It’s almost impossible to oversimplify the difference between North Carolina and Virginia on the basketball court.
The Tar Heels want to play fast and the Cavaliers prefer to play slow.
Both ways have worked. The two teams have combined to win the past four ACC regular-season titles.
The question when the two teams get together, and they will again on Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., is which team can make the other play their way?
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Last year, it was an even split with UNC winning 65-41 at the Smith Center and UVa winning 53-43 at John Paul Jones Arena.
I think we got them out of their tempo a little bit here last year. I think they got us out of our tempo up there last year, maybe a lot.
UNC coach Roy Williams
“I think we got them out of their tempo a little bit here last year,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “I think they got us out of our tempo up there last year, maybe a lot.”
The loss in Charlottesville was the fewest points UNC has scored in Williams’ 15 seasons.
The two teams are on opposite ends of the tempo spectrum again this season. No. 12 UNC (12-3, 1-1 ACC) ranks 15th in the country, according to KenPom.com, in possessions per 40 minutes with 75.4. Virginia ranks 351st, out of 351 teams, with 62.9
Williams described the difference between the two teams: “What they do, they get the shot that they all want. It’s what we try to do, we just try to do it at a faster pace.”
In terms of average possession length, UNC ranks 10th (14.7 seconds) and UVa ranks No. 350 (20.2 seconds).
“I don’t think they control the tempo,” Williams said. “I just think they just pass the ball until they get exactly the shot they want.”
No. 8 Virginia (13-1) has started 2-0 in the ACC with a one-point home win over Boston College (59-58) and a road blowout of rival Virginia Tech (78-52).
The Cavaliers lead the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and have ranked in the top 10 five times in the past six years. They haven’t given up more than 67 points and six times have held an opponent under 50.
There’s not a trick to “speed up” the Cavaliers, per se. UNC played 40 games last season, averaged 88.4 possessions per game. The only two games under 70 possessions? The home win (69) and the road loss (65) to the Cavaliers.
By comparison, all six of UNC’s NCAA tournament games had at least 83 possessions.
“With them, you have to try push the ball, get the easy baskets because you know you are going to have to really work for a lot of them,” Williams said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
No. 12 UNC at No. 8 Virginia
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, Va.
TV/radio: ESPN, 106.1-WTKK
UNC (12-3, 1-1 ACC)
G Joel Berry 17.9 rpg, 3.0 apg
G Kenny Williams 12.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G Theo Pinson 9.0 ppg, 4.5 apg
F Luke Maye 18.1 ppg, 10.5 rpg
F Garrison Brooks 6.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg
Virginia (13-1, 2-0)
G Ty Jerome 9.9 ppg, 2.7 apg
G Devon Hall 11.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg
G Kyle Guy 15.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg
F Isaiah Wilkins 6.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg
F Jack Salt 3.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg
Storyline: The Tar Heels match up better with Virginia than Florida State. Virginia’s not an especially big team, which might mean UNC will go with more of a smaller lineup more often. UNC can’t afford to have another half defensively the way it opened with the Seminoles on Wednesday.