It has been more than a century since the Virginia Cavaliers have won eight straight meetings with the North Carolina Tar Heels but that is what is at stake when the Atlantic Coast Conference rivals square off on Saturday.
North Carolina is one of three ACC teams still undefeated at home with only one of the first seven games played at the Dean E. Smith Center being decided by less than 10 points. The total has gone under in the Tar Heels’ last five home games.
Something to consider for those who bet online, Virginia has more experience this season in tight games but that might be such a good thing as the Cavaliers are 2-3 in games decided by single figures including an eight-point loss to Navy, a one-point loss to Iowa and a three-point loss to James Madison.
North Carolina (+450) and Virginia (+600) had the third and fourth-best odds to win the ACC title coming into the season.
Game: Virginia (9-5) at North Carolina (10-4)
Location: Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Day/Time: Saturday, January 8, 1:00 p.m. ET
Virginia Cavaliers at North Carolina Tar Heels
Virginia off to a Strong Start in 2022
The Virginia Cavaliers seemed to have turned the page and left some of its struggles behind when they welcomed in the new year.
It was a rather forgettable conclusion to 2021 when the Cavaliers lost to a Clemson program they had beaten 11 consecutive times including five wins by more than 20 points.
The Tigers rolled to a 17-point win at Virginia by holding the Cavaliers to 36.6% shooting. The margin could have been even larger if Virginia hadn’t attempted 11 more foul shots than Clemson.
Virginia began 2022 with a five-point win at Syracuse on January 1 and three days later won at Clemson 75-65.
While recent Virginia teams have been known for stifling defense, it is the offense that led the way in both of those games as the Cavaliers shot 53.4% in those two games.
Jayden Gardner averaged 19 points in the wins over Syracuse and Clemson. It will be interesting to see how Gardner, a native of Wake Forest, North Carolina and former star at East Carolina, fares in his first game against North Carolina.
"You dream about playing in the ACC in these types of games and these types of matchups."
— Greg Madia (@GregMadia) January 7, 2022
He’s been receiving offensive support from Armaan Franklin who has scored in double figures in each of his last four games. The former Indiana University standout will also get an introduction to the Virginia-North Carolina rivalry.
The total set by the college basketball spreads has gone over in five of Virginia’s last seven road games.
Another Challenge for Battle-Tested Butler
Just when it looks like the North Carolina Tar Heels have turned the corner under first-year head coach Hubert Davis they deliver a head-scratching performance.
Whether it was a 17-point loss to Tennessee back in November, a 29-point defeat at the hands of Kentucky the week before Christmas or more recently, a five-point defeat to Notre Dame, there have been some efforts that have been more than a little underwhelming.
North Carolina didn’t shoot the ball poorly against the Fighting Irish but didn’t do much to stop Notre Dame on defense either. The Fighting Irish connected on 13 three-pointers and won their fourth straight game even though North Carolina outrebounded Notre Dame by 12.
An issue in the most recent loss was a lack of production from the bench as Anthony Harris accounted for all five of the Tar Heels’ bench points.
Junior forward Armando Bacot is playing like an ACC Player of the Year candidate. He is one of two players who rank in the top 11 nationally in double-doubles (10), field-goal percentage (63.8) and rebounding (10.4). He had a career-high 17 rebounds to go with 15 points against the Fighting Irish to lead three starters scoring in double figures but three consistent offensive contributors are simply not going to get it done in the always tough ACC.
The defense has been solid enough at times as UNC has allowed just 405 points in its last seven wins, the fewest points allowed in a stretch of seven wins since the 2006-07 season but even with that stretch of strong defensive play, North Carolina is 11th in field-goal percentage defense and 12th in scoring defense among the 14 ACC teams.
North Carolina is 5-10 in its last 15 games against the Las Vegas odds.
Unranked Virginia, North Carolina Set for ACC Matchup
It will be strength against strength as North Carolina Tar Heels are second in the ACC in field-goal percentage offense while Virginia is second in the conference in field-goal percentage defense.
Virginia’s Reece Beekman leads the ACC in steals (2.1 per game) and assist/turnover ratio (62 assists versus just 17 turnovers in 17 games).
Something of interest to those who bet online, the team that has won the game straight up has also covered in the last 15 Virginia-North Carolina meetings. Virginia has won 11 of those contests including three of the six games played in Chapel Hill.
Three of the last four meetings hosted by the Tar Heels have gone under the total. Considering the Cavaliers’ recent run of success against North Carolina the line of 5½ is rather enticing.