Virginia Tech at #9 North Carolina Preview and Pick

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP | Jan 26, 2017
[caption id="attachment_4760" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Can the Hokies upset #9 UNC? [Credit: Harley Taylor] Can the Hokies upset #9 UNC? [Credit: Harley Taylor][/caption]After getting two one-point wins last week at home against Georgia Tech and on the road against Clemson, Virginia Tech heads on the road to Chapel Hill to take on ninth-ranked ACC leaders North Carolina. This has already been a crazy week in college basketball with five of the top 8 teams in the country (#1 Villanova, #2 Kansas, #4 Kentucky, #6 Florida State, #8 UCLA) all having been upset this week. For North Carolina, the chaos from the beginning of this week has created an opportunity for them to make a big jump in the polls if they can win two games in 3 days against two NCAA Tournament caliber teams in Virginia Tech and Miami. Roy Williams once again has a strong squad that definitely has the talent to get back to the national championship and do what they couldn't do last year. One big problem for the Hokies could come on the glass as North Carolina leads the nation in rebounding with 45.9 rebounds per game and offensive rebounds with 16.5 per game, and have five players averaging at least 5 rebounds per game. Virginia Tech will have to find a way to limit the second chance opportunities that players like Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley get in this matchup with it being critical for Chris Clarke, Zach LeDay, and Khadim Sy to have strong games on the glass. North Carolina also has one of the highest-scoring offenses in the nation that is built largely on their impressive offensive rebounding with Virginia Tech having a better field goal (48.7% to 47.5%) and three-point (38.4% to 37.4%) percentage than the Tar Heels. The Hokies may have some issues on the glass with UNC's large frontcourt, and the Hokies will need to be effective from three in particular in this game with VT needing guys like Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs to snap out of their cold snaps in this game. Seth Allen has shot the ball at career high levels from the field and has been the Hokies' star lately scoring 15 second half points in their victory at Clemson and making the game-winning layup against Georgia Tech. Since missing the Florida State game, Allen has shot at least 57% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc in the past four games while averaging under 2 turnovers and having at least 16 points in his last three games. Allen will be an important component along with Zach LeDay who has been quite productive with almost 17 points per game in his past 5 games. Virginia Tech's star senior duo has stepped up lately for the Hokies and they'll need strong performances from both LeDay and Allen in this game to have a chance at pulling off the upset. The matchup to watch could come between UNC's Justin Jackson and VT's Chris Clarke who both have had breakout seasons with Jackson leading UNC in scoring with 18.2 points per game plus 5 rebounds and 2.7 assists while Clarke has done it all averaging 12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. The Hokies will need a strong performance from Clarke in this game after he had some issues against Clemson in what was his worst game of ACC play. If Clarke can slow down Jackson and have a big game himself, the Hokies give themselves a much-better chance at pulling off the upset. One guy who could be the x-factor for the Hokies is freshman big man Khadim Sy who is going into the toughest environment he'll have ever travelled to in Chapel Hill. Sy has been playing only around 12 minutes per game for the Hokies, but if he can provide some help on the glass like he did against Duke with 6 rebounds, it could be a big boost for a small VT frontcourt that likely will have issues with Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. Virginia Tech will be able to make this game competitive with the Hokies having the experience to keep it competitive, but North Carolina is the better team playing on their home floor which will help a whole lot. On top of that, the big rebounding mismatch will be a big problem as Kennedy Meeks will have a big game and UNC will get a quality win that proves why they should be a top 5 team and are a serious national title contender.

Pick: #9 North Carolina 89, Virginia Tech 78