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NC State: Slow Starts, Tough Stretches and Clutch Scott Wood

It had been a back-and-forth game, and it was tied for the 11th time at the under-eight timeout. Not much had been going right for NC State – Leslie was called for a charge just before (his third) and Georgia Tech was seemingly getting to every loose ball.

And of course, the fans weren’t the only ones upset about the officiating. The players were visibly frustrated with calls they felt should have gone their way. “We’ve just got to play through those calls,” freshman Rodney Purvis said. “I don’t know what we do wrong to the referees. It’s been like this three games where they’ve just been on us hard. Either way, we’re going to fight through it regardless and do whatever we’ve got to do to win the game.”

Last year’s NC State team had plenty of stretches like that, when a series of questionable bad calls, bad breaks and general bad vibes dragged the team down and made it play unfocused. In just two ACC games, this year’s NC State team is developing the opposite reputation.

And after the 12th tie of the game, NC State went on a 17-5 run over the next 4:46 to essentially clinch the game. Scott Wood, a senior who – like his team – had a reputation of letting frustrating stretches dictate how he played, had 11 of his 20 points during that run.

Earlier in the game, Wood was miffed that referee Jamie Luckie didn’t call a foul on a three-point attempt, and even more annoyed when Luckie called him for an offensive foul on a subsequent possession. So he stared Luckie down when he hit a three-pointer a few minutes later, and that sequence seemed to ignite him.

“I think that one call kind of frustrated him after he got the charge. He just shook it off and found better ways to get open,” point guard Lorenzo Brown, who had four points and three assists during the 17-5 run, said of Wood. “It’s actually the screens. We run a play called ‘corner’ and the big guys set screens for Scott.”

Wood hit some big shots late against Boston College when his team really needed some points. He’s become somewhat of a go-to guy down the clutch, but he doesn’t necessarily see it that way. “I think it’s just taking what the defense is giving us,” Wood said. “They’re really trying to take away C.J. (Leslie) and Richard (Howell), so they’re trying to call some plays to get the guards kind of moving a little bit and get them coming off screens.”

Wood has also developed a bit of a reputation for dunking. Well, it’s debatable whether you could call some of his dunks real dunks. And he had another “semi-dunk” against Georgia Tech – but not if you ask him. This semi-dunk, according to Wood, was only because a Georgia Tech player hit him as he was going up.

“I was just going to rip the goal down and (a Georgia Tech player) hit the back of my leg,” Wood said. “Go watch on film.”

All right, Scott. We get it. You got hit, and it affected your explosiveness. But final verdict: dunk or no dunk?

“I would count it as a dunk. That’s a white man’s dunk,” Wood said. “Any white person in this room would count that as a dunk.”

Jan. 2 ACC Previews

No. 1 Duke (11-0) vs. Davidson (7-5), 7:00 PM, ESPN3 (Charlotte)

Wrong North Carolina team, but close enough.

What to watch: Duke’s three-point defense. Duke’s had some dicey moments in the past two games against Elon and Santa Clara, and all those moments have come courtesy of their opponents hitting three-pointers. Those teams combined to make 16-of-45 (35.6%) over the last two games after Duke held opponents to 29.7% in the first nine games. Davidson will have to hit three’s (a lot of them) to keep this game close, and the Wildcats are making 38.8% from beyond the arc this year.

Mason Plumlee. Not many teams have anyone that can guard the 6-10 big man, who’s playing as well as anyone in the country right now, but Davidson certainly doesn’t have more than one (6-10 Jake Cohen). Duke needs to feed Plumlee early and often and exploit that advantage. If there’s anything to nitpick with Plumlee’s game recently, it’s that he’s made just 21-of-37 free throws (56.8%) over the last four games, but he’s shooting so well from the field that it really hasn’t mattered much, and Davidson only has so many fouls to give anyway.

Random Davidson facts: Davidson earned the Wildcat nickname back in 1917 when just 22 football players traveled to Atlanta to play Auburn, a team that had outscored its first six opponents 141-6. Davidson was just 2-4, but somehow they won 21-7. Atlanta sportswriters dubbed them the Wildcats because of their “ferocity”. Davidson had a live wildcat until the late 1960s, and they used to feed it by putting live chickens in its cage. Can’t imagine why that wouldn’t fly today.

Prediction: Duke, 87-72. Davidson might keep it close for awhile – it’s pretty clear the Blue Devils are ready for ACC play at this point, and Bob McKillop is a good coach – but Duke should win this one relatively comfortably.

UT-Chattanooga (5-8) at Georgia Tech (9-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Don’t be fooled: this mockingbird will eat your face off.

What to watch: Robert Carter, Jr. The freshmen was inconsistent to start the year and had just two double-digit scoring games in the first seven. But he’s averaging 13.8 points on 63% shooting in the last four games to go with 7.8 rebounds. Carter gives Georgia Tech yet another good post player, but he can shoot from three and his diverse skill set is something Georgia Tech doesn’t really have right now anywhere else on the floor. The Yellow Jackets need all the offense they can get.

Random UT-Chattanooga facts: Now, this is how you transition from an offensive Indian mascot to a real one. Chattanooga was known as the Moccasins, but in 1996, they had to change their name. They shortened it to “Mocs” and a mockingbird is their mascot. The mockingbird head is shaped like the state of Tennessee. Yeah, it’s kind of a lame mascot. But hey, at least it makes sense and preserves the history of the old one.

Prediction: Georgia Tech, 77-54. The Yellow Jackets are starting to click, and Chattanooga is awful.

Xavier (6-5) at Wake Forest (6-5), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Um…..what? This is the Xavier Blue Blob.

What to watch: The Wake Forest defense. To say Xavier has been struggling offensively as of late would be putting it mildly, but the Musketeers have the talent to be able to turn it around. And Wake has had issues of its own defensively. Wake’s opponents are shooting 44% from the floor, and the Deacons have allowed 48% shooting in five losses.

The foul line. Wake’s free-throw rate, per Ken Pom, is second-best in the country. And it’s a good thing, too: the Deacons score over a quarter of their points from the foul line. But Xavier isn’t letting opponents get to the line much. Wake Forest has won just two games this year when it hasn’t made at least 20 free throws.

Random Xavier facts: Yes, Xavier has a Musketeer mascot named D’Artagnan (so creative). But the most famous mascot is the Blue Blob, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s beloved around campus despite having absolutely no meaning whatsoever.

And then Xavier head coach Chris Mack involved the Blue Blob in this very regrettable “Call Me Maybe” parody:

Prediction: Xavier, 65-59. Wake has struggled offensively against athletic opponents this year, and this game should be no different.

Florida State (8-4) at Auburn (5-7), 7:00 PM, Fox Sports South

Get some rest, Aubie. You deserve it.

What to watch: How far has Florida State’s defense come? Because Auburn’s offense is terrible. Florida State is so young that head coach Leonard Hamilton hasn’t been able to install all the defensive looks he usually uses. (This great piece by Michael Rogner from the Run The Floor blog takes a look at how gradually, Hamilton has trusted this team more and more defensively.) After holding just three of its first seven opponents to below 40% shooting, three of its last four opponents have shot below 40% (FSU has won four straight).

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Auburn isn’t great defensively, but they force a decent amount of turnovers (23%) and Florida State will turn it over against teams that aren’t good at forcing them. FSU has averaged 13.3 turnovers during this four-game winning streak after averaging 17 turnovers in the first eight. FSU tends to turn it over in bunches when it does happen, and they can’t do that in a road game against an opponent that won’t go away.

Random Auburn facts: The War Eagle has been explained before, so we’ll look at Aubie the Tiger’s origins. He was only around as a cartoon on the cover of the game programs for nearly 20 years starting in 1959. In 1979, they made him a real costume based on the older game programs and it’s been winning mascot national titles ever since. Auburn may or may not have had a live tiger mascot for at least one game.

Prediction: Florida State, 73-62. It would be way too predictable for Florida State to inexplicably lose this game for the second time in the last three years, right?

La Salle (9-2) at Miami (8-3), 9:00 PM, RSN

I have come to discover the New World! (And I’ve brought communicable diseases!)

What to watch: Can Miami beat a decent team without one of its starters? Before the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas, Miami’s one loss – early, to Florida Gulf Coast – was explained away by the absence of guard Durand Scott. Then, just before the Christmas tournament began, center Reggie Johnson broke his thumb and he will miss six weeks. The Hurricanes promptly lost both games. They’re going to be without him for a good chunk of ACC play and may lose some games during that time. After losses to Arizona and Indiana State (the former a blowout), they can’t afford to drop a home game to La Salle at this point if they want to make the NCAA Tournament.

Random La Salle facts: The Explorers are so named because of a Philadelphia sportswriter’s mistake (yeah, yeah): he thought the university was named after french explorer Sieur de La Salle. It’s named after St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle. Well, at least they have a cool mascot anyway. And you can’t think of explorers without thinking of conquering indigenous peoples, which is at least a little intimidating. Recently, though, they did try to make the explorer look like a superhero instead.

