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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.”

Dec. 31 ACC Previews

Dartmouth (2-8) at Boston College (7-5), 3:00 PM, ESPN3

KEGGY! YES. YES.

What to watch: The BC defense. The Eagles have looked better in that department lately, holding three of their last six opponents to 40% shooting or less (after doing that just twice in the first six games). Dartmouth is downright abysmal offensively – they’re 326th in the Ken Pomeroy rankings, but that hasn’t always mattered to the BC defense.

Random Dartmouth facts: Dartmouth’s “Keggy the Keg” mascot is unofficial (obviously), but it is seriously one of the best ever. Here’s a video of Keggy’s storied – and somewhat complex – history, including this gem: “There’s no one inside Keggy. Keggy’s inside every one of us.” Indeed, my friend:

Prediction: Boston College, 68-55. This should be a relatively easy win for the Eagles, but nothing ever seems to be for them.

UNCG (2-8) at No. 23 NC State (10-2), 5:00 PM, ESPNU

What to watch: NC State’s three-point defense. UNCG scores most of its points from beyond the arc (32.1%), and NC State’s three-point defense this season has been a bit spotty at times. The Wolfpack should score at such a pace that it won’t matter, but now’s the time to start locking down defensively, particularly on the perimeter.

Random UNCG facts: UNCG is coached by former Tar Heel Wes Miller, and he learned from one of the best in Roy Williams. He also learned to do a pretty good impression of him. Although last I checked, I don’t think Roy Williams could do this.

As a Greensboro native myself, only I’m allowed to laugh at my hometown. And who wouldn’t want to come visit after watching this video?

Greensboro is also the home of the one and only BDaht.

Prediction: NC State, 101-79. The up-tempo pace of UNCG should make this a high-scoring affair.

 

Overall: 113-30

Last week: 10-4

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

NC State: Three-Guard Lineups, Richard Howell Doesn’t Foul, T.J. Warren’s Efficiency, A Lucky Bounce

Because who doesn’t need to see the giant cardboard cutout of C.J. Leslie again?

SIX STARTERS AND INTERESTING LINEUPS

NC State head coach Mark Gottfried has said all year long that he essentially has six starters (Lorenzo Brown, Rodney Purvis, Scott Wood, T.J. Warren, C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell). With some rare exceptions – a matchup he might want to exploit, or maybe a violation of team rules – there’s no real rhyme or reason to who that sixth starter will be.

The freshmen, Purvis and Warren, are the only two of the six that have missed starts, though. Purvis started the first five games, and after a loss to Oklahoma State and a close shave against UNC-Asheville, Warren started the next two (at Michigan and UConn). Warren struggled against the Huskies, and Purvis has been the starter the last two games.

But Gottfried said that both will get their minutes regardless, and that’s appeared to be the case. “It’s just not one of those things for me that I’m going to get all that worried up about,” Gottfried said. “I know players do. Everybody wants to start, I know that.”

Junior reserve Jordan Vandenberg missed the game with a knee injury, leaving NC State with seven healthy scholarship players on Saturday. Both Wood (a wing) and Leslie (a forward) were in foul trouble throughout the game, which resulted in some new lineups. At one point, three players who could in theory play point guard – Brown, Purvis and freshman reserve Tyler Lewis – were in at the same time.

After the game, Purvis was asked if that three-guard lineup had ever been used before. “Yeah, several times,” Purvis said. He paused, thinking it over.  “Well…not really. Not a lot.” NC State goes with a lot of different lineups in practice, but Purvis said that he can’t remember ever being out there in practice with Brown and Lewis.

When asked if we’d see that lineup again, he seemed much more confident. “Every game, it seems to be a new guy in foul trouble with this team,” Purvis said with a grin. “So you’re going to see many different lineups. I can promise you that.”

