UNC Basketball vs Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Game Preview

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 01: Leaky Black #1 and R.J. Davis #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels jokes with the student section during the final minute of their game against the Michigan Wolverines at the Dean E. Smith Center on December 01, 2021 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Tar Heels won 72-51. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 01: Leaky Black #1 and R.J. Davis #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels jokes with the student section during the final minute of their game against the Michigan Wolverines at the Dean E. Smith Center on December 01, 2021 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Tar Heels won 72-51. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

The UNC basketball program will take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the first ACC conference game for either team. Both North Carolina and Georgia Tech are looking to kick off their ACC schedule with a victory.

The Tar Heels are fresh off a 21-point blowout win against the Michigan Wolverines. UNC has two consecutive wins that were around the 20-point margin of victory. The Tar Heels are still looking to create positive momentum playing against a familiar ACC foe, Georgia Tech. To this point, the Tar Heels have resembled “Jekyll and Hyde.” One game, UNC will look like the best team in the nation. The next game, they may not play with a lack of effort and get blown out by nearly 20 points. On the bright side, this is a young UNC team with several new players including freshmen and transfers who are a work-in-progress in their quest to forge team chemistry.

On the other hand, Georgia Tech lost a close game to No. 23 Wisconsin 70-66 this past Wednesday. Michael Devoe led all scorers with 33 points. He nailed five of his 10 three-point field goals.

The Yellow Jackets are the defending 2021 ACC Tournament champions. Although they lost their top two players in Moses Wright and Jose Alvarado, Georgia Tech returns a tough team that is capable of matching up with anyone. North Carolina should match up fairly well with them. This game will be a chess match between both coaches.

Will perimeter shooting dictate the game? Will the bigs determine the flow of the game? Who will be the star for each team? This is one of those games where you want to use the bathroom before the game starts and make sure your snacks and refreshments are ready prior to tip-off. You do not want to miss this game. It could be an early look at the 2022 ACC Tournament Championship.

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Key to Victory

Georgia Tech holds their opponents to an average of 67 points per game. Tech will slow the game and manage the game clock. Additionally, they’ll attempt to confuse UNC with their defensive looks. The Tar Heels average 12.4 turnovers a game. This will be a critical statistic for the Tar Heels and could decide the game for them. Committing too many turnovers early in the game could result in Tech taking a huge early lead in the game. UNC’s Caleb Love and R.J. Davis must not force the offense. Wise shot selection while also being aggressive with the ball will be instrumental in dictating the flow of the game.

Armando Bacot should have a big game this weekend. He is having an All-ACC caliber season. Bacot is making a good case to be in the discussion for 2022 ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He ranks third in rebounds (9.8) and fifth in blocks (1.86) per game this season.

Moreover, Georgia Tech is coming off an impressive 2021 season that caught many people by surprise. The Yellow Jackets had two premier players who earned major ACC season accolades in Jose Alvarado and Moses Wright. Wright was the 2021 ACC Player of the Year and Alvarado was the 2021 ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Both Alvarado and Wright have moved on to play professional basketball.

The bulk of Georgia Tech’s production comes from senior guard Michael Devoe and Jordan Usher. Currently, Devoe is the leading scorer in the ACC. He leads the ACC in three-point field goal percentage and three-point field goals made. Devoe averages 25 points, six rebounds and four assists per game. Usher averages 14 points and eight rebounds per game.

Another interesting fact about Devoe and Usher is their size and versatility, which will pose a problem for UNC. Devoe is 6-foot-5 and 191 pounds, while Usher is 6-foot-7, 220 pounds. Both players are versatile. Georgia Tech is a scrappy, blue-collar team with a lot of fight in them. Devoe is their clear-cut leader. Containing Devoe will be the task of the day for the Heels.

Something to Watch

In the previous season’s game, R.J. Davis and Kerwin Walton were in the starting lineup, while Caleb Love and Leaky Black came off the bench. Expect Walton to be the first man off the bench in this season’s game, while Davis, Love and Black get the start. Black is the glue guy. He is the best defender for the Tar Heels. This year’s North Carolina squad plays at a different pace compared to last year’s team. Davis and Love start together and their games have accelerated a great deal.

Georgia Tech has three players who average greater than 50 percent from beyond the arc. Devoe shoots 59 percent from the three-point line, Dallan Coleman averages 55 percent three and Deivon Smith has a 50 percent average from long-range. Tech can absolutely light it up from the perimeter. If the tempo gets out of control, don’t be surprised if UNC head coach Hubert Davis goes with a small lineup that features Black at the stretch-four position. It would behoove UNC to utilize a 1-3-1 zone defense if Georgia Tech gets hot from the outside.

Carolina has an advantage with their versatile low-post players, Bacot, Garcia and Manek. While all three of them are capable of shooting from the perimeter (more so Garcia and Manek), all or any combination of these three could have a field day on the blocks. Tech does not have a lot of length in their main rotation, which bodes well for the Tar Heels.

In addition, this game may be ideal for Kerwin Walton to be a sniper from the perimeter. Feeding Bacot will reap major benefits for the Tar Heels. He should have at least 12 to 15 touches this game. He shoots 64 percent from the field. Bacot has proven to be savvy on the blocks with his ability to score. The addition of Manek and Garcia has opened up more spacing for Bacot down low. Love has proven to be explosive and nearly unstoppable this season. If Love has his way similar to the game against Michigan, then UNC adds another “W” to the win column.

Last Meeting

North Carolina lost to Georgia Tech 72-67 on December 30, 2020, when the Yellow Jackets were the home team in Atlanta, Georgia. The leading scorers for the Tar Heels were Armando Bacot (14 points and five rebounds) and Leaky Black (10 points, three rebounds, two assists). North Carolina led at halftime 35-29. Tech’s Jose Alvarado proved to be too much for the Tar Heels. He lead Georgia Tech to victory while hitting key shots and free throws to seal the win within the last minute of the game. The eventual 2020 ACC Tournament MVP Michael Devoe finished the game with 20 points while lighting up UNC on 4-of-7 from the three-point line.

Davis and Love shot 4-of-17 from the field against Georgia Tech last season. Alvarado, Devoe and Usher scored 54 of Georgia Tech’s 72 points. Although UNC outrebounded Georgia Tech 37 to 23, they committed 18 turnovers for the game. The turnovers determined the outcome of the game. Both teams were nearly identical in field goal percentage, three-point field percentage and free throws. UNC’s rebounding advantage was nullified by the mistakes they made.

Projected Starters

No. 4 R.J. Davis (So., 6-0, 175) – 13 ppg, 3.9 rpg
No. 2 Caleb Love (So., 6-4, 195) – 16.1 ppg, 4.2 apg
No. 1 Leaky Black (Sr., 6-8 200) – 4.8 ppg, 5.0 RPG
No. 13 Dawson Garcia (So. 6-11, 235) – 11.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg
No. 5 Armando Bacot (Jr., 6-10, 240) – 15 ppg, 9.4 rpg

What You Need To Know

WHAT? Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-2, 1-0 away) vs North Carolina Tar Heels (4-2, 4-0 home)
WHEN? Sunday, December 5 – 3:00 p.m. EST
WHERE? McCamish Pavilion – Atlanta, Georgia
RADIO? Tar Heels Sports Network Affiliates 
LAST MEETING?  Georgia Tech won 72-67 on December 30, 2021
ALL-TIME SERIES? UNC leads 69-26; 55-24 since Georgia Tech joined the ACC
PREDICTION? UNC 70, Georgia Tech 66

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