ACC Hoops: Storylines For The Last Weeknight Of The Season

Welcome to our last regular season Wednesday night hoops! I am still wondering where the entire month of January and February went to, but I guess thats what happens when the games get good. Tonight #16 Louisville will take on the #12 Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Rick Pitino and Mike Brey, this should be good. Then let’s not forget about #4 Duke and Wake Forest, oh the battle in North Carolina is how Duke will end their season, with Duke heading to the other end of Tobacco Road on Saturday, but with tournament seedings hinging upon every win and loss, they can’t overlook Wake.

Pitt and Miami will round out the action in a battle to stay afloat on the fringes of Joe Lunacy’s Bracketology. As of this weekend, Pitt was in his first four out, and Miami was in his 2nd four. NC State might have gotten one step closer to securing the ACC’s final bid last night vs Clemson, but hey: kids can dream.

#16 Louisville vs. #12 Notre Dame

These two teams will kick off the festivities tonight. I do not know about you or any other sports obsessed fans, but I have been looking forward to this game. Not as much as Duke and Carolina obviously but I really want to see Terry Rozier and Jerian Grant go at it. These two are not strangers to each other, so now that both play in the ACC their rivalry is sort of rekindled you could say.

Now Pitino and Brey are predicting a long game, since seven out of their last 13 meetings have gone into overtime. The fans at that game will for sure get their moneys worth that night. This game will ultimately come down to who can play offense. Both Rozier and Grant ranked fourth and fifth respectively in offensive leaders in the ACC but in games like these they are just numbers on piece of paper. Now let’s break it down a little bit and see some of the keys of the game:

The keys to success tonight will have to be how well they use Montrezl Harrell. Harrell can get in the paint and make you pay for it if you fail to defend him. He is an aggressive insider who knows how to get the ball, put it on the floor and really bump and grind on the inside. He makes every possession count  and will score some valuable points for the Cards down low. Louisville will also need to make sure that he rebounds. Harrell has done a much better job the last few games, but there is always room to improve. He has a little and I mean a little height over Pat Connaughton so he needs to use every inch to his advantage. A second key to this game is the shooting game. I said this the last time and I will say it again, for Louisville to win it will come down to the offense. Now in this area they have two really great scorers, Harrell and Rozier. Just like Harrell, Pitino really needs to utilize all of the skills Rozier has, both offensively and defensively. This kid can steal, can shoot and occasionally school someone who even attempts to get past him. Rozier reminds me a little bit of Melo Trimble on Maryland. They are quick on their feet, good court vision and know where the be; and when you can bring together all three you have yourself a guard that is unbeatable. So Louisville defense, rebounding and shooting the ball, we do not need another NC State repeat!

As for Notre Dame, Connaughton is going to be a big part. If he can find a way to push past Harrell they can definitely find a way to stay in the game. I think Notre Dame could use this as a threat, a way to pull Harrell out of the paint and up to the top of the key is by letting Connaughton pop a couple of three balls. He is the third leading three-point shooter in the ACC, so Louisville will have to watch the perimeter and the paint. If Notre Dame can pull Harrell out and free open some other guys down low, Notre Dame will be schooling the Cards all day long. Also a key to this game is the shooting, while yes they maybe able to shoot the three lets not forget about Jerian Grant. Grant is not only the playmaker for this team but a decision maker. He has a way to spread the floor, penetrate to the basket, causing other teams to collapse under the drive and score some points. His tone, his rhythm will be a large part of the night, if he is off, then the team will be off. He has got the play right there with Rozier and show no fear. Grant also needs to protect the ball, Rozier has this ability to pick pocket you faster than you can blink, so protection is a key for this game. None of this head movement and body gyrations stuff, it does not work and will not work, not in the top 25 at least.

I predict a Cards victory. They have a lot of momentum right now, they want to really finish strong and snag a good seed come tournament time. They do not have too much to lose but would like to inch closer to the top of the ACC standings if that is possible. Close game-yes, good game-yes, someone going home very empty-handed- absolutely.

Pittsburgh vs Miami

It was a tough loss for Miami on Saturday against Carolina and it was even tougher for the Panthers with their loss against Wake Forest. Two teams that were winning, ended up faltering under the pressure and chaos to carry out victories needed to push them over the bubble. So that leaves tonight’s game, a do-or-die for both squads as they hope to push themselves into playoff contention. They currently sit in a four way tie for seventh place along with NC State and Clemson. I think when it comes down to it, it will be possession to possession basketball and Miami even looking for a little revenge from their overtime loss last year. Lets look at some key parts to wining this game.

