ACC Basketball: Weekend Preview

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Basketball aplenty this weekend in the ACC, and I’m back to take you through all of the match-ups and tell you what you need to know heading into a full weekend of hoops action. Let’s get to it.

The Match-Up

#4 Duke (14-2, 2-2, RPI: 9) Vs. #6 Louisville (15-2, 3-1, RPI: 24), Noon ET Saturday, ESPN

Their Last Game

Duke

The Blue Devils are reeling right now, as they cannot seem to defend teams with solid backcourt play. Miami (FL) was the latest conference opponent to upend Duke, after blowing out the Blue Devils 90-74 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday night.

Louisville

The Cardinals did what they were supposed to do on Tuesday night, beating down Virginia Tech 78-63 in a game that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated. The Cards played the final nine minutes of this contest with seldom used bench players, and still won by 15.

Players To Watch

G Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke

This is a game between two very good nationally ranked teams, and could ultimately be decided by who has the better bench. Rasheed Sulaimon has been one of the first players off of the pine for Duke the last couple of seasons, and his 8.1 points per game could end up being the difference in this match-up. Will he defend consistently in his time on the floor against Louisville’s backcourt? That becomes the biggest question of his play in this game, and could potentially swing things in one direction or the other.

G Terry Rozier, Louisville

Why is Terry Rozier the player to watch for Louisville? Outside of being the leading scorer for the Cardinals at 17.4 points per game, Rozier rebounds well at 5.4 boards per contest. Duke has shown in its last two losses that they have had trouble defending good guard play, so you do the math. I like Rozier’s chances of putting up big numbers against Duke’s Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones, and you should too.

The Game And Prediction

This game is going to be a slugfest, and in all likelihood, a back and forth affair. We all want to see the match-up in the paint between Naismith National Player of the Year candidates in Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, and Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell. While this will without a doubt be exciting to watch, it will in no way decide who wins this game on Saturday afternoon. Duke has shown in its last two match-ups against NC State and Miami (FL), that they are vulnerable on defense outside of the painted area, allowing 46 points and 72 points respectively to opposing backcourts in their last two contests. Whether or not Duke guards Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook figure out how to defend the high-ball screen, will go a long way in deciding who wins this meeting, as Cardinals guard Terry Rozier is as good a guard as any in the ACC.

Louisville will work hard to speed this game up as quickly as they can with their full-court press scheme on defense, in order to combat the half-court offense of the Blue Devils. While this game is at home for the Cardinals, and Duke is struggling, I still feel the need to pick Duke in this one, as Coach K always seems to find a way to pick up a big win when his team is in a slump. I like the Blue Devils by a nose on Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center.

Duke  86   Louisville  82

 

The Match-Up

NC State (12-6, 3-2, RPI: 45) Vs. Florida State (9-8, 1-3, RPI: 151), 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN3.com

Their Last Game

NC State

The Wolfpack played another outstanding game on Wednesday night against in-state rival North Carolina, although the Tar Heels proved to be too much for the ‘Pack, behind a strong performance by Marcus Paige. NC State fell in a close one, 81-79.


Florida State

The Seminoles fell to a 1-3 start in the ACC, as they lost on the road Wednesday night to Pittsburgh by a final score of 73-64.

Players To Watch

G Trevor Lacey, NC State

Lacey has continued to put up great numbers in his first year with the Wolfpack after transferring from Alabama. His 17.1 points per game leads the team, and he is doing it on nearly 49% shooting. It will be difficult for the Seminoles to stay in front of Lacey, who just recently went 5-of-7 from beyond the arc against Duke and carved out 19 points against North Carolina in a narrow defeat.

F Phil Cofer, Florida State

Phil Cofer is Florida State’s freshman forward, who has averaged 7.7 points per game and 5.2 rebounds in his first season with the team. However, Cofer exploded for a career-high 21 points off the bench against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, leading many to wonder whether or not he will be able to follow-up the performance on Saturday, and become more of a scoring threat for the offensively challenged Seminoles.

