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Heel Tough Blog: Virginia Tech Preview


Adrian Kraus - AP Photo

After losing on the road earlier this week on Saturday, the Tar Heels return home, to take on Virginia Tech, looking to respond after the setback at Syracuse and stay atop the ACC standings. Carolina’s loss earlier in the week, allowed Duke to close within a half-game of first place in the conference and stripped away an opportunity to put more space between them, and Virginia. If the Tar Heeld ultimately doesn’t win the ACC regular season titles, the losses at Georgia Tech and Syracuse will likely be the reason why. 


Virginia Tech enters with a 14-10 record, and they are a 6-7 in the ACC. A month and a half ago, it looked like Virginia Tech was rounding into form under Mike Young, and was going to be contending for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. That is still possible, if they win their next two games, against UNC (of course), and against UVA, but winning both of those games doesn’t seem likely. They are led in scoring by Sean Pedulla, who averages over 15 points per game, and he’s one of three Hokies to average more than double figures. As you could expect under Mike Young, they are a quality perimeter shooting team, as they shoot 37% from behind the arc. 


For the first time in an ACC game, Carolina will go against a former teammate, with Tyler Nickel now a part of Mike Young’s program. Nickel committed to Hubert Davis during the first summer of Davis being Carolina’s head coach, but after sparse playing time as a freshman, Nickel was one of the many players to transfer out of the program and return to his home state of Virginia, to play for Mike Young. Nickel is fourth on the team in scoring, and is shooting over 40% from behind the arc, and looks like the player Hubert Davis wanted to see him develop into during his time in Chapel Hill. 


During his press conference on Friday, Hubert Davis relayed the message about how important it is for the team to win an ACC regular season title, and that the team knows where they stand in the ACC regular season race. With four of the final six regular season games at home, Carolina must protect homecourt, to give the best chance to win their first ACC regular season title in 5 years. It all starts with beating Virginia Tech tomorrow afternoon. Here’s how they get back to their winning ways: 


  1. Fast Start: In Carolina’s recent lull, a big reason why they haven’t won or played as well as they would’ve liked was that they didn’t get off to the type of start they would’ve liked. On Tuesday night, Carolina got behind double digits before the under-12 timeout in the first half, and even the last time they were at home, Clemson hit them with a 15-2 run out of the gate, on their way to their second-ever win at UNC. Looking to get back to playing with the confidence we saw for the month of January, it’s important Carolina sees the ball go in the basket and get stops defensively. With the game being on the weekend, expect a capacity crowd at the Smith Center, and the fanbase needs to bring the energy and help lift the spirit of the team up. The last thing that needs to happen is for Virginia Tech to punch first, they need to know right from the opening tip that Carolina isn’t going to lie down after the loss the other night. 

  2. Defend the Perimeter: Carolina’s perimeter defense hasn’t been consistently good since before the Georgia Tech game, and on Tuesday, they allowed Syracuse to go 8-17 from deep. Virginia Tech as a team shoots 37% from behind the arc, headlined by their veteran backcourt, Sean Pedulla, and Hunter Cattoor, along with UNC transfer Tyler Nickel. Mike Young will utilize some 5 out action and put Carolina’s bigs out on the perimeter to guard in space. UNC’s rotations and closeouts must be as good as they’ve been since the Duke game, and they communicate when defending against whatever ball screen action they are tasked with defending. If the Hokies can replicate the success that other teams have enjoyed recently, it’ll put them in a position to pull the upset. 

  3. Rebounding: Carolina won the rebounding margin for the fourteenth straight game the other night, but they didn’t overwhelm Syracuse on the boards, and that was a reason why they lost. For as bad a rebounding team as the Orange are, Virginia Tech ranks 323rd in rebounds per game, while Carolina ranks inside the top 10. Now part of the reason why Carolina had just 18 defensive rebounds on Tuesday night, was because Syracuse shot a blistering 63% from the field, meaning Carolina wasn’t able to run off their misses. While it starts with getting stops, this should be a game where Carolina feats on the offense glass and gives themselves ample opportunities for second-chance points. If Carolina doesn’t assert itself on the backboards, it likely will find itself in another close game late in the second half. 


Series History:

  • Carolina is 72-17 all-time against Virginia Tech, including being 19-7 against the Hokies since they joined the ACC. In Chapel Hill, Carolina is 33-6, and is 8-1 in the Smith Center, with the lone loss coming back in 2007. 

KenPom:

  • North Carolina - 10th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 117.8 (24th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 94.3 (12th) 

  • Virginia Tech - 62nd overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 114.2 (51st) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 101.6 (89th) 

NET:

  • North Carolina - 11th. 

  • Virginia Tech - 61st. 


TV Info: Tomorrow’s game will tip at 2 PM on the ACC Network.


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