After taking a loss against Duke, No. 3 Virginia (20-2, 8-2 ACC) now completes their second set of their Tobacco Road back-to-back tonight against No. 8 North Carolina (19-4, 9-1 ACC) — but this time, the Cavaliers are on the road.
After the 81-71 home defeat to the Blue Devils on Saturday, UVA has now dropped to the third spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference behind both Duke and UNC.
Another reason why tonight’s game is so monumental is that it’s the only meeting between the rivals of Virginia and North Carolina in the regular season.
For the Tar Heels, they’re coming off an 88-85 overtime victory against Miami — a game that has caused a bit of a concern for UNC considering it was in Chapel Hill. However, there’s a silver lining with that struggle: The Heels only committed 10 turnovers despite extra action in overtime, a season-low in conference play. And top of that, North Carolina is currently on a seven-game winning streak.
Another streak is at risk of happening tonight as well, and the Cavaliers know it: They’re at a serious threat of losing two games in a row, not something you want to do against legitimate competition when you’re supposed to be one of the top teams in the country.
“Every game in the ACC is important,” Virginia back-up center Jay Huff told reporters. “Every game in the college basketball season is important. It will make it big so that we don’t lose two in a row.”
Despite having the top defense in the country at 54.1 PA, UVA’s defense was atrocious against the Blue Devils this past weekend — they allowed a total of 81 points against them, a season-high. Not just that, but they also allowed Duke to hit 13 shots from behind the arc.
Virginia is sticking to the game plan, though.
“The formula doesn’t change,” Cavaliers’ head coach Tony Bennett commented to reporters. “(We’ll make) little adjustments here and there. We don’t have much time. We’re going to play Carolina. Hopefully be more ready. That will be a great challenge, too.”
With Virginia having an ability to control the pace of the game, North Carolina will be forced to pick up the tempo tonight against the Cavs. North Carolina guard Cameron Johnson put it into perspective.
“They really play their style of basketball,” Johnson said to reporters. “It kind of changes the whole dynamic of the game and it makes every possession matter just a little bit more.”
Against Miami on Saturday, North Carolina’s Coby White was a star — the point guard would put up 33 points on the stat sheet. Their forward Luke Maye has been on a tear the past two games, averaging 25.5 PPG in the scoring department. Both will be vital to stop for the Cavaliers if they plan on stealing a win on the road.
UNC is currently 9-1 in ACC play, the first time ever in history that’s happened in head coach Roy Williams’ 16-year tenure at the school.
For the Cavaliers, they come in a bit healthier after getting back their guard Ty Jerome over the weekend — he hadn’t played in over a week due to a back strain. Though there weren’t any problems in the Duke game for Jerome, it’ll be interesting to see how he does in a back-to-back against the second Tobacco Road rival.
“Glad that he has been able to be healthy,” Bennett commented. “Hopefully, he’ll be all right.”
UVA has other concerns as well: Forward Mamadi Diakite suffered a head injury in the Duke game after colliding with his teammate De’Andre Hunter. Diakite didn’t play in the second game, so his status for tonight still isn’t completely known.
Tip-off between No. 3 Virginia (20-2, 8-2 ACC) at No. 8 North Carolina (19-4, 9-1 ACC) is set for 7:00 PM ET tonight, and will be nationally televised on ESPN. The Tar Heels enter as a -1 point favorite over the Cavaliers.
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We have a pretty balanced matchup, with both teams grabbing two out of the four mainline statistical categories. Something UVA will have to work around, as well as being on the road. In offensive production, the Cavaliers take a big hit in the red: -16 at 72.8 PPG. Hitting their shots, UVA has the leverage here, but it’s slim at +0.3 with a 47.7 FG% tally. On the rebounding side, it’s another distant disadvantage for the Hoos at -7, only compiling 35.9 RPG in comparison. But Virginia makes up for it with a crazy +20 advantage on defense with 54.1 PA.
Not only do the Tar Heels hold the homecourt advantage tonight, but they also take two out of the four statistical categories away from Virginia — also on a seven-game winning streak, North Carolina is sitting pretty coming into tonight. In points-per-game, UNC sits at hefty +16 advantage scoring a potent 88.3 PPG; however, they take a slim disadvantage at -0.3 at 47.4 FG%. On the rebounding end, the Tar Heels are at +7 pulling down 42.9 RPG. On defense, the Heels have some things to figure out: They’re a nice-sized -20 at 74.2 PA.
After the performance against Duke this past weekend, my confidence in Virginia getting a win on the road at North Carolina isn’t very high. And on top of that, UVA hasn’t beaten the Tar Heels in seven straight games.
The most important factor for Virginia to steal a win at Chapel Hill is rebounding. The Cavaliers must win the battle on the glass, and Braxton Key is going to have to step up drastically in order to make this happen — he averages a team-leading 6.1 RPG, which won’t be enough to beat North Carolina. For Virginia, I don’t have much confidence in that battle for them either.
As a result, I have UNC getting the victory tonight in a convincing matter. It’ll be by single digits, but it’ll still be a convincing win against the No. 3 team in the nation. With North Carolina being a -1.5-point favorite, go ahead and take them to cover the spread. I don’t think the Hoos have it too close at the end — just too much firepower from the Tar Heels. With the O/U at 141, I’d go ahead and take that. I personally have 149 total points being scored. Both offenses come in with a level of potency, so it should be a pretty action-packed game with plenty of scoring. I mean, after all, it is a battle between the No. 3 and No. 8 teams in the country.