North Carolina needs to be the aggressor tonight during its ACC opener at Virginia. ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL — In just a little while I’ll be driving north toward Charlottesville, Va., where tonight North Carolina opens its ACC schedule at Virginia. But first, here’s a preview of the game, which will feature a contrast in styles – UNC’s run-run-run vs. the Cavaliers’ slow-it-down pace.
I wrote about that contrast in a story right here..
And that contrast will figure prominently tonight. In both of its games against UNC a season ago, Virginia successfully controlled the tempo – especially during the team’s meeting at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. Even so, the Heels swept the Cavaliers a season ago.
Can UNC find similar success tonight? Read on …
North Carolina (10-3) at Virginia (10-3)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, Va.
Projected starting lineups
F Darion Atkins 8.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg
F Akil Mitchell 13.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg
G Paul Jesperson 4.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg
G Joe Harris 15 ppg, 4 rpg
G Teven Jones 4.1 ppg, 2.5 apg
F Desmond Hubert 1.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg
F James Michael McAdoo 14.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg
G Reggie Bullock 13.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg
G Dexter Strickland 9.4 ppg, 4.5 apg
G Marcus Paige 7.4 ppg, 4.3 apg
Player to watch
P.J. Hairston, sophomore, North Carolina
Hairston is in the midst of his most productive stretch since arriving at UNC, and he played perhaps the best overall game of his collegiate career last week during UNC’s 79-73 victory against UNLV. Hairston, who started in place of the injured Reggie Bullock, finished with 15 points, four steals and four rebounds, and his energy proved to be an early catalyst for the Heels, whose intensity was at a season high. Bullock is expected today to be back in the starting lineup, which means Hairston would resume his role as the Heels’ sixth man. The energy and production he provides off the bench could be instrumental for UNC, especially if – as expected – it finds itself in a close game against Virginia.
Observations: Bullock sat out with a concussion UNC’s victory against UNLV, but he practiced Friday and Saturday and is expected to start today … Virginia, meanwhile, is hopeful that Jontel Evans, who has missed nine games with a foot injury, will be back today. Evans last season averaged 7.3 points in about 30 minutes per game, but his injury has limited him to 15 minutes per game this season … UNC coach Roy Williams still hasn’t decided on a permanent starter at center. He said he felt no rush to do so. Desmond Hubert, Joel James and Brice Johnson have all started there … Virginia averages about 20 points fewer per game than UNC, but the Cavaliers have a higher shooting percentage from the field, free throw line and from behind the 3-point line. Of course, UNC is averaging nearly 16 more possessions per game than Virginia. … The Cavaliers are holding opponents to 50.7 points per game.
Three keys for the Tar Heels:
1. Run when possible. Fast break opportunities don’t come very often against Virginia, which is known for taking its time on offense and getting back on defense. But those opportunities will present themselves at times tonight, whether they come via turnovers or long rebounds off of missed shots. UNC must capitalize on those chances and turn them into points.
2. Defend against the 3. The Cavaliers are shooting 38.1 percent from behind the 3-point line, and they’re averaging 14 3-point attempts per game. You can count on the perimeter shot being a critical component of Virginia’s offense tonight. The Tar Heels at times this season have struggled to defend the 3-point line against teams that use it effectively – Butler, Indiana – but UNC can ill afford lapses against the 3-point shot.
3. Build on the UNLV game. From start to finish, UNC played its best game of the season in a victory last week against UNLV. It was a meaningful performance for the developing Tar Heels, but it would mean a lot less if the Heels follow it up with a mediocre – or worse – performance tonight. Williams and his players have talked about ratcheting up the intensity now that ACC play is here, and that needs to be evident.