ACC Basketball Preview: Wednesday Night’s Four-Game Slate

After losing two games against the spread last night by a combined 3.5 points, I am back to try to right my wrongs and preview Wednesday night’s ACC action. Let’s do this thing.

The Match-Up

NC State (11-4, 2-0, RPI: 53) Vs. #3 Virginia (13-0, 1-0, RPI: 3)

Their Last Game

NC State

NC State last played on Saturday at home against the Pittsburgh Panthers, a game which was won decisively by the Wolfpack by a score of 68-50.

Virginia

The ‘Hoos were victorious against the Miami Hurricanes over the weekend in an 89-80 double overtime thriller in Coral Gables.

Players To Watch

G/F Justin Anderson, Virginia

Anderson has been nothing short of outstanding thus far in his third season with the Cavaliers. He’s finally moved into a starting role for Virginia, and has increased his overall numbers drastically with the added court time. His 15.1 points per game this season has nearly doubled his career average of 7.7 points per game his first two years. He is shooting 56% from the field, and 59% from three, which both shatter his previous career averages. He appears to be the conference’s most improved player to this point, and it will be interesting to see if his high level of play carries over into the ACC schedule.

G London Perrantes, Virginia

While sophomore guard London Perrantes does not light up the scoreboard or fill up the stat book, he is instrumental to Virginia’s offensive attack. The 2nd-year point guard has been tasked for the last season and a half with getting Tony Bennett’s club into their half-court sets, and he has been very successful so far. Although he is only averaging 5 points per game and 4.5 assists, he is one of the players to keep an eye on in this match-up as the Cavaliers offense tries to get in a rhythm.

G Trevor Lacey, NC State

This junior guard is the Pack’s leading scorer at 17.2 points per game. After sitting out last season after a transfer from Alabama, Lacey has been inserted immediately into a starting role for Mark Gottfried’s club and has carried the scoring load for much of the season so far for NC State.

G Anthony Barber, NC State

As a sophomore out of Newport News, Virginia Anthony Barber has enjoyed moderate success in his second year with the Wolfpack. He is the team’s third leading scorer at 12.2 points per game while shooting a career-high 47% overall from the floor. The Cavaliers will need to keep an eye on him tonight, as he has been hot of late, scoring 15 or more points in three out of the last four games.

The Game And Prediction

NC State is one of the few teams in the ACC that is not considered elite that I think, can still match-up very well with the Cavaliers. The three guard backcourt that the Wolfpack employ with Trevor Lacey, Anthony Barber, and Ralston Turner can all really shoot the basketball, and the trio will test a UVA defense that is 2nd in the country in points allowed per game at 50.8. Both teams are near the upper quarter in Division-1 basketball in most defensive categories, and both teams can score, so the difference may be which defense is able to get enough stops in the second half to pull away and win.

In a match-up like this one, talent usually wins out. UVA has shown throughout the season that they have the ability to spread the scoring among their talented core featuring Justin Anderson, Mike Tobey, and Malcolm Brogdon while combining their offensive output with stout pressure on the defensive end. Matching offensive efficiency with a top defense is a proven recipe for success in college basketball, and the Cavaliers have both making them an extremely tough team to play.

The ‘Hoos are at home tonight, and Vegas marks them as a 14.5 point home favorite. While I do believe that the Cavaliers are a better team than the Wolfpack, I’ll take the points in this one because I think NC State’s backcourt will make enough shots to keep the game competitive.

UVA 68     NC State 59

The Match-Up

Syracuse (10-4, 1-0, RPI: 70) Vs. Georgia Tech (9-4, 0-1, RPI: 30)

Their Last Game

Syracuse

The Orange nearly blew a 19-point halftime lead last Saturday against the Virginia Tech Hokies, but ultimately emerged from Blacksburg with a 68-66 road win.

Georgia Tech

The Ramblin’ Wreck gave the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame all they could handle on the road Saturday afternoon in South Bend. The Irish would emerge victorious over Georgia Tech 83-76 in double overtime.

Players To Watch

F Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse

Rakeem Christmas is a surefire candidate for First-Team All-ACC this season, as his career average of 5 points per game has been utterly shattered to the tune of his 17.3 points per game. He’s also pulling down 8.9 rebounds per contest, which is also a career-high. Christmas is the star player on this Syracuse squad, and he’s out to prove in conference play that his newly found success is no fluke.

