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Preview: Virginia, North Carolina matchups, analysis

tony bennett
Tony Bennett. Photo by Dan Grogan.

North Carolina hasn’t beaten Virginia since 2017, when the Tar Heels were on their way to a national title.

That Virginia team was the outlier in the surge years of the Tony Bennett era. Those ‘Hoos were young – Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and Mamadi Diakite all came off the bench in the 65-41 loss in Chapel Hill, scoring a combined two points on 0-of-5 shooting – and on their way to a mere five seed in the NCAA Tournament, and a 23-11 finish.

Virginia has owned the series since, winning seven straight, with Bennett and his Pack Line frustrating legendary UNC coach Roy Williams, now retired, holding Carolina to 53.3 points per game, with the Heels not even getting to 50 four times in the seven losses.

North Carolina comes into Saturday’s game in Chapel Hill off a 78-73 loss at Notre Dame on Wednesday that star Armando Bacot characterized afterward as being the result of lack of effort and execution on the Carolina side.

Virginia comes in on a two-game road ACC winning streak, a 74-69 win at Syracuse last Saturday and a 75-65 win at Clemson on Tuesday.

UNC rotation

Bacot leads five Tar Heels averaging double digits in scoring. The 6’11” junior is posting 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, shooting 63.8 percent from the field and 61.9 percent from the line.

6’4” sophomore two guard Caleb Love averages 15.6 points per game on 45.1 percent shooting from the field and 44.1 percent shooting from three, on a high volume from three (4.9 attempts per game).

Point guard R.J. Davis, a 6’0” sophomore, averages 13.6 points and 3.6 assists per game, on 49.3 percent shooting from the floor and 45.5 percent shooting from three.

Oklahoma grad transfer Brady Manek, a 6’9” forward, has been effective as the team’s sixth man, averaging 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, shooting 49.3 percent from the floor and 33.8 percent from three. More than half his shots are threes (he averages 4.9 three-point attempts per game).

The status of 6’11” sophomore forward Dawson Garcia is uncertain heading into Saturday. Garcia missed the Notre Dame game after suffering a concussion in UNC’s win at Boston College last Sunday. Garcia averages 10.0 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, shooting 43.9 percent from the floor and 45.8 percent from three.

Leaky Black, a 6’8” senior, and Kerwin Walton, a 6’5” sophomore, split time at small forward. Black averages 4.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, and is the team’s best perimeter defender. Walton averages 3.9 points per game, shoots 35.2 percent from the floor, 35.1 percent from three, and is a below-average defender.

Walton also missed the Notre Dame game, his absence being due to COVID protocols, and his status for Saturday is also uncertain.

The other rotation guy is 6’4” sophomore Anthony Harris, who gets 11.4 minutes per game, and can shoot it – 44.0 percent from the floor, 50.0 percent from three – but is the rotation’s worst defender.


Carolina likes to push tempo, averaging 71.2 possessions per game – Virginia averages 59.7, slowest in D1 again this year, and these games, of late, have been played at Virginia’s tempo.

This is where the Tar Heels have bogged down in the losing streak to the ‘Hoos – being forced to have to score consistently in the halfcourt against Virginia’s set Pack Line.

Coach Hubert Davis will want to punch it inside to Bacot, who is shooting 65.5 percent on postups, according to Synergy Sports data, on a high volume (74 possessions).

Bennett will want to post-to-post double Bacot on post feeds, forcing Carolina to swing the ball around to the open man.

The Heels are shooting 39.7 percent from three as a team this season, ranking ninth in all of D1.

It will be incumbent on the UVA guards to close out hard.

UNC is also adept at the pick-and-roll, with Love (.962 points per possession) and Davis (.942 PPP) as the triggers, and Bacot (1.2 PPP), Garcia (1.43 PPP) and Manek (1.111 PPP) as the roll guys.

The Virginia bigs – Kadin Shedrick (6.8 ppg, 5.6 rebounds/g, 57.9% FG) and Francisco Caffaro (3.3 ppg, 3.1 rebounds/g, 51.7% FG) – will be put to work early and often hedging on screens to take away the P&R game.

Key here will be those guys staying out of foul trouble: Caffaro averages 7.2 fouls per 40 minutes; Shedrick, 5.3.

Virginia has turned around its offense the past two games by cutting down on its number of threes and emphasizing getting the ball in the paint and to the rim.

Point guards Kihei Clark (9.9 ppg, 4.2 assists/g, 43.4% FG, 42.1% 3FG) and Reece Beekman (6.9 ppg, 4.4 assists/g, 39.8% FG) have been the catalysts to the turnaround offensively with their dribble drives.

Love and Davis rate as “average” defenders per Synergy Sports. Clark and Beekman need to exploit their advantages here.

A tweak to the offense getting 6’7” forward Jayden Gardner (15.4 ppg, 7.6 rebounds/g, 57.9% FG, 37.5% 3FG) more touches in the post and at the elbow has also fueled the surge of late from UVA.

Gardner is averaging 19.0 points per game over the past two, on 14-of-24 (58.3 percent) shooting from the floor, and he was 9-of-10 from the line in the win at Clemson.

Armaan Franklin (12.0 ppg, 40.9% FG, 21.5% 3FG) continues to struggle from three, but he’s been doing a solid job of late getting to the rim and knocking down mid-range jumpers.

In his last six games, Franklin is 24-of-38 (63.2 percent) on two-point jumpers and shots at the rim.

He likely gets Black as his matchup, but when either Black or Harris is in for Black off the bench, Franklin will need to take advantage of the matchup.

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press