Just a mere 72 hours ago, the game tonight between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Virginia Cavaliers seemed destined to be a pseudo ACC Championship Game, with the winner grasping a commanding upper hand in the regular season title race. But life comes at you fast in the ACC and now UVA sits two games behind UNC in the standings after a home loss to Duke (you literally had one job, Virginia).
Despite the loss, this still figures to be a clash between two of the premier ACC programs. Virginia lives and dies by their point guard London Perrantes. When he is not trying to bring back appalling hairstyles that should have been mercifully left in the 90’s, Perrantes is the Cavaliers leading scorer at a 12.6 points per game. While he is an efficient and capable outside shooter, his real strength is getting in to the paint. Perrantes is the only Virginia player who can consistently create his own shot and penetrate. Virginia’s offense works best when he is able to get in the lane, draw help defenders and find open shooters on the wings.
Virginia’s style has not changed and it likely never will as long as the dapper Tony Bennett remains in Charlottesville. They are extremely deliberate on offense. Obviously, this represents a bit of ideological warfare with a Roy Williams coached team. When North Carolina is on defense, they can expect to guard for the full 30 seconds nearly every time down the court. It will be pivotal for Joel Berry along with Nate Britt (and possibly the bigger Theo Pinson) to remain engaged for the entire shot clock on Perrantes.
Despite their methodical and relentless offensive sets, they have major weaknesses. Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill aren’t walking through that door. The Wahoos have no playmaker to take the heat off of Perrantes like they did last year. Guard Marial Shayock along with the freshmen perimeter duo of Ty Jerome and the abhorrent man-bun of Kyle Guy (Thomas Jefferson is spinning in his grave at the thought of the outrageous hair choices Guy and Perrantes have made) will make North Carolina pay if rotations are not crisp and precise.
Virginia fans will be haunted by the what-if question surrounding Austin Nichols. What if he had not been dismissed from the program in November? The day he was dismissed from the program severely handicapped the Cavaliers capabilities down low. There is no true offensive threat in the post. To be more specific, there is no offensive threat in the post at all. The primary trio of Jack Salt, Isaiah Wilkins and Mamadi Diakite will attempt to take some heat off Virginia’s guards but it will be an uphill battle.
The real impact Virginia big men will have on this game will be on the defensive end. The Pack Line Defense Tony Bennett coached teams utilize has bothered numerous teams, including past Carolina teams. Brice Johnson proved to be a capable and willing passer out of the constant double teams post players can expect upon receiving the ball. But what about this year’s team? Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks (along with their backups Luke Maye and Tony Bradley) ability to make quick decisions with the ball as soon as they touch it will be the key factor in a North Carolina victory.
The UVA defensive style is as methodical as their offense. They are unrelenting in their discipline and ability to keep their opponent out of the fast break. Carolina can expect for no more than one Virginia player to crash the offensive glass as four players drop back to take away the fast break that has come to define Roy Williams led teams. Virginia under Tony Bennett is a systematic drone of deliberation and efficiency. The Heels will need to not let Virginia force them into ill-conceived and rushed shots. Look for a few sets early for Justin Jackson as he looks to regroup from, at least for him, a relatively sub-par game at NC State. There is a talent discrepancy that the Heels can take advantage of as long as they play their game and don’t let Virginia impose their will.
The Dean Dome has faced its fair share of criticism, but games like this produce an atmosphere that is as good as any in the country. The Dome should be rocking and will hopefully propel Carolina to another fast home start. Virginia is trying to avoid a third loss in a row and will undoubtedly come out with a chip on their shoulder. If the Heels can get off to a fast start, Virginia’s lack of varied or impactful scoring could seal their fate early.
Prediction: UNC 69, UVA 58