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UNC vs. Virginia: Three things to watch

Three points to keep an eye on for tomorrow’s prime time game.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The #10 North Carolina Tar Heels will host #14 Virginia tomorrow night at the Smith Center. The ESPN College GameDay crew will be in Chapel Hill for the game, so you have to expect a great crowd for this one. Here are three things to watch when the Heels take on the Cavaliers.

Offense versus Defense

This one is obvious, but which team will assert its strength? Let’s state the obvious: UNC has the sixth best scoring offense in the country, while Virginia is the top scoring defense team in the nation.

But flip this around. Carolina’s scoring defense is at 72.1 opposition points per game, and Virginia’s scoring offense is at 69.3 points per game. This puts the margin for the teams’ scoring offenses and defenses at +15.3 for the Heels are and at +14.2 for the Wahoos.

Further, Carolina scores, on average, 32.3 more points than Virginia gives up, while UVA scores an average of just 2.8 points more than Carolina allows. With their individual team margins at just over a point difference, the burden will be on Virginia to slow down the Tar Heel offense.

If this was a road game for UNC, the emphasis would be flipped. However, with the Heels undefeated at home this year, the GameDay crew on the Smith Center floor that morning, and aftermarket ticket prices for this game going through the roof, it will be an electric atmosphere in Chapel Hill tomorrow night.

The second game with the new starting lineup

With the news that Kenny Williams will likely be out for the rest of the season, Tar Heel fans saw the new starting lineup down the stretch. Williams was regarded as the best perimeter defender on the team, but hopefully there will not be much of a drop off with Theo Pinson.

As seen Wednesday night against NC State, Pinson was efficient from the floor, hitting six of eight shots for a solid 12 points. Isaiah Hicks, in his game back after returning from his hamstring injury, had seven points in just seven minutes. Back in the starting four-spot, Hicks took advantage of the Wolfpack’s small starting lineup and was scoring with ease, but foul trouble limited his playing time. Hopefully this was just an adjustment after a week and a half of no game time. The good news was Luke Maye, with 13 points and seven rebounds, and Tony Bradley, with eight points and five rebounds, provided solid performances in Hicks’s absence.

Who will make the second half run?

Virginia has lost three of four, and each of those games had a second half run that contributed to the final outcome of the game. In each of those three losses against Duke, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse, the Cavaliers were up at the half. A second half run by opposition eventually led to a Virginia loss. The most impressive of these was Syracuse, who was down 34-22 at the half and started the second half with a 19-2 run to take the lead for good.

Conversely, during UVA’s lone win in this stretch against Louisville, the Hoos were down two at the half. Their second half run of 22-5 led to their 16-point victory over then-ranked #4 Louisville.

This Tar Heel team has made some impressive runs this season, but have also given up some detrimental ones. Here is some advice for those attending tomorrow night’s game: get back in the seats before the second half begins. A decisive Carolina run to start the second half might be the difference in retaining sole possession of the ACC lead or not. Coach Williams loves a loud crowd and it has been shown that those Tar Heels can feed off the energy in the Smith Center. Make it happen, Tar Heel fans.