RICHARD HOWELL DOESN’T FOUL (LATELY)

One guy that hasn’t been in foul trouble lately? Richard Howell. The senior has seemingly decided he doesn’t much care for losing, and since the loss at Michigan (when he fouled out) he has a total of four fouls in the last three games. NC State has arguably two of its toughest wins this year – UNC-Asheville and UConn – directly because of Howell not being in foul trouble. He played 68 minutes combined in those games, and only missed time during the UConn game because of taking an elbow to the head/neck region.

“Richard has been in foul trouble a number of nights and just can’t get in a flow. … Last year, there were very few games where he could get 34 minutes like he did (Saturday), very few, because of the foul situation,” Gottfried said. “He’s developing some discipline defensively. He’s not reaching as much. He’s not putting himself in positions where he’s trying to recover and make silly fouls. We’re a lot better as a team when all of them are out of foul trouble, quite honestly.”

Howell pulled down nearly half of NC State’s rebounds (19, a career-high, out of 42) by himself on Saturday, including 16 of their 32 defensive rebounds. He’s listed at 6-8, but he’s more like 6-7. His freakishly long arms and fantastic hands are part of the reason he had a tendency to reach in on the perimeter and try to get a steal, but they also make him the great rebounder that he’s become.

Sometimes, even his teammates have a tendency to assume he’ll get every rebound. “What happens to our team at times too is because he’s such a good rebounder, we’ve got other guys leaking our every now and then because we feel like he’s going to get it. If he doesn’t get it, balls are around the floor and bouncing and (the opponents) pick up some loose balls because we’re leaking out (in transition),” Gottfried said.

“But we’re leaking out because there’s so much confidence that Richard’s going to get it. What we’ve got to do is make sure that we still rebound as a team better. But he finds a way usually to help us start the break. He’ll get rid of it quick on an outlet pass so we can start the break. He made some nice passes, I thought, too tonight. He had a heck of a game.”

T.J. WARREN’S CRAZY EFFICIENCY

Warren continues to look like an ACC Rookie of the Year candidate. His game is reminiscent of former North Carolina star Antawn Jamison with his quick release and overall smoothness. Nothing looks difficult for Warren, and every shot looks like it’s going in (and most have – he’s hit 69% of his field goals this season).

As quietly as someone can have 21 points, Warren did that Saturday. He was 9-of-11 from the floor and 2-of-2 from three-point range. He has shot 7-of-11 from three this year (64%).

Even at 6-foot-8, he’s got the green light from three. Well, maybe. “Sort of, kind of, yeah,” Warren said. “I just want to have confidence when I’m shooting that. Coach told me to shoot that, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

When asked to elaborate on “sort of”, he said, “Shoot it when I’m open.” The follow-up question was: “When you’re feeling it?” Warren shrugged. “I mean, I can shoot it whenever.”

If there’s a negative with Warren, it’s that he hasn’t done much else besides score. He is averaging just 3.4 rebounds a game (he had five on Saturday, his most since November 15) and he has just two blocks all season. But considering he’s scored 131 points in 237 minutes, it’s very difficult to find fault.

LUCKY BOUNCE

It sounds insane to say this on a night when the Wolfpack put up 84 points and shot 57%, but they did leave plenty of points on the floor, as the saying goes. The Wolfpack shot just 64% from the foul line (which is their season average), blew a few transition opportunities trying to get “too cute” as their head coach put it and turned it over 17 times.

But there was one basket that even Purvis admits was probably a gift from the basketball gods. Brown attempted to throw Purvis an alley-oop in transition on the other side of the basket, but Purvis only got his fingertips on it, almost like he was setting the ball in volleyball. It popped up in the air and somehow fell in the basket.

They were fortunate on that play, but Purvis said that he and Brown are really starting to get a good feel for each other when they’re on the court together. “Honestly, I don’t know how that went in. It hurt my fingernail, so I don’t really know how that went in,” Purvis said. “The mental connection, we play a lot in practice, getting a feel for each other, knowing what each other can do, what spots and what’s good for each other. So we just try our best to capitalize on everything.”

Dec. 15-16 ACC Previews

East Carolina (6-1) at No. 21/18 North Carolina (7-2), 12:00 PM, ESPNU

A drawing of the Pirate from 1934 (ECU wouldn’t have a pirate mascot until the 1980’s).

