(2) Virginia Cavaliers (-1, 127.5 o/u) at (15) North Carolina Tar Heels
It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for the no-longer-undefeated Virginia Cavaliers (19-1, 7-1 ACC). The No. 2 team in the nation suffered its first loss of the season on the weekend (69-63) at home to No. 4 Duke. They won’t get much reprieve as they head to Chapel Hill to face the No. 15 North Carolina Tar Heels (17-5, 7-2 ACC) at the Dean E. Smith Center tonight (7:00 p.m. Eastern).
The Cavaliers looked to have the game against Duke firmly under control, up 58-53 late. But the Blue Devils caught fire in the final minutes, outscoring Virginia 16-5 to end the game.
“I’m frustrated right now because this game was within our grasp and we couldn’t finish it,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett told ESPN. The Cavaliers had been holding teams to just under 50 points per game, but they couldn’t hold the potent Duke offense down for the full 40 minutes.
The defense will have to regroup quickly, though, as the Cavaliers will be facing another high scoring team this evening (the Tar Heels average nearly 80 points per game, 17th in the nation).
North Carolina had been one of the hottest teams in the country until last weekend. They were riding a six-game winning streak and were 7-1 in ACC play. But the team saw an 18 point second-half lead slip away on the road in Louisville, missing a golden opportunity to move into a tie at the top of the ACC standings.
Second-chance points killed the Tar Heels on Saturday; Louisville won the offensive rebounding battle 22-13, and wound up on the right side of a 78-68 OT win despite shooting 33.8-percent from the field.
The poor effort on the glass was uncharacteristic for North Carolina, which is second in D-1 in rebounding (43.5 RPG). The Cardinals’ Montrezl Harrell pulled down 15 boards, alone. “It seemed like he [Harrell] got every rebound and ran the floor, posted our guys up,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams told the Associated Press.
With both teams eager to put their last games in the rearview mirror, tonight should be a quality matchup between two hungry squads. In my view, Virginia has over-performed up to this point in the season. While the Tar Heels have already lost two games on their home court this year (to Iowa and Notre Dame), I expect Williams to have his team competing a lot harder on the glass. I also expect Marcus Paige to shoot it just well enough to lead the Heels to a narrow victory. I’m taking UNC and the points (-1).
(Photo credit: brandonink2001 (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)