Scott German: Personal history to UVA-UNC basketball series
Virginia and North Carolina prepare for the 144th all-time meeting between the two schools, and perhaps the most important aspect of tomorrow’s game in John Paul Jones Arena to me is, I’m going to be there.
For the 35th time in 36 matchups in Charlottesville, I get the privilege of watching the game in person. The one miss: the result of a darn extraction of four wisdom teeth and strong pain medicine just hours before tipoff.
Jim Gordon, former sports editor of the Waynesboro News-Virginian, and most importantly, a dear friend who passed away a few years ago, gets most of the credit (or blame) for my 36-year run.
Working for Jim as a part-time sportswriter, covering everything from high school track to NCAA men’s Final Four and the 1983 World Series, was the best second career anyone could have asked for.
Jim often had far more important assignments than covering a UVA-UNC basketball game, like boys’ wrestling or a crucial girls’ basketball tilt.
That was the legend of Jim Gordon: community always came first.
Michael Jordan vs. Ralph Sampson was a job for a stringer.
Moving from The News-Virginian to the Augusta Free Press was a seamless transition.
Why wouldn’t it be? My colleague (and boss) Chris Graham was also a protege of Jim “Jimbo” Gordon.
Chris, in his “day job,” worked as a reporter for the N-V, but also double-dipped in the sports department. Chris, too, often shouldered the burden of covering Virginia basketball; heck he once was even forced to cover an ACC Tournament.
So, this game has special significance to both of us. Tomorrow night, due to COVID-19 restrictions, only a very limited number of members of the press will be in JPJ.
I will be in that press group, and for that, I am honored.
OK, enough about my history covering UVA-UNC basketball, now to the game.
First, the bad news. Carolina leads the all-time series with Virginia 103-40. Ouch. Now the good news. The UNC losses 35-40 have come in the last six years.
That’s correct, UVA has a six-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s game.
The last North Carolina team to hang a loss on the Cavaliers was the 2017 Tar Heels squad. That team eventually captured the national championship; ironically that 2017 team started the six-game UVA win streak.
North Carolina’s win last Saturday against Duke helped them stay on the NCAA bubble. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels that win cost them an idle week, as a few Carolina players did not follow COVID-19 protocols, resulting in the postponement of a Wednesday game with Miami.
So, this matchup with Virginia is huge. North Carolina has eight games remaining on its schedule, only three with ranked teams. UNC can make a statement and strengthen a postseason bid with a win.
Checking North Carolina’s season schedule, the Tar Heels didn’t fare well with a week off between games. After beating Pittsburgh on Jan. 26, UNC was soundly beaten by Clemson a week later.
At 12-6 overall, a good loss might not be enough for this Carolina team.
North Carolina scored 91 points in its win over Duke. No one is expecting that type of offensive output against the Cavaliers.
As usual again this year, Virginia is leading the conference in scoring defense while leading the conference in scoring margin.
Since that 24-point beatdown of Virginia in 2017, the Tar Heels have found scoring extremely challenging indeed against UVA. Carolina has averaged just 54 points in the six-game skid.
Turnovers could sink the Heels. Against Duke, the Tar Heels were sloppy with the ball in the fast-paced contest, committing 16 turnovers that resulted in 20 Blue Devil points.
That many mistakes against UVA could prove lethal for UNC.
Speaking of turnovers, UVA hasn’t exactly treasured the basketball lately, at least by Virginia standards. First half turnovers (11) left the Cavaliers in a 26-20 hole to Georgia Tech Wednesday evening in Atlanta. Virginia came from behind to win, but the 17 turnovers were a season high.
In UVA’s deliberate offense, turnovers are often magnified than in a faster-paced type of attack like UNC employs. If North Carolina can win the turnover battle playing Virginia’s style, a tall chore for certain, then a desperate Tar Heel outfit may have a shot.
So once again this UVA-UNC battle has a lot of storylines.
How will Carolina respond to a week they have been beaten up on social media due to the postponement of the Miami game?
How will UNC respond in a game that they are clearly the underdog?
Can Virginia continue their recent dominance over their border rivals?
There’s only one certainty entering this matchup. I will be there.
Story by Scott German