What to watch: Can UNC get to the free-throw line? It’s downright bizarre to see a North Carolina team struggle to get to the foul line like this one is, but the Tar Heels are 345th nationally (per Ken Pomeroy) in free-throw rate. ECU’s opponents have a very high free-throw rate and score 23% of their points from the foul line. Carolina hasn’t scored 23% of its points from the foul line in any game all year. Carolina hasn’t shot well from the line on the year – just 62% – but they’re going to need to be more aggressive to diversity their offense. In the last two games, despite having a size/athleticism advantage, Carolina has attempted 38% of its shots from three.

Random East Carolina facts: This is the first time ECU and North Carolina have played in the regular season since 1953, when Frank McGuire was still a relatively new coach at UNC. The teams are playing again because ECU is coached by former Tar Heel Jeff Lebo, who played point guard from 1986-89. … The Pirates started this season 5-0, and it’s only the second time they’ve done that since joining Division I.

Prediction: North Carolina, 85-61. It’s hard to know how good East Carolina is. They beat a pretty solid UNCG team and a decent Georgia State team on the road, but half of the Pirates’ wins are against non-Division I opponents. Before UNC’s final stretch of very tough non-conference games, the Tar Heels desperately need a confidence-boosting win here.

Georgia Southern (3-5) at Virginia Tech (8-1), 2:00 PM, ESPN3

Freedom the Eagle and his handler, James Spader?

What to watch: Anyone besides Erick Green. The junior point guard has nearly 30% of Virginia Tech’s points this season, but his teammates have still played well, which is a big reason Virginia Tech has gotten off to a good start. But in the last few games, one or both of his teammates have struggled and as a result, Virginia Tech has had its worst two shooting performances of the year. Green had 23 points against Mississippi Valley State on 8-of-13 shooting. His teammates combined for 47 points on 32% shooting (and just 1-of-11 from three). That can’t happen against a good team, and guys like Jarrell Eddie, Robert Brown and Cadarian Raines – who combined for 12 points on 4-of-20 shooting against MVSU – need to step up again and help ease Green’s burden.

Random Georgia Southern facts: Shocking that a school is allowed to have a live bald eagle mascot in this day and age, but Freedom is still with us. Of course, as live birds are want to do, he has flown away before.

Prediction: Virginia Tech, 74-52. Georgia Southern is one of the slower-tempo teams in the country, and they’re going to try to ugly it up against the Hokies. But it won’t be nearly enough.

Norfolk State (6-6) at No. 25 NC State (6-2), 4:00 PM, RSN

Not sure if that’s a mustache or a stiff upper lip.

What to watch: NC State’s focus. NC State is coming off of a week of taking their final exams, and they have a big game against Stanford looming on Tuesday. Norfolk State is not especially good at anything in particular, but the Spartans can get offensive rebounds and get to the line quite a bit. They’ve been scrappy against some good teams (a 13-point loss at Seton Hall and a 10-point loss at Illinois), so NC State’s going to have to stay disciplined to put them away comfortably, as they should.

Random Norfolk State facts: I could have scoured the internet for the exactly origins of the NSU Spartan mascot. Or I could just give you this video of the Spartan twerking. You’re welcome.

Prediction: NC State, 82-60. Norfolk State has hung around with some good opponents this year (a 13-point loss at Seton Hall and a 10-point loss at Illinois), but their best win is against Savannah State. So, yeah.

Florida A&M (4-6) at Clemson (5-3), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Just awesome.

What to watch: The defensive boards. Clemson has been excellent defensively in almost every area but that one, and it came back to haunt them against Arizona as they gave up 20 offensive rebounds while pulling down just 21 defensive boards. Clemson’s a relatively slow-paced team and not particularly explosive offensively, so they can’t afford to give up second and third opportunities to any team, even Florida A&M.

Random Florida A&M facts: Florida A&M has perhaps the No. 1 mascot in all the power rankings, a rattlesnake. Known as the Rattlers because their campus was once infested with them, they have (or had?) a costumed mascot named “Venom”. And then it mysteriously went missing. Two words you never want to see near each other? “Rattlesnake” and “missing”.

