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UNC vs. Virginia: Three things to watch

Can the Tar Heels get back on track against a team that has had their number of late?

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The good news for UNC is that they probably can’t play worse than they did against Ohio State. The bad news is there are a couple games on the horizon that will test that theory.

The first of those game comes tomorrow when the Tar Heels take on Virginia. UNC has struggled in recent years against the Cavaliers, winning just two of the last seven. While this Virginia team doesn’t appear to be as good as last year’s, thus UNC team doesn’t either.

The Tar Heels could really use a nice win, and here are some things to look out if they’re going to get that against UVA.


This one is probably going to be one thing to look out for until further notice. UNC has still yet to crack 50% shooting in a game. They’ve only gone above 45% twice, and both of those games came in the first half of November. It’s an issue.

Now the Tar Heels are tasked with facing the fabled Virginia defense. Here is what UNC has shot against the Cavaliers in recent meetings: 35%, 41%, 30%, and 35%. Their last win against them came in the first matchup from the 2016-17 season. This year’s Virginia team has allowed over 60 points just once, and only one team has shot better than 40%. Against Maine, they allowed just eight made field goals. Yes, it’s just Maine, but eight.

However, this one can actually go both ways, as the Virginia offense hasn’t exactly shot the lights out either. As a team, they are shooting just 24% from three. Their offense is currently ranked behind Tennessee Martin on KenPom, and that is tempo-adjusted and nothing to do with the Cavaliers’ famously slow pace. Their performance last time out against Purdue was ugly, and this game has the potential to be a real rock fight.

Matching up against Virginia’s bigs

The Cavaliers’ twoleading scorers are both bigs: Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff That’s probably not shocking considering their shooting woes, but it also could lead to some trouble considering UNC’s current injury situation.

Luckily, UNC have a really good defensive big man in Garrison Brooks. Unluckily, Armando Bacot isn’t going to play. With him on the court, the Tar Heels have allowed 86.8 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, last time out when he played just seven minutes before getting injured, UNC allowed 108.8 per 100 posessions, while also getting out-rebounded by 18.

It’s not that Carolina lacks bodies down low, with Bacot out, but it remains to be seen if those other big man can matchup with UVA’s.

Keep making the scoreboard tick over

A pattern has emerged in UNC’s two losses to this point: they’ve both included long runs in favor of the other team.

Against Michigan, UNC went into the break down five. Just eight minutes in to the second half, that deficit was 22. They scored just two points in that stretch, and they came on the second made field goal of the half.

In the Ohio State loss, the game went back and forth for the first couple minutes of the second after the Buckeyes were up two at the half. From the 16 minute mark to the 12 minute mark, the Heels scored two points and went from being down two to down 12. A couple minutes after that, they were down 20.

Until we’re proven otherwise, we should assume UNC won’t shoot the lights out. If they’re not going to, they at least need to not let scoreless possessions pile up. Basketball is a game of runs, yes. There are always going to be points of a game where the other team is on a roll. You can’t have those runs last as long as they did in the Ohio State and Michigan games. You have to keep scoreboard pressure on the other team, even if you aren’t playing your best.