College Basketball Pick
Virginia may have lost Monday night and the odds are looking slim for its chance to three-peat as the ACC’s regular season winners, but it’s not over. The Cavaliers have two remaining home Games, which is more than the other teams at the top of the standings can say. That includes North Carolina, who also has to travel to Duke for its final Game of the season.
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In addition to the ACC, both of these teams are still fighting for a chance at a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament and the winner of this Game will have the leg up going into the final week of the season. After losing to Duke last week, the Tar Heels weren’t happy and that showed as they demolished Miami on Saturday by 25 points. But can they bring that fire on the road? So far, that hasn’t been the case. Despite being near at the top of the standings for most of the year, UNC has had its road issues. The Heels lost back-to-back Games at Louisville and Notre Dame a few weeks ago, and those losses were split by small road wins over weaker teams in Virginia Tech and Boston College.
As for the Cavaliers, they haven’t lost at home all season and have won most of their Conference Games pretty comfortably. Unfortunately, this is the only time these teams play this year, but that just means it’s more important.
The first order of issue for Virginia will be stopping Brice Johnson, who has been wrecking teams as of late, getting huge double-doubles including 29 points and 19 boards in the Duke loss. Johnson will face a different kind of defense in this Game, as Virginia always double teams on guys in the post. If Johnson can’t operate against double teams and find his open teammates, then the Cavaliers will be looking good. But if the Cavaliers bigs get into foul trouble like they did at Miami on Monday night, then that’ll definitely hurt. Virginia doesn’t have a ton of depth in the frontcOurt outside of Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey and that could be a problem against a bigger UNC team.
The Heels also have Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks to operate down low so not getting into foul trouble will be extremely important for Virginia. From there, the Heels also have a matchup nightmare in Justin Jackson, who can shoot it from deep, but also work inside the arc. He finished with 15 points and 8 assists against Miami last weekend. UNC’s backcOurt has kind of taken a back seat to the bigs this year, but defenses obviously can’t overlook Marcus Paige, Joel Berry and Nate Britt. If needed, all three of those guys can become factors at any point.
That matchup will be interesting with Virginia throwing out Malcolm Brogdon, Devon Hall and London Perrantes. Brogdon, Virginia’s leading scorer, will likely draw Jackson, which could be a problem for his offensive Game as Jackson has a few inches on him. If that’s the case, the Cavs will need more production from Perrantes, which isn’t far-fetched, but also Darius Thompson or Marial Shayok off the bench.
When looking at the rosters and numbers, it’s hard to see North Carolina losing this Game. But it’s much more than that. These teams split Games last year with Virginia winning in Chapel Hill and UNC winning in the ACC Tourney. The Cavaliers lost the rebound battle, but they were more efficient on the offensive end and won by 11 at UNC.
If the Heels aren’t hitting open shots, which they will get out of Johnson double teams, then Virginia has the edge. Paige has been inconsistent this year and that could lead to a loss in this Game. The Cavaliers are at home and get the advantage, but the Heels would like to put away the ACC title now.
Virginia 76 NC 70