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UNC at Virginia: Three Things Learned

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Did we really learn anything?

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When the ACC schedule was released, every UNC fan noted yet another trip to Charlottesville was on the docket. A collective sigh or profanity is usually uttered because we all know exactly how that game will play out. As we were reminded repeatedly over the past 48 hours, UNC hasn’t won at Virginia since 2012. That’s a streak that now stands at six losses, which is difference than the current overall seven game losing streak dating back to 2017.

We all know it will be slow and boring. That’s all fine and good. But we all can all predict exactly how it will play out. Unable to play at a fast tempo. UNC will struggle to score in the opening minutes. Virginia will gain a sizable but not insurmountable advantage. The Heels battle back to make it competitive, maybe even grabbing a lead. Then the Cavaliers hit a few big buckets, usually three-pointers, and pull just far enough away that you (and the Heels), mentally crumble.

When you look at the stats at the end of the game, everything will look almost perfectly even, except for one or two glaring difference. Free throws? Foul trouble? Turnovers?

Afterwards you collect yourself, let out another sigh or profanity, and look forward to the next game because nothing can be as emotionally infuriating as whatever happened the previous 40 minutes.

So. That being said, what on earth could we possibly have learned?

Wasted Chances

There are only so many opportunities during a game to grab control and assert your dominance. Last night’s main opportunity came in the opening five minutes when both teams struggled to find the bottom of the net. A Sam Hauser three pointer gave UVA a 6-2 lead at the 15:10 mark. Virginia never looked back.

And what did UNC do in those opening minutes? Caleb Love stole an errant/deflected pass and converted a fast break dunk. The rest of the team went 0-7 with a turnover. Though, even that seems a bit unfair to most of the players on the floor. Five of those missed shots came from Garrison Brooks (0-3) and Leaky Black (0-2).

UVA continued a steady barrage of threes, reaching their game-high 17-point lead with 10:12 remaining in the first half. A 21-4 lead was buoyed by going 5-8 from deep, and for what it’s worth, that shooting was a team effort. Four different Hoos connected from behind the arc during that period.

Surprisingly, Virginia only scored one field goal the rest of the half (which, of course, was another three-pointer). That helped the Heels claw back to an 11 point deficit at halftime, 28-17, but the damage was done. Had UNC managed just a few more points in those opening minutes, the whole atmosphere of the game is altered.

Point Guard Experience

Disclaimer: Anything I’m about to write is not an indictment on any former UNC player.

North Carolina has now dropped seven games on the season. Six of those seven teams — Texas, Iowa, N.C. State, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Virginia — had at least one upperclassman starting in the backcourt. All of those teams, except UVA, started a senior at point guard. Though it may seem like it, UVA’s Kihei Clark is only a junior.

North Carolina, by comparison, is on their fourth different starting point guard in four years. That doesn’t account for injuries, spot starts, and Senior Nights. From 2012-2013 to 2017-18, they only had two; Marcus Paige and Joel Berry. (Note: Nate Britt did start for half of Paige’s sophomore season, but Paige was in the backcourt with him)

Meanwhile, UVA has had just three starting point guards since the 2013-2014 season. Logan Perrantes from 2013-2017, Ty Jerome from 2017-2019, and Clark from 2019-Present. If you are curious how they remain so efficient, point guard stability is a major piece of that puzzle.

Yes, there are multi-faceted issues that explain UNC’s current state. Every position deserves some scrutiny and most of it is simple youth and inexperience. But, the point guard position at UNC is often mentioned as the most critical. That position has been in a constant state of flux since 2018.

Whatever the reasons — one-and-done recruits, injuries, lack of player development — that instability has unequivocally hobbled UNC’s program.

Looking for Wins

Before tip-off in Charlottesville, the ACC announced that Tuesday’s game against Virginia Tech is postponed due to a positive COVID test within the Hokies’ program. That will mark the third ACC home game for UNC to be impacted by COVID postponement. Those are critical potential wins against Clemson, Miami, and now Virginia Tech that UNC may need to boost their tournament resumes.

Unless replacement opponents are found or the original games are rescheduled, the Heels have just five games remaining. They are:

-Louisville (home)
-Boston College (road)
-Florida State (home)
-Syracuse (road)
-Duke (home)

As of Friday night, Louisville, FSU, and Syracuse would count as a Q1 win. Those would help UNC’s NCAAT case as they are currently 0-5 in such games. These games are connected to the NET rankings, which are fluid and change every week. That means UNC’s record could also change.

Regardless, anything short of finishing 4-1 over that stretch may not be enough for an at-large bid to the NCAAT. A few rescheduled opponents would help that dilemma.