ACC Basketball: Weekend Preview Has ACC in Action All Day Today, Plus Sunday’s Contest

Another full weekend of games on tap for you this weekend across the ACC. The games only get more meaning now as the calendar inches closer and closer to March. With conference tournaments right around the corner across the country, here’s the breakdown of the weekend slate for the ACC, as teams begin the homestretch of their regular season schedules.

NC State (17-11, 8-7, RPI: 39) Vs. Boston College (9-18, 1-14, RPI: 176), 12:00 PM ET Saturday,

Every single game from here on out is a must-win for Mark Gottfried’s squad. The Wolfpack sit squarely on the bubble after an impressive win over #15 North Carolina on the road on Tuesday night. They have now won three straight games, including two wins over top 15 teams in the past week. Their now winning record in conference play, coupled with their #3 strength of schedule in the country, puts them on the cusp of NCAA Tournament play, barring an unexpected late season loss to a below average opponent (like BC on Saturday).

What we saw on Tuesday, which has been an underrated statistic with the ‘Pack this season, is their ability to alter shots. They rank 16th nationally in blocks per game, getting an average of 5.5 per game this season. When Beejay Anya is in the lineup, he is a defensive game changer, as he tallied six out of the seven blocks for NC State against the Tar Heels. Yes, you heard me right, SIX blocks by HIMSELF! The problem with Anya is that he is liable to foul out in about three minutes if he gets too aggressive, which is something that has plagued the ‘Pack all year long, as they are a guard-centric team with very few big men.

However, some of the most successful moments for Gottfried and company this season have been when his guards are shooting the ball to the best of their abilities. Since the team lacks frontcourt size and scoring, the Wolfpack have turned to backcourt players Trevor Lacey, Anthony “Cat” Barber, and Ralston Turner to carry the load on offense.  The trio have combined to average 41 of the team’s 71 points per game this season. Either they all get going, or NC State loses, it’s really as simple as that.

Boston College has struggled mightily throughout conference play, as their play has only yielded them one win in ACC play. Guard Olivier Hanlan has successfully thrown his name into consideration for conference player of the year, as he has averaged 19.4 points per game, good for first in the ACC, on 46% shooting. While they have not won a game since January 25th, Hanlan still provides plenty of reason to watch the Eagles play. The only way that BC can win on Saturday, is to successfully pressure the NC State three point shooters, and have another great showing by Hanlan offensively.

While BC provides little to no reason, short of Hanlan, that they can win this game, I get this eerie feeling that the Eagles may be able to keep this one close. It’s at home, it’s an early morning game, and the Wolfpack have lost more than their fair share of games to mediocre opponents this season (see Purdue, Wofford, Clemson, and Wake). I’ll stop short of calling an upset though, because there is just too much of a talent gap in the backcourts of both teams once you take away Olivier Hanlan.

NC State 68    Boston College 59    


Georgia Tech (12-16, 3-13, RPI: 117) Vs. Clemson (15-12, 7-8, RPI: 87), 12:00 PM ET Saturday,

Clemson has fallen right off the horse on the quest for an NCAA berth. While they were never a lock, they did a great job of lingering around the bubble for a majority of the season, before losing four out of their last five, which include losses to Miami (FL) and Georgia Tech on the road. Twelve days later, the Tigers need this game much more than the last, as all they can hope for now is winning out in the regular season and pulling some sort of miracle in the conference tournament to get in the field of 68. However, they can find solace in the play out of a less than 100% Jaron Blossomgame, who continues to do things like this:

This time around, Clemson is going to want to keep an eye out for Georgia Tech’s bench, namely Josh Heath, who came off the bench to score a career-high 14 points for the Yellow Jackets in the first meeting. Marcus Georges-Hunt is the go-to scorer for GT, averaging 13.8 points per contest on an underachieving squad. On Saturday and on every gameday the rest of the season, Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory will be doing all he can to try to keep his job, but with another poor season in Atlanta, he seems to be simply delaying the inevitable at this point, as he may lose his job at the end of the year.

Both teams are offensively challenged, with Georgia Tech ranking 268th nationally and Clemson sitting just outside of the top 300 at 303rd in the country. Like the first contest, first one to 60 points wins, and I like Clemson this time around, because I think they will get more production out of all of their starters, not just Jaron Blossomgame. Expect an improved defensive performance too out of the Tigers.

