Busting Brackets

North Carolina vs. Virginia: 2020-21 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

Feb 15, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Virginia Cavaliers forward Jay Huff (30) with the ball as North Carolina Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot (5) defends in the second half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 15, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Virginia Cavaliers forward Jay Huff (30) with the ball as North Carolina Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot (5) defends in the second half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

The 9th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers will look to shut down the North Carolina Tar Heels, who are fighting to stay off the bubble, in a marquee ACC showdown on Saturday.

TV schedule: Saturday, February 13, 6:00 pm ET. ESPN

Arena: John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia

The ACC will feature one of the biggest games in a busy Saturday slate, with the Virginia Cavaliers hosting the tumultuous North Carolina Tar Heels in an evening showdown – with much on the line for the latter.

The Cavaliers (14-3) enter winners of three-straight after experiencing a 14-point setback at Virginia Tech at the end of January, topping N.C. State, Pittsburgh, and Georgia Tech – all by single-digits.  Currently first in the ACC standings, Virginia has the opportunity to pick up one of the best wins yet on their resume.

To put that into context – the Cavaliers have beaten just two teams ranked above the Tar Heels in the latest NET rankings (Clemson and Syracuse).  This win would do wonders for a Virginia team that has been a bit rocky in the last three outings.  Most notably, the Cavaliers were solid offensively against N.C. State and Pittsburgh, recording marks of 1.07 and 1.18 points per possession, respectively – but they struggled to score against Georgia Tech, tallying just 0.93 points per possession.

Where Virginia shined against the Yellow Jackets was on the defensive end, holding Georgia Tech to just 0.80 points – along with clips of 48.3% (2PT) and 19.0% (3PT).  They were not nearly as effective offensively, turning the ball over 17 times and, obviously, not scoring at an efficient rate – but they still shot the ball well at 58.6% (2PT) and 35.0% (3PT).  In addition, Trey Murphy and Kihei Clark had solid showings, scoring 18 and 14 points, respectively – while Sam Hauser hauled down a game-high 10 boards.

The Tar Heels (12-6), meanwhile, have endured a substantially more tumultuous season, having fallen from the national ranks and finding themselves approaching dangerous territory – in the form of the bubble.  After a 13-point loss at Clemson on February 2nd, North Carolina narrowly avoided disaster days later, toppling Duke in a 91-87 nailbiter last Saturday – in a game that would have yielded disastrous for their at-large aspirations.

Their win over the Blue Devils was not without its issues, given the well-documented controversy surrounding the post-game party and the video that surfaced from it that caused North Carolina’s game against Miami to be postponed – but the Tar Heels looked stellar offensively either way.  North Carolina saw a whopping six players reach double-digits – all the while tallying 1.20 points per possession.

UNC’s deadly offense saw the Tar Heels drill 66.7% (10-15) of their long-range bombs, all the while haul down 14 offensive rebounds.  Caleb Love paved the way, tallying a career-high 25 points to go with seven assists – with Armando Bacot (16), Kerwin Walton (12), Garrison Brooks (12), Leaky Black (12), and Day’Ron Sharpe (11) rounding out those in double-figures.  Where the Tar Heels had issues was on the defensive end, allowing the Blue Devils to shoot nearly 60% on two-pointers (25-42) while giving up 1.14 points per possession.

To say this game will be a contrast of styles is an understatement – the Tar Heels play the fastest tempo in the ACC, getting 71.5 possessions and taking 15.9 seconds off the shot-clock – while the Cavaliers play the slowest, with marks of 60.9 possessions and 20.7 seconds off the shot-clock.

Those differing tempos translate into what could be a key area in this game: turnovers.  The Cavaliers are extremely disciplined, averaging just 9.5 turnovers in ACC play – while the Tar Heels turn it over nearly 15 times a game.  Those roles were reversed in these two teams’ most recent outings, however, with Virginia recording 17 turnovers against Georgia Tech – and allowing the Yellow Jackets to score 17 points off of those.  UNC, meanwhile, turned the ball over 16 times – but outscored Duke in points off turnovers, 28-20.

What will also be one of the biggest areas to watch for in this game is the battle on the offensive glass.  Mainly because of their highly-touted frontcourt of Brooks, Bacot, and Sharpe, the Tar Heels feast on offensive boards, leading the ACC in offensive rebounding percentage at 39.1% – and ranking second nationally at 40.0%.  Meanwhile, the Cavaliers do not rely much on the offensive glass – but they are the best team in the conference in keeping opponents off the offensive caroms, allowing teams to bring down a board on just 19.7% of their attempts.

Virginia’s posts – Hauser and Jay Huff – will have their hands full, particularly considering they are not nearly as physical as UNC’s posts, and considering the Cavaliers were outscored by Georgia Tech in points-in-the-paint, 26-22.  It is no coincidence that Brooks and Bacot feasted on Virginia last year, even when they had Mamadi Diakite inside along with Huff – the duo combined for 28 points (11-19 2PT) and 21 rebounds in a narrow 64-62 win for Virginia.

Where the Tar Heels may run into issues is that this Cavalier squad has drastically improved offensively from last year’s team – while North Carolina has struggled mightily shooting the ball, which will ail them greatly against a Virginia team that ranks in the top 4 in the ACC in both 3P% and 2P% defense.

North Carolina can score – they did hang 91 on Duke, after all – but the Blue Devils are among one of the worst defensive teams in the ACC.  The Tar Heels could only muster 50 points against a Clemson team that ranks seventh in the ACC in defensive efficiency.  Again, the Cavaliers rank first in the ACC in defensive efficiency – as well as 16th nationally.

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Virginia’s offense has been incredibly lackluster in their last four outings, by way of point production – but their defense is what has allowed them to win those games.  That could very well be the case again against North Carolina, in what should be a low-scoring affair.

Prediction: Virginia 64 – North Carolina 55