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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. 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. 19 ACC Previews

Clemson (6-3) at Coastal Carolina (3-5), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Chauncey the Chanticleer. His pride was his undoing in Canterbury Tales. Lesson seemingly not learned.

What to watch: Clemson’s offense. Coastal Carolina is not very good defensively, allowing nearly 44% shooting. But more importantly, the Tigers need to get going offensively. The Tigers actually started out the year doing pretty well in that department, but after averaging 74.5 points in their first two games, they averaged 59.3 in their next six (three losses). They seemingly got back on track against Florida A&M, scoring a season-high 80 points and shooting nearly 53 percent. Clemson is taking good care of the ball this season and playing pretty good defense – they just need to knock down a few shots.

Random Coastal Carolina facts: Does it seem odd that two South Carolina-based schools have a rooster for a mascot? It’s not a coincidence! Coastal Carolina is an affiliate of South Carolina, so it decided to pick a somewhat similar mascot: the Chanticleer, made famous in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Unfortunately, things don’t end so well for that rooster.

Prediction: Clemson, 73-58. It could be ugly – with Clemson, it too often is – but it should be a win.

Cornell (4-6) at No. 1 Duke (9-0), 7:00 PM, ESPNU

Just wait.

What to watch: Marshall Plumlee. It’s been widely reported that the redshirt freshman big man, whose older brother Mason is having a breakout season, could make his Duke debut tonight. He had a stress fracture in his foot that has sidelined him until now. It will be difficult for him to permanently crack the rotation at this point in the season barring an injury to someone already in the rotation. But he has a lot of talent, and Duke could really use some depth in the frontcourt.

Random Cornell facts: Cornell is known as the Big Red, but their unofficial mascot is the Big Red Bear. It’s been around since 1905. Cornell is a pretty intelligent school, and unlike some, it only took them until 1939 to realize having a live bear is not a good idea. Touchdown I was the craziest – he climbed the goalposts, ran amok in an Atlantic City taffy shop and knocked the Penn mascot out with his paw.

Prediction: Duke, 92-59. Cornell has been competitive against everyone except Wisconsin and Stony Brook. But the Big Red is awful on offense, and not much better defensively.

Morgan State (3-4) at Virginia (8-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

What to watch: A sneaky test for Virginia’s defense. The Bears aren’t a great team by any stretch, but they have some nice numbers this year. They rebound the ball offensively very well, get to the foul line a lot and make a lot of two-pointers. UVa has been getting better and better defensively all year, and that needs to continue for Virginia to go from being an okay ACC team to a very good one. (And by “very good”, I mean “has a legitimate chance to make the NCAA Tournament”).

Random Morgan State facts: Morgan State’s mascot is a bear. And it’s kind of insane.

How many bear mascots can do this?

Prediction: Virginia, 79-59. As UVa’s freshmen continue to get comfortable and their upperclassmen step up, the Cavaliers are getting better and better as the season goes.

No. 23/19 North Carolina (8-2) at Texas (6-4), 9:00 PM, ESPN2

Why even add a costumed Bevo when you have a real one?

What to watch: North Carolina’s offense. The Tar Heels have been stagnant at times offensively, and even though Texas has looked downright awful at times, their defense has been fairly consistent. They have the No. 1 effective field goal defense in the country per Ken Pomeroy, and they’re No. 3 in three-point defense (22.3% allowed) and fifth in two-point defense (37.6%). Carolina is shooting nearly 37% from the three-point line, but they’ve been a bit streaky. Against Butler, Carolina had three different droughts of three or more minutes where they scored two or fewer points. At Indiana – one of two true road games for Carolina this year – the Tar Heels were outscored by 23 points in 12:41 (a stretch that spanned both halves) and hit just two field goals in that span. Carolina shot 2-of-24 from the floor.

