ACC Basketball: Weekend Preview

While many of you may be tuning in to the Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs on Saturday and Sunday, there will be ACC Hoops action aplenty as seven games litter the weekend slate. Here’s all you need to know about all of the match-ups this weekend, as well as some of my picks for who wins the games.

The Match-Up

Georgia Tech (9-5, 0-2, RPI: 44) Vs. Wake Forest (8-8, 0-3, RPI: 158), Noon ET Saturday, ESPN3.com

Their Last Game

Georgia Tech

The Yellow Jackets lost a heartbreaker on Wednesday night against Syracuse, as Orange forward Rakeem Christmas hit two free throws in the final seconds to clinch Georgia Tech’s second straight loss to start conference play.

Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons actually led on a couple of different occasions against the #2 Duke Blue Devils on Wednesday night. Talent eventually won out though, as Wake dropped a close one at home 73-65.

Players To Watch

F Marcus Georges-Hunt, Georgia Tech

Georges-Hunt is coming off of a very disappointing performance against Syracuse, as the Yellow Jackets’ leading scorer at 13.1 points per game was only able to muster up 9 against the Orange on 2-8 shooting. He also managed to turn the ball over 4 times, which ultimately proved costly in their narrow home loss. Look for him to turn it around against Wake Forest on Saturday, as he attempts to avenge his uncharacteristically poor performance.

F Charles Mitchell, Georgia Tech

Maryland transfer Charles Mitchell was able to single-handedly keep Georgia Tech in the game against Syracuse the other night, as he scored a team-high 17 points to couple with a game-high 11 rebounds. The Yellow Jackets would surely welcome another performance like this one on  Saturday, and it is possible, as the talent level on Wake Forest’s frontline does not come close to what Syracuse has with Rakeem Christmas.

F Devin Thomas, Wake Forest

Can Wake Forest forward Devin Thomas continue his white-hot offensive game? I certainly think so. Over the last two games, against #5 Louisville and #2 Duke, Thomas has scored 31 points and 24 points respectively, while shooting a combined 68% from the floor in that short span. He is carrying Wake Forest’s offense right now, and he has been a game changer in the club’s first two ACC games, which they only hope will continue into Saturday and beyond.

F Codi Miller-McIntyre, Wake Forest

While Codi Miller-McIntyre did not shoot particularly well against Duke in Wake’s most recent loss (4-11), the Demon Deacons’ leading scorer still managed to put up a very respectable stat line. He scored 13 points, while adding 9 rebounds and 8 assists. If he shoots the ball a little better against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest should be in good shape.

The Game And Prediction

With both teams coming off of tightly contested losses against teams with more talent than their respective squads, there should be no shortage of confidence in the building for this match-up, as both Wake Forest and Georgia Tech should feel like they can play with anyone in the conference. While both teams are ranked in the Top 30 in basketball in rebounding, Wake Forest can score the ball offensively much better than Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are 226th in the country in points per game as a team, and I have trouble seeing their struggles offensively overcoming Wake Forest and the best player in this match-up, Demon Deacons forward Devin Thomas. Look for him to continue his recent tear, and help lead Wake Forest to a much needed conference victory.

Wake Forest 64   Georgia Tech 58

The Match-Up

Clemson (8-6, 0-2, RPI: 130) Vs. Pittsburgh (11-4, 1-1, RPI: 64), Noon ET Saturday, ESPN3.com

Their Last Game

Clemson

The Tigers took on #5 Louisville on the road at the KFC Yum! Center on Wednesday night, and played “well” for most of the night, before falling to the Cardinals 58-52.

Pittsburgh

The Panthers narrowly escaped an upset on the road in Chesnut Hill, Massachusetts against Boston College on Tuesday night, by scoring the final 10 points of regulation, winning a tightly contested game 61-60 in overtime where BC missed a wide open layup with under a second to play.

Players To Watch

F Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson

Blossomgame continues to impress this season, as the Tigers’ best player managed to score 15 points and pull down 9 rebounds against one of the best teams in the country in Louisville on Wednesday night. Pittsburgh needs to guard Blossomgame on Saturday, or they will be in for a long afternoon, as this sophomore continues to gain confidence as his game improves.

 

G Damarcus Harrison, Clemson

Harrison, a senior, has scored 10 or more points in 5 of his last 6 games, and his 11.1 points per game is second on the team behind Jaron Blossomgame. If Blossomgame isn’t handling the scoring duties, Harrison is the next man up, and it should be no different this weekend against Pittsburgh.

G Josh Newkirk, Pittsburgh

Newkirk eclipsed the 15 point mark for the 4th time this season on Tuesday night, scoring 15 points off of the bench in the Panthers’ overtime win over Boston College. He has the capability of being a sparkplug off the pine when Jamie Dixon inserts him into the Pittsburgh lineup, and the Tigers will need to keep an eye on him, even if Newkirk’s scoring ability has been hit and miss throughout most of the season so far.

