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Virginia Tech (14-10, 5-5 ACC) at #5 North Carolina (23-2, 8-2)

Saturday, February 16, 2008, 1:00 p.m.


Roster Card: Click here

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Game Preview: The road doesn't get any easier for the 5-5 Hokies this weekend, as they travel to Chapel Hill to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in a game that will be nationally televised by CBS. The Tar Heels are trying to stay within striking distance of Duke in the ACC standings, while the Hokies will try to get things turned around after losing two games in a row.

If you want to know how far Virginia Tech has come in basketball, just look at the special event UNC is having for the game. It is the first-ever "Turn It Blue Day." Everyone in attendance is getting a free UNC T-shirt to wear during the game. Think they remember that sweep last year? Yeah, I think so too.

Carolina has taken some criticism for not playing as well as they are capable of recently, but to be fair, they have been devastated by injuries. Here's a look at Carolina's injured players.

Carolina Injuries
Player Position Injury
Ty Lawson PG High Ankle Sprain
Bobby Frasor PG Torn ACL
Marcus Ginyard SF Ankle Sprain, Turf Toe
Deon Thompson PF Hyperextended Knee
Quentin Thomas* PG Back
*Thomas mention after Tuesday's win at UVA that his back
was bothering him, but it's probably nothing serious

To put that in simple terms, UNC has a 9-man rotation, and four of them are hurt, possibly five. With Frasor out, they have an 8-man rotation, with three or four players injured. If Lawson can't go, they'll play seven guys regularly, and combo forward Will Graves will get between five and 10 minutes of action. For the season he averages just 4.5 minutes per game.

Lawson and Frasor are the top two point guards on the team. Thomas is #3, and Ginyard has been forced to play some point guard because of all the injuries. If Thomas' back injury is legit (it probably isn't), then UNC has injuries to their top four point guards. As it stands now, three of their top four are either hurt or out completely.

It's unknown whether or not Lawson will play against the Hokies. He has missed UNC's last three games. Thompson struggled through the second half against UVA after hyper extending his left knee.

Even with all the injuries, UNC is a very formidable team that has posted a 7-2 record in ACC play. Here's a look at their starting lineup.

UNC Probable Starting Lineup
Pos Player Ht Wt Year PPG RPG Assists
G Quentin Thomas 6-3 190 Sr. 2.7 1.4 62
G Wayne Ellington 6-4 200 So. 16.5 3.9 53
F Marcus Ginyard 6-5 218 Jr. 7.4 4.5 46
F Deon Thompson 6-8 240 So. 9.4 4.6 27
F Tyler Hansbrough 6-9 250 Jr. 22.8 10.7 20

The heart and soul of the team is Tyler Hansbrough. Simply put, he is the most dominating player in the ACC. There are players who compete and play hard, and then there is Tyler Hansbrough. He redefines competing, and he is the most intense inside player in the conference. Virginia Tech's inside players must match his intensity, or they are going to be in for a very long afternoon.

Besides that, Hansbrough is also a skilled basketball player. He is averaging a double-double this season. As his career has progressed, so has his skillset. At first he was a back to the basket, low post player only. He has expanded his range, and now he can be effective shooting the open jumper as well. Hansbrough has worked extremely hard on his free throw shot, where he is shooting 80.9% this season.

Because of his aggressiveness inside, Hansbrough gets to the free throw line a lot, going 208-of-257 on the season. Deron Washington gets to the line more than any other Tech player, but he has attempted just 155 free throws. That's not very many, compared to Hansbrough.

UNC values Hansbrough's presence on the court. They value it so much in fact that he's not particularly aggressive on the defensive end. He has blocked just eight shots on the year, and he has committed just 57 fouls in 25 games (2.3 per game in 32.6 minutes per game). He's a position defender. He doesn't want to get in foul trouble, because that would be much too costly for UNC on the offensive end.

UNC will use two other players on the inside with Hansbrough. The other starter is Deon Thompson, a gifted sophomore. He is a talented offensive player, and is a good complement to Hansbrough, averaging 9.4 points per game. The other inside player is Alex Stepheson. Stepheson is UNC's version of Cheick Diakite. His offensive game needs a lot of his work, but he's physical, he's a very good rebounder and he provides a solid presence on defense.

When Ty Lawson is healthy, he is perhaps the fastest point guard in the nation. He will run the court like no one else. His strength is his speed and his ability to get to the basket. Fullcourt basketball games play right into his hands.

