Virginia Tech will return to Cassell Coliseum searching for their first ACC victory on Tuesday night when they host #20 North Carolina. The Hokies (10-5, 0-2) have been one of the ACC’s hard luck teams this season, with four of their five losses coming by a combined 12 points. They are hoping a return to Cassell Coliseum and the emerging offensive threat of Wynton Witherspoon will be enough to get them the victory over a young but talented Tar Heel team that is 9-2 overall and 1-0 in the ACC.
Roy Williams’ team was basically gutted after last year’s NCAA Championship, losing Sean May, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Marvin Williams to the NBA. David Noel averaged 3.9 points per game last season, and he was the leading returning scorer heading into this season. The Tar Heels are starting three freshmen, and a third is getting a lot of playing time off the bench.
They are led by 6-9, 235 freshman forward Tyler Hansbrough. Despite his inexperience, Hansbrough has already developed into one of the ACC’s top freshmen frontcourt players. He is averaging 16.8 points and seven rebounds per game. Hansbrough plays extremely hard and knows how to fight for position down low. He hit all 14 of his free throw attempts against NC State during UNC’s win on Saturday. His matchup with Coleman Collins should be interesting to watch.
Hansbrough is joined in the frontcourt by David Noel and Reyshawn Terry, the most experienced players on the UNC team. Noel is a senior who has averaged five points per game in his career. He is a big forward at 6-6, 232. He is having the best season of his career, averaging 13.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Terry, at 6-8, 228, is an athletic junior who has waited his turn. He is averaging 12.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
The Hokies’ help defense will have to be very good against UNC. Tech doesn’t matchup very well inside from a size standpoint, with the exception of Coleman Collins. Noel and Terry going head-to-head against Deron Washington and Wynton Witherspoon, both of whom weigh less than 200 pounds.
For the Hokies to win this game, they will have to take advantage of UNC’s inexperienced backcourt. Bobby Frasor and Marcus Ginyard are starting at guard as freshmen. They are both very talented players, and it will be interesting to see how they matchup against Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell, the key players in one of the ACC’s best backcourts.
Frasor is a prototypical point guard who is averaging 7.4 points and 4.6 assists per game. He has struggled to find his shot early on in his career, shooting 43.1% from the floor and 29.4% from three-point range. Frasor is very good for a freshman point guard. He hasn’t faced a pressuring backcourt the caliber of Virginia Tech’s however, and it will be interesting to see how Seth Greenberg uses his pressure defense. Will he play the young UNC guards straight up, or will he employ half court, or even full court traps?
The UNC freshman have been remarkably good defenders for such a young group. Most highly touted freshman enter college ready to play offense, but they don’t realize the dedication it takes to be a good defensive player. The Tar Heels have been good for the most part, but they have struggled at times defending the three-pointer. They rank last in the ACC in three-point. percentage defense, with opponents hitting 37.4% from downtown. No one in the conference is close to catching the Tar Heels either. Miami ranks next-to-last in this category, but are comfortably ahead of UNC at 35.3%.
It would be big for the Hokies if Zabian Dowdell could have a good night from three-point range. Dowdell led the ACC in three-point percentage last year but hasn’t been quite as effective this season at 39.8%. Part of that is the loss of Carlos Dixon, who was another great threat from outside for the Hokies last season. Dowdell should have some open looks tonight, and he needs to knock them down.
North Carolina has a major advantage on the Hokies in rebounding. The Tar Heels lead the ACC in rebounding margin at +9.2 per game, while Tech is last in the conference at -1.1. Carolina’s size advantage will be big in the battle on the boards tonight, and Tech needs to be scrappy and dive for every loose ball.
This will be UNC’s first ACC road game of the season, and the first-ever ACC road game for their three freshmen starters. They narrowly defeated Kentucky on the road earlier in the season, and the Wildcats have since proved to be vastly overrated. In their only other road game, UNC was manhandled by Southern California 74-59 in Los Angeles.
The Tar Heels also run the court very well and could be the best transition team in America, according to Seth Greenberg on Monday night’s Hokie Hotline. Tech must recognize UNC’s speed and meet the challenge head on, rather than simply trying to react to whatever is thrown at them.
There are advantages for both teams in this game that could be the difference in the game. UNC has the size and rebounding advantage, but Virginia Tech faces obstacles such as this in every game. The Hokies have a major advantage in backcourt experience, and they will also be playing on their home court.
This would be a big win for the Virginia Tech basketball program. They knocked off Duke in their first year in the ACC, and knocking off UNC in their second would say a lot about the job that Seth Greenberg has done in Blacksburg. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 and the game will be televised by ESPN2.