JPJ has been a hellish venue for Tar Heels since 2012

By Jerry Ratcliffe

John Paul Jones Arena, known to some simply as “The Jack,” rarely gets credit for being a tough venue for college basketball opponents. Virginia just recently had its 23-game home winning streak — at the time, the longest active home winning streak in the nation — snapped by a red-hot Pittsburgh team.

Still, ask around the college game about toughest arenas to visit, and JPJ rarely is mentioned in the conversation.

In Chapel Hill, they know.

Virginia’s friendly confines has been a House of Horrors for North Carolina’s Tar Heels, who have lost eight-straight times in Charlottesville. UNC hasn’t won at JPJ since 2012. Carolina freshman point guard Elliot Cadeau was a 7-year-old, first-grader the last time the Heels tasted victory at JPJ.

Carolina will try to snap that losing streak today when the 10th-ranked Tar Heels (20-6, 12-3 ACC) take on Virginia (20-7, 11-5) in a huge, 4-p.m. clash, nationally televised by ESPN. UNC is tied for first in the ACC with Duke, while UVA lingers in third place. A win by the Cavaliers today would do wonders for their NCAA Tournament resume.

UNC, 3-3 over its last six outings following a 10-game winning spree, is coming off a 96-81 rout of Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill last Saturday. Since then, Carolina has spent the week tightening up its defense and rebounding, preparing for the stretch run.

Hubert Davis will arrive today at JPJ with bad intentions, hoping to beat down the Cavaliers in a battle of contrasting styles. The Heels love to get out and run, averaging around 80 points per game, while Virginia remains its traditional self, one of the slowest-paced teams in the country with a focus on defense, surrendering less than 60 points per game.

All that noted, it’s still an unusual twist that Virginia has dominated Carolina in Charlottesville for more than a decade. The Tar Heels haven’t struggled anywhere in the ACC like they have in JPJ.

Here’s the evidence:

UNC road record by opponent in ACC play since 2012-13 season (Source: Chris @dadgunboxscores):

  • Virginia: 0-8
  • Duke: 4-7
  • Wake Forest: 3-4
  • Notre Dame: 3-3
  • Virginia Tech: 3-3
  • Louisville: 4-3
  • Miami: 4-3
  • Pittsburgh: 4-3
  • Syracuse: 4-3
  • Florida State: 5-3
  • Georgia Tech: 5-3
  • Clemson: 6-2
  • NC State: 9-3
  • Boston College: 7-0
  • Maryland: 1-0

Eight of UNC’s 48 league road losses during that span have come in Charlottesville.

Davis said he’s not sure how to break the curse at The Jack, a streak that began well before he took over the UNC program from Roy Williams. He claims he’s not superstitious, although the school’s media relations director, Steve Kirschner, pointed out during Davis’ chat with media that Carolina has stayed “in about seven different hotels” during the streak in hopes of breaking the jinx.

Why has UVA dominated so much in C’Ville?

“Because they’re good,” Davis said. “If it was something tangible, we would do something differently. We would bus up there or take individual cars.

“I’m not superstitious, so you know, for whatever reason we haven’t had success up there. But that really doesn’t matter. What matters is tomorrow. What matters is our play tomorrow, and we’re excited about competing against them.”

Davis believes the way to beat Virginia is to feed the ball in the paint to 6-11 center Armando Bacot and try to dominate the inside game against the Cavaliers’ Jordan Minor and freshman Blake Buchanan. Minor likely cannot guard Bacot one-on-one and neither can Buchanan, who needs to add bulk before taking on such an assignment.

UVA will certainly double the post (see related story here on Bacot determined to win at Virginia), something Bacot has become accustomed to facing.

“We work on [the double-post defense] in practice pretty much every day,” Davis said. “I think there’s two areas where Armando has really improved. One, he can get the ball out and can get it to the right players (when he’s double-teamed), and the other thing is he’s really comfortable with the double-team now. He’s not in a hurry. He is very patient, very strong with the ball and very confident where his teammates are going to be or where he needs to deliver it.

“When you play against teams that normally double the post, his understanding of when they can double. So it urges him even more, especially in transition, to be able to get low position underneath the basket where it’s difficult to double-team.”

Davis said he won’t talk about Carolina’s losing streak in Charlottesville, but don’t hold your breath. There will be reminders.

“No, it’s not,” part of his motivational message to his players, Davis said. “I mean, these guys weren’t here. Our motivation is playing our best. Our motivation is continuing to improve and the privilege of playing against a great program in Virginia on their home floor, late in the conference season with so much at stake. That’s the cool part. That’s the fun part.”

For a complete look into today’s UVA vs. UNC game, check out our podcast previewing the game here, and you can also find a preview of the game on this week’s episode of The Jerry & Jerry Show.