Virginia at UNC: What to watch

At this point in the season, many college basketball teams balk at talking about the bigger NCAA tournament picture, preferring to take the cliched one-game-at-a-time approach (at least publicly).

Not Virginia.

After the Cavs lost at Georgia Tech on February 3, writes The Washington Post’s Mark Giannotto, they met as a team and emphasized what everyone else was talking about: With their lip-chewing resume, the team would need to make a run to have a chance.

“That was the last time we talked about it,” forward Akil Mitchell told The Post. “We knew we could do it. Now it’s just a matter of putting the games together.”

Virginia has won three straight since that team chat, and seven of eight overall. But Saturday’s rematch against North Carolina begins a tough two-week stretch that also includes a trip to No. 3 Miami and a home game against second-ranked Duke.

The Tar Heels, coming off road losses against the Hurricanes and Miami, find themselves in the same bubble-boat as the Cavs; they are projected as a No. 11 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology, while UVa. is a No. 12.

A few things to watch when the teams meet up at noon Saturday ET at the Smith Center:


UNC coach Roy Williams’ decision to go small on Wednesday, and insert wing P.J. Hairston into the opening lineup for center Desmond Hubert, resulted in a strong start at Duke on Wednesday night. It will be interesting to see if Williams sticks with that quintet, goes back to the old one, or tries something totally new.

Fans had been clamoring for Hairston -- who tied a career-high with 23 points against the Devils -- to get more playing time. He scored eight points on 3-for-9 shooting when UNC lost at Virginia, but he’s averaging 15.5 points over his past six games.


The methodical Cavs rank in the top 10 nationally in 11 defensive categories, including second in scoring defense (52.3 ppg). They have held ACC foes under 60 points in nine of 11 games. That includes UNC, which shot only 37.3 percent (and 29.4 percent from 3-point land) on Jan. 6.


Virginia. has scored 70 or more points in three straight games -- the longest such streak since 2009-10. The Cavs are led by Joe Harris, who is averaging 17.8 points in league play (second-best in the ACC). … Former Tar Heels/current NBA players Tyler Zeller, Kendall Marshall, John Henson and Tyler Hansbrough are all expected to attend the game. … UNC continues to struggle with free throw shooting, making only 64.4 percent for the season -- and only 9 of 17 in the second half at Duke on Wednesday. ... Virginia leads the ACC in 3-point field goal percentage (42.2) in league games.