Prediction: Miami, 66-58. At some point, Miami’s going to have to win without some of its players in the lineup. Their other players are good enough to do it.

 

Last week: 10-4

Overall: 117-30

Dec. 29-30 ACC Previews

Santa Clara (11-2) at No. 1 Duke (11-0), 12:00 PM, ESPN2

In the 1960s, Santa Clara had a short-lived live Bronco mascot.

What to watch: Santa Clara’s Mark Trasolini versus Ryan Kelly. He’s not the Broncos’ leading scorer, but the 6-9 senior forward is the most efficient scorer, averaging 16.3 points on 57% shooting. In Santa Clara’s two losses, he has shot just 3-of-10 from the floor. In the last three games, he has averaged 23.7 points on over 68% shooting, adding 4-of-6 three-pointers, 7.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks. Duke’s Ryan Kelly has held some good opposing big men (and versatile big men at that) to low point totals this year, and Duke’s going to need his defense yet again against a sneaky-good Santa Clara squad.

Random Santa Clara facts: In the mid-1960s, Santa Clara had a live bronco (briefly) that was so strong, he could pull a section of folded bleachers unassisted. The handler discovered this after he tied him to the bleachers while he went to get a hot dog, only to come back when he heard the crowd roaring as the bronco was running across the field). At least they were empty?

Prediction: Duke, 95-73. Both of Santa Clara’s losses have come in overtime, but their best win was over St. Louis early this year. Still, the Broncos have had a relatively easy time of it since and have dominated some decent teams. But this is at Duke, and the Blue Devils are rolling.

Western Michigan (8-4) at No. 23/25 NC State (9-2), 12:00 PM, ESPNU

Wake up, buddy.

What to watch: The foul line. If there’s been an area to quibble with NC State offensively this year, it’s the free-throw shooting. The Wolfpack is one of the most efficient teams in the league offensively, and would probably hold the league’s top mark in that category if it could shoot free throws. NC State has hit the 70% mark from the line just three times this season and is shooting 64% on the year, good for 282nd nationally according to Ken Pomeroy. But their free-throw rate is top-50 nationally, and the offense is predicated on being aggressive and getting to the line. If State stops leaving points at the foul line, its offense – which is already scary good – will become even more so.

Random Western Michigan facts: WMU used to be known as the Hilltoppers, but that led to some understandable confusion with fellow Hilltopper schools. (Also, WMU expanded beyond the hills and their tops.) They adopted the Bronco in the late 1980s, and he looks….well….sleepy.

And if you needed to know anything about parking on WMU’s campus (and ridiculously short shorts), check out this 1982 video! (Side note: I think Buster Bronco finds this video HILARIOUS. No reason.)

Prediction: NC State, 87-63. Even if the Wolfpack shows up sluggish after the holiday break, Western Michigan isn’t the type of team that can take advantage of its weaknesses.

Delaware State (5-7) at Maryland (10-1), 12:30 PM, ESPN3

Too-Fly, indeed.

What to watch: Maryland’s turnovers. The Terrapins don’t force a lot of turnovers, and they don’t have to because their defense is good enough. But they can’t afford to keep turning it over, either. Maryland’s defense has the lowest loss of ball percentage in the league (12.7%), but their 0.746 PPP allowed is one of the best marks. Still, Maryland’s loss of ball on offense (18.82%) is only better than Wake Forest and Florida State so far this year. Maryland has shown a tendency to get sloppy at times this year. If they want to be an upper-echelon ACC team (and they’re more than capable of being just that), they won’t be able to get away with turning it over on nearly a fifth of their offensive possessions.

Random Delaware State facts: Delaware State has tweaked its mascot in recent years, and the current hornet iteration is known as “Too-Fly”. And he had a high standard of flyness to live up to:

Prediction: Maryland, 87-65. The Hornets did knock off in-state rival Delaware recently (side note: things have gone downhill from the Blue Hens since beating UVa). But half of their wins are against non-Division I opponents.

Florida State (7-4) vs. Tulsa (7-5), 2:00 PM, FSN (Sunrise, FL)

Tulsa’s old mascot, the Golden Hurricane, next to the new one: Captain Cane, a superhero that can “summon weather”. Sheesh.

What to watch: Has Michael Snaer flipped the switch? The senior guard sat out FSU’s win against Louisiana-Monroe due to “disciplinary reasons”, and whatever his head coach Leonard Hamilton did or said seems to have worked. He’s always been an elite defender, and it’s been obvious that he has struggled to take on his newfound role as an assertive scorer. But he has to do that for Florida State to win, and he did against Charlotte last week. He had 30 points on 8-of-19 shooting, his best shooting percentage since late November. In his last two games he has played in – Charlotte and Maine – he has taken 37 shots, a third of his season total. In FSU’s losses, he has shot nearly five fewer times on average than in FSU’s wins. And he’s going to have to keep it up as his young teammates come along.

Random Tulsa facts: The Golden Hurricane mascot used to be an actual hurricane. Now, it’s “Captain Cane”, who carries a a “hurricane-summoning sword” and wears “energy-sourcing thunder boots”. Well, okay then. The change was made when current UNC AD Bubba Cunningham was the AD at Tulsa.

Prediction: Florida State, 76-68. Without the loss to Mercer, maybe FSU wouldn’t seem like its struggling so much. The Seminoles would have then only lost to Minnesota and Florida since their season-opening loss to South Alabama. Sadly, Mercer ddi happen, and so did some struggles against Maine and Louisiana Monroe. Still, Tulsa hasn’t beaten anyone as good as FSU this year.

Holy Cross (7-5) at Boston College (6-5), 2:00 PM, ESPN3

NONE SHALL PASS!

What to watch: BC’s freshmen. Joe Rahon and Olivier Hanlan have combined to play nearly a third of BC’s available minutes this year (and attempt nearly a third of their shots), but neither have shot particularly well, especially lately. Obviously, both have to play but Hanlan is shooting just 16-of-51in the last four games and Rahon is shooting 7-of-31 in the last three. Both are going to continue to play a lot – and take a lot of shots – but at some point it would help the Eagles if they start, you know, making a few more.

Random Holy Cross facts: Why is Holy Cross known as the Crusaders? If you know anything about history, it’s fairly obvious. Let’s just watch some knight videos.

Now stand aside, worthy adversary. …. Runnin’ away, eh?

Also….NI! BRING HOLY CROSS PLAYERS A SHRUBBERY!

And then there’s this.

BC had just better make sure they choose, and choose wisely.

Prediction: Boston College, 61-55. When Boston College beat Providence last week, it was the highest-ranked Ken Pomeroy team (62nd) the Eagles had beaten since knocking off then-No. 24 FSU on February 8, 2012 (of course, BC won only nine games last season). So, progress?

No. 20/17 UNLV (11-1) at North Carolina (9-3), 2:00 PM, ESPN2

Candygram. (See below.)

What to watch: Carolina’s bigs versus UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebs will be shorthanded as forward Mike Moser should miss the game with a dislocated elbow (he’s listed as questionable), and he had 16 points and 18 rebounds in UNLV’s upset win over UNC last season. Freshman forward Anthony Bennett leads the nation’s rookies in scoring, averaging 19.5 points per game and 8.5 rebounds. They have plenty of other capable big men, including versatile Khem Birch, a Pitt transfer who can shoot three’s, and senior Quintrell Thomas. UNC’s rotating group of centers: Joel James, Desmond Hubert and Brice Johnson – haven’t been all that consistent or effective, and James Michael McAdoo has struggled against some big-time opponents. The Tar Heels will have their hands full with one of the best players in the nation in Bennett, not to mention his teammates.

Reggie Bullock. There weren’t many positives Carolina could take from its loss to Texas, but Carolina’s junior leader stepping up and attempting a season-high 17 shots should be one of them. He wasn’t great – he hit just six of those attempts – but he got to the line six times (also a season-high) and for the first time, he showed he’s willing to be the guy who steps up in big moments for Carolina. Just because he steps up doesn’t mean he’ll come through, or that Carolina will win. But someone has to be willing to do it consistently.

Random UNLV facts: UNLV adopted the Rebel nickname because they were “rebelling” against the flagship, Nevada-Reno. They adopted a shark mascot in honor of former head coach Jerry “The Shark” Tarkanian, but that has since gone away. But at least it gives us a chance to link these awesome videos!

The landshark eats someone.

Which also allows us to link this, one of the best SNL skits ever.

Prediction: UNLV, 77-72. The Tar Heels really need this win, but I haven’t seen anything from them so far to lead me to believe they’ll get it.

Virginia Tech (9-3) at BYU (9-4), 2:00 PM, ESPNU

“Cougar” not mean what it used to mean.

