Editor’s Note: Mike is putting in a helluva day for you guys. Let him know what you think @mikem92vt on Twitter and in the comments. Six games, a lotta meh, some brilliance. But remember January 31, 2015, because Mike was there for you.” —Editor
Six conference games on the docket today, all leading up to the showdown at 7 PM between #4 Duke and #2 Virginia. I’ll be here today putting in my thoughts on the games as they happen, beginning with the 12 p.m. games: NC State vs. Georgia Tech, #8 Notre Dame Vs. Pittsburgh, and Boston College Vs. Clemson.
Here are some of my pre-game thoughts regarding our opening three match-ups.
First, I am extremely surprised by the recent slide of North Carolina State. The Wolfpack have one of the most underrated backcourts in the country, with Barber, Lacey, and Turner, who can score with almost anyone. Mark Gottfried’s challenge for the remainder of conference play will be to get his guards to commit to the defensive end of the floor. If they do this, they should win enough games to get into the NCAA Tournament, and would be an extremely tough out, as they can score with almost anybody when they are hot. Equally as suprising, was GT’s defense on Angel Rodriguez in their last match-up, a 20-point romp over Miami. The Jackets went on the road and locked down one of the best offensive guards in the ACC, so it will be interesting to see if they can bring that same defensive intensity to the table today, as they hope to win their second in a row.
Notre Dame is coming off of a huge win over Duke on Wednesday, and the table is set for a colossal let down today if they aren’t careful. The Panthers will be eager to get back on the floor to atone for their tough road overtime loss to Virginia Tech, and they will be at home, making for a raucous environment against the Irish.
Boston College and Clemson will be a battle to set the tempo, and also to score points. As I outlined in my weekend preview, neither team can score all that efficiently, so the team that sets the tempo on the defensive end early should hold an advantage throughout the rest of the game.
The Wolfpack are off and running in Atlanta, getting almost any shot they want, as they open up the game on a 9-0 run over the Yellow Jackets. Meanwhile, the Irish and Panthers have both opened up on fire from the floor, as the tams are a combined 9-11 from the field at the first media timeout. And as expected, at the first media timeout at Clemson offense is at a premium as the score between the Tigers and Eagles is 3-3 with just under 16 minutes to go in the opening half.
The Yellow Jackets forcing up contested jump shots early, and if they don’t start playing defense in a hurry, they are going to get blown out of their own arena. With the ‘Pack getting whatever shots they want, inside and out, GT has once again dug themselves into an early hole, which has been a trend for them throughout most of this season.
Pittsburgh has been able to easily keep up with Notre Dame’s pace, and the match-up between Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste and Pittsburgh’s Michael Young could end up being the difference, as the guards of both teams have been able to trade baskets throughout most of the early going.
Unexpectedly, Jordan Roper has opened up on fire from the perimeter for Clemson. With most of the attention of the BC defense turned towards Jaron Blossomgame, Roper has picked his spots, as he is 3-4 from three point land for 11 points to get Clemson rolling about midway through the first half.
If you love offense, flip over to Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, right now neither team can miss. Both teams are driving to the basket at will, trading buckets at an unbelievable rate. The Pittsburgh student section has been unbelievably loud so far, and the Panthers are clearly feeding off of that energy. You have to wonder if either team will make an adjustment defensively, and potentially go to a zone look, because the pick and roll game against man defense by both teams has led to easy baskets time and time again in this game so far.
Boston College has done a nice job holding down the Tigers’ Jaron Blossomgame, showing double teams almost every time he touches the ball. Jordan Roper continues to pace Clemson however, as he has opened 5-6 from the floor with 15 points in the first half.
Finally, Georgia Tech is getting some shots to fall, but they have traded their offense for defense, as Anthony “Cat” Barber is having a huge first half for the Wolfpack, with 15 points on 6-8 shooting. Somebody needs to step out on him on the wing, or the Jackets will never close this NC State lead to under 10 points.
Halftime in Pittsburgh, and the Panthers find themselves trailing #8 Notre Dame 38-37, despite shooting 52% from the floor. Pittsburgh can pull off this upset today if they find away to slow down Notre Dame’s offensive attack, as they are shooting 56% from the floor. The difference between these two squads, is that Notre Dame is second in the country in field goal percentage at 52.1%, so we know this bunch can continue the hot shooting. Pitt meanwhile, has a tendency to go cold offensively, and it is bound to happen here at some point in the second half, which may ultimately put the Irish over the top in this ballgame, especially if the Panthers have trouble getting stops.
