Friday, February 10, 2012

game preview: North Carolina

Date/Time: Saturday, February 11; 1:00


Record against the Heels: 49-125

Last matchup: UNC 62, UVA 56; 1/8/11; Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 68, Wake 44 (2/8); Duke 85, UNC 84 (2/8)

Opposing blogs: Tar Heel Blog, Carolina March

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 60.2 (#339)
UNC: 74.2 (#5)

UVA: 106.0 (#81)
UNC: 114.0 (#15)

UVA: 85.6 (#7)
UNC: 88.6 (#16)

UVA: .8992 (#18)
UNC: .9300 (#8)

Common opponents:

Boston College: UVA won 66-49; UNC won 83-60
Miami: UVA won 52-51; UNC won 73-56
Florida State: UVA lost 58-55; UNC lost 90-57
Virginia Tech: UVA lost 47-45; UNC won 82-68
NC State: UVA won 61-60; UNC won 74-55
Georgia Tech: UVA won 70-38; UNC won 93-81
Wake Forest: UVA won 68-44; UNC won 68-53
Duke: UVA lost 61-58; UNC lost 85-84

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Jontel Evans (6.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.7 apg)
SG: Sammy Zeglinski (8.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.8 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (12.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.7 apg)
PF: Mike Scott (17.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.4 apg)
F: Akil Mitchell (4.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 apg)

North Carolina:

PG: Kendall Marshall (6.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 9.8 apg)
SG: Reggie Bullock (8.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.0 apg)
SF: Harrison Barnes (17.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.0 apg)
PF: John Henson (14.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.5 apg)
C: Tyler Zeller (15.6 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.0 apg)

Regardless of what happened in our Wednesday game, UVA-Wake was always going to be overshadowed by UNC-Duke.  Then came the thrilling conclusion, in which Carolina was on the short end of the stick, and now it's possible UNC-Duke will overshadow this one, too.

At risk of introducing spoilers to the party here, I see one of three ways this game could go:

-- UNC is pissed off and takes it out on the next poor slob to show up on their court
-- UNC is still despondent and sleepwalks through this one, waking up only to learn of their first losing streak of the season
-- The first half consists of the latter possibility and the second half consists of the former, aided by Coach Roy losing his shit at halftime

Unfortunately, two of those three are bad.  Also unfortunately, the next two sections don't provide much cheer either.  So pin on your Eeyore tails and join me in a scotch-assisted explanation of the different ways the Tar Heels will probably beat hell out of us.

-- UVA on offense

Let's start with a little bit of good news: UNC's backcourt is paper-thin.  You already know Dexter Strickland is out for the year, and now P.J. Hairston will miss Saturday's game too.  That brings UNC all the way down to UVA depth levels; like us, they'll play six guys with a couple others maybe getting some spot duty.  Even worse, they're down to two regulars in the backcourt.  Two.  Point guard Kendall Marshall and backup-turned-starter Reggie Bullock.  Justin Watts is a little-used, back-end guard who'll be pressed into more duty, but if UVA keeps this close in the second half you probably won't see him until foul trouble demands it.

Of course, they still roll pretty deep in the frontcourt.  UNC has been killing fools all year with their bigs, especially if you count Harrison Barnes as a big, which I do because he's 6'8".  This is a team not unlike Florida State in the frontcourt.  John Henson is a block machine with over three per game.  With either Henson or Tyler Zeller guarding Mike Scott - probably both at the same time, often enough - it'll make for one of the best frontcourt battles of the year.  Scott was unconscious on Wednesday and has evolved into every coach's wet dream: a true, honest-to-Jebus, floor-stretching four who can make your seven-footers look silly far from the basket and maul your smaller guys closer to it.  Obviously, the jump shot will need to be falling again because Scott will almost certainly get the double-team of doom if he catches it close to the rim, and these guys are slightly better than Nikita Mescheriakov.**

With Carolina's size down low and depth issues up top, the way to win this game is going to have to be raining three-pointers.  That shot simply must fall.  I don't see us getting consistent looks indoors, so it's got to be downtown.  And the worst part is that with Barnes likely guarding Joe Harris, Joey Hoops probably won't get many chances to hoop.  Barnes has two inches on him and probably more in the arm-length department.  And Jontel Evans won't shoot, so you know what I'm getting at here.  Splash Sammy must make an appearance.  He's got to find a way to get some shots off over whoever's guarding him.  And those shots gotta go in.

