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UNC vs. Virginia: Three Things to Watch

Just because the losing is over, doesn’t mean the pain is. Can Carolina improve its offense against drab Virginia?

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Boston College Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

The good news? Carolina halted a two-game losing streak with a 63-59 win over Notre Dame. The bad news? They looked about as bad as they have all season doing so, particularly in a first half that had Tar Heel fans pouring bleach in their eyes. The worse news? Virginia is coming to Chapel Hill on Saturday. Fans of scoring who still have candles left to burn need to say a few prayers that UNC can break 55 points. Here are three things to watch as the Heels host the Hoos Saturday evening at the Dean Dome.

Who can offense?

Against Boston College, Virginia shot 32.2% from the field and 19% from three.

Boo-effing-hoo. UNC shot 33.3% from the field and just 8.7% from distance against Notre Dame. The Cavs hit twice as many three-pointers (4) as Carolina did! Despondent UVA fans can dry their tears, because we’re not trying to hear it.

On the season, Virginia is shooting a healthy 45% from the field and 36% from downtown, but the Hoos are in the midst of a late season slump. In tight wins over ACC cellar-dwellers Notre Dame and Louisville, UVA is shooting just 40.4% and 31.3%, leading to winning margins of just +2 and +3. Nervy stuff for a team trying to win the ACC regular season crown.

The book on Virginia since Tony Bennett took over has been a methodical offense that was usually efficient. When it’s not, the basketball on offer is not pleasant on the eyes. Or soul. What lies in store tomorrow? Well, if both teams shoot as well as they did on Wednesday, Armando Bacot has every chance to break single-game rebounding records. And fans will wish they stayed home.

Matching up against Bacot

In the first match-up in Charlottesville, Virginia only had to play against Bacot for a minute and change before the senior center went down with an ankle injury. Carolina, led by freshman Jalen Washington in a break-out performance, led by two at halftime. Tony Bennett went small in the second half and ran away with the game.

Assuming Bacot is healthy for the entire game, does Virginia give more minutes to Isaac McKneely, who scored 11 points (hitting three three-pointers), or put more size in the game? The pack-line defense is already ideally suited to crowd the paint, as every single team in the ACC has done this season against Carolina. Can Bacot overcome double and triple teams to score at the rim? Can the Tar Heels hit five or more three-pointers?

One possible sunbeam of optimism was Pete Nance’s improved play at Notre Dame. If he can exploit his match-up with patient back-to-the-basket play and good high-low post passing to Bacot sealing a defender low, Carolina could manufacture scoring chances or at least get to the line.

Bench Roulette

Hubert Davis will squeeze every last drop of juice out of his starters, we know this. We’ve also tried to piece and parse his substitution patterns to no avail. And the first match-up against Virginia isn’t instructive as Pete Nance did not play and Armando Bacot basically did not play.

That night, Jalen Washington played 27 minutes (too many as it turned out, but necessary on the night) and Justin McKoy played 15. I think we can safely assume that won’t happen again.

One disappointing development since that game has been the regression of Seth Trimble. Trimble was starting his second game in a row as part of a three-guard line-up after Pete Nance went down with a back injury. Never a dynamic scorer in Chapel Hill so far—Trimble has proven a capable scorer in high school (26.2 ppg his senior year) and for USA Basketball (9.3 ppg at U18 level)—he’s either shown extreme deference to RJ Davis and Caleb Love, or a trepidation to shoot a jump shot.

Trimble only played four minutes against Notre Dame and did not attempt a shot. This was problematic, as he was on the floor with Leaky Black the entire time, so the team was extremely unbalanced—UNC went -5 during this period.

When (if?) Trimble gets on the floor, he needs to become a threat of some kind. Drives have to go to the rim, not two steps forward before backing out for a shot the defense knows he won’t take. If Trimble can get out in transition and cock back, it could do him (and the team) a world of good.