What happened last time out: Not good things. With a 9-7 loss to Maryland to open ACC play, the Hoos kept themselves behind the eight-ball for making the NCAA Tournament. Holding a team to 9 goals usually ought to be enough to win a game, but Virginia's offense continued its erratic play.
Who's up this week: The fourth-ranked Tarheels of UNC-Chapel Hill. Fresh off an exciting, overtime win against Johns Hopkins, Carolina ought to be plenty juiced for the matchup. What's more, Saturday marks the 75th all-time game between Virginia and Carolina; the teams first played in 1938 and have played every year since 1964. The traditional gift for a 75th anniversary is diamonds and gold. Everybody likes some bling, but I'm pretty sure the Hoos will gladly settle for a win.
What to expect: In terms of statistical output, these two teams couldn't be more evenly matched. Carolina scores 12.2 goals per game; Virginia scores 11.8. Carolina allows 10 goals per game; Virginia allows...oh hey look, 10 goals per game. Down the line, the statistical strengths and weaknesses of one squad meet the strengths and weaknesses of the other: UVa can't score on man-up, UNC lets everyone score on man-down; both teams are top 5 in turnovers allowed and top 15 in turnovers caused; Carolina wins just under 53% of its face-offs, Virginia wins just over 53%. To quote Yul Brenner, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Much like Maryland last weekend, Carolina relies on an offensive troika: senior M/A Marcus Holman, sophomore A Jimmy Bitter (younger brother of former perennial thorn-in-the-Cavs-side Billy Bitter), and sophomore A Joey Sankey. Combined, those three players have accounted for nearly 60 percent of Carolina's total points. Holman is the biggest all-around threat, leading the team in both shots and assists while ranking 5th nationally in points per game.
At the specialist positions (FOGO and goalie), Carolina is pretty much middle of the road. R.G. Keenan is a top 25 FOGO, but has the ability to take big moments into his own hands; just ask Pierce Bassett. The young-goalie experiment in Chapel Hill has proceeded much better than the one in Charlottesville: while freshman Kieran Burke is saving only a pedestrian 53.8%, he's a stone wall compared to Virginia's struggles in the cage.
What's going to happen: This game probably comes down to shot percentage and converting on one's chances. With so much strength-on-strength elsewhere on the field, the biggest difference between the two teams (aside from poll rankings) is how they finish possessions. Carolina is 15th in shot percentage (just over 30%); Virginia continues its free-fall toward the bottom of that category (43rd, at just over 25%). Carolina puts more than 60% of its shots on goal, Virginia only about 55%. If you can't score, you can't win; if you can't shoot on cage, you can't score.
At this point of a season that's gone this way, Virginia needs to be in tournament mode for every single game. A loss does not necessarily guarantee the season ending early. But it comes pretty close. That kind of pressure for a whole month can galvanize a team or shatter it. Best case scenario, the coaches and captain find the core resolve of this team and make a little magic. They've done it before (see: 2011 national championship squad, 9-5 during the regular season). Saturday is just about their last chance to start if they're going to do it again.