Forcing turnovers. North Carolina’s going to have to do this: Texas is turning it over on over a quarter of their possessions this year, and it’s a big reason the Longhorns have struggled so much. The Tar Heels have done a pretty good job of that this year, but when they haven’t – two games so far – the results were an Indiana loss and a close win over ECU. Forcing turnovers is also the one area where Texas hasn’t been dominant defensively as well. North Carolina can’t afford to give the ball away when Texas isn’t forcing a ton of turnovers as it is, especially since Texas’ defense seems to be making it difficult enough to score in the half-court already.

Random Texas facts: The live Longhorn mascot Bevo is bred to be docile, but he hasn’t always been. He once attacked an SMU cheerleader who tried to fend him off with his megaphone. In 1999, after Texas beat Nebraska, he was led across the field and did this:

Prediction: North Carolina, 63-54. Difficult to predict this one, especially since Texas head coach Rick Barnes always seems to find a way to beat North Carolina, even when the Tar Heels are arguably the better team. Last year, Carolina thumped Texas at home though. Neither team is remotely the same right now, but Carolina has looked like the better team thus far. Mostly because they haven’t lost to Chaminade.

 

Last week: 12-1

Overall: 93-22

UNC: Moral Defeats, Bad Rebounding and Small Ball

If UNC keeps playing the way it played on Saturday, this side of Roy Williams will come out more and more.

A MORAL DEFEAT?

There weren’t a lot of things that North Carolina head coach Roy Williams was pleased with after his team’s 93-87 win over East Carolina on Saturday afternoon. Not the 61 second-half points allowed – a record by a Williams-coached team at UNC – not the rebounding effort, and not the general sloppiness that characterized the last few minutes.

North Carolina didn’t allow 61 second-half points by only having lapses down the stretch, but those certainly didn’t help. Credit East Carolina for hitting some tough shots, but Carolina led by ten or more points four times in the final 2:19 and still let ECU cut the lead to four points twice in the final 27 seconds. The Pirates also hit 7-of-8 shots in the final 2:55, putting up 19 points in that span. Carolina had two turnovers in the final minute that led to five quick ECU points.

“It just shows that we need to learn how to finish games better – not that we can’t, we just have to learn how to do it better, be a lot smarter at the end and be patient,” sophomore P.J. Hairston said. “We did some things where we rushed and tried to score in the last minute instead of holding the ball, taking our time, being patient and taking what they gave us.”

Still, Carolina’s defense had been bad most of the second half. The Pirates ended the game with 87 points (most allowed by UNC this year) and 27 free-throw attempts (also the most by a Carolina opponent). “We weren’t sliding our feet and staying in front of the ball. We were reaching more than anything. They were more aggressive,” Williams said. “If you play defense with your feet, you don’t commit very many fouls.”

UNC’S BIG MEN FAIL TO OUT-REBOUND WICKED WANDA ON THE OFFENSIVE BOARDS 

Williams often likes to say a player who failed to get a rebound “got as many rebounds as Wanda”, or “Wicked Wanda”, as he sometimes lovingly refers to his wife of nearly 40 years. Other acceptable variations of this joke could include a random reporter sitting in the audience, or even Williams himself. Former players have said he’ll even reference a random inanimate object. Point remains, all of those people/things had exactly zero rebounds.

On Saturday, James Michael McAdoo, Joel James, Brice Johnson and Desmond Hubert – Carolina’s four post players – combined to get exactly zero offensive rebounds. As many as Wicked Wanda. Williams said he couldn’t remember the last time that had happened.

“It’s an easy deal – anticipate your teammate’s shot,” Williams said. “You guys in the stands, the guys that are knowledgable about basketball, people that aren’t knowledgable, you sort of can tell when a guy’s getting ready to shoot. Then (you) anticipate your teammate’s shot and go to the board. That’s a pretty simple thing to do right there.”

