ACC Semifinals: #5 North Carolina vs #1 Virginia, 7:00 PM, ESPN/ACC Network
In the movie Jurassic Park there is a scene near the end after things have gone to hell in a hand basket where the park owner John Hammond is trying to come to terms with the fact the whole venture has turned into a disaster. Hammond insists the failure of the park and subsequent letting loose of giant prehistoric reptiles can be remedied because they are still in control. Ellie Slattery, the scientist brought to Jurassic Park to evaluate it, responds by saying:
"You never had control! That's the illusion!"
This is what it's like to play Virginia in recent years and an apt description of the first game between these two teams in Chapel Hill. Lost in the way the game ended was the fact UNC led at halftime and was "in the game" midway through the second half. Then it all fell apart. It felt like UNC was in the game and exercising some control of its own destiny then the offense fell apart, Virginia's offense got rolling and suddenly it was a double digit deficit with no hope of recovery.
Incidentally that game was played two days after UNC's infamous meltdown at Louisville which say the Tar Heels lose an 18 point lead then the game in overtime. The Tar Heels, at that point, were beat up and possibly a little worn out by the grind of multiple Saturday/Monday games on the schedule. The loss at Louisville seemingly shook this team and the remainder of the regular season was a complete roller coaster with the loss to Virginia being one of several dips in on the track.
Now that UNC has come full circle by winning the game versus Louisville it couldn't over a month ago, can the Tar Heels produce a different outcome versus Virginia? Many of the elements remain the same. Virginia's tempo and style will present multiple issues for the Tar Heels. Beating Virginia requires great patience on both ends of the court. Defensively, a team needs to be able to guard in a focused and smart manner for 35 seconds. On the offensive end, imposing your will on the Cavalier defense is tough and executing with patience is even tougher. The nature of Virginia's defense often puts a team in a position to feel rushed because the shot clock is going down. Turnovers are also an issue since it may appears there are openings in the defense when in reality there aren't.
One potential solution for the Heels may lie with Virginia turnovers. The Cavaliers have been turnover prone over the past three games with a TO% of 23.8 or worse against Syracuse, Louisville and Florida State. UNC's ability to not only replicate that but also convert it into easy baskets will help since it means not facing Virginia's entrenched front line defense.
Ultimately it may come down to what UNC's perimeter scoring can produce. Marcus Paige is clearly healthy but will be dogged by the league's best defender in Malcolm Brogdon. Paige was essentially shut down for the middle 30 minutes of the game in Chapel Hill and inflated his scoring total at the end when the game was already decided. Finding a way Paige to score will be crucial as is Justin Jackson continuing to score. UNC is 15-3 when Jackson scores in double figures. He has scored 10 or more in seven straight games and against Louisville on Wednesday did not going to the basket against a tough interior defense.
The danger in playing Virginia for this Tar Heel team is getting panicked and out of sorts. UNC will feel like it's in control then Virginia will tighten the defense and destroy hope much the same way Georgia Tech does with an eight minute drive on the football field. The Cavaliers can be had though it may take as high level a game as UNC has played all season.
UNC 66 Virginia 63