No. 9 North Carolina opens ACC play against youthful Georgia Tech (Dec 31, 2016)
ATLANTA -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams isn't quite sure his team is ready to start competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference . At least the Tar Heels get to slide into the grueling 18-game league schedule against Georgia Tech, the youngest, most inexperienced team in the league.
No. 9 North Carolina (12-2) travels to Georgia Tech (8-4) to open league play for the second straight year on Saturday at noon at McCamish Pavilion. The Tar Heels won 86-78 last year and have won the last seven meetings between the teams.
"Whether we like it or not, it's here," Williams said.
The same thing is true for Georgia Tech, which is undergoing a complete rebuild under first-year coach Josh Pastner. The Yellow Jackets were picked to finish 14th in the 15-team lead at the ACC preseason meetings.
"Obviously, most people picked us last place for league play and some have picked us to not even win a game," Pastner said. "We are going to have to get in there and find a way. We've got a tough stretch to open up, but every game in the ACC is a battle and we're excited for the opportunity. We'll get back and work at it and be ready to go on Saturday."
North Carolina has had to deal with a virus that has gone through the roster. It hit Williams and guard Joel Berry II earlier this week, requiring both to have IVs administered on Monday. Berry was able to play 23 minutes in Wednesday's 102-74 win over Monmouth, but scored only six points -- all on free throws.
North Carolina has won two straight since its 103-100 loss to No. 8 Kentucky. The Tar Heels' other loss was at No. 16 Indiana. Forward Justin Jackson leads the team with a 17.5 scoring average to go with 4.8 rebounds. Berry averages 14.4 points and 3.8 rebounds. Center Kennedy Meeks averages 13.2 points and 9.2 rebounds and Isaiah Hicks averages 12.6 points.
"I was a lot more comfortable after the second half of our last game (against Northern Iowa)," Williams said. "I thought we did some good things in the second of that game. I don't feel quite as good right now."
Georgia Tech isn't feeling real good, either. The Yellow Jackets had to come from behind to beat North Carolina A&T 59-52 on Wednesday, with little-used graduate senior Kellen McCormick scoring a season-high 12 points to spark win.
Georgia Tech has had problems scoring. It ranks last in the ACC in offense with 68.1 points per game, 21.5 points fewer than conference-leading North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets are led by center Ben Lammers, who averages 14.9 points and has been in double figures every game. Otherwise there has been no real consistent offensive threat.
"We've got to be able to make shots," Pastner said. "In the short term, we're just going to have to make some shots. In the long term, the best way to improve shooting is recruiting and we understand what we need to do to attack that. For this year we've got to make sure that we find ways to score. We're moving the ball. We've just got to make some of those open shots."