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College Basketball Pick
The two games between these teams in the next 10 days could decide a lot, especially if one team sweeps the other. A North Carolina sweep would mean the Tar Heels have a legitimate shot to get a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament. A Virginia sweep would put it back in the ACC title hunt with hopes of a 3-seed still intact. But there’s a long way to go in the season. The Heels still have to host Louisville and Duke in addition to these two Virginia games, while the Cavaliers have things a bit easier, but nothing can be considered easy in this conference.
The biggest thing in this matchup is that Virginia has been a much better team at home, although that’s the case for most teams. That said, the Hoos have lost their last three road games even after leading in all of them and just fell at home to Duke. They should’ve beaten Villanova, but lost after a last-second tip-in. The same can be said about the Syracuse game and then they fell last weekend in overtime to Virginia Tech. The problem is that this might be their hardest matchup of all of those.
As for the Tar Heels, they haven’t lost in Chapel Hill all season and don’t plan on doing so any time soon. And while they have blown out a lot of teams, the two-point win over Pittsburgh was a bit worrying since they couldn't close out that game. As usual in UNC games, the rebounding battle will be the most important thing to watch. The Heels have the best offensive rebounding percentage in the ACC, but Virginia has the best defensive rebounding percentage. One would assume UNC will win the battle due to size alone, but it’s never as simple as that for this Virginia team. These teams split two games a year ago and neither looked to have a big advantage in either contest.
One thing to take note of before the game is the status of Isaiah Hicks, who is dealing with an injury picked up in practice. Hicks missed the Duke game, but UNC has loads of size so it wasn’t a major issue. Of course, that also takes away some depth, so it’s still something to monitor. Unfortunately it came out Wednesday that Kenny Williams will miss the rest of the season because of his knee injury, leaving Theo Pinson and Nate Britt more minutes down the stretch.
Virginia has yet another elite defense, but it’s still hard to see this team stopping UNC from winning in the paint. Jack Salt and rarely used Mamdi Diakite are Virginia’s only players listed above 6-foot-7 and neither average 20 minutes per game. The Hoos can use Isaiah Wilkins, Devon Hall and Jerred Reuter in the four and five spots, but those guys will have trouble dealing with Kennedy Meeks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye. Keep in mind that’s not even including Hicks. While London Perrantes and Marial Shayok can somewhat limit what Joel barry and Nate Britt do, stopping Justin Jackson could be an issue with Devon Hall expected to match up with him.
The Hoos are built on double teaming everything down low, but it’s a wonder if that will matter in this game for a team already struggling on the road. But, extending the lead in this game would require UNC to hit some threes, which is something it struggles with. The Heels have shooters in Jackson and Berry, but that's about it in terms of consistency.
Virginia usually sticks around because of its efficiency on the defensive end. Perrantes steps up in bigger games like this while the Hoos also have a number of other guys that can create from Shayok to Wilkins or even Ty Jerome, who has had a bigger role as of late. But at their worse, Virginia is a bad offensive team as seen in the 55 points scored against Duke earlier this week. If Virginia limits offensive boards, it will keep this game close. However, expecting the Hoos to win in Chapel Hill is a bit of a stretch.
Our pick - North Carolina by 1
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