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StLouHoo's Preview:

Down in the Dean Dome

North Carolina Tar Heels

Virginia looks to continue building its NCAA Tournament resume as it makes a trip down to Chapel Hill on Saturday. Carolina's season looks much different than it did back when UVA scored a win in December, the Tar Heels limping to a finish in ACC play. What's needed for UVA to finish the sweep of the baby blue?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Saturday, February 15th, 8:00 pm ET
Location:Dean Dome, Chapel Hill, NC
TV:ESPN

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:UNC -1.5, O/U 118.5, equates to ~60-58 UNC win
Torvik:Ranks UNC #91, predicts a 56-55 UVA win, 53% confidence
KenPom:Ranks UNC #96, predicts a 57-56 UNC win, 51% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#2 Cole Anthony, 6'3" 190, FR
33.9 mpg, 19.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, 31.1 3P%
SG#55 Christian Keeling, 6'3" 180, SR
17.3 mpg, 5.6 ppg, 0.7 apg, 24.2 3P%
SF#1 Leaky Black, 6'8" 195, SO
29.2 mpg, 6.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 34.4 FG%
PF#5 Armando Bacot, 6'10" 232, FR
24.6 mpg, 10.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 47.4 FG%
C#15 Garrison Brooks, 6'9" 235, JR
34.5 mpg, 14.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 52.1 FG%
Key Reserves
G#3 Andrew Platek, 6'4" 200, JR
21.9 mpg, 4.6 ppg, 1.8 apg, 20.8 3P%
G#4 Brandon Robinson, 6'5" 173, SR
31.4 mpg, 13.1 ppg, 2.7 apg, 35.3 3P%
F#32 Justin Pierce, 6'7" 210, SR
19.1 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 38.7 FG%

 

The ABC's of North Carolina:

A) Cole Anthony is back. The 5-star point guard, preseason All-ACC 1st Teamer, and projected NBA Lottery pick got off to a fast start this season. He looked every bit the part of a future star in his first 9 games. But a knee injury after his game at UVA sidelined the floor general for the next 11 games, a stretch in which Carolina went just 4-7. Granted, he wasn't the only missing backcourt piece for the Heels. Four star freshman Anthony Harris tore an ACL after just five games. Brandon Robinson has missed 8 games with various nagging injuries, most recently a sprained ankle that's held him out their last three games. But Cole was the big name, and his return two weeks ago spurned hopes they might right the ship. He's playing healthy, averaging 20 points and 3.5 assists a game since his return, though UNC is also 0-4 in that span.

(As an aside, Brandon Robinson is doubtful for this game. UNC gave a 2-4 week recovery timeline on Feb 5th, but recall Roy also said Armando Bacot was seriously injured before suiting up and being just fine against UVA in December).

B) They can't shoot. UNC has actually fared worse than UVA has shooting the 3-ball in ACC, ranking dead last in the conference in team 3P% at just 27.9% in league play. Brandon Robinson is about the only Carolina player hitting 3's at a consistent mark, 37% in ACC games, but he can't stay healthy and the rest of the team isn't picking up the slack. Cole and Keeling are at just 29%. Justin Pierce who once had a 42%-from-3 season at W&M, is at just 27% so far. Brooks and Bacot aren't floor spacing bigs in the first place. It's weird to see UNC as a bottom-half offense in the ACC, but 3-point shooting is probably the biggest culprit. It all hit a low point in a 1-16 performance against Wake on Tuesday. To their credit, they do avoid taking 3's at all costs, only 29% of their FGA's from range (league-low), but it also means defenses can pack it in against them with little risk.

C) Christian Keeling is coming on. Taking advantage of Robinson's absence from the lineup (inheriting those minutes) and Cole Anthony's return from injury (drawing defensive attention), Keeling has been thriving in a secondary scorer's role. The former Big South 1st-teamer had a rough adjustment to the quality of the ACC, scoring in double figures just once in his first twenty-one games (and being held to 2 or fewer points ten times). But he's now scored in double figures in three straight games, two of those against premier opponents (14 at FSU, 13 against Duke). Even if Robinson does play, expect Keeling to get not just extended run but extended shots as well in UNC's attempt to diversify the backcourt offense beyond Cole Anthony. Maybe most importantly, in those three games, he's 43% from 3 (admittedly on low volume, but he was a 38% 3-point shooter at Charleston Southern last year). He becomes a priority defensive assignment for Woldetensae and Morsell.

