North Carolina has a chance to gain ground in its quest for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament on Monday night.
No. 8 UNC takes on No. 3 Virginia at home on ESPN at 7 p.m. in what will be a battle between two of the hottest teams in the country. The Cavaliers are 20-2 after losing to Duke 81-71 on Saturday night. Only Tennessee, Houston and Nevada have fewer losses.
The Tar Heels are 19-4 overall, 9-1 in the ACC, and have won seven consecutive games after a 88-85 overtime victory over Miami on Saturday.
Earlier that day, the NCAA’s Selection Committee revealed its current top 16 seeds for the NCAA tournament. Virginia was the No. 3 overall seed, meaning the Cavaliers would be a No. 1 seed had the tournament started today. UNC was the No. 7 overall seed, meaning it would be a No. 2 seed.
So a win over the third-ranked Cavaliers would be a nice boost to the Tar Heels’ already impressive tournament resume. UNC is 5-4 in Quadrant One games this season, and 14-0 in Quadrant Two, Three and Four games combined.
Only one team has beaten Virginia and that was Duke twice. The Cavaliers have one of the best defenses in the country. Their “Pack line” defense makes it tough for teams to get easy layups and points in the paint.
The game will be a contrast of two styles and the team that can establish its pace will likely win.
The Cavaliers like to slow things down and make opponents work for every basket. Their average length of possession is 20.6 seconds, according to kenpom.com, ranked 351st out of 353 teams in the country. Their opponents’ average possession length is 18.5 seconds, which is 338th.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, enjoy pushing the pace and increasing their possessions. Their average possession length is 14.1 seconds, which is third-quickest in the country.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” UNC senior forward Luke Maye said. “Virginia, they play very well with their style, and I think it’s something we try to battle back and forth because we want to push it, they want to slow it down.”
The Cavaliers are also consistently one of the best, if not the best defensive teams in the country. They rank third in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, or points per 100 possessions.
In the past the Tar Heels have had issues with the Cavaliers’ defense.
The Tar Heels are 4-6 in their last 10 games against the Cavaliers. Virginia beat UNC twice last season, once in the regular season and the other in the ACC tournament championship game.
“It’s always a tough matchup,” Maye said. “They’ve got a lot of great players and we’re just going to have to bring our best game.”
The Tar Heels did not play their best game Saturday against Miami. The Tar Heels trailed for the majority of the second half before Maye drained 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to tie the game and send it to overtime.
The Tar Heels struggled defending Miami senior guard Chris Lykes, who had 27 points and was 5 for 11 from 3-point range.
UNC allowed the Hurricanes to shoot 47 percent as a team, and 45 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Hurricanes made 14 of 31 3-point attempts.
Freshman guard Coby White’s 33 points (11 of 16) and six assists helped save the Tar Heels.
When asked after the game what it would take to beat the Cavaliers, UNC senior guard Kenny Williams said, “It’ll take a better defensive effort than today.” He added that the Tar Heels cannot let the Cavaliers force them to play at their pace.
The Tar Heels are 2-1 this season when facing teams ranked higher. They also beat then-No. 4 Gonzaga 103-90 on Dec. 15, and then-No. 10 Virginia Tech 103-82 on Jan. 21. Both wins were at home.
Their lone loss to a higher ranked opponent was to then-No. 7 Michigan 84-67 on Nov. 28 on the road.
With the game on Monday, the two teams only had Sunday to prepare.
“It’s a workmen-like team,” UNC coach Roy Williams said of Virginia. “They’ve got three guys on the perimeter that are as good as any three guys on the perimeter in the country. They know their strengths, they play to their strengths, they stay away from their weaknesses and it’s a big time team.”
UNC vs. Virginia
When: Monday, Feb. 11, 2019
Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill
TV: ESPN, 7 p.m.