To say the beginning of the 2020 college basketball postseason feels anti-climatic is an understatement. Things began to click for the Tar Heels too late in the season, and they are in the very unusual position of needing to win the ACC Tournament in order to not have their season end completely in Greensboro.
As daunting as five games in five days can be, you can only take them one game at a time, and that first game is tomorrow night against the eleventh-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies. The game is a rematch of the January 22nd matchup in Blacksburg, which the Hokies won 79-77 in a double OT classic. A different result that night might have seen Carolina avoiding this fate, one of many games this season where you could say that.
So what should you look for as the team take the court in Greensboro tomorrow night?
It doesn’t get more basic than this: the Virginia Tech game is right when the Tar Heels had started to figure out what life would be like without Cole Anthony, and they would go on to win their next two prior to the return of the freshman. While we all know of the stumbles the team had when Anthony first returned, in the last part of season, Carolina’s fortunes turned because Anthony was doing something he hadn’t all year: making more than he missed.
In Carolina’s three-game winning streak, the freshman went 23-39 (.589), 12-20 (.600) from three, and also dished out 19 assists to only 8 turnovers. Unlike Tre Jones who had played against Anthony before Sunday, the Hokies have yet to see the guard in action. Considering that they had trouble stopping Garrison Brooks in January, the Hokies are either going to have to double down their efforts to stop Brooks, which will give Anthony space to work; or they’ll try to bother Anthony, which will leave Brooks room to do what he did in January.
In short, if you see the NC State, Syracuse, and Wake Forest version of Cole the Tar Heels not only win, they probably will win comfortably. If Virginia Tech is able to contain him, or if he’s rattled by his performance in Durham, the Heels’ season could be over.
When the teams first met in January, Virginia Tech had gotten off to a surprising start. The win had gotten them to a 5-3 record in the ACC. They’ve had a little trouble since then, going 2-10. Once teams had tape on how new coach Mike Young was coaching his squad, they adapted and the Hokies have had it pretty rough the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, you almost want to toss the last Duke game in Durham out in regards to the recent play for the Tar Heels, simply because of all the factors that went on the Blue Devils’ victory. Even factoring that in, Carolina stormed back to win three of their last four, not coincidentally doing it with nearly everyone on the floor: which has been a rarity this season
The Hokies...are not good at shooting the basketball. On the season they are shooting just over 42% overall, and about 36% from behind the arc. They actually shot worse than this in the two teams’ first meeting, going a horrid 37% overall and 38% from three. In short, and in no surprise, the game was right there for the Tar Heels who just couldn’t get anyone else besides Garrison Brooks to reliably make shots.
It’s also worth noting that in terms of team trajectory, the Tar Heels have seen increased production from Christian Keeling, who was a non-factor and only played nine minutes in the first game, and Armando Bacot had arguably his best game in a while against the Blue Devils. While the margin was thin back in January, it feels like the recipe is there for it to not be so thin this time around.
Chapel Hill West
Pro tip: If you’ve ever wanted to go see Carolina play at a really good price, tomorrow night, and potentially Wednesday if they win, is your chance. Tuesday in Greensboro is General Admission only, and it’s likely that the black curtains will be down as the day is usually sparsely attended. A quick check of Stubhub finds those tickets going for as little as $6 per, and even with fees you’re only going to pay about $13 to get in the door and pick your seat.
With Carolina tickets notoriously tough to come by for a reasonable price, even this season, this is an amazing opportunity for those normally shut out to see a game in person. It should lead to a home crowd atmosphere, which would be huge since the Tar Heels never got a chance to see the Hokies in the Dean Dome.
For the record, it’s worth noting that there are several tickets available for the same price in the upper level for Wednesday, and several for well under $20 in the lower level behind the baskets. Whenever the tournament is in Charlotte or Greensboro, Tar Heel fans do an amazing job of showing up, and the next two nights shouldn’t be any different.
In other words, if you’re even thinking about going: Go. Opportunities like these don’t come around often.