Clemson and BC are at the break at the Little John Coliseum, with the Tigers up 11, 27-16. The Eagles are shooting a putrid 26.1% from the floor, as leading scorer Olivier Hanlan is 1-5 with 3 points at the break. The Eagles held Clemson’s Blossomgame scoreless, but Jordan Roper is almost singlehandedly outscoring Boston College, as he leads all scorers with 15 points. Not only will Hanlan have to play better for the Eagles, but the defense will have to do a better job on the perimeter to limit the Tigers’ three-point opportunities in the second half.
Cat Barber continues to steal the show in the match-up between NC State and Georgia Tech, as he has 18 points at the half to give NC State a 40-31 advantage. Yellow Jackets forwards Demarco Cox and Charles Mitchell have combined for 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Georgia Tech would do themselves a favor in the second half by slowing the pace and getting the ball down low, where they have had offensive success for a majority of the opening frame.
With under 8 minutes to go, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh continue to shoot the ball well and trade baskets. This has all the makings of a game that will go down to the wire. While the offense of Notre Dame looks as good as ever, it is a little bit surprising that their defense has played as poor as it has today defending the Pittsburgh guards and wings off of the dribble.
Meanwhile, NC State has reverted back to the poor defense that has plagued them over the last five games, as Georgia Tech has used a strong second half run and timely shots by guard Travis Jorgensen to surge to a 56-52 lead at the under 8 timeout.
In Clemson, the Tigers have all but wrapped this one up. Boston College simply cannot score against the Tigers’ defense, as they trail by 14 with under 7 minutes left.
Cameron Wright has been huge for the Panthers on both ends of the floor. He has done an outstanding job in the second half of shutting down the drives of the Notre Dame guards, and offensively, he has 14 points.
Jerian Grant struggled throughout most of the first half, but has turned up the intensity in the last couple of minutes of regulation, singlehandedly leading the Irish on a 7-0 run to cut the Pittsburgh lead to 1 with 1:05 to go.
Georgia Tech still hanging on against the Wolfpack in Atlanta, as they continue to get timely defensive stops. They retain their four-point lead with a little over 3 minutes to play in regulation.
Jerian Grant did all he could down the stretch, but the play that won the game for Pittsburgh epitomized the Irish’s issues defensively all afternoon. Notre Dame simply had no answer for the guard penetration by the Panthers, as displayed most prominently by James Robinson’s floater that proved to be the game-winner for Pitt in the waning seconds of the contest. Huge upset for Pittsburgh, and a definite resume building win if they are on the bubble at season’s end.
Pittsburgh holds on! James Robinson’s late basket ends a 11-0 Irish run, and Pitt upsets No. 8 Notre Dame, 76-72. http://t.co/X1H5Tj0lhZ
— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) January 31, 2015
Less than 40 seconds to go in Atlanta, and we have a tie game. Huge shots have been made down the stretch by the ‘Pack, as Trevor Lacey has made his mark on the second half of this game, and now has upped his point total to 14 on the afternoon.
And one last housekeeping item, Clemson rolls BC in a 64-49 victory that just went final moments ago.
Excellent defense down the stretch by both NC State and Georgia Tech, as this one heads to overtime. The players to watch in this frame are the two best players on the floor today in Anthony Barber for NC State, and Marcus Georges-Hunt for Georgia Tech. Whichever player makes one more play in this extra frame will end up deciding this ballgame.
Big-time players make big-time shots, and that’s exactly what Trevor Lacey did as time expired. Demarco Cox, Charles Mitchell, and Marcus George-Hunt did all they can in overtime for Georgia Tech, but a free run up the court allowed Lacey to get enough of a look at the top of the key to sink the Yellow Jackets as time expired by a score of 81-80. The issue wasn’t the defense on the actual shot, but the fact that the Wolfpack were able to advance the ball so easily after two missed free throws by GT and a timeout with 3.8 seconds remaining. Big win for the ‘Pack to snap their losing skid, and another very tough loss for Georgia Tech.
— Tim Peeler (@PackTimPeeler) January 31, 2015
Meanwhile, in the only game in the 2 p.m. timeslot, Virginia Tech has an early lead on Wake Forest. Both teams are struggling to find offense in this one, as both defenses have held the opposing offenses to under 40% shooting with under 10 minutes to go in the half.
Wake Forest with a strong first half as they lead 32-28 against the Hokies. Codi Miller-McIntyre and Konstantinos Mitoglou have combined for 19 of the 32 Wake Forest points, although the Demon Deacons surprisingly trail the undersized Hokies 18-17 in the rebounding category. Malik Müller continues his improved play for Tech, as he has seven points off the bench for the Hokies, while Devin Wilson’s seven points and Ahmed Hill’s eight have led a balanced scoring attack throughout much of the first half.
