UNC opens up their ACC season Sunday night against the University of Virginia. The first renewal this season of the “South’s Oldest Rivalry” should be an entertaining one and will tell us a lot about this young Carolina Team and their ability to be consistent and to get it done on the road. The crowd in Charlottesville won’t be as rowdy as they are down in Raleigh and Durham, but the Heels should expect a crowd that’s equally unforgiving and Carolina has had trouble in Wahoo land before. If they aren’t careful, they could start of the conference stretch 0-1.
I don’t think that UVA is nearly as good of a team as UNLV, but I do think that the game this weekend will offer the same amount of intensity and it’s certainly just as important. With the Rebels, I mentioned in my preview of that game that if UNC could hold star freshman Anthony Bennett to 10-15 points instead of the 20 he averaged per game to that point, then the Heels would have a great chance to win. The player of interest on the Cavaliers is Joe Harris.Harris statistically is Virginia’s best player. He is averaging 15 ppg for a team that doesn’t score much at all. North Carolina, on the other hand, is ranked 4th nationally in ppg at 83.6 and gets contributors from all over the lineup. We know Tony Bennett likes to slow things down when his team runs their offense in order to limit possessions. This is a big reason why the Wahoos haven’t allowed anyone to score over 70 points to this point in the season. When his team holds opponents back offensively, Harris is a supremely effective player for Virginia.
North Carolina is sure to put a lot of pressure on Harris to score a lot of points. Reggie Bullock, PJ Hairston and JP Tokoto will undoubtedly be assigned to stop him on defense, but if the Heels can run their normal offense and set the pace for the game, Harris will be way out of sync and his point total won’t matter as much. Since UNLV runs the same type of offense, to a certain extent, as Carolina, that made managing Anthony Bennett’s production that much more important. The contrasting offensive styles going head to head on Sunday makes one player’s point production a little less of an issue.
While Virginia is talented, they don’t have the weapons outside of Harris (especially on the bench) to be able to compete in a shootout. This is why controlling the offensive tempo is crucial. Once the flow of the game falls in favor of Carolina, Harris will be forced to do it all in order to keep his team in it. Therefore, even if Harris scores 25 points in a career night (10 points above his avg), it will likely be because of an over exaggerated shot count. None of his teammates will see the basketball that way and then consequentially, won’t contribute to Virginia’s score.
The more I look at this matchup, the more I like it in favor of the Heels. The game will not be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination as UVA is sure to bring everything they’ve got. However, the Tar Heels have too many weapons on the wings for Virginia to handle. The pace the Tar Heels bring to their offense is unlike anything UVA has faced all season which makes it all the more important for Carolina to get off the blocks quickly. If they do that, there should be no looking back towards opening up conference play with a win.