Who: Virginia Tech Hokies (10-4, 1-1 ACC) @ North Carolina Tar Heels (11-4, 1-0 ACC)
When: Thursday, January 13 @ 9:00 p.m.
Where: Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC
The Opponent: Fresh off their 71-59 victory over Florida State Saturday, the Hokies put their six-game winning streak to the test in Chapel Hill against North Carolina. The Tar Heels, ranked eighth in the preseason poll, lost early in the season to Minnesota and Vanderbilt to fall out of the top 25 polls. Carolina is coming off a 62-56 victory over Virginia on Saturday, a game in which they trailed by as many as 11 in the second half.
Unlike the Seminoles on Saturday, UNC is a pretty good offensive team. The Heels rank third in the ACC in scoring with 79.8 points per game and are fifth nationally in rebounding with 42.3 boards per game. Carolina is also sixth in the nation in offensive rebounding with nearly 13.5 per game. On the flip side, Tech leads the ACC in scoring defense, allowing just 59.7 points per game.
UNC has had the same starting lineup in each of its 15 games. Here’s a look at the Tar Heel starting five:
|11||Larry Drew II||G||6-2||180||Jr.||5.1||2.3|
The stat not shown is minutes per game. Ten Tar Heels average at least 12 minutes per game, but none of them play more than 27 minutes per contest. The biggest key in stopping Carolina on offense is controlling big man Tyler Zeller. The junior is ninth in the conference with 14.5 points per game, but he does most of his damage on the boards. More than one-third of his 114 rebounds have come on the offensive glass this season.
Harrison Barnes, the No.1 rated recruit of the 2010 class, and lanky sophomore John Henson fill in the Carolina frontcourt. Barnes is still adjusting to the college game, shooting just 37.6% from the field, while Henson leads the team with 40 blocks on the season.
To say UNC’s guard play has been less than stellar would be an understatement. Dexter Strickland has held his own at the “2” guard, leading the team in steals and three-point percentage. However, Larry Drew has masked Strickland’s play with a disappointing junior season. Many in Chapel Hill are questioning why Drew is still in the starting lineup, and the numbers don’t lie. Drew is 10th on the team in scoring, shooting just 38% from the field and 19% from beyond the arc, and leads Carolina with 32 turnovers. His backup, freshman Kendall Marshall (6-3, 186 lbs), is averaging more assists and shooting at a much higher percentage (47%/42% respectively) and plays nine less minutes per game.
As stated above, the Heels bench runs deep. Leslie McDonald (6-4, 215 lbs) is the main three-point shooter off the bench, nailing 45% of the three’s he attempts in 14 minutes per contest. The sophomore averages 7.9 points per game for Roy Williams. Justin Knox (6-9, 240 lbs) is the primary sub in the frontcourt, connecting on 60% of his shots 16 minutes off the bench.
Keys to VicTory:
- Zoning Ordinance
- Saturday’s victory over FSU was the first time in Seth Greenberg’s career that he used a zone defense for the entire game. The zone was effective in creating 19 Florida State turnovers, in what turned out to be the difference in the game. The Heels don’t turn the ball over nearly as much (13.9 per game), and they now have some tape on Tech’s 2-3. Greenberg has said he’ll stay committed to the zone to keep his players out of foul trouble, so we now must see how effective the zone can be.
- Tempo, Tempo, Tempo
- Carolina wants to run-and-gun, as evidenced by their near 80 point per game (ppg) average. On the flip side, the Hokies want to slow the game down and grind it out, as shown by giving up just 59.7 ppg. Whichever team’s tempo wins out will most likely come out the victor. In their 11 wins, UNC is averaging 83 ppg, while they average just 69 ppg in their four losses. If Tech can slow down the Heels, they’ll have a chance to pull out a W in Chapel Hill.
- Elite Eight
- The newly dubbed “Elite Eight” have held their own in their four games since Dorenzo Hudson and Cadarian Raines were ruled out for the season. The group seems to have really gelled in the underdog role under coach Greenberg. That being said, the key has been the lack of foul trouble from any of the five starters. Jeff Allen had his most effective game of the season against FSU, mainly due to committing just two fouls. With the depth of UNC, the Hokies can ill-afford to get in foul trouble in a tough environment.
The Hokies got some bumps in their RPI over the last couple of days with Penn State knocking off back-to-back ranked opponents, Oklahoma State beating Kansas State, and Florida State upsetting No. 1 Duke Wednesday. Tech is getting some quality wins, but won’t have too many opportunities the rest of the season. This is one of those rare opportunities, with Carolina’s RPI being in the top-30. This is Tech’s only matchup with UNC this year, and with both teams vying for a higher position in the conference, this one should be dandy.