ACC championship preview: Virginia vs. North Carolina
Brooklyn, NY. – The disparity in styles is almost as wide as you can get. So is the experience of each program in this game.
North Carolina has 18 ACC titles and 100 tournament wins on their resume. The Tar Heels like to play fast, averaging almost 83 points and 74 possessions per game.
Virginia has only two ACC championships, and 40 tournament wins to their credit. They play slower than most, averaging 67 points (310th in the nation) and just over 62 possessions per game (last in the NCAA).
But, there’s the defense. Virginia’s has been ranked as the best in the country all season long, by a relatively wide margin. while the Tar Heels give up 20 points per game more on average.
If styles make fights in boxing, tonight’s ACC title game will be one for the ages. This will be a rematch of the 2016 ACC title game won by the Tar Heels.
“This is a complete group,” said UVA head coach Tony Bennett. “Their unity is as good as any as I’ve ever coached, and those other teams had very good unity. I think there’s some balance. We have good size, and they’re relentless the way they play, and that’s the way we have to play to be good.”
“They probably could play a lot of ways, but I think this way fits this group of guys, and they have bought in and embraced it in a way that I’m thankful to have, and they’ve been a joy to coach.”
Virginia became the first team in ACC history to ascend to the number one spot in the country after beginning the season unranked, a feat not lost on tonight’s opposing head coach.
“You realize they weren’t even picked in the top 25?” UNC head coach Roy Williams asked rhetorically after his team’s semifinal win over Duke. “What he’s (Bennett) done this year is the kind of year for a coach that you dream about. So I’m going to say those things because they’re well-deserved, but we have to play better. We really have to play a lot better, and if we play a lot better, then we’ll have a chance.”
These teams met once during the regular season, a 12-point UVA win in early January that Williams called a “butt whoopin”. The Tar Heels believe they have improved since that loss, especially on the defensive end.
“I think also defensively we really stepped up these past couple games and played a lot better,” said UNC forward Luke Maye. “I think that’s important for us to continue, especially against their team. They’re very good defensively, as well.”
“They’re great defensively, and we’ve just got to make sure we limit our mistakes” said UNC guard Joel Berry. “If you make a turnover, you know that you’re going down and you’re about to play defense for 30 seconds because they keep moving the ball until they get what they want to get, so we have to limit our turnovers and make sure that we’re getting great shots on the offensive end.”
While the Cavaliers were happy with their semifinal win over Clemson, it brought them little satisfaction, emblematic of a team that knows they still have a lot of basketball to play this season beyond tonight.
“We’re very motivated and focused to bring home that title,” said Cavaliers guard Kyle Guy. “We won’t be satisfied until we do.”
“You guys know who we are,” added fellow guard Devon Hall. “We’re not a knockout punch kind of team. “We’re going to grind it, grind it, grind it.”