Virginia Men's Basketball

Virginia at North Carolina Preview

Matt Riley/UVA Athletics

In their final road game of the season, 6th ranked Virginia heads to Chapel Hill on Saturday to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels.   Tipoff is scheduled for 6:00 PM Eastern, televised on ESPN.

The Wahoos, currently tied for second place in the ACC, will look to bounce back from an upset loss at Boston College on Wednesday.  Meanwhile, the Tar Heels are in desperate need of a resume-boosting win.  This will be the second meeting between the teams this season. Virginia won 65-58 in Charlottesville in early January.

About North Carolina

Second-year Head Coach Hubert Davis led his alma mater to the National Championship Game last season.   With four returning starters from that team, they were ranked #1 in preseason polls.  Entering this game with a 17-11 overall record, 9-8 in ACC play, it’s been a disappointing year. They’re in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament.  

The metrics show them as a balanced team.  54th in offensive efficiency by Kenpom, 49th on defense.  They have struggled to score a bit of late, failing to top a point per possession in five of the last eight outings.  The NCAA’s NET formula has them ranked 48th, making this a Quad-1 game for the Hoos on the road.  

North Carolina’s Personnel

Senior center Armando Bacot (17.3 PPG) is one of the best big men in the country.  He leads the ACC in rebounding and is fourth in scoring.  All of his damage is done around the basket.  He’s a beast on the offensive glass in particular.  That has to be UVA’s top concern, limiting UNC’s second chance opportunities.  

The starting backcourt is made up of a pair of high-scoring juniors. Caleb Love (17.1 PPG) runs hot and cold . But when he gets it going, he’s capable of taking over a game as well as any player in the country.  And point guard RJ Davis (15.6 PPG) is a dangerous three-level threat in his own right.  Both of them have seen their three-point percentages dip to around 32% this season though.  

Northwestern transfer forward Pete Nance (9.7 PPG) was brought in to replace Brady Manek.  He hasn’t quite lived up to that.  He’s only shooting 28% from behind the arc, down from 45% a year ago.  And fifth-year wing Leaky Black (7.1 PPG) is a terrific defender who provides a lot of positional versatility.  

Davis will usually go eight or nine deep.  Junior wing Puff Johnson (4.2 PPG) is the only one that’s consistently gotten double-digit minutes off the bench. Freshman big man Jalen Washington (2.7 PPG)  had his best game in Charlottesville, scoring 13 points, but hasn’t played much recently.  

The First Meeting

Virginia won the first game between these teams in Charlottesville 65-58.  In North Carolina’s eyes, that game has an asterisk next to it though.  The Heels were short-handed.  Armando Bacot left with an injury in the opening minute, and Pete Nance was also out with an injury.  It allowed UVA to go with a four-guard lineup for most of the second half, which proved very effective.  

Saturday’s game will no doubt be played very differently.  UVA will need to deal with Bacot.  We should see more of Kadin Shedrick and possibly Francisco Caffaro, who’s had some good moments against the Heels in the past.  But it’ll also be interesting whether Bennett looks for opportunities to roll with the four-guard lineup that worked so well before.  

Struggling Hoos

Neither of these teams are coming in on a high note.  UNC has lost five of eight.  But UVA is the midst of their worst offensive stretch of the season.  The last few games have been a struggle to score, capped by the 48-point effort at Boston College on Wednesday.  

Just plain old poor shooting is a big part of UVA’s problem lately.  They haven’t shot better than 33% from three-point range in a game since the win at Syracuse nearly a month ago.  There are some key players going through a funk.  Reece Beekman, being the most notable, is 22% from the field over the last four games.

It’s not all as simple as that though.  In the BC game, they had real trouble creating good shots.  There’s probably some schematic adjustments that need to be made.  

High Stakes

Currently tied in the loss column with first-place Miami, the Hoos probably need to win all three of their remaining games to earn a share of the regular season ACC title.  Miami’s two games left are both at home.  The most difficult of which is against Pittsburgh, who is also tied with UVA.  It’s pretty unlikely that they’ll both lose another game. Saturday’s trip to Chapel Hill figures to be UVA’s biggest hurdle, and very well could determine whether they get to hang a banner. 

For UNC, the stakes are arguably higher.  This is an absolute must-win game for them in order to keep their hopes of an NCAA at-large birth alive.  They haven’t won a Quad-1 game all season.  Thai is a chance to erase that narrative. They probably need to beat both UVA and Duke, and then do some damage in the ACC Tourney to secure a bid.   

(Featured Image: Matt Riley/UVA Athletics)


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