2010-11 Basketball Game Preview: Virginia Tech at North Carolina

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(home games)
  • Date: Thursday, January 13, 2011
  • Time: 9pm
  • TV: ESPN

Virginia Tech will face a significant challenge tonight when they take on the
North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. UNC will be going for their 300th win
in the Dean Dome, while the Hokies will be looking to extend their winning streak
to seven games.

The Tar Heels are 11-4 overall, with a 1-0 record in the ACC after knocking
off Virginia 62-56 on Saturday afternoon. UNC lost two games in a row early in
the season to Minnesota and Vanderbilt. They also dropped a 12-point decision to
Illinois in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and later were beaten by Texas by two
points in the Greensboro Coliseum.

UNC’s best win came against Kentucky, 75-73 in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels
also have top 100 wins against College of Charleston (#71), Hofstra (#98) and
Long Beach State (#78). However, they are just 1-4 against teams ranked in the
top 70 of the RPI.

This is a team that is loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans. Despite not
making the NCAA Tournament a year ago, the Tar Heels are a very talented team.
However, they haven’t been able to gel since winning the National Championship
two seasons ago.

UNC
Starting Lineup
Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr. PPG RPG
G Larry Drew II 6-2 180 Jr. 5.1 2.3
G Dexter Strickland 6-3 180 So. 9.5 2.7
F Harrison Barnes 6-8 210 Fr. 11.7 5.5
F John Henson 6-10 210 So. 9.9 8.4
C Tyler Zeller 7-0 250 Jr. 14.5 7.6

North Carolina doesn’t have a standout player this year. There are no Tyler
Hansbroughs, Danny Greens or Ty Lawsons. No one on the team averages more than
14.5 points per game, and only two players average in double figures. Instead,
the Tar Heels throw a wave of talented athletes at their opponents. They go
10-deep, and no one averages more than 27 minutes per game. That could change as
ACC play heats up, but for now UNC is pretty deep.

Tyler Zeller is the team’s top player. A poor man’s Tyler Hansbrough, Zeller
runs the court extremely hard and is a strong player underneath the basket. He
scored three points and had seven rebounds against Tech last season, and did not
play in the second meeting due to an injury. Victor Davila will be tasked with
defending Zeller, if the Hokies are in man-to-man. Davila will give up a few
inches, and it will be key for him to defend Zeller early and not let him
establish a post position on the inside.

The other inside player for the Tar Heels is tall, lanky power forward John
Henson. Henson is a tremendous athlete who is still trying to develop into a
complete basketball player. For a time last season he was tried at small
forward, and the experiment was a failure. Right now, he is a good defensive
post player, with his height and long arms disrupting shots. Henson is a good
rebounder who has also blocked 40 shots on the season.

If Virginia Tech had a bench, the smart move would be to put Henson on the
free throw line whenever he is in a position to score. He is just a 33.9% free
throw shooter on the season. However, with no true post players on their bench,
it’s imperative that the Hokies stay out of foul trouble.

The small forward is true freshman Harrison Barnes, perhaps the most hyped
true freshman in the history of college basketball. He was named a preseason
first team Associated Press All-American, the first in the history of the AP
All-America teams, despite having never played in a college game. He is UNC’s
second leading scorer, averaging 11.7 points per game. However, his career to
this point has been a disappointment. He is shooting just 37.6% from the field
and 31% from three-point range. However, he’s capable of putting up big numbers
if he gets room and rhythm.

Dexter Strickland starts at shooting guard, and he is a player who is very
dangerous in a full court game. He has excellent speed, though he’s not
comfortable as a long-range shooter at this point in his career. Strickland has
attempted just 11 three-pointers on the year.

UNC’s point guard is Larry Drew II, and though he has 58 assists and 32
turnovers, he is not a good shooter and he’s not the type of point guard Roy
Williams needs to run his system. Williams’ strength as a coach is his
transition offense game plans, and Drew isn’t the lightning quick type that is
needed to push the ball up the court and make the right decisions. From an
athletic standpoint, Dexter Strickland would be good in that role, but he’s not
a true point guard.

True freshman Kendall Marshall has 62 assists and just 24 turnovers on the
season. He plays the point guard spot when Drew is not in the game, and he is
UNC’s point guard of the future. It wouldn’t be a big surprise to see him take
over the duties at some point later this year, depending upon where UNC is as a
team.

Also coming off the bench is wing Leslie McDonald (6-4, 215, So.). He is an
improved player who is shooting 45.3% from three-point range and averaging 7.9
points per game. McDonald is UNC’s top scoring threat off the bench, followed by
Reggie Bullock (6-7, 190, Fr.). Bullock was a McDonald’s All-American, and the
lengthy forward is a threat from inside and out.

The top interior backup is Justin Knox (6-9, 240, Sr.), a transfer from
Alabama. Knox isn’t terribly skilled, averaging 6.2 points and 4.4 rebounds per
game. However, he finishes well and he’s good from the free throw line. Without
him, the Tar Heels would have no post depth.

Justin Watts (6-4, 210, Jr.) is the final member of the rotation, averaging
3.5 points and 12 minutes per game. Watts has shown an improved ability to knock
down the open jumper this year, and he could do damage against Virginia Tech’s
zone if left open.

The biggest key for Virginia Tech in this game is getting back on defense and
limiting UNC’s transition game. That starts with making shots on the offensive
end, and preventing long rebounds to athletic Tar Heel guards and wings, such as
Dexter Strickland and Harrison Barnes.

Defensively, expect more zone out of the Hokies. They can’t afford to get
Jeff Allen or Victor Davila in foul trouble against Tyler Zeller or John Henson,
because Tech has only wings Manny Atkins and Jarell Eddie coming off the bench
to play the power forward position. UNC has some guys who are capable of
knocking down three-point shots: Harrison Barnes, Dexter Strickland, Leslie
McDonald and Reggie Bullock specifically. However, only McDonald has been a
consistent threat this year, and with just 11 attempts Strickland hasn’t yet
classified himself as a major threat from behind the arc.

Defensive rebounding will be important. It’s easier to offensive rebound
against a zone defense, and with good rebounders in Zeller, Henson and Barnes,
you can bet that a big part of Roy Williams’ game plan will be to crash the
boards after watching the Hokies play 40 minutes of zone in their win over
Florida State.

Tech caught the Seminoles flat-footed with their zone defense, and FSU could
never adjust to it during the game. UNC hasn’t played since Saturday, and they
will have had Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare. Expect Seth
Greenberg to make some tweaks to his zone as a counter.

A win over UNC would mean a win over a top 50 team on the road, which would
be huge for RPI purposes. The Tar Heels are currently #24 in the RPI, and that
would be Virginia Tech’s biggest win of the season. It would also get them off
to a 2-1 start in the ACC, with the conference’s worst team, Wake Forest, coming
to town on Saturday night.

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