What to watch: Tempo. The Hokies want to go up-tempo, but can they really hang with a team like BYU? The Cougars are not a great team this year, but they’re good enough and still one of the fastest teams in the country. Virginia Tech has shown flashes of being good in transition, but the Hokies are dangerously thin and that sort of tempo might wear them down.

Anyone other than Erick Green. Seriously. Anyone. Here’s a stat comparison for you from the last three games:

A: 33-63 FG (52.4%), 4-15 3-pt (26.7%), 15-20 FT (75.0%), 85 points (28.3 ppg)

B: 36-114 FG (31.6%), 12-49 3-pt (24.5%), 22-38 FT (57.9%), 106 points (35.3 ppg)

“A” is Green. “B” is the rest of his teammates combined. Yeah. Cadarian Rains had a good game against Bradley, but was a combined 1-of-3 in the other two games sandwiching it. Robert Brown has made just four of his last 30 field-goal attempts and has ten points in the last four games. Jarrell Eddie has been up and down, but at least he’s hit double figures in three straight games. Freshman forward Marshall Wood broke his foot and while he wasn’t a huge contributor (5.8 points), he was averaging 18 minutes. The Hokies weren’t deep to begin with: Christian Beyer, a seldom-used reserve until recently, has seen 52 minutes in the last two games (he still has not made a field goal this year).

Random BYU facts: BYU is not going to change its Cougar mascot anytime soon, but it’s already being rejected as a high school mascot because of its offensive connotations. For those of you who don’t know what a cougar refers to, it’s…forget it, I’ll refer you to Urban Dictionary.

Prediction: BYU, 89-68. Just difficult to see the Hokies being able to win this one with as badly as their supporting cast has looked recently.

Fordham (3-9) at Georgia Tech (8-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

What to watch: Some semblance of an offense for Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech is one of the beat teams in the country defensively this year (statistically), but the offense is still coming around. As the From the Rumble Seat blog points out, Georgia Tech is starting to shoot better. But the Yellow Jackets being without Jason Morris (plantar fasciatis) and incorporating some new pieces hasn’t made it any easier, either. Georgia Tech doesn’t have a great win, but it doesn’t have a bad loss. Win these last two non-conference games, make some noise in the ACC and the Yellow Jackets could be looking at an NCAA Tournament bid. If they can get to even a decent level offensively, they could be tough to beat.

Random Fordham facts: The ram nickname came from an 1893 football game, when the students chanted “One dam, two dams, three dams, FORDHAM!” The Jesuit staff didn’t care for that kind of foul language, so they changed “dam” to “ram”. They’ve had live rams over the years, and in the late 1950’s, one of said rams lived in a “1,200-cubic-foot brick hut” built by Grace Kelly’s father. That same ram liked to enjoy “a lager or two” after games in his elaborate Ram Mansion.

Prediction: Georgia Tech, 84-55. Fordham is awful, but especially defensively. Georgia Tech should put up some points.

DECEMBER 30

Wofford (6-6) at Virginia (9-3), 1:00 PM, RSN

Still adorable.

What to watch: UVa’s big men. Virginia made just 38% of its two-pointers in the loss to Old Dominion, a season-low. A big reason for that is how much their starting frontcourt, Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins, struggled. Both have been much-improved this year, but Mitchell shot just 3-of-10 and had eight points (just his second time this season in single digits) and Atkins was 2-of-6 for four points, his fewest since November 12. Both of them combined shot worse from inside the arc than their teammates combined. Wofford is not a defensive juggernaut by any means, but the reason UVa had started to play so well this season was the improvement of Mitchell and Atkins. The Cavaliers will struggle to beat even decent teams like Wofford – and particularly in ACC play – if that doesn’t continue.

Random Wofford facts: We’ve covered the origin of the Terrier here before, and yes, it’s one of the cutest mascots around. So instead of that, here are Wofford students teaching rats to play basketball!

Prediction: UVa, 61-49. In an under-the-radar result, Wofford beat Xavier last Saturday. Virginia hasn’t looked very good as of late. But every time we want to count the Cavaliers out, they win a game they have to win, and this one qualifies.

Last week: 10-4
Overall: 106-28

Dec. 17 ACC Previews

Alabama State (1-8) at Georgia Tech (6-2), 7:00 PM, RSN

It’s like the Charlotte Hornet mated with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket.

What to watch: The Poole Brothers. Stacey Poole, Jr. sat out the fall semester after transferring from Kentucky, and his brother Solomon is a freshman who graduated high school in the fall and decided to enroll early. They’re the first set of brothers to play for Georgia Tech since the Barry brothers, and while it’s probably a stretch to say they’ll have that kind of impact, they’ll certainly see minutes. Stacey Poole, Jr. – a 6-4 sophomore – averaged just 2.8 minutes a game a freshman at Kentucky in 16 games and scored just four points on 1-of-9 shooting. Solomon Poole, meanwhile, was a late addition and will play point guard. As a freshman, his learning curve will likely be steeper. But he was a top-30 2013 recruiting prospect , so he could make a difference.

Random Alabama State facts: The Alabama State Hornet mascot looks kind of strange, but that’s fine. Still a cool mascot. Although, mascots think they’re funny when they’re trying to be. But they’re funniest when they’re sad.

And your obligatory HBCU band/dance team video, of course:

Prediction: Georgia Tech, 74-45. The only reason the Poole brothers could see minutes is because this one should be a relatively easy blowout. Alabama State’s only win this year is over Troy.

Louisiana Monroe (1-5) at Florida State (5-4), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

All right, I suppose a Warhawk sounds more vicious in theory.

What to watch: FSU’s defense. The Seminoles held Maine to 34% shooting, the second-lowest by an FSU opponent this year. FSU’s offense has showed signs that it could be pretty solid this year. But to see an FSU defense ranked 90th by Ken Pomeroy is startling. FSU won’t win a lot of games by outscoring teams, and they’ve lost to some bad teams by not defending well enough.

Random Louisiana Monroe facts: In the mascot power rankings, a Warhawk is near the top. Like a lot of schools, ULM had to retire its Indian mascot in 2006. The finalists to replace the old mascot? Warhawks, Bayou Gators and Bayou Hawks. I would hope Warhawks won by a unanimous vote. And it’s based on actual Louisiana history – LSU alum Major General Claire Lee Chennault led an Air Force unit in World War II that used the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.

Prediction: Florida State, 84-51. The Seminoles will be a bit short-handed – Ian Miller is out for a few more weeks, Terrence Shannon will likely miss this game and Robert Gilchrist is out too – but ULM is awful.

 

Last week: 12-1

Overall: 88-22

Dec. 8-9 ACC Previews

Cleveland State (6-2) at No. 25/24 NC State (5-2), 2:00 PM, ESPN3

When they were known as Fenn College, Cleveland State’s mascot was a Fox.

What to watch: NC State’s three-point defense. NC State’s opponents are scoring nearly 32% of their points from behind the arc, even if they aren’t hitting a high percentage (33.1%). But in the last four games (all either close wins or losses), opponents have hit nearly 38 percent. UConn hit the lowest percentage (34.8%), but NC State also fouled UConn on a three-pointer twice in the final 3:09 (UConn hit four of those six free throws). Counting those, UConn scored over 43% of their points on three-point attempts. Cleveland State is hitting 36.7% of its three’s, and the Vikings are a solid team. If NC State doesn’t guard the three-point line, Cleveland State could keep the game close the same way UNC-Asheville did.

Random Cleveland State facts: Cleveland State was known as Fenn College from 1923-64, and when it was Fenn College, they were the Fenn Foxes. Now, they’re the Vikings. Boo. More teams besides Marist should be named “Fox”.

Also, look at these pranksters!

Prediction: NC State, 82-64. NC State won a tough game against Connecticut that they might not have a year ago. After some early tests, the Wolfpack is ready to win a game like this convincingly against a decent team at home.

South Carolina State (4-4) at Maryland (7-1), 2:00 PM, ESPN3

What to watch: Pe’Shon Howard. Howard has had a great season in terms of assists (49) and turnovers (15), but the junior point guard hasn’t made a shot since November 20th. He’s shooting just 3-of-21 this season. He played just nine minutes in the rout of UMES, but head coach Mark Turgeon said he was dealing with a stomach issue. Turgeon’s lineup tweaks seem more experimental, but Howard ideally needs to become a scoring threat. Freshman Seth Allen and even starting guard Nick Faust ran the point some against UMES. Howard is the best option, but if injury or illness keeps him out – as it has before – he could get Wally Pipped.

Random South Carolina State facts: Bulldogs? Not a great mascot. But the South Carolina State band/dancers/whatever brings it, always. I’m not sure they’ll bring these girls with them, which is probably for the best if Maryland doesn’t want to get distracted.

And this is officially my favorite band ever. Pretty Brown Eyes!

