Today's UNC at UVa matchup: The tortoise vs. the hare
North Carolina’s ACC opener today at Virginia (8 p.m., ESPNU) will feature two completely different styles of basketball. While the Tar Heels (10-3) like to speed up the game, the Cavaliers (10-3) prefer to slow it down.
UNC is fourth in the country in points (83.6) and first in possessions per game, according to statistician Ken Pomeroy. On the other hand, Virginia is second in scoring defense (50.3) and 342nd out of 347 Division I teams in possessions.
As much as UNC wants to start a track meet, coach Roy Williams knows his team will likely be the one who has to adapt to Virginia’s tempo.
“Everybody says, ‘Well, we’ve got to speed (Virginia) up,’” Williams said. “And nobody does.”
Even so, the Tar Heels won 54-51 last season to improve to 4-0 all-time at John Paul Jones Arena. The key, Williams said, was patience on both ends of the court.
“You’ve got to be patient and tough enough to guard for however long you have to, and then you have to be patient enough to go down and get a good one on the other end,” Williams said. “If you guard for 30 seconds, and then go down and take a shot in three seconds, and have to come back and guard for 30 seconds, you haven’t enjoyed that minute and three seconds.”
Virginia set an ACC shot-clock era record by holding 11 opponents under 50 points last season. Any team can decrease the points it allows by holding on to the ball and limiting its opponent’s possessions, and the Cavaliers certainly do that. But they also play tough defense, holding opponents to 35.3 percent shooting, sixth-best in the country.
“We could all play 30-point games, but what’s most impressive is that they guard you,” Williams said. “They get a hand up on every shot, they pack back in the lanes and make it difficult for you to have driving lanes. When a guy gets the basketball, they put great pressure on the ball.
“So the way they play on offense, that’s something that other people could do, but very few people can guard you as well as they guard you on the defensive end of the floor.”
Last year, UNC shot 35.3 percent against the Cavaliers in a 70-52 victory at the Smith Center and made 17 field goals in Charlottesville, the fewest in a win during the Williams era. While last season’s team was experienced and talented enough to overcome Virginia’s defensive intensity, it remains to be seen what will happen with this group, which including freshman point guard Marcus Paige and the three freshmen back-ups.
“It will be interesting to see how they react,” Williams said. “I can assure you I’m more interested than anybody else is.”
Senior guard Dexter Strickland said that he and juniors Reggie Bullock and Leslie McDonald sat the freshmen down earlier in the week to talk to them about the start of ACC play.
“(We) were like, ‘Come on, we have to pick it up,’” Strickland said. “Games are going to get harder as we go along.”
\NOTES — UNC is 50-9 in ACC openers and 7-2 under Williams. The Tar Heels have won nine of their last against Virginia. … Williams is tied with Vic Bubas and Frank McGuire for the best road winning percentage in ACC history (.667).
A UNC spokesman confirmed Saturday said that Bullock will play against Virginia. The junior guard, who is second on the team in scoring and rebounding, missed the Tar Heels' previous game last Saturday with a mild concussion.