G Trevor Cooney, Syracuse

Cooney has been the team’s key 3-point specialist for the last couple years, and this season is no different. He absolutely kills opposing defenses from deep and is one of the most dangerous shooters in the ACC. He averages 13.5 points per game on the season, and is shooting 38% from beyond the arc. He does most of his damage from deep, attempting nearly 7 three’s per game. If the Wolfpack don’t keep a keen eye on Cooney, he will make them pay.

F Marcus Georges-Hunt, Georgia Tech

Georges-Hunt is Georgia Tech’s leading scorer, and Syracuse better be careful tonight, especially if the Yellow Jacket guards penetrate the zone and find a way to get it to Georges-Hunt down low. While he is averaging only 13.5 points per game on the season, he has scored 15 points or more in his last 5 appearances, with one of those being a 20-point outing in Georgia Tech’s last match-up against a top-tier ACC team in Notre Dame.

C Demarco Cox, Georgia Tech

As we just discussed, one of the keys to the game tonight will be getting the ball into the paint against the suffocating Syracuse zone defense, and if the Jackets are able to successfully do so, senior center Demarco Cox is another important player to watch. As the senior leader on the Georgia Tech team, Cox has been very good this season averaging 9.0 points per game and 6.0 rebounds. His rebounding could be key to keeping GT in the game tonight, with his defense on Syracuse forward Rakeem Christmas being especially pivotal.

The Game And Prediction

While Syracuse’s zone defense showed some holes against the lowly Virginia Tech Hokies this past weekend, don’t be fooled. Jim Boeheim’s club year after year proves how effective the zone defense can be, especially in conference play. While Syracuse may not have as much talent on the roster this season as they have in years past, they still have weapons on the floor that can make opposing teams sweat games out. Rakeem Christmas has been a player on a mission for the Orange this season, and Trevor Cooney is due for a night where he makes more than half of his 3-point attempts.

The Yellow Jackets are young, and have some talent on their team in the mold of forward Marcus Georges-Hunt, but outside of his production, does GT have the horses to keep up with the Orange if they start making their 3-point attempts? The statistics suggest they don’t as the Jackets are only shooting 24% from beyond the arc as a team. However, whether or not the Orange have the ability to make enough shots to pull away from the Jackets on the road remains to be seen.

The Vegas line pegs the Orange as a 4-point road favorite tonight in Atlanta, and I think they will win and cover the spread, because I do think Trevor Cooney is due to pour in more than a third of his 3-pointers. What better night than this one, as the Orange look to establish themselves on the road with their second conference win.

Syracuse 78   Georgia Tech 67

The Match-Up

#2 Duke (13-0, 1-0, RPI: 5) Vs. Wake Forest (8-7, 0-2, RPI: 171)

Their Last Game

Duke

The #2 team in the nation played on Saturday to open up conference play, beginning their ACC slate with an 85-62 blowout victory over the visiting Boston College Eagles.

Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons played a very competitive game on Sunday night at home against the #5 Louisville Cardinals, but were eventually worn down by Louisville’s depth and overall talent losing a tight one 85-76.

Players To Watch

C Jahlil Okafor, Duke

Okafor is the premier player in college basketball this season, and will be the surefire #1 pick in the NBA draft next June. Additionally, he will in all likelihood runaway with the Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year, and potentially lead Duke to their first National Championship in 5 years. Oh, and he is a freshman, who averages 19.5 points per game, 8.7 rebounds and has a post-game that most NBA players dream of possessing. He is a handful for any team to defend and tonight will be no different for Wake Forest.

G Quinn Cook, Duke

The leader of the Blue Devils team is this senior point guard out of Washington, D.C. Cook has had a spectacular career at Duke and is continuing to flourish under Coach K’s system this season, posting a career-high 14.5 points per game. He excels at getting into the paint and getting to the line, where he is an unfathomable 96.2% free throw shooter. He can be devastating to opposing guards, and the Demon Deacons will have to find a way to stop him from penetrating to the bucket tonight.