Prediction: Maryland, 95-63. The best team South Carolina State has played so far is Albany.  They lost by 25 points. Also, Ken Pomeroy ranks 347 D-I schools. UMES is 345th. South Carolina State is 343rd.

St. Francis (NY) (2-4) at Boston College (3-5), 2:00 PM, ESPN3

Cutest mascot ever?

What to watch: Boston College’s defense. Just, any defense would be fine. Harvard was pretty anemic offensively before hosting BC, when they put up 79 points and shot 55% from the floor. BC isn’t forcing many turnovers, so the least the Eagles have to do is guard the ball better. Or, just, at all. Or they’ll lose, even a game like this one.

Random St. Francis (NY) facts: I couldn’t find the reason that the school chose the Terrier mascot in 1933. So instead, I give you this:

In case y’all haven’t heard, though, the Terriers are coming. Or they were in 2010-11.

Prediction: Boston College, 71-65. The only team that has made easy work of St. Francis so far is Illinois. Army, Norfolk State and Albany beat St. Francis by a combined 18 points. This won’t be an easy one for BC. But then again, what game is?

No. 2 Duke (8-0) vs. Temple (6-0), 3:15 PM, ESPN (East Rutherford)

What to watch: How elite has Duke’s perimeter become? Mason Plumlee has been terrific this season, but the reason Duke has been great is because he has help. Last year, Duke lost to Temple and the Owls had five in double figures (led by two-guard Khalif Wyatt’s 22 points). Duke saw 33 of its 73 points scored by Mason and Miles Plumlee, who had 16 and 17, respectively. But no Blue Devil could slow down any of Temple’s guards, who did whatever they wanted offensively. All five of Duke’s guards had 28 points on 9-of-30 shooting.

This year, Duke has balance on both ends of the court. Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook have taken a lot of pride in defending on the perimeter, and Seth Curry has gotten better at it but is still limited physically. If Duke is going to be one of the nation’s best teams – which they look like right now – they’ll have to handle yet another tough test.

Random Temple facts: We’ve highlighted the Owl mascot in this space before. Fortunately for Temple’s mascot, it doesn’t live in Colombia. Or else it would have been kicked by this soccer player.

Hooter the Owl does celebrate its birthday every year, and other mascots come to join. There are some weird mascots out there.

Prediction: Duke, 81-70. This is just another stop on the Duke basketball revenge tour.

Mississippi Valley State (0-4) at Virginia (7-2), 4:00 PM, ESPN3

A Delta Devil, which evidently means it has a green head.

What to watch: The UVa freshmen. While they helped carry the team early, they haven’t been as efficient of late and as a result, haven’t played as much. Evan Nolte and Justin Anderson combined to average 14.3 points in 48.3 minutes in UVa’s first six games, but in the last three, they’ve combined for 6.7 points in just 25.3 minutes. Mike Tobey has played a total of 20 minutes in the last three games (after averaging 13.3 in the first six) and has just five points. Really, only backup point guard Teven Jones has seen consistent minutes, and that’s only because of the injury to starter Jontel Evans. This is the type of game that can allow the freshmen to get back on track, because UVa will need them going forward.

Random Mississippi Valley State facts: South Carolina State isn’t the only school with a great band/dancers.

Known as “The Mack of the SWAC”, Mississippi Valley State’s band even did a halftime performance blindfolded.

Prediction: Virginia, 73-47. Mississippi State is 0-4 this year and their closest loss was by 13 to Northwestern. It’s that bad. Although for some reason, the Delta Devils aren’t giving themselves a break – they’ll face Virginia Tech next, and won’t play a game they’re expected to win until early 2013, which will also be their first home game. Ouch.

Virginia Tech (7-0) at West Virginia (3-3), 4:00 PM, ESPN2

How cute.

What to watch: Virginia Tech on the defensive glass. West Virginia retrieves nearly 41% of its available missed shots, while Virginia Tech is allowing opponents to get just 27.6% of their misses. Against their last two opponents, Virginia Tech has a defensive rebounding percentage of 75.3%, which is excellent. They’ll have to keep that up against the Mountaineers, who don’t often make their first attempt.

Erick Green. Can he keep carrying the Hokies? He was in foul trouble early against Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech trailed as a result. In 26 minutes, he had 28 points and seven rebounds, picking up just one more foul the rest of the way. He’s been phenomenal. But is it asking too much of him to continue being this brilliant? We’ll find out.

Random West Virginia facts: In 1998, a University of Miami assistant coach announced he was suing West Virginia for a 1996 incident where he was hit on the head with a trash can. He alleged that the university failed to adequately protect the visiting team. The injury was reported originally as a bruise, but the lawsuit said he was “severely and permanently” injured. He and West Virginia settled. That assistant coach? Randy Shannon.

Prediction: Virginia Tech, 71-65. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I think the Hokies – should they still healthy – can beat anyone they play this year. West Virginia is a tough place to play, but the Mountaineers have not looked very good so far.

Seton Hall (6-2) at Wake Forest (4-4), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Groucho Marx, the Pirate.

What to watch: Seton Hall’s three-point percentage. The Pirates are making 38.9% of their three-pointers, 39th in the country, and scoring 36.6% of all their points from three. Wake Forest has been mediocre at best defending the three, but they’ve been better lately: Wake’s last four opponents have made 29.2% of their three’s. If Seton Hall goes crazy from three, Wake will be in danger of being blown out at home. But what else is new, I guess?

Random Seton Hall facts: As usual, the original nickname is often better than the current one: Seton Hall was known as the Villagers for awhile. And as usual, a sportswriter’s random naming of the team is the one that stuck.

Prediction: Seton Hall, 72-59. Seton Hall doesn’t have any great wins or awful losses, but Wake Forest has no good wins and some awful losses.

UNC Wilmington (4-4) at Georgia Tech (5-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

So basically a sailor version of Big Bird with some green was UNC-Wilmington’s mascot back in the day.

What to watch: Can Georgia Tech score? The Yellow Jackets are fantastic defensively yet again, but at some point, they’re going to have to put up points. They finally started hitting some three-pointers against Georgia, which is a good sign. But they only hit 7-of-27 two-point attempts, which is beyond terrible, and had just ten points in the paint. They’re going to have to develop something consistent on offense that ensures they won’t be in any 40-point affairs this year.

Random UNC Wilmington facts: The sea hawk mascot has gone through a lot of changes over the years, but the late 80’s version (see above) was probably my favorite. Although this one is also strong:

Prediction: Georgia Tech, 79-52. They’re hitting three-pointers now – the rest will come.

East Tennessee State (2-4) at No. 20/16 North Carolina (6-2), 7:30 PM, ESPN3

The tired Pirate.

What to watch: North Carolina’s defense. UAB is an up-tempo squad that presented some matchup problems for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels still allowed the Blazers to score 84 points, the most they have allowed this year. UNC’s last four opponents have combined to shoot 45-of-106 (42.5%) from three and average 0.89 points per possession. In Carolina’s first four games, opponents shot 24% from three and averaged 0.65 points per possession. Obviously, the caliber of opponent was significantly different in the first four games than in the last four. But if this UNC team – which will be hot and cold offensively all year – doesn’t make defense a priority, they’re going to lose some games they shouldn’t. Not this one, but prioritizing defense starts in games like this.

Random East Tennessee State facts: It makes perfect sense that a pirate would be the mascot of a land-locked school in Tennessee. After all, an old pirate supposedly hid some of his gold there in a creek once. A creek that went all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a new pirate in town, and he has a blue face.

Prediction: North Carolina, 82-59. Fortunately for the Tar Heels, East Tennessee State is pretty bad offensively. They’ve had a week off, and while they may be rusty at first, they should still play good, hard-nosed defense.

No. 8 Arizona (6-0) at Clemson (5-2), ESPN2, 8:00 PM

RIP, Rufus.

What to watch: Clemson’s three-point defense. Arizona is scoring 33.7% of its points from three and making 41.7% of its three-point attempts, and they take a lot. Clemson is allowing just 30% shooting from three, but they haven’t played a great-shooting team so far. Still, Brad Brownell’s teams traditionally play very good defense, but Purdue went to Clemson and made 8-of-18 three’s (44.4%) in one of Clemson’s two losses. They’ll have to at least contest Arizona’s three’s to have a chance to knock off the Wildcats at home.

Clemson’s changing roster. Starting guard T.J. Sapp decided to transfer earlier this week. Will freshmen Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper be able to step up and fill that role, since they had already been getting the majority of Sapp’s minutes? Milton Jennings is expected to return to the lineup after a suspension. Will he be able to have an impact?

Random Arizona facts: Rufus, the first wildcat mascot, came to campus in 1915. The freshman football team raised the money ($9.91) to buy him. A little over a year later, though, this happened:

…while endeavoring to perform gymnastic stunts in the limbs of a tree to which he was tied, Rufus Arizona… fell and was hung.

