The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday May 31st

Three keys for how UNC men's basketball can break down Virginia's pack line defense

UNC senior center Armando Bacot (5) dunks the ball during the men’s basketball game against Clemson on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023, at the Dean E. Smith Center. UNC beat Clemson 91-71.
Buy Photos UNC senior center Armando Bacot (5) dunks the ball during the men’s basketball game against Clemson on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023, at the Dean E. Smith Center. UNC beat Clemson 91-71.

As the North Carolina men's basketball team currently sits on the bubble of NCAA Tournament consideration, a win on Saturday over No. 6 Virginia would serve as a key resume booster for the Tar Heels. 

But in several ways, Virginia’s tight pack line defense is the most awkward matchup possible for UNC’s offense.

If the Tar Heels want to feed Armando Bacot in the post, the senior center will be met with a Virginia double team, forcing the ball out of their leading scorer's hands.

UNC won’t find many drives to the rim via junior guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis, either. The Cavaliers defensive scheme camps perimeter defenders in possible driving lanes, and its pick-and-roll defense pushes the screener’s defender up to hound the ball handler and discourage a drive.

Both of Virginia’s strategies draw defenders to the ball and away from their man on defense. When Bacot is doubled or the guards drive, it leaves open shooters outside the arc.

For many teams, this is good news. Not for UNC.

North Carolina is shooting just 29.9 percent from behind the arc, the worst mark in the ACC. The Tar Heels may have pulled out a win at Notre Dame on Wednesday despite shooting 2-23 from long range, but a team won’t win many games with that accuracy.

If poor shooting plagues the Tar Heels on Saturday, what else can they turn to? The win at Notre Dame revealed three answers.

The Bacot-Nance high-low

When UNC had the ball on the wing, Notre Dame successfully denied any entry passes into Bacot in the low post. 

But swinging the ball to graduate transfer forward Pete Nance at the top of the key allowed Bacot to re-position and open up angles for him to catch and score easy layups. This high-low action was responsible for a large share of Nance’s five assists and Bacot’s 16 points. 

In theory, Virginia’s usual undersized starters at power forward and center, Jayden Gardner and Ben Vander Plas, should be favorable matchups for the 6-foot-11 Bacot.

However, the Cavaliers defend high-low actions regularly and will intercept entry passes if the pass is off the mark or the “low” man cannot re-position in time. UNC’s off-ball screens for Bacot must be disruptive enough to give him an advantage when he posts up.

Offensive rebounding

Davis emphasized the need for the small forward, power forward and center to crash the offensive glass in his Friday press conference. Against Notre Dame, UNC scored 23 second chance points and recorded a season-high 23 offensive rebounds. 

Despite shooting a combined 5-23 from the floor, Nance and graduate forward Leaky Black both recorded season highs for offensive rebounds with five and six, respectively. If the Tar Heels can’t make shots, they must attack the glass to grab a second chance.

Attack in transition

Spearheaded by RJ Davis’ ball pressure, UNC pressed Notre Dame early in the second half, forcing a few turnovers to score on the fast break and quickly shave the eight-point lead the Irish held at halftime.

But transition attacks aren’t just about getting ahead of the defense. Even when a defense gets back — especially for a Virginia team who doesn't commit to offensive rebounding in favor of sprinting back on defense — it isn’t settled.

Virginia wants to stop the drive at all costs, even if it means a switch and a subsequent mismatch for Bacot against a guard. Sprinting with Virginia off a defensive rebound and running a quick pick-and-roll could get UNC’s big men desirable matchups in the post. 


@DTHSports |

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