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ACC Championship Preview: #1 UNC vs #2 Virginia

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ACC Championship: North Carolina vs Virginia, 9:00 PM, ESPN/ACC Network

Carolina gets a rematch with Virginia with all the ACC marbles on the line. Here are the keys to the game.

The Revenge Tour

Last week in Durham, UNC got payback versus Duke and last night UNC exorcised the demons associated with playing Notre Dame. Now the Tar Heels get a crack at Virginia who beat UNC 79-74 in Charlottesville two weeks ago. If you include the blowout of Miami in the mix, this team can be incredibly dangerous when properly motivated either a loss or seeking payback against a team. The complete demolition of Notre Dame last night on both ends of the floor was a clear example of what happens when this team decides to be the aggressor.

Virginia will be a stiff challenge for the Tar Heels in that respect. There is a machine-like quality to which Virginia goes about its business. The defense makes opponents uncomfortable and the tempo will keep a team like UNC from getting into any sort of rhythm. This was also all true last year when UNC faced Virginia in the ACC Tournament Semifinals and the Tar Heels played inspired basketball much as they did on Friday versus Notre Dame. UNC will need every bit of that and maybe then some to derail the Cavaliers.

Stopping Virginia

As impressive as UNC's dismantling of Notre Dame was last night on the defensive end, it will be a much taller order to do it against Virginia which operates with patience and precision. Senior guard Malcolm Brogdon is seemingly unstoppable and has the ability to score from anywhere on the court. UNC doesn't necessarily have one player who can lock Brogdon down but then again not many teams do. In that respect, stopping Brogdon might not be feasible but he also can't score all the points. Shutting down the rest of Virginia's offensive options might be the path to getting stops against the Cavaliers.

Regardless of who is taking the shots, when Virginia misses, UNC must control the defensive glass. On paper, UVa is not a great offensive rebounding team opting to get back on defense. However in the loss to Virginia in Charlottesville, UNC surrendered far too many offensive boards in the second half negating otherwise solid defense. Virginia had 10 offensive rebounds in the second half and while it only led to just six points it extended the defensive possession against deliberate offensive team. Controlling the defensive glass is also critical to getting UNC into some form of transition or at the very least starting the offense off in rhythm against an entrenched defense.

Playing defense without fouling is also a critical factor. Virginia took eight more free throws than UNC in the loss two weeks ago and outscored the Tar Heels 18-7 at the line. In a game decided by just five points where UNC also hit two more three pointers, the free throw line decided the game. Flipping that stat or keeping it even will be key in UNC's chances to win.

Scoring on Virginia

UNC actually didn't struggle with this in the loss at Charlottesville which is what made the result all the more maddening. The Tar Heels shot 9-19 from three and hit 49% of its shots with the 7-13 free throw shooting being the one drag on the point production. The major sticking point for the offense was turnovers with 13 for the game and turnover rate of 19.8. On the season UNC's turnover rate is just 15.4 which is the best ever for a UNC team in the Roy Williams era.  When this team has turnover issues it is glaring since the Tar Heels generally do a great job of taking care of the basketball.

Virginia's defense and the speed in which defenders rotates turns what looks like open passes into turnovers. Beating Virginia requires solid execution, smart play and most importantly patience. While Joel Berry and Marcus Paige shot well from three doesn't mean UNC should settle for threes. The big men need to sense double teams and make smart passes out of the post.

The most important factor for UNC might be that the Tar Heels faced this team two weeks ago and have been able to review film of that game. Virginia's style cannot be properly illustrated in practice by a scout team. Like the Syracuse zone or even UNC's tempo, there is no way get a feel for it until you actually play against it. Having seen this defense two weeks ago should help "slow" the game down for UNC in terms of figuring out how to score against it. UNC did that over the course of the game in Charlottesville which could translate into being able to solve the defense more efficiently from the jump.

UNC 71 UVa 70