Wing Reggie Bullock had four of Carolina’s offensive ten rebounds, while fellow swingmen J.P. Tokoto and P.J. Hairston had the other five (one was a “team” rebound). The true post players combined for 12 rebounds, all defensive (seven from McAdoo and four from Johnson). Johnson got the start for UNC as part of the constantly-rotating starting centers, but he was sick and played just 15 minutes.

SMALL BALL

Because Williams was so frustrated with his team’s rebounding, he went small. Sometimes really small. About midway through the second half, the five were third-string point guard Luke Davis (6-0), Leslie McDonald (6-5), Hairston (6-5), Tokoto (6-5) and Bullock (6-7). Carolina played with one big man and four guards in eight different lineups and without any traditional big man at all twice.

Williams was asked if that small a lineup might be seen again. “Um, if (the big men) get no frickin’ rebounds, yeah,” Williams said. But he acknowledged the lineup has its drawbacks. “There was one possession down there where (ECU) got four shots. Now, why is that? That’s partly my fault because we don’t have any big guys in the game. Why do I not have any big guys in the game? Because they weren’t getting any rebounds either.”

In the first half, Carolina’s “traditional” lineup with two bigs outscored ECU 36-21 over  16:18 while small lineups (one or fewer bigs) outscored ECU 6-5. In the second half, though, Williams played a small lineup for 11:09 out of 20 minutes and it “won”, 39-36. The traditional lineup was outscored 25-12 over nearly nine second-half minutes. Hardly overwhelming results by either. “There’s no question that during parts of certain games that we’re going to go small. … But I don’t foresee us going and starting small and playing small for 30 minutes a game,” Williams said.

Williams has been tinkering the smaller lineup since the Maui Invitational, when Carolina very nearly came back against Butler by forcing a lot of turnovers defensively and creating mismatches with Butler’s less-athletic big men offensively. Tokoto, a three, said he played both the four and five on Saturday.

It’s just another position. You’ve just got to adjust. ‘Be a basketball player’ is what (Williams) always says, and that’s what we did,” Tokoto said. “I never really guarded a five-man before: maybe on a switch 1-2 times, but not a few up-and-downs. So it was an adjustment, but it wasn’t that bad.”

Hairston insisted he thought the small lineup could be effective all the time, but Tokoto wasn’t so sure. “If we need a steal or a quick bucket or something, a small lineup helps a lot,” Tokoto said. “(In the) ACC, it may be different. They’ve got bigger guys. It’s all about matchups. With a team like East Carolina where their three-man can play the four like us, we can go small and match up pretty well.”

HAIRSTON EMERGING

The 6-5 P.J. Hairston was playing center. He’s known mostly as a three-point shooter, but every now and then, he shows what he’s capable of when he remembers that he’s a strong, athletic wing who can absorb contact. Saturday was one of those times. “I feel more comfortable taking it to the basket than I did last year. When we got to the four guards and a big lineup, I feel like I can take any big man off the dribble,” Hairston said.

And since he played some center when he was younger, he has some natural big man instincts. “I just know there are certain things I can do to try to get to the rim and if it works, I can get the rebound and finish,” Hairston said. “On one play, I think I spun off a guy on the free throw and ended up with a wide-open lay-up. It’s just knowing where the ball is going to go and timing.”

He scored six points off of his three offensive rebounds (a third of the team’s total). All of the put-back buckets seemingly came at big moments, and he was often getting the offfensive rebound over a bigger player. There were times when Hairston seemed like the only Tar Heel who wanted to take a shot or make something happen.

“No one likes to lose – that’s anybody on any team. But you just have to want it more,” Hairston said. “I felt like that I wanted every rebound more than their big man, our big man or our guards. I just felt like I wanted the rebound more because it would help the team.”

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

UNC: Switching Defenses; Tokoto’s Tomahawk

UNC freshman J.P. Tokoto finally got to throw down an impressive dunk during a 78-55 rout of East Tennessee State on Saturday night.

