For the first time in a long time most of UNC’s fans rooted for Duke on Thursday night, since if the Blue Devils didn’t beat the Seminoles the Tar Heels’ chances of winning the ACC regular season would have been slim to none. That happened as Duke defeated FSU by the final of 74 to 66. Now No. 7 AP & ESPN/USA Today North Carolina (24-4 ~ 11-2 in the ACC) has to keep winning, which starts with today’s match up against No. 25 AP Virginia (21-6 ~ 8-5 in the ACC), in order to set up a “winner takes all” game versus their arch-rival eight miles down the road. The game will be played at the John Paul Jones Arena, with tip off time being at 4:00 pm EST, television coverage provided by ESPN/ESPN3, with Mike Patrick and Len Elmore commentating. For head coach Roy Williams’ team this could be a trap game if they focus too much about their re-match with the Blue Devils and are not focused on this game. This is the second game between UNC and UVa, the first one played two weeks ago at the Dean Dome with Carolina winning the game 70 to 52.
Just like the in the first game between the two squads the major key today is going to be who takes control of the tempo. On the season Carolina is scoring almost 20 points more than Virginia, as UNC loves to use their patented fast break to get some easy baskets while UVa likes to take the air out of the ball and play half court game as much as possible. The seventy points by North Carolina was the second highest amount scored against Virginia, but it was also the fourth lowest amount the Tar Heels scored in any games this year. Of course, in a half court game the Heels can always rely on their NBA like front court, by going to their bigs Tyler Zeller, who won Academic All-American of the Year, and John Henson to begin their offensive sets. The Hoos, who don’t have anyone above 6’8″ that gets major playing time, will have their hands full under the boards going against the top team in the nation in the category while they rank 255th. When the third member of this group comes in, James McAdoo, he needs to keep up the same intensity that the starters have. With three games to go the rotation in the paint is set, however the more McAdoo can stay on the floor and give breathers to the two starters the more they will be fresh for the post season.
“Well, it’s the satisfaction you having knowing how hard a kid worked. At our Business School, they don’t give away those grades and don’t give away those degrees. For him to do it at such a high profile program with the amount of time and energy he gives to basketball and the amount of time and energy he gives to take care of his body and still do that, it was more a sense of satisfaction than anything and a little bit of that sense of accomplishment too.
“You just feel wonderful for the kid and the values that his mom and dad gave him and how they’ve stuck with him when he moved a few miles away from home and still continued to carry out what they established with him. I think is just a neat thing and mom and dad have got to feel awfully good about it too.”
“This is a great honor and something I have worked for my entire four years at Carolina,” Zeller, a senior, said in a prepared statement. “To be the first Tar Heel to win this award at a school with so much tradition and prestige adds to the honor. It truly means a lot to my family.
“My parents brought me up with the belief that academics are more important than athletics, so as much as it means to me, it may mean even more to my mom and dad. And I thank them for the guidance and support they’ve always given my brothers and me.”
Kendall Marshall will once again be the floor general who has to find his team mates for the open shot. The sophomore point guard, who is averaging 9.8 apg, is getting closer and closer to breaking the single season assist mark, while in his last game he also had his best offensive output since donning the carolina blue, or as he said after the game, since middle school. The one number that might worry some is the over 32 and a half minutes per game he is playing, being even higher in the last weeks, and I doubt that in this game Marshall will be able to get much rest either. His back court partner, Reggie Bullock, and guard sub, P.J. Hairston, have to keep making their shots from the outside to keep UVa from sagging on the bigs. Finally it seems that of late Harrison Barnes has been stepping up to the “go to” guy when it comes to the outside shots. Look for small forward to once again take, and make, good shots or drive to the basket.
The one thing that the Tar Heels will have to do on offensive is play sharp and be accurate with their passes as the Hoos will use that part of their game as well as anyone in the conference. On the defensive side the big men will have to deal with fifth year senior Mike Scott, who is averaging just above 17 ppg over the season but has been scoring close to 19 ppg in the last last part of the season. When it comes to the inside game the key for the Heels is not to let anyone else beat them, since Scott can not outdo the firepower that UNC has in the paint. As far as the perimeter UNC will have to watch out for Jontel Evans. The junior guard has been scoring over 11 ppg in the last five games UVa has played.
The Las Vegas line for this game puts North Carolina as a 13 points favorite. I would have to say that with the way the inside game has been good all season long and with the outside shooting coming around the spread looks about right if it was in Chapel Hill. On the road I see the Tar Heels winning this one, but by less than double digit, by the final score of 68 to 61. With the season winding down this team is beginning to truly gel with a seven man rotation. Having a short bench all the players have to do their part in every game. In the last weeks it seems that UNC has done exactly that. Three games left in the regular season, two Top 25 teams on the road in that trio of match ups, if the Heels can get the job done no one can say they didn’t earn it.