The third game of the ACC Tournament’s opening round pits the No. 7 seeded Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets against the No. 10 ... yes, you read that right ... No. 10 seeded North Carolina Tar Heels. This game is the only game of today’s opening round slate to be broadcast on national television. The winner of this game will move on to play the second seeded Maryland Terrapins on Friday night at 7 PM.
In their last game, Georgia Tech fell to the Virginia Tech Hokies 88-82, finishing the regular season with a mark of 19-11, 7-9 ACC. The Jackets stormed out of the gate with a 16-5 record, only for Paul Hewitt to watch his team drop six of their last nine contests down the stretch. The only wins in that stretch came at the expense of teams further down the ACC totem pole, namely BC, North Carolina and N.C. State. Not exactly resume building 101 here. A program that seemed a near lock for the NCAA Tournament a month ago now has a bit of work left to do, and quite frankly, the natives are getting restless. A loss in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament by Georgia Tech may very well dash any hopes of a return to the Big Dance.
North Carolina is coming off a game they’d just as soon forget, an 82-50 annihilation at the hands of their arch-rivals the Duke Blue Devils. UNC is in uncharted waters as the ACC Tournament’s No. 10 seed. Carolina is the only team to have never played in an ACC opening round game (seeded 5 or higher since the conference expanded to 12 teams or 8 or higher back in the good ol’ days of a nine-team ACC). Roy Williams’ crew has now lost 8 of their final 11 games, and now the best this team can hope for - short of winning 4 games in 4 days and making the Dance - is a berth in the NIT. Williams’ teams at Kansas and North Carolina have won an NCAA Tournament game in 20 straight seasons, and he has never coached in the NIT.
Tech won both regular-season meetings this year. Georgia Tech blew a 20-point lead before surviving UNC 73-71 back on January 16. Georgia Tech’s Zachery Peacock hit the game winner with a little under 30 seconds to play in a then-matchup between top 25 teams. In the second game, the Jackets cruised to a 68-51 victory at Alexander Memorial, behind 13 points from ACC Rookie of the Year Derrick Favors. With the win, Georgia Tech completed a rare season sweep of UNC, their first since the 1995-1996 season. Paul Hewitt’s squad will go for the even rarer three-game sweep of the Heels, something that has only happened once in program history. During the 1984-1985 season, Georgia Tech swept the regular season series and the defeated UNC in the ACC Tournament in Atlanta.
Georgia Tech has had a balanced attack for most of the season, finishing 6th in the conference in offensive efficiency and 7th in defensive efficiency. Meanwhile, North Carolina finished last in offensive efficiency and only 9th in defensive efficiency. The Tech offense is led by junior forward Gani Lawal (13.6 points, 8.8 boards per game) and freshman phenom Derrick Favors (11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds). The Heels are paced by forwards Deon Thompson and Ed Davis, averaging 13.7 and 12.9, respectively. However, UNC will again be without the services of Davis, whose season came to an end after he suffered a wrist injury.
In order for Georgia Tech to win the game, it has to start with Lawal and Favors in the post. If the Jackets can establish a front court presence early, that will give guards Iman Shumpert, Glen Rice Jr. and Brian Oliver time to beat the Heels on the perimeter. For North Carolina, they will have to make life difficult for Lawal and Favors in the post, and that responsibility lies with John Henson who has recently moved to the power forward position. If they can get either Lawal or Favors in foul trouble early, and get some perimeter shots to fall, they at least stand a chance of pulling off the upset.
GAME NOTES: North Carolina is a ridiculous 83-37 all-time in ACC Tournament play, posting the highest winning percentage in the conference (.637). Georgia Tech is 20-26 all-time in the ACC Tournament, and only 1-4 in opening round games. The two teams have faced each other 8 times in the ACC Tournament with the series tied at 4.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Greensboro Coliseum (23,500) - Greensboro, North Carolina. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: Georgia Tech 14-2, North Carolina 13-6. Away Record: Georgia Tech 4-8, North Carolina 2-8. Neutral Record: Georgia Tech 1-1, North Carolina 1-1. Conference Record: Georgia Tech 7-9, North Carolina 5-11. Series Record: North Carolina leads the all-time series 60-20. Despite the whopping 40 game edge the Heels have on the Jackets, Paul Hewitt is 6-6 all-time against Roy Williams, including a 2-1 record in the ACC Tournament. So now you know.
Thursday, March 11th, 7:00 PM ET (ESPN2)
Prediction: Georgia Tech 71, North Carolina 62
Brian Favat and Jeff Martyn write about the Boston College Eagles at BC Interruption.