UNC-Va. Tech: What to Watch

January, 19, 2012
1/19/12
10:15
AM ET
North Carolina coach Roy Williams wrote “33” on a board inside the Tar Heels’ locker room earlier this week. He said it will stay up there a long time.

The hope, after UNC’s 90-57 blowout loss at Florida State last weekend, is that it will remain in his players' minds and hearts even longer.

“Thought for the day [Monday was]: ‘It either means something to you, or it doesn’t.’” Williams said. “I have to think it means so much to me, it’s ridiculous. And I think it means so much to the team.”

Tonight could telling.

The eighth-ranked Tar Heels, 0-for-3 in their last three games away from the Smith Center, travel to Blacksburg, Va., to face a similarly desperate Virginia Tech team looking for its first ACC win.

No squad in the last 30 years has lost a game by 30-plus points and still won the national title. If UNC wants to make bounce-back history, it starts tonight.

“We’re not going to go up and beat Virginia Tech just because we lost on Saturday,” Williams said. “People say, ‘Oh, they’re going to bounce back.’ It makes no difference. We could go up and play well and still not be successful.”

Some things to watch:

INTENSITY LEVEL -- FROM BOTH TEAMS

Flat, uninspired, unenergetic -- the Tar Heels looked like all of those things in Tallahassee on Saturday before the embarrassment set in. Williams, who has said his team isn’t naturally intense, has increased the competition quotient in practice this week, and is hoping that fire carries over to tonight.

Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg is looking for a similar fire from his squad, telling The Washington Post: “I don’t think they understand competing at the level I want them competing at.”

ERICK GREEN’S HEALTH

The Hokies' point guard -- who is averaging 16.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game -- sprained his left knee in practice last week and sat out Virginia Tech’s loss at Boston College. He's considered a game-time decision, although The Washington Post reports that he is expected to play.

Considering how much the Hokies have struggled to score in ACC play (they have yet to record more than 60 points,or shoot better than 40 percent), his presence will be key.

THE ROOKIES

UNC freshman reserve P.J. Hairston has struggled to connect during ACC play, making only 3 of his 17 3-point attempts, and 3 of 19 shots overall, over his last three games. He, along with sophomores Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock, have to find a way to make more outside shots.

Tech freshman Dorian Finney-Smith, meanwhile, has had a more-than-solid first season, leading the league rookies in rebounding (8.2 per game) while averaging 6.8 points. The 6-foot-8 forward will have his hands full tonight, and it will be interesting to see how he fares.

EXIT STRATEGY?

If UNC should lose its second straight game, and if the Hokies’ faithful prepare to rush the floor, it will be interesting to see if Williams chooses an early exit -- as he did Saturday, when most of the team left the court (with agreement from Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton) with 14.2 seconds left.

Cassell Coliseum is even harder to escape than the Tucker Center, so hopefully there will be a plan in place -- one that leaves everyone without bruises, stay or go. And that includes the five Tar Heel reserves who were left to play the final 14.2 seconds the other night (Williams, who has been criticized for leaving early, has said he didn’t mean to leave them out there).

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

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