Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina
Date: Wednesday, January 22
TV: The ACC Network
Virginia Tech (13-5, 4-3 ACC) will host North Carolina (8-9, 1-5) in Cassell Coliseum on Wednesday night. The Hokies are currently 7-point favorites over the struggling Tar Heels, who have a losing record for the first time since they lost to Santa Clara in the season opener of the 2004-05 season.
UNC went on to win the National Championship in 2004-05, but history isn’t going to repeat itself this year. The Tar Heels have had injury problems, especially with star freshman guard Cole Anthony missing an extended period of time, but Roy Williams has openly remarked about his team’s overall lack of talent, and even went so far to say that this was the least athletic team he has ever coached.
If Williams said any of that as a motivational ploy, it hasn’t worked. The Tar Heels have lost four games in a row and eight of their last 10. They’ve lost three consecutive home games, with their last win coming on December 30 in a narrow 70-67 victory over Yale. Their only true road win of the year came on November 8 against a UNC Wilmington team that has beaten just three Division I teams all season. In short, this is the worst North Carolina basketball team that many of us have ever seen.
However, UNC still has some strengths that could bother the Hokies. For example, they are No. 14 nationally in offensive rebounds. They have a lot of size, and they can create many second chance opportunities. That said, despite their size, the Hokies are No. 50 out of 353 teams in opponents’ offensive rebound percentage. In other words, Tech is keeping the opposition of the offensive glass. If they can do the same to a bigger Carolina team, this is a game Tech should be able to win.
Here’s a look at the lineup UNC went with in their most recent loss to Pitt, a 66-52 humbling experience on the road…
- G Andrew Platek (6-4, 200, Jr.): 4 ppg, 2.3 rpg.
- G Brandon Robinson (6-5, 173, Sr.): 12.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg
- G Leaky Black (6-8, 195, So.): 5.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg
- F Garrison Brooks (6-9, 235, Jr.): 14.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg.
- F Armando Bacot (6-10, 232, Fr.): 10.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg.
Nine different players have started games for the Tar Heels this season, so we could see a bit of a different look against the Hokies on Wednesday night in the backcourt. Roy Williams has struggled to find the right combination there since the injury to Cole Anthony. Former Virginia Tech signee Anthony Harris, who matriculated to UNC following the departure of Buzz Williams, also tore his ACL after five games, complicating their situation in the backcourt even more. To make matters worse, fellow freshman guard Jeremiah Francis has also been injured. Imagine a Virginia Tech lineup without Wabissa Bede, Jalen Cone and Nahiem Alleyne. That’s pretty much what has happened to UNC.
The Tar Heels have struggled offensively as a result. They shoot just 40% from the field and only 29.1% from three-point range. Their effective field goal percentage ranks just 335 out of 353 teams. They can’t even shoot free throws, ranking only No. 314 in free throw percentage (64.9%). Overall, the Tar Heels rank outside the top 300 in these key shooting metrics…
2-Pt. FG: No. 320
3-Pt. FG: No. 326
Effective FG%: No. 335
FT%: No. 314
That’s why it’s imperative that Virginia Tech keep the Tar Heels off the offensive glass. They struggle to score in the halfcourt, and if they can be prevented from scoring second chance points, they won’t have many scoring opportunities. Statistically, the turnover battle also favors the Hokies. UNC is No. 328 nationally in defensive turnover rate (forcing turnovers). Meanwhile, Tech ranks No. 3 nationally in offensive turnover rate.
There have been some rumblings that UNC guard Cole Anthony could return tonight against the Hokies, though it has also been reported that he hasn’t yet returned to practice. He hasn’t played since December 8 against UVA, and he averages 19.1 points and 3.6 assists per game. Anthony is currently projected as a lottery pick in the NBA Draft, so his return would be a big boost for the Tar Heels, whenever it may be.
For more thoughts on the game, see our TSL Podcast excerpt below.