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The Big Preview: UVA basketball opens the ACC Tournament versus North Carolina

Taking a look at tonight’s matchup against the Heels.

Virginia v North Carolina Photo by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers’ postseason begins with an ACC quarterfinal matchup against UNC. The North Carolina Tar Heels, as you may know, were the pre-season number-one team in the nation, but have not played up to that level this season.

On the year, they are 20-12 (11-9 ACC). They rank 42nd on KenPom, not too far behind the 37th ranked Hoos. Virginia plummeted in the advanced metrics during their February swoon, particularly following their loss to Boston College. BC, coincidentally, is the team UNC beat last night in the ACC tournament.

The Heels won that game on the shooting of their backcourt R.J. Davis and Caleb Love. That duo combined for 7/14 from downtown and 40 points. The Heels opened an early lead largely on outside shooting (7/13 in the first half) and never looked back. This outside shooting was necessary, as UNC’s star big man Armando Bacot left the game in the first half with an ankle injury. He did start the second half, but with a big lead he was able to rest the ankle. Still, his status for this game is unknown.

Virginia and UNC split the season series, with both teams winning at home. In the first game, at JPJ, Bacot went down with an injury in the opening minutes and missed the entire rest of the game. With Bacot out, Virginia dominated in the paint and hit just enough shots to win. In the rematch, Bacot was healthy but played just 24 minutes and had limited impact. But UNC shot lights out from downtown, including this ridiculous first half buzzer beater.

That is Pete Nance, who shot 4/4 from downtown in that game. He shot 32% from three on the season, though he did knock down 46% last year at Northwestern. He is under 35% for this career though. The Heels were 9/16 from three in the first half, scoring 42 points. Though they went cold in the second half (1/6), it was too great a deficit for the ‘Hoos to make up, even as they shot 4/10, after going 1/3 in the first half, from outside.

This is the very end of the game, and was essentially meaningless. But still, these were the shots that were dropping for Franklin back in January when the ‘Hoos were rolling. Franklin is a streaky shooter. Although he’s still over 38% for the season, he shot just 32% in February after shooting 41% in January. Against Louisville in the season finale, Franklin was 2-5 (40%). If Franklin can get hot (as he did in the postseason last year), this will be a huge boost to a struggling Virginia offense.

Here are our previews from the first and second UNC game this season. Little has changed. If one team is able to consistently knock down outside shots, they’ll win. If neither team shoots the ball well, the battle inside determines the game, and that will be greatly impacted by the status of Bacot’s ankle.