Thursday, April 18, 2024

Preview: Cavaliers Look To Bounce Back Against Carolina

Virginia Cavaliers vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Pick & Prediction FEBRUARY 13th  2024 -

Following a thrashing in Blacksburg on Monday night, UVa will look to turn its fortunes around when league leader Carolina comes to town for a Saturday showdown at JPJ. UNC is looking to close strong and win the ACC after dominating the league standings for most of the season while the Cavaliers are looking to stay in the race and put their embarrassing loss at Virginia Tech in the rear view. Virginia could also use a boost of momentum for the stretch run, as a loss to the Tar Heels would be three losses in their last four games.

UNC is 3-3 since its 10-game winning streak that lasted from December 20 to January 30. It came to an end when the Tar Heels lost a stunner at Georgia Tech by one, followed a week later by a close loss to Clemson at home. They also dropped their game at Syracuse the following Tuesday, too. Amid those losses, UNC beat Duke at home, Miami on the road, and most recently Virginia Tech at home. The Heels had a week off to prepare for tomorrow’s game in Charlottesville.

This matchup will have significant implications for both teams in the ACC title race and for UVa in the push to make the NCAA Tournament. With five games remaining, UNC is tied with Duke for first and 1.5 games ahead of UVa. North Carolina is already in a good spot to win the league or at least finish top two, but things get more interesting if the Hoos pull the upset this weekend. Should that happen, UVa would move within a game of UNC in the loss column and tie the Tar heels in the win column heading into the final two weeks of the season, with a game against Duke remaining. If UNC wins, UVa’s ACC title hopes are all but shot barring a complete collapse by those on Tobacco Road.

UVa could also take a huge step towards securing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament with a win on Saturday; a loss doesn’t hurt the Hoos too much assuming the game is relatively competitive, but it does put more pressure on them to win other games.

The Numbers

In both the polls and the metrics, UNC is the best team UVa has played this season. The Tar Heels rank 10th in KenPom heading into Saturday’s game and have been ranked as high as sixth this season. They are typically known for a high-flying offense, but this year they’ve been great on both ends of the floor.

Defensively, Carolina ranks 10th nationally in efficiency. The Heels are 19th in offensive rebound rate allowed, 23rd in 3-point percentage allowed, and 31st in effective field-goal percentage allowed. North Carolina’s opponents have struggled to share the ball and score too, with the Tar Heels ranking ninth nationally in assist-per-made-field-goal ratio allowed. The one area where they struggle is creating turnovers; they rank 298th nationally in turnovers forced per possession.

While UNC’s defense is much improved, its offense is also quite good. The Heels are 18th nationally and in the top 50-100 in most categories. UNC ranks 29th in turnover rate, 56th in offensive rebound rate, 44th in steal rate allowed, and 89th in 3-point percentage (35.6). As always, tomorrow’s game will be a battle of which team can dominate pace; UVa is among the nation’s slowest teams while Carolina likes to get up and down, ranking 28th-fastest nationally in possession length.

The Matchups

RJ Davis, Guard

UNC’s roster has a number of familiar faces, Davis among them. Carolina’s veteran guard has taken on a bigger role in the offense after Caleb Love left for Arizona in the offseason, and is now one of the top candidates for ACC Player of the Year. He is leading Carolina in scoring at 21.3 points per game, making 41 percent of his 3s. Davis is also dishing out 3.6 helpers per contest. He has been great throughout the season and has been playing well of late too, scoring 20+ points in three of UNC’s last four games.

Armando Bacot, Forward

Another very familiar face, how UVa controls Bacot will likely determine if the Hoos can hang with the Heels for 40 minutes. Bacot is averaging 14.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and is about as experienced as any player in the ACC at this point. He was great in his last game, scoring 25 points and grabbing 12 boards in the win over the Hokies. Bacot has scored 24+ in three of UNC’s last five games and comes to Charlottesville riding a streak of five-straight double-doubles. UVa faced him three times last year; in the first game Bacot got hurt in the first minute of the contest and didn’t play the rest of the way, but in the other two UVa held its own. The Richmond native scored 11 in the win in Chapel Hill but scored just four against the Hoos in the ACC Tournament Quarterfinals.

Harrison Ingram, Forward

UNC has supplemented its veteran roster with a few transfers, including the former Stanford wing who was once one of the nation’s top recruits. Ingram has made an immediate impact with the Heels and is third on the team in scoring at 12.5 points per game. The Dallas native is also bringing in 9.1 rebounds per contest. Ingram is a versatile wing player that can defend guards and forwards, and can score in multiple ways. Against Duke, he hit five 3s on his way to 21 points, and against Virginia Tech he scored 12 while going 0-for-4 from deep. Ingram can also dominate the glass, as he did against the Hokies, going for 17 boards in the comfortable win.

Cormac Ryan, Guard

Another in-league transfer, Ryan joined UNC this season after a solid career at Notre Dame. He is averaging 10.8 points per game and while his 3-point percentage is down to 31.4, he’s been an impactful veteran presence for the Heels. Despite that lower-than-average 3-point percentage, Ryan has been hot from deep lately, making four 3s in each of their last two games.

The Outlook

Win or lose, the Wahoos have to prove that they can put Monday’s blowout loss behind them and show that they’re better than what they showed in Blacksburg. It’s great that this game is at home and it should be a very good atmosphere for the biggest home game on the schedule. UVa has been much better at JPJ, though the Cavaliers looked more fallible last week when they lost a game by double digits and failed to score 50 in another. And despite how good UNC has been this year, the Heels have been human on the road, especially of late. Losses at Georgia Tech and Syracuse show that even average-to-struggling ACC teams can pick off the Heels if things are going well, so UVa can do it to, at least in theory.

This one looks tough on paper, though. This isn’t the typical UNC team that wants to get out and run but mails it in on defense; the Heels can get stops and they’re likely to win the battle on the boards convincingly in this one. UVa will have to have a plan to keep Bacot from having a huge game, though he’ll surely make an impact. The remaining question becomes whether UVa can bounce back on offense and get hot from deep, and whether the Hoos will be able to keep Carolina’s shooting to average levels or worse.

Despite UVa’s success at home we have to go with the Heels in this one, purely based on matchups. The Cavaliers have to hope they can keep Bacot in check like they did with Clemson’s PJ Hall and perhaps try to use their pace to frustrate the Heels in the halfcourt. And perhaps we’re biased by what happened on Monday, but Virginia still has a lot to show us in the stretch run.

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