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UNC vs. Georgia Tech: Three Things to Watch

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A tough loss to NC State raises more questions with a visit to Georgia Tech tomorrow night.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Roy Williams and the Tar Heels look to shake the cobwebs after a short Christmas break that followed a disappointing loss to NC State. Carolina travels to Atlanta tomorrow to take on the 4-3 (0-1 ACC) Yellow Jackets in conference play.

Georgia Tech has a curious record, with losses to Georgia State, Mercer, and Florida State, but managed to record wins against Kentucky (less impressive by the day) and Nebraska (meh). With such a wide variety of results, what do we make of this year’s Georgia Tech team?

I decided to ask my dad (who recently moved to a 55-and-over retirement community in Sugar Hill, a suburb northeast of Atlanta near Lake Lanier) what was the local sentiment.

Tar Heel Blog: Dad, what do folks down there think about Georgia Tech’s basketball team?

Dad: I couldn’t even tell you who the head coach is.

Well, that wasn’t particularly useful. On we press!

The bad men are back

Last season, Georgia Tech broke UNC’s back and made them humble, winning 96-83 in Chapel Hill. The Heels followed a familiar gameplan of falling behind early, trailing by 20 points at halftime, and not having enough juice to close the gap. Having just been burned by that formula last week in Raleigh, it is imperative that the Heels start stronger.

The two men who caused the most headaches for Carolina last season are back, and they’re seniors. Point guard Jose Alvarado had 25 points (4-6 3-pt), 8 assists, and 6 steals, while forward Moses Wright had 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks.

Caleb Love and R.J. Davis will have their hands full guarding Alvarado, who can penetrate, setup, and shoot. The Heels have the depth in bodies (and fouls) to limit Wright, but it’s imperative that both players for the Yellow Jackets not take turns hitting buckets.

How will the Heels line up?

First things first. When the basketball team returns to campus, we’ll have to see if any of them miss time due to COVID-19, close contact, or anything else in the team or conference protocols. Remember that Puff Johnson and Walker Kessler missed time in the preseason due to COVID protocols.

Once that is determined, the next obvious question is how much more will Kerwin Walton be integrated into the team? So far this season, Walton’s minutes have hovered around a 10 mpg average, with a high of 15 against Kentucky when he exploded for 13 points on perfect shooting (3-3 from 3-pt, 4-4 FT). Against NC State, he dropped to 12 minutes, and did not attempt a three-pointer.

It is absolutely imperative that the Tar Heels get some perimeter shooting mojo going in order to help clear space in the paint for the bigs to operate. Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot will find it tough to receive entry passes if they have two defenders draped over them, secure in the knowledge that they can’t be punished from deep.

Will last season’s Garrison Brooks show up?

Garrison Brooks had lofty expectations thrust upon him this season. He is the clear senior leader on a young team. He is the ACC preseason player of the year. But so far, his performances have been more tepid than what is required. Brooks is currently averaging 11.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Good, but not great.

The emergence of Armando Bacot 2.0 and the revelation of Day’Ron Sharpe (puppy dog mistakes and all) have masked some of Garrison’s shortcomings this season. But if all three can cook at the same time (with Walker Kessler chipping in minutes to keep all the posts fresh and running hard), UNC becomes a different team.

Tomorrow is as good a game to kick start Garrison’s season. Last year, he scored 35 points on 17-18 free throw shooting. 17 for 18!!! While I don’t expect his free throw shooting to be that crisp, it does show that Carolina have a winning formula against the Jackets by pounding the paint and getting points at the line.

Brooks can be the catalyst that moves the team forward into a more healthy and prosperous new year.