Chapel Hill, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - After suffering their first loss of the season, the Virginia Cavaliers continue a three-game gauntlet through the ACC, as they take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in a key conference showdown at the Dean E. Smith Center on Monday.
Tony Bennett's Cavaliers won their first 19 games of the season and have once again distinguished themselves as one of the best teams in the country. The win streak though came to an end on Saturday, as the team dropped a 69-63 decision to then fourth-ranked Duke in Charlottesville. With the loss, Virginia slips to 7-1 in conference play, still good for the top spot in the league standings. Virginia will close out a tough three-game stretch with Louisville on Feb. 7.
Roy Williams' Tar Heels are right there among the top teams in the league, thanks to dominant play from mid-December until late January. North Carolina had to travel to Louisville this past weekend, and fell to the Cardinals, 78-68 in overtime, ending a six-game win streak. The loss dropped UNC to 7-2 in the ACC.
North Carolina has a firm handle on the all-time series with Virginia, owning a sizable 128-51 advantage. The Tar Heels are an impressive 65-6 in the series in Chapel Hill, including a 23-3 mark at the Smith Center.
Someone finally broke through the Virginia defense and it was the Duke Blue Devils, who went on a 16-5 run in the waning moments of the game to hand the Cavaliers their first loss of the season. Duke was able to shoot 50.9 percent from the floor, while Virginia delivered on just 41.3 percent. Malcolm Brogdon led the way in defeat with 17 points. Justin Anderson was the only other Cavalier to finish in double figures, chipping in with 11.
Duke's ability to score at an efficient rate may be the norm for the Blue Devils, but for Virginia's defense, that represents an anomaly. The Cavaliers are one of the top defensive teams in the entire nation as they yield just 50.2 ppg (tops in the nation), while holding foes to just .350 shooting (second nationally). The team is also holding strong in terms of rebounding, with a +10.3 margin (third nationally). Despite netting a modest 68.0 ppg, there is some scoring balance, with three Cavaliers currently in double figures. Anderson leads the way with 13.8 ppg. He is followed closely by Brogdon at 13.5 ppg, with Anthony Gill completing the trio with 10.9 ppg.
North Carolina is much more offensive in nature. The Tar Heels are netting 79.5 ppg (16th nationally), while converting a healthy 46.6 percent from the floor. UNC has also shown its strength on the glass, with a +9.6 rebounding margin (fifth nationally). There is scoring depth with four of the team's five starters in double figures. Marcus Paige leads the way in the backcourt, as the star guard tops the team in both scoring (14.2 ppg) and assists (4.2 apg). Kennedy Meeks (12.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and Brice Johnson (11.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg) are a potent frontcourt tandem. Justin Jackson (10.0 ppg) and J.P. Tokoto (9.0 ppg) give the squad a couple more options.
The Tar Heels dominated first-half play against Louisville over the weekend, as they took a 36-25 lead into halftime, limiting the hometown Cardinals to an ugly 25.9 percent shooting over the first 20 minutes of play. However, Louisville battle back in the second half to tie things up and then went 4- of-5 from the floor in overtime and 9-of-13 from the charity stripe to pull away for the 10-point win. Paige led four Tar Heels in double figures in the loss with 15 points. Tokoto added 11 and Jackson and Nate Britt each tacked on 10 for UNC, which only got 11 points combined from Meeks (9) and Johnson (2).