in 1951-52). Overall, Carolina is 4-8 in John Paul Jones Arena 

KenPom:

  • North Carolina - 10th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 119.0 (18th). Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 95.0 (10)

  • Virginia - 67th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 107.0 (163rd). Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 94.7 (9th) 

NET:

  • North Carolina - 10th. 

  • Virginia - 47th. 


TV Info: 

  • Today’s game will tip at 4 PM on ESPN. 


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