ACC Preview: Jan. 1

Monmouth (2-11) at UNC (12-2), 3:00 PM, ESPNU

Maybe Harrison Barnes just hates November and most of December. Either way, the Tar Heel star seems to have rebounded from an up-and-down start to his season. Whether he can keep it up all year remains to be seen, but in the last two games, he’s averaging 22 points on 59% shooting – more importantly, he’s shooting 61% from inside the arc. In the first 12 games, he shot 46% overall and 45.6% inside the arc. It started against Texas when he started getting to the basket more consistently and though he’s a good shooter, he has to do that.

And the most encouraging new dimension to Barnes’s game is his career-high five assists against Elon, giving him six assists and no turnovers in the last two games. Barnes has just seven turnovers in the last seven games (including Kentucky and Texas); he had 19 turnovers in Carolina’s first seven games. He’s making better decisions overall and appears to be more comfortable on the court. That’s a good sign for the Tar Heels as other offensive pieces like Dexter Strickland and John Henson are much improved from last season.

Former Tar Heel point guard King Rice is Monmouth’s first-year head coach, while another former point guard Derrick Phelps is an assistant (as is former Tar Heel Brian Reese). It’s got to eat away at Rice and Phelps, two of the best defensive point guards in Carolina history, that their Monmouth team is dead last nationally in effective field goal percentage defense. Ken Pomeroy also has Monmouth as the No. 329 team in the country overall and gives it a 0.3% chance of winning.

The Monmouth mascot, Shadow the Hawk.

Prediction: North Carolina 103, Monmouth 62

Random: The Monmouth costumed mascot is kind of strange, but the logo is very cool:

East Tennessee State (5-6) at Clemson (7-6), 4:00 PM

Why does a Tennessee school call itself the Buccaneers? It might have to do with The Goonies (see below).

This Milton Jennings situation is turning into a problem. He was suspended for the loss to Hawaii after head coach Brad Brownell and Jennings got into a shouting match on the sideline during the Southern Illinois game. Travis Sawchik reported that it happened after Jennings was benched following a turnover and failing to box out.

It’s too bad, because Jennings was starting to adapt to life off the bench, averaging 12 points against Alabama State and UTEP on 10-of-12 shooting. He played just 15 minutes against SIU before he was pulled and was just 1-of-5 shooting with three turnovers. He has 18.5% of Clemson’s turnovers this season in just 23.3 minutes per game.

Clemson’s offense is abysmal right now, and Jennings has to buy in so that he can help his team. So far, the McDonald’s All-American has been a colossal disappointment during what many thought could be his breakout year.

Clemson has to have this one, and the Tigers have had a week’s rest. If they don’t win this one, the wheels might fall off for good this season.

Prediction: Clemson 65, ETSU 64

Random: Per the school’s website, an underground river near the campus (Pirate Creek) was discovered and it was thought that the underground tunnels went all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. According to legend Jean Paul LeBucque, a buccaneer, found Pirate Creek and made it home so that he could hide his treasure. Geologists who found the waterway think that “the upheaval of the earth’s crust, which now blocks the channel, possibly killed LeBucque.” The legend of LeBucque led to the Buccaneer nickname.

No word on whether the Goonies went looking for the treasure before the cave collapsed.

Penn (6-7) at Duke (11-1), 5:00 PM, ESPNU

The better (and older) version of the Quaker mascot that looked like Ben Franklin.

Anytime Duke loses in the NCAA Tournament, everyone from talking heads to fans want  to blame it on a lack of depth. It hasn’t been a question of bodies, but Mike Krzyzewski likes a tighter rotation and he’s only going to play the people he trusts in big games. Right now, seven players are averaging 15 or more minutes and five average 25 or more (none average 30, which will change once conference play starts).

In Duke’s 110-70 win over Western Michigan, Duke got great minutes from freshmen Michael Gbinije (6 points, 16 minuetes) and Quinn Cook (16 points, eight assists and no turnovers in 23 minutes). Neither are in the 15-minute rotation right now and both have improved as of late, particularly Cook who has 20 assists and six turnovers on the year.

“I don’t know if it’s a rotation as much as don’t play tired. There is somebody who can play fresh. With certain minutes, I wouldn’t do that,” Krzyzewski said.  “I think you have to be ready to play all of them and then there may be a game where you play eight of them. It just depends. … We have 10 guys who are pretty good basketball players and you want a few of those guys to be outstanding basketball players, so there is separation. Depth is good, but it’s better if you have some separation with depth.”

This is the last chance for Cook and Gbinije to prove they belong in that rotation come ACC play. Tyler Thornton has started a few games primarily for his defense; Cook could take some of Thornton’s minutes if he continues to be consistent on the offensive end and improves on defense.

Prediction: Duke 93, Penn 75

Random: Penn is known as the Fighting Quakers despite the fact that the school is not a Quaker school and has no ties to Quakerism. Pennsylvania was founded as a safe haven for practicing Quakers and Philadelphia was known as the Quaker City, so Philadelphia sportswriters just took to calling Penn the Quakers in the late 1800’s.

The Quaker now has a huge Jay Leno chin and looks like this:


Last week: 14-2

Season: 52-16

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