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UNC at Virginia

Where: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, NC
When: Saturday, January 8th, 12:00 PM
TV: Raycom/ACC Network/ESPN3
Records: UNC 10-4, 0-0 ACC; UVa 10-5, 1-0 ACC

Conference play.

I don't know about anyone else but there is nothing better that ACC play in full swing. That is the case this weekend with all 12 schools playing each other. UNC kicks off a Saturday slate of five games with a trip to Charlottesville to for the Heels' ACC opener. It is also a solid test for a young team that has shown an obvious tend of improvement over the final few weeks of 2010 into 2011. Roy Williams said on Friday there is more positive vibe around the team this season versus last year despite the records being much the same. In fact, Roy has been mostly pleased with the team progress citing the loss to Texas(or rather the manner in which they lost) as being the only real negative. Losing that game was a failure to close the deal and the fact Roy has mentioned it more than once means it is really bugging him.

Since it is still a bit murky on what kind of margin of error this UNC team has, I think this is a fairly important game to get a win. Road wins in the ACC are tough enough as it is so nailing one down here would be important. Given all the positive momentum UNC has heading into this contest, seizing on that to get a win to open ACC play certainly gets UNC heading down the right path. As C.Michael noted during the preseason roundtable discussion, this is as much a revenge game as anything else. UNC took it on the chin at the Dean Dome last season losing by 15 but being thoroughly embarrassed in the process. The time has come to return the favor.

UVa has been a bit of a mystery. Yes they beat Minnesota on the road which UNC could not do on a neutral court. The Cavaliers also knocked off Virginia Tech. However, those games included the presence of Mike Scott who is listed as the team's leading scorer and rebounded despite playing only one of UVa's last six games. Even with Scott, UVa is a bit of an enigma. Outside the big wins, UVa struggled to beat Radford by 10, nearly lost to Morgan St(without Scott), lost to Seattle(with Scott) and have left everyone wondering which team will take the floor on any given day. This one will be without Scott which is advantageous to UNC given the interior is the focal point of the Tar Heel offense.

The other major issue is tempo. UVa's Tony Bennett adheres to that slower version of basketball favored by Big Ten teams and people who simply don't know any better. UVa is 339th in tempo according to Ken Pomeroy vs UNC's ninth spot in the same category. In other words, something has to give or rather one of these teams will impose their style on the other. This makes it a interesting test for a young Tar Heel team playing in a hostile environment. Can UNC force the game into their pace or get bogged down in a slow tempo affair? The answer to that question lies with Larry Drew, Kendall Marshall and the ability of the defense to force turnovers as well as control the defensive glass. UVa is not a turnover prone team(18.1% TO) but has a OR% of 30.6% which is 236th nationally. Which is to say, UNC should control the defensive boards but forcing turnovers might be a little tough to come by.

Nothing is taken for granted. Not with this UNC team and not playing a UVa team no one can reasonably predict. Still, I like what have seen over the past 2-3 weeks and expect it to continue.

UNC 75 UVa 62