Thursday, March 12, 2015

game preview: North Carolina

Date/Time: Friday, March 13; 7:00


Record against the Heels: 52-128

Last meeting: UVA 75, UNC 64; 2/2/15, Chapel Hill

Last game: UVA 58, FSU 44 (3/12); UNC 70, UL 60 (3/12)


UVA: 57.9 (#349)
UNC: 69.7 (#15)

UVA: 112.5 (#23)
UNC: 114.4 (#13)

UVA: 84.8 (#1)
UNC: 94.0 (#31)

UVA: .9627 (#3)
UNC: .9055 (#13)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (6.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.7 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (13.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.6 apg)
SF: Evan Nolte (2.9 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 0.7 apg)
PF: Darion Atkins (7.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 0.7 apg)
PF: Anthony Gill (11.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 0.9 apg)

North Carolina:

PG: Marcus Paige (13.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.6 apg)
SG: J.P. Tokoto (8.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.2 apg)
SF: Justin Jackson  (10.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.5 apg)
PF: Brice Johnson (12.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 0.8 apg)
C: Joel James (2.7 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.1 apg)

Can I just start off by pissing all over the refereeing in the FSU game?  Not that anyone needs it pointed out, it had both coaches fuming and the usually restrained Sean McDonough (whose announcing I tend to enjoy) was more than a little critical.  But still.  I was gonna say it was the usual, vintage Jamie Luckie, but it was absolute shit even by Luckie's low standards.

The ironic thing was that the call that sent Leonard Hamilton over the edge was not only 100% right, but damn well should've been looked at for flagrant potential.

Anyway.  A well-played game by UVA in spurts, and frankly would've felt a lot better if not for a streak of rimmed-out shots early in the second half.  Maybe it's good they didn't fall - gives the team a reason to refocus their efforts in a few places where they were rough around the edges.  North Carolina is another athletic team like FSU - not quite as big, but obviously with a great deal more scoring talent.

As of the moment I type this, Notre Dame has already raced out to a comfy lead against Miami, and there's no real reason they should lose it.  That makes the ACC's final four possibly every bit as good as the one that'll happen in Indy.  It's not going to be an easy road to a repeat, but if the Hoos do pull it off, they'll establish themselves as clearly the class of the ACC, and start to induce whispers about a changing of the guard.

-- UVA on offense

The promised injection of athleticism from Justin Anderson's return never really came to fruition.  True to his word, Tony Bennett only played him in short stints.  It's a tough balancing act, because you don't want to tire him out from running him for long stretches, but Anderson isn't a reserved player and could really use a long stretch or two.  He didn't score, and actually seemed tentative.

Malcolm Brogdon also had an off game, and the only thing that really stood out on the stat sheet was the nine assists from London Perrantes.  UVA found shots difficult to come by and had to generate them from a lot of off-the-ball motion.  UNC's defense, while active, won't be quite as up-in-the-grill as Florida State was.  FSU likes to play like that, but that was way aggressive even by their standards.

Still, the approach will be similar.  UNC is UNC, which means as always they'll try to out-athlete you and usually will win if you let them make it into a one-on-one contest.  UVA will want to use that against them, the way a karate master might use his opponent's weight and power against him.  UVA pulled away from UNC in the second half of their regular-season meeting partly because UNC got a bit desperate, starting trying to put on more pressure, and opened up shooting and passing lanes.

I've loved what I've seen out of Mike Tobey the past couple games - against Louisville, on one occasion he ripped an offensive rebound away from no less than Montrezl Harrell and stuffed it back in the hoop, and against FSU he got to the basket with great timing and continued to insist on owning nearby rebounds.  He'll be the tallest guy on the court on Friday, and has an opportunity to continue being a force down low if he contends with the bulk that Joel James and Kennedy Meeks carry around.

Despite UNC's quality KenPom numbers, good teams tend to score on them.  Sometimes bad teams score on them.  More often than not, teams reach a point per possession.  UVA should be able to do the same.

-- UVA on defense

Carolina wants to do two things: run around like crazy, and get the ball inside.  Whether that means scoring in transition, slashing at the basket, or feeding the post, UNC prefers to two-point you to death, even more so than FSU, who themselves were pretty heavily weighted toward the two.  UNC is second in the country in percentage of their points coming from two-point buckets, and 349th in the same for three-pointers.

Naturally, that's great for UVA, which typically only gets in real trouble when teams are bombing from three.  On UNC, only Marcus Paige and Nate Britt (and the latter plays only 16 minutes a game) shoot high volumes from three, and they're both respectable but not deadly.  (Justin Jackson will probably try a few as well, but he shoots .270 from there, so, fine, shoot all you like.)

Paige gets a lot of press, but there's a little bit of the volume scorer in him; he boosts his O-rating by being a great foul shooter and a solid distributor.  He's not an exceptional shooter.  The guy to actually be most worried about, I think, is Kennedy Meeks, a big ball of beef in the middle.  Meeks returned from an illness to play against Louisville, and though like Anderson he didn't start, he did give the Heels 19 solid minutes.  Paige gets all the attention, but Meeks does a ton of dirty work that's been absolutely critical to UNC's success.

UVA's rebounding chops - 5th-best defensive rebounders in the country - will be put to the test by UNC, which thanks mainly to Meeks and Brice Johnson, rebounds over 40% of their misses.  They're 6th in the nation.  Meeks and Johnson get stickbacks like you wouldn't believe.  The fact that UNC's offense tends to feature Paige and J.P. Tokoto driving at the rim, missing, and having Meeks and Johnson try to clean up, that tends to help push Carolina's tempo as high as it is; it's a juicy transition attempt if they can't finish.

The fact that UNC is built a lot like FSU is another good sign for UVA.  Never discount the talent they bring to the table, but they've shown this year they're by no means unstoppable, and UVA has the formula to do it, again by nullifying strength with strength.

-- Outlook

I've been pointing out the similarities between FSU and UNC, and there are many.  UNC is in many ways a better version of the Seminoles.  But they have plenty of differences, too, especially this: whereas FSU wants to roil the waters and play rough a bit, UNC wants to run and play an artistic version of the game.  FSU is a muddy Jeep Wrangler; UNC is a slick Jaguar.  The Wrangler is still one of the best mudders around, but easily the most unrefined vehicle anywhere on the road.  The Jaguar is shiny, gorgeous to look at, smooth, and sometimes absurdly unreliable and crazy expensive to fix.

UVA's approach should work against either, though.  UVA always gets their stops.  The only exception has been Duke and their unreal barrage of threes, which UNC is uniquely ill-equipped to replicate.  If you let UVA score with any regularity, you're almost always screwed.

All bets are off, of course, if Jamie Luckie referees the game, and especially if he brings back his Dungeons and Dragons dice to randomly determine how many steps equals a travel.

Final score: UVA 79, UNC 71

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