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UNC vs. Virginia Tech: Postponed

COVID in the Virginia Tech camp means no Wednesday night game.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

I submitted this as a standard “Three Things to Watch” piece on Tuesday morning. Around noon, the ACC announced that several conference match-ups were being postponed due to COVID amongst the teams:

Details have not come out about when these games will be made up. UNC has not said if they will seek out games to fill the schedule like they did with Northeastern and Marquette last season. With COVID keeping Boston College from hosting Florida State, there’s reason to be concerned about Carolina’s New Year’s Day trip to Chestnut Hill, as well. Stay tuned to Tar Heel Blog for any additional updates.

By the time the Heels get around to playing Virginia Tech, this preview will likely be outdated and changed. But for a brief moment in time, it was germane. Virginia Tech played Duke tough in their last outing, leading the Blue Devils at the half 36-32. We’ll have an updated preview for whenever Carolina plays Virginia Tech next. They’re scheduled to play in Blacksburg on February 19, we’ll see if they make-up UNC’s home date before then.

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Christmas is over and the win over App State feels like it was forever ago. Fortunately for Tar Heel fans, our next fix is right around the corner.

Virginia Tech comes down to Chapel Hill on Wednesday night to re-open ACC play (Carolina is already 1-0 thanks to the win at Georgia Tech in between the Michigan and Elon games). The Hokies are 0-2 in the ACC, losing to Duke at Cameron in their last outing, after holding a four-point halftime lead (despite a 6-1 foul disparity at one point). Tech also had a head scratching 19-point loss to Wake Forest at home.

Mike Young is well thought of in basketball circles, so you can never sleep on the Hokies, but if the Heels play to their standards and potential, this should be a game where you pencil in a win. Here are three things to watch tomorrow night.

Who does Leaky guard?

Virginia Tech has two lengthy forwards, but they have completely different games. Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts are 6’9” and 6’7” respectively. Aluma is more of a herky-jerky, “old man at the Y” kind of player, while Mutts is a downhill running, explosive driving, and “dunking on your head” type (Day’Ron Sharpe may remember such an unfortunate incident from last year’s ACC Tournament--I will not link the video out of respect).

Aluma and Mutts are two of Tech’s top-three scorers, and are the starting forwards. Will Hubert Davis opt to guard these forwards with Bacot and Garcia/Manek, or does he switch Leaky on to Mutts? Aluma is more Bacot’s speed, but the twists and turns he takes before putting a shot up have foul trouble written all over the junior center.

The rest of Virginia Tech’s starters are 6’0”, 6’3”, and 6’4”, so there is flexibility to move Leaky around. Provided Caleb Love can cover Hunter Cattoor (and his 44.8 3PT%), Carolina has some options in how to use its queen piece defensively.

Dawson Garcia back in the mix

Brady Manek was a man on fire against App State, playing 29 minutes and putting up an 11/11 double-double (points and rebounds). Manek’s minutes came at the direct expense of Dawson Garcia, who had a quiet 2-points, 3-rebounds line in 11 minutes, despite starting.

If Garcia wants to get back in the groove and not lose his starting place to Manek, Virginia Tech is a great place to start. The Hokie forwards do not offer the size to challenge him on the block, and he is taller than Tech’s tallest forward (John Ojiako is 6’10” and only plays eight minutes per game), so he should be able to get his shot off whenever he wants.

Garcia’s points per game look like my tech stocks--lots of ups and downs--where the average doesn’t tell you the whole story. Now that Carolina is in ACC play, Garcia needs to show what he can reliably provide the Heels on a nightly basis.

Walton or Harris first off the bench?

Virginia Tech has some three-point shooters on the roster, namely starting guards Hunter Cattoor (44.8%) and Storm Murphy (37.7%). How well Caleb Love and RJ Davis guard them will likely determine who comes off the bench first.

If things are going well, I’d expect to see Kerwin Walton, who busted out of an awful scoring drought against App State, to come in and continue to pile pressure (and points!) on the Hokies. If either of Love or Davis is getting torched, I’d expect to see Anthony Harris subbed in to stop the bleeding.

Walton’s continued emergence within the team will be important. The more shooters Carolina can put on the floor simultaneously will lead to more space for Bacot to operate in. He’s shown he can dominate when he’s on the block one-on-one. With the threat of Love, Davis, Garcia, and Walton on the floor, helpers can’t take more than a couple steps away from their man to help on Bacot. This line-up is probably what UNC looks like in Charizard form.