Where: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
When: Saturday, February 25th, 4:00 PM
Records: UNC 24-4, 11-2 ACC; UVa 21-6, 8-5 ACC
One game at a time.
That is the old cliche at this time of year for teams needing to win more than one game to close out a first place finish in the regular season conference standings. No one can be caught looking ahead when you need every win. It is also the time of season where the how and why a win happens matters less than the win itself. This is called "survive and advance" which pushes to the background the need to evaluate the team's long term success possibilities. In short, we all know what this UNC team is about and what it needs to do for a deep run in March/April. The expectation is we will continue to see some of that on display now and moving forward.
In UNC's case, with the #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament being somewhat muddled, it would be in the Heels' best interesting to win their final three regular season games then take the ACC Tournament. This is also a very tough road game to start off that stretch. Despite UNC's eventual dominance in the win vs the Cavaliers in Chapel Hill, UNC's penchant for poor shooting on the road(the NCSU game notwithstanding) in combination with Virginia's sixth ranked defense makes this a tough chore. There is also the Cavaliers' tempo which is not the one UNC is most comfortable at making this a real test along the lines of UNC at Tallahassee in 1993 or the 2005 team playing at Maryland late in the season.
At this point, it is clear the Tar Heels are looking and playing a more confident brand of basketball. There is a feel they are rising up to their potential and capable of beating anyone. Seeing three point shots go in will do that to one's perception of a team and if UNC gets Tyler Zeller back on track offensively along with Harrison Barnes in Black Falcon mode, so much the better. On the defensive end, it is a sure bet Virginia will hit more threes than they did in the two teams' last meeting. Both Joe Harris and Sammy Zeglinski are more than capable of filling it up as is Mike Scott who will pull Zeller or John Henson away from the basket.
In addition to all the standings and NCAA Tournament implications there is the ACC POY race. Scott, Barnes and Zeller can each make huge statements in their favor with this game. If this ends up being a competitive game, the one player who steps up and carries his team the most could push ahead in the race. Of course both Barnes and Zeller will tell you it is all about the team goals. If both them play well and help the team win, the individual accolades will take care of themselves.
UNC 68 UVa 62