Welp.

Prediction: Arizona, 79-64. The Wildcats haven’t really beaten anyone good yet, and they’ve only played one team away from home. But they’ve beaten most opponents fairly handily and been incredibly efficient offensively. It would take quite the effort by Clemson to knock off Arizona, and they’re not nearly ready enough to do that.

DECEMBER 9

Maine at Florida State (4-4), ESPNU, 4:00 PM

‘Sup. (I will pretend this is a Maine black bear and that I didn’t just Google “funny bears”).

What to watch: FSU giving up extra possessions. Charting possessions using offensive rebounds as a possession (as I do), over 36% of FSU’s opponent’s possessions have come off of FSU turnovers or opponent offensive rebounds. Opponents have turned those into 0.96 points per possession. Florida scored 0.59 points per possession on possessions not off an FSU turnover or a Florida offensive rebound, but turned their offensive rebounds and FSU turnovers (35 total) into 46 points (1.3 per possession). Giving up a lot of opportunities to opponents has really hurt FSU so far, even against bad teams.

Random Maine facts: The Maine fight song was a No. 1 hit in 1930!

Prediction: Florida State, 84-61. No, seriously FSU. You need to win this one big.

 

Last week: 14-2

Overall: 71-20

Dec. 4-5 ACC Previews

Georgia (2-5) at Georgia Tech (4-2), 7:00 PM, ESPNU

Uga IV might have gone to the Heisman ceremony with Herschel Walker, but Uga V was in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, and did this.

What to watch: The three-point line. Georgia Tech has some players that can, in theory, make three-pointers. It’s not happening yet this year though, as the Yellow Jackets are shooting just 24.3 percent from beyond the arc. But they’re improving lately: in the last two games (a win over St. Mary’s and a loss at Illinois), they have shot 15-of-40 from three (37.5%) compared to 11-of-67 (16.4%) in the first four games.

Random Georgia facts: Georgia’s first mascot was not a bulldog, but a billy goat. It was adopted in 1892 and wore a hat with ribbons on his horns. Auburn fans chanted “shoot the billy goat” throughout the football game.

Prediction: Georgia Tech, 61-54. Georgia hung with Indiana for awhile earlier this year, but Georgia Tech is much improved this year and still looks like the better team.

Harvard (3-3) at Boston College (3-4), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Freakiest mascot of all time. Has to be.

What to watch: The foul line. The only games Boston College has won this season, it has averaged 30 free-throw attempts per game. But Harvard leads the nation in free throw attempts/field goal attempts. The Crimson also score 30.3% of their points from the foul line.

Random Harvard facts: John the Orangeman was actually Harvard’s first mascot. He sold fruit to the students at football games on a cart pulled by a donkey named Radcliffe in the late 1800’s.

Prediction: Harvard, 59-51. So…is Harvard good? Their resume reads a lot like a BC resume: wins over MIT, Manhattan and Fordham but losses to Massachusetts, St. Joseph’s and Vermont. The real problem, though, is that Boston College finds a way to lose to Harvard even when the Eagles are good.

No. 25 NC State (4-2) vs. Connecticut (6-1), 9:00 PM, ESPN, Madison Square Garden (Jimmy V Classic)

Sad dog.

What to watch: NC State’s defense. The Wolfpack has had to face a lot of talented offenses so far this year, but even against some of the less-talented offenses (like UNC-Asheville), they’ve played subpar defense. UConn’s offense has struggled all year, but the Huskies don’t turn it over much and get to the foul line quite a bit. NC State can’t let UConn get going. The Huskies have three very good guards in Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun, all of whom are averaging double figures.

Calvin Leslie. When he shows up, NC State is very difficult to beat. In last year’s NCAA Tournament run, he was dynamic, engaged and a difference-maker. In some games this year, he’s been easily distracted for whatever reason and a virtual non-factor in some other games. NC State absolutely needs him in a game like this. He had arguably his best game of the year at Michigan – 16 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes – and even though he picked up four fouls, he helped the Wolfpack keep that game close.

Random UConn facts: Way too many live husky mascots met an early death after being hit by a car, and other UConn mascot facts.

Prediction: NC State, 77-68. Connecticut is puzzling. The Huskies barely beat Quinnipiac, Wake Forest, Stony Brook and New Hampshire. But then they beat Michigan State. And they did win all those games, to be fair. But NC State pretty much has to have this one, and it’s a very winnable game for them.

DECEMBER 5

Florida (6-0) at Florida State (4-3), 7:00 PM, ESPN2

Go…Benevolent Dragons?

What to watch: The three-point line. Really, the only way for Florida State to have a chance to beat Florida is hit three-pointers and keep Florida from hitting theirs. The Gators have averaged 9.5 three-pointers made in the last two games and though they don’t always hit a high percentage, they will hit enough. Florida State, meanwhile, is making 39.1% of its three’s but has made just 11-of-33 in the last two games (both losses) and 16-of-54 (29.6%) in three losses compared to 29-of-61 (47.5%) in wins.

Random Florida facts: It’s a pretty simple mascot, but Florida could never quite seem to settle on the best look for its Gator. Including the above attempt, which is perhaps the most 70’s thing ever.

Prediction: Florida, 75-59. Um, so, Florida is good. Really good. The two best teams they’ve played this year, Wisconsin and Marquette, they’ve beaten mercilessly: 74-56 and 82-49, respectively. Florida State might not even be as good as either of those teams, and this is a rivalry game.

High Point (4-3) at Wake Forest (3-4), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

What to watch: C.J. Harris and Travis McKie. Wake’s leading scorers have been struggling. In Wake’s last two games – both losses – Harris is 2-of-11 from the floor, 0-of-3 from three and just 4-of-4 from the foul line. Prior to the last two games, he had shot 22-of-43 and attempted 7.4 free throws per game. He has missed his last 11 three-pointers. Travis McKie is 5-of-19 from the floor in the last two games and has averaged 8.5 points. He had averaged 15.6 points on 45% shooting before that. Wake isn’t going to win many games without even one of them playing badly, much less both.

Random High Point facts: High Point’s panther mascot is one of the very few mascots where little to no history exists (at least in the immediately searchable internet). So, here’s a video?

Prediction: Wake Forest, 79-67. To be fair to Wake, they covered the spread against Richmond! In all seriousness, the Deacons fought in that game, which shows that they might still have it in them to win a game like this, against a team they should beat. High Point’s best loss this season was by 14 at Indiana State.

Tennessee (4-2) at Virginia (6-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

What to watch: Can Virginia’s big men keep it up? Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins have had great seasons so far, averaging 12.6 points and 7.8 points, respectively. In UVa’s biggest win this year against Wisconsin, the two combined for 68 minutes, 25 points and 17 rebounds. They’ve been a big reason UVa is on a five-game winning streak, but the Tennessee defense will provide a stiff test.

Random Tennessee facts: Tennessee’s bluetick coonhound dog mascot has always been a bit frisky, but not many dogs are brave (or stupid) enough to mix it up with a live bear. In 1957, that’s what happened and though Smokey II lived through it, he was supposedly never the same.

He still goes after players, though.

Prediction: Virginia, 58-49. The only team Tennessee has managed to pull away from for a convincing win this year was Oakland (they beat them 77-50). Everyone else – even Kennesaw State and UNC-Asheville – has hung with the Volunteers. In their two losses, Tennessee has a grand total of 81 points, including a 37-36 loss to Georgetown on Friday night that offended the basketball gods to their very core.

UMES (0-7) at Maryland (6-1), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Quick: guess which mascot was supposed to be a "new and improved" version.

Quick: guess which mascot was supposed to be a “new and improved” version.

What to watch: Maryland’s freshmen. Shaquille Cleare has played a combined 14 minutes and in Maryland’s two closest games this year (Kentucky and George Mason), mostly because he picked up a combined five fouls in that span. Jake Layman hasn’t hit a three-pointer since November 12 (0-6 since) or any shot at all since November 20 (four games, 0-of-5). Charles Mitchell’s minutes have been fairly steady, and he has been rebounding well. Seth Allen has played well, but he had no assists and two turnovers in the George Mason win. And so if Maryland’s can’t build up a big enough lead for all of these freshmen to continue to develop, the Terrapins have bigger problems.

Random UMES facts: In the late 1940s, UMES still didn’t have a nickname and the newspapers were starting to call the team “The Fishermen”. That wouldn’t do, so they found some sort of convoluted way to come up with another mascot – the Hawk.

Prediction: Maryland 87-59. UMES is winless this season, but it has been close twice: 10-point losses to Arkansas Pine Bluff and Delaware State. Ouch.

 

Last week: 18-12

Overall: 64-20

ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Day 2

Virginia (4-2) at Wisconsin (4-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN2

When a live badger proved too dangerous, Wisconsin temporarily replaced it with a raccoon. Sure, that seems safer.