F Michael Young, Pittsburgh

Young has been the Panthers’ most consistent scorer all season, as he leads the team with 13.7 points per game. Young is also a terrific rebounder, as he pulls down around 8 boards per game. If you fail to put a body on Young, he is a double-double waiting to happen, and there is little doubt that the Tigers will center the gameplan around slowing down #2.

The Game And Prediction

Clemson remarkably was able to handle Louisville’s full-court press defense pretty well in their narrow loss earlier this week, dispelling any belief that Clemson could not hang with the “big boys” of the conference. Whether or not Pittsburgh is good enough to play with the top dogs of the ACC remains to be seen, but their 18-point debacle against N.C. State to open conference play makes you wonder how capable the Panthers are to compete this season. I think this game will be a low scoring, close contest, but I like Clemson behind their performances against upper-echelon teams so far.

Clemson  63   Pittsburgh   60

The Match-Up

#5 Louisville (14-1, 2-0, RPI: 23) Vs. #18 North Carolina (11-4, 1-1, RPI: 24), 2:00 ET Saturday, ESPN

Their Last Game

Louisville

It was not the best effort for Rick Pitino’s bunch on Wednesday against Clemson, but a win is a win, especially in conference play. The Cards improved to 2-0 in ACC play after their 58-52 win over the Tigers.

North Carolina

UNC trailed almost the entire game against #13 Notre Dame on Monday evening, but eventually fought back into the contest in the final minutes. The ‘Heels missed a potential game winner at the buzzer though, and the Irish escaped, handing UNC a home loss by a score of 71-70.

Players To Watch

F Montrezl Harrell, Louisville

Not much to say here. Harrell is a Naismith National Player of the Year candidate, and a sure-fire All-American. He averages 15.9 points per game and 9.3 rebounds, which essentially makes him a double-double machine in the best conference in the country.

G-F Wayne Blackshear, Louisville

Blackshear is fourth on the team in points per game, averaging a shade shy of 13 per night, but it is his senior leadership and defense that separates him as the heart and soul of the Cardinals. Blackshear averages over 5 rebounds per game, and is good for at least 2 steals per contest. In fact, he has recorded at least 3 or more steals in a game on five separate occasions this season. He can take over a game without scoring the ball, which is an element to watch in the meeting on Saturday against the Tar Heels.

G Marcus Paige, North Carolina

The Tar Heels go as Marcus Paige goes, as demonstrated throughout most of the season thus far. There are many nights when Paige will lead the way offensively, but North Carolina has struggled finding a consistent second option on offense behind him. Louisville will defend Paige tightly in this one, because if they are able to hold him under his average of 13.5 points per game, they should have a good chance of winning.

 

F Brice Johnson, North Carolina

Brice Johnson has the capability of being the second solid scoring option for the Tar Heels, but he must play better than he has recently. In the five games since scoring 18 points against then-ranked #12 Ohio State, Johnson has failed to score more than 11 points. He’s capable of playing well against a higher-caliber of competition, and North Carolina will certainly need him to show up on Saturday if they want to pull the upset.

The Game And Prediction

UNC is going to be a very good team, but they are young, and play like it all too much. North Carolina had the horses to beat #13 Notre Dame on Monday night, but their youthfulness showed. They will quickly realize that this isn’t the way to win in the ACC, and Roy Williams will have them ready against a very good Louisville team at home on Saturday. The game within the game will be the match-up between Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson and Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell. The winner of this one on one game will most likely decide the contest, and I’ll put my money on the more consistent Harrell.

Louisville 79  North Carolina 66

The Match-Up

Boston College (7-6, 0-2, RPI: 148) Vs. Miami (FL) (10-4, 0-1, RPI: 86), 4:00 ET Saturday, ESPN3.com

Their Last Game

Boston College

The Eagles went to overtime against the Pittsburgh Panthers at home on Tuesday, falling 61-60 in a game that was closely contested for its entirety. However, the specter of them not holding on to that 10-pt lead in the waning minutes is likely to diminish whatever confidence they had going to that point.

Miami (FL)

By the time the ‘Canes and BC tip on Saturday, it will be a full week since Miami took the #3 Virginia Cavaliers to double overtime at home. Although they ultimately lost to the ‘Hoos 89-80, Jim Larranaga’s club got valuable experience pushing a Top Five club into 2OT after an 18-pt half-time deficit.

Players To Watch

G Olivier Hanlan, Boston College

Hanlan is the Eagles’ star player and leading scorer, as he averages 16.2 points per game, while posting 4.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists to go along with it. As the go-to player in the Boston College offense, Hanlan deserves most of the defensive attention from the opponents they face, and it will be no different against Miami.

