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Previewing Virginia Tech

No. 2 North Carolina travels to snowy Blacksburg for a matchup with upstart Virginia Tech on Sunday. Tip-off at the Cassell Coliseum is set for 3:00 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN News & ESPN3.

North Carolina (17-2, 6-0 ACC) vs. Virginia Tech (12-7, 4-2 ACC)
Blacksburg, Va. – Cassell Coliseum
Sunday, 3:00 p.m.
ESPN News & ESPN3 (Anish Shroff, Cory Alexander)

Quotable

"I think that probably our greatest skill is our kids keep trying. I don't think that we're very good. … That doesn't mean that I felt like last year our kids weren't trying. I thought last year's group was the funnest year I'd had in coaching because they gave their heart and soul every day, and there's some remnants of that beginning to be seen in this current group." – Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams

PREGAME NOTES

Season to Date: Virginia Tech enters Sunday’s contest with a 12-7 (4-2 ACC) record. The Hokies suffered their worst defeat of the season during opening weekend with an 85-82 home loss to Alabama State. Buzz Williams’s squad has since won the games its supposed to win and lose the games its supposed to lose, outside of its upset of No. 13 Virginia on Jan. 4. Virginia Tech’s other ACC wins are N.C. State, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, teams that have combined for three conference wins.

Junior Emergence: Zach LeDay averages a team-high 15.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. The junior forward has put his points up efficiently, hitting nearly 49 percent of his attempts from the field. He’s also the team’s best shot-blocker. LeDay is playing his first season as a Hokie after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules after leaving South Florida. LeDay ranks 81st nationally in offensive efficiency (12.8).

Middle of the Pack: The Hokies are fairly average in terms of overall efficiency, according to kenpom.com. Virginia Tech is ranked 121st in the nation in offensive efficiency rating (106.8) and 134th in defensive efficiency rating (101.0). The Hokies rank ninth in the ACC in field goal percentage (45.2) and eighth in field goal percentage defense (42.7). Buzz Williams’s team isn’t afraid of picking up the pace, either. Virginia Tech is averaging 71.8 possessions per 40 minutes, compared to North Carolina’s average of 73.6 possessions.

Gobbled Up On the Boards: One of the Hokies’ weakest areas as a team comes from their rebounding. They are ranked 13th in the ACC in rebounding margin (plus-0.9). A lack of interior size is the primary culprit for the woes as Williams starts a pair of forwards that stand 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8. No Virginia Tech player averages double digits in rebounding, although it’s likely that freshman wing Chris Clarke would have helped the Hokies in that category. Clarke was a starter in nonconference play until being sidelined with a broken foot that leaves him out indefinitely.

Bibbs Feasting from Outside: Sophomore guard Justin Bibbs has emerged as the Hokies’ primary outside scoring threat. Bibbs has torched opposing defenses for 53 percent shooting from 3-point land, good for second in the conference. Given UNC’s noted perimeter woes on the defensive end, the second-year player out of Dayton, Ohio has potential to be a deciding factor in Sunday’s contest.

Allen All-In: Transfer junior guard Seth Allen has been vital to Virginia Tech’s success this season, at one point leading the team in scoring, but now averaging 13.6 points per game. The former Maryland standout has shown he can hit the big shot when it counts. On Jan. 2, he drained a game-tying 3-pointer with under 20 seconds to play against N.C. State to force the game into overtime, where the Hokies would ultimately complete a comeback victory. 

Last Meeting: The Tar Heels defeated the Hokies, 68-53, at the Smith Center on Jan. 18, 2015. UNC dominated the boards, 49-22, and outscored Virginia Tech 15-4 in second-chance points. Justin Jackson led UNC with 16 points and seven rebounds, while Brice Johnson added a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Series History: UNC leads the all-time series, 65-13. The Tar Heels have won five straight and 10 of the last 11 meetings.

Projected Starters:
32 Zach LeDay (6-7, 235, Jr.) – 15.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg
23 Jalen Hudson (6-5, 195, So.) - 7.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg
4 Seth Allen (6-1, 195, Jr.) - 13.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg
10 Justin Bibbs (6-5, 220, So.) - 12.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg
0 Shane Henry (6-8, 190, Sr.) - 2.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg

Top Reserves:
11 Devin Wilson (6-4, 190, Jr.) – 2.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg
24 Kerry Blackshear (6-10, 240, Fr.) – 7.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg
5 Justin Robinson (6-1, 180, Fr.) – 6.6 ppg, 3.0 apg

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