Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC
When: Thursday, January 13th, 9:00 PM
Records: UNC 11-4, 1-0 ACC; VT 10-4, 1-1 ACC
Since about 2007, UNC-VT has been an entertaining matchup. The Hokies won both games in 2007 with their experience guards getting the best of freshmen Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. There was the epic 2008 ACC Semifinal game won on the Tyler Hansbrough putback. In 2009 the Heels knocked VT off sans Ty Lawson in the ACC Quarterfinals. Even as bad as UNC was last season, the Heels won the first game and was competitive in the game at Blacksburg. Virginia Tech always brings their best effort versus the Blue Bloods and this will likely be no different.
The Hokies come in riding a six game winning streak which includes a 12 point win over Florida St. Prior to that it was 4-4 start and three game losing streak with losses to UNLV, Purdue and Virginia. Needless to say the Hokies have been more of an up and down team than was expected from the preseason pick for #2 in the ACC. Much of that has to do with injuries which have left the Hokies with only eight scholarship players available. One of those injuries was to senior guard Dorenzo Hudson who was the Hokies' third leading scorer. The loss of an experience guard and his offensive production was a huge blow. It also leaves VT riding a handful of players for a ton of minutes. There is still plenty of danger to deal with in the person of Malcolm Delaney. Delaney is looking like a first team All-ACC pick at 18.6 ppg, 4.0 apg and shooting 42% from three. He will be a handful for Larry Drew and/or Dexter Strickland to cover. UNC's perceived penchant for giving up big games to guards means we all expect Delaney to go nuts for like 30 points. Which is not necessarily bad if UNC keeps the rest of the team in check. VT's other major offensive option is forward Jeff Allen averaging 13.4 ppg and 9.8 rpg giving the Hokies some semblance of offensive balance. Other VT players to note are forward Victor Davila and Terrell Bell. The latter is shooting 37% from three which makes Bell this game's candidate for player who will shoot out of his freaking mind versus UNC.
I am going to dispense with the usual discourse on the value of this game except to say, holding serve at home is imminently important for this team given the possible offensive inconsistency. That inconsistency tends to be more prevalent on the road than it is at home. In this case UNC will be facing the 16th ranked defensive team in the country. For a team that is a tad challenged offensively, a good defense can and probably will create all sorts of issues. Not to mention VT forces turnovers at a rate of 24% putting pressure on the UNC guards in particular to defend and take care of the ball. Still, given VT's depth issues, forcing a fast tempo would be ideal as would getting the ball inside to create some foul trouble. That means plenty of feeds to Tyler Zeller and John Henson. In the case of Zeller, it will be interesting to see how much VT uses a zone or if the drop the double team down given how slowly Zeller has been getting the ball out. Some of that is him and some of that is a lack of movement from his teammates who do not always do the best job of giving Zeller passing looks. At any rate, getting a strong interior game in the half court while controlling the defensive glass(VT's OR% is 31.6 which is 211th overall) for some fast break chances. Those are also good ideas because who knows if the outside shooting will show up or not. Hopefully it will, especially Leslie McDonald who has yet to shoot well versus someone who really matters. Oh, I almost forgot. This is required: Harrison Barnes blah blah blah break out game yada yada yada.
All in all, there is plenty to be scared about with Virginia Tech but UNC can take a step forward with a 2-0 ACC start and a win over a Hokie team that is on the upswing.
UNC 73 VT 65