CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Welcome to John Paul Jones Arena. The student section is already full here, about 40 minutes before tip-off, and it has long been. Anticipation is high here for a meeting between two top-25 teams – No. 7 North Carolina and No. 25 Virginia.
Some pregame thoughts and things to watch:
--Big game for both teams today but you could make an argument it’s bigger for Virginia. The Cavaliers appear to be on solid ground for an NCAA tournament bid, but a loss today would leave them 8-6 in the conference – and another loss would leave them on shaky ground approaching Selection Sunday. A victory against UNC would all but cement Virginia’s tournament bid.
--Couple things to watch defensively for the Tar Heels: How they limit the penetration of Jontel Evans, Virginia’s quick point guard, and how they handle Mike Scott, who started fast in the last meeting between the teams but faded because of foul trouble. Scott had 18 points in 27 minutes but had to go to the bench midway through the first half and early in the second because of foul trouble.
--Has UNC finally turned the corner with regards to its outside shooting? Today could tell us whether the Tar Heels have. Don’t expect a repeat of UNC’s shooting performance against N.C. State earlier this week, when it went 10-for-19 from 3-point range. But if the Heels are at least “good” from the outside, or even average, that’d be a good sign that maybe once and for all this team has collectively overcome its earlier shooting slump.
--As UNC coach Roy Williams talked about on Friday, expect pacing to be a key issue today. The Cavaliers want to slow it down and they want to force UNC to use a lot of the shot clock when the Tar Heels are on offense. Conversely, Virginia will be extremely patient when it has the ball. The Heels will want to run as much as possible, and you can bet that Williams will stress the importance of converting transition opportunities when possible.
Stay tuned …