UNC freshman J.P. Tokoto finally got to throw down an impressive dunk during a 78-55 rout of East Tennessee State on Saturday night.

SWITCHING DEFENSES

A lot of Roy Williams’ defensive principles are based on what he learned from Dean Smith. (For more on that, read Smith’s Basketball: Multiple Offense and Defense.) He doesn’t change up defenses nearly as much as Smith did, and his teams rarely use any kind of a zone. But he has been known to throw in some run-and-jump and some Scramble, both of which were Smith staples.

The base defense – known as “20″ – is man-to-man, and what you see out of Carolina most of the time. The “30″ defense is the run-and-jump, which looks like straight man-to-man at first. When the opposing player with the ball gets close enough to another Carolina defender, that person will leave his man and “jump” the ball-handler, trying to force a bad decision with the element of surprise. The original defender goes to pick up an open man downcourt, maintaining man-to-man principles.

The “40″ defense is The Scramble. It was conceived by Smith as a 2-2-1 zone press disguised as man-to-man initially. Once the ball-handler puts it on the ground, he would immediately be double-teamed. It’s an extension of the run-and-jump, except it’s an actual double-team and the other three defenders rotate to cover the remaining players in a zone concept. There are designated roles (the double-teamers, two interceptors and a goal-tender). The Scramble can be used with the same principles in the half-court, or even 3/4 court (double team on the first dribble).

“(The run-and-jump) helped us against Butler when we went small, and today we did it in the first half staying big because we wanted to get the big guys involved in the rotation,” Williams said. “(ETSU) has a four-year starter that’s not playing until second semester. Their starting point guard was not playing. So we’re going to see if (our players) got to the right spots – then it really is good for you. If (ETSU) turned it over just because of their inexperience or a mistake on their part, you can’t be fooled and think you’re a really good Scramble team.”

A combination of a smaller lineup with a huge deficit against Butler in Maui led to Carolina using some run-and-jump in that game. But on Saturday, even Carolina’s traditional lineup did a good job when they ran Scramble against ETSU. Of course, as Williams pointed out, who knows how well that works against – well, pretty much any other opponent except ETSU. Though the small lineup’s execution of it did force Butler into its highest-possession game of the season and its highest turnover percentage by far (nearly 25%). Those are the objectives of that defense.

It will be interesting to see how much more of it is used this year, or how much zone defense will be used. Williams has said on more than one occasion how much he loathes coaching zone defense. If Carolina has to go back to a small lineup, though, either the traps or a zone – or some of both – will be necessary.

TOKOTO THROWS DOWN

Freshman J.P. Tokoto has been a constant in the Carolina rotation all year (getting between 5-15 minutes a game), but he hadn’t made a significant impact yet. Last week during his radio show, Williams compared Tokoto to former defensive stopper Jackie Manuel, which is high praise from Williams, who adored the lanky 6-5 swingman. Like Manuel, Tokoto’s offensive skill set is very raw. But also like Manuel, his athleticism is off the charts.

In his 12 minutes against ETSU, Tokoto made the most of it with a career-high nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. He was active defensively, made good decisions and – perhaps most importantly, from the crowd’s perspective – he finally threw down one of his thunderous dunks the fans had been anxiously awaiting.

For Tokoto, that dunk is just the tip of the iceberg. He came to Chapel Hill with the reputation of being a great dunker (nights like this one at the NC Pro-Am this summer helped feed that). And frankly, the dunks he tried this summer left local reporters debating which one, if attempted in a real game, would cause his head coach to run out on the court and tackle him.

Tokoto’s been wondering that, too. There are dunks he knows he can do that he hasn’t tried yet, including his specialty, which he said was called the 360 Eastbay. “It’s a 360, then between your legs,” Tokoto said. “Yeah, I don’t think (Williams) would be a big fan of that if I missed it.”

That’s right: a 360, then between-the-legs. He did it in the finals of the American Family Insurance dunk contest in New Orleans last spring. Oh, and he won.

