(7) North Carolina Tar Heels at (3) Virginia Cavaliers (-4)
After losing a heartbreaker against Duke last week, the no. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels (23-5, 12-3 ACC) have dominated their last two ACC tilts to climb atop the conference. With just three games left in the regular season, the Tar Heels will look to keep their pursuers at bay tonight with a win at the no. 3 Virginia Cavaliers (21-6, 10-5 ACC) at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville (6:30 PM Eastern).
UNC’s setback to Duke (74-73) came as a shock to most. The Blue Devils were unranked just days prior and were still suffering from key injuries when they strolled into Chapel Hill. But Roy Williams’ squad went just 1 of 13 from the three-point line and couldn’t overcome a big night from Duke’s freshman phenom Brandon Ingram (20 points, ten rebounds, four assists).
The Tar Heels could have let that setback snowball, but they responded with vigor, dominating Miami in their next game (96-71, covering as 7.5-point home favorites) and then taking care of NC State (80-68, covering as eight-point road favorites).
The team’s leading scorer, Brice Johnson, led the way again versus the Wolfpack with 22 points and 11 reboundss. The senior forward believes the Heels have what it takes to beat any team in the nation when they’re on their game. “Not many people can stop us when we’re playing our best”, said Johnson to the Associated Press.
Johnson and the Tar Heels are a team that looks to push the pace most nights, averaging 83.8 points per game (ninth in the nation). Tonight, they’ll face a markedly different style in Virginia. The Cavaliers want to play at a snail’s pace, and it’s a strategy that usually works for them. Virginia is allowing just 59.7 PPG on the year (third in the nation); they only average 70.3 on offense – which isn’t even in the top-200 – but senior guard Malcolm Brogdon tends to get big buckets when necessary.
The Cavaliers overly defensive mindset has come back to bite them of late. The team has lost two of three, falling 63-62 to Duke and 74-71 to then-no. 12 Miami. But both of those came on the road. Indeed, all six of Virginia’s setbacks have come in true road games.
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, have had their share of struggles away from home, especially against the spread, going 1-4 ATS in their last five road games. Take the Cavaliers to stay undefeated at home.
Pick: Virginia (-4).
(Photo credit: Thomson20192 (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)