That being said, if he isn't healthy, there is no reason to play him. He's not a game managing point guard, and he's a spotty outside shooter. If he can't use his speed, there is no reason for him to be on the court. It's unknown whether he'll see action against the Hokies on Saturday.

If Lawson can't go, Quentin Thomas will get the start at point guard. Thomas is a senior, but he's UNC's third string point guard for a reason. He has some strengths, such as finishing around the basket, but he's not a player that's going to help you win the ACC as UNC strives to do. Two years ago in Cassell Coliseum, in a 64-61 Carolina victory, Thomas had the worst game of his career, finishing with zero assists and seven turnovers in just nine minutes.

UNC only has two major perimeter threats. Wayne Ellington (38.8% 3-pt. shooter) and Danny Green (37% 3-pt. shooter) are the only two Tar Heels who have the green light to shoot the ball from the outside. Ellington has 129 attempts, while Green has 92. Lawson has 55, but he's not going to shoot it unless he has an open look. Ellington and Green are shooters who can elevate and shoot over a defender.

Besides slowing down Hansbrough on the inside, Tech's #2 objective should be to keep Ellington and Green from going off from downtown. Play help defense off Marcus Ginyard and Thomas, and make sure you are sharp in your rotations. If Ellington and Green have off games, which is possible (they were a combined 1-of-11 against Duke), Tech has a chance.

Ginyard is the final major player for the Tar Heels. He is a big, strong wing player that can play the 2 or the 3. He can hit the open three-pointer, but only if he's wide open. He has only attempted 18 outside shots this year. His greatest offensive strength is driving to the basket and finishing. He is a very good defender. His size and strength can make life miserable for opposing ball handlers. A.D. Vassallo or Deron Washington can expect to draw Ginyard. If he isn't healthy (ankle sprain in one leg, turf toe in the other), one of those players has a chance for a big game, especially Vassallo if he can get some open outside shots.

VT vs. UNC (ACC Games Only)
Category VT UNC Advantage
Stat ACC Rank Stat ACC Rank
FG% 42.80% 9 45.30% 6 UNC
FG% Defense 43.40% 3 43.10% 2 UNC
3-Pt. % 28.40% 12 34% 8 UNC
3-Pt. % Defense 38.10% 8 33.20% 4 UNC
FT Shooting 68.60% 9 78.70% 1 UNC
Rebounding Margin +3.1 3 +10.4 1 UNC
Turnover Margin -0.5 7 -1.3 8 VT
Assist/TO Ratio 0.68 11 1.08 4 UNC
Scoring Offense 72.2 8 87.5 1 UNC
Scoring Defense 73.9 2 79.4 12 VT
Average -- 7.2 -- 4.7 UNC

UNC dominates most of the statistical categories, though some of them are very close. Tech actually has a better turnover margin, and they are just behind UNC in field goal percentage defense.

What's surprising are the field goal percentages. UNC is known as being an outstanding offensive team, but a team that struggles on the defensive end. However, check out the table. The Tar Heels are middle of the pack in the ACC in shooting, but among the best teams in the league in field goal percentage defense. UNC allows more points in ACC play than any other team, but it's not because of field goal percentage defense or second chance points. There are a lot more possessions for each team in UNC games, because the Tar Heels like to push the ball so much.

It's a long shot, but Virginia Tech can win this basketball game. Here are a few keys.

I didn't mention Tyler Hansbrough, because he's going to get his points. Also, if Ty Lawson plays, Tech must limit his transition opportunities.

As far as the turnover battles go, in ACC losses the Hokies are averaging 19.4 turnovers per game. In their five ACC wins, they average just 13.4 turnovers. That's a stat to keep an eye on. Lately Tech has been much better with turnovers, averaging just 13.2 in their last five games. Over those five games, they have averaged +3.8 in turnover margin, a dramatic improvement over the early stages of the season.

Carolina is not unbeatable, even at home. They have lost two games this year, both in the Dean Dome. They have played three overtime ACC games, and won two other conference games by one point. They barely snuck out of Charlottesville with a one-point win over last place UVA on Tuesday. Without Ty Lawson, they have won two overtime games and another game by one point, as well as lost to Duke at home. They can be beaten. It will take very good play from the Hokies, as well as some luck, but it can be done.