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Virginia Cavaliers host North Carolina Tar Heels: The Big Preview

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NCAA Basketball: Virginia at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

In the final week of regular season play here, the No. 18 Virginia Cavaliers will take on the No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels. While the Heels have already clinched the top seed in the ACC Tournament, the Hoos are looking to hold on to their #7 seed.

The last time these two teams faced, it did not go well for the Hoos. They had a season-worst offensive output, scoring just 41 points in 40 minutes (0.67 points per possession). The defense wasn’t great, but they gave up just 1.07 points per possession, which is far below UNC’s season output. The problem, as it has been all season, was up front. The Hoos were torched by UNC’s front line. UNC’s four main guards combined for just 16 points on 19 shots. But the Heels’ five front court players combined for 49 points on 37 shots.

Virginia had no answer for ACC player of the year frontrunner Justin Jackson, who totaled 20 points and six assists, while starting big men Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks combined for 23 points and 15 rebounds. All that said, the real culprit in the loss was the Hoos’ shooting. The Hoos made just two of 20 from behind the arc. They weren’t a whole lot better from inside the arc, shooting just 38%. Their struggles continued into the next game, against Miami (3-of-12 from 3, 33% from 2). This past Saturday against NC State, the Hoos shot lights out from 3 (11/16), but still struggled on the inside (38%). NC State’s front line is solid, but not nearly as good as North Carolina’s.

This is going to come off as some hot analysis, but if Virginia is able to shoot 70% from 3 again, they’ll likely win this game. But if they just return to their season normal of about 38% from 3, they’ll have to improve greatly on the interior if they hope to win tonight. Carolina’s depth in the front court, and Virginia’s lack thereof, will make this particularly tough for Virginia to improve on the interior. Jack Salt has the size, but lacks the quickness. Nobody else on the team has the size. Virginia needs a total team effort to slow down UNC's front court, and then they need a much better performance on the perimeter offensively.

For more detailed scouting report on UNC, please see last week’s preview.

The game tips off on ESPN at 7:00 p.m.