54 points. That’s the combined deficit from these two teams’ last games. They’ll each be desperate for a bounce-back win over a high-quality conference foe.
UNC has had an up and down season so far, beating Oregon (#14 KenPom) and Notre Dame (#67 KenPom), while dropping a game to Michigan (#12 KenPom) and that 25-point drubbing they received from Ohio State (#1 KenPom) on Wednesday. This will be Carolina’s first tough road test, having played three neutral games and only one on the road, against UNC-Wilmington.
The Tar Heels are led by freshman point guard Cole Anthony and boast a fairly balanced offensive attack with an effective inside presence with 6’9” junior Garrison Brooks and 6’10” freshman Armando Bacot ruling the paint. On the wing, senior Brandon Robinson and sophomore Leaky Black provide length and 3-point shooting. Carolina has been stricken by injuries so far, but has primarily run an 8-man rotation, but with Bacot declared out with a gruesome ankle injury sustained against Ohio State, Roy Williams will be left shorthanded.
Along with Bacot’s injury, freshmen guards Jeremiah Francis and Anthony Harris and junior guard Sterling Manley are yet to play so far this season. In fact, the injury situation has been bad enough that Williams had to call up a player from the UNC junior varsity team before the season. Although the two freshmen went through warmups against OSU, it appears that they’ll remain out of the lineup against Virginia.
The loss of Bacot is significant, as he is a phenomenal defender for a freshman and has posted a ridiculous 16.5% offensive rebound rate through 8 games. He also plays a vital role in Carolina’s set offense, as outside of a 7-minute, 2-point performance, he’s averaging 11.7 PPG. Bacot is also second on the team in usage at 24.3%, only behind Anthony at 31.6%. Safe to say, that’s a big loss for the Tar Heels.
Speaking of the offensive side of the ball, UNC is currently 31st in the nation in offensive efficiency via KenPom, posting a 109.1 offensive rating. They’ve struggled shooting the ball in general, likely a result of a depleted backcourt. Nonetheless, their 30.1% rate from deep is 286th in the country.
That said, Anthony has been shooting 37.5% from the 3-point line on 7 attempts each night. Realistically, Anthony’s play is likely what will determine the outcome of this contest. If he gets hot from deep and can beat Clark to the rim, the Virginia defense will struggle, and as we’ve seen, the Virginia offense likely won’t be able to pick up the slack.
Carolina will hope that the 6’9” Brooks can get them some points on the interior to force the Virginia defense to collapse on him. In addition, it would be advantageous for UNC to go at Huff and Diakite inside to see if they could get the UVA big men into foul trouble, especially considering the Cavs’ lack of depth. UNC, as always, loves to crash the boards and is 6th in the nation in offensive rebounding, corralling 38.5% of their misses on average. That number will drop without Bacot, but as always against the Heels, it’ll be worth keeping an eye on.
On the defensive end for the Tar Heels, they’ve been very solid, currently ranked 28th on KenPom with a 90.3 defensive rating. Once more, Bacot’s absence will be felt as his 86.8 defensive rating will be dearly missed on the interior against Huff and Diakite.
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For Virginia, the question will be whether or not the guards can score the ball at a relatively respectable rate. They’ll have to rely on Diakite and hopefully Huff, but there’s got to be some perimeter scoring to force Carolina to guard the shooters on the outside and not just crash the paint.
Both teams are dealing with injuries and are suffering from weak benches, so this could very easily turn into a rock fight where the starters for each team have to play 35+ minutes.
Virginia will win if: We’ve heard it over and over again, I know, but the ‘Hoos are going to have to hit some shots from deep at some point. On top of that, they’ll want to get the ball inside early and attack with Huff and Diakite in the post. More than anything though, containing Anthony will be the top priority. Look for Clark to start on the highly touted rookie and if Kihei struggles, perhaps Morsell will switch on.
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North Carolina will win if: Cole Anthony can get going on offense and they can contain Huff and Diakite on the inside. They’d also love to see a few long ones go down from a few of the role players, namely Black and Robinson.
This game should be close, so it could come down to who can get a late bucket. With that in mind, I hate to say it, but I think Anthony is more likely to make that play than anybody on Virginia. Prove me wrong Wahoos!
Score prediction: UNC 54 – UVA 51