Lemme check and see who's guarding him.  It'll be Reggie Bullock, probably and.... six foot seven.  Reggie Bullock is six foot seven.  There's a reason I told you to be ready for some real Eeyore stuff here.

Even so, we have to make it rain or we lose.  There's no good reason to like our chances inside.  Even Mike Scott can only do so much before the double, triple, and quadruple teams start causing him to miss a shot here and there.  Carolina happens to also be the best team in the country at keeping the opponent off the foul line (per KenPom's FTA/FGA metric) so it's much easier said than done to look at their thin lineup and think maybe we can get them in trouble that way.  UVA may be forced to go big and see what 6'5" Malcolm Brogdon can do, but whoever ends up in the game has got to be a shooting machine because UNC is simply too big to beat two points at a time.

**I found a new whipping boy!  Dude is turrible.  He's not nearly as much fun as Jeff Allen, but he's my new standard by which lousy basketball is judged.  I mean, did you see his wacky attempt at a reverse layup that ended up further from the basket than it started?

-- UVA on defense

That "big" thing is gonna hurt on offense, but it's really gonna hurt when the Heels have the ball.  You look back on the teams that have beaten UNC - top-25 types, all of them, in UNLV, Kentucky, FSU, and Duke - but the common thread is that they're all just as big as UNC.  Carolina is the fourth-tallest team in the country (another KenPom metric.)  UNLV is 30th, UK is 13th, FSU is 9th, and Duke is 3rd.  UVA is an extremely average 123rd, and that's taking into account the minutes that Assane Sene has played.  All of those teams were able to harass UNC's big three of Barnes, Zeller, and Henson into lousy shooting nights, except for Duke which won because as the #1 offensive team in the country, they were able to keep up the pace.

The pack-line, of course, can be a neutralizer of interior games, and this is exactly the kind of situation it was designed for.  There's a clear gap in physics here, because we're asking everyone on the team to guard bigger players.  Probably the only way to keep UNC's bigs off the scoreboard is to deny them the ball in the first place.  Once they actually get it, all is lost; the hard work has to be done early.

And make no mistake, it's all about down low, plus the floor-stretching abilities of Harrison Barnes.  He, Zeller, and Henson account for well over half of Carolina's scoring.  Relatively speaking, Kendall Marshall does very little scoring, but he's a fantastic facilitator with a sky-high assist rate of 43.4%.  Marshall vs. Evans on this end will be another big battle with a lot of implications.  Reggie Bullock is a threat from deep, and can't be ignored, but inside the pack line is where the game will be won, or more likely, lost.  One interesting possibility: Sammy Zeglinski is the superior defender to Joe Harris (lost in the rest of the game story was the outstanding work that Sammy did on Wake's C.J. Harris - Harris averages 17.5 points, and on Wednesday he was 2 for 7.)  Size ain't no thing here since Bullock and Barnes are damn near the same height, so it might make sense to make a switch and put the better defender, however short, on Barnes, and have Harris shadow Bullock instead.

Any way you look at it though, any twist or wrinkle you might want to throw in: yikes.  UNC likes to run, run, run, and is big, big, big, and this is simply put the toughest test of the year, no foolies.  Duke was Duke, but we had Sene back then.  Bad times may be afoot.

-- Outlook

How do you win this game?  On offense, run the shot clock to four seconds and bury a three.  Every trip.  On defense, frustrate Carolina with perfect entry pass denial for thirty-three seconds and snatch the rebound off the hopefully hurried shot.  Every trip.  This is such a huge contrast of styles, with the Heels being one of the fastest-paced teams in the land, and UVA playing Tonyball.  UNC being comprised of giant athletic galoots and UVA being comprised of mostly smallish scrappers.  It's not as if there's no hope; we did, after all, come within three of the similarly-built Florida State.  But you'll recall that except for a three-minute stretch where Florida State replaced their defenders with traffic cones, their length, size, and athleticism were just killing us.  UNC is no different, and likely to be out for blood after what went down on Wednesday.

-- Final score: UNC 72, UVA 59

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