Weekend Previews: Conference Play Begins!

No. 5 Duke (12-2) at Georgia Tech (7-7), 12:00 PM, ESPNU

Austin Rivers and the Duke guards struggled to contain the dribble against Temple.

Overview: Duke is coming off of a 78-73 loss to Temple in Philadelphia. Georgia Tech ended the non-conference with three straight losses to Mercer, Fordham and Alabama (73-48). Duke has won three straight and 27 of the last 30 over Georgia Tech (11 of 13 on the road). Duke is 0-2 on the road but Georgia Tech is 0-2 at Phillips Arena and 5-2 in games played in Atlanta.

Stat to watch: Turnovers. Georgia Tech’s last three opponents (all of which beat them) have averaged 21 points off of 16.3 Georgia Tech turnovers; points off turnovers accounted for 30% of their points.  Duke has averaged 16.8 points off of 14.7 turnovers forced. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, is forcing just 11.7 turnovers per game (15.5% loss of ball) and is scoring 12.0 ppg off of those turnovers. The Yellow Jackets haven’t had more than 20 points off turnovers all year and have averaged just 10.8 in their last 12 games. Duke has struggled with turnovers at times, averaging 13.7 per game (16.6% loss of ball, fifth in the ACC). But opponents have averaged just 11.9 points off of their turnovers and Temple had to score 21 off of 16 Duke turnovers to win.

Key players: Austin Rivers (Duke) and Glen Rice, Jr. (Georgia Tech). Both Rivers and Rice have this in common: no one on either team can guard them. But Rice has been awful of late, scoring single digits in three of his last five games (including none in a loss at Fordham) and averaging 2.5 points in the last two games on 2-of-10 shooting (1-of-6 from three). Rivers is coming off arguably his worst game against Temple. He had 12 points but he shot just 3-of-11 from the floor (a season worst 1-of-8 from two) and had two assists to three turnovers. Against Duke’s major conference opponents (plus Temple), Rivers has shot 38.6% and 44.9% in all other games. He’s going one-on-one too much and all his teammates tend to stand around and watch. Georgia Tech is terrible, but they are hard to score against. If Duke has issues in this game, it will be because there is more standing around and watching.

Prediction: Duke 79, Georgia Tech 60

Virginia Tech (11-3) at Wake Forest (9-5), 12:00 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3

Dorian Finney-Smith has struggled with his shooting, but has averaged 8.2 rebounds.

Overview: Virginia Tech has won six in a row, most recently at Oklahoma State on New Year’s Eve. Wake Forest lost to Wofford on January 2nd without C.J. Harris, snapping a three-game win streak. Virginia Tech has won five straight and eight of the last ten against Wake since joining the ACC. 

Stat to watch: Free-throw attempts. Each team has traditionally relied heavily on getting to the foul line. Wake is averaging 24.8 attempts and has scored over a quarter of their points from the charity stripe. The fewest free throws Wake has attempted 20 or more eight times and 30 or more three times. Virginia Tech’s opponents have attempted 18 foul shots per game. The Hokies are attempting 21 free throws a game and making 75 percent of them. In the last six games, they have shot 81% after shooting 71% in the first eight games. Wake’s opponents are attempting 19.1 free throws per game.

Key players: C.J. Harris (Wake) and Dorian Finney-Smith (Va. Tech).Harris sat out Wake’s loss to Wofford with a groin injury, but he is expected to play. And Wake needs him: even missing a game, he has a fourth of Wake’s points. Harris has struggled in three career games against Virginia Tech, averaging 9.7 points on 9-of-23 shooting. If he struggles again, Virginia Tech will win easily. And they may anyway. Finney-Smith is just the kind of piece that Virginia Tech’s offense needs. The willowy 6-7 forward has rebounded consistently; he has seven or more rebounds in 10 games and four double-digit efforts. He has struggled shooting (35% overall and 2-of-11 in the last two games), but Wake Forest shouldn’t put up much resistance defensively if he wants to get back in rhythm.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 83, Wake Forest 72

Boston College (5-9) at No. 3/4 North Carolina (13-2), 2:30 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3

Overview: Boston College has lost two straight to Harvard (by 21) and Rhode Island (in double overtime). Of six Eagles averaging 20 or more minutes, five are freshmen. North Carolina rolled over cupcakes in four of its last five games and has won seven straight. The Tar Heels have won a record 26 straight in the Smith Center. Carolina freshman James Michael McAdoo sprained his left ankle in practice on Wednesday and is doubtful.

Stat to watch: Possessions. The only way the Eagles have any sort of a chance is to slow this game down. Last year, BC allowed Carolina its highest points per possession of the year (1.2 in a 106-74 win) and lowest (0.66 in a 48-46 Carolina win) in the same season. That’s because BC tried to play with Carolina in the first meeting (96 possessions) and set the game back decades with a snail-like pace in the rematch (67 possessions). It was the lowest-possession game for Carolina all season (73) and BC’s 67 were the fewest by an opponent.

