There is almost always more than one way to arrive at a desired destination. The University of Virginia and North Carolina State put that theory to the test this season, taking very different roads to meet today in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament.
NC State, with the conference’s best shooting percentage and second-best scoring average, produces points (77.7/game); Virginia’s defense, ranked fourth nationally, prevents them.
Both finished conference play at 11-7 – Virginia, by virtue of owning the head-to-head tiebreaker, got the higher seed and first-round bye.
To get here, the Wolfpack (22-9) easily handled 12th-seeded Virginia Tech on Thursday, advancing by a score of 80-63. Their explosive yet balanced attack struck again, as four players scored at least 13 points, highlighted by Richard Howell’s 22.
The Cavaliers (21-10) won the season’s only previous meeting between the two schools, beating then-No.19 NC State 58-55.
Notice how the score looks like an excerpt from the five-day forecast? Virginia managed to keep the Pack’s scorers ice-cold, as only one starter (Howell) managed to break double figures.
Both teams have had mixed results since then, with the Pack dropping four more games and Virginia losing five.
So why is North Carolina State likely already in the NCAA tournament, while UVa is still wondering if they’ll be asked to Dance?
Simple – Mike Gottfried’s scorers beat the teams they’re supposed to, and have mostly lost only to respectable teams.
Tony Bennett’s defensively minded club, on the other hand, shows up huge in big games (see above NC State upset and the win over No. 3 Duke) but somehow gets lost on the way to face lesser competition (almost all of their losses, including games with Old Dominion and Boston College).
The good news for all the Hoos down in Hooville? This one qualifies as a big game.
Joe Harris drives the bus for the Virginia offense; he’ll have to meet, and probably surpass, his average of 17 points per game. Akil Mitchell, a walking double-double in the Cavalier frontcourt, needs to turn in a vintage performance as well.
On the other end, there is no one player for coach Bennett to key upon – five members of the Wolfpack score between 12.1 and 14.9 points per game.
That’s just fine for an elite defensive team like the Cavs. If they execute their system and play within the gameplan, then a trip to the semi-finals could be well within reach – but if they don’t, this one could be over early.
Attempting to slow down another prolific offense is nothing new for Virginia – the Cavaliers have been down this road before.
The path to the semis – and, probably, the NCAA tournament – is clear. Harris, Mitchell, and company just need to make sure they remember the way.