Pitt, they are hot right now. They came out on top in six of their last nine games with victories over two top 25 teams, North Carolina and Notre Dame, along with a two game sweep of Syracuse. Despite the loss to Wake Forest in overtime, Pitt did play a good game, they just could not make the defensive stops when they had to. For Pitt they are going to have to find a way to make defensive stops. They have struggled in this area all season, being ranked second to last in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense. They are going to have to find a way to shut down Miami’s Tony Jekiri. Jekiri is a decent shooter and can really get down in the interior and make baskets. It will be interesting to see who head coach Jamie Dixon decides to put up against Jekiri, I mean 6’9″ seems to be the average height of their forwards, so they will need to get creative.

Miami, I said it last week and I am going to say it again this week, Jekiri. Just like in my last preview he is going to be the biggest man to grace the floor this game so he will make an impact. The Hurricanes are going to need to take advantage of the mismatch on the inside and get Jekiri’s hands on the ball as much as they can. Now if Pitt decides to double team Jekiri then they too will have to get creative. Also, the free throw line is their friend. I know I sound like a broken record, but where Miami has prevailed is when they combine Jekiri and their ability to get to the free throw line. Fast breaks, the 2-on-1 plays and penetrating to the inside will cause Pitt to foul, hence giving Miami a chance to score some easy buckets. Finally get everyone involved in the game. Miami is not particularly strong in one area, but when they are able to connect Jekiri, Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan together, they play like a decent team.

As for the outcome I am leaning towards Miami. They seem to have all the pieces there, it is just a matter of them putting it all together. Getting to the inside, causing turnovers and getting everyone involved. Now they might have to get creative if Jekiri is having a difficult time getting open but I can see them squeaking past Pitt to secure that number seven spot.

#3 Duke vs Wake Forest

Last but not least Duke and Wake Forest, another NC rivalry at its finest. The Deacons will head to Cameron Indoor Stadium to hopefully get some revenge for losing earlier on their home turf. But Cameron is a tough place to play, the Crazies literally going crazy, the loudness, the atmosphere, the intimacy- it is intimidating. Wake Forest rallied from an 11 point deficit to win on senior night at Lawrence Joel Coliseum. As for Duke they are their usual selves, coming off a win against Syracuse and continuing to climb their way to the top. Wake Forest at 5-11 and Duke sitting at 13-3, could it be an upset in the making or are we looking at a Duke dominated performance? Like all the other Wake fans I am hoping for a close one, but the right team has to show up to Cameron tonight.

For Duke it is simple, play your game. You have the big man Jahlil Okafor just tearing it up on the inside. He sticks to what he does best, get the ball down low and put the ball in the hoop. Okafor will probably be matched up against Devin Thomas, who looking at some of his statistics is fairing a lot better in the standings then his team is right now. Jahlil does have some size on Thomas but it could be a pretty contested match up if both bring their “A” game. Secondly, get to the perimeter. This is where they shine, they have Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and a few others that can just shoot lights out from beyond the arc. Finally defense, I really can not put it any other way. Okafor will do his part on the interior, Duke needs to stop with the zone and stick to the tough man to man defense they play so well. When they play man to man they hold their opponents to only 46 percent from the field. Duke play your game, this is not the time to be trying out new things and resting on your laurels.

As for Wake it will be a little more difficult. With their new head coach Danny Manning, whose basketball career is filled with awards, honors and championships, to really get this team back to championship caliber he is looking for one thing perseverance. Well lucky for Manning, perseverance defines this team very well. While their record is less than desirable they have managed to stick to their game and come out with five solid victories. So with no NCAA or NIT postseason hopes on the line, this game is not a make or break. We are all still wondering how the Deacons came out on top against Pitt considering they were out rebounded and out shot, the one thing they did manage to do was not turn the ball over. Which I am deeming their most important key to winning this game. Duke is great at forcing turn overs but minimizing the turn overs can help the Deacs stay in this game. Against Pitt they only turned the ball over three times in the first three minutes, but after that they did not have a turn over until the second half. So Wake no turn overs! Secondly they need to get the ball in the right hands. Against Pitt Manning made a tough choice, ball security or free throw ability. In the end ball security out weighed the free throws. Finally Thomas will have to step up. Thomas is an aggressive rebounder and can establish himself in the paint if he plays his game. Against Pitt he was benched for portions of the game, after struggling to score and distribute, as well as play defense. If he can get his mojo back he will bring some good flow. They will need him to if they want to have any chance against Jahlil Okafor. So Wake no turn overs, get Thomas’s game back, get the ball into the right hands and finally PERSEVERE!

Unfortunately as much as I am always rooting for the underdogs I have Duke winning this easily. At this point in the season they are just a strong team, ranked number 3 and looking to snatch a number one seed in the NCAA tournament While Wake could put everything together I am a little hesitant to say they will against Duke. But let the best man win!

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