Carolina’s first meeting with Georgia Tech in Atlanta was part of a vibe check after moods turned sour in Chapel Hill after a close loss to Purdue, followed by a bare-bottom spanking to Tennessee. UNC responded by absolutely pounding (a then 4-2) Michigan team in the ACC/B1G Challenge, which caused trepidation for Tar Heel fans for the following road game at Tech.
Those who have been on this roller coaster long enough know that the Heels can be lackluster after a big win. But, no worries. A halftime tie was soon split wide open and the Heels ran away with a 17-point win.
Hubert Davis and the Heels are suddenly in a similar position; coming off a huge win over Virginia, they must now focus on Georgia Tech, owners of a 7-8 record. Here are three things to watch for Carolina’s first rematch of the season.
Health and Happiness
Health: Starting forward Dawson Garcia essentially missed the last three games (out for Notre Dame and Virginia, and he only played two minutes at Boston College) after essentially getting a Yokozuna Banzai Drop to the head. Justin McCoy emerged from Covid protocols to play against Virginia, and hopefully Kerwin Walton recovers in time for the game as well. Puff Johnson’s buffet of injuries remain a hindrance, and I hope we get to see him play soon.
Happiness: With Garcia out, Brady Manek has been up and down. He was excellent against Boston College, got put into the washing machine on defense at Notre Dame, and if not for a historic day for Armando Bacot, could’ve been a player of the game candidate against Virginia:
Bottom line, if Garcia is ready to go, there’s no guarantee he slides right into his old starting spot. Manek has demonstrated that he can provide Hubert Davis with the outside shooting he wants to free up space inside for Bacot to eat. Neither Manek or Garcia rebound at an elite level, so defense will be the likely separator going forward.
Carolina did an excellent job containing the threat of Michael Devoe--Georgia Tech’s best player/scorer and an all-ACC caliber talent--during game 1 in Atlanta. For the season, Devoe is averaging 20.5 ppg and shooting 41.4% from three. The Heels limited him to 15 points on 6/13 shooting (1/5 3P). More of that will be required on Saturday.
Devoe has consistently been Georgia Tech’s top threat all season, but looking at their win over Boston College earlier this week, a surprise bench player was their leading scorer. Tristan Maxwell went... oh god... SEVEN FOR ELEVEN from three against the Eagles. And he’s from Huntersville, NC. So you know he’s fixing to go off in Chapel Hill.
Caleb Love will need to be dialed in from the tip defensively. UNC fans have seen too many North Carolina kids come into the Dean Dome and torch the Heels, and they seem to gain momentum as the night moves forward.
If the Heels can trade threes for twos with the Jackets, it’ll be a night for Blue Steel to stretch those hammies midway through the second half. In the first meeting, Carolina shot a blistering 58.8% from downtown (10 for 17), but with only Manek, RJ Davis, and Caleb Love hitting.
If Garcia and Kerwin Walton return, and Anthony Harris hits a few corner threes, Georgia Tech could quickly find themselves in quicksand. Armando Bacot was a man on fire against Virginia, and if he has early success in the paint, Georgia Tech defenders will naturally get pulled in by his gravity to try to help double-team.
UNC needs to be ready to hit those open looks once they come. RJ Davis did not score a field goal against Virginia (his two points came from the free throw line), but he was the leading scorer for the Heels in Atlanta, and went 4-6 from the 3-point line. Davis not being a scoring threat was no problem against the Hoos, but he shouldn’t go two games in a row without hitting a trey.