Date: Thursday, January 26
Buzz Williams and his basketball team will face a very difficult challenge tonight when they take on the #6 North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. UNC is 18-3 overall, and they sit atop the ACC standings with a 6-1 conference record.
After losing at Georgia Tech in their first ACC game of the season, the Tar Heels have ripped off six victories in a row. Three of them have come at home in the Dean Dome, and they won those three games by an average of 27 points per game, with the closest game being a 96-83 win over a Top 10 Florida State team. UNC is very good, and they are in the hunt for a National Championship yet again after falling to Villanova on a last second shot last season.
UNC’s three losses came at the hands of Indiana on the road (76-67), Kentucky in Las Vegas (103-100) and Georgia Tech in Atlanta (75-63). The Heels can score with anybody, but two of those losses came when they played subpar offensive games. Over their last six games they are averaging 93.3 points per game, and the lowest amount of points they’ve scored in that span was 85 against the Syracuse 2-3 zone. This is a loaded offensive basketball team, and as good as the Hokies have been offensively, it probably wouldn’t be wise to get into a scoring contest with the Tar Heels.
Here’s a look at their projected starting lineup…
G Joel Berry II (6-0, 195, Jr.): 15.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 75 assists, 42.9% 3-Pt.
G Kenny Williams (6-4, 180, So.): 6.9 ppg, 3.4 ppg, 34.8% 3-Pt. (better than his percentage indicates)
F Justin Jackson (6-8, 210, Jr.): 18.2 ppg, 5 rpg, 40% 3-Pt.
F Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242, Sr.): 13.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 61% FG, 82.5% FT
F Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260, Sr.): 13 ppg, 9.6 rpg
The Tar Heels start three very capable shooters on the perimeter, and they have plenty of size on the inside. Justin Jackson is a very skilled small forward who can nail three-pointers at a dangerous clip, while Isaiah Hicks is a very efficient player inside. It’s quite a luxury to have a 6-9, 242 big man who can hit 82.5% of his free throws. Hicks is 66-of-80 from the free throw line this year, so that 82.5% is not from a small sample size.
Not only is UNC loaded with good starters, but they also have plenty of depth. Tony Bradley (6-11, 240, Fr.), Theo Pinson (6-6, 211, Jr.) and Nate Britt (6-1, 175, Sr.) all provide Roy Williams with good minutes off the bench. Pinson missed the first 16 games of the season with a broken foot, but he’s now playing a valuable role. It’s possible that he could join the starting lineup at some point this season, but for now it’s good for the Tar Heels to have a player with his experience coming off the bench.
UNC ranks as the #8 team in the country by Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. They are #10 in adjusted offensive efficiency, and #14 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Meanwhile, the Hokies rank #48 overall, #49 on offense and #74 on defense. It’s one of the rare occasions where Tech actually ranks lower in the Pomeroy ratings than the RPI (#38).
Here are three things to keep in mind while preparing for tonight’s game…
1: Will Chris Clarke start? Clarke came off the bench twice last week in wins over Georgia Tech and Clemson as a punishment for being late to the shootaround before the Georgia Tech game. Will his punishment end tonight, and will he rejoin the starting lineup?
2: Will Khadim Sy play more minutes? UNC has a huge size advantage over the Hokies. Sy (6-10) is the only healthy player on the roster over 6-7. Will he see the court more tonight? And will Buzz Williams try to play him and Zach LeDay at the same time?
3: Will Tech’s three-pointers fall? The Hokies are a team that has been reliant on three-pointers this season. Missed three-pointers lead to long defensive rebounds, which can lead to easy transition buckets. UNC runs the court as well as anyone, so Tech needs to have a good shooting night and limit the Tar Heels in transition.