Tar Heel Game Day Preview: UNC Takes On Virginia


Fresh off a devastating loss in the final seconds to Duke on Wednesday.  The Tar Heels must dust themselves off and welcome another tough team into the Dean Smith Center tonight.  UNC faces off with #20 Virginia in what should be another difficult ACC dogfight.  If the wacky and wild last couple weeks in conference play has told us anything.  It’s to expect a roller coaster this afternoon in Chapel Hill.

The 20th ranked Virginia Cavaliers come in with a 19-4 overall record (6-3 ACC) and after a great start to the season find themselves fourth in the conference.  Virginia lost in a tight game against Florida State on Saturday before defeating Wake Forest on Wednesday night.  A win against Carolina would put the Cavaliers back in the thick of the ACC race which is currently in a three way deadlock between UNC, Duke and FSU.

With the wild events that have gone on over the last couple weeks in the ACC it’s must win from here on out for the Tar Heels.  After a loss to #23 FSU, already a game out of the race, it’s a must win for Virginia as well if they want to stand a chance for the ACC regular season title.  On paper, Virginia is an odd team, only two players average double digits in scoring.  The Cavaliers do not have much of a bench averaging  just 20.6 points in 110 minutes per game from the reserves.

The Tar Heels hold a huge statistical advantage in almost every single category over Virginia.  The Cavaliers are not a big scoring team averaging just 64 ppg ranking them 263rd in the nation.  Carolina should also dominate the glass against Virginia, a weak rebounding team averaging just 33.3 rebounds per game ranking them 245th in the country.  The numbers don’t get much better for them in the assist department where they average just 12.8 assists per night ranking them 178th overall.

Virginia’s strength is its defense.  They have been a very stingy, tough defense all season long.  In a win over the lowly Seattle Redhawks in December, Virginia gave up it’s season high total of just 77 points.  They have held ten teams to less than 50 total points and this is a team that not only plays good defense, but prides itself on being winning games on the defensive end.

The player UNC will have to worry about the most in this one is senior forward Mike Scott.  Scott is averaging a team high 17 points per game on 60.3% shooting from the field.  He is not a threat from outside so expect UNC to play him tight and challenge him to put the ball on the floor against them.

The Heels will be even thinner on the perimeter as yet another wing position player is out with an injury.  Freshman PJ Hairston who along with James Michael McAdoo has played the most minutes off the bench since the Dexter Strickland injury.  Hairston is out with a sore foot and the injury is not believed to serious.  This means more of senior Justin Watts who has played a very limited role so far this season.  Watts should be a slight upgrade on the defensive end and is a better rebounder than Hairston.  In theory the offense gets worse with PJ out, considering the bench has put up just 15 points combined in the last three games, I don’t think it will matter much.

What to Expect:  Expect the Tar Heels to come out fired up and ready to give the home crowd a win that can take their minds off the Duke devastation.  Carolina knows the significance of this game and what another ACC loss could do to their chances of winning the conference.  UNC fell into old habits again against Duke allowing them to erase a 12 point deficit with just three minutes remaining.  I expect the Heels to avoid the mental lapses and play hard for 40 minutes.  Virginia’s tough defense will give Carolina some trouble early.  This won’t be a blowout at halftime, after dominating the glass and continuously challenging the Cavaliers, expect UNC to blow this one open by the mid-way point of the second half.

Final Score and Play of the Game Prediction: A six point game at halftime will have Chapel Hill in a cautious mood, fresh with the memory of Austin Rivers three point basket in our minds.  UNC storms out in the second half and puts this one away by the mid way point of the second half.  Final Score UNC 76 UVA 62.  I’d be pretty surprised if Tyler Zeller doesn’t isn’t the player of the game Saturday.  After dominating the first half against Duke, Zeller disappeared in the second half then ended the game by missing two critical foul shots and inadvertently tipping a shot into his own basket giving Duke two points.  Z should be plenty motivated to erase those memories in front of the home crowd and I think he will.  Z’s final line, 27 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocked shots.
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