UNC, in need of a strong performance to rebound from last weekend's debacle, draws the only team in more desperate need of a win than the Heels – Virginia Tech. The Hokies entered conference play on roughly the same level as the hungry usurpers of the conference, Florida State, N.C. State, and slightly below Virginia. Instead, they've lost their first three games against ACC opponent, including road losses to bottom-dwellers Wake Forest and Boston College. So does this team present a threat to Carolina at all?
Yes, and the key point in Tech's early woes is the word "road." The Hokies were 6-2 in the ACC at home last season, but a dismal 3-5 on away from Blacksburg. And that was a team that started three seniors and a junior. This year's bunch is much younger, and have understandably flailed a bit on the road. But they have a home crowd for UNC.
Stylistically, this is your typical Seth Greenberg team. Slow, but not Virginia-slow, and focused on defense. This year's version is very good at contesting their opponent's shots, especially on the perimeter, where they have the fourth-best three-point defense in the country. But they aren't generating as many turnovers as they have in the past few seasons, and their defensive rebounding is pretty bad.
Part of Tech's problem is they lack a true point guard. They attempted to fit Tyrone Garland into that role off the bench, only to have him leave the team in December; freshman Marquis Rankin is getting about 5 to 10 minutes a game in the role now in hopes that he'll blossom. But for the immediate future, the job belongs to Erick Green. Green improved tremendously in his sophomore season – read, he stopped coughing the ball up so much – and he's continued that trend this season, developing a three-point shot he previously lacked. He's now the team's most prolific shooter and its leading scorer. He missed the Boston College game with a sprained knee, so he may not be at full strength for the UNC game.
He's joined in the backcourt by a shooting guard who's particularly poor at perimeter shooting. Dorenzo Hudson is a dismal 12 of 53 from beyond the arc, and hasn't really been the scorer everyone hoped he would be after missing 2011 with a foot injury. Also, with Green out he was tasked with some point guard duties, and it went poorly, with him turning the ball over to the Eagles seven times.
One would think that Tech would focus more on interior play, with more experience and their best freshman all playing in the paint. That doesn't seem to be the case, as no one is getting the number of touches Jeff Allen had last season. The biggest threat is probably Dorian Finney-Smith, the aforementioned freshman with a John Henson-like build and a tendency to drift to the perimeter. He's the team's best rebounder, and really the only threat on the offensive boards. His team doesn't get him the ball nearly as often as you'd expect, though. UNC fans will also recognize Victor Davila, a role player who has had success on the boards against the Heels. He's the best shot blocker on the team, and a decent shooter when given the opportunity. He's never had much scoring success against the Heels, however. I'd be curious to see if we see a lot of Cadarian Raines. Raines is another shot-blocker and rebounder, whose minutes have been limited, but I'd expect Greenberg to throw everything he has at Carolina.
Let's face it, the most important thing about this year's team is that there's no Malcolm Delaney, who went off for 20+ points against the Heels the last three times they met. Tech will have to find a new scoring threat to throw at the Heels, and looking over this crew I don't think there is one of that caliber. Then again, I didn't think Deividas Dulkys would go off for 32 points either, completely sinking UNC's perimeter defense. Carolina will have to rebound, both literally and figuratively, against this team, and notch their first road win since UNC-Asheville in November. Because currently, the Hokies aren't the only team with troubles outside their home court.