2007-08 Basketball Game Preview: Virginia Tech at #5 North Carolina

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Virginia Tech (14-10, 5-5 ACC) at #5 North Carolina (23-2, 8-2)

Saturday, February 16, 2008, 1:00 p.m.

TV: CBS

Roster Card: Click here

Game
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Game Preview: The road doesn’t get any easier for the 5-5 Hokies this weekend, as they
travel to Chapel Hill to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in a game that
will be nationally televised by CBS. The Tar Heels are trying to stay within
striking distance of Duke in the ACC standings, while the Hokies will try to get
things turned around after losing two games in a row.

If you want to know how far Virginia Tech has come in basketball, just look
at the special event UNC is having for the game. It is the first-ever “Turn
It Blue Day.” Everyone in attendance is getting a free UNC T-shirt to wear
during the game. Think they remember that sweep last year? Yeah, I think so too.

Carolina has taken some criticism for not playing as well as they are capable
of recently, but to be fair, they have been devastated by injuries. Here’s a
look at Carolina’s injured players.


Carolina Injuries
Player
Position

Injury

Ty Lawson

PG

High Ankle Sprain

Bobby Frasor

PG

Torn ACL

Marcus Ginyard

SF

Ankle Sprain, Turf Toe

Deon Thompson

PF

Hyperextended Knee

Quentin Thomas*

PG

Back

*Thomas mention after Tuesday’s win at UVA that his
back
was bothering him, but it’s probably nothing serious

To put that in simple terms, UNC has a 9-man rotation, and four of them are
hurt, possibly five. With Frasor out, they have an 8-man rotation, with three or
four players injured. If Lawson can’t go, they’ll play seven guys regularly, and
combo forward Will Graves will get between five and 10 minutes of action. For
the season he averages just 4.5 minutes per game.

Lawson and Frasor are the top two point guards on the team. Thomas is #3, and
Ginyard has been forced to play some point guard because of all the injuries. If
Thomas’ back injury is legit (it probably isn’t), then UNC has injuries to their
top four point guards. As it stands now, three of their top four are either hurt
or out completely.

It’s unknown whether or not Lawson will play against the Hokies. He has
missed UNC’s last three games. Thompson struggled through the second half
against UVA after hyper extending his left knee.

Even with all the injuries, UNC is a very formidable team that has posted a
7-2 record in ACC play. Here’s a look at their starting lineup.


UNC Probable Starting Lineup

Pos

Player

Ht

Wt

Year

PPG

RPG

Assists

G

Quentin Thomas

6-3

190

Sr.

2.7

1.4

62

G

Wayne Ellington

6-4

200

So.

16.5

3.9

53

F

Marcus Ginyard

6-5

218

Jr.

7.4

4.5

46

F

Deon Thompson

6-8

240

So.

9.4

4.6

27

F

Tyler Hansbrough

6-9

250

Jr.

22.8

10.7

20

The heart and soul of the team is Tyler Hansbrough. Simply put, he is the most
dominating player in the ACC. There are players who compete and play hard, and
then there is Tyler Hansbrough. He redefines competing, and he is the most
intense inside player in the conference. Virginia Tech’s inside players must
match his intensity, or they are going to be in for a very long afternoon.

Besides
that, Hansbrough is also a skilled basketball player. He is averaging a
double-double this season. As his career has progressed, so has his skillset. At
first he was a back to the basket, low post player only. He has expanded his
range, and now he can be effective shooting the open jumper as well. Hansbrough
has worked extremely hard on his free throw shot, where he is shooting 80.9%
this season.

Because of his aggressiveness inside, Hansbrough gets to the free throw line
a lot, going 208-of-257 on the season. Deron Washington gets to the line more
than any other Tech player, but he has attempted just 155 free throws. That’s
not very many, compared to Hansbrough.

UNC values Hansbrough’s presence on the court. They value it so much in fact
that he’s not particularly aggressive on the defensive end. He has blocked just
eight shots on the year, and he has committed just 57 fouls in 25 games (2.3 per
game in 32.6 minutes per game). He’s a position defender. He doesn’t want to get
in foul trouble, because that would be much too costly for UNC on the offensive
end.

UNC will use two other players on the inside with Hansbrough. The other
starter is Deon Thompson, a gifted sophomore. He is a talented offensive player,
and is a good complement to Hansbrough, averaging 9.4 points per game. The other
inside player is Alex Stepheson. Stepheson is UNC’s version of Cheick Diakite.
His offensive game needs a lot of his work, but he’s physical, he’s a very good
rebounder and he provides a solid presence on defense.