And from FAMU’s band, here’s “Hay” by Crucial Conflict:

Prediction: Clemson, 79-53. Florida A&M has four wins, and two of them are against teams called Edward Waters and Allen.

DECEMBER 16

New Hampshire (4-5) at Boston College (4-5), 1:00 PM, RSN

New Hampshire has had so many live wildcat mascots that they don’t even know where this stuffed-and-mounted one came from.

What to watch: BC’s three-point percentage. The Eagles are very reliant on the three-pointer, and New Hampshire is fourth in the country in three-point defense (22.4% allowed). BC scores nearly 30% of its points from three. If they end up losing, it’ll likely be because they couldn’t knock down outside shots.

Random New Hampshire facts: The Wildcats were very nearly called the Durham Bulls. Uh, that’s taken guys. But they have had a number of live wildcat mascots, a tradition that ended for good in the 1970s. Because it went about as well as you might expect.

With moderate success, the cats were controlled on the field with a chain leash and a stick, but none of the wildcats ever got used to the noise from the crowd or the band. The sight of the cringing, frightened animal was more distressing than inspiring to some of the football fans. … The last live wildcat, purchased in 1940, lived on campus for only a week before it died. The Blue Key vowed to replace it, but instead they took to heart the words from ‘A Student’ who wrote: “The well-intentioned persistence of Blue Key in attempting to keep a mascot not susceptible to domestication seems to many of us, in view of the net results, very unwise.”

Prediction: Boston College, 73-66. Please, BC. Seriously.

Last week: 12-1

Overall: 84-21

NC State: Cleveland State’s Coach’s Take, Howell Embraces Leadership Role, The Reynolds Experience

NC State played its annual game in its former home, Reynolds Coliseum, on Saturday.

NC State played its annual game in its former home, Reynolds Coliseum, on Saturday.

NC State played in Reynolds Coliseum from 1949-99, and the cozy confines (it seats 12,400 when completely full and has a 9,500 capacity today) helped the Wolfpack go 589-177 (.769) at home in that span. With the win over Cleveland State on Saturday, NC State is now 603-177 (.773) there. It’s always been a hostile environment for opponents, though Saturday’s crowd was a bit sleepy at first. (The game was a sellout, and attendance was announced as 7,234, but the end zones were largely unoccupied. NC State didn’t sell tickets for those seats.)

Eventually, the proximity of the fans and the noise they generated combined to create the kind of home atmosphere most on NC State’s roster hadn’t experienced yet. It was particularly loud when the Wolfpack got its fastbreak offense rolling late in the first half. “I know a lot about (Reynolds). I saw (the team) come play here once last year so I was just waiting for my opportunity to get a chance to play here too,” freshman Rodney Purvis said. “It was great. It’s really packed. It’s small, so a lot of people come in. It was a great first experience.”

NC State’s current home, PNC Arena, seats 18,639 and the fans often feel far away. The crowd on Saturday was almost literally on top of the action. “It’s definitely different than playing in the PNC Arena. I liked it more just because everybody’s more on top of you, the crowd is just right there,” senior Richard Howell said. “And I feel like the crowd is more involved in the game rather than when we play in the PNC.”

NC State has played at Reynolds 14 times since 2002 and they are 14-0 in those games. They haven’t played an opponent that was a serious threat, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been close shaves. NC State played three games there last year in Gottfried’s first year and barely escaped NC Central (a five-point win) and Campbell (a six-point win).

It’s important to Gottfried that the tradition continues. “I think it’s special to play here, and I like the fact that we play at least a game here every year. I think it’s important,” Gottfried said. “I think it’s important for our fans, too. It means a lot to people. And it’s fun, too: the crowd and how close they are to the floor, and our fans are loud. You could feel it in there.”

