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UNC vs. Virginia: What to watch in ACC tournament championship game

Malcolm Brogdon, the ACC Player of the Year, is averaging nearly 19 points per game, shooting 47.8 percent (41.4 percent from 3) and is clearly the best guard in the league.
Malcolm Brogdon, the ACC Player of the Year, is averaging nearly 19 points per game, shooting 47.8 percent (41.4 percent from 3) and is clearly the best guard in the league. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Won't be long now. North Carolina and Virginia play in the ACC tournament championship game in a little more than five hours. The Tar Heels and Cavaliers are playing for the second time this season, after Virginia's 79-74 victory in Charlottesville on Feb. 27.

Some things to watch and story lines in the ACC championship game:

1. UNC's offensive efficiency

The Tar Heels won't be able to play as fast as they like to play against Virginia. That's just the reality of playing against the Cavaliers, who remain the slowest-paced team in the nation. Since there will be fewer possessions, the value of those possessions increases. Which means that the Tar Heels can't afford to come up empty too many times.

UNC was decently efficient in its first game against the Cavaliers. The Tar Heels averaged about 1.12 points per possession, which is below UNC's average but not dramatically so. Turnovers hurt the Tar Heels, though. They had 13 of them – not too high of a number at first glance but one that's a bit misleading because of the tempo.

UNC committed turnovers on nearly 20 percent of its possessions, and that was its second-highest turnover rate of the season. The highest was when UNC committed turnovers on 22.6 percent of its possessions at Louisville. UNC lost that game, too. The lesson here: The importance of possessions are magnified against Virginia, and UNC can't afford any sloppiness.

2. Making the most of transition opportunities

There are certain certainties teams must accept when playing Virginia. A slower tempo is one. Fewer transition opportunities are another. UNC likes to play fast in the half court and run whenever possible, and Virginia makes it difficult to do both of those things.

Especially the running in transition part. In UNC's past three games against Virginia the Tar Heels have scored a total of 10 fast break points. That's it. UNC scored two fast break points in its loss at Virginia a couple of weeks ago, six in the ACC tournament semifinals last season, and two last year in the regular season.

And so fast break opportunities aren't likely to be too common on Saturday night. Nonetheless, UNC will occasionally have the chance to score in transition – and those chances will be precious. The Tar Heels have to beat Virginia's defense whenever and however possible.

3. Defending Malcolm Brogdon

Brogdon, the ACC Player of the Year, is going to get his, as the saying goes. He's averaging nearly 19 points per game, shooting 47.8 percent (41.4 percent from 3) and is clearly the best guard in the league. That said, UNC needs to do a better job against him than it did the first time these teams played.

Brogdon finished with a relatively modest 22 points, but according to kenpom.com Brogdon had his fourth-best offensive game of the season against the Tar Heels, who used a variety of players to try to defend Brogdon.

Joel Berry took his turn. Marcus Paige. They were Brogdon's two primary defenders. Neither had much success. For Berry, especially, this is a big game. He's likely to do most of the defensive work against Brogdon, and Berry has a chance to atone for what happened in the first game against Virginia.

Of course, defending the Cavaliers isn't as simple as playing sound straight up man-to-man. Virginia uses a variety of screens to schemes to create opportunities for Brogdon, others. UNC is coming off of its best defensive game of the season on Friday night against Notre Dame, and the Tar Heels will be tested a different way – especially mentally – against Virginia.

So there you have it. Three things to watch. We'll see you at the Verizon Center.

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