G Aaron Brown, Boston College

Aaron Brown is due for a big game for the Eagles. As the team’s leading scorer at 15.3 points per game, he has failed to reach the 15 point average in each of his team’s last two contests, leading many to believe that the ACC game is going to whittle away at those pre-conference numbers. In order for Boston College to win on Saturday, they will need significant contributions from both Hanlan and Aaron Brown.

G Sheldon McClellan, Miami (FL)

As a junior transfer from Texas, Sheldon McClellan is in his first year with the program, and he has not disappointed so far. He has put up outstanding overall numbers to the tune of 15.7 points on 54% shooting, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. The BC backcourt of Hanlan and Brown will do their best to slow down McClellan, who has seemingly done everything in his power to impact the game in one way or another.

 

G Angel Rodriguez, Miami (FL)

Rodriguez is also a junior transfer for the Hurricanes, and he is picking up right where he left off two seasons ago at Kansas State. Rodriguez is averaging 14.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game so far this season, and is the leading assist man for the ‘Canes.

The Game And Prediction

Miami has shown glimpses of being a very good team this season, but have followed up good wins (#8 Florida, #24 Illinois) with horrible losses to unranked Providence, as well as Eastern Kentucky AT HOME (???). I think the Hurricanes have more talent on their roster than Boston College, who outside of Hanlan and Brown, really have a difficult time putting the ball in the basket. Miami’s backcourt is of equal talent, with the edge in the frontcourt and the match-up going to the Hurricanes.

Miami (FL)  71   Boston College 56

The Match-Up

#3 Virginia (14-0, 2-0, RPI: 3) Vs. #13 Notre Dame (15-1, 3-0, RPI: 42), 6:00 ET Saturday, ESPN2

Their Last Game

Virginia

The nation’s #3 ranked team took on N.C. State at home on Wednesday night, and were locked in a tight game until the final minutes. That’s when the ‘Hoos defense took over, and ultimately won them the game 61-51. Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey had key putbacks in the paint off of Malcolm Brogdon misses

Notre Dame

The Irish traveled to Chapel Hill on Monday night and rode a hot shooting first half to survive on the road by a score of 71-70 over #18 North Carolina.

Players To Watch

G-F Justin Anderson, Virginia

Anderson has been the best player on a stacked UVA roster this season, posting career highs in every offensive category. He is shooting 54% from the field, 57% from three, and is averaging 15.1 points per game this season. He has been as consistent as they come on offense, and his on-ball pressure and length defensively has given opponents fits, so it is something Notre Dame will have to be aware of on Saturday night. They will have to watch out for Anderson’s sneaky assists as well, as he times double-teams just right, and finds the open man for easy looks at least a couple times a game.

F Anthony Gill, Virginia

Anthony Gill had two huge hustle put-backs to decide the game on Wednesday night against N.C. State, and his aggressiveness on both ends of the court have been pivotal to UVA’s early success this season. He is the team’s leading rebounder at 7.1 boards per game, and is the Cavaliers’ third leading scorer at 12.6 points per game, and UVA will need every bit of these averages to stay perfect on the year when they face off against the Irish.

 

G Jerian Grant, Notre Dame and G-F Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame

The two senior leaders of the Irish combine for 31.2 out of the team’s 85 points per game, and are both extremely important to the Notre Dame offense. While Grant is the go-to guy, especially in late-game situations, Connaughton is looked to often as the second primary scoring option. Connaughton is also the team’s leading rebounder at 8.2 boards per game. If these two combine for big nights on Saturday, the Irish will have a terrific chance at pulling off the home upset.

 

The Game And Prediction

This will without a doubt be the game of the weekend in the ACC. Notre Dame comes into the match-up after narrowly escaping on the road against UNC on Monday, but should have good confidence coming into the game after knocking off a Top-20 opponent on the road. UVA is off to their best start since the Ralph Sampson days in the early 1980s, and at #3 in the latest polls, have played as well as anyone in the country.

The ‘Hoos boast one of the top statistical defenses in the country across the board, while the Irish have one of the nation’s top offensive attacks. With students arriving back onto campus after the holiday break, the Purcell Pavillion should give the Irish the home court advantage that they need to win a game against a team of this caliber. However, with UVA’s decisive advantage down low with the recent play of Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill, I like the Cavaliers to survive in a close game that should live up to the hype.

UVA 75  ND 70

The Match-Up

#2 Duke (14-0, 2-0, RPI: 6) Vs. N.C. State (11-5, 2-1, RPI: 48), 1:30 ET Sunday, CBS

Their Last Game

Duke

Coach K’s #2 ranked Blue Devils survived a scare on the road against Wake Forest. It wasn’t the team’s best effort, but Jahlil Okafor and Quinn Cook made plays late, pacing Duke to a 73-65 victory.

