Virginia (31-2) cemented its status as the favorite and likely top overall seed of the N.C.A.A. tournament with a 71-63 victory Saturday over North Carolina (22-10) in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.
It was just Virginia’s third tournament championship in a league typically dominated by various powers from the Tar Heel State (North Carolina and Duke are likely to occupy two No. 2 seeds in the bracket).
The game, at Barclays Center, showcased Virginia’s distinctive style. On defense, the Cavaliers play the stifling Pack Line, which makes it exceedingly difficult for opponents to get off uncontested shots. On offense, they prod opponents carefully, endlessly, before trying for a basket. The result is college basketball’s slowest and most smothering team — a tank facing foot soldiers.
North Carolina (No. 12) had its chances, but playing Virginia (No. 1) seems a dispiriting thing. Trailing by 56-49 with about five and a half minutes left, Garrison Brooks of North Carolina missed a wide-open layup.
Then Joel Berry III of North Carolina was swallowed up inside by Isaiah Wilkins, the conference’s defensive player of the year. Theo Pinson made the cardinal error of trying to force a pass inside on the Pack Line; the ball caromed off two defenders before landing in the arms of a third. Outside the game’s first three minutes, the Cavaliers did not trail.
Virginia’s most valuable player may have been Wilkins, who had one block and one steal but three times as many great plays that did not show up in the statistics. His two offensive rebounds were particular gut punches, allotting Virginia 30 more seconds to grind down North Carolina.
Continue reading the main story