ACC Basketball Preview: Big Weekend As Postseason Nears

The top teams in the ACC are assured of postseason berths, but they still have plenty to play for while securing favorable seeds for the NCAA Tournament. The middle of the pack in the conference is still trying to build their resumes in an effort to prove to the selection committee that the ACC is worthy of a seventh team being included in the Big Dance.

Syracuse (17-9, 8-5, RPI: 65) vs. Pittsburgh (17-10, 6-7, RPI: 50) Saturday, NOON ET ACC Network/ESPN3

Syracuse proved with its win over #12 Louisville this week that the Orange are fully embracing playing spoiler for teams bound for postseason play. While Jim Boeheim’s club will be watching the action at home come March, they’d love some company in the form of the Pitt Panthers.

Pittsburgh is on the bubble at present with an RPI of 50 and a 6-7 mark in conference play. The good news is the Panthers’ strength of schedule comes in 32nd right now and a win over the rallying Orange would go a long way to solidify that mark.

Since playing Georgia Tech January 17, Pitt’s Jamel Artis has been absolutely on fire averaging 19.4 PPG in that time span and scoring 20 or more points in six of ten games. The Panthers will need another big game from him and big minutes from 6’9″ forward Michael Young who will likely draw the unenviable task of matching up with dominant Orange center Rakeem Christmas. Christmas scored 29 points to go along with eight boards in the upset of Louisville and he should continue that dominance at the Carrier Dome on Saturday.


Syracuse 68 Pittsburgh 61


#15 North Carolina (18-8, 8-5, RPI: 13) vs. Georgia Tech (12-14, 3-11, RPI: 110) Saturday, NOON ET ACC Network/ESPN3

Carolina suffered an emotional 92-90 overtime defeat to #4 Duke Wednesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. In an odd scheduling quirk, this will be UNC’s first home game in nearly three weeks and they’ll likely be glad to see friendly surroundings. There’s been plenty of stress during that time with the senseless shooting deaths of two students and the passing of legendary coach Dean Smith who will be remembered with a public service Sunday.

There was also a road stumble at Pitt during that road swing which makes taking care of business against Georgia Tech even more important. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a 62-53 win over Clemson, but they’ve still lost four of the last six outings. With Charles Mitchell and Demarco Cox both playing well it’s clear the strength for GT is in the post. Unfortunately, that’s the strength of the Tar Heels too and it will be a determined bunch come Saturday.


North Carolina 78 Georgia Tech 60


#12 Louisville (20-6, 8-5, RPI: 20) vs. Miami (17-9, 7-6, RPI: 60) Saturday, 2 p.m. ET ESPN

The Cardinals are assured of an NCAA Tournament berth, but as losers of three of their last four Louisville is headed in the wrong direction at the worst possible time.

It’s a good sign that the team leaders are stepping up to address the situation, but there are still issues on the court. With the indefinite suspension of guard Chris Jones, Rick Pitino needs to find more scoring. Wayne Blackshear didn’t score in the Syracuse loss but he needs to get back on track quickly to stabilize the Cardinal offense.

Miami has a resume that it somewhat incomplete at the moment. Outside of big wins over Duke, Florida and Illinois the Canes have played a fairly weak schedule (66th). They have a major opportunity against Louisville and an upcoming date with North Carolina to put the finishing touches on a tournament bid. They’ll need Sheldon McClellan to continue to perform at a high level and Angel Rodriguez needs to round back into form. Since the Duke game he’s slumped badly and has to get back to complimenting McClellan’s offensive contributions with his own.


Louisville 74 Miami 68


Boston College (9-16, 1-12, RPI: 160) vs. #10 Notre Dame (23-4, 11-3, RPI: 27) Saturday, 4 p.m. ET ESPN

It feels like the Irish have been somewhat forgotten lately as they continue to put together one of the quietest four-loss, top ten campaigns in recent memory. This game should present an opportunity for a comfortable win and a chance to rest stud guard Jerian Grant who played all 40 minutes the last two games. They’ll need him to be at his best headed into the ACC Tournament if they want to make a run at a three-seed in the Big Dance.

