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Virginia Lacrosse Preview: North Carolina

The No.8 Hoos host No.4 North Carolina in a night tilt in hopes of grabbing their first ACC victory of 2015.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Who: No.4 North Carolina Tar Heels
When: Friday, April 3, 7:00
Where: Klöckner Stadium, Charlottesville, VA
How to Watch: ESPNU

The lights of Klöckner Stadium will be bright tonight as the Hoos welcome ACC rival North Carolina to town for a battle of two top ten teams. UNC (10-1, 1-0 ACC) got their first ACC win last weekend in a 15-14 barnburner against Duke. Virginia (8-2, 0-2 ACC) is still looking for their first conference win after dropping games to Notre Dame and Syracuse (who are now No.1 and No.2 respectively).

This game has ACC Tournament implications, especially for Virginia. Duke is also 0-2 in conference, with games against Notre Dame and UVa. remaining. A win here could help the Hoos stay out of the consolation game with Penn, but most likely the Duke/Virginia showdown in Durham will decide the final spot in the four team ACC tournament.

Virginia comes into tonight's matchup cruising on attack after back to back blowouts over VMI (17-3) and Richmond (14-7), but North Carolina's attack is extremely potent. The Tar Heels average over 15 goals per game, giving up just nine. Jimmy Bitter (yes, he's still there) leads the team in points with 57 (27 goals, 30 assists). Joey Sankey (20g, 29a) and second year Luke Goldstock (34g, 13a) are right on Bitter's heels.

Davi Sacco held Richmond's leading scorer, Mickey Hofmeister, scoreless last weekend, but any of the three UNC attackmen will be a challenge. I expect to see Sacco on Goldstock or Bitter, with Scott Hooper and Logan Greco marking the other two. Virginia's defense has improved as the season has progressed, currently giving up an average of 10 per game.

While 32% of Carolina's scoring has come from their starting attack, don't overlook the midfield led by Canadian Chad Tutton. Tutton has 24 goals and four assists, and is flanked by Peyton Klawinski (14g, 3a) and Patrick Kelly (5g, 6a).

The midfield matchups favor Virginia. The combo of long stick midfielders Tanner Ottenbreit and upstart Michael Howard will be able to hold their own, and Jack Falk, Will McNamara, and Carlson Milikin have been solid. The SSDM trio of Falk, McNamara, and Milikin have combined for 13 caused turnovers and 27 ground balls while committing just three turnovers and three and a half penalty minutes.

Offensively, Virginia's midfield has been electric, led by Ryan Tucker and Greg Coholan. Coholan leads the team in goals with 26, and Tucker is close behind with 22. Fellow first liner Zed Williams has a balanced 15 goals and 15 assists, and all three of them are shooting over 42% (Tucker at 42%, Zed at 44%, and Coholan at 47%).

The Wahoo attack took a hit losing James Pannell to injury, but as much as Coholan has stepped up on attack, Tyler German has stepped up on the midfield. German has 10 goals on the season, six in the last three games, and 26 groundballs through his face off wing support.

Speaking of faceoffs...yikes. After a solid outing against Richmond, the faceoff duo of Jason Murphy (64-139, 46%) and Jeff Kratky (52-123, 42%) have a combined 44% win percentage. They will have their hands full with North Carolina's Stephen Kelly, who wins 51% of his attempts. Wing play will be crucial once again to ensure the Hoos don't start in a big hole as they did against Notre Dame and Syracuse.

Defensively, Jake Bailey, Austin Pifani, and Zach Powers anchor Carolina's close defense, and have combined for 36 caused turnovers. Senior Bailey stands a solid 6'6" and could cause matchup problems for Virginia's attackmen. Virginia's attack has been led by Owen Van Arsdale, who has 21 goals. Ryan Lukacovic is second on the team in points with 13 goals and 19 assists.

In cage, Kieran Burke is saving 55% of shots faced and has a 10.84 goals against average. For Virginia, Matt Barrett has been incredible this season, saving 56%. Goalie play and ability to disrupt the clear will even out issues at the faceoff X, and hopefully will give Virginia a good shot at winning the game.

If you can't make it to Klöckner tonight, make sure to tune in on ESPNU at 7!