What to watch: ….. No seriously, while the pace of this game is not to my personal liking, it should be an intriguing matchup of styles between two slow-paced coaches who try to make it as difficult as possible on their opponents defensively while being as efficient as they can on offense. So we’ll see if that works out.

Random Wisconsin facts: Wisconsin used a live badger mascot in the 1940s, but – as you might imagine – with live animals, there are sometimes problems. Turns out, the badger didn’t like football and would often try to bite everyone in sight, even escaping its handlers a number of times. And so they replaced him with a raccoon named “Regdab” (which is “badger” backwards). There are no stories of it attacking anyone. But it was only a matter of time.

Prediction: Wisconsin, 45-38. I’m not trying to be funny with this prediction. Well, maybe a little. But how could this game go any other way?

Purdue (2-3) at Clemson (4-1), 7:15 PM, ESPNU

Try not to let this clown-like head of an old version of Purdue Pete haunt your nightmares. I really wish it didn’t carry a weapon.

What to watch: How will Milton Jennings’ absence affect Clemson? The Tigers’ leading scorer might be running out of chances at Clemson – he’s been suspended multiple times in the past few years, and he’ll be suspended for tonight’s game after an arrest for marijuana possession. Without Jennings, there’s only one player 6-9 or taller available for Clemson – the 6-10 rarely-used freshman Landry Nnoko. Purdue has struggled this year, but they have plenty of big bodies – four are 6-9 or taller. Not to mention Clemson will have to find a way to replace his scoring.

Random Purdue facts: Creepy Purdue Pete is not Purdue’s official mascot. No, that’s a Boilermaker Special (a train). It’ resembles a Victoria-era locomotive that is still operated today. A miniature model of it still shows up at football games. And hey, not many mascots can say they’ve damaged a police car.

Prediction: Purdue, 63-55. Purdue has lost three games this year, but none of them were blowouts and both of their wins were by significant margins. Clemson without Milton Jennings is more likely than not a team that’s not capable of scoring enough points.

No. 13/14 Michigan State (5-1) at Miami (3-1), 7:30 PM, ESPN

A Sparty cartoon by Chris Morris of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

What to watch: How will Shane Larkin play on a national stage? Shooting guard Durand Scott is back in the lineup for Miami after a three-game suspension, but even before his return, Larkin has been great. The sophomore point guard is averaging 17.3 points on 58% shooting, dishing out 4.5 assists per game. He is averaging 3.5 turnovers, but he’s upped his minutes to over 36 a game and he’s had to carry the load offensively as essentially the Hurricanes’ most consistent player so far. He’ll be facing off against Michigan State’s junior point guard Keith Appling, who’s the Spartans’ best player. He’s averaging 16.8 points and shooting 47% from the floor, and he’ll be a tough cover for Larkin. But Larkin will challenge Appling as well.

Random Michigan State facts: “Sparty” is perhaps best known for his cameo in one of the best “This is SportsCenter” ads, where he helps carry Kerri Strug across the newsroom.

Oh, and Draymond Green (who graduated last year after a productive eight-year stint at Michigan State) earns points for admitting that as a kid, he was terrified of Sparty.

Prediction: Michigan State, 74-61. Hmm. A Tom Izzo-coached team going into a far-from-intimidating road environment, against a team that has already lost to Florida Gulf Coast? Yeah, I’ll take the Spartans, even in a down year.

Georgia Tech (4-1) at No. 22 Illinois (7-0), 9:00 PM, ESPN2

Illinois was forced to retire this mascot in 2007, but he continues to show up in an unofficial capacity.

What to watch: Georgia Tech’s veterans. Ask North Carolina how it worked out for them last night when they went into a hostile road environment and their veterans didn’t play well. Georgia Tech’s veterans have been fine – Mfon Udofia is averaging 10.2 points and Kammeon Holsey is averaging 10.6 – but Daniel Miller, Brandon Reed and Jason Morris have been virtually invisible this season. Miller in particular, who ended last season well, is averaging 5.6 points on less than 50% shooting. The Yellow Jacket freshmen have been impressive, but it would be asking a lot of them to carry the team at Illinois this early in their careers.

Random Illinois facts: Everyone knows Illinois as the Fighting Illini, and while that is still their official mascot, they no longer use the official manifestation (Chief Illiniwek). When the NCAA began cracking down on Indian mascots, Illinois got the dreaded “hostile and abusive” tag and was forced to get rid of it in 2007. There is some controversy about whether or not the mascot offended the local Sioux tribe, who it was intended to honor, and the students have continued to keep the mascot alive as best they can at sporting events.

Prediction: Illinois, 71-59. The Illini are ranked this season after cruising through the Maui Invitational field. Their best win so far is Butler, but other than a one-point win over Gardner-Webb a few days after getting back to the mainland, they’ve beaten everyone convincingly. Georgia Tech has improved quite a bit, as they showed by hanging with Cal and knocking off St. Mary’s last week in Anaheim, but they’re not ready to win this game yet.

Boston College (2-4) at Penn State (3-2), 9:15 PM, ESPNU

Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers made a rather interesting fashion choice during the Puerto Rico Tip-Off earlier this month, but he’s got an interesting backstory.

What to watch: How healthy is Ryan Anderson? BC’s leading scorer has struggled on a sprained ankle the last few weeks, and it’s shown in BC’s results. After blowing out FIU and narrowly losing to a then-ranked Baylor team, the Eagles looked great, and so did Anderson. They’ve lost three of four since, including a game to Charleston that he didn’t play in due to the injury and a home game to Bryant (he shot 4-of-14). If he’s not healthy enough for BC to beat a team like Bryant – at home – he’s certainly not going to be capable of helping carry the Eagles to a win at Penn State.

Random Penn State facts: Penn State’s head coach Patrick Chambers might look like your typical middle-aged coach, but he’s pretty hardcore. About ten years ago, he was jumped in a bar and stabbed in the neck with a broken vodka bottle. He still has the bag of bloody clothes and shoes he was wearing the night it happened, and he’s been known to break it out on occasion and show it to his players.

Prediction: Penn State, 61-53. I’m sorry, Boston College. I still have a deep amount of affection for you, but I can no longer trust you.

No. 4 Ohio State (4-0) at No. 2 Duke (6-0), 9:30 PM, ESPN

Uh….I guess the current Buckeye is much better looking?

What to watch: How far has Duke’s defense really come? The Buckeyes have the No. 5 offense in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy. Last year, Duke went up to Columbus and allowed Ohio State to shoot over 59% in an 83-65 loss, providing the first indication that their defense might not be up to normal Duke standards. Ohio State has always had one of the more efficient offenses in the country and plenty of athleticism in its lineup, and this year is no different. Louisville and Kentucky are the best teams Duke has played – Louisville is offensively-challenged at times, and Kentucky was/is inexperienced. This will be probably the toughest defensive test Duke will face heading into ACC play.

Quinn Cook vs. Aaron Craft. Duke’s sophomore point guard’s confidence is sky-high right now; the reigning ACC Player of the Week averaged 13.7 points, 4.8 assists and two steals per game in Duke’s three games in the Bahamas. Duke beat three very good teams in the Battle 4 Atlantis, and his knack for making big plays in key moments had a lot to do with that. He’s turning those flashes of potential into something consistent, and Duke feeds off his energy. But Ohio State feeds off of senior point guard Aaron Craft, too. A notoriously annoying defender, Craft is a coach’s son and all the normal clichés apply. Cook held his own just fine against Louisville’s Peyton Siva, and Craft will test him mentally as well.

Random Ohio State facts: Ohio State adopted the Buckeye (a type of nut from Ohio’s state tree) in 1965, and the first costume was made of papier-mâché that was basically an enormous head (see above picture). In 1975, a reworking of the costume with “a prune-like head” was unveiled, but booed off the field. The redesign was essentially the creepy Buckeye we see today.

Prediction: Duke, 85-78. It’s very difficult to win in Cameron, and the Blue Devils are a much better defensive team than they were a year ago. Even if they struggle at times to get stops, the momentum of the home crowd often helps them pick up their defensive intensity another notch. This team is full of enthusiastic defenders anyway, and they’ll feed off of the crowd to get stops in key moments.

 

ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Day 1: 3-3

Last week: 21-6

Overall: 54-15

ACC Football: Week 13 Previews

Georgia Tech (6-5, 5-3) at No. 3/3 Georgia (10-1, 7-1), 12:00 PM, ESPN

Um….not cool, random Georgia Tech fan.

Moments in Georgia-Georgia Tech history: Georgia Tech’s first-ever football game was against Georgia, and the visiting Yellow Jackets were quite literally chased out of Athens as projectiles were thrown at their heads, according to Wikipedia. It’s a legitimate rivalry that has been stopped more than once because of bad blood between the two schools, but it hasn’t been competitive lately. Georgia Tech has won just one of the last 11 meetings.