He says it’s his best dunk. (Uh, yeah.) And he says he can do it successfully more often than not, even now. “We’ll be fooling around in shoot-around and right after shoot-around, we’ll have a dunk session for about 5-10 minutes,” Tokoto said. “After everybody’s done, they’re like, ‘All right, J.P. Go ahead and do your 360 Eastbay.’ I’ll go ahead and try it and I’ll usually get it down.”

In the Pro Am this summer, Tokoto threw multiple alley-oops to himself off the backboard. On one attempt, it wasn’t in transition but against a set half-court defense. (For the record, that’s the one that if attempted in a real game would likely cause Williams to lose his mind.) But he knows he could try it on a breakaway.

“I’ve had a couple thoughts about that. I just don’t know how (Williams) would feel about it and I don’t know how that would look towards the other team if it was a blowout,” Tokoto said. “That’s probably the only time that I would do that is in a blowout, and I don’t want to disrespect the other team. So I’ll probably just keep it simple and throw it in.”

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

UNC: Joel James’ Development, Leslie’s Big Night and Roy’s Rage

Freshman big man Joel James got his first career start, and he played just 12 minutes (three in the second half). Carolina went with a smaller line-up for much of the second half because UAB was playing some quicker, perimeter-oriented big men. James and his fellow starters at the five – Brice Johnson and Desmond Hubert – aren’t ready to guard those types of players right now.

“(UAB’s) lineup was hard for Brice (Johnson) and Joel (James) to get out and guard people on the floor. They’re freshmen. They’re going to get better,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “I told them they came here at 18, they’ll probably leave here when they’re 55 and sometime between now and then, they’ll be able to guard guys out on the floor. But that’s what made us go small.”

The question of who will start at that five-spot is still up in the air, and no one has really separated themselves from the pack. Johnson is great offensively and quick as a cat, but not a great defender. Hubert can play defense, but is almost a non-factor offensively. James has the most potential of any of the three.

At 6-foot-10 and over 260 pounds with surprising agility, the big man has all the physical tools to be a great player. The problem is, he’s only been playing basketball since his sophomore year of high school. He’s an eager learner, but that lack of experience shows. He still doesn’t know how to use his body to get position and isn’t always as aggressive as he should be.

“Joel, he just wants to try to do anything for his team. He’s still coming along for us as a player to help our team out a lot because he can be a big part of this team,” junior Reggie Bullock said. “He just doesn’t know how good he is right now. I just feel like it’s just going to take a little more time for him to be able to realize that we really need him to score in the post.

“He sets good screens. He tries to share the ball a little bit too much when he’s in the post instead of just backing his man down, because he doesn’t understand how strong he is down low.”

__

Leslie McDonald tore his ACL in the summer of 2011 in a summer league game, and the redshirt junior watched from the bench as his team came arguably a wrist injury away from reaching the Final Four. As he persevered his way through a tough rehab and somehow resisted the urge to come back last year he said he never dreamed he’d have a game like he had on Saturday.

McDonald had 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting (5-of-8 from three) and played 26 minutes, the most he has played this year. When he has played 18 or more minutes this season in four games, he has shot 14-of-26 from three compared to 3-of-8 in the other four games. But considering how perilously close his basketball career came to ending, he’s grateful for whatever minutes he can get.

“I really don’t care: whatever is given to me,” McDonald said. “If I have to play long minutes, I’ll play long minutes. If I have to play spot minutes, I’ll play spot minutes. I’m going to play the same way I’ve been playing for years, and that’s playing like Leslie McDonald.”

__

P.J. Hairston couldn’t make the trip to Indiana because of a sprained left knee. (The sophomore played 23 minutes and had 16 points on Saturday.) Because he couldn’t travel, he sat and watched the game alone in his dorm room. “I was actually playing a game of Madden before the game came on. I cut the TV on at 9:30 and sat and watched the whole thing. Didn’t change the channel,” Hairston said.