Clemson 64   Georgia Tech 57


#17 Louisville (22-6, 10-5, RPI: 18) Vs. Florida St. (15-14, 7-9, RPI: 115), 12:00 PM ET Saturday, ESPN2

Anyone else think that the Cardinals need a breather? They have lost three out of five, have only beaten Georgia Tech and Miami (FL) this past week by a combined three points, and last Sunday morning they dismissed their starting point guard Chris Jones, who has since been charged with rape and forcible sodomy. Not a great way to spend the last couple of weeks if you’re Rick Pitino and Louisville, that’s for sure. At least they can take solace in the fact that they are playing a mediocre Florida State team right? Eh, not so much…

On Wednesday night against Miami (FL), the Seminoles lost their second straight game, and their third out of their last five. However, their freshman point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes once more made headlines, as he spent the final 4:39 minutes of regulation causing Angel Rodriguez and the rest of the Hurricanes fits, as he scored 30 of his 35 points in that final stretch. Yes, that’s 30 points in a little over four minutes. For a team that just lost their starting point guard to off-court issues, you have to wonder what’s going through the mind of Louisville coach Rick Pitino as he embarks on this challenge on Saturday afternoon.

I guess one remedy would be to establish monster big man Montrezl Harrell in the half-court, who is averaging 15.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Florida State doesn’t have a front court player that can get after it like Harrell can, so getting him going in the paint would help the cause. A second solution would be to get as much out of guard Terry Rozier on the defensive end as they do on the offensive end. Rozier leads the team in scoring at 17.7 points per game, but his work on the other end of the floor will dictate whether or not Louisville can separate themselves in this one. They need to play well on defense in this game, because that is how they get their points. The transition game is extremely important for Louisville, because we have seen how flawed they can be on offense when the game slows down, especially when they can’t get Montrezl Harrell the ball. 212th in the country in field goal percentage is more than enough reason to pause and wonder whether or not the Cardinals will be a serious threat throughout the rest of the season and into March, especially now that they are without their starting point guard. Ultimately, Louisville will find a way to win on the road, even though ranked road teams tend to struggle in Tallahassee. The Cardinals have a much more talented roster top to bottom, no matter how much they struggle offensively. I like Louisville in a close one.

Louisville  61   Florida State 56    


#15 North Carolina (19-9, 9-6, RPI: 19) Vs. Miami (FL) (18-10, 8-7, RPI: 67), 2:00 PM ET Saturday, CBS

Is it time to panic in Chapel Hill? The Tar Heels have lost five out of their last seven contests. Sure, they are an absolute lock for the tournament, but how apt are they to making a deep run in March? While sure, they have lost five out of seven, the Tar Heels dropped three out of those five to top 10 teams. They went to overtime twice (#10 Louisville, #4 Duke), and lost by 11 at home to #2 Virginia, on a night in which they yielded a 55% shooting performance from the Cavaliers. Carolina has an excellent backcourt led  by Marcus Paige, and solid frontcourt play from Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, but they lack a true rim protector in the paint, which is where a majority of their problems will come in March.

The Hurricanes on the other hand, are not looking towards March yet, because in my opinion, they are still on the outside looking in as far as the bubble is concerned. This game is an absolute must-win for the ‘Canes, as they need a strong showing from guard Angel Rodriguez, who is second on the team in scoring (12.8 ppg.) but shoots a meager 33% from the floor. When he’s on, the duo he forms with Sheldon McClellan makes Miami a tough team to beat. If you don’t believe me, ask Duke. The ability of the two guards to breakdown their defender and get to the basket is what gave the Blue Devils fits at home in early January, where the Hurricanes won 90-74.

This is going to be a good one in Coral Gables, I can promise you that. While North Carolina is tough to pick against when they aren’t playing Virginia or Duke, I just feel that every time Jim Larranaga’s squad needs a big win, they get it. Saturday will be no different, and I like the ‘Canes by a nose with a breakout performance from Angel Rodriguez.

Miami (FL) 82   North Carolina 78    


Virginia Tech (10-18, 2-13, RPI: 214) Vs. #2 Virginia (26-1, 14-1, RPI: 3), 4:00 PM ET Saturday,

Well what more can you say about the Hokies? Their effort this year for the most part, has been stellar given the circumstances. They lack a full roster of ACC talent, but they don’t lack talent in their head coach, Buzz Williams, who has gotten every ounce of basketball out of his kids this year. This point could not be made more clear on Wednesday night against #4 Duke in Cassell Coliseum, where the Hokies took the Blue Devils to the brink in overtime, before ultimately coming up short on Jahlil Okafor’s career night (30 points).

You don’t have to remind the Cavaliers. Remember the first meeting between these two teams on January 25th, when the ‘Hoos were at full strength? Cassell was rocking, and Virginia’s Justin Anderson swooped in late to save the day, as the Cavaliers escaped the upset 50-47. Just in case you can’t remember the first meeting, see below. While the services of Justin Anderson will not be available Saturday as he continues to recover from surgery on his shooting hand, the Cavaliers will be at home, which gives them the obvious advantage when you put the talent level aside. The Cavaliers have had the top ranked scoring defense all year long, and they just seem to continue to get better. They are only giving up 49.9 points per game, and are coming off of a game on Wednesday night against Wake Forest where they only gave up 34 points in a 36 point rout. As long as they get Justin Anderson back in time for the Big Dance, the long term plans for Tony Bennett’s team remains the same: Final Four or bust.