Uh, this might be a good reason why. Tackle please?

“We’re gonna take your silver britches to the ground”

Honestly, is this hype video really necessary at this point?

Prediction: Georgia, 52-24. Is any explanation really necessary? Georgia Tech’s offense is clicking, but its defense is still suspect at best. This will be our Coastal Division champ on display. Go ACC!

Virginia (4-7, 2-5) at Virginia Tech (5-6, 3-4), 12:00 PM, ESPNU

This mascot fight was likely more competitive than the UVa-Virginia Tech rivalry has been recently.

Moments in Virginia-Virginia Tech history: Interestingly enough, per Wikipedia, Virginia leads the series between the two teams in most sports except football (Tech leads 51-37-5). From 1984-98, Virginia went 9-6 against Virginia Tech. Ever since, the Hokies have won 12 of the last 13 with the only Virginia win coming in 2003. The last close loss came in 2008 when Virginia Tech won 17-14 at home. Since, Virginia Tech has won by a combined score of 117-20 in the last three games.

If Virginia Tech shows up making plays like this – you know, where their offensive players are blocking someone on the opposing team – it should be an interesting game.

The Hitler videos never get old.

At least UVa owns Virginia Tech in Quidditch.

Prediction: Virginia Tech, 23-17.  It was all there for Virginia a little over a week ago. Beat UNC, beat Virginia Tech,  eliminate your rival from going to a bowl and earn bowl eligibility yourself. But the Cavaliers were thumped at home last Thursday by the Tar Heels, taking them out of bowl eligibility. And Virginia Tech barely escaped a bad Boston College team to keep themselves alive for a bowl. All they have to do is beat a disappointed Virginia team to earn another bowl berth.

Miami (6-5, 4-3) at Duke (6-5, 3-4), 12:30 PM, ACC Network

Hey, did you guys know Jimmy Graham (above) used to play basketball?

Moments in Miami-Duke history: Duke was right there in 2009, leading 13-10 at the half. Miami trailed 16-13 at the end of the third, but Miami scored twice before a pick-six by Thaddeus Lewis ended it, and ended Duke’s hope of bowl eligibility that season.

I’m sure there are clips available of Devin Hester doing this to pretty much every ACC team. But this one, against Duke in 2005, is ridiculous.

Demarcus Van Dyke intercepts a Sean Renfree pass that Conner Vernon – normally Mr. Reliable – tipped. From the last time Miami was in Durham, Duke lost this one 28-13 in 2010 and this was one of four second-quarter turnovers for Duke, which finished with seven…

…But at least this Duke fan enjoyed the game.

Prediction: Duke, 36-31. This is a really tough call. Knowing they’re not eligible for the Coastal Division crown, will the Miami players pack it in? Duke is more than capable of beating almost anyone at home, save Clemson or Florida State. Miami is neither. But they do have the talent to beat Duke, and they’ll either be angry or despondent and lifeless. Duke, on the other hand, still has won just one game in November under Cutcliffe ever (and none this year). And the Blue Devils know they can’t win the Coastal Division anymore, either. Both teams are playing for pride (and Duke for a better bowl).

Boston College (2-9, 1-6) at NC State (6-5, 3-4), 3:00 PM, ESPN3

Frank Spaziani and Tom O’Brien, long-time friends, will face off again to close out the season.

Moments in Boston College-NC State history: Obviously, Tom O’Brien as the former head coach of Boston College makes this one more significant for a variety of reasons. Unlike Butch Davis’ bizarro hold over his former school, Miami (Davis lost just once to his former team), BC has had the opposite effect on O’Brien. He’s 1-4 against his former school. NC State’s first win in the series under O’Brien came two years ago at home when NC State won 44-17. But last year after beating UNC, NC State lost 14-10 at a bad Boston College team.

How should NC State be expected to contend with all this BC cuteness?

I don’t think this needs any introduction. Just enjoy.

Guys….don’t do the wave. Please.

Prediction: NC State, 44-27. I wanted to pick NC State to NC State last week (and by that, I mean beat Clemson). Since that didn’t happen, I can’t pick them go to NC State this week. Although a huge part of me wants to do that. Also, Boston College has to be crushed after letting a winnable game against Virginia Tech get away from them.

Maryland (4-7, 2-5) at North Carolina (7-4, 4-3), 3:00 PM, RSN

In 2008, with Maryland’s Ronnie Tyler making catches like this in a rain-slogged game, Carolina didn’t stand a chance.

Moments in Maryland-North Carolina history: Queen Elizabeth visited College Park (yes, you read that correctly) in 1957 for a UNC-Maryland football game. I’m going to hazard a guess and say that there is absolutely no way that could ever happen again.

As UNC’s Willie Parker is taking 20 years to turn upfield, he is caught by the shoestrings for a safety.

In perhaps the second-worst loss of the Butch Davis era, Maryland quarterback Chris Turner – hardly known as a running threat – made a nine-yard run late in the game on 4th and 5.

Prediction: North Carolina 48, Maryland 13. North Carolina isn’t going to want to pour it on in the name of defending all things ACC, since Maryland just announced they’re leaving the conference. But they’re going to pour it on because Maryland has 80,000 injuries right now and Carolina is going to want to end the season on a good note. And because Maryland football players have been dealing with this ACC stuff all week on top of everything else.

No. 10/5 Florida State (10-1, 7-1) vs. No. 6/6 Florida (10-1, 7-1), 3:30 PM, ABC

FSU and Florida get into it before a game in 1998.

Moments in Florida-Florida State history: Florida leads the series 33-21-2, but it seems to be a series of runs, as it were. Florida won six in a row from 2004-09, but Florida State had won five of six from 1998-03. Now, the Seminoles are rolling again and have won two straight under Jimbo Fisher. In one of the biggest controversies in the history of the rivalry, FSU and Florida fans still dispute to this day whether FSU wide receiver Lane Fenner actually caught the ball or not in 1966. It was called no catch, and Florida hung on, 22-19.

“The Choke at Doak” – can it really be called that if Florida didn’t lose? I’m just saying. I’m just stunned it didn’t involve a missed field goal.

Maybe this is why the FSU people are mad at the ACC today? The “Swindle in the Swamp” is a thing that supposedly happened that involved ACC refs giving FSU favorable calls. I guess the league doesn’t do this anymore?

And hey…it’s not always the players that end up fighting.

Prediction: Florida State, 37-21. Florida has a great record, but the Gators have hardly blown anyone away. Even last week against Jacksonville State, they won just 23-0. And that was their third-largest margin of victory this season behind a 38-0 rout of Kentucky and a 44-11 beating of South Carolina. Every other game – including a season-opening win over Bowling Green – has been by 20 or fewer points. Florida State hasn’t been much more impressive outside of its stadium, but in the friendly confines of the Doak, the Seminoles have been downright dominant. Expect that to continue.

Wake Forest (5-6, 3-5) vs. Vanderbilt (7-4, 5-3), 3:30 PM, ESPNU

A riveting battle of small, brainy private schools that have to scratch and claw for football relevance.

Mascot facts: Vanderbilt is known as the Commodores because of the nickname given to their benefactor, Cornelius Vanderbilt. (There’s no such naval rank as commodore anymore, for what it’s worth.)

Also…uh….this is weird. The Commodore punches someone in the face for basically no reason. And it’s all the more disturbing because of that perpetual smile on his face:

Prediction: Vanderbilt, 31-17. Vanderbilt is quietly a very hot team right now, having won five straight and six of their last seven. Their best win in that stretch? Maybe at Missouri? But still, wins are wins and Wake Forest could use a few. The Deacons are reeling; their last two losses have come by a combined score of 75-6.

No. 12/9 Clemson (10-1, 7-1) vs. No. 13/12 South Carolina (9-2, 6-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN

So, this happened.

Moments in Clemson-South Carolina history: The longest uninterrupted series in the South will meet again on Saturday for the Hardee’s Trophy. Clemson leads it 65-40-4 but you wouldn’t know it based on recent results: Clemson has lost three straight and none have been particularly close. In fact, Clemson has a total of 37 points in their last three meetings with South Carolina. If South Carolina wins, they will tie their longest streak in the rivalry of four straight (from 1951-54).

This brawl was so bad in 2004 that both schools decided to ban themselves from the postseason. This was of course back when doing such a thing in the ACC wasn’t a big deal.

This 1983 brawl came first, though.

Not a bad form tackle, but he probably will be flagged for a late hit.

The catch…or the push-off? You decide.

Well done, Clemson fan.