 

Their Season To Date

UNC is 10-14 on the year, 3-10 in the ACC. They looked good through their first 7 games, beating Notre Dame, Alabama, and Oregon (a neutral loss to Michigan the only scratch in that span). But the wheels promptly came off in a 25-point blowout home loss to Ohio State followed by their loss at JPJ and then a home loss to Wofford. With injuries mounting, UNC lost its first five games in January, and after rebounding for solid wins over Miami and NC State, promptly lost its last four. In the last week they blew a big lead against Duke to fall in overtime, after which they went on the road to Wake Forest and lost by 17.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Defend the glass. Same as it is in any contest against UNC, UVA simply cannot let the Heels feast on second-chance opportunities. Brooks and Bacot combine for nearly 6 offensive rebounds a game, and it's a huge strategic piece of UNC's attack. They're missing a lot of shots this year, but they're gambling that their bigs can gobble up second chance opportunities for high-percentage putbacks. The guards and wings are similarly coached to get into the action, especially against an opponent like UVA who doesn't like to leak fast-break threats, meaning UNC really doesn't have to commit to transition defense. In the first matchup, UVA held the Heels to just 7 offensive rebounds, their second-worst tally of the season. The Hoos must look to snap UNC's current six-game streak of double-digit O-Rebound games with another great game on the defensive glass.

2) Cut down the dumb turnovers. I really like our half-court defense against the Tar Heels. Sic the Mong00se on Cole Anthony, body up Brooks and Bacot with our own next-level big man core of Mamadi/Huff/Caffaro, and let the Pack Line do what it does. What could very easily get us in trouble, though, is dumb live ball turnovers. We saw those rear their heads again late in the Notre Dame game, as its been a problem most all season long. UNC is really not that dangerous a turnover-forcing team, but neither are the Irish or Wake Forest, and we still coughed up 13 TOs against each of those opponents. Virginia somehow got their turnover issues under control at Louisville, but Carolina's been turning up the pressure with Cole Anthony back (almost 2 steals a game), and will be keen on generating short-court fast break opportunities as a way of avoiding the Pack Line in the first place.

3) Play aggressively downhill. UVA had decided mixed success going to the rim against Carolina in December, making just 10 of our 32 2-point-attempts (31%), but it had two pleasant benefits. One, we drew a good number of fouls, getting to shoot 25 free throw attempts (making 18), while also freeing up Woldetensae and others to have a respectable day from three (6-17, 35%). So we had 18 points from three, 18 from the line, and 20 from two. A very balanced day that all started with a willingness to play through the paint (effectively two-thirds of our attempts that day were inside).

In running up the score against Carolina last week, Wake and Duke took a similar approach, deliberately attacking the middle of UNC's defense. Duke took 62 of their 80 shots inside the arc, and The Devils and Deacs combined to hit 47% on those attempts while drawing 56 FTAs across the two games. Bacot and Brooks found themselves in foul trouble in both games. Virginia had success with Diakite, Caffaro, and even Justin McKoy playing high energy in the paint in that game (Key was still out with his broken wrist at that point), and should look to replicate that, taking the side benefits of (a) offensive rebounding position, (b) free throws, and (c) drawing in the defense for Kihei and Tomas to shoot 3s.

 

 

Predictions:

A week ago this team nearly (and arguably should've) beaten a Top 10 Duke team behind a really well-balanced offensive effort. They then followed it up with the stinker of all stinkers at Wake Forest (I complain about needing OT to win there while they lost by almost 20). This is still a team with two high-producing 5-stars (Cole and Bacot) along with one of the league's best veteran big men (Brooks), providing a formidable 3-headed monster on both ends. What's been killing UNC, though, is the rest of roster failing to produce. Brandon Robinson can't stay healthy. Leaky Black has failed to break out as expected. Christan Keeling and Justin Pierce have struggled to adjust to the ACC level of competition. They're capable of putting things together enough to push Duke and FSU, but at the same time inexplicably drop games to BC and Wake.

Couple that with the fact that Tony Bennett's really had Roy's number (5 straight Hoo wins in the series, 10 of the last 14, UVA's beaten Carolina at least once a year for 8 straight seasons), and there's a lot to like for UVA here. The Dean Dome hasn't necessarily been overly hostile for the Hoos, we've won 2 of our last 4 there (though we've been perfect at home in that same stretch), and with three road ACC wins already (Cuse, GT, and Wake), Virginia's proven it can win on the road if it plays well enough.

With Syracuse and NC State hot on UVA's tail in the ACC standings (both are just 1 game back, and tiebreakers might not favor us) in the chase for the coveted 4-seed and double bye, UVA would do well to get this win. With Carolina staring down a lost season, opportunities to score high profile wins (down season aside, we're still the defending champs and a major rival) are what they're now left with playing for. We will get their best shot and the energy in the Dean Dome for a prime time Saturday affair will be a good one.

Ultimately, it's hard to pick against UVA when not only has Tony owned the rivalry of late, but also when UVA is having the more consistent season. Not saying it'll be easy or pretty, but I think the Hoos follow the script from December and leave the Dean Dome winners.

Hoos Win 57-50