The Virginia Tech zone defense, which has been so effective of late, is getting beat today, as the Hokies seem slow on their defensive rotations, leading to 44% shooting by Wake overall from the field. Tech’s leading scorer Justin Bibbs has returned today, after missing four games with a concussion. He has two points off the bench in limited minutes, but do not be surprised to see more of him in the second half, as he may be the most effective defender against Wake’s Codi Miller-McIntyre.
Wake Forest has done a great job in the second half on the glass, as they now have a 30-23 lead in the rebounding department, which could prove costly for the Hokies, who are at a decided size disadvantage. Christian Beyer has just gone to the bench with under 11 minutes left after committing his fourth foul. While the officials have called a ton of ticky-tack calls on both sides in this game, this call in particular was huge, as Beyer’s defense and rebounding has been key to keeping the Hokies in the game this afternoon. Justin Bibbs meanwhile, has played much of the second half, and now is up to eight points for Tech in his return from a concussion. On Wake’s front, Mitoglou and Miller-McIntyre are both up to 14 points on the afternoon.
After Virginia Tech forward Satchel Pierce knocked down two free throws to cut the Wake Forest lead to one, the Demon Deacons used opportune ball movement against the Hokies zone to get an easy bucket, the subsequently getting a stop on defense which led to a Codi Miller-McIntyre lay-up to extend the Wake Forest lead to five with under 8 minutes to go. With two young teams battling to the finish, there needs to be a commitment to the defensive end by offensive minded players in order to seal a conference victory for either of these two teams.
This one is going down to the wire. After an impressive drive and finish by Codi Miller-McIntyre, Adam Smith comes down to the other end of the court and missed a three, before Jalen Hudson flew out of nowhere with a huge board and put back to cut the Wake Forest lead back down to one, 62-61 with 3:29 to play. The youngsters of both squads have been very impressive throughout this game today.
Devin Wilson with an outstanding find to Christian Beyer to give the Hokies their first lead of the half with less than 1:40 remaining, but after Virginia Tech went to sleep on defense once again, Mitchell Wilbekin was left wide open to give Wake another two-point lead with 1:22 to go. Almost everyone seems to be in foul trouble as this game goes down to the waning moments.
After some timely buckets down the stretch by Wake Forest, and a series of missed open three point opportunities by Justin Bibbs and Ahmed Hill, Wake Forest survived against Virginia Tech, 73-70. At the end of the day, Wake Forest made less mistakes on the defensive end than the young Hokies, which will decide close games almost every time in ACC play.
Some initial thoughts on UNC and Louisville:
- UNC is winning the tempo-battle early in this one, allowing them to jump out to the lead
- Nate Britt was playing well on both ends of the court, so his exit with two fouls so early in the half could deal the ‘Heels a blow in the final minutes of the first half.
- Louisville needs to shoot the ball better. 21% from the field will not get the job done in any case, but especially when their offense sets up their full-court press defense.
After timely buckets by Wake Forest in the final minutes, and two missed three pointers by Virginia Tech’s Justin Bibbs and Ahmed Hill, the Demon Deacons were able to hold off the Hokies by a final score of 73-70. The deciding factor in this game was Wake Forest’s ability to get stops on the defensive end, while the young Hokies went to sleep at the switch. As Buzz Williams’ squad will learn, it is extremely difficult to win close games in the ACC when you don’t play sound defense for forty minutes.
Some initial thoughts on the first half between UNC and Louisville:
- The Tar Heels have controlled the tempo throughout the first half, and their defense has shut down Louisville’s offense.
- The Cardinals are only shooting 27% from the floor, hampering them from getting into their full-court press defense. If they can shoot the ball better in the second half and speed up the tempo, they will be able to get right back into the game.
- Nate Britt and Joel James have been huge off the bench for the Tar Heels, scoring 14 points.
With Louisville beginning to force turnovers here in the second half, the home crowd is back in the game, and so are the Cardinals. As a result, they are starting to shoot the ball better and get into their fullcourt defensive pressure, which appears to be wearing down North Carolina here. The Tar Heels could find themselves in a world of trouble here shortly if they don’t find a way to regain control over the pace of this game.
As we saw as the second half wore on, Louisville began to exert themselves on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. The full-court press ultimately wore down the ‘Heels, leading to Montrezl Harrell getting nearly any shot he wanted throughout most of the second half and in overtime, which ended up being the major reason why they won the game. His 22 point and 15 rebounds were nothing short of spectacular.
