When No. 9 Virginia Tech (15-2) takes a visit to No. 13 North Carolina (14-4) in Chapel Hill tonight, not only do we have a battle of Top 15 teams, but it will also be a battle for sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
And what’s even more fascinating is that both teams come into tonight recovering from embarrassing blowout wins: Back on January 12, the Tar Heels took a 83-62 loss at home by the hands of Louisville. On the 15th of January, the Hokies would go on the road to face their rival Virginia — they would take a 81-59 defeat.
For UNC, they recovered with a 75-69 win at the Dean Smith Center over Notre Dame, and then days later getting a big road win after taking out Miami 85-76. The Tar Heels would shoot magnificently at 55.0 FG%, and that’s the first game in eight that North Carolina has tallied at least 50 — could we soon start to see UNC roll?
For Virginia Tech, they would recover with a 87-71 smacking of Wake Forest. The Hokies were also incredible from the field in that game, hitting an incredibly elite 56.9 FG% tally. They would also hit 42.3% from the three-point line, hitting 11-26 from the arc.
In the game against the Demon Deacons, it was the 10th game this season where the Hokies would hit the 80-point tally. Also note: They’re 10-0, undefeated, when they score at least 80.
The reason why that needs to be highlighted is due to the defense of the Tar Heels: They haven’t been the best this season averaging 73.3 PA, showing a lack of consistency. VT could take advantage and create some damage as a result, even hitting the 80 mark for the potential victory.
North Carolina hasn’t been a slouch on the offensive side themselves either though, they’ve been potent this season tallying near the 90 mark at 87.3 PPG. Their most recent impressive showing was the 26 assists in the game against Miami, their second-highest total of the season.
On the side of Virginia Tech, they exposed a bright spot in their rotation. Getting in foul trouble, the Hokies had to enact a deep usage of their bench, and it paid off — they scored 25 points off of the wood against Wake Forest, proving how deep VT can be.
With Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams understanding his bench more, it could certainly be utilized in the game against the Tar Heels tonight, and they could once again go deep to wear out the Tar Heels.
And that could be truer than ever due to the state of North Carolina’s bench. They’ve been without backup forward Sterling Manley, who’s been out for three weeks due to a knee injury. The good news for UNC’s bench is freshman Nassir Little, he’s been fabulous in the past two games collectively scoring 23 points in just 30 minutes off of the bench.
Keep an eye on the bench play. That could be the biggest deciding factor for the game tonight.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
CHECK THE NUMBERS
We come into this game with some pretty balanced numbers, and that’s evident by each team taking two out of the four major statistical categories. For the Hokies, they’re -9 on the offensive end averaging 78.5 PPG. However, they’re +4 in shooting the ball hitting an elite 50.1 FG% of their shots. On the glass, it goes back to being a negative with VT sitting with a considerably weak 32.6 RPG average — that’s a drastic -11 compared to UNC. Virginia Tech gets a distant edge of their own though: They’re -14 on defense with 59.5 PA.
The Tar Heels come in with significant advantages in both points production and rebounding the ball, though they lack dramatically in defensive comparison — and just a small disadvantage in field goal percentage. On the offensive side, the Tar Heels have been incredibly potent this season nearly hitting the 90 mark. They average a heavy 87.3 PPG, a +9 advantage. Though Virginia Tech’s shooting has been better, UNC is -4 at 46.9 FG%. On the glass, they’re +11 with 43.9 RPG, while on defense, they take a -14 hit at 73.3 PA.
After getting blown out to their rival Virginia on the road, I’m going to have a hard time trusting Virginia Tech coming into Chapel Hill. And not just that, but the Hokies are 2-8 in their last 10 games against the Tar Heels.
Virginia Tech’s bench will give North Carolina problems, and it’ll make for an interesting game — mainly due to the state of UNC’s bench, it’s in a state of flux at the moment. But with the senior power of Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye, and with the rising star of a Nassir Little, I just don’t see the Hokies keeping up with the scoring of North Carolina — the offense is too potent, and at Dean Smith Center at that.
VT’s defense has been fantastic this season, but I don’t see a shut down happening towards the potency of UNC at their house. I also don’t see the Hokies keeping offensive pace with the Tar Heels enough to get the victory either, despite the benches. (And honestly, even though I think it’s an interesting factor, it’s a bit overblown by the rest of the media — especially with the above mentioned Little) Virginia Tech keeps it close, but North Carolina pulls away for the ten-point victory.