Virginia Tech at UNC: What to watch

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Asked who was going to guard Virginia Tech senior Erick Green, who leads the nation in scoring at 25.5 ppg, North Carolina coach Roy Williams offered a quick answer Friday: Everybody.

“We’re thinking about playing box and one -- four guys on him, and one guy in the middle of the lane,’’ he said.

OK, so Williams quickly said he was kidding about the box-and-one defense; the Hokies, despite their 2-5 ACC record, have too many other capable players to defend to solely focus on the 6-foot-4 guard Saturday at the Smith Center.

But Green is, as Williams put it, “really frickin’ good.” So good he’s seemingly gotten even better as the season has progressed; he's averaged 30 points over his past four games.

“He is a load right now,’’ Williams said. “… He’s always under control, his jump shot at the 3-point line is effortless; it’s almost like it’s a 12-footer. He takes it to the basket and … he gets fouled and makes free throws.

“To be leading the nation in scoring, and shooting over 50 percent [in ACC play], as a guard, is just off the charts.”

A few other things to watch when UNC (14-6, 4-3 ACC) tips off against the Hokies (11-9, 2-5) at noon:


With reserve guard P.J. Hairston, who hasn’t practiced since suffering a concussion at Boston College on Tuesday night, still doubtful to play, the Tar Heels will be looking for some solid minutes from junior guard Leslie McDonald in his return. The reserve has missed six straight games, three because of a sore knee and then three because of an academics-related suspension.

“If you don’t have P.J., that means you’re losing one of your good shooters,’’ Williams said. “And when we lost Leslie, P.J.’s numbers sort of picked up … so now it’s just 180 degrees away from that.

“Leslie has to give us some points, from deep hopefully to stretch their defense -- or if he wants to take it to the basket and dunk it, I don’t care. But we do need him to do a good job defensively. …. We need him to play every phase of the game; we need him to come back in and not take any steps back.”

McDonald is averaging 8.4 points, and 43.1 percent from 3-point land this season.


Some folks credited starting shooting guard Dexter Strickland for playing a better game at BC because the senior hit a couple of jump shots and went 6-for-6 from the free throw line.

Not Williams. He thought Strickland played a better game because of his defense.

“The fact of the matter is, it was his best defensive game in -- pick a number,’’ Williams said. “He and Marcus [Paige, UNC’s starting point guard], it was collectively the first time they’ve had really, really high defensive grades in several games.”

Williams said Strickland has not been the same defensive player since he tore the ACL in his knee at Virginia Tech last February, and needed reconstructive surgery. “I don’t think he has that burst,’’ Williams said. “But, I’ll say this, he showed more [Tuesday] than any game he’s had this year.”

Still, Strickland -- who had to be pulled from conditioning in September because he hadn’t quite recuperated enough to run -- has drawn the ire of some fans because he’s struggled so much on offense, making only a third of his shots in league play. But Williams said he has stuck with him because of his defensive ability, his tenacity, and his larger-than-the-stat-sheet role on the team.

“The scoring part of it is emphasized way, way too much,’’ Williams said. “It’s like putting together a puzzle; you’ve got to put together all the pieces, and you can’t just leave one out. And I think Dexter is a huge part of our puzzle.”


It’s easy to be wowed by Green, but the Hokies have some other talent to watch out for, beginning with junior forward Jarell Eddie (14.4 ppg). … UNC has won seven of its past eight meetings with Virginia Tech. … Tar Heels reserve Jackson Simmons has scored a total of 26 points while averaging 13.4 minutes over UNC's past five games.