Game Preview: Virginia Tech at UNC

Of the Big East refugees who jumped over to the ACC, Virginia Tech has had the most success against Carolina. The Hokies are 3-6 against the Heels in conference play, even going as far as sweeping Carolina in 2007. They characteristically get those wins with scrappy defense and at least one player getting a hot hand to overcome the team's typical lousy shooting. Seth Greenberg gets good team after team from overlooked players that put in the work.

If there's ever a year he was to be rewarded for that, this was it. The ACC was supposed to have a down year, and Tech had lost no one from last year's squad, bringing back a small but senior-laden team. And then the injuries began, starting with J.T.Thompson tearing an ACL and being sidelined for the season. Only five players have hit the court in all 14 of the Hokies' games this year, and that counts little-used freshman forward Jarell Eddie. The biggest casualties, besides Thompson, were senior Dorenzo Hudson and sophomore forward Cadarian Raines, both of whom are also lost for the season. Even Jeff Allen has been hampered by an injured groin, although you wouldn't know it from his play against FSU. Virginia Tech played eight men in their last game, and the bench combined for only 25 minutes. This team is drastically short on warm bodies.

To compensate, the Hokies slow the pace down, trap a lot at half court, and play a good deal of zone. They'll have to get a lot of mileage out of this defense, because they don't even have the height UVa does; Tech will be throwing 6'7" Allen and 6'8" Victor Davila at the Heels' frontcourt, and have little to support them if fouls become a problem. The Hokies are pretty good at not fouling, but coming as they are the smaller team, UNC has a chance to get the whistles blowing against their opponent pretty easily.

On offense, look to Malcolm Delaney to again do most of the damage. Delaney had 21 and 26 points in the two games against Carolina last season, and has improved as a three-point shooter since then. Where before he was more of a danger to drive to the hoop, he's a more balanced offensive player this season. UNC has had trouble with opposing guards, and I'd expect more of the same here. Jeff Allen has also impressed and scored 24 points against Chris SIngleton in the Hokies win over FSU – an FSU team, I'll remind you, who then proceeded to knock off Duke – and although I expect the Heels' big men to give him fits, he may surprise. Tech's backcourt is the least experienced part of this team, and UNC should be able to exploit that, but they're not especially turnover prone. Carolina should, and must, own the boards.

Tech hasn't lost in over a month, since a three-game losing streak of UNLV, Purdue, and UVa. Only the UVa loss is a surprise, and the Hokies have since rebounded despite losing more players to injury. This will be one of the bigger games for Heels, and possibly their toughest home game until Maryland hits town at the end of February. Carolina need to take care of the ball and not wander into one of those stretches where they're outscored 18-2. This team is showing the heart that was missing from last year's squad, and a solid win here could propel them through the rest of the month and leave them on top of the ACC.

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