Date: Sunday, January 18
Virginia Tech plays the second of four straight games against ranked teams when they travel to Chapel Hill to take on #15 UNC on Sunday at 6:30pm.
North Carolina wasn’t playing great earlier in the season, but they have now won seven of their last eight games, including a last second victory against Louisville last weekend. They are 13-4 overall and 3-1 in the ACC, and right now they are playing their best basketball of the season.
The Tar Heels are a very athletic team led by All-ACC point guard Marcus Paige. Here’s a look at their starting lineup.
G Marcus Paige (6-1, 175, Jr.): Paige leads the team by averaging 13.9 points per game, and he also has 66 assists. He is UNC’s top three-point threat. Paige has attempted 110 outside jumpers (making 38.2%), while nobody else on the team has taken more than 36 shots from deep. He is projected as a second round draft pick, either this year or next year.
G/F Justin Jackson (6-8, 193, Fr.): Jackson is starting on the wing for UNC as a freshman, and he’s averaging 9.4 points per game. At this stage of his development, Jackson is not a threat from the outside, shooting just 7-of-36 (19.4%) from three-point range.
F JP Tokoto (6-6, 200, Jr.): Tokoto is one of the best athletes in the ACC, and one of the most experienced players on this UNC team. He averages 9.1 points per game, and though he’s not the most skilled player out there, he can make a big impact on the game with his athleticism.
F Brice Johnson (6-9, 228, Jr.): Johnson averages 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and he’s also swatted 17 shots. Based on the fact that Tech doesn’t have a true power forward on their roster, Johnson has a chance to have a huge game on Sunday.
F Kennedy Meeks (6-9, 270, So.): Meeks has a lot of size, and he’s averaging 12.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
UNC’s second shortest starter (JP Tokoto, 6-6) is taller than Virginia Tech’s second tallest starter (Justin Bibbs, 6-5). On the inside, there is simply no comparison. The Hokies have JUCO power forward Shane Henry (6-8, 190), who, though athletic, isn’t big enough or skilled enough to play many minutes at this level. The Hokies also have freshman center Satchel Pierce, who is improving, but who also still has a lot of work to do. In short, this is one of Tech’s worst matchups in a season full of bad matchups.
Here are the efficiency ratings for each team. In particular, you’ll note that the rebounding numbers further illustrate what a mismatch this game is on paper.
Offensive Efficiency: VT #106, UNC #25
Defensive Efficiency: VT #186, UNC #43
Offensive Rebounding rate: VT #233, UNC #3
Defensive Rebounding rate: VT #338, UNC #240
Total Rebounding rate: VT #286, UNC #9
Turnovers per possession: VT #159, UNC #68
Opponent turnovers per possession: VT #93, UNC #225
North Carolina is much more efficient than the Hokies on both ends of the court. The biggest mismatch of the game is on the boards. The Tar Heels are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, while the Hokies are the worst defensive rebounding team in all of the Power 5 conferences. Even if Tech does come out and play great defense, the numbers suggest that UNC will grab a lot of offensive rebounds and pound Tech with second chance points.
To compete, the Hokies have to continue to shoot lights out from the outside, and they have to keep avoiding turnovers like they have in the last two games (just 14 total TOs the last two games). Although they certainly won’t beat UNC on the boards, they have to limit the damage the Tar Heels inflict with second chance points.