Carolina hits the road tonight as they are set to take on Virginia, in a very important ACC matchup in January. Carolina is coming off an 81-64 win over Notre Dame last weekend, as they’ve won back-to-back games, and sit at 11-5 overall, and 3-2 in the conference, after losing to Pittsburgh to end the 2022 calendar season.
The Cavaliers enter this game coming off a win over Syracuse over the weekend, which allowed Tony Bennett to be the school’s all-time leader in wins. Virginia brings with them an 11-3 record overall, and like Carolina, they are 3-2 in the ACC. They are led in scoring by the veteran point guard, Kihei Clark, and his 11.4 points per game. Armaan Franklin (11.4) and Jayden Gardner (11.3) are the only other players that average double figures, overall, Virginia has 5 players that average 9.4 points per game or better. This team is as battle tested as any team Carolina has faced so far, as they’ve beaten the likes of Baylor, Illinois, and Michigan while losing close games to Houston and Miami. As you could imagine, this is one of the better defensive teams in all of college basketball, as they only allow 59.6 points per game, which is the 15th fewest in the country.
Prior to the retirement of Roy Williams, UNC had lost seven straight to Virginia, with the last win coming at home during the 2017 national championship season. Enter Hubert Davis, and some changes to the way Carolina plays offense, and Carolina made light work of the Cavaliers last season, beating them 74-58 in the Smith Center, and 63-43 in the ACC Tournament last season. Given that these rosters are very similar to last season, you could imagine that Carolina will enter this game very confident, meanwhile, Tony Bennett will be thinking of new ways to slow down the highest scoring team in the ACC.
Fair or not, the winner of this game will emerge as the team to beat in the ACC, despite the hot starts from Pittsburgh, Clemson, and even NC State. Carolina has yet to win a true road game so far this season, something that they’ll have to do eventually to be not only an ACC contender but a national title threat. A win tonight could restore the confidence and belief of this team to levels we haven’t seen since the end of last season, here’s how Carolina can get the job done tonight:
Tempo: The most important aspect of tonight’s game is the pace at which it is played. Virginia doesn’t want to get in an up-and-down game with Carolina and will limit possessions by draining the shot clock when on offense. While not knowing if Pete Nance will be able to play tonight, you would imagine that Hubert Davis will stick with the three-guard lineup that has field back-to-back wins over Wake Forest and Notre Dame. If so, that lends to Carolina being able to dictate the tempo of the game and control the pace on both ends of the floor. The more possessions played tonight, the greater the chances UNC walks away victorious.
Turnovers: Given how important possessions are in this game, it’s imperative that Carolina values the basketball as well as they have in any game so far this season. This is another reason to stick with the three-guard lineup, as Seth Trimble has proven to be a smart decision maker, despite being a freshman. If Carolina comes in and commits anywhere above 12 turnovers, it’s going to be hard to envision a path to victory, because their opponent turns it over roughly 8 times per game.
Rebounding: This is a key because this is the one that Carolina should not only dominate as Virginia averages 32.5 rebounds per game but because if control this aspect of the game, it could allow Carolina to still win even if they don’t control the tempo, or turn it over more times than not. Hubert Davis has said many times during the season that games need to be “UNC rebounding games” as opposed to just “Armando Bacot rebounding games”. For the most part, they’ve achieved just that, even though Bacot is averaging over 11 rebounds per game.
Series History: The Tar Heels are 133-60 all-time against Virginia. On the road, Carolina is a respectable 44-37, despite having not won in Charlottesville since 2012.
North Carolina - 21st overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 115.0 (13th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 96.7 (70th)
Virginia - 14th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 112.9 (21st) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 92.3 (21st)
North Carolina - 28th.
Virginia - 17th.
TV Info: Tonight’s game will tip at 9 PM on ESPN.
The Four Corners Podcast: