Virginia Men's Basketball

North Carolina vs Virginia Preview and Storylines

(Matt Riley/UVA Athletics)

The 13th ranked Virginia Cavaliers will host the North Carolina Tar Heels on Tuesday night in the first of two games between the teams this season.   Both enter with a 3-2 record in ACC play, among six teams tied for 4th place in the conference standings. Tipoff is scheduled for 9:00 PM Eastern, televised on ESPN. 

About North Carolina

Hubert Davis led the Tar Heels to the national championship game last year in his first season as head coach.  With four starters and over 70% of its scoring back, expectations are high. They were the preseason #1 team in the country, only to fall out of the rankings entirely following an early four-game losing streak.  They’ve since won six of their last seven. 

The Tar Heels have an 11-5 overall record.  They’re one of the top offensive teams in the country, 13th in efficiency by KenPom’s formula, but only okay on defense (70th).  They’re currently in the 28th spot in the NCAA’s NET rankings, making this a Quad-1 game for UVA.  

North Carolina Personnel

No single player in the conference is more important to his team than Armando Bacot (18.8 PPG).  The 6-11 senior center leads the ACC in scoring and rebounding.  He’s an absolute load in the middle.  In last season’s win over UVA in Chapel Hill, he posted a ridiculous stat line of 29 points and 22 rebounds.  Job number one for the Hoos is to find a way to keep the big man contained.  

Northwestern transfer forward Pete Nance (10.9 PPG) typically joins Bacot in the starting frontline.  He sat out Saturday’s game with a back injury.  We don’t know if he’ll play on Tuesday.  It’s a very different lineup without him, as they’ll use more four-guard looks.  

Junior guards Caleb Love (16.9 PPG) and RJ Davis (16.4 PPG) make up a great one-two punch in the backcourt.  The 6-4 Love runs hot and cold, but he can really take over the game when he gets going.  Kihei Clark and the 6-0 Davis will make for a fun matchup between two of the best small guards in the country.  And athletic 6-8 wing  Leaky Black (7.3 PPG) is back for his fifth season, rounding out the starting lineup.  

Freshman point guard Seth Trimble (3.0 PPG) moved into the starting lineup on Saturday with Nance out.  Junior wing Puff Johnson (3.8 PPG) has seen more minutes of late.  And Virginia transfer forward Justin McKoy (1.0 PPG) could be a factor in this one.  He played a season-high 17 minutes against Wake Forest when Nance was injured.  

These Aren’t Old Roy’s Tar Heels

For a long time, the Carolina recipe was the same.  I could have written the preview years in advance.  Keep them out of transition, and limit their second chances.  That was how you beat UNC.  And nobody was better at it than Tony Bennett.  It’s almost as if the Bennett way was designed to beat the Carolina way.  

The UNC team is built differently under Hubert Davis.  They no longer play with two traditional big men at the same time.  And while they still look to get out in transition, they aren’t nearly as dependent on it as in the past.   Right now, they rank outside the top 100 in both pace of play and offensive rebounding percentage.  You still have to be concerned about those areas, but keeping it in check won’t win you the game on its own like it used to.

Can’t Be Bullied By Bacot

North Carolina center Armando Bacot is a tough matchup for everyone.   He uses his physicality as well as any big man we’ve seen recently in college basketball.  Nearly all of his damage is done near the rim, yet it’s hard to stop.  He’s a great player.  UVA isn’t going to shut him down entirely, but they can’t let him dominate the way he did in Chapel Hill last year.  

He heads the conference in offensive rebounding.  That’s where he hurt UVA most last year, grabbing nine of them.  He also gets to the foul line more than anyone in the league, over eight attempts per game. It’s a big challenge for Virginia’s Kadin Shedrick and Francisco Caffaro.  They can’t shy away from physicality, but they also need to avoid foul trouble.  Going to a small lineup without them isn’t a good option in this game. .  

Questionable Nance

UNC starting power forward Pete Nance left early in last Wednesday’s win over Wake Forest with a back injury.  He was held out of Saturday’s win against Notre Dame.  Hubert Davis has said he’s day to day.  

The Tar Heels seem to have found something with their smaller lineup in his absence.  They’ve played really well the last two games, particularly on offense.   If he does return on Tuesday, it’s doubtful that he’ll go back to his usual 30+ minutes right away.  We should expect to see a heavy dose of their four-guard look.  

(Featured Image Credit: Matt Riley/UVA Athletics)


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