Coming off a home loss to Florida State, Virginia Tech will try to stop the bleeding on Monday night against No. 10 North Carolina in Cassell Coliseum. The Tar Heels are 16-4 overall and 5-2 in the ACC, and they’ve won four games in a row since dropping back-to-back road games at Florida State and Virginia.
Meanwhile, the Hokies are 13-6 overall, and 2-4 in the ACC. A loss to the Tar Heels would put them at 2-5 in the ACC heading into consecutive road games against Notre Dame and Boston College. The Florida State loss put Tech in an unenviable position, and while no individual game this early in the ACC schedule can be defined as “must-win”, the Hokies do need to start picking up some victories.
If Tech wants to get back to their winning ways, they need to start playing better defense. They scored 86 points last weekend against Louisville, but lost 94-86. Then scored 82 points against Florida State on Saturday, but went down to defeat 91-82. Scoring points isn’t a question. The Hokies can score with anybody. But they continue to struggle on the defensive end of the court.
Here are Virginia Tech’s ACC-only defensive stats thus far…
Points Per Game: 78.8. 14th out of 15 teams. Only Florida State is worse at 83.7 points per game.
Field Goal Percentage: 49.0 percent. 13th out of 15 teams. Only NC State and Pitt are worse. NC State is in the middle of a coaching transition, while Pitt’s team is made up of mostly freshmen.
Three-Point Percentage: 44.8 percent, 15th out of 15 teams. NC State and Duke are the closest teams to the Hokies, but they are well ahead at 39.2 percent.
Defense was an issue last season as well for Virginia Tech, and on paper their defense should be better this season. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case. To put into perspective how bad Tech’s defense has been, the Hokies are shooting 46.7 percent against ACC foes this year, which ranks second in the conference. Outside of those first two games against Syracuse and UVA, they have been a very good offensive team, but they still haven’t been able to beat anybody other than Wake Forest or Pitt, who might be the two worst teams in the league.
Here is how North Carolina has fared offensively in their seven ACC games…
Points Per Game: 76.3 ppg. Fourth out of 15 teams.
Field Goal Percentage: 42.4 percent. Ninth out of 15 teams.
Three-Point Percentage: 35.1 percent. Eighth out of 15 teams.
The Tar Heels aren’t a particularly good shooting team, but that hasn’t seemed to matter. Teams are scoring against the Hokies at will.
Here is the starting lineup that the Tar Heels used in their last game, an 80-66 victory over Georgia Tech…
G Joel Berry II (6-feet, 195 pounds, Sr.): Averaging 17.3 points per game and 3.3 rebounds per game. Berry is a veteran leader who is in his third season as a starter for the Tar Heels.
G Kenny Williams (6-foot-4, 185 pounds, Jr.): Averaging 11.9 ppg and 3.4 rpg. Williams leads the team with 23 steals, and the Richmond native is shooting 40.9 percent from three-point range.
G Cameron Johnson (6-foot-8, 210 pounds, r-Sr.): Averaging 11.7 ppg and 5.1 rpg. Johnson is a transfer from Pitt, and he’s had a big impact in the nine games he’s played for UNC. He’s a good shooter, and he’s a tough matchup as a lengthy wing.
F Theo Pinson (6-foot-6, 220 pounds, Sr.): Averaging 9.2 ppg and 5.6 rpg. Pinson’s 87 assists is a team-high.
F Luke Maye (6-foot-8, 240 pounds, Jr.): Averaging 17.8 ppg and 10.5 rpg. Yes, Maye is averaging a double-double. He’s a former 3-star recruit who has developed into UNC’s best player.
The Tar Heels don’t have as much height in their starting lineup as you might expect, but they will bring guys like Garrison Brooks (6-foot-9, 215 pounds, Fr.) and Sterling Manley (6-foot-11, 240 pounds, Fr.) off the bench.
Considering Kerry Blackshear’s propensity to get in foul trouble, it’s worth keeping an eye on the matchup inside between him and Luke Maye. Obviously Maye will get a lot of touches, and Blackshear needs to be able to defend him without fouling. The Hokies have gotten in a lot of trouble this season when Blackshear has been in foul trouble. If that happens against UNC, then the chances of pulling the upset decrease dramatically.
Blackshear’s pace adjusted PER (a personal efficiency metric) is 24.6 this season. The next closest Tech player is Ahmed Hill at 17.8. Blackshear is not only important as Virginia Tech’s only big man, but he’s important because he has arguably been Virginia Tech’s best player. It’s imperative that he stays on the court as much as possible. He only played 18 minutes against Florida State, and the Hokies were toast as a result.
Tonight’s game begins at 7 p.m., and it will be televised nationally by ESPN.