He said he watched it like a scout or a coach, looking for mistakes his teammates were making (of which there were many). But he couldn’t remain completely emotionally detached. “I mean, I was kind of jumpy at some points of the game, like, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ Because in the first half, we had it,” Hairston said. “I thought we had the game. The second half, we came out struggling and didn’t hit any shots and Indiana was getting in transition, finishing fast breaks and making their shots.”

As a scout, he was asked to evaluate his head coach’s mini-meltdown against UAB. Williams ripped his coat off a spiked a clipboard, causing a marker to go flying in the air. “When he slammed the clipboard, I saw the marker go in the air. I kind of looked up for about five seconds and it was still going up. I looked back at Coach like, ‘Dang.’ He slammed the clipboard pretty hard because the marker was in the air for at least five seconds,” Hairston said.

But Williams has already been that angry at least once this season: when UNC was struggling against Butler in Maui, he punched a clipboard and broke it in half. “Luckily we have a backup,” Hairston quipped of the clipboard substituting for the team itself as an object of Williams’ anger.

Williams has been known to show his displeasure at team’s lack of execution, but the better his team is, the less often it happens. Hairston said it only happened once in a game last year. “The only time I really saw him get that mad was either the Florida State game last year or in practice,” Hairston said (UNC lost by 33 points to the Seminoles). “After the Florida State game is when basically we kind of picked it up and realized we’re better than that.”

Dec. 1-2 ACC Previews

Delaware (2-5) at No. 2 Duke (7-0), 2:00 PM, RSN

Hi. I'm in Delaware.

Hi. I’m in Delaware.

What to watch: The minutes of Duke’s bench. Duke has seven players that Mike Krzyzewski trusts right now: his starters, Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton. That’s it. Against Ohio State, freshmen Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy played a combined six minutes. Coach K will not play a freshman for the sake of letting him learn if he’s not doing the right things in practice or in games. Games like today give Murphy and Jefferson a chance to prove they deserve minutes. Duke could use the depth, but Krzyzewski is not going to manufacture it.

Random Delaware facts: Monte’ Ross was hired as Delaware’s head coach in 2006, and it was the first time since the 1994 season that Delaware wouldn’t be coached by a former Mike Krzyzewski assistant. Current Notre Dame head coach and Krzyzewski assistant Mike Brey coached at Delaware from 1995-00. Former Duke guard (and assistant) David Henderson took over from 2000-06. …. Delaware still hasn’t played a home game this season, and won’t until December 4.

Prediction: Duke, 95-72. After Duke’s previous four-game stretch, this should be a breeze.

Miami (4-1) at Massachusetts (3-2), 2:00 PM, CBS SN

http://mit.zenfs.com/214/2011/04/UMass-Mascot.jpg

What to watch: Reggie Johnson. The senior center did not play against Jacksonville a few weeks ago because of a “sore tailbone”. After scoring 22 points against Stetson in the season-opener, he has 23 points total in three games since. Miami can win without him being a force, but it would be a lot easier if he could be more consistent.

Random Massachusetts facts: UMass is quite the stepping stone job. John Calipari, who took UMass to its only Final Four, left to go to the Nets in 1996. Bruiser Flint succeeded him, resigned in 2001 and went to Drexel, where he’s been since. Travis Ford was hired in 2005, had a good year and was snatched up by Oklahoma State. Steve Lappas is an interesting exception, hired in 2001 but basically let go in 2005. He had just one winning season. Before UMass, he took over at Villanova for his mentor, Rollie Massimino, who stopped speaking to him as a result. Also, people don’t seem to think he has the voice for his current job, a basketball analyst/studio commentator for CBS Sports Network.

Prediction: Miami, 73-61. I guess.

No. 15/17 Oklahoma State (5-0) at Virginia Tech (6-0), 2:00 PM, ESPN3

Pistol Pete is always watching.

