Saturday, February 27, 2016

game preview: North Carolina

Date/Time: Saturday, February 27; 6:30


Record against the Heels: 52-129

Last meeting: UNC 71, UVA 67; 3/13/15; Greensboro, NC (ACC tournament)

Last game: Miami 64, UVA 61 (2/22); UNC 80, NCSt. 68 (2/24)


UVA: 61.5 (#351)
UNC: 72.3 (#47)

UVA: 117.7 (#11)
UNC: 119.8 (#5)

UVA: 92.7 (#9)
UNC: 95.7 (#32)

UVA: .9397 (#3)
UNC: .9298 (#6)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (11.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.4 apg)
SG: Devon Hall (4.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.9 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (18.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.8 apg)
PF: Anthony Gill (13.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 0.6 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (7.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.4 apg)

North Carolina:

PG: Joel Berry (11.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.9 apg)
SG: Marcus Paige (12.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.5 apg)
SF: Justin Jackson (12.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.3 apg)
PF: Brice Johnson (17.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.3 apg)
C: Kennedy Meeks (10.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.2 apg)

I brought it to my own attention that I haven't done a single preview of an ACC game all year.  So why not start with the biggest regular season game we've got?

There's a lot at stake here, in terms of ACC seeding.  A top four slot, of course, is the goal, in the hopes that a few of the teams 5-9 or so get taken out early.  The conference is so damn wrapped up on itself, though, that it's going to be all but impossible to avoid tiebreaker entanglements.  There's a fair chance that teams 3-6 are in a four-way tie at 11-5 after this weekend - in fact, that happenstance mainly hinges on UVA beating Carolina.  And if that happens, then 1-2 will also be tied at 12-4.  UVA has collected wins over every team in the top six except Duke and UNC; one of those can still be rectified.  If they get it, they'll be close to bulletproof in any tiebreaker scenario you can concoct.

If not, they'll have to scratch and claw and hope for a few things to shake out correctly.  Even at 12-6, the chances of the coveted double bye would be slim.  With GameDay in town and Bronco Mendenhall hosting a very big junior day, it'll be a big-time atmosphere in Charlottesville; that'll help, and a potentially shorthanded UVA team will need every bit of help it can get.

-- UVA on offense

Lately I've been trying to decide the answer to a chicken-egg question: Is Malcolm Brogdon dominating games because his teammates are suddenly not much help, or are they not much help because they're getting out of the way of a completely en fuego Brogdon?  One clue might be those elbow step-back jumpers he was beating Miami over the head with.  Darius Thompson had the opportunity to try the same thing on more than one occasion and passed on it.  Then Brogdon would go out and do it again.  It was almost as if he was trying to convince Thompson it was possible.

Anthony Gill's one-handers haven't been falling lately, which isn't helping.  I've always thought those are really tough shots - you have to be a smashmouth post presence and then immediately switch to a soft touch.  I'm hoping to see Kennedy Meeks guarding him Saturday, because Meeks isn't quick enough to regularly stop Gill.  I don't think Roy Williams has checked out that much, though.  The much more likely scenario is to see Brice Johnson on Gill and Meeks on Tobey; Meeks's bulk will give Tobey trouble, and Johnson has two inches on Gill.  Both would be forced further from the basket than they'd like to be.  They can hit the jumper (I'm not sure Tobey takes jumpers, though - he's more or less decided to resurrect the set shot) but obviously that's too low-percentage to rely on.

I'm also sure we'll see Justin Jackson on Brogdon, which is interesting.  Jackson has three inches on Brogdon, and step-back mid-range jumpers would be hard to pull off.  Brogdon's much beefier and stronger, though.  I'm always wishing Brogdon would go harder at his defenders and just knock them around a bit - probably no more so than in this game.

