ACC Preview: Dec. 22

Clemson (6-4) vs. UTEP (4-5) (Honolulu), 2:30 PM, ESPNU

Clemson will open the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu against UTEP. The Tigers have held their last two opponents to a combined 32.3% shooting and just 42.5 points per game. Clemson almost certainly wouldn’t beat Kansas State (the likely winner of its first-round game), but it would be nice for Clemson to get a win over a UTEP team that’s a fairly even matchup. Clemson doesn’t need to end up in the loser’s bracket and face another slate of mediocre to bad teams; it won’t get better that way.

UTEP has won two in a row (against Southern and McNeese State). Still, they hung in there with UNLV in Las Vegas (65-54 loss) and at Oregon (64-59 loss).

Prediction: Clemson 59, UTEP 57

Random: The first version of mascot “Paydirt Pete” was a mild-mannered miner that looks like he walked out of a Disney movie (see above). The current version is slightly meaner looking, but this older one is awesome:

Florida State (8-3) at Florida (9-2), 7:00 PM, ESPNU

Albert and Alberta are the only male-female mascot pair in the SEC.

Florida State had just 16 turnovers in a win over Loyola Marymount on Sunday, and it was their second-fewest in a game this year. Every ACC team averages fewer than FSU season low in turnovers (15). And FSU is starting to do what they do every year – namely, chuck up a ton of three’s. They’re averaging 22.8 attempts in the last four games (making 28.6%) after averaging 14.4 in the first seven (making 34.7%). Valuing the basketball and taking good shots will be key for the Seminoles in their toughest game yet.

According to Ken Pomeroy, Florida has the No. 1 offense in the nation, which likely cancels out even FSU’s defensive prowess, particularly if the Seminoles can’t score. The Gators’ only losses have come on the road to top five teams (by seven at Ohio State and by four at Syracuse). Florida looks like a much better team right now.

Prediction: Florida 77, Florida State 63

Random: Florida used to use a live alligator as its mascot (from 1957-70), but Albert I was found beaten to death and Florida State students kidnapped Albert II. They went through so many alligators that they eventually had to stop using live ones – thankfully.

Northeastern (3-6) at NC State (7-4), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

The Northeastern mascot, Paws.

NC State won a game with execution down the stretch and a fantastic play by the C.J.’s (Williams to Leslie) to beat St. Bonaventure 67-65 on Tuesday. The Wolfpack held onto the ball (just 11 turnovers) and held the Bonnies to just 40.7% shooting, the second-best defensive performance by the Wolfpack this year.

After a brutal schedule so far, NC State finally gets some breathing room in its final four non-conference games, starting with Northeastern. The Huskies started the season with wins against Boston, Southern Illinois and St. John’s, Northeastern has dropped five straight.

Prediction: NC State 85, Northeastern 61

Random: Northeastern’s first Husky (a real, live dog) arrived on campus in 1927, and they had a live dog as the mascot until 1989.

Mercer (7-5) at Georgia Tech (7-4), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Why does the bear have red eyes?

Glen Rice, Jr. had 21 points on just ten shots, but Georgia Tech beat an awful Alabama A&M team by just 11 points on Monday. Head coach Brian Gregory was not pleased. “For the first time, we did not build on what we had done in the past.. … That was 40 minutes of something that did not resemble the type of basketball that we need to play.”

Mercer has been pretty good, losing by four at Belmont and by three at surging Seton Hall. If the transitive property is any indication, their 14-point loss to Georgia on Tuesday (who Georgia Tech beat by 12) means Georgia Tech should win.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 64, Mercer 57

Random: According to the Mercer website, the Bears nickname originated in 1892 during a football game at Georgia. The Mercer players had long hair and handlebar mustaches and as one of them ran down the field, a spectator supposedly said, “Whence cometh that bear?”

Eastern Michigan (5-6) at Virginia Tech (9-3), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

The Eastern Michigan Eagle. A boring mascot choice.

Virginia Tech has now beaten two decent teams (Campbell and North Florida) by double digits and are riding a four-game win streak. In a terrible ACC, the Hokies could win 10-11 games and at least give themselves a chance to get in the NCAA Tournament. And with Dorenzo Hudson finally playing well (15.5 ppg in the last two on 11-of-21 shooting), the Hokies could put themselves right back on the NCAA Tournament bubble again, which I’m sure will thrill head coach Seth Greenberg.

Eastern Michigan is not terrible, but against major-conference opponents (Michigan State, Syracuse and Purdue), the Eagles have averaged 41.3 points.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 70, Eastern Michigan 48

Random: Eastern Michigan was one of many schools that needed to change its Indian-related mascot (the Hurons), and did so in 1991. But a lot of alumni are displeased about the change from the Hurons to something so common (Eagles) and have been fighting to restore the nickname. They say they have the support of relevant Indian tribes.

Miami (6-4) at UNC-Charlotte (7-2), 7:30 PM

Norm the Niner got a makeover this year to look a little more intimidating (meaner eyebrows, bigger muscles).

Reggie Johnson returned against Florida Atlantic with 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks in 36 minutes. Two years ago he couldn’t have handled that many minutes at full health, much less in his first game coming off a knee injury, so that’s a great sign.

Johnson’s return has helped fellow big man Kenny Kadji; he had attempted one three-pointer in his first seven games and has shot 6-of-7 in the last three games. Johnson has been encouraging Kadji to work on that shot. From hurricanesports.com: “I know (Kadji’s) game … he’s an outstanding 15-foot three-point shooter so I know if teams double me, I can hit Kenny,” Johnson said.

Charlotte’s two losses were at Lamar (by 18) and at home to East Tennessee State (by 1). The 49ers have won five straight but their best win by far is Davidson (by 23). Miami is 0-3 on the road so far, but its tougher tests this season should be the difference.

Prediction: Miami 72, Charlotte 66

Random: “The 49ers” has always seemed like a random nickname for a North Carolina school. But when Bonnie Cone saved Charlotte from being shut down in 1949, that year – in addition to North Carolina’s own gold mining history – made the 49er the logical mascot. Although the old logo looks like a maniacal leprechaun:

Last week: 8-1

Season: 37-11

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