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What UVA Basketball fans need to know about North Carolina

armando bacot unc
Armando Bacot goes up for two in UNC’s 91-87 win at Duke. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

If the NCAA Tournament were being seeded today, North Carolina would be among the blue bloods left on the outside looking in.

The Tar Heels (12-6, 7-4 ACC) are 55th in the NET, with a 1-5 record in Q1 – that win being at Pitt, which, sure, it is technically a Q1 win, for the moment, with Pitt at 75th in the NET, but if that’s the best you’ve got, you’ve got work to do.

Opportunity presents itself Saturday when UNC travels to #9 Virginia (14-3, 10-1 ACC) for a 6 p.m. Saturday tilt at JPJ.

Carolina is coming off a win over Duke, and owns a win over Kentucky. That neither are marquee wins says a lot about college basketball in the Year of Our COVID-19.

I keep waiting for this UNC team to finally put it all together. Talent abounds, with a pair of five-star freshmen, point guard Caleb Love (11.1 ppg, 3.3 assists/g, 32.4% FG, 26.0% 3FG), and 6’10” center Day’Ron Sharpe (9.7 ppg, 7.8 rebs/g, 53.0% FG), blended in with frontcourt veterans Armando Bacot (12.1 ppg, 7.4 rebs/g, 63.6% FG) and Garrison Brooks (10.6 ppg, 7.1 rebs/g, 45.7% FG).

Coach Roy Williams is going nine-deep in his rotation, and that’s not even counting five-star freshman center Walker Kessler, who’s only getting 6.2 minutes per game as the odd man out in the jampacked frontcourt.

A ton of talent; it’s just not clicking.

Love’s numbers might be your first hint as to why. Your point guard here is shooting 32.4 percent, and he leads the team in field goal attempts (11.7), nearly three more per game than Brooks, the preseason ACC Player of the Year.

Love is also averaging 3.3 turnovers per game, and UNC’s turnover rate in ACC play – 20.5 percent – ranks 12th in the ACC.

Lots of turnovers, then, maybe too much going on in the frontcourt – it’s shocking that Brooks is shooting 45.7 percent, considering he’s only attempted five three-pointers this season.

Breakdown: offense

Efficiency numbers from Synergy Sports.

Inside game (post-ups, lane cuts and stickbacks): 33.4 percent of the offensive possessions

This is Dean Smith-Roy Williams basketball. Carolina’s average height, per, ranks seventh in the country.

Recruit big bodies, feed them in the post.

Who to watch for: Bacot (24-of-41, 58.5%, 1.016 PPP on post-ups, 24-of-39, 61.5%, 1.174 PPP on lane cuts, 21-of-30, 70.0%, 1.366 on offensive rebounds); Sharpe (25-of-37, 67.6%, 1.327 PPP on offensive rebounds); Brooks (17-of-31, 54.8%, 1.143 PPP on lane cuts).

Spot-ups: 19.2 percent of the offensive possessions

This is more Roy Williams recent vintage. The outside shooting in recent years has been lacking.

As a team in 2020-2021, the Heels are shooting 34.9 percent on spot-ups, and averaging 0.864 PPP.

Who to watch for: 6’5” freshman Kerwin Walton (25-of-50, 50.0%, 1.315 PPP; 6’4” senior Andrew Platek (14-of-36, 38.9%, 0.95 PPP); and 6’0” freshman R.J. Davis (15-of-44, 34.1%, 0.918 PPP).

Transition: 18.9 percent of the offensive possessions

Also from the Smith-Williams playbook. Go big, and go fast.

Problem this year: they’re not that good at it. Synergy rates UNC’s transition offense as “poor,” scoring just 0.885 PPP, with an 18.9 percent turnover rate.

Who to watch for: 6’8” junior Leaky Black is the best finisher (13-of-25, 52.0%, 0.974 PPP). Love pushes it a lot – 88 possessions. His numbers are “below average,” per Synergy – 27-of-66, 40.9 percent, 0.864 PPP, 14.8 percent turnover rate.

Pick-and-rolls: 11.8 percent of offensive possessions

Another area where this team isn’t particularly good.

Who to watch for: Love (18-of-55, 32.7%, 0.701 PPP, 16.9% TO rate) and Davis (11-of-35, 31.4%, 0.778 PPP, 11.1% TO rate) are your primaries on P&R ball handler; UNC has only 21 possessions in the books in which the P&R led to the ball being passed to the cutter.

Breakdown: defense

Black is the best perimeter defender – allowing 0.652 PPP in 161 defensive possessions. He probably matches up with 6’9” junior Trey Murphy III (11.5 ppg, 52.0% FG, 48.1% 3FG) at the three.

Bacot is the best post defender – allowing 0.728 PPP.

Brooks is rated “below average” – allowing 0.961 PPP.

They can definitely create a challenge for Sam Hauser (14.9 ppg, 7.2 rebs/g, 52.2% FG, 42.4% 3FG) and Jay Huff (13.2 ppg, 6.4 rebs/g, 62.7% FG, 46.0% 3FG) when UNC has the ball because of their physicality, but on the flip side, Hauser and Huff will draw them away from the hoop when UVA has the ball.

Interesting clash of styles kind of vibe going on there.


UVA coach Tony Bennett will try to space the floor with Hauser, Huff and Murphy.

Williams will try to get Huff, in particular, into early foul trouble, basically feeding the ball to whichever big Bennett has him on.

It will be incumbent on Huff to stay out of foul trouble while also still being aggressive enough on the defensive end.

The UVA offense looks and plays very differently when Huff isn’t on the floor.

Expect to see plenty of post-to-post doubles to help Huff.

Assuming Williams does go with Black on Murphy, you might expect to see Bennett using Murphy at the four in mover-blocker sets, setting screens, with Hauser at the three running whichever big is on him through screens.

If Williams goes with Black on Hauser, you maybe use Hauser as a screener, and then try to get him the ball in the post after he screens.

As always, limit live-ball turnovers, and get ball pressure from the point guards, Kihei Clark (10.0 ppg, 4.6 assists/g, 44.3% FG, 31.8% 3FG), and Reece Beekman (5.6 ppg, 42.9% FG, 32.0% 3FG), who are going to need to knock down shots from the perimeter and get into the lane, as they were in spots in the win at Georgia Tech, which tried to sag off them to help on the Big Three, a strategy that worked for at least the first half of the game on Wednesday.

At a glance

  • Offense: North Carolina 109.8 (59), Virginia 116.0 (13)
  • Defense: North Carolina 92.8 (33), Virginia 90.6 (16)
  • Tempo: North Carolina 70.5 (71), Virginia 59.9 (357)

Efficiency data from


North Carolina (12-6, 7-4 ACC) at #9 Virginia (14-3, 10-1 ACC)
Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN

  • BartTorvik: Virginia 68-59, 83% win probability
  • ESPN BPI: Virginia +8.1, 79.3% win probability
  • Virginia 68-61, 75% win probability

Story by Chris Graham

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