Pistol Pete is always watching.

What to watch: Erick Green and Marcus Smart. Both have been spectacular this year. Smart hasn’t had a game as good as the one he had against NC State a few weeks ago (20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists), but he’s still been very good. And it appears that Virginia Tech’s up-tempo offense suits Green well.He’s averaging 24.3 points on 51% shooting. He has always put up a lot of points, but often had to take a lot of shots.

Random Oklahoma State facts: Pistol Pete might have a freakishly large head and creepy expression, but the character he’s based on is beyond awesome. Frank “Pistol Pete” Eaton(1860-1958) saw his father murdered by “lawless former Confederates” when he was eight years old, so he basically tracked them all down and killed them. And he killed two of them before he turned 17. He also used to pick up lumps of coal with his feet.

Prediction: Oklahoma State, 81-80. Virginia Tech can win, but their defense is probably not far enough along yet. It should at least be a very entertaining game.

Green Bay (3-3) at Virginia (5-2), 4:00 PM, RSN

In the 60's and 70's, everybody was all about some papier-mâché mascots.

In the 60′s and 70′s, everybody was all about some papier-mâché mascots.

What to watch: UVa’s point guard situation. Senior point guard Jontel Evans is still coming back from injury, but freshman Teven Jones also made a somewhat recent return to the lineup (after suspension). UVa is 4-0 with Jones, and the freshman is averaging 6.3 points, 2.5 assists and a steal per game. Evans played 16 minutes against Wisconsin and didn’t score or record an assist. It’s going to be a process for him before he’s fully healthy, but Jones should still factor into the rotation.

Random Green Bay facts: Until Elon came along and ruined it, Green Bay was the only school to use the Phoenix as its mascot. That became the team name in 1970 after a schoolwide vote. But the alleged runner-up name, “Fighting Tomatoes”, would’ve been ever better. … This is a personal game for UVa head coach Tony Bennett, as Green Bay is both his and his father Dick Bennett’s alma mater.

Prediction: Virginia, 71-45. The Cavaliers have looked better and better since some of their pieces have returned to the lineup, and the win at Wisconsin on Wednesday night was big.

UAB (4-3) at No. 14/13 North Carolina (5-2), 6:00 PM, ESPNU

RIP, Beauregard T. Rooster.

RIP, Beauregard T. Rooster.

What to watch: UNC’s veterans. For the Tar Heels to have success this season, their older players must play better. In the blowout loss at Indiana, no one seemed able to step up and make a play. James Michael McAdoo struggled (4-of-15 shooting), but his three older teammates – Reggie Bullock, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald – combined to shoot 9-of-24 and 0-of-4 from three. Bullock and McDonald were just 3-of-14, and Bullock in particular has been a non-factor too much this year. He’s used to deferring, but he simply can’t anymore.

Random UAB facts: UAB’s mascot is a dragon named….Blaze. No really, that’s its name. But perhaps the best-loved mascot was Beauregard T. Rooster, who performed at games from 1979-92. The San Diego Chicken sued for some sort of infringement. Seriously.

Prediction: North Carolina, 81-67. UAB’s squad is coached by former North Carolina assistant Jerod Haase in his first year as a head coach. The Blazers have been competitive against some good teams, and they won’t be afraid. But UNC should win this game at least somewhat comfortably.

Wake Forest (3-3) at Richmond (5-2), 6:00 PM

The new and improved Richmond Spider. At least it has all its legs?

The new and improved Richmond Spider. At least it has all its legs?

What to watch: Can Wake Forest play any defense? All signs point to ‘no’. Wake’s opponents this year are shooting 46% and averaging 74.2 points (in low-possession games). Offensive juggernauts like William and Mary and Nebraska have torched the Deacons’ defense so far this season. So a team that actually is pretty good offensively in Richmond shouldn’t have many problems. But if Wake Forest wakes up defensively, this game could at least be close.