This dunk was pretty spectacular too..
— Courtside Films (@CourtsideFilms) January 31, 2015
Some thoughts as we head into the showdown of the night between UVA and Duke:
- How will Duke’s guards defend against Anderson and Brogdon? They have struggled at times this season defensively, and there aren’t many in the country who are more efficient than this duo.
- How many touches will Okafor get in this game? Duke will do all they can to get him the ball, but UVA is one of the best defenses in the country, so it won’t be easy.
- Who will emerge off of the bench for Duke with the absence of Rasheed Sulaimon?
- If Duke ups the tempo, can the Cavaliers score enough to keep up?
Through the first media timeout, Virginia seems to be struggling to slow down the tempo, which is great news for the Blue Devils. Jahlil Okafor has two uncharacteristic turnovers in the early going, but they have still been able to get up and down the court at a good pace, which is getting UVA out of their comfort zone a bit. The Cavaliers are shooting the ball earlier in the shot clock than Tony Bennett would like, and I’m sure the pace of play is something he will address in this first timeout of the game.
Duke’s pace continues to frustrate Virginia, despite the fact that Jahlil Okafor has not yet attempted a field goal, with 6 minutes remaining in the first half. Okafor is averaging a team high 11.6 field goal attempts per game. UVA’s defense has not lived up to the billing for most of the first half other than slowing down Okafor, as Duke has gotten into the lane with ease, and has converted on some easy buckets. Justise Winslow has been the star of the game for the Blue Devils, as he already is up to 11 points.
At the half, Duke leads UVA by a score of 26-25. The Cavaliers have done a poor job of getting back in their transition defense, and subsequently have had issues defending the paint, where they have already allowed 22 points in the first half, against their season average of just 19 points per game in the key. While Jahlil Okafor has only scored 2 points on 1-2 shooting, he has made an impact on the game defensively and on the glass, where he has 6 rebounds at the intermission.
Virginia’s defense is starting to wear down the Blue Devils. Okafor is getting aggressively double-teamed every single time he touches the ball, leading to a season-high five turnovers for him.
Justise Winslow with one of the biggest boneheaded plays of the day. Yes, of the day. With Virginia only up 4 points, Winslow tried to take Justin Anderson to the ground under the hoop, he was assessed a flagrant one foul, his fourth personal, and UVA extended their lead to seven with 5 minutes to go in regulation. Duke was making progress prior to the sequence, as Okafor was beginning to establish himself down low, but with the inexplicable play by Winslow, the Cavaliers have regained the momentum, which could cost Duke the ballgame.
2 minutes to play, and all of a sudden Duke can’t miss. Cook and Jones pulled Duke into the lead after a Justin Anderson alley-oop that sent the crowd in the frenzy. The Cavaliers are now allowing wide open shots, which is extremely uncharacteristic of Tony Bennett’s defense. A hectic final minute and a half ahead.
Duke closes out Virginia with a 14-2 run in the final three minutes, which included four three pointers and a dagger from freshman Tyus Jones. Tough loss for the Cavaliers. One final wrap-up to come shortly.
10:00 PM–Final Thoughts and Wrap-up:
Here are some randomly assorted thoughts as I try to make sense of all the games today:
- Notre Dame will struggle against teams who can not only establish themselves in the post, but also play with pace. Pittsburgh can do both and that’s why they beat the Irish today.
- Pittsburgh’s James Robinson is the most underrated guard in the ACC. I can confirm this without question after watching his game-winner and a 15 point, 10 assist effort against the #8 team in the country.
- Jerian Grant has propelled himself into serious consideration for National Player of the Year. While he struggled for most of the game today, he put the Irish on his back in the final minutes, scoring 9 points in the last minute and a half of the game to nearly win it for Notre Dame.
- North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, and Boston College all struggle on the defensive end. While Virginia Tech and Boston College have no hopes of making the NCAA Tournament, the lack of defense for the Wolfpack could ultimately keep them out of the Big Dance if they aren’t careful, even though they escaped for a late road victory today.
- Tony Bennett’s defense was stellar for 35 minutes, but faltered when it mattered in the last 5 minutes of the game. Duke’s 0-9 start from three was erased with their conversion of 6 of their final 8 three pointers late to lead Duke to a huge upset over Virginia.
Most Valuable Player
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Harrell was the biggest reason the Cardinals came back to beat North Carolina, as his 22 points and 15 rebounds keyed the second half run, and overtime dominance by Louisville.
And that’ll do it!