RICHARD HOWELL, THE RELUCTANT LEADER

Senior big man Richard Howell has suddenly found himself the leader of this team, and he’s as shocked as anyone else. But he knows someone has to do it, and he doesn’t mind. “Just me being a senior trying to step up and fulfill that role, this being my last year – I feel like we can go far, but leadership is something that we’re lacking,” Howell said. “I want to go far, so I’m going to fulfill the role.”

In NC State’s blowout loss to Oklahoma State, he noticed a few mistakes from his teammates and he had his moments to speak up and correct those mistakes. He was saddled with foul trouble for much of that game (he ultimately fouled out), but he still wished he had spoken up. He let the mistakes go, as did everyone else, and the result spoke for itself.

And after the loss, which was the team’s first of the season, he decided he wasn’t going to keep quiet anymore.  “Just talk when I need to, tell players what they need to do. When something is messed up, I’m the one that’s trying to just fix the little corrections … just keep everything together and stop the bickering amongst each other,” Howell said.

It took Howell some time to trust head coach Mark Gottfried last year when he first arrived on campus, but the reserved big man is exceedingly careful about who he lets in. Gottfried has his complete trust now, and he’s been telling Howell to embrace this role. “I won’t say it’s hard, but it’s not easy,” Howell said. “I’m not the biggest talker and that’s one of the things me and Coach Gottfried talked about is me being a leader. I don’t have to say as much, but just lead by example and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

After the Oklahoma State game, he was true to his word: when his teammates played sluggish basketball against UNC-Asheville, he carried them up with 23 points and 15 rebounds. Against Connecticut, he had 13 points and ten rebounds (seven offensive), making a number of plays that led to the win. He did all that despite taking what appeared to be an elbow to the head or neck early in the game.

He picked up where he left off on Saturday with 17 points and ten rebounds. He’s getting more and more comfortable with leading by example, too – after fouling out of both of NC State’s losses, he has one foul in the last two games.

Howell accepting that role is just an extension of his team learning to accept who they are – and who they have to be – this season. NC State hasn’t been “the hunted” in a long time, but that’s the role the Wolfpack has found themselves in early.

“We have learned that we have to play hard every night, every possession, every practice. Sometimes, guys have to learn that. You’ve got to learn what it takes to become good,” Gottfried said. “We’re also learning that for the most part, when you do have some attention around your program, you’d better bring it every night because teams are going to play better against you. We’ve really not been in that role before, and so we’re learning that.

“I hope for these guys they just keep understanding that if we pay a price every day and really commit to it, we’ve got a chance to be good. But we’ve still got a long way to go in my opinion.”

CLEVELAND STATE HANGS TOUGH

Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters seemed pleased with his team’s effort against NC State – they kept the deficit between 10-15 points most of the game – and with good reason. The Vikings were without their best player, 6-8 sophomore Anton Grady, and could have used another big body like 6-9 center Ludovic Ndaye, who was also out. (Spoiler alert: NC State still would have won.)

As it was though, Howell and C.J. Leslie dominated the undermanned Viking frontcourt, combining for 36 points and 18 rebounds on 14-of-19 shooting. “That’s like going against David and Goliath down there. They’re athletic and they’re long,” Waters said. “That makes it hard for you to make lay-ups. It makes it hard for you to do certain things. However, it shouldn’t make it hard for you to pass the basketball. That’s a fundamental thing.”

Waters gave full credit to NC State, but added that if his own team hadn’t turned the ball over so much – which led to a lot of fastbreak baskets – they would have been in the game at the end. The 18 turnovers by Cleveland State were tied for the most by an NC State opponent this year, and the Wolfpack turned them into 16 points. NC State also had 17 fastbreak points.

But Waters wasn’t so sure the NC State offense would thrive if it were forced into a slow-down game. NC State has had a few such games already this year, including the Michigan game (which they lost, but played well) and the Penn State game (a convincing win). Still, that’s going to be the knock on NC State throughout the year and Waters is right about one thing – other teams are going to try to take the Wolfpack out of their transition game.

