North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 3:00 PM, ESPN3
UNC takes on Virginia Tech on a snowy day in Blacksburg. Here are the focal points.
Turning the Paige
Marcus Paige's shooting slump is pretty much the top story when discussing UNC of late. The senior guard is enduring one of the worst three game stretches of his UNC career and that includes his freshman season. Ever since dropping 30 points and hitting five threes vs Florida State, Paige's shooting has been abysmal. He went 1-8 at Syracuse, 1-9 versus NC State and 1-8 on Wednesday versus Wake Forest. He is 1-17 from three in that span with offensive ratings of 79, 51 and 47.
Despite not shooting the ball well, Paige hasn't gone without impacting the game. In the win at Syracuse, Paige had eight assists and versus Wake Forest he had three steals and a block. In that respect Paige is doing what a good player does, finding ways to contribute when the shot isn't falling. Against the mid to bottom tier of the ACC, UNC can survive with Paige playing that way. As the schedule barrels toward showdowns with Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt, Duke and Miami, UNC is going to need more.
It stands to reason Paige's shooting slump won't continue much longer. His overall three point shooting has fallen to 35% and in ACC play it is just 23.5%. At some point the pendulum will swing back and Paige's shot will start falling. If that is today and it continues for a nice long stretch into the meat of UNC's schedule, so much the better.
Team offense bounces back?
Related to Marcus Paige's shooting woes is the fact UNC's team offense has been off over the past two games. After 13 straight games with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 110 or better and ten straight of 110 or better, UNC has not cracked 110 in two straight games. Obviously the expectations of this offense are extremely high when 108 and 103 aren't really cutting it.
Obviously Paige shooting poorly is part of the problem but even with him off the mark at Syracuse, UNC still managed to hit 122.5 in offensive efficiency. The problem with UNC is when you have more than one bulb out in the chandelier. Against NC State, UNC has Paige, Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson shoot poorly and the offensive efficiency was 108.8. Kennedy Meeks' big game had something to do with keeping that number afloat. Against Wake Forest, Johnson scored 27 points but Meeks had just nine points. Paige and Jackson were a combined 5-21 and 0-7 from three. UNC's offensive efficiency was just 103.3 in that game.
UNC's depth means the Tar Heels can survive two or even three players missing shots. It also means the offense becomes rather ordinary. That's fine against the middle or lower tier of the ACC but in future games could be an issue. The hope in the Paige/Jackson dynamic is that both can be productive but at the very least one can compensate for the other. When both fail to produce the offense struggles in a way that makes this team vulnerable given the defensive issues.
So yeah, this is a snow game
Snow games can be weird. The students at Virginia Tech, with a huge snowstorm crippling the area and the #2 team in the country coming to town will likely fill Cassell Coliseum. The energy level will be high as the Hokies looked to score a huge upset and pad the NCAA resume with another top ten win. Needless to say the Tar Heels will be tested despite being favored by 10 points.
The concern for UNC is allowing teams to flip the statistical script and turning aspects the numbers say are a weakness into a strength. The Texas game comes to mind where a poor defensive rebounding team kept the Tar Heel offensive rebounding in check for much of the game. The same could be true here. The Hokies have not been a good rebounding team but a heightened effort on that part could contradict the conventional wisdom.
This is the type of game that could ride on UNC's doing the little things right. Otherwise, a Sunday afternoon upset in Blacksburg could be in the offing.
UNC 81 Virginia Tech 74