Random facts: The question everyone wants to know: why the Spiders? Well, because of legendary pitcher Puss Ellyson’s “lanky arms and stretching kick”, of course! Oh. Also, Richmond revamped the mascot’s appearance in 2011 because fans were complaining that the mascot didn’t have eight legs. They should have complained that it looked like a ladybug:

http://realtalkthemag.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Richmond-Spiders-Mascot.jpg

Prediction: Richmond, 72-58. Go ACC!

DECEMBER 2

Clemson (4-2) at South Carolina (5-2), 12:00 PM, ESPNU

Big Spur was initially South Carolina's mascot, but the tail was a hazard.

Big Spur was initially South Carolina’s mascot, but the tail was a hazard.

What to watch: Clemson’s newcomers. In the loss to Purdue, Clemson’s freshmen (Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper) and transfer DeMarcus Harrison combined to shoot 4-of-17 from the floor. Without Milton Jennings, an offensively-challenged Clemson squad can’t afford to have those guys disappear, even against a bad South Carolina team.

Random facts: The costumed rooster we see today, “Cocky”, is supposedly the son of the original, “Big Spur”. He was booed off the field in his first appearance because fans thought he was “not dignified enough”. Please, try to suppress your laughter. And South Carolina might have some of the most famous/successful mascot alums of all time (at least in the mascot world) – the original Cocky, John Routh, later became Billy the Marlin. Tommy Donavan went on to be Sir Purr for the Carolina Panthers.

Prediction: Clemson, 64-57. It wouldn’t shock me if Clemson dropped this one – they’ve lost to bad South Carolina teams before – but with the exception of the Purdue loss, Clemson has looked pretty good and competitive all year.

Mercer (3-4) at Florida State (4-2), 2:00 PM, ESPN3

http://mercercluster.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/toby1-1024x682.jpg

What to watch: Michael Snaer. As he goes, so go the Seminoles. In their losses, he shot 5-of-20 (2-of-8 from three). In wins, he shot 46.3% (11-of-21 from three) and averaged 17.5 points. If he struggles and his teammates do too, this is the type of game FSU can lose. But if they’ve come as far as they seem to have come since their season-opening South Alabama loss, they should win this one easily.

Random facts: Mercer originally became known as the Bears when they played Georgia in a football game in 1892. The Mercer players had handlebar mustaches and long hair. When they came out on the field, a spectator said, “Whence cometh that bear?”

Prediction: Florida State, 84-69. This Mercer team almost beat Wake Forest at Wake earlier this year. The key word is “almost”.

Maryland (5-1) vs. George Mason (5-2), 5:00 PM (Washington, DC)

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon forced freshman guard Jake Layman to cut off his awesome long hair.

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon forced freshman guard Jake Layman to cut off his awesome long hair. Don’t worry, Jake. He can’t block your shine.

What to watch: Can Maryland ever force turnovers? Whether it’s through a combination of bad luck, defensive strategies or really careful opponents, Maryland is forcing just 9.8 turnovers a game (6.8 a game in the last four). If they’re ever going to force any, now is the time: George Mason is turning it over on 22.3% of its possessions, according to Ken Pomeroy, which is 227th nationally. They can win without forcing them, and it’s probably just a statistical anomaly, but it’s bizarre to say the least.

Random facts: The leading scorer in George Mason history was Carlos Yates, who was killed at age 27 in a drug-related shooting. And just so everyone knows that people have been writing borderline-controversial columns for a long time now, this guy seemed to think he was asking for it?

Prediction: Maryland, 72-60. The Terrapins were impressive in their dismantling of Northwestern on the road last week. George Mason is a pretty good team, but not a great one, and they should make relatively easy work of Paul Hewitt’s squad.

 

ACC/Big Ten Challenge: 6-6
Last week: 15-9
Overall: 57-18

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

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