Key players: Matt Humphrey, BC and Reggie Bullock, UNC. Humphrey is BC’s lone upperclassmen seeing significant playing time, and though he’s now coming off the bench, he’s the Eagles’ most potent offensive threat. Bullock made 6-of-9 shots (4-of-7 3’s) in Carolina’s blowout win at BC last year and just 1-of-4 shots (0-of-1 3’s) in the narrow win at home. This year, he’s averaging 9.3 points and shooting 41% from three (and 66% from two).

Prediction: North Carolina 86, Boston College 55

Florida State (9-5) at Clemson (8-6), 4:00 PM, ESPN2

As with all of Clemson's games this year, they need Andre Young to have a big day.

Overview: Florida State stumbled down the stretch of its non-conference schedule, getting blown out at Florida and losing at home to Princeton in triple overtime.  Clemson edged East Tennessee State on New Years’ Day, but went 1-2 in the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas with losses to UTEP and Hawaii. FSU is 0-2 o the road (at Florida and Michigan State) but Clemson is 4-3 at home with losses to College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina and South Carolina.

Stat to watch: Each team’s turnovers. Both teams have struggled with hanging onto the ball: Clemson is 9th in loss of ball (17.4%) while FSU is 12th (21.6%). Their defenses both thrive on forcing turnovers as FSU is 2nd with 19.9% loss of ball forced and Clemson is 3rd (19.3%). Florida State thrives on those turnovers (16.9 per game forced), converting them into 17.4 points. Clemson’s opponents have managed just 11.3 points off of 13.1 Clemson turnovers per game. But Clemson hasn’t capitalized on turnovers, either: the Tigers have managed 12.4 points per game on 14.1 forced.

Key players: Michael Snaer (Florida State) and Andre Young (Clemson). Snaer’s last two games have reminded everyone why the junior was so highly regarded out of high school: he has averaged 20.5 points on 13-of-25 shooting. He’s been consistent scoring-wise this year with 13.6 points per game and hitting double figures in 11 of 14 games. But for FSU to be a top-three team in the league, he has to become unstoppable. And he’s capable. Andre Young of Clemson is likely exhausted from carrying Clemson offensively this year. And for the Tigers to have a chance, he’ll have to do it again: Clemson has won three of the last four meetings and Young has averaged 12.8 points and hit 11-of-30 three’s in those four games.

Prediction: Florida State 64, Clemson 57

Miami (9-4) at No. 21/23 Virginia (13-1), 6:00 PM, ESPNU

Kenny Kadji has been fantastic for Miami in the last few games.

Overview: Virginia has won 11 in a row (its longest winning streak since 1992-93) and is 13-1 for the first time since 1981-82. Miami has won four in a row, all four since the return of center Reggie Johnson from a foot injury. These Miami-Virginia games always seem to be close, and this one will be no exception.

Stat to watch: Miami’s three-point percentage. Virginia allows just 26.8% from three, 2nd in the ACC and 8th nationally. Miami has made 39% of its three-pointers, 2nd in the league and 27th nationally. Michigan is the best three-point shooting team Virginia has faced (37.3%) while the best three-point defense Miami has faced is No. 39 Massachusetts (29.5%). Virginia allowed Michigan to shoot 10-of-22 from three (a season-high) and Miami shot 8-of-17 (47.1%) against Massachusetts.

Key players: Mike Scott (Virginia) and Kenny Kadji (Miami). Scott has been on a tear, averaging 16 points on 62% shooting to go with 9.0 rebounds. But he hasn’t faced the kind of big men he will see on Saturday. Kenny Kadji has given opposing big men problems on both ends, and he could do that again: the junior transfer is averaging 18 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks the last four games. Scott didn’t play in the two losses to Miami last year, but he was 0-of-7 in a loss at Miami in 2010.

Prediction: Virginia 65, Miami 62

Sunday, 1/8:

Maryland (10-3) at NC State (11-4), 6:00 PM, ESPNU

Terrell Stoglin was asked to carry Maryland early in the season, and he obliged.

Overview: Maryland has won seven straight games (albeit some squeakers) against bad teams. N.C. State has won five in a row since losing to Syracuse by an average of 19.6 ppg. Maryland has won nine straight against N.C. State; the Wolfpack’s last win was February 7, 2006. Maryland leads the all-time series, 76-72.

Stat to watch: Defense: Will there be any? N.C. State and Maryland are 11th and 12th respectively in points per possession allowed and loss of ball percentage forced. N.C. State allows 41.7% shooting (38% from three) and 69 points a game. Maryland has allowed 43% shooting (32% from three) and 68.1 points per game.

Key players: Terrell Stoglin (Maryland) and Richard Howell (N.C. State).Stoglin carried Maryland in its stretch without Alex Len and Pe’Shon Howard, scoring nearly a third of their points. He’s been just as good since, averaging 20 in the last three games and 21.2 on the season on 43% shooting. Stoglin tore up the Wolfpack in College Park last year with 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting to go with nine assists and one turnover. He had just nine points in the ACC Tournament rematch. Howell has really come on for N.C. State, averaging 13.8 points and 13.8 rebounds in State’s last four games on 57% shooting. Besides Len, Maryland doesn’t have a big man that can guard Howell one-on-one and Len likely isn’t ready for that, either.

Prediction: NC State 82, Maryland 73

Last week: 6-3

Season: 61-19


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