Virginia at North Carolina
Virginia (19-4, 6-3) at North Carolina (20-4, 7-2), 1:00 PM, ACC Network split/ESPN3
It’s impossible to know how that devastating buzzer-beating loss to Duke will affect North Carolina’s confidence, or just their overall psyche. But if they want to come out and beat an opponent by 20 to let off some steam, it likely won’t be this one. Virginia has lost four games by a combined ten points this season and the Cavaliers will slow the pace down as much as they can. It won’t be an easy game to play for an already-frustrated North Carolina team, and nothing about the talent disparity will make this an easy matchup for a scrappy but limited Virginia team. These teams will meet again in a few weeks, but both teams could really use this one for a variety of reasons.
Stat to watch: Virginia’s production from anyone not named Mike Scott. There’s simply no way that the Cavaliers will have enough offense from Scott alone to beat the Tar Heels. So they will need some help from someone else, whether that be Joe Harris, Sammy Zeglinski, Jontel Evans, Malcolm Brogdon or a combination of all four. In Virginia’s first four ACC games, that wasn’t happening. Against Miami and Duke, just one player besides Scott hit double digits in either game and the other complementary players combined to shoot 10-of-46. Against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, two besides Scott hit double digits but the other complementary players shot 6-of-25. But in the last two games, it’s been better as Virginia had three besides Scott hit double figures against FSU and four against Wake Forest. In those two games, the non-Scott players combined to shoot 32-of-67. That’s the kind of production Virginia will need in Chapel Hill.
The reason this is important on North Carolina’s end is that in two of their four losses, it has been a lesser contributor providing an unexpected scoring outburst. Against UNLV, it was Chace Stanback emerging. Stanback hit more than doubled his season average with 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting (4-of-11 from three). Oscar Bellfield hit 4-of-8 three’s and has done that just once since. For Florida State, it was Deividas Dulkys with 32 points on 12-of-14 shooting (it took him five games to equal that total and he has shot 8-of-21 from three since). This seems to deflate Carolina, but they can’t feel sorry for themselves just because things aren’t going their way or an opponent gets a lucky break or two. Carolina will need to make sure that even if a non-Mike Scott player starts going off, it won’t matter because they’ll adjust and find a way to slow him down. They have to be bigger than those moments.
Most important players: Mike Scott, Virginia and Reggie Bullock, North Carolina. Scott has 168 of Virginia’s 540 ACC points (31.1%) and ever since the Duke game (he had 23 of Virginia’s 61) teams have tried to focus on shutting him down. Virginia Tech did it successfully, holding him to just ten points (an ACC-low) but since then, he has 16 or more in every game and at least 18 in four of the last five. Against bigger front lines, like the one he’ll see on Saturday, he has had mixed success. He had 23 points on 9-of-20 shooting against Miami but racked up 23 on 10-of-19 against Duke. N.C. State’s length held him to 45% (his second-lowest percentage in league play) but he attempted 11 foul shots and had 18 points. Wake Forest has some shot-blockers inside and he went a perfect 9-for-9 from the floor. Scott has certainly proven he’s worthy of ACC Player of the Year consideration and a big game against North Carolina would all but lock that up for him.
Bullock has won five of the last ten defensive player of the game awards and all five have come in home games, including four of Carolina’s five ACC home games (Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Miami and Duke). Since he was taking over for Carolina’s best perimeter defender in Dexter Strickland, that’s quite an accomplishment. But the sophomore seems to be still learning to play on both ends at times. He has attempted just one free throw in ACC play and he has shot 13-of-38 from three (34%), attempting just 3.0 three’s per game in the last three (he had been averaging 4.8 attempts in ACC play). But if there’s good news, it’s that since becoming a starter, Bullock has averaged 8.7 points in three home games on 10-of-19 shooting (6-of-12 from three). But now, Bullock’s going to be asked to do even more on both ends as he will be the only healthy shooting guard remaining for the Tar Heels (P.J. Hairston will miss the game). Will he be able to be a factor offensively? Because the Tar Heels need him to be.
Random stat: Carolina leads the Virginia series 125-49, but in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels are 63-6. Virginia won its very first time in Chapel Hill in 1911 by an 18-15 score (Virginia head coach Tony Bennett pines for those slower-paced days). Since, Virginia has won at North Carolina in 1973 (beating the No. 3 Tar Heels) and 1981 (Virginia was No. 1 nationally and led by Ralph Sampson; Carolina was No. 12). That is the first and only time that Virginia has beaten a ranked North Carolina team in Chapel Hill. Virginia has also beaten North Carolina in 2000, 2002 and 2010: North Carolina was not ranked on any of those occasions, but VIrginia was No. 7 in 2002 and still only beat Carolina (which went 8-20 that year) by four.
Prediction: North Carolina 64, Virginia 57
Last week: 10-2
Season: 103-36 (39-17 ACC)