On Saturday, look for Virginia to come out and play how they are capable of playing. The Hokies have not won a road game yet this season, and have had trouble hanging with better teams on the road without the home crowd behind them. I can’t see a serious scenario in which Tech can pull the upset on Saturday unless they shoot over 50% from the field and beyond the arc, which simply never happens against the pack-line defense of Virginia. I’ll take the ‘Cavs comfortably.

Virginia 66   Virginia Tech 49    


Syracuse (18-10, 9-6, RPI: 64) Vs. #4 Duke (25-3, 12-3, RPI: 5), 7:00 PM ET Saturday, ESPN

Not sure the schedule could have closed out much tougher for Syracuse, as dating back to Tuesday’s game against #9 Notre Dame, the ‘Cuse play three out of their final four regular season games against top five teams. Lucky for the Orange, they passed the first step of the process with a five point win over the Irish on Tuesday. The bad news for them is that nothing they do from here on out matters with their self-imposed postseason ban hanging over their heads. The Orange will have to play well again under tough circumstances and find a way to close out their season with some vigor, despite playing for essentially nothing.

As for Duke, the question becomes whether or not they can retain their hold on a #1 seed in March. Before Jahlil Okafor bailed the Blue Devils out, their near disaster in overtime against one of the worst teams in the ACC in Virginia Tech on Wednesday night suggests that two-loss Villanova out of the Big East could be a better fit for a #1 seed. Only time will tell, but the Blue Devils need to perform to the best of their abilities in every single game from here on out, because one loss will drop them out of the top four national seeds.

The story of this game once again will be the battle between Jahlil Okafor for Duke and Rakeem Christmas from Syracuse. In an 80-72 win for the Blue Devils in the first meeting, this match-up came down to Okafor’s ability to stay out of foul trouble and make his mark on the game, where he scored 23 points and tallied 13 rebounds. Christmas would like to play a bit better this time around, as he battled foul trouble in the initial meeting, finishing with only 11 points on 5-17 shooting. While he played all but two minutes, the foul issues forced him to become a bit less aggressive than we are accustomed to seeing, which led to the 29% shooting performance. Former Blue Devil Michael Gbinije scored 27 points on 10-14 shooting for the Orange, but a better game out of Christmas likely would have pushed Syracuse to the upset.

While I think Syracuse will play well again on Saturday night, it’s tough seeing Duke lose at home in this one. I think Coach K and the Blue Devils received the wake up call they needed against Virginia Tech, and should be all set to go. I’m predicting a big time performance out of Grayson Allen for Duke. It is only a matter of time before the freshman makes his mark on a big game, and this could be his time on Saturday.

Duke 85   Syracuse 76


Pittsburgh (19-10, 8-7, RPI: 44) Vs. Wake Forest (12-16, 4-11, RPI: 129), 6:30 PM ET Sunday, ESPNU

Pittsburgh in my opinion has played their way into an NCAA Tournament berth since their overtime loss on the road at Virginia Tech on January 27th. Since then, the Panthers own a 6-2 record, with victories over #8 Notre Dame and #12 North Carolina, while only dropping two road games to #12 Louisville and #2 Virginia. In this stretch, the Panthers have also managed to sweep the season series with Syracuse, knocking them off twice. If the Panthers win this game on Sunday against Wake, and get past Miami (FL) and Florida State to close out the regular season, it won’t end up mattering what they do in the conference tournament, they’ll be in the Big Dance in my opinion.

Will Wake Forest take this game laying down? It’s tough to tell, especially following the blowout they endured to second-ranked Virginia on Wednesday. I guarantee you this, Danny Manning’s squad will be able to score more than 34 points in this one, as Pitt’s defense is not nearly the animal that Virginia’s defense turned out to be for the Demon Deacons earlier this week. That being said, Wake will need to find a way to contain Pitt’s Jamel Artis, who has become the go-to scorer that the Panthers have needed desperately throughout the balance of the season. In his last three games, Artis has averaged 20 points per game, getting to the basket at will.

If Wake doesn’t stop Artis, Pitt should coast. If he struggles to get going, Pitt might be in a dogfight on Sunday night. This game is on the road, so Pittsburgh will not have their ferocious home crowd to lean on, but will Wake find a way to score in this game to keep up with the Panthers? I don’t think so, and I think that Jamie Dixon’s squad is playing too well on both ends of the court right now to blow their tournament chances like this. Pitt by 10.

Pittsburgh 65  Wake Forest 55


Our hoops panel has an in-game thread for you all day Saturday and for the finale on Sunday night, so be on the lookout for that and feel free to throw down your comments. We would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading! Follow me on twitter for all things ACC @mikem92VT and follow our site on twitter @InsideTheACC. Also check out InsideTheACC on Facebook.

Leave a Reply