Thing is, though, UNC should be better on defense than it is.  They're not bad, but they're not really as good as they should be given their frontcourth depth and overall athleticism.  Johnson is a helluva rebounder on defense, but nobody else really is.  Jackson in particular is pretty much indifferent to the glass.  The Hoos should have plenty of second chances on offense, especially if they shoot enough threes.  Shooting threes is always a good way to increase your offensive rebounds anyway, but UNC's guards basically only take whatever comes to them.

Essentially, though, this will have to be more than the Malcolm Brogdon Show.  I'm very happy to see him take over like this, because I've been asking for it.  But UVA won't win too many games, and zero against Carolina, if he's the only one scoring in double digits.

-- UVA on defense

This Carolina team is no different than any Carolina team under Roy Williams.  Simple formula: Recruit a bunch of horses and let them run.  There isn't a lot of definition to a player's role.  Wing Justin Jackson handles the ball so much that KenPom's normally reliable algorithm pegs him as the point guard.

The offense is predicated on driving at the rim.  The Heels want to try and finish there, which they do well, or pull up for a jumper.  When they shoot threes, which isn't often because they don't have a sharpshooter, it's almost always a drive and kick.  Practically every single one of their made threes is assisted.  But they're one of the most skewed teams in the country toward two-pointers - only ODU and Navy are more so.  They're simply more athletic than just about everyone they play, so they use it.

This is where Isaiah Wilkins and Evan Nolte would come in handy.  Wilkins provides the athleticism needed to keep up on the interior.  Nolte is a plodder, but he makes up for it with almost picture-perfect positioning and excellent rotating.

Still, the pack-line is designed to stop precisely this kind of matchup.  ESPN put out a laughable preview of the game online, with keys to the game like "play good defense."  One of them was on the money, though: UNC needs to hit the threes they get from kicking the ball back out.  If the pack-line is on point, there'll be a lot of opportunities like that.  Guys like Joel Berry and Marcus Paige are OK, but far from automatic.

An all-in rebounding effort is crucial, too.  Yes, that's barely a step above "score more points," but Carolina has their bigs crash the offensive boards hard and depends on the athleticism of their backcourt (which doesn't crash) to stop transition chances.  When one of the guards drives the lane, the bigs follow and try to clean up putbacks.

This is the kind of matchup that makes college ball so much fun.  Given a nice oval track, the UNC race cars would love to do laps at 200 mph all day.  UVA prefers offroading it.  It's the race track vs. the mud pit.  Everything is based on whether the Hoos can bog down the Carolina offense, or if UNC can just run past the sand traps.

-- Outlook

The Hoos will need more than to make a mess of the UNC offense, though; they'll have to score some of their own, too.  Hard to do against the size and quickness advantages UNC will have, but the Heels are held back by a bit of an indifference on defense and a massive indifference to rebounding.  Boston College is in the bottom ten offenses in the whole country and still scored just shy of a point per possession.

It helps a bit too that Roy Williams is kinda checking out, as the Duke game so amply demonstrated.  His in-game coaching skills have always been, eh, a bit north of mediocre at best, but his give-a-shit levels are in rapid decline.  A close game gives a major advantage to Tony and Sons.

And close is what it's almost dead certain to be.  Against the ACC's six-team top tier, Carolina is 1-3.  That makes this a huge game for them as much as UVA - they'll still be tied for the ACC lead if they lose, but they would have zero margin for error because the tiebreakers would be hell on them.  And they're 5-4 on the road, having been incapable of putting close road games away against good teams - Northern Iowa and Texas both came up big too.

The tangibles, then, are close, with strengths and weaknesses for both teams, and a few more of the latter for the Hoos if they have to play without Wilkins or Nolte.  The intangibles all swing to the right side.  In the Dean Dome, even though that's not one of the ACC's tougher buildings, I'd have a very hard time giving UVA the edge.  At home, with a crowd that started the day fired up and will have all day to get nice and lubricated.... well, a loss isn't inconceivable, but too many of the intangible percentages are on our side to predict one.

Final score: UVA 68, UNC 64

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