“They get it out and they push it up and they attack you. The thing is, I don’t know how they would do if you just keep them in a half-court game. I think that’s what’s going to happen to them throughout the season,” Waters said. “People are going to try to shut that down. They’re as good as anybody I’ve seen in the country getting in transition because they’ve got so many good finishers. That’s what I consider their speed.”

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 1

Iowa (5-1) at Virginia Tech (5-0), 7:15 PM, ESPNU

This mascot is kid-friendly?

What to watch: Virginia Tech’s defense. The Hokies have allowed their last three opponents to shoot 40% or better. That’ s not terrible, but the problem is their last three opponents are VMI, UNCG and Appalachian State. And those three teams averaged 81 points against the Hokies in some closer-than-expected Virginia Tech wins. The Hokies can score, but if they hit a drought against a decent team, they have to get some stops.

Random Iowa facts: Herky the Hawk hasn’t always been so perky (see what I did there). In 1997, his head was badly damaged in a melee. It started when the Minnesota band members – for some reason – picked him up and rammed him headfirst into the goalpost. In the fourth quarter, they “played his head like a drum”, and so he threw a cup of cold water in one of their faces. In December. In Minnesota.

Prediction: Virginia Tech, 81-73. Iowa hasn’t really beaten anyone, and the one decent team they played – Wichita State – beat them by 12. But neither has Virginia Tech. Still, the Hokies are shooting the ball well and they’re at home, so they get the edge.

No. 21/UR Minnesota (6-1) at Florida State (4-1), 7:15 PM, ESPN2

Minnesota is known as the gophers because of this 1857 political cartoon.

What to watch: Florida State’s shooting. Don’t look now, but the Seminoles are rolling offensively, shooting 52% and averaging 80.4 points. Minnesota’s defense will certainly test that, but if FSU can knock down shots – particularly from three – they should win fairly easily, even in a grinder. And they are going to have to because their defense is not great yet. Minnesota’s offense hasn’t exactly looked like a well-oiled machine, but the Gophers get second shots (their offensive rebounding percentage is 47.3%, third in the country) and get to the foul line.

Random Minnesota facts: The Gopher mascot came from an 1857 political cartoon satirizing the railroad tycoons as gophers with human heads. It’s become a symbol of the state, and this page of Minnesota state symbols is too awesome for words. Beer, parasites, folk dance and soup.

Somehow this seems less appropriate than the alternate definition of tail-chasing:

Prediction: Florida State, 69-58. This is exactly the type of game you look at and say, “Florida State lost to South Alabama. How can they win this game?”, and then they win anyway.

No. 18 NC State (4-1) at No. 3 Michigan (5-0), 7:30 PM, ESPN

Michigan used to have a live wolverine. At least they didn’t let it roam around the sidelines.

What to watch: NC State’s psyche. Yes, it’s November. Yes, it’s silly to worry too much about NC State’s blowout loss to Oklahoma State and close shave with UNC-Asheville. But with all the preseason expectations heaped on this team, are they handling their early struggles well, or will they collapse under the weight of it all? Michigan is also the type of team that doesn’t turn it over a lot, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes defensively and can go on a run in a hurry. It can be frustrating to play a team like that, and especially if they start hitting shots. It’s a daunting task for even the most proven teams, much less a group that’s struggling to find confidence right now. But the Wolfpack are good enough to stay in this game, and even win it – they just can’t make silly mistakes.

Random Michigan facts: Michigan has had a live Wolverine mascot for quite some time, but they’ve never had a costumed mascot. I want to respect this decision. Then I read the reasoning behind it, and found myself overcome by the snobbery:

Michigan does not have a live mascot comparable to Ohio State’s Brutus Buckeye.  The Athletic Department has steadfastly maintained that such a symbol is unnecessary and undignified and would not properly reflect the spirit and values of Michigan athletics.

Prediction: Michigan, 72-65. If this were later in the season, I might pick NC State because I think they’ll be in a much better place than they are right now. But either way, we’ll learn a lot about the Wolfpack tonight. A good game against the Wolverines would speak volumes about their ability to bounce back and would bode well for them for the rest of the year.