G Codi Miller-McIntyre, Wake Forest

Miller-McIntyre is a very good player on a relatively young Wake Forest roster who will cause Duke some problems tonight if he is left open. He’s the leading scorer on the Demon Deacons, but what he does without the ball can give opponents fits. He’s averaging over five rebounds per game as a guard, which is one of the top rebounding numbers for a backcourt player in the ACC. His ability to keep possessions alive for Wake could be huge if the game somehow manages to go down to the wire.

F Devin Thomas, Wake Forest

Junior forward Devin Thomas is shooting nearly 50% from the floor so far this season, and averages nearly a double-double at 12.1 points per game and 9.7 rebounds. He is the most important player on the Wake Forest roster, and they seem to go as he goes, so a good start for him tonight will be pivotal to the Demon Deacons chances of pulling off an upset.

The Game And Prediction

This game tonight features the class of the conference against one of the cellar dwellers of the ACC, and I really cannot see this game going any way other than what we all expect. Wake Forest does not have anybody to guard Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, but then again, I’m not sure some NBA teams have players who could effectively guard Duke’s big man, who time and time again this season has seemed to surprise the country with how high his ceiling is as a post player. Combine Okafor’s dominance down low, with an experienced backcourt featuring Quinn Cook, and I think Duke runs away with this one easily covering the 15.5-point spread on the road.

Duke 86     Wake Forest 67

The Match-Up

Clemson (8-5, 0-1, RPI: 146) Vs. #5 Louisville (13-1, 1-0, RPI: 28)

Their Last Game

Clemson

The Tigers started out conference play against North Carolina at home and got the doors blown off of them after ineffectively guarding Marcus Paige and company. The final score was 74-50.

Louisville

The Cards took the floor against Wake Forest on the road to open up conference play and they struggled to put the Demon Deacons away, before winning by a final of 85-76. It was not their best effort, but a win is a win, especially during the ACC stretch of the season.

Players To Watch

F Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson

In his first year as a starter for the Tigers, Blossomgame is enjoying great success in leading the Clemson scoring attack. He’s averaging nearly a double-double at 13.6 points per game and 8.2 rebounds, and has proven to be a dominant force down low for the Tigers so far this season. He is one of the best young players in the conference, and it should be interesting to see how he stacks up against Louisville big man Montrezl Harrell this evening.

C Landry Nnoko, Clemson

It is by no coincidence that another big man is a player to watch for Clemson in this game tonight. The Tigers are going to be tasked with trying to stop one of the best big men in the country in Montrezl Harrell. Both Blossomgame and junior center Landry Nnoko will be pivotal on both ends of the court tonight. Nnoko has battled foul trouble at times this season, but when he plays for extended amounts of time, he has actually been very respectable. He is averaging 9.5 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per contest. The Tigers will need every bit of those averages, and then some, if they want to contend in tonight’s game.

F Montrezl Harrell, Louisville

As I have already previewed a bit above, Montrezl Harrell is a big-time player for the Louisville Cardinals. Harrell is one of the best big men in the country next to Jahlil Okafor at Duke, and Frank Kaminsky at Wisconsin, and as such, he can be the number one reason why an opponent loses a basketball game. As a dominant force in the paint, Harrell is averaging 16.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.1 blocks per game this season. He will take over this basketball game if he’s given the opportunity.

G Terry Rozier, Louisville

As a sophomore guard, Terry Rozier has been tasked with replacing star guard Russ Smith from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team. In his first year as a starter, Rozier has been nothing short of spectacular, leading the team in scoring at 17.1 points per game while pulling down almost six rebounds per game. He has the ability to score at a very high clip, and will kill the Tigers tonight if they forget about him on the outside of the paint.

The Game And Prediction

As displayed in their most recent game against UNC, the Tigers have a ton of trouble guarding opposing players on the perimeter, as well as the penetration of guards to the basket. Terry Rozier of Louisville does an excellent job of driving the lane and getting the ball down low to Montrezl Harrell, who may be one of the toughest players to defend in college basketball. This is a horrible match-up for Clemson, whose big men consistently battle foul trouble. That could turn out to be a huge issue tonight with Harrell manning the paint for the Cardinals. Clemson is a 17-point road underdog, and Louisville is always difficult to play against at the KFC Yum! Center, so I like the Cardinals to win big in this game tonight and easily cover the spread.

Louisville  74   Clemson  50

 

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