When Ty Lawson is healthy, he is perhaps the fastest point guard in the
nation. He will run the court like no one else. His strength is his speed and
his ability to get to the basket. Fullcourt basketball games play right into his
hands.

That being said, if he isn’t healthy, there is no reason to play him. He’s
not a game managing point guard, and he’s a spotty outside shooter. If he can’t
use his speed, there is no reason for him to be on the court. It’s unknown
whether he’ll see action against the Hokies on Saturday.

If
Lawson can’t go, Quentin Thomas will get the start at point guard. Thomas is a
senior, but he’s UNC’s third string point guard for a reason. He has some
strengths, such as finishing around the basket, but he’s not a player that’s
going to help you win the ACC as UNC strives to do. Two years ago in Cassell
Coliseum, in a
64-61 Carolina victory
, Thomas had the worst game of his career, finishing
with zero assists and seven turnovers in just nine minutes.

UNC only has two major perimeter threats. Wayne Ellington (38.8% 3-pt.
shooter) and Danny Green (37% 3-pt. shooter) are the only two Tar Heels who have
the green light to shoot the ball from the outside. Ellington has 129 attempts,
while Green has 92. Lawson has 55, but he’s not going to shoot it unless he has
an open look. Ellington and Green are shooters who can elevate and shoot over a
defender.

Besides slowing down Hansbrough on the inside, Tech’s #2 objective should be
to keep Ellington and Green from going off from downtown. Play help defense off
Marcus Ginyard and Thomas, and make sure you are sharp in your rotations. If
Ellington and Green have off games, which is possible (they were a combined
1-of-11 against Duke), Tech has a chance.

Ginyard is the final major player for the Tar Heels. He is a big, strong wing
player that can play the 2 or the 3. He can hit the open three-pointer, but only
if he’s wide open. He has only attempted 18 outside shots this year. His
greatest offensive strength is driving to the basket and finishing. He is a very
good defender. His size and strength can make life miserable for opposing ball
handlers. A.D. Vassallo or Deron Washington can expect to draw Ginyard. If he
isn’t healthy (ankle sprain in one leg, turf toe in the other), one of those
players has a chance for a big game, especially Vassallo if he can get some open
outside shots.


VT vs. UNC (ACC Games Only)

Category

VT

UNC

Advantage

Stat

ACC Rank

Stat

ACC Rank

FG%

42.80%

9

45.30%

6

UNC

FG% Defense

43.40%

3

43.10%

2

UNC

3-Pt. %

28.40%

12

34%

8

UNC

3-Pt. % Defense

38.10%

8

33.20%

4

UNC

FT Shooting

68.60%

9

78.70%

1

UNC

Rebounding Margin

+3.1

3

+10.4

1

UNC

Turnover Margin

-0.5

7

-1.3

8

VT

Assist/TO Ratio

0.68

11

1.08

4

UNC

Scoring Offense

72.2

8

87.5

1

UNC

Scoring Defense

73.9

2

79.4

12

VT

Average

7.2

4.7

UNC

UNC dominates most of the statistical categories, though some of them are very
close. Tech actually has a better turnover margin, and they are just behind UNC
in field goal percentage defense.

What’s surprising are the field goal percentages. UNC is known as being an
outstanding offensive team, but a team that struggles on the defensive end.
However, check out the table. The Tar Heels are middle of the pack in the ACC in
shooting, but among the best teams in the league in field goal percentage
defense. UNC allows more points in ACC play than any other team, but it’s not
because of field goal percentage defense or second chance points. There are a
lot more possessions for each team in UNC games, because the Tar Heels like to
push the ball so much.

It’s a long shot, but Virginia Tech can win this basketball game. Here are a
few keys.

  • Don’t get dominated on the boards
  • Win the turnover battle
  • Hope Green and Ellington are cold from the outside

I didn’t mention Tyler Hansbrough, because he’s going to get his points.
Also, if Ty Lawson plays, Tech must limit his transition opportunities.

As far as the turnover battles go, in ACC losses the Hokies are averaging
19.4 turnovers per game. In their five ACC wins, they average just 13.4
turnovers. That’s a stat to keep an eye on. Lately Tech has been much better
with turnovers, averaging just 13.2 in their last five games. Over those five
games, they have averaged +3.8 in turnover margin, a dramatic improvement over
the early stages of the season.

Carolina is not unbeatable, even at home. They have lost two games this year,
both in the Dean Dome. They have played three overtime ACC games, and won two
other conference games by one point. They barely snuck out of Charlottesville
with a one-point win over last place UVA on Tuesday. Without Ty Lawson, they
have won two overtime games and another game by one point, as well as lost to
Duke at home. They can be beaten. It will take very good play from the Hokies,
as well as some luck, but it can be done.

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