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UNC vs UVA: Three things to watch

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Tempo, Patience, and the Baby Bigs

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Heels don’t get much time to recover after this week’s loss against Florida State. The road comes calling again when North Carolina heads up to Charlottesville to take on the Cavaliers of Virginia. That thought alone may make you want to scratch your eyes out.

However, there is good news. This is the only clash between these two ACC title contenders. A win by the Heels, and it’s a feather in their cap that will be oft repeated on Selection Sunday. So, what can we expect to see? (As always, advanced stats come from KenPom.com)

Tempo, Tempo, Tempo

Everyone knows that Tony Bennett prefers a defense-first, offense-never approach to the game. With an adjusted tempo of 61.3 possessions per game (adjusted for competition) Virginia are currently ranked 351st in the nation.

There are 350 other teams in Division-I basketball, and Virginia is slower than all of them.

North Carolina, obviously plays a little faster - 14th in the nation with 75 possessions a game. Coming off of Wednesday’s game against an almost equally fast-paced Seminole squad (74 possessions per game), the Heels will be running into a metaphorical brick wall on Saturday.

In the past few years, UVA has successfully been able to enforce their style of play on the Tar Heels in a manner that so many teams do not. The ability to force the Cavaliers into more possessions than they are comfortable with takes on a greater importance than against most other teams.

Most would argue that transition baskets are the easiest way to make that happen. I’d submit that the UNC secondary break has looked disjointed at numerous times this season, especially after made baskets. Controlling the defensive boards to deny UVA second chance points may be the most important part of controlling the pace and starting any transition opportunities.

Be quick, but don’t hurry

Instead of “turnovers,” let’s go with “patience” or “decision making”. Virginia’s slow, methodical style means that maintaining possession is more critical than normal . Against Florida State the Heels committed seven turnovers (one of which should be officially credited to Ted Valentine) while the ‘Noles coughed it up 15 times. That was one reason why the Heels attempted 20 more field goals than FSU. Every extra shot attempt is needed against the Fighting Thomas Jeffersons.

Virginia has not had that problem. Check out these basic and advanced metrics that account for offensive and defensive turnover success. The TO% simply tells us how often a team commits or forces a turnover.

UNC-UVA Turnover Comparison

Turnover Stat Virginia UNC
Turnover Stat Virginia UNC
OFF TO % 14.3 17.3
DEF TO% 22.4 17
OFF TO per game 9 13.1
DEF TO Per game 14 12.8

Without rehashing that table, let’s just agree that UVA forces more turnovers than they commit, while UNC forces LESS turnovers than they commit. That is not a great indicator of future success. Before FSU, the last time that UNC commited fewer turnovers than their opponents was nine games ago against Michigan State. UNC’s defensive turnover percentage is currently on pace to be the lowest in Roy Williams’ tenure in Chapel Hill.

With the exception of Michigan State, no other team has physically and/or mentally rattled the Heels for the entire game. At least, not to the point that the Heels didn’t have a chance to win in the final minutes.

Instead, many of their errors have been due to a lack of focus, lack of energy, or lack of understanding the offense. That means Joel Berry and Theo Pinson have to make smart decisions and control the flow of the offense. Push the ball when they can, but don’t force it like they have done on multiple occasions.

Baby Bigs

UVA scores over 52% of their offense inside the three point line. That usually indicates a reliance on post players. That is not the case at Virginia. This is one ACC team where UNC may have the advantage on the interior, even with the three Baby Bigs of Brooks, Huffman, and Manley.

UVA relies heavily on their guards, where Kyle Guy and Devon Hall have accounted for 165 two point field goal attempts, which is 33% of UVA’s total attempts. Five of their top seven two-point shooters are guards. Compare that to UNC, where Maye, Brooks, Manley, and Huffman account for 47% of UNC’s two-point field goal attempts. Even in a non-traditional year at UNC, the big men still are a surprisingly large part of the offense.

Additionally, Virginia’s tallest player, Jay Huff, stands at 6’11 while only playing 11 minutes per game. In over 21.5 minutes per game, Jack Salt, the 6’10 starting center, averages just 3.9 rebounds and less than one block. They are not the same kind of experienced, athletic, productive, inside presence that UNC has seen in the previous 5 games.

With that kind of imbalance, and lack of offensive firepower,, UNC’s big men can prove their value in defensive help, altering shots, and clogging lane on drives. Garrison Brooks’ defensive abilities (he’s won the defensive player of the game multiple times this year), may provide him with some extended looks. Plus, with 15 fouls to give between the three, a little extra aggression couldn’t hurt.

If the Heels can regain some semblance of movement on offense, both with and without the ball, there should be available scoring and passing lanes for the young bigs to take advantage of. In a game that will already require a heavy amount of leadership from the upperclassmen, the youth must produce in one of the most hostile environments in the conference.