The ninth-ranked Tar Heels (18-3, 6-1 ACC) take on the Virginia Tech Hokies (15-4, 4-3 ACC) on Thursday in Chapel Hill. Virginia Tech has won both of their past two games by just one point (62-61 against Georgia Tech and 82-81 against Clemson). The Hokies started strong in ACC play by beating Duke 89-75 at home, but they have since lost badly to NC State and Florida State. They will still be a tough nut to crack, however.
Carolina is coming off of a 90-82 road win over Boston College. The game was stressful at times, with Carolina never seeming to be able to pull away, however they were able to escape with a win. UNC has won six straight in the ACC since the disappointing loss to Georgia Tech on New Years Eve, and is undefeated at home this year. ACC teams have an overwhelming advantage at home this year, going 38-17 so far this year. This year’s ACC is brutal, and playing at home is a big advantage.
Joel Berry II is coming off a rather lackluster game where he went for just nine points against Boston College. That game broke an impressive five-game streak of him going for 10 or more points. Justin Jackson is coming off another great game, when he had 22 points points to lead all scorers against the Eagles. He is averaging a team and career-best 18.2 PPG. Kennedy Meeks is also coming off a great game with 20 points and nine rebounds against the Eagles, one rebound shy of a double-double.
Virginia Tech’s leading scorer is senior forward Zach LeDay. He is averaging 16.3 PPG and 7.1 rebounds per game. Virginia Tech also has a good player in junior guard Ahmed Hill, who is averaging 13.8 PPG. He is the Hokies’ leading three-point shooter, shooting an impressive 43% from three-point range. He should be watched closely, and he could follow in the footsteps of the many players over the years who have had career shooting days versus the Heels.
As was hinted above, Carolina’s biggest weakness this year has been perimeter defense. Against Boston College, Eagles guard Ky Bowman went for 33 points on 7-9 three-point shooting. Many people, including myself, still cringe when they remember that Malik Monk went for 47 points on 8-12 shooting from three-point range. Virginia Tech is an average shooting team from behind the arc, shooting 38%, slightly better than UNC’s rather pedestrian 37% shooting from that range. However, if a Hokie player like Ahmed Hill gets hot from behind the line than it could be a long night for the Heels.
Virginia Tech has been rather shaky defensively this year, allowing opponents to score an average of 72.2 PPG. While they had rather good games against Duke and Georgia Tech, they have had shaky games against NC State and FSU, allowing 104 and 93 points to them, respectively. They have been decent on offense this year, averaging 81.5 PPG, however they have only averaged a lower 77.6 PPG in the ACC, while UNC by comparison has averaged a very good 89 PPG in ACC play.
Virginia Tech is nowhere near as good of a rebounding team as Carolina is, averaging 35.4 rebounds per game compared to UNC’s 45.9. Granted, Carolina is the best rebounding team in the nation, so it’s an unfair comparison. UNC in the last two games has rebounded a whopping 50.7% of their missed shots, an astounding number. If Carolina can win the offensive glass then it will not be a good day for Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech will win if: They contain Carolina on the glass and shoot well from the three. If they are able to do these things than Carolina might be on upset alert in Chapel Hill.
Carolina will win if: They play good defense and get the ball inside to their bigs. Carolina can’t allow another Ky Bowman if they want to win this game. They also can’t settle for threes, that is not the kind of team that we are. Carolina needs to pound the ball inside if they want to stay in the drivers race in the ACC.
The game will on at 8:00 pm ET on ESPN. This game is a rematch of last year’s close 75-70 victory for the Heels in Blacksburg.