The North Carolina Tar Heels take on the Virginia Cavaliers in a pivotal ACC match up that will carry post season implications for two teams that sit on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Heels need this win desperately after dropping two straight to Miami and Duke and now face the reality that every single game the rest of this season is truly a must win for Carolina.
The Cavaliers defeated UNC 61-52 in January and look to sweep the Tar Heels this season adding to their tournament resume. In their last contest the Heels got a great performance from Reggie Bullock but little elsewhere and suffered a collapse in the second half going scoring for five and a half minutes after leading for most of the game.
Small Ball: Roy Williams remained noncommittal after starting P.J. Hairston for center Desmond Hubert yielding great results against Duke. It’s likely Roy will give the small ball lineup a second look against a Virginia team that has themselves went to a similar lineup due to injuries. The Cavaliers start four players 6-6 and under with their tallest starter at 6-8. With Hairston on the court with Bullock and James Michael McAdoo the Heels were very effective, especially in the first half at attacking the basket. Having more proven shooters on the court at once provided more spacing and room to operate. It will be interesting to watch how Roy handles the rotations after playing on Leslie McDonald more than four minutes off the bench Wednesday at Duke.
Keys to Victory: Containing Joe Harris who has averaged 23 points in the last three games in which the Cavaliers have eclipsed the 70 point mark in each game for the first time since the 2009-10 season. Harris has shot 70% from the field during this span including 66 percent from 3-point range. UNC will need to do a better job of fighting through the ball screens and avoid leaving shooters open, a problem all season long.
Injuries have forced Virginia to go with a small lineup and an even shooter bench since their last meeting with UNC. Tempo will be huge, if the Heels can get out and run, this Virginia team won’t be able to keep up. In their last contest however it was the Cavaliers that dictated a slowed down, half court game that played to their advantage.
Attacking the basket will be a big factor against a Cavalier team that leads the ACC in 3-point field goal percentage defense (28.4) and scoring defense (54.3). Defensively the Heels have to stop the three where Virginia leads the conference with a 42.2% three point shooting in conference games.
Notable Stats: UNC holds a huge advantage on the boards (40.2-36.3) especially on the offensive glass (15-8.8). The Heels hold more than a 13 point advantage averaging 77.9 ppg vs. just 64.3 for UVA. Only Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell average more than six points for the Cavaliers. Both teams are dreadful on the road with UVA at 3-4 and UNC at 4-6.
Prediction: UNC knows they have to win and despite the loss they have to feel good about the way they played for most of the night against Duke. The Tar Heels avoid the sweep by controlling the tempo for most of the game and simply out running and out scoring the Cavaliers. UNC 74 UVA 62