Virginia-North Carolina Preview
North Carolina closed the regular season with two wins in spite of some ugly shooting efforts, but so far in the ACC tournament it's had better luck offensively.
Virginia has the potential to make the Tar Heels' life frustrating in the tournament title game once again.
The conference's top two seeds collide Saturday night in the nation's capital, where seventh-ranked UNC looks for its first ACC tournament title since 2008 while the fourth-ranked Cavaliers try to make it two in three years.
North Carolina (27-6) breezed into its second straight title game and fifth in six seasons behind Thursday's 88-71 quarterfinal win over Pittsburgh followed by the largest margin of victory ever in an ACC semifinal game with Friday's 78-47 rout of defending champion Notre Dame.
Virginia (26-6) did what it does best, holding Georgia Tech to 40.8 percent shooting in Thursday's 72-52 win and turning 16 turnovers into 19 points in Friday's 73-68 victory over No. 11 Miami.
What it sets up is a meeting against a North Carolina team that leads the ACC with 82.9 points per game and a Virginia squad that allows only 59.6 - second in the nation behind Wichita State's 59.3.
''The ACC is a great conference,'' UNC forward Justin Jackson said. ''So at the end of the day, that's what you expect in the championship game: to have two really good teams.''
The Cavaliers have won three of the last four meetings, including a 79-74 home victory on Feb. 27. The Tar Heels, though, knocked them out of last season's conference tournament with a 71-67 win in the semifinals.
But UNC came up short in a fourth title game in five seasons.
''Carolina's one of the best teams in the country,'' Virginia guard Marian Shayok said. ''Playing great teams every day is going to help prepare us for the tournament. Obviously there's a lot of great teams out there in the tournament, but just playing teams in the ACC just does something to us and prepares us in a way like no other.''
North Carolina logged ACC tournament wins Nos. 94-95 this week, tying Duke for the most all-time. After shooting 38.3 percent in their final two regular-season contests, the Tar Heels shot 58.9 against the Panthers and used a monstrous run to bury Notre Dame.
Marcus Paige scored eight of his game-high 16 points during North Carolina's 24-0 spurt over a 9 1/2-minute span that stretched over halftime. He made 4 of 7 3s while adding seven assists.
Paige's effectiveness was one of a number of question marks for North Carolina entering the postseason. He entered his senior season as one of the ACC's highest-profile players but has averaged only 12 points on 39.3 percent shooting - including 29.9 in seven games leading into Friday.
While the Tar Heels' defensive effort was equally impressive, holding the Irish to a season-low point total on 30 percent shooting, they will face a team known for its stinginess next.
Virginia has allowed only five opponents to score 70 points this season - only two in the last 18 games.
''I think we're also starting to peak at the right time,'' forward Mike Tobey said. ''We're really playing Virginia basketball now.''
ACC player of the year Malcolm Brogdon made only 6 of 15 shots but sank 10 of 11 free throws to lead all scorers with 24 points. He has made 5 of 9 3s in the tournament while averaging 25.
Brogdon made 3 of 5 3s for 26 points against North Carolina last month, and he scored 25 in last season's tournament loss.
North Carolina sophomore Joel Berry II has made at least two 3s in five straight games, starting with a 5-of-9 showing for 21 points against the Cavaliers.