ACC Preview: Dec. 20-21

NC State (6-4) vs. St. Bonaventure (5-4), 7:00 PM, Rochester, NY (Blue Cross Arena)

St. Bonaventure's mascot from 1927 through the mid-90's was the Brown Indian. Yes, really.

NC State’s power conference opponents have scored 0.985 points per possession while the non-majors have scored 0.82. NC State’s offensive production has been steady: 0.91 vs. major-conference foes and 0.92 against non-majors. It’s the defense that’s letting them down. While State’s schedule has been tougher than most, its 0.906 points per possession allowed is the worst in the ACC.

A good sign for an already good NC State offense has been the emergence of C.J. Williams, who averaged 21.3 points in the last three games on 57% shooting (7-of-18 from three).

The Pack faces St. Bonaventure in Rochester rather than at the Reilly Center (which has a 5,780-seat capacity). But this will not be an easy game. (For a more comprehensive preview, check out Backing the Pack.) If the Wolfpack comes into this game with a lack of confidence or focus, they will lose. But the Bonnies don’t have enough offense to exploit State’s defensive woes.

Prediction: NC State 69, St. Bonaventure 65

Random: When St. Bonaventure changed its mascot, it went to a sort of weird imitation of the Philly Fanatic called the Bona Fanatic. It was so disliked that students actually attacked the mascot, injuring the people inside the suit. It barely survived a year before changed to the Bona-Wolf.

The universally-loathed Bona Fanatic.

DECEMBER 21st

Texas (9-2) at North Carolina (10-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN2

Texas's first mascot was not a steer, but in fact, a dog named "Piggy" (see below).

Carolina has lost two straight to Texas (2010 and 2011). Dexter Strickland and Tyler Zeller each averaged 15 points in those two games. If Carolina wants to answer questions about their toughness, beating Texas would go a long way. The Longhorns have out-rebounded Carolina 100-78 in the past two matchups (45-25 on the offensive glass).

Texas was just +0.7 in rebounding margin in its first seven games this year; it is +16.8 in the last four. The Tar Heels out-rebounded Nicholls 72-26 (!) on Monday, but a lot of that was their length and athleticism (plus missing a lot of shots). Carolina hasn’t faced this good a rebounding team since Michigan State, which out-rebounded Carolina 49-34. That can’t happen against Texas, a team that can make shots.

Texas was allowing more points than most Rick Barnes’ teams do to start the year, beating Rhode Island 100-90 before losing 100-95 in overtime to Oregon State. The Longhorns then had an epic collapse against NC State; Texas led 65-47 with 11:43 to play and surrendered 28-2 Wolfpack run. Texas has won seven straight since.

Prediction: North Carolina 83, Texas 75

Random: Texas’s first mascot was a pit bulldog named “Piggy”. The dog went to classes with students and supposedly growled at the mention of rival Texas A&M. It died after being hit by a car. It’s been Bevo (a Longhorn steer) since 1916. According to Wikipedia, the first Bevo met an unfortunate fate – he was eaten at the football banquet.

Virginia (9-1) at Seattle (2-7), 10:00 PM

The Redhawk: Makes you want to play Angry Birds.

A win at Oregon finally got the attention of the AP voters, who ranked Virginia 24th. It’s the first time the Cavaliers have been ranked since November 2007.

Virginia has allowed its last three opponents to shoot 50% or better from two-point range, and three of the last four to shoot 44% or better overall. But even in its low-possession style, it’s amazing how often Virginia forces turnovers (their 20.5% loss of ball forced is second in the ACC). Virginia trails only FSU in that category and in points per possession allowed (0.695).

Seattle hasn’t won since November 28th when they beat Evergreen State. They have lost five straight, three to pretty good teams (Stanford, Harvard and Utah State). But Virginia looks better than all three of those teams.

Prediction: Virginia 75, Seattle 50

Random: This was another school where the mascot was originally offensive (Maroons until 1938, Chieftains until 2000). The Chieftains nickname was to honor the college’s namesake, Chief Seattle.

Chief Seattle.

UNC-Wilmington (3-6) at Wake Forest (7-4), 7:00 PM, theACC.com

Sammy C. Hawk.

Wake Forest looked more like last year’s version against Gardner-Webb, letting the Bulldogs hang around and only winning by eight. Wake turned it over 15 times in a low-possession game (their most since November 16th). According to Wake Forest’s game notes, Sunday marked the first time Wake had out-rebounded anyone this season (35-34). Ty Walker’s return is already helping, though (he had nine boards in just 23 minutes).

UNC-Wilmington lost its first five games of the season (four by a combined 19 points) before winning two in a row at Illinois State and at Liberty. But VCU blew them out on Saturday, 87-64.

Prediction: Wake Forest 79, UNC-Wilmington 67

Random: UNC-W’s mascot Sammy C. Hawk had a blog. On his profile, it says he is evidently a Virgo and his occupation is “Fierce Intimidator”.

Sacred Heart (6-7) at Boston College (4-7), 7:00 PM

Sacred Heart's Big Red the Pioneer: Exhibit A as to why mascots scare children.

Hard to know what to make of Boston College’s two-game winning streak. The Eagles’ opponents (Stony Brook and Bryant) were bad, but BC beat them by 35 points combined. BC’s first two wins were by a combined six points. And the Eagles may have a go-to scorer emerging as freshman Lonnie Jackson won ACC Rookie of the Week for his 26 points (7-of-11 from three) against Bryant.

Sacred Heart is not as bad as those teams, but still bad. The Pioneers have lost four of their last five to Central Connecticut State, Yale, Holy Cross and Notre Dame (by 39).

Prediction: Boston College 66, Sacred Heart 59

Random: While Indian mascots/nicknames have understandably been fazed out in college sports, evidently, “pioneer” mascots have come under fire. The University of Denver’s mascot Denver Boone was retired after 30 years due to “a lack of gender inclusiveness” and its offensiveness to Native Americans.

Last week: 8-1

Season: 32-11

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