Virginia vs. North Carolina: Both teams seeking a resume-builder
At the start of the 2021-2022 ACC basketball season, the consensus top four were Duke, Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia, with Duke leading the way. So far, only the Blue Devils have lived up to expectations.
Saturday, Virginia and North Carolina, which have struggled at times this season, meet in Chapel Hill in what could be a springboard to postseason play to the winner.
UNC (10-4, 2-1 ACC) had its modest two-game win streak snapped Wednesday at Notre Dame. For the most part, the Tar Heels were defensively challenged against the Irish.
Trailing by double-digits a significant amount of the way, UNC gave up 13 made three-pointers while forcing just seven ND turnovers.
The loss heightened the perception that the ACC is Duke and everyone else. The dilemma the conference is dealing with is that currently Duke is the only good team, at least as far as NET is concerned, as the Blue Devils currently are the only top-50 ACC team in NET ratings. Carolina, Virginia, and the rest of the ACC simply don’t have opportunities for significant ratings-boosting wins.
Rumors of Virginia’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated. Many gave the Cavaliers up for dead after a 17-point home loss to Clemson and early-season losses to James Madison and Navy. Back-to-back conference road wins at Syracuse and Clemson have given Virginia new life. The Cavaliers offense has been jumpstarted, scoring 74 and 75 points, respectively.
Transfers Jayden Gardner and Armaan Franklin have sparked the Cavaliers’ offense in the two road wins. Against Clemson, Gardner had perhaps his best game of the season, scoring a game-high 23 points, hitting 7-of-11 field goal attempts. Franklin, who added 13 points, continued to struggle from behind-the-arc (1-for-6), but was 3-for-5 inside and had three assists.
Something must give. Saturday’s game is a matchup between the league’s best defense in Virginia against the best offense Carolina. The Cavaliers pack-line defense could be lethal to UNC’s preferred fast-paced style of play; however, North Carolina’s huge frontcourt could give Gardner problems.
For Virginia, no mystique about Chapel Hill. Before Tony Bennett arrived in Charlottesville, wins against UNC were rare, even more so in Chapel Hill. Virginia has now won its last seven games against the Tar Heels, last losing at Carolina in 2017.
North Carolina has failed to score more than 63 points in the seven-game stretch, with Virginia hanging a 60-48 loss on the Heels last February in John Paul Jones Arena.
Not do-or-die time. It’s too early in the season so to say this is a “must” win for either Virginia or North Carolina. A win would however provide some wiggle room for the rest of the season if some ugly losses were to happen. There is no home-and-home between the teams this year, so bragging rights are certainly on the line.
For UVA, it’s an opportunity to cap a three-game road trip with an improbable trifecta. UNC can get the taste of an ugly loss to Notre Dame off its palate with a victory.
It may not be Jordan vs. Sampson, but it’s still Virginia vs. North Carolina, and it always will be.
Story by Scott German