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The Big Preview: Virginia hopes to rebound against North Carolina

An early season clash of ACC Titans, with both teams coming off of setbacks.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Oregon vs North Carolina Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that wasn’t fun. As my friend texted me during the Purdue Boilermakers game on Wednesday, “I liked it better when we won every game”.

For the first time in a long time, the Virginia Cavaliers got blown out, but the issues were the same we’ve seen throughout this season so far: this team lacks scoring punch. There isn’t a single player on the floor who can consistently create his own shot against a good defense.

Virginia actually shot the ball well on the interior, but couldn’t get the ball there consistently, taking 56% of their shots from downtown. That’s not bad when Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are around, but this time around, the Hoos made just 4 of 24 from beyond the arc. That’s horrendous.

In particular, the young perimeter players, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae and Kody Stattmann, combined to shoot only 1 of 11 from downtown and 4 of 15 overall. Purdue’s defense is very good, but these guys haven’t been making shots all season. It’s going to have to change, or there are going to be more nights like that one.

The North Carolina Tar Heels also got blown out in their ACC/Big Ten matchup against Ohio State at home, losing 74-49 but with the opposite problem as Virginia. Carolina shot 7-of-23 from downtown (30%, not good but not awful), but were dominated inside. Ohio State owned the glass and the paint, out rebounding UNC 48-32 and shooting over 50% inside to Carolina’s 25%.

Cole Anthony led UNC with 15 points, but on 4-of-15 shooting and with all four makes coming from downtown. Maybe you’ve heard of Anthony; he’s a shoot-first point guard, son of college basketball analyst Greg Anthony, and he’s been getting tons of the hype this season. So far, he’s living up to the hype, leading the team with 20 points per game and about four assists. He’s also been one of the most ball dominant players in the nation.

He’s quick, strong and can finish, but he falls in love with the three sometimes, especially when he can’t get inside. He hit six treys in his debut against Notre Dame, amassing 34 points on 12-of-24 shooting, with 11 of those attempts coming from downtown. Outside of that game, though, Anthony is shooting just 33% from downtown and 35% overall. It’s hard to be a good offensive player with shooting percentages like that, yet, sadly, it’s still better than Virginia’s guards are shooting.

Other than Anthony, the Heels are led by a couple of big men, Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot. Brooks is a known quantity, a junior who’s already played 75 career games. Bacot was, like Anthony, a five-star recruit, leading the team in rebounding and also showing some scoring punch in the post.

But Bacot exited the Ohio State game with over 12 minutes remaining in the first half after landing on another player’s foot coming off a rebound attempt and spraining his own ankle in the process. Carolina head coach Roy Williams doesn’t expect him to play today against Virginia, saying that he “just [doesn’t] see anything—anyway in the world he will play.”

To replace Bacot, Carolina will likely ask a lot of the natural small forward Justin Pierce to move to either power forward or maybe even center depending on just how small they want to go. Pierce currently averages 7.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

As is always the case with UNC, but especially with Anthony at the helm, this team is comfortable in an up and down game. They want to run, they want to play fast, and as a result, they’re often OK with giving up a quick basket because it means they’re getting the ball back. But teams that can slow the game down can give them fits. Virginia has proven this time and time again over the past few seasons.

The better teams they’ve faced have all kept it close by playing slow and forcing UNC into a half court game. Obviously, this is something that Tony Bennett excels at. Slowing the game down is part of Virginia’s regular game plan. But if they can’t make shots, it won’t matter how fast or slow they play.