The North Carolina men's basketball team's season has officially entered a tipping point.
Entering the final stretch of ACC play, the Tar Heels remain on the bubble of teams to make the NCAA Tournament. They have won against every opponent they’ve played outside Quad 1 besides Pittsburgh. And while they lack a truly many "bad" losses, they also lack any Quad 1 wins.
This lack of a signature win is a serious black mark against the Tar Heels’ tournament chances as Selection Sunday fast approaches.
UNC will have the opportunity to change this on Saturday when it takes on Virginia Tech. A win would go a long way to legitimizing the rest of the season, while a loss could send the team further down in the rankings and compromise its fight for a tournament spot.
The teams last faced each other in January, when the Tar Heels secured a 10-point win in the Dean E. Smith Center and had all five starters score in the double digits. The Hokies, on a six-game winning streak, will be hungry to even up the season matchup and prove themselves to be a tournament team.
Here are a few things the Tar Heels will have to focus on to leave Blacksburg victorious.
Four’s the trouble
Forward Brady Manek has been a positive addition to the team this year. The graduate transfer from Oklahoma is averaging almost 14 points a game. At certain points in the season, such as the 87-67 loss to Duke, Manek has been the sole offensive bright spot on an inconsistent team. His ability to shoot threes well has allowed the team to space the floor and free up junior forward Armando Bacot to put up gaudy numbers in the paint.
But for all his offensive prowess, Manek has been severely lacking in terms of defensive ability this season, leaving opposing teams to take notice. Wake Forest junior forward Jake LaRavia scored a career-high 31 points against UNC last month, primarily by attacking Manek. For a team without high-level defenders to cover up Manek, this could prove to be a fatal flaw against Virginia Tech.