N.C. State

The Wolfpack ran out of steam on Wednesday night at UVA, but the effort by Mark Gottfried’s club was spectacular throughout. The three-guard trio of Anthony Barber, Trevor Lacey, and Ralston Turner made shot after shot, but eventually UVA’s #2 ranked defense turned up the heat and pulled away late, sinking the ‘Pack 61-51.

Players To Watch

C Jahlil Okafor, Duke

Like I’ve stated previously, Okafor is a dynamic, game-changing force for the Duke Blue Devils averaging 18.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in his freshman season. He will be the best player on the floor no matter who they play, and he hasn’t failed to impress at all so far, as we near the halfway point on the year.

F Amile Jefferson, Duke

Duke forward Amile Jefferson is averaging 8.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in his junior campaign with the Blue Devils. While he does not grab headlines like his counterparts, Jahlil Okafor and Quinn Cook, Jefferson still has an ability to impact the game both offensively and defensively. His rebounding is what is most important to Duke, and his ability to storm the glass will be an element to keep an eye on Sunday.

G Ralston Turner, N.C. State

Ralston Turner is coming off of two consecutive positive offensive performances against Pittsburgh and Virginia, where he scored 16 points and 14 points respectively. At 41% from beyond the arc, he is a constant threat to shoot the 3, and shoot it well. Duke would be wise to lock down on all three of N.C. State’s scoring guards, but Turner as a senior may be the most important of them all.

F Kyle Washington, N.C. State

Why is Washington a player to watch? Well, he will most likely be the one guarding Duke’s Jahlil Okafor for a majority of Sunday’s meeting. If Okafor dominates Washington, this game will not be close, but if Washington is able to contain Okafor, N.C. State has the shooters to keep this one close. In the event Washington fails, they’ll turn to the enormous Beejay Anya at times. His wide body is a stark contrast to Okafor’s lean height. He may prove to play a big difference. Anya draws a lot of whistles though, and seeing as Okafor made his living at the line last Saturday vs BC (14-17), don’t be surprised if Saturday nets a similar outcome.

The Game And Prediction

The decisive advantage down-low goes to Duke with sure-fire #1 NBA draft prospect, Jahlil Okafor, manning the paint. However, if N.C. State finds a way to slow down Okafor’s offensive and defensive presence in the game, the Wolfpack should be able to keep this one close, especially with the shooters that they have in Anthony Barber, Ralston Turner, and leading scorer Trevor Lacey. The Wolfpack is at home, and their students are always into it, making PNC a tough place to play on the road. The ‘Pack played well enough for most of the game on the road the other night against UVA, an early matinee match-up seems like the perfect opportunity for them to pull an upset against Duke. I think the three-guard trio make enough shots to sink the Blue Devils and pull off an improbable home win.

N.C. State 78   Duke  75

The Match-Up

Florida State (9-6, 1-1, RPI: 160) Vs. Syracuse (11-4, 2-0, RPI: 56), 8:00 ET Sunday, ESPNU

Their Last Game

Florida State

The ‘Noles won their last match-up at home against one of the bottom feeders of the conference in the Virginia Tech Hokies. Florida State led virtually the entire game, effectively snuffing out every possible Hokie rally, and won the game 86-75.

Syracuse

Georgia Tech gave the Syracuse 2-3 zone defense fits on Wednesday, and neither team could score the basketball enough to pull away from the other. In a painful to watch back and forth affair, Syracuse emerged victorious 46-45, after two late free throws by star forward Rakeem Christmas.

Players To Watch

G Montay Brandon, Florida State

Brandon is the primary scorer for the ‘Noles, and much of their success this season has come when he has played when he has played a big role offensively. He is averaging 13.5 points per game on a career-best 58% shooting so far, and will need to keep it up Sunday night in order for the Seminoles to win.

G Xavier Rathan-Mayes

Freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes is on this list for the sole reason that he is averaging 4.7 assists per game this season. Syracuse’s zone defense is always troubling for players who are facing it for the first time, and Rathan-Mayes will have to make sure he stays well below his average of 4.1 turnovers per game, or else his team will be in deep trouble.

F Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse

Christmas has been the ACC Conference’s most improved player by far this season, and has put up outstanding offensive statistics that have shattered his previous career highs, posting 17.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on the season. If Florida State can’t find an answer for #25, they will be in for a long night.

The Game And Prediction

Can Florida State slow down Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas? I don’t believe they will be able to contain him, or guard Trevor Cooney, who is still waiting to burst out of his shooting woes this season. This seems like as good a game as any to do so, and I think that the zone defense and duo of Cooney and Christmas will ultimately be too much for the young Seminoles team, especially on the road.

Syracuse 62   Florida State  54

 

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