With one month to go until Selection Sunday, North Carolina needed a win today against Virginia to stay close to the top teams of the Atlantic Coast Conference and improve their chances of getting into this year’s NCAA tournament.
The Tar Heels came away with an impressive “W,” beating the Cavaliers 93-81.
The home victory put UNC at 17-8 (7-5 ACC), in fourth place in the league behind Miami, Duke and Virginia.
In today’s win, the Tar Heels may have finally found some March Madness Magic Potion.
Here are five ways that UNC needs to use today’s game to change this year from being a series of setbacks to season of success:
All stats provided by ESPN.com
UNC was aggressive with the ball against Virginia, getting into the lane and to the rim all afternoon. As a result, the Tar Heels went to the line 30 times.
Carolina’s perimeter players were especially assertive. Dexter Strickland (6-of-8 from the line), P.J. Hairston’s (7-of-8) and Marcus Paige (6-of-6) set the pace for the Heels’ offensive drive.
This was a complete departure from how these three have played on the season. Collectively, they only go to the line on average seven times per game.
Since this year’s Heels lack a strong post presence, the best possible alternative might be unleashing a hard-driving, strong-slashing squad.
So many times this season, North Carolina has looked uninterested on the defensive end. They have allowed teams to drive around them, grab offensive rebounds and get easy put-back buckets.
Today against Virginia, the Tar Heels only allowed the Cavs to grab two offensive boards. Any team that can almost shut out their opponents is going to put themselves in a good position to win.
Earlier in the week, Duke grabbed 11 offensive rebounds against Carolina, which ultimately could have made the difference in the outcome of that close ball game.
James Michael McAdoo did good work on the glass, finishing the game with 10 boards.
Whatever Marcus Paige ate for today’s pregame meal should be required eating for the Tar Heels moving forward.
The freshman point guard had one of his best games of the season, scoring 17 points, grabbing four rebounds, handing out three assists and pinching two steals.
Paige played with a high level of poise and composure, not rushing the offense or forcing passes. He knocked down 3-of-5 shots from beyond the arc.
For most of his first year in Chapel Hill, Paige has looked fidgety running the Carolina attack. But today, he seemed ready to run the show and be a vital part of putting points on the board.
Dexter Strickland had a quality outing against Virginia, scoring 12 points and dishing out six assists, with only one turnover.
Strickland showed that, while he doesn’t play the PG position, he is an effective playmaker from the wing.
For a shooting guard, the 6’3” senior has an outstanding 2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio this year.
Roy Williams needs to fully leverage Strickland’s maturity, stability and facilitation skills.
For the second game in a row, P.J. Hairston played with confidence and led the Tar Heels in scoring.
In fact, Hairston scored a career-high 29 points against UVa, knocking down 6-of-12 three-pointers. Nice!
When the 6’5” sophomore from Greensboro, NC is on like he was on Saturday, he adds scoring punch that the Tar Heels haven’t always had this season.
Finding ways to get the ball in Hairston’s hands needs to be and stay a priority. Working hard to set screens for him or kick the ball to him must continue to be a main concern.