Prediction: Clemson, 41-30.  Every time we think Clemson is going to Clemson, they don’t. Generally speaking, Clemson’s season has already been wrapped up one way or the other heading into that game. That doesn’t mean the Tigers still don’t want to beat their rivals – they do – but there’s a lot more on the line for Clemson this year than in years past. South Carolina has won two straight since losing star tailback Marcus Lattimore to a gruesome knee injury, but they struggled with Wofford a week ago and barely put away a bad Tennessee team the week of Lattimore’s injury. They seem to be a team living on reputation at the moment in terms of the polls.

Last week: 5-2 (3-2 ACC)

TOTAL: 57-21 (27-15 ACC)

Duke Will Try to Slow Down Georgia Tech’s Surging Triple-Option

Duke (6-4, 3-3) at Georgia Tech (5-5, 4-3), 3:30 PM, ESPNU

Duke spent its open date last weekend trying to heal up from the grind of ten straight games, resting comfortably while the rest of the Coastal Division contenders fell. Most of the Blue Devils even got to watch arch-rival North Carolina get humiliated at home, 68-50.

But they couldn’t even enjoy that as much as they normally would, because now it’s their turn to try to slow down Georgia Tech’s explosive offense. Head coach David Cutcliffe said that his wife told him he seemed irritable as he watched Georgia Tech scored one of its many touchdowns live. “Well, why not?” he shot back. “Yeah, I am getting irritable.”

Linebacker Nick Sink said he watched every second of it live on Saturday and twice since on film. When asked what he thought of the pointsplosion, he laughed and shook his head, shrugging. “I was shocked to see an option offense put up 68 points,” Sink said, “and I’m shocked Carolina allowed 68 points.”

Cornerback Ross Cockrell watched the game with his father, who fell asleep. The senior, who learned through trial and (mostly) error as a young player, felt empathy for Duke’s biggest rival. “I know how they feel,” he said, shaking his head. “I understand what’s going on on that sideline and how tough it is to be part of a game like that. For some reason or another, you just can’t get a stop. I sympathize more with the defense than worry about the offense.”

You often hear about the responsibilities of the front seven when it comes to slowing down the triple-option – everyone has player to tackle, regardless of whether or not they have the ball. But where Georgia Tech is the most dangerous is when it can throw the ball, because the opposing cornerbacks also have to help out in run defense. And if a defensive back guesses wrong about whether it’s a run or pass play? “You’re in trouble,” Cockrell said.

“During the course of a game, you get so locked into the run, so keyed into the run and then on first down, they hit you with a pass,” Cockrell said. “On like 3rd and 8, they usually don’t pass the ball, but it’s 1st and 10 and right when they begin the drive. That’s what makes it hard is you get passes at times that you wouldn’t normally expect it.” When Cockrell was asked if Duke would win if its offense scored 50 points, Cockrell hesitated, grinned and said, “I would hope that we would win, but judging by last week, we just have to wait and see.”

Sink said that the 68 points don’t scare them, but it’s in the back of their minds. And it benefitted them to watch the mistakes that North Carolina’s defense made. “You have it in the back of your mind that ‘okay, they just put up 68 points. We cannot do that.’ It’s a little worrying, but we’re not worried about it,” Sink said. “When we watched the film and watched the game, we saw a lot of missed assignments and busted defenses and huge, explosive pass plays, which we focused on all last week preparing for it. Then we saw it happen on Saturday.”

And if Duke can slow down that offense, the Blue Devils only have to win their final two games to win the Coastal Division. And all they had to do is not play last week for that to happen.

For the most part, Duke has won the games it could have won and lost the games it was expected to lose, save perhaps the upset win over North Carolina. These final two games are like that one – fairly evenly-matched. Duke could still potentially win the Coastal with a loss this weekend, but it would be more difficult. Of course, Duke would much rather be in this position in November than where it has been in the past, hoping for moral victories.

“Handling a big game is an art,” Cutcliffe said. “People talk about pressure. Pressure is when you haven’t won one all year long. Then you’ve got all kinds of issues right now. So I don’t view this as pressure. I really view this as the most fun part of what we do. And I hope our team takes that mentality into this game.”

Moments in Duke-Georgia Tech history: Georgia Tech leads the series 48-30-1 (27-12-1 at home), and Duke’s last win there came in 2003. But it was a convincing one: Duke pounded Georgia Tech 41-17. Reggie Ball went Reggie Ball with three interceptions (not to mention averaging 5.3 yards per attempt), and Duke’s Chris Douglas almost literally carried the Blue Devils to victory with 30 rushes for 218 yards. Duke’s quarterbacks combined to complete 8-of-15 passes for 141 yards. That was Duke’s only win in the series since 1994.

David Cutcliffe loves to fake punts, and this one worked.

Also….this happened to Duke last year. At least now, because of how improved Duke is this year, we’re laughing with the Blue Devils.

Thankfully for Duke, Georgia Tech doesn’t have a wide receiver as good as Demaryius Thomas was.

This is mesmerizing.

FEEL THE EXCITEMENT!

Prediction: Georgia Tech, 44-31. Duke has had a week to prepare, and they’re more than capable of winning this game against a Georgia Tech team that has been fairly pedestrian for most of this season. And it’s possible Georgia Tech will come in feeling too good about itself after gashing an awful North Carolina defense. In the end, though, there’s just too little of a margin for error against this offense, and with Durham native Vad Lee playing the way that he is, it’s difficult to see Duke – or most other ACC teams, for that matter – slowing him down.

Nov. 13-14 ACC Previews

NOVEMBER 13

No. 9/8 Duke (1-0) vs. No. 3 Kentucky (1-0), 9:30 PM, ESPN (Atlanta, GA)

Should have guarded the inbounds pass, Rick.

What to watch: Who runs the point? NC State transfer Ryan Harrow will miss this game for Kentucky with the flu, so it looks like walk-on Jarrod Paulson will see a lot of time again. Against Maryland, he was great. But can he do it again? And for Duke, Quinn Cook is not listed as a projected starter and didn’t start the opener. Tyler Thornton takes better care of the ball than Cook generally, but he’s not as much of a potential game-changer. It will be interesting to see how that rotation develops.

Is Mason Plumlee ready to assert himself? Kentucky’s bigs are inexperienced, and Maryland’s frontcourt dominated them on the backboards last Friday. Nerlens Noel was the No. 1 recruit in the country, but Plumlee is athletic enough and certainly savvy enough to get the better of that matchup. He’s “the guy” this year for Duke, and this is his time to show why.

Will Alex Murphy play? This question speaks for itself. And if the redshirt freshman – who was a healthy scratch from Duke’s opener due to “match-ups”, per Krzyzewski – does play, where will his confidence level be?

Random Duke-Kentucky facts: They’ve played just five times in the Coach K era, and Duke is 4-1 in those games. And yet this is being billed as a rivalry game. It’s a bit one-sided in that Kentucky fans still have a lot of bitterness towards Duke stemming from the 1992 Elite 8 loss. A lot of the hatred from Kentucky fans stems from the fact that Christian Laettner didn’t miss a shot, including hitting this game-winner…

…but it didn’t help that this moment came earlier.

Chris Farley as Christian Laettner. No, seriously.

This guy hates Duke almost as much as he loves Jagermeister. But a Duke football shirt?

Prediction: Duke, 67-61.

Delaware (1-1) at Virginia (1-1), 7:00 PM, ESPN3 (NIT Season Tip-Off)

Blue Hen, or Gray Hen? You be the judge.

What to watch: Joe Harris. Joey Hoops has literally accounted for 30% of Virginia’s scoring so far this season. He’s going to need some help at some point, but he’s been very efficient. Can he keep carrying that load until Malcolm Brogdon and Jontel Evans come back?

Random Delaware facts: According to the Delaware website, the Fightin’ Blue Hen comes from the Revolutionary War, when the Delaware regiment started putting on cockfights with the Kent County Blue Hen.

Prediction: Virginia, 57-49.

Florida Gulf Coast (0-1) at Miami (1-0), 7:05 PM (Fort Myers, FL)

What to watch: Miami’s defense. Allowing 79 points to Stetson on 44% shooting (42% from three) to go with 20 assists on 28 field goals for the Hatters? Yeah, that’s not very good.

Random Florida Gulf Coast facts: Florida Gulf Coast’s mascot is an eagle, because – per the University website – “The Eagle serves to identify not only the physical environment of Southwest Florida but also the University’s relationship with it.” Okay. He did hit a halfcourt shot and win free books for a year:

Prediction: Miami, 91-68.

NOVEMBER 14

Presbyterian (0-1) at Georgia Tech (1-0), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

This guy played football for Presbyterian, and he was on “The Bachelorette” this summer.

What to watch: Presbyterian’s turnovers. It could have just been a fluke, but Georgia Tech forced Tulane into just four turnovers on Friday.

Random Presbyterian facts: One of their former football players was on “The Bachelorette”. He got in a a bit of trouble for saying he wanted a “trophy wife”.

Prediction: Georgia Tech, 81-57.

Last week: 11-1

Overall: 16-1

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