It might be the first week of December, but with an expanded conference schedule, ACC begins for Carolina when they visit Virginia Tech later today. The Tar Heels have lost three straight games, and are in danger of going from the #1 ranked team in the country, to completely unranked if they were to lose to the Hokies. Nobody saw the early season struggles coming UNC’s way, after returning four starters from a team that played for the national championship last season. Carolina’s offense is disconnected, and out of rhythm, and until that changes, the struggles will remain.
Virginia Tech is coming a season where they won the ACC Tournament, and competed in the NCAA Tournament, and they have picked up right where they left off. The Hokies boast a 7-1 record, with their lone loss coming to the College of Charleston, the same team UNC beat 102-86 earlier this season. Mike Young’s squad currently has four players averaging double-figures scoring led by Sean Pedulla, who’s posting 17.1 points, on 51% shooting. Forward Justyn Mutts is back in the frontcourt for Tech and is averaging 12.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 3.9 assists, as he continues to be an integral part of their success. In addition to their efficient offense, Virginia Tech is excelling a playing stellar defense without fouling. Opponents are only averaging making 5.4 foul shots per game which is the third-fewest in the country. Additionally, opponents are only averaging attempting 8.9 free throws per contest, which is the fourth fewest in college basketball.
Wednesday’s game against Indiana wasn’t a get right game for Carolina, but this game very could be. The Tar Heels took Thursday off, but spent Friday and Saturday getting back to the basics, and working on the little things, that are really the most important things. The last time Carolina was in Blacksburg, their NCAA tournament hopes were on the line. While that isn’t the same case today, a win could start to turn the season around, meanwhile, a fourth straight loss could send the season out of control. Here’s how they can avoid just that:
Finish Possessions Defensively: Hubert Davis has said multiple times this season, that he likes the way his team has defended the first 20-25 seconds of the shot clock, but failing to box out, contest a shot, or a missed rotation, wipes that all away when the opponent scores. Against Indiana, where the Hoosiers shot 50%, it was a failure to contest shots from inside the arc. Carolina allowed 50 points in the paint, and the main reason why, was that Indiana had clean looks at the rim. Virginia Tech is going to run its action, until they get the look they want. Carolina needs to be prepared to defend for the entire 30-second shot clock, and do the little things that lead to stops.
Attack the Rim: One area where Carolina has excelled this season is getting to the foul line, where they average making 19.8 foul shots per game (3rd), as they average 26.4 attempts (11th) per game. On the other hand, Virginia Tech doesn’t put their opponents on the foul line, which means Caleb Love and R.J. Davis have a concerted effort to get to the rim. When the Tar Heels have played their offense downhill, good things have happened, and they’ll need to do that in this game. Of course, it doesn’t matter if they attack the rim, and don’t convert. On Wednesday, Carolina was 5-20 on layups. That’s not going to get the job done.
Rebounding: In eight games, UNC has lost the rebounding margin four times, which doesn’t seem fathomable when you know the importance of that area of the game is to the program. After a slow start in that category, Carolina is averaging over 40 rebounds per game, and they’ll need to dominate the glass once again in this game, to control the tempo, and wear down the smaller Hokies. Pete Nance has 12 rebounds against Indiana, let’s hope that was a sign of him becoming more of an impact on the blackboard.
Series History: Carolina is 72-16 against Virginia Tech, including 19-6 since they joined the ACC. Despite the tough environment that Blacksburg presents, Carolina is 22-6 in Blacksburg, with a 9-4 mark, in Cassel Coliseum.
North Carolina - 23rd overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 114.2 (12th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 94.4 (52nd)
Virginia Tech - 40th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 112.1 (23rd) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 96.5 (76th)
TV Info: Today’s game will tip at 3 PM, on the ACC Network.
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