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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 17 Virginia Tech at North Carolina

by Sharon Thorsland

After a mid-week bye, North Carolina is back in action on Saturday, traveling to Virginia for a key ACC match-up at John Paul Jones arena. That has not been a friendly place for the 10th ranked Tar Heels (20-6, 12-3 ACC), who have not won at JPJ since 2012, losing their last eight matchups in Charlottesville. Virginia is coming off a blowout loss to Virginia Tech and has struggled the past two weeks but is still third in the ACC at 11-5 on the year, 20-7 overall. Tip-off is set for 4:00 on WBT.

While the Tar Heels like to run, Virginia continues to play slow-down ball. The Cavaliers are only averaging 64 points per game and rely a lot on the 3 – they knock down over 37% from behind the arc, that’s 30th in the nation. Senior guard Reece Beekman runs the Cavaliers offense, and is also an outstanding defender. He’s averaging nearly 14 points and six assists per game. Beekman teams with Isaiah McNeely and Ryan Dunn, who is the team’s second leading rebounder and one of the best defenders in the nation. UVA’s pack line defense makes life very difficult for opponents – the Wahoos rank 3rd in the nation allowing just 58.5 points per game. But UNC counters with one of the best offense in the country, the Heels lead the ACC with 82.8 points a contest. And they’re also very good defensively this season, allowing just 71 points per game and 30% completion from behind the arc.

UNC has an advantage inside with Armando Bacot. The big man is the ACC’s leading rebounder and averages nearly 15 points per game. He’ll be a massive challenge for Virginia’s centers Jordan Minor and Black Buchanan, who have been sharing time as both have been struggling recently. Harrison Ingram will also pose problems for the Cavaliers. The forward is UNC’s second leading rebounder and has been shooting over 40% from three in addition to everything else he does on the court. Behind him and Bacot, the Heels rank 9th in the nation in rebounding and should dominate the glass in this matchup.

This should be an excellent game and there is plenty on the line. The Tar Heels are fighting to stay atop the ACC and are just a game and a half ahead of the Cavaliers, who are trying to stay in contention for an NCAA tournament bid. Virginia’s pack-line defense poses plenty of problems, and their home court advantage is real – the Cavaliers are 14-1 at home this season, and that’s the only game they’ve lost at JPJ in over a year. They are certainly good enough to win this game. But the Tar Heels have superior talent and are no doubt motivated to snap their 8-game losing streak in Charlottesville. If they can win the battle of the glass and keep Virginia’s three-point shooting in check, they should win this game. Go Tar Heels