After starting 0-4 in ACC play, the Yellow Jackets may have a better shot against the Tar Heels than you think.
This nightmare road trip to begin the season is almost over for Georgia Tech - I'm not sure I recall a season with 3 trips to Raleigh-Durham International Airport within the first 3 weeks of conference play. It hasn't exactly been a dream scenario when you factor in the youth and inexperience of the squad, but I think there are reasons to be more optimistic about our chances tonight than on the other two visits.
The first reason for optimism is that the Jackets have already played the 3 best teams in the ACC (both in the current standings and my opinion.) I point this out to try and calm some folks down - things can only get better, both schedule- and record-wise. Another is that this UNC team is just a run-of-the-mill ACC team if you look at them without the bias of history clouding your vision. I think they'll end up between 5th and 7th in the league after the regular season, and they currently sit in a tie for fourth with 5 other teams.
Reason C for optimism: the type of teams that North Carolina has beaten and been beaten by. Their 2 wins are against more up-tempo teams, who want to shoot the 3 and use their guards to run or create in the half court off the dribble. Their two losses (UVA and Miami,) however, have come against low-tempo, physical teams that have successfully forced UNC to play their tempo. We all saw what Miami's bigs can do and we know the type of offense and defense UVA play. As much as our guards want to get out and run when they have the chance, we are far more similar to these 2 teams than we are the those UNC beat, Maryland and FSU.
The key match-up will be Robert Carter Jr. going up against UNC's best player, James Michael McAdoo. McAdoo has an inch on the freshman, but is also 15 pounds lighter. I think if Carter can do his best Moses Malone impression and at least match McAdoo on the boards, Tech could have a field day and out-rebound UNC fairly handily. These two will start going up against each other, but expect McAdoo to spend much of the game at center, as UNC's starting center, Desmond Hubert, plays only 11.4 minutes per game.
When UNC switches to this smaller lineup, removing 6'10" forward Hubert for 6'6" guard P.J. Hairston, expect Tech to try and feed whichever big man is not being guarded by McAdoo, most likely Carter Jr. or Kammeon Holsey. Reggie Bullock, listed as a 6'7" guard, will be the second tallest player on the floor for UNC after that substitution, and as the Heels' second leading scorer, Tech getting him in early foul trouble would be a huge boost.
With all of this being said, I still expect Tech to lose this game. I just don't think the confidence is there to go into Chapel Hill and get the first win of the season. This team is still too inconsistent from the free throw line to bet on late in games (ahemVTahem.) The magic number for this game is 61 - if the Jackets can keep the Tar Heels under that point total, they will be returning to Hartsfied-Jackson with a W. My predicted scoreline is 62-69 UNC.
Feel free to give a prediction or some of your key factors in the comments.