Hokies look for their third straight win as they travel to Chapel Hill to face #9 North Carolina
After a few days off to rest following their 82-81 victory over Clemson last Sunday, the Virginia Tech Hokies (15-4, 4-3 ACC) are back in action on Thursday evening with a steep road test against #9 North Carolina (18-3, 6-1 ACC).
After a fairly uneven start to conference play, which is to be expected this year especially in a very tough ACC, the Hokies have bounced back nicely over the last couple of games to get back over .500 in league play.
One major reason why has been the continued consistency of sophomore wing, Chris Clarke. Whether it be as a starter, or off of the bench like in the last couple of games, Clarke’s play on both ends of the court has been paramount to the team staying competitive in their tough ACC schedule.
Clarke is averaging 12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. Clarke is also leading the team with 1.4 steals per game, which is simply a high level view of just how well he is playing defense on the ball on the perimeter.
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Khadim Sy has also emerged as a reliable young player for the Hokies. The 6’10” 240 lbs. freshman is only averaging around 12 minutes per contest, but could play a larger role on Thursday night against a larger North Carolina frontcourt. Sy is averaging 5.0 points and 3.4 rebounds, but his athleticism on the defensive end is where he could be most relied upon if he sees an uptick in playing time against the Tar Heels.
The player who is most important to the Hokies’ recent run of success, however, is the emergence of senior guard Seth Allen’s efficiency. Allen is now shooting 56.6% from the floor and 48.2% from three, and has become a major force offensively for the Hokies of late, a string which will need to continue against North Carolina for any chance of a road upset.
Speaking of the Tar Heels, they present a number of challenges for the Hokies on Thursday evening. Junior wing Justin Jackson has taken on an enhanced scoring role for the ‘Heels, averaging 18.2 points per game while shooting 40.0% from beyond-the-arc and 45.9% overall from the floor. While Tech will likely throw Chris Clarke Jackson’s way defensively, the real mismatch could come in the backcourt.
Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson and Seth Allen have struggled defensively at times this season, which is what the Tar Heels will attempt to take advantage of with their second leading scorer, Joel Berry III. His 15.5 points per game ranks second on the team, but his ability to drive to the basket and find bigs Isaiah Hicks (13.1 points per game) and Kennedy Meeks (13.0 points per game) provides major issues to the Hokies when considering their lack of frontcourt depth and size down low.
If North Carolina can exploit these match-ups, they will win. However, if the Hokies are able to collapse the paint, while playing tighter defense on the perimeter to prevent the penetration of the UNC guards, the Hokies will have an excellent opportunity to win this game down the stretch.
Tip-off from the Dean Dome will take place around 8 PM ET on Thursday night. The game will be televised on ESPN.