North Carolina and Georgia Tech are built around powerful frontcourts. That hasn’t masked the problems with their backcourts.
The 12th-ranked Tar Heels put their 19-game home win streak on the line Saturday when they try to hand the No. 20 Yellow Jackets a 13th straight loss in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina (12-5, 1-1 ACC) and Georgia Tech (12-4, 1-2) both have their leading scorers inside with Deon Thompson (15.1 ppg) and Ed Davis (14.8) leading the way for the defending champion Tar Heels and Gani Lawal (15.4) and freshman Derrick Favors (11.8) up front for the Yellow Jackets.
“They’re very physical, athletic and strong,” said Tar Heels coach Roy Williams about the Yellow Jackets. “If you’re talking about strength and athleticism, they’re at the top of the list. It’s a challenge for our guys.”
While a number of NBA scouts are expected to be on hand to see those frontcourt players, they’ll also see a group of guards enduring some growing pains. Georgia Tech ranks 10th in the ACC in turnovers per game with 16.1, one spot ahead of North Carolina, which is averaging 16.9.
Those backcourts have also had problems on defense containing opposing playmakers. North Carolina allows 13.7 assists per game to rank last in the conference - one spot behind Georgia Tech, which is yielding an average of 13.1.
“They’re a lot like us,” Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt said. “They’re young on the perimeter and really good on the inside. They like to get out in transition and we like to do the same. It’s a big game. It’s a very important game for both teams.”
The poor guard play was evident for the Tar Heels in Wednesday’s 83-64 loss at No. 24 Clemson. North Carolina suffered its most lopsided ACC loss since a 96-56 defeat to Maryland in 2003 and finished with 26 turnovers, matching the most committed in Williams’ seven seasons.
“I’m not feeling good about the job I’m doing right now,” Williams said.
North Carolina learned Friday that Tyler Zeller, who missed the Clemson game, will be out four to six weeks with a stress fracture in his right foot. Zeller is the Tar Heels’ third-leading rebounder at 4.6 per game behind Davis and Thompson.
Davis and Thompson, though, combined for eight points on 4-of-15 shooting Wednesday as North Carolina was held to its lowest point total of the season.
“We still have to be able to score inside, which we didn’t do at Clemson,” Williams said.
Georgia Tech has lost nine straight ACC road games, including a 104-74 loss at Chapel Hill last Feb. 28. The Yellow Jackets have not won at North Carolina since a 92-83 overtime victory Feb. 10, 1996.
Those road woes continued in Wednesday’s 82-75 loss at Virginia. Georgia Tech fell despite shooting 51.6 percent, getting outscored at the foul line 23-3.
Hewitt blamed the loss on his team’s inability to get the ball to Lawal and Favors, who each had 12 points. The coach believes the backcourts will decide the outcome of this contest.
“I think it honestly comes down to whose perimeter plays with more poise,” Hewitt said. “We’re both very young.”