Virginia Tech at No. 9 UNC
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill
TV/Radio: ESPN (Karl Ravech, LaPhonso Ellis)/106.1-WTKK/SiriusXM channel 81
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Projected starting lineups
North Carolina (18-3, 6-1 ACC)
G Joel Berry 15.5 ppg, 3.9 apg
G Kenny Williams 6.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg
F Justin Jackson 18.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg
F Isaiah Hicks 13.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg
F Kennedy Meeks 13 ppg, 9.6 rpg
Virginia Tech (15-4, 4-3)
G Justin Robinson 10.3 ppg, 4.2 apg
G Ahmed Hill 13.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg
F Justin Bibbs 8.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg
F Chris Clarke 12.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg
F Zach LeDay 16.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg
▪ A game defined by contrasting styles.
UNC coach Roy Williams likes to keep things consistent. Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams like to mix it up – defenses, starting lineups, you name it. UNC will see some things it doesn’t often encounter on Thursday. Like, for instance, the lack of an opposing post player. That could create some advantages for UNC on offense, but defensively Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley will have to play on the perimeter more than they’re accustomed. And defensively, Virginia Tech will “always try to keep you uncomfortable about what defense they are playing,” Roy Williams said.
▪ The Tar Heels with a chance to build some separation.
The race is tightening for the ACC regular season championship. Three teams entered the week with one loss in conference play. Now that’s down to two – UNC and Florida State – after Notre Dame’s loss at home on Tuesday against Virginia. The Hokies on Thursday night are playing for a chance to ascend into one of the league’s upper tiers, and a victory in Chapel Hill would move Virginia Tech closer to the competition for first place. A UNC victory, meanwhile, guarantees it will keep pace with Florida State at least until the weekend. Protecting the home court is especially important for UNC, given the schedule only becomes more difficult in February.
▪ Scouting Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams has done some unconventional things with the Hokies’ starting lineup, bringing starting-caliber players off the bench and using reserves as starters. Regardless of who starts, though, the lineup above is reflective of the Hokies’ best five players. Virginia Tech’s strength is on offense, and it’s 19th nationally in effective field goal percentage (55.8 percent), according to kenpom.com. The Hokies aren’t afraid to run with teams, though UNC plays at a much faster pace. The Tar Heels’ clearest statistical advantage is in rebounding. UNC leads the country in offensive rebounding, while Virginia Tech is among the ACC’s worst teams at generating second-chance opportunities, given its lack of size.