CHAPEL HILL — No. 8 North Carolina plays at Virginia Tech tonight in Blacksburg, Va. (9 p.m., ESPN) Here are three things to watch while the Tar Heels attempt to bounce back from the worst loss of the Roy Williams era:
How UNC starts the game. The Heels admitted they were flat at the start of their most recent game, a 90-57 defeat at Florida State. The Seminoles put UNC in an early hole and the Heels never climbed their way out.
What happened in Tallahassee, Fla., was as shocking as anything we’ve seen in an ACC game in recent seasons. But if it could happen there, it could happen against in Virginia Tech’s Cassell Coliseum, where UNC has lost two of its past three.
A fast start is a must for the Tar Heels, who need one both to build confidence and to move on, mentally, from what they endured at FSU.
The Tar Heels’ perimeter defense. Williams has mostly been pleased with how his team has guarded the perimeter this season. And indeed, it seemed like UNC had made some major strides in its perimeter defense leading into the Florida State game.
But then the Seminoles’ senior guard Deividas Dulkys made 8 3-pointers – many of them coming on wide open shots. Sometimes a player gets hot from the outside and there’s not much a defense can do. That was part of the issue against Dulkys. The other part was that UNC allowed him open looks.
Virginia Tech’s backcourt of Dorenzo Hudson and Erick Green will pose another challenge for the Heels’ perimeter defense. Neither Hudson nor Green is necessarily known for his outside shooting. Hudson hasn’t made a 3 in the Hokies past three games, and Green has four 3’s in the Hokies’ past seven games. But keep in mind that Dulkys hadn’t been shooting all that well, either.
Green, by the way, will be a gametime decision after suffering a knee injury last week. He sat out the Hokies’ loss against Boston College last weekend.
Kendall Marshall. The UNC sophomore point guard is in the midst of a brilliant season, and he is compiling assists at a faster rate than any player in school history. That said, Marshall suffered through perhaps the worst game of his collegiate career on Saturday at Florida State, where he committed a career-high seven turnovers.
You saw what happened to UNC’s offense when a defense successfully frustrated Marshall. Now we’ll see how Marshall responds. Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller need to be productive for the Tar Heels to be at their best, but no player is as important to their success as Marshall.
I’m interested to see how he responds especially because he seemed to be the most disappointed out of all of his teammates in the locker room on Saturday. Marshall seemed to take it the toughest.