Saturday, January 5, 2013

game preview: North Carolina

Blogger won't let me upload the usual preview picture.  Or any picture.  I swear this whole experience has gotten buggier and buggier ever since Google took over this operation and changed the site interface.

Date/Time: Sunday, January 6; 8:00


Record against the Heels: 49-125

Last meeting: UNC 54, UVA 51; 2/25/12, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 74, Woff. 39 (12/30); UNC 79, UNLV 73 (12/29)

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 60.7 (#342)
UNC: 75.2 (#1)

UVA: 105.0 (#82)
UNC: 108.6 (#38)

UVA: 87.3 (#18)
UNC: 91.4 (#47)

UVA: .8697 (#27)
UNC: .8541 (#34)

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Jontel Evans (1.5 ppg. 2.0 rpg, 2.8 apg)
SG: Paul Jesperson (4.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.5 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (15.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.5 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (13.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.9 apg)
PF: Darion Atkins (8.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.6 apg)

North Carolina:

PG: Marcus Paige (7.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 4.3 apg)
SG: Dexter Strickland (9.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.5 apg)
SF: Reggie Bullock (13.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.3 apg)
F: James Michael McAdoo (14.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.5 apg)
F: Desmond Hubert (1.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.2 apg)

True fact: I'm still kind of cheesed off about the refereeing in the last UNC game that put our guys in foul trouble thanks to the refs falling for UNC's Dukery.  (My favorite totally unprovable hypothesis that I've ever come up with is still the one that says the refs in that game realized they'd been had, after looking at the video monitor to check for a flagrant foul and found no foul at all, and stopped calling stuff on UVA for the rest of the game.)  This is a good chance to get a small measure of revenge for last year's crap.  UNC isn't half the team they were - still damn good and talented, but sorely lacking as compared to last year.  It's still tough to get a bead on exactly how good they are; most good teams they've played have destroyed them, and everyone else they've played is crap, and gotten killed.  Their last game, a win over UNLV, finally gave the world a measuring stick for the Tar Heels.  But the Heels have been poor away from their own gym, so UVA has as good a chance as they've had in a while.

-- UVA on offense

UVA will likely get Jontel Evans back for this game, which I don't need to tell you is a good thing.  I would guess his minutes will be limited; even though it's the ACC season now, Tony Bennett is almost certain to use an overabundance of caution, and make sure Evans is truly ready for game action before he throws him completely back into the fire.  It's gonna be a while before Evans gets 30 minutes a game.

That said, not having to dig past Teven Jones in the point guard rotation will be a great thing in and of itself.  Taylor Barnette still doesn't look like a point guard and Doug Browman is just too limited.  Not that I'd totally count out the idea of either of them getting a few minutes here and there at the point, but we're likely to spend 40 minutes with a point guard who makes the offense move, and that's a plus.

Good thing, because despite what Roy Williams tells you, UNC's defense is still perfectly good.  They're active and athletic and like to get steals, which helps boost their tempo - the fastest in the country.  And everyone's a contributor in that regard.  Williams's concern about his defense has led him to lean toward Desmond Hubert as the fifth starter; Hubert is long and lanky and gets a lot of blocks, and is a better defender than either of his competitors for that spot.  But he doesn't stay in the game long, and rotates freely with Brice Johnson and Joel James.  Hubert presents a challenge for our interior game of Mitchell and Atkins; Johnson and James less so.

This is likely to be an outstanding yardstick for our offense.  Both teams are probably overrated by KenPom thanks to beating up on crap teams.  UVA more so.  Good offenses - and the occasional bad one - have topped or approached a point per possession; UNC's good KenPom defensive numbers come from holding really awful teams like ETSU and Mississippi State down in the .7 range.  Can UVA get to that magic number of 1 point per possession?  If they take good care of the ball and take patient, good shots, quite probably.  Doing so will make the Heels look exceedingly mortal.

-- UVA on defense

UNC got a big boost when it was announced Reggie Bullock would return from a concussion and will play Sunday.  Bullock is one of UNC's most experienced players, and probably their biggest threat on offense.  He can shoot from anywhere and takes care of the ball very well.  He's likely to be Joe Harris's assignment, and Harris will have a tough one on his hands.

The other major challenge for UVA is that siccing Jontel Evans on the opposing point guard won't work as well as usual; first because of Evans's iffy foot and second because UNC spreads out the ballhandling duties.  Bullock occasionally initiates the offense, and they'll also put the rock in the hands of both Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland.  It might be that Evans (and Jones) just guards whoever brings the ball up the court, but they still might find ways to start the offense elsewhere.  Of the two, Paige is the more likely to turn the ball over.

It wouldn't be UNC if they didn't have some depth, and the Heels can bring some heat off the bench with P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald.  I have yet to mention James Michael McAdoo, and he's a very good player with a ton of athleticism, but he's kind of a volume scorer and the truth is that Hairston and McDonald don't represent much drop-off.  If Desmond Hubert starts, Brice Johnson also counts as a bench guy, and he's insanely skinny but also very adept near the rim.  (Hubert, for his part, is no threat whatsoever.)

As I've said in the past, UNC has some holes.  No true center other than maybe Joel James, and him not really, which is a boon for our hyperactive forwards, Mitchell and Atkins.  It's starting to look as though there aren't many players their size they can't deal with (as well as a few bigger ones.)  Most of their three-point shooting is Bullock and McDonald, who don't spend a great deal of time on the court together.  (Hairston's alright too, but the main point is that their ballhandling guards, Strickland and Paige, are almost strictly two-point scorers.)  All this said, though, there aren't many players who can't hurt you if you give them even the smallest chance.  Last year the game was close thanks to a hell of a system effort; it will always take that kind of defense to stop the Tar Heels.  They'll want to score fast, so as with last year, our best chance is to frustrate them into a slow game.

-- Outlook

KenPom says we have like a two in three chance at winning this game.  That would be great, but I can't find myself being that optimistic just yet.  Maybe it's that Carolina mystique or something, but until we really start making a name for ourselves - I mean over a longer term than a year - I have a hard time being that confident.  Plus, it's not hard to see where and why the Hoos are being overrated by KenPom - most other ratings systems, Sagarin and the like, are far less excited about UVA.  I can't let myself get too homer-blinded here, and have to cautiously predict a slim loss.

Final score: UNC 63, UVA 60


Anonymous said...

I don't know if we win or not, but this is actually a good matchup for UVA. They lack a physical, dominant post presence (unlike, say, Maryland), giving our bigs a good matchup inside. Getting Evans back means that we should be able to pressure the ball better. If I'm concerned defensively, it's that I'm not sure our wings match up all that well unless someone steps up, like Justin Anderson.

On the flip side, the little I've seen of UNC, I think they are very aggressive on defense. That helps at times, but it can also be exploited if they aren't careful. The recipe for us on offense is always the same - move the ball around, hit our shots to open up some space.

I don't know if we win, but I do like the matchups for us, particularly because UNC is so young in key spots.

Anonymous said...

I really hope they don't try to play Evans too much. Clearly he's not 100%, and clearly this is one of those injuries that can be easily reinjured if you don't rest it. And after watching RGIII do his best Theismann impersonation just moments ago, I'm reminded of just how bad the worst-case scenario is. (At least RGIII, unlike Jontel, is getting paid.) We can lose to UNC, that's fine, we'll get over it -- let's not risk this kid's future.