Where: Alexander Memorial Coliseum aka The Bermuda Triangle aka The Fourth Circle of Hell
When: Sunday, January 16th, 7:30 PM
TV: Fox Sports
Records: UNC 12-4, 2-0 ACC; GT 7-8, 0-2 ACC
Under conventional rules and season where UNC is operating at the level we have all become accustomed to, playing a 7-8 team that has struggled to beat some really awful teams would be no problem. This is not one of those seasons of elite level play for UNC. This game is being played in Alexander Memorial Coliseum which is known to have some sort of crippling effect on the Heels. Even the last game UNC won there, in 2008, was entirely too close and had a rather funky ending to. In fact Georgia Tech in general holds a spell over the Tar Heel program that is difficult to comprehend. Since Roy Williams took over the UNC program, the Heels are 6-7 versus Georgia Tech and 2-4 when visiting Atlanta in general. That includes a 1-3 mark at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Call it bad mojo, kryptonite, gremlins or the curse of The Omni; whatever it is UNC finds Atlanta vexing.
Taking a look at Georgia Tech, this is a team which has no notable wins unless you count Richmond and Texas El-Paso who are ranked 56th and 65th by Ken Pomeroy. The Jackets also played top five Syracuse close losing by four. On the flip side, Georgia Tech has losses to three teams ranked lower than 150th by Pomeroy. One those was the utterly inexplicable 17 point loss to 311th rated Kennesaw St. That was second game of the season so I supposed some slack can be afforded. Not so much with the losses to Siena and Charlotte. Heading into this game Georgia Tech is riding a three game losing streak, the last loss by 25 at Clemson. Not the best of times for Georgia Tech.
Georgia Tech is pretty much devoid of a serious interior game. The top four players in minutes per game are players 6-6 and smaller. Those four are also the top four scorers. Iman Shumpert leads the Yellow Jacket attack with 15.2 ppg and is the leading rebounder with 5.5 rpg. Second leading scorer and offspring of that demon from hell which ended the Heels 1989 season, Glen Rice, Jr. is tied for 2nd in rebounding with 5.3 rpgs while averaging 12.1 ppg. So ask yourself this: Why is it that the two players in the back court each pull as many or more rebounds than the starting center Daniel Miller? The 29% three point shooting might be a clue since missed perimeter shots often produce long rebounds. I have not watched GT enough to know but it can be assumed Roy Williams is making sure the guards know to box out. Given UNC's size advantage there is no excuse for the Heels not completely controlling the boards but it will be on Larry Drew, Kendall Marshall, Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock to make sure the Yellow Jacket guards do not get rebounds. Of course the anxiety UNC fans have here is the Jackets three point shooting will suddenly combust into a massive fireball destroying everything Carolina blue within a 100 foot radius.
The good news for UNC offensively is Georgia Tech prefers it uptempo and also gives up an alarming 40% from three on defense. Only nine teams in the country are worse at defending the three than the Yellow Jackets. Not that UNC should get three point happy. The Heels should utilize the interior game as much as possible getting the ball into Tyler Zeller and John Henson. However if Georgia Tech decides to go zone or pack the middle then UNC should get some nice looks on the perimeter. It will be up to the Heels to knock them down.
Of course no one really cares about any of that. What UNC fans will focus on is The Marshall Plan(otherwise known Tar Heel Recovery Program.) Will Marshall start? I don't think he will because Roy is still reasoning that the defensive gap is sufficient enough to lean on Drew as the starter. And no, one stop on Malcolm Delaney is not going to change that. I also think there is some need to protect Drew psyche by maintaining him as the starter. That does not mean Marshall won't end up playing more minutes or getting the minutes that count. The issue most fans will have with that is the feeling it compromises the offense too much starting the game leading to a hole but as I have said many times, Roy is working through a process. Fans might not understand it but that appears to be the case.
UNC 81 GT 72