North Carolina at Virginia, 7:00 PM, ESPN
Monday night game?
One of the by-products of realigment is ESPN needing to still fill Monday night with quality basketball programming after the Big East was transformed and left a depleted AAC behind. The result was pulling the ACC games onto the Monday schedule which is probably going to take some getting used to for the traditional fan. For the record, Roy Williams has said he prefers Monday games over the Sunday night ones the ACC has had for many years. The next week UNC gets both with a game tonight and then one on Sunday night against Clemson at home.
Despite some struggles with inferior opponents earlier in the season, Virginia has found a groove since the opening of ACC play. The Cavaliers are 4-1 in league play with the lone loss coming on the road at Duke and three of the four wins have come by double-digits. Virginia has already recorded a sweep over a good Florida State team and has established itself as easily a top half to top third of the ACC kind of team. That means this game will be a bear for UNC for a variety of reasons.
The two most prominent issues here is UNC's hanging by a thread offense against one of the best defenses in the country in a slower tempo game. This is clearly not the best case scenario for UNC. While the offense was better on Saturday, it took getting a productive outing from J.P. Tokoto and Kennedy Meeks to really push the offense to a respectable level of output. Having Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo play up to their potential wasn't enough and that came against a Boston College defense rated as one of the worst in the ACC. UNC will find executing a much more difficult task against Virginia. Compounding the issue for the Tar Heels will be battling against a Cavalier team that grabs almost 75% of available rebounds on the defensive end. In a low tempo game the last thing you need is missed shots combined with limited offensive rebounding. Teams are only shooting 40.3% against Virginia on two point shots which is more or less where UNC lives offensively.
On the defensive end of the floor, UNC continues to post decent numbers but there are issues which stats do not adequately project. The Tar Heels have issues guarding the ball which is the first failure of a team's defense. UNC's inability to stop the drive opens the door for a team like Virginia to make the Tar Heels pay in the half court. UNC simply has too much confusion with rotations against teams that can move the ball or break the defense down. Even the 3-2 zone proved susceptible to Boston College shooters on Saturday leaving UNC will a lot of question marks on the defensive end. The pace is another issue since UVa's patience will require more focus on the defensive end.
Taking all that into account, UNC is looking at a tough challenge which was always going to be the case. The biggest issue right now for UNC is the loss to Miami. Winning at Wake Forest would have been nice too but given how tough it is to play in Winston-Salem, that loss is not nearly as troubling as dropping a game at home to the Hurricanes. Why? Home games are always must wins because winning on the road in ACC play can be very difficult. That is why losing at Syracuse was baked into the cake already and to some extent this game has been as well. A loss here is not going to shock anyone nor is it the end of the world since UNC could climb back to above .500 over the next four games, three of which are at home. A win would essentially cancel out the Miami loss and send UNC into the next four games with some decent momentum.
Whatever the case, whatever approach UNC took when the Tar Heels won at Michigan State should be the same here. Play hard and see what happens.
Virginia 61 UNC 55