Maryland (4-1) at Northwestern (6-0), 9:15 PM, ESPN2

Maryland and Northwestern facing off in 1958. I’m sure this image will cause many coaches in the Big 10 to weep nostalgically for the good old days without a shot clock.

What to watch: Maryland’s sloppiness. The Terps have been very good so far this year, but they have shown a tendency to play some bad basketball in stretches: in ugly home wins over Morehead State and Georgia Southern, they turned it over 20 and 17 times, respectively. They’re not hitting three-pointers and their free-throw shooting is spotty, but they hit the offensive glass as well as any team in the country. Problem is, Northwestern isn’t the type of team that allows a lot of second shots and it’s certainly a team that will make Maryland pay for those mistakes.

Random Northwestern facts: Northwestern may be the only BCS team not to have ever gone to the NCAA Tournament, but there are more fun facts about their futility. Per Wikpedia: Northwestern has only finished above fourth place in the Big Ten twice since World War II and not since 1968. They’ve never advanced past the second round of the NIT (which they’ve made six times). But….wait for it….they have a Helms Foundation national championship title from 1933!

Prediction: Northwestern, 74-68. Maryland can win this game, but Northwestern is just too well-coached to let winnable games slip away, particularly at home and this early in the season. Simply put: I trust Northwestern more at this point, though I think Maryland is the better team in general.

Nebraska (4-1) at Wake Forest (3-2), 9:15 PM, ESPNU

Sassy.

What to watch: Which team can be less bad? Carolina Panthers’ wide receiver Steve Smith referred to last night’s Monday Night Football game between the Panthers and the Eagles as “the battle of the bads”. And it played out true to form. This game reminds me a lot of that game. Wake Forest got absolutely destroyed by Iona a week ago and Nebraska was thumped by Kent State at home this weekend. Their best win is against Valparaiso, and it was a two-point win. Oh, and the Cornhuskers are one of the slowest teams in the nation. So, yeah. Avoid this game unless you really love either team, or just hate yourself. Or both.

Random Nebraska facts: Nebraska used to be known by names like “Rattlesnake Boys” and “the Bugeaters”, the latter of which was after an insect-eating bull bat. A disappointing season ended that nickname, but come on. That would easily be the best mascot ever.

Prediction: Wake Forest, 54-51. Wake is favored by Ken Pomeroy to win three more games this year. One of them is this one. Difficult to trust the Deacons against any opponent, but they have had success against Nebraska, so there’s that.

No. 14/13 North Carolina (5-1) at No. 1 Indiana (5-0), 9:30 PM, ESPN

This is a real t-shirt for sale.

What to watch: Three-point shooting. UNC caught fire from three during its four-game stretch away from home, shooting 45-of-107 (42.1%) from three in that span. But in the loss to Butler, Carolina shot just 7-of-22 from three (32%). Without that game, they shot 45% from three in wins over Long Beach State, Mississippi State and Chaminade but attempted over 38% of all their shots from beyond the arc in those games. Against those outmatched opponents, that seems a little high. Particularly considering one of UNC’s best three-point shooters, P.J. Hairston, will miss the game with an injury, Carolina can’t afford to fall in love with the three too much.

Indiana is shooting 41.4% from three and in six games, five Hoosiers have already made four or more three’s. Everyone who has played double-digit minutes has attempted at least one, even the seven-foot Cody Zeller (he missed it). Everyone on the team is a threat to make a three at any given time, and Carolina hasn’t been guarding the three all that well lately – their last two opponents, Butler and Chaminade, have combined to hit 25-of-59 (42.4%). And that’s just Butler and Chaminade.

Random Indiana facts: A Hoosier is not a real thing – in fact, no one really knows what it means – Indiana used to have different mascots over the years. This one was my personal favorite:

Go Bison-Hoosier!

Prediction: Indiana, 82-70. And Carolina hits a three-pointer at the buzzer to hit 70. Calling it now. And it is a bold prediction, considering UNC doesn’t have Hairston to launch one up.

Last week: 21-6

Overall: 51-12

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)

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