North Carolina at Virginia Tech
North Carolina (15-3, 2-1) at Virginia Tech (11-6, 0-3), 9:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3
Stat to watch: None. This game will be what each team does with its possessions: shot selection, fighting loose balls/offensive rebounds, making foul shots and avoiding careless turnovers. But this will be two teams fighting for a win that each feels like they desperately need. Carolina’s 33-point loss to Florida State on Saturday has been dissected in terms of how many national champs have been blown out, the last time Carolina has lost by that much, etc.: throw that out. The fact remains that Carolina had been squandering possessions before the FSU game and it finally came back to bite them.
In the first half, Carolina had 48 possessions – seven more than Florida State – and turned them into 28 points. They missed 17 shots, turned it over 12 times and had five possessions end with missing either two foul shots or the front end of a 1-and-1. They should have felt relieved to only trail by eight at the half. But in the second half, FSU actually either missed or turned it over on 24 of 50 possessions and still had 54 points. Carolina missed shots on 20 of 45 possessions and turned it over 10 times, ending with 29 points.
To end a game with 0.6129 points per possession, the second-lowest mark under Roy Williams, and 23.7% loss of ball (only 20 higher loss of ball percentages have been posted under Williams) is insanely bad. It was Carolina’s second-biggest difference in points per possession (Carolina had 0.376 fewer than FSU) in the Williams era. Against Duke in 2010, Carolina scored 0.407 fewer points per possession. Carolina has only had one other game under Williams where they trailed by more than 0.3 points per possession, against Gonzaga in a 2007 loss (-0.32).
Virginia Tech’s losses don’t always make sense on the stat sheet. The Hokies have played great defense in ACC play: their 0.784 points per possession allowed is the best defensive mark of any ACC team. And Virginia Tech has forced a 23% loss of ball by its ACC opponents, also first in the league. But it hasn’t mattered: the Hokies have taken their 230 possessions and turned them into 173 points, 0.75 per possession. They haven’t broken 60 in three league games and haven’t shot above 39.7 percent (at Wake). They’ve also made just 12-of-48 three’s. Virginia Tech will certainly play better against Carolina, but they have to do a better job of making their possessions count than they have so far.
Most important players: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina and Jarrell Eddie, Virginia Tech. Eddie has averaged 9.7 points in ACC play but has shot just 8-of-22 (6-of-14 from three) and two of those three’s came late against Boston College when the game was no longer in doubt. In the last two games, he has shot 4-of-15 (2-of-8 from three). He’s also added 10 fouls, nine turnovers and just one assist in three ACC games. Eddie had been very steady since the Kansas State loss, shooting 44.4% or better in six straight games entering ACC play. If he can get going from three (he’s made 50% this year), it would be huge for Virginia Tech. Just ask FSU and Deividas Dulkys.
Harrison Barnes has had two of his worst games of the year in back-to-back games, shooting just 7-of-25 and 1-of-9 from three (averaging 10.5 points). He has added one assist, no steals and six turnovers. Carolina needs a lot more from Barnes offensively, but they also need more on defense. Dulkys was Barnes’s defensive assignment and we all know how that turned out (he had 32 points). Too often this year, Barnes’s defensive assignment has had a big night. For Carolina to be a great team, it needs to be as good as it was last year on defense, and Barnes was a big part of that. This year, he’s arguably been the weak link defensively. That needs to change and fast.
Random stat: After a loss of ten or more points under Roy Williams, his teams are 14-6 coming off of a loss of 10 or more points and have outscored opponents by 10.2. (Excluding 2010, Williams’ teams are 9-1 coming off double-digit losses.) But even the 2010 teams lost five games after a double-digit loss by a combined 24 points, and one was by ten to Duke, which went on to win the national championship. Last year’s team was 3-0 coming off of double-digit losses including a two-point home win over top-five Kentucky after a loss at Illinois and a ten-point home win over Clemson after the debacle at Georgia Tech. This year’s team will have to fight tonight against a Virginia Tech team that will be just as desperate. Seth Greenberg’s teams have lost more than three games in a row just once in his tenure (2006, when they lost their first five ACC games).
Prediction: North Carolina 79, Virginia Tech 68
Last week: 6-5
Season: 72-27 (11-8 ACC)