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UNC vs. Georgia Tech: Three Things to Watch

It’s a conference game before Christmas! Hopefully an early ACC-matchup goes better for the basketball team than it did for football

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament- Florida State vs Georgia Tech Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

What’s the best way to prepare for final exams? A conference road trip to a city that has historically given you nightmares, or course!

Carolina takes a momentary break from their non-conference schedule to head down to Atlanta for an early season ACC matchup. Georgia Tech has won the last two meetings, but UNC’s talent has matured, especially Armando Bacot. Who has the upper hand this Sunday? Here are three things to watch.

Two-headed monster

Jose Alvarado is no longer at Georgia Tech to torment the Tar Heels. Let me just double-check that real quick… Yep, looks like he’s on a two-way contract with the Pelicans.

Whew! So with Alvarado gone, who is left to worry Carolina? The Yellow Jackets have played an exclusively non-conference schedule, and only two of those games (at Georgia and vs Wisconsin in the ACC/B1G Challenge) were from Power 5 conferences. During that time, it’s been Michael Devoe and Jordan Usher leading the way. They are the only two Jackets averaging double-figures (25 and 14.3ppg, respectively). Y’all. Devoe is a problem.

No other huge threats on a team that plays about eight-deep, but Georgia Tech does collectively shoot 41% from deep, and three rotation players shoot 50% or better (Devoe – 59%, Deivon Smith – 50%, but on just six attempts, Deebo Coleman – 55%). If Carolina can keep Devoe and Usher from exploding and close out on the identified shooters, the rest of the Yellow Jackets are much more palatable.

Maximum effort and focus

A couple of issues here. McCamish Pavilion is a perfectly lovely arena, but it’s pretty barren and dull. Hopefully, with such a large UNC alumni presence in Atlanta (and single-game tickets now on sale), Carolina will have a sizable (and vocal) contingent cheering them on. In any event, the Heels can’t depend on a rowdy atmosphere to give them juice, they’ll need to bring their own.

Defense is a great way to do that. Caleb Love got himself going in Michigan by getting his hands on balls at the point of attack, and especially when he helped Bacot steal the ball from Dickinson, and ended up skying for a breakaway dunk. That’s a great way to bring energy to the team, and deflate Georgia Tech.

Battle on the boards

Hubert Davis has brought transformational change to UNC’s offense, and one of the side effects has been a decrease in team rebounding. In addition to not crashing the boards with a combined 20 feet of height, it’s often the case that a post player is the one launching three-pointers, and is therefore not in position to board. Against Michigan, Dawson Garcia and Brady Manek combined for six 3-point shot attempts, and four offensive rebounds. Clearly, this is not a Roy Williams frontcourt.

Now, a lot of that gets masked when Armando Bacot goes and grabs 14 rebounds in a game, tilting the overall rebounding advantage to Carolina (likely aided by the foul trouble he put Hunter Dickinson in). But Bacot can’t count on that kind of personal output day in and day out.

Georgia Tech is out-rebounding opponents on the season at a +8 rate. They’re also shooting 48.2% for the season, so there will be plenty of rebounds to fight for. How well UNC rebounds (an excellent indicator of effort and enthusiasm, something notoriously difficult to track statistically) will likely determine their fate in Atlanta.