Looking for their third win in a row, the Tar Heels will be in Charlottesville tomorrow night to face off against the Virginia Cavaliers. The Heels have been on somewhat of a roll over the last couple of games, managing to beat Wake Forest and Notre Dame decisively on their way to a 3-2 ACC record. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers have lost two of their last five games, though they were able to keep Syracuse from mounting a comeback against them Saturday night. Both of these teams have pretty different strengths, so it should be interesting to see which style of play prevails in what is arguably UNC’s most important game of the season so far.
Without further delay, let’s discuss the three keys to tomorrow’s game.
Dominating the glass
Virginia has always had a pretty good rebounding team, but this year feels like they may be a few steps behind UNC. Right now they’re averaging 32.5 rebounds per game, while the Heels are currently averaging 39.8. The player with the highest rebounding average is Jayden Gardner, who is averaging 5.3 rebounds per game so far, so the Cavaliers just don’t have “that guy” like they did during the seasons that they gave UNC such a hard time.
Meanwhile, Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, and Pete Nance all average more rebounds than Gardner, and RJ Davis currently ties him. Bacot will almost certainly have his way on the boards, and it will be an even more profound differential if Gardner gets into foul trouble. The Cavaliers are pretty perimeter-oriented this season, so pulling down boards and hurting them in transition is going to be key to UNC leaving Charlottesville with a victory.
Slowing down Kihei Clark
There are some really good players in the ACC that seem like they will never graduate, and Kihei Clark is definitely that guy for the Cavaliers. He is currently having the best season of his college career, averaging 11.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game, and is shooting 40.9% from three-point range. Clark has always been a tough guy to deal with because he is very quick and intelligent, so the question here is: who will Hubert Davis assign to guard him?
I feel like the natural answer here is RJ Davis, because right now Caleb Love has had a pretty tough time on the defensive side of the ball. Davis is perhaps just as quick if not quicker, and I feel like he will be able to limit Clark’s attempts from deep. The elephant in the room is that Tony Bennett loves a lot of ball screen action, so it will still be a team effort if Davis decides he wants his guys to switch instead of stay with their man.
Clark is definitely not the only Cavalier that the Heels have to worry about — Armaan Franklin is just as capable of torching the Heels from deep — but the game plan for stopping Virginia should begin and end with making sure the senior guard doesn’t get the looks he wants on offense.
Can the bench repeat their performance against Notre Dame?
One interesting thing about this Virginia team is that they only play three players off of the bench — Ben Vander Plas, Ryan Dunn, and Isaac McKneely have been the most utilized bench players, and their production has been pretty hit or miss. While UNC’s bench has been pretty quiet themselves, they scored a total of 22 points against Notre Dame, with Puff Johnson leading the group with his 11.
Hubert Davis has an opportunity in this game to use his bench to his advantage in this game, but it will also be really tough to do. Virginia’s Pack Line defense has always been a pain to deal with, but the big weakness in the scheme is three-point shooting. Puff Johnson, D’Marco Dunn, and Tyler Nickel could be key in hitting some shots from the perimeter, and while he could start in place of Pete Nance, Seth Trimble may also have some opportunities to show off his perimeter shooting skills. It’s hard to say what will actually happen tomorrow night with this group, but the opportunity feels like it’s there to do just enough to help the Tar Heels to a victory.