The Game And Prediction

North Carolina State is the much better team in this contest, and should be well on their way to their fourth conference win if they get moderate production out of their “Big 3” of Trevor Lacey, Ralston Turner, and Anthony Barber, who all average over 11.0 points per game. Florida State has been overwhelmed since losing their leading scorer Aaron Thomas to academic suspension, and that trend should continue on Saturday. I like the Wolfpack big over the Seminoles.

NC State 77  Florida State  63

 

The Match-Up

#2 Virginia (16-0, 4-0, RPI: 3) Vs. Boston College (8-7, 0-3, RPI: 139), 2 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN3.com

Their Last Game

Virginia

The Cavaliers held Clemson to 42 points in a 65-42 blowout win on Tuesday at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville.

Boston College

The Eagles had to go to overtime in a non-conference match-up with the reigning champions of the Ivy League, but ultimately defeated Harvard 64-57 at home on Wednesday.

Players To Watch

G/F Justin Anderson, Virginia

Justin Anderson has continued to shine in his junior season with Virginia, averaging 14.9 points per game on 53% shooting while electrifying the ‘Hoos with his 3-point shooting at nearly 56% on the season. He’s the best player on a loaded Virginia squad, that seems to continue to get better game by game.

G Olivier Hanlan, Boston College

Hanlan has been impressive for Boston College at the guard position this season. As the Eagles leading scorer at 16.4 points per game, he is the one player who opposing teams will actually pay attention to, as the rest of this BC squad is quite mediocre.

The Game And Prediction

Virginia is the nation’s #2 team, and has the best scoring defense in the country. Boston College is unranked, and is 226th nationally in scoring offense. Ballgame.

Virginia 68  Boston College 42

 

The Match-Up

Miami (FL) (12-4, 2-1, RPI: 53) Vs. #12 Notre Dame (16-2, 4-1, RPI: 43), 2 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN2

Their Last Game

Miami (FL)

The Hurricanes made a statement on Tuesday night, as they went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and outscored Duke 56-39 in the second half, leading to a blowout win over the #4 Blue Devils by a final of 90-74.

Notre Dame

The Irish were given all that they could handle in their second meeting with Georgia Tech on Wednesday, winning 62-59 without their second leading scorer Zach Auguste, who missed the game to tend to an academic matter.

Players To Watch

G Sheldon McClellan, Miami (FL)

McClellan has been spectacular for the Canes of late, as he’s scored at least 14 points in three of his last five games. He is leading Miami in scoring at 15.3 points per game on 53% shooting, and is just one of the few sharpshooters on this Hurricane squad who could potentially cause Notre Dame fits.

G Jerian Grant, Notre Dame

When the Irish need a bucket, they turn to their top scorer Jerian Grant. The same held true on Wednesday night, as Grant iced the game with a jumper in the waning seconds to seal the Notre Dame victory on the road in Atlanta. On Saturday, the Irish will need every bit of Grant’s 16.3 points per game, and then some, especially if Zach Auguste will be held out of his second straight game due to academic issues.

The Game And Prediction

Much of this game lies on Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste’s status. He is the team’s second leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, and is the only true frontcourt presence that Notre Dame has, who plays regularly and puts up the numbers necessary to compete down low. Jerian Grant has been incredible in his comeback this season after missing much of last year due to suspension, and his play has been much of the reason why the Irish have been able to perform so well. However, Miami (FL) has two guards in Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez, who can fill it up in a hurry offensively and cause opposing teams to struggle on the defensive end.

This game should be closely contested to the end, but I’ll give Notre Dame the nod based on Grant’s play of late, and the fact that they are very tough to beat at home.

Notre Dame 68  Miami (FL)  64

 

The Match-Up

Georgia Tech (9-7, 0-4, RPI: 75) Vs. Pittsburgh (12-5, 2-2, RPI: 86), 4 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN3.com

Their Last Game

Georgia Tech

The Yellow Jackets played a tightly contested game against #12 Notre Dame on Wednesday, but fell at home 62-59.

Pittsburgh

The Panthers picked up their second conference win on Wednesday against Florida State, winning the game 73-64.

