On Saturday, North Carolina was humbled by an embarrassing 90-57 loss to Florida State. Virginia Tech was almost as embarrassed, falling to a BC team that started four freshmen on Saturday afternoon. These two disappointed teams will face each other on Thursday night in Cassell Coliseum, and both will be looking to turn things around.
UNC is 15-3 on the season, with a 2-1 mark in ACC play. The Tar Heels have done well against an easy schedule at home, where their best win was against #37 Wisconsin. They knocked off #4 Michigan State on the USS Carl Vinson in the first game of the season. However, the last three times the Heels have ventured outside the Dean Dome have not gone particularly well.
On November 26, they lost to #10 UNLV 90-80 in Las Vegas. A week later, they dropped a 73-72 decision at #11 Kentucky. UNC then played nine straight home games before falling to #38 Florida State last weekend. They haven’t won a game outside of Chapel Hill since they beat #186 South Carolina in Las Vegas back on November 25.
After starting 11-3 and looking like a basketball team that was coming together, Virginia Tech has played poorly in two of their first three ACC games, losing on the road to bad Wake Forest and Boston College teams. It looked like the Hokies had a great chance to start 2-1 or 3-0 in the ACC, but they failed to score 60 points in all three of those games, and dropped each of them.
The first thing that stands out to you is Carolina’s size and length on the inside. John Henson is a great athlete playing the power forward position. He has blocked 54 shots through the first 18 games. He’s always been an athlete, a shot blocker and a rebounder, but this year he has added some scoring ability to his game as well.
Henson is one of UNC players who are projected to be first round draft picks in June. All projections are from NBADraft.net.
Harrison Barnes: #4 overall
John Henson: #13 overall
Kendall Marshall: #14 overall
Tyler Zeller: #18 overall
Even if some of those projections turn out to be a little bit off, that’s still a lot of talent on one team.
Marshall is one of the top point guards in the country, and he’s a natural distributor. Through 18 games, he has a whopping 173 assists. As a comparison, Virginia Tech has 214 assists as a team. That’s more assists than junior point guard Erick Green (165) has in his career, and more assists than fifth year senior Dorenzo Hudson has in his career (157).
Obviously with three other first round picks in the starting lineup, Marshall has plenty of options. He makes them better, and their ability to finish and make shots makes Marshall better as well.
At 6-8, Harrison Barnes is a physical specimen at small forward. He’s an athletic player who can get to the rim, and with at 44.2% from three-point range, he can shoot the basketball. Barnes is exactly what NBA scouts are looking for, and despite a slow start to his freshman season last year, look for him to make the jump to the next level in a few months.
Dexter Strickland is the only UNC starter who isn’t projected to be drafted. He’s a quality role player for the Tar Heels, and he knows his limitations as a player. For example, he’s not a particularly good outside shooter, so he’s only attempted one three-pointer this year. He splits time with highly-touted freshman P.J. Hairston (6-5, 220, Fr.). Hairston is known as a good shooter, and he is one of the few UNC players who has the green light to shoot from the outside.
The final outside shooter is Reggie Bullock (6-7, 205, So.). He is shooting at a 39.5% clip from three-point range this year, and he is UNC’s top overall player off the bench.
With so many athletes and so much scoring talent, UNC plays at a very fast pace. Defensively, they extend their defense, which creates room to drive and room to take shots. However, the matchups are very tough in this game.
7-0, 255 Tyler Zeller vs. 6-8, 245 Victor Davila
6-11, 200 John Henson vs. 6-7, 205 Jarell Eddie
True freshman Dorian Finney-Smith vs. lottery pick Harrison Barnes
We haven’t even discussed the backcourt yet, where Dorenzo Hudson is having a tough season, partially because of a knee injury. He doesn’t have the same explosiveness that he possessed two years ago. Erick Green didn’t play against Boston College because of a leg injury. With those two guys not at 100%, are they going to be able to get to the gaps in the extended UNC defense? Even if they do, are they going to be able to make shots over shot blocking machine John Henson?
Expect to see a motivated UNC team in Cassell Coliseum on Thursday night. Roy Williams has put them through a tough week of practice, and it’s hard to not see them playing well against the Hokies.