North Carolina (18-3, 6-1 ACC) vs. Virginia Tech (15-4, 4-3 ACC)
Chapel Hill, N.C. – Dean E. Smith Center
Thursday, 8 p.m.
ESPN (Karl Ravech, LaPhonso Ellis)
“They shoot a really good percentage. They have five guys that can go out on the floor and play. They don’t have a post player that stays in the low post, which [doesn’t] allow Isaiah and Kennedy and Tony to be more comfortable defensively, so they’ve got to get out on the court more. They defend you; they change defenses. They always try to keep you uncomfortable about what defenses they are playing.” – UNC head coach Roy Williams on Virginia Tech
“Our energy and our toughness and talk was much better than the previous two road games. The togetherness and the toughness was evident from start to finish. You could feel our spirit.” – VT coach Buzz Williams on the Hokies’ 82-81 win over Clemson on Saturday
“Buzz (Williams) has done a great job. He’s got eight or nine guys that they keep going in and out and trying to keep them fresh. He has a couple of guys that are probably in their top five players but he waits to bring them on so they can match up against the other team’s subs.” – Williams
Heels Edge Out Eagles: North Carolina extended its conference-best winning streak to six on Saturday by handling Boston College, 90-82. The Eagles, who rank near the bottom of the ACC standings, were able to hang with the Tar Heels for 40 minutes, cutting their deficit to four points with under two minutes remaining. Justin Jackson (22) and Kennedy Meeks (20) led the Tar Heels in scoring and eventually to victory, but it was the sloppy defense of UNC that proved to be paramount. Boston College’s backcourt tandem of Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson were lethal, as the North Carolina native duo combined for 51 points.
Virginia Tech Spotlight: The Hokies enter Thursday night’s game with a solid 15-4 (4-3 ACC) record, despite experiencing early troubles in ACC play. Buzz Williams’s side has struggled significantly in 3-point shooting and rebounding in conference games thus far. In seven ACC games, the Hokies rank 10th in the conference in 3-point percentage (36.6%) and in total rebounding. Virginia Tech has compensated for those numbers, though, with an impressive shooting percentage from inside the arc, shooting a league-best 54.3 percent from 2-point range. The Hokies are currently riding a two-game winning streak, with both wins being one-point victories over Georgia Tech and Clemson. The win against the Tigers was only the fourth ACC road win in three years under Williams.
Sixth Man LeDay: Virginia Tech’s leading scorer is nowhere to be found when you look at the starting lineups before a game. Senior wing Zach LeDay leads the Hokies in scoring this year with 16.3 points per game, but he remains the first man off of the bench. The reasoning? Williams’s squad is deep enough that he wants a player like LeDay to be able to get out and be the most effective player on the court when the opponent has its second team on the floor. LeDay is back on the bench after a quick spell of four games as a starter where the Hokies went 1-3. Even though he isn’t in the starting five, LeDay averages 29.6 minutes per game, which is third-most on the team. The 6-foot-7 wing sparingly opts for the outside shot, and instead uses his long frame as a slasher.
Matchup to Watch: LeDay isn’t the only player on VT’s bench who is producing big numbers. Sophomore guard/wing Chris Clarke is also putting in heavy minutes from the bench, averaging 12.5 points per game and leading the team with 7.8 rebounds per game. The combination of LeDay and Clarke off the bench could create challenges for UNC’s second unit, so the responsibility of stopping both playmakers will likely fall in the hands of Theo Pinson. UNC’s 6-foot-6 wing has not worked his way back into UNC’s starting five since coming back from a preseason foot injury, but that may be a good thing for this game. Pinson matches up well with LeDay or Clarke and can mitigate the problems the matchup dynamic creates.
Last Meeting: UNC handled the Hokies, 75-70, at Cassell Coliseum on Jan. 24, 2016. The win pushed UNC up to the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll the following week. Brice Johnson led North Carolina with 19 points while also grabbing 17 rebounds. The win was Roy Williams’s 350th as the Tar Heels’ head coach.
Series Record: The Tar Heels lead the series, 66-13. UNC has won six in a row and 11 of the last 12 games.
Projected UNC Starters:
2 Joel Berry (6-0, 195, Jr.) – 15.5 ppg, 3.9 apg
3 Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260, Sr.) - 13.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg
4 Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242, Sr.) - 13.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg
44 Justin Jackson (6-8, 210, Jr.) – 18.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg
24 Kenny Williams (6-4, 180, So.) - 6.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg
5 Tony Bradley (6-11, 240, Fr.) – 7.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg
1 Theo Pinson (6-6, 211, Jr.) – 6.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg
0 Nate Britt (6-1, 175, Sr.) – 5.0 ppg, 2.6 apg
Projected VT Starters:
2 Khadim Sy (6-10, 240, Fr.) – 5.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg
5 Justin Robinson (6-1, 185, So.) – 10.3 ppg, 4.2 apg
10 Justin Bibbs (6-5, 220, Jr.) – 8.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg
13 Ahmed Hill (6-5, 205, So.) – 13.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg
42 Ty Outlaw (6-6, 220, Jr.) – 3.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg
15 Chris Clarke (6-6, 210, So.) – 12.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg
32 Zach LeDay (6-7, 235, Sr.) – 16.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg
4 Seth Allen (6-1, 190, Sr.) – 11.7 ppg, 3.5 apg