Players To Watch

F Charles Mitchell, Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech big man Charles Mitchell was held to only two points at Notre Dame, but has been hot of late, scoring in double digits in five out of the last six games prior to Wednesday. Mitchell seems to be catching fire at the right time, and the Yellow Jackets would enjoy more quality minutes from him, especially when the going gets tough in conference play.

F Michael Young, Pittsburgh

Young is fresh off of a 16 point, 12 rebound performance in the Panthers’ win against Florida State, which were both north of his season averages of 13.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. As the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Young will have to continue to do everything in his power to keep his young squad competitive, and it will be no different on Saturday against Georgia Tech.

The Game And Prediction

This game is bound to be ugly, as both squads rank outside of the top 190 in the country in scoring, which is not very good for those of you keeping score at home. Pittsburgh is 71st in the country in points allowed, and overall is not a very bad defensive squad. Their ability to defend the paint with Michael Young, and the fact that they are playing at home should be enough to overcome Marcus Georges-Hunt and a reeling Georgia Tech squad still searching for its first conference win.

Pittsburgh 65   Georgia Tech 59

 

The Match-Up

Syracuse (13-4, 4-0, RPI: 44) Vs. Clemson (9-7, 1-3, RPI: 83), 4 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN3.com

Their Last Game

Syracuse

The Orange survived against Wake Forest at home on Tuesday by a score of 86-83 at the Carrier Dome.

Clemson

The Tigers were simply outmatched by a much better, stronger Virginia team on Tuesday, losing on the road 65-42.

Players To Watch

F Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse

Rakeem Christmas is the most improved player in the conference this season, as displayed in his last outing against Wake Forest, where he recorded a career-high 35 points to propel the Orange to a narrow home victory. At 18.2 points per game and 8.9 rebounds, Christmas is a monster in the paint, and the opposition’s worst nightmare.

F Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson

The Tigers are 280th in the country in points per game at 63.3, so you won’t be seeing them lighting up any scoreboards. However, sophomore Jaron Blossomgame has been a pleasant surprise for Clemson, as he is averaging 13.7 points per game in his second season with the program. He is the best offensive player on the team, but take that with a grain of salt when evaluating the Tigers.

The Game And Prediction

Clemson is 88th in the nation in scoring defense, as they only give up 62.4 points per game. If they scored the basketball more on the other end of the floor, they would not be struggling nearly as much as they are right now. Syracuse meanwhile, is even better on defense, as they only allow 59 points per game, which is 29th in the country. This game will be low scoring, but it’s tough to pick against Syracuse and Rakeem Christmas with the way he is playing right now, especially when Syracuse keeps winning essentially every close game that they play.

Syracuse 58  Clemson 54

 

The Match-Up

Virginia Tech (8-8, 0-3, RPI: 238) Vs. #15 North Carolina (13-4, 3-1, RPI: 8), 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPNU

Their Last Game

Virginia Tech

The Hokies continue to live up to expectations as one of the worst teams in the ACC after getting throttled by #6 Louisville on the road Tuesday night, 78-63.

North Carolina

The Tar Heels were tested by a good NC State team on the road, but Marcus Paige continues to play great basketball, as he led UNC to an 81-79 victory on Wednesday.

Players To Watch

G/F Justin Bibbs, Virginia Tech

While the Hokies have struggled to get anything going this season, freshman Justin Bibbs has been one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise lost season. At 13.6 points per game on 50% shooting, Bibbs has shown promise for the future in Blacksburg.

G Marcus Paige, North Carolina

Paige almost singlehandedly won the game against NC State on Wednesday, posting a smooth stat line of 23 points, nine assists, and five rebounds. He has been a constant for the Tar Heels offense, averaging nearly 14 points per game, and is the catalyst that makes UNC go.

The Game And Prediction

It’s pretty tough to envision Virginia Tech beating almost anybody in the ACC this season, and you better believe that I do not expect their first conference win to come against the 15th ranked team on the road. Tar Heels, big.

North Carolina 78  Virginia Tech 58

 

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @mikem92VT and like Inside The ACC on Facebook.

 

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