Boston College continues to waste the efforts of Olivier Hanlan who has scored 30 or more points in three of the last four games. Aaron Brown is a capable scorer, but beyond that the Eagles simply don’t have any offensive firepower. BC has lost seven straight games and 12 of the last 14 with wins over Harvard and scuffling Georgia Tech the only bright spots in that stretch.

It is a home game against a big rival so the Eagles won’t lack for motivation. Given the recent weather issues in Boston, folks will be looking to get out of their homes (and do something indoors) with a weekend warm-up in the area so attendance should be good.


Notre Dame 80 Boston College 67

No. 4 Duke (23-3, 10-3, RPI: 5) vs. Clemson (15-11, 7-7, RPI: 90) Saturday, 4 p.m. ET ESPN

Duke is riding high after the impressive win over North Carolina this week. Tyus Jones has a knack for stepping up against ranked opponents and he did it once again with 22 points and several clutch plays down the stretch for the Blue Devils. Some news of note is that Jahlil Okafor is wearing a protective boot on his left foot after spraining his ankle against UNC Wednesday. Duke is unsure if he’ll play against Clemson which could leave them open to a challenge from Jaron Blossomgame.

The sophomore forward has emerged as one of the toughest rebounders in the ACC (8.1 RPG). He shoots a high percentage and makes his free throws at a reasonable clip, but it remains to be seen if he’ll get a chance to match-up with Duke’s best big man.

The Blue Devils are essentially a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament barring an unlikely collapse. Clemson has chances for signature wins with Duke and Notre Dame left on the schedule, but even with key victories down the stretch they’re weighed down by early-season losses to Winthrop and Webber State. The Tigers appear destined for the NIT.


Duke 81 Clemson 70


NC State (15-11, 6-7, RPI: 47) vs. Virginia Tech (10-16, 2-11, RPI: 220) Saturday, 6 p.m. ET ESPN2

NC State still has work to do to sneak into the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season. The Wolfpack has marquee wins over Duke and Louisville, plus they’re buoyed by the fourth toughest schedule in the country. They still have to win these kind of trap games down the stretch and the Hokies may or may not be a tough out.

Tech has played most ACC opponents close this season, but the shorthanded Hokies may be wearing down after blowout losses at Clemson and Miami. It will be interesting to see how the Hokies choose to approach this match-up defensively. While the Wolfpack are mainly a perimeter-oriented team, they would be wise to use their size advantage against 6’3″ post-by-necessity Malik Müller and undersized forward Shane Henry. Buzz Williams is a hearty man though and will likely approach the challenge with all the vigor he attacks packing the car in the snow.

The depth of NC State should be enough to get the ‘Pack through this one, but it might not be a cakewalk.


NC State 72 Virginia Tech 67

#2 Virginia (24-1, 12-1, RPI: 3) vs. Florida State (15-12, 7-7, RPI: 115) Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET ESPNU

The Cavaliers have reeled off five wins in a row after their lone loss to Duke. Losing guard Justin Anderson to injury has hurt the offensive flow some, but the Wahoo defense remains tough as nails allowing just 52 PPG in three contests. The ‘Hoos much like Duke are all but a lock to be a #1 seed and the schedule is favorable up until a trip to Louisville to finish the regular season.

Florida State has been inconsistent while exhibiting some puzzling traits. Despite carrying three seven-footers on the roster the ‘Noles are 178th in the nation in rebounding. Stranger still, none of those big men are in the top five in rebounding on the team. They also shoot the ball well from the field (46.4%) but struggle from 3-point range shooting just 31% (12 out of 15 in ACC).

That combination of poor rebounding and poor outside shooting seems ill-suited to attack Tony Bennett’s Pack Line defense.


Virginia 58 Florida State 52

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