The good news about the shellacking Carolina received at Wake Forest is that there’s a game on Monday night to quickly get that taste out of our mouths. The Hokies are in town after postponing the home matchup on December 28th.
UNC has been much stronger at home this season, but consistent inconsistency (and the “spanked our ass until it’s beet red” style losses) prevents any measured confidence that the Heels will pull it together in essentially one day. Everyone thought after Carolina was humiliated in Miami they’d course-correct at Wake Forest. Surely it has to stop, right?
Virginia Tech comes into the contest with a 10-8 record, but just 2-5 in the ACC. Their results are all over the map. They lost to Virginia, who Carolina throttled. They beat Notre Dame, who handled the Heels. They lost at home to a poor NC State team, and were absolutely beating the breaks off the Wolfpack at the home of the Hurricanes (leading 35-21 at the half) before holding on for dear life to leave Raleigh with a three-point win.
With all of this confusion to deal with, here are three things to watch tonight when Virginia Tech takes on Carolina.
Who guards Aluma?
Tar Heel fans will likely have PTSD whenever they hear the name “Jake LaRavia” from now on. The Wake Forest forward had his way against Brady Manek, to the tune of a career-high 31 points on 9-13 shooting. Most of that work was done in the paint after he backed down defenders and went over his right shoulder for baby hooks.
Do you know who else does that?
Virginia Tech’s leading scorer, forward Keve Aluma, that’s who.
Aluma, a redshirt senior, stands 6’9” and weighs 235 pounds. He has plenty of post presence to give Manek fits. He scores this type of basket all the time:
AND-1— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) January 22, 2022
Keve already in double figures (13th straight game btw)
4-7 FG pic.twitter.com/wAjvaORF1k
Will Hubert Davis allow Manek to get cooked so bad on defense that even when he scores 22 points, he has a +/- of -16? Or does Leaky Black slide over to guard Aluma? How easily Aluma scores will determine how Carolina fares in this game.
Drive and Kick
I’ve watched a fair share of Virginia Tech games this season, and one of the things that they do in the name of modern basketball that drives me absolutely crazy is pass the ball out to perimeter shooters when they could have had open layups.
Storm Murphy—their transfer point guard from Wofford—is the main culprit, but all of the Hokie guards get in on the act:
H nt— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) January 22, 2022
3-4 3FG pic.twitter.com/N65lSakVZ5
If Carolina continues to get victimized by dribble penetration, Virginia Tech will either 1.) finally take open layups at the rim or 2.) kick out to open shooters. The Hokies are collectively shooting 38.7% from deep on the season, and average 8.5 makes per game. Carolina will want to curb that, obviously.
Justyn Mutts, Virginia Tech’s 6’7” forward is dynamic and a threat to score, but his scoring totals are like an EKG reading: four in the loss to Boston College, 13 in the win over NCSU, 24 vs Notre Dame, two against Virginia, six in a Wolfpack win.
His points are always a threat, but can’t be counted on.
And, as an added bonus, he leads the team in turnovers with 41 on the season, averaging 2.3 per game.
Whoever draws the Mutts assignment has to play tough defense to keep him from getting confidence and rhythm. Better still, try to grab some steals to get easy points in transition.
Carolina can’t let him start feeling himself, or he’s liable to do something like this: