North Carolina doesn’t get much time to recover from their big ACC road win in Miami. Tomorrow, they will welcome the #9 Hokies to Chapel Hill for a likely top-15 match-up. (We’ll find out tomorrow when the polls drop.) It’s another chance for the Heels to get a marquee win and stay on pace atop the ACC standings where there is currently a six-way tie for first place.
So, what can we expect from the Buzz Williams led squad? Are they worthy of that lofty rating or have they benefitted from some timely wins against lackluster competition? Let’s check it out.
How Good is Virginia Tech?
Virginia Tech will be coming into the Dean Dome looking to make the case as a legitimate top-10 team. As was the case with other ACC teams like N.C. State and Pittsburgh, the Hokies didn’t play the toughest non-conference schedule. KenPom currently ranks their OOC schedule as 315th in the country they lost their only true road game, a tough 65-63 decision against
Big 10 powerhouse Penn State. That is slightly offset by two neutral court wins over current top-50 teams Purdue and Washington.
They raced to a 4-1 record in ACC play by beating Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Boston College, and Georgia Tech. Those four teams are a combined 5-15 in conference play. The Hokies’ lone loss was last week, on the road at Virginia. No shame in that, but it also doesn’t really tell us how good Virginia Tech really is.
All of that said, expect the Hokies to come in emotional, aggressive, and laser focused. This kind of success and expectations are mostly unchartered territory for these players, but this isn’t the same Hokie program that saw Seth Greenberg regularly lobby for his team to make the NCAA Tournament. (A feat, it should be mentioned, he only accomplished once in his nine seasons in Blacksburg). Buzz will have his men ready to play.
Here We Go Again
So, what makes Virginia Tech so dangerous? They are highly efficient on offense, make a lot of three-pointers, and make a lot of two-pointers. Pretty simple.
Five players are shooting 41% or better from three, and all of those players average two or more three-point attempts per game. These fellas come out locked, loaded, and ready to shoot. As a team, they are third in the nation at 41.8% from deep. That success from the outside opens up the inside game, where they hit 56.4% of their attempts. That ranks as 18th out of 353 D-I teams.
The outside attack is led by guards Nickeil Alexander-Walker (18.3 ppg, 4.3 3PA,, 43.5%), Ahmed Hill (12.8 ppg, 5.7 3PA, 43.3%), and Ty Outlaw (8.2 ppg, 4.5 3PA, 50.0%). Employing a classic four-guard offense, only one player stands taller than 6’6”. They are so dependent on the deep ball, they currently score 39.1% of their points from behind the arc. Only 27 other teams score more of their points from three. None of them are from a Power Five conference. (To be fair, Villanova is 10th in this category, but you get the point)
In other words, Buzz Williams has employed a mid-major philosophy (multiple shooters, constant movement, interchangeable guards) with high-major talent. That comes with its own share of risks in the ACC, but when clicking, it is as dangerous as any offense in the country.
Crashing the Glass
Fortunately, there is a silver lining when playing a team like Virginia Tech. They don’t rebound very well. They’ve given up 463 rebounds on the year, which is 5th most in the country. That isn’t optimal if they have an off shooting night.
They also only rebound 31.9% of their own missed shots on offense (91st nationally), and have allowed opponents to rebound 27.9% of their missed shots when on the Hokies are on defense (139th nationally). For reference, UNC is grabbing 35.2% of their missed shots (21st nationally), and are only allowing their opponent to grab a mere 22.1% of offensive rebounding chances (15th nationally). That’s a sizable advantage for the Heels.
This is largely because Virginia Tech only plays one player over 6’6”. Junior forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. leads the team with 5.8 rebounds and is second in scoring with 13.4 points per game. He’s the only Hokie averaging more than 5.0 rebounds a game. He’ll have his work cut out for him, as North Carolina has Luke Maye (9.9 rpg), Garrison Brooks (5.8 rpg), and Cameron Johnson (5.7 rpg) who have all logged double-digit rebounding games.
Note: That lack of size should also provide mismatches for Garrison Brooks and Nassir Little in the paint. I’m patiently awaiting the day UNC starts calling plays specifically for Little in the post when he’s guarded by a smaller wing.
Since there is such a quick turnaround, we aren’t bringing you a full game preview. Instead, I’ll leave you with one more little nugget to watch for.
Virginia Tech is tenacious on defense, forcing opponents to turn the ball over on 24% of their possessions. That’s 8th best in the country. In other words, VT makes up for its lack of rebounding by creating a free offensive possession approximately every fourth trip down the court.
So far, the Heels have done nothing to show they can handle pressure and avoid stupid turnovers. If that trend continues on Monday night, a second home loss isn’t unlikely.