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UNC vs. Virginia Tech: Three Things Learned

Injury scare aside, things looked much better for the Tar Heels than they did in Blacksburg.

ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament - First Round Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Anytime Carolina can get another crack at a team that took them to double-overtime and give them a thorough beatdown is a beautiful thing. The Tar Heels dominated Virginia Tech in a 78-56 victory in the first round of the ACC Tournament, moving them on to take on Syracuse tonight.

The last time these two teams met Brandon Robinson and Cole Anthony were out due to injuries. Needless to say both of them playing last night helped the team greatly, especially B-Rob who nailed five of his six three-pointers to finish the game with 17 points. The bigs also contributed in a big way, giving the team 32 of the Heels’ 78 points.

While perhaps Virginia Tech’s biggest issue was the fact the ball just wasn’t going into the hoop, there is more than enough to take away from this game. Let’s go ahead and discuss what we learned.

Cole Anthony made a difference in round two

One of the recurring themes in Virginia Tech’s post-game presser was how different the team was having Cole Anthony on the court. The Hokies head coach Mike Young stated that the pace was much faster with Anthony running things at the point, and it was hard to find a way to slow them down. Roy Williams expressed a similar sentiment, saying that while his shooting efficiency wasn’t great and his assist/turnover ratio wasn’t the best, Anthony did a great job executing his floor general role in the big win.

Focusing on the turnover issue, three of Anthony’s four turnovers took place in the first half when UNC went on a big run only to have it answered by Virginia Tech. The second half was a different story, as he logged three assists and only turned the ball over once. He did a great job of finding Garrison Brooks in the post, and the ball movement in general was solid. It’s always good to see a star player find ways to help his team when the ball isn’t going into the basket, and I’m sure Virginia Tech is glad that this will likely be the last time they will see him on the court.

Dominance of the bigs

Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot made life a living nightmare for Virginia Tech all night long. As mentioned earlier, the two combined for 32 of UNC’s 78 points, and accounted for 14 of the team’s 45 rebounds. The frustration that the Hokies felt throughout the game was quantified in one stat, which is fouls. Of the 25 free throws that the Tar Heels took, Brooks accounted for 10 of them, and he managed to drain eight. Bacot threw in a pair himself, as Virginia Tech simply had no answer when it came to dealing with them in the post.

Bacot and Brooks also benefitted from the perimeter-oriented style that Virginia Tech plays, and it shows in how good of a job they did staying in the game. Brooks finished the game with zero(!!!) fouls, while Bacot only managed to get called for one. This contributed to the handicap that the Tar Heels had over the Hokies, as UNC shot 25 free throws to Virginia Tech’s 11. It felt extremely abnormal for how this season has played out for the Heels, but I’m sure Roy Williams will take it any day of the week.

The cold water on how things went last night is that they have to deal with Syracuse tonight. The good news is that the last time these two teams met UNC did a great job of tearing the 2-3 zone apart. Let’s hope that history is able to repeat itself.

Christian Keeling Watch 2020

In typical 2020 Carolina Basketball fashion, Christian Keeling injured his left ankle in the first half of the game. He didn’t come back out during halftime, but eventually he returned to the bench and re-entered the game. It was surprising to see him go back in after the team made his return sound questionable, but it turns out that there was a reason for it. Roy Williams told the media after the game that he wanted to put Keeling back in because he didn’t want his ankle to tighten up to the point that he wouldn’t be able to play on it later. Third-eye Roy has entered the chat.

Still, despite his return one has to wonder if he’s going to be able to play tonight against Syracuse. Should he not be able to play UNC will lose a good amount of production off of the bench, as Keeling has been a key part of the team’s ability to win games down the stretch. To put it more bluntly, if Christian Keeling doesn’t finish out the ACC Tournament, what is already an improbable chance of UNC earning an automatic NCAA Tournament bid becomes just about impossible. Hopefully there will be no bad news in the hours leading up to the game and we can look forward to watching Keeling tear apart Syracuse from mid-range.

One game down, four more to go.