ACC February 25 Previews

Virginia Tech (15-13, 4-9) at Duke (24-4, 11-2), 12:00 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3

Ryan Kelly has been doing the dirty work for Duke in recent games.

All signs point to an epic showdown pitting Duke and North Carolina in the season finale, and Duke only has to beat Virginia Tech and Wake Forest to hold up their end of the bargain. Virginia Tech will fight hard, but at this point, the Hokies will be fortunate to make the NIT.

Key to the game: Ryan Kelly. Duke’s junior forward has quietly improved into one of Duke’s most critical players, and his line at Florida State wasn’t as good as his floor game. He made some critical plays when his team needed them the most, and he had some fantastic passes to set up his teammates for easy scores or free throws. Duke’s junior class (except Mason Plumlee) had been largely absent until recently, when Kelly, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins have all stepped up their games. Duke needs them to continue to do that because there’s not a ton of experience elsewhere on the roster.

Random stat: Virginia Tech hasn’t played as well as it could at times, but the Hokies have had 10 of their 13 ACC games decided by five points or fewer and are 4-6 in those games. Their only double-digit losses have come to North Carolina, Duke and Miami. If there’s a good sign for the Hokies, it’s that they’ve won three of their last five decided by five points or less after starting ACC play 1-5 in such games. But just one of those wins have come on the road (at Virginia).

Prediction: Duke 76, Virginia Tech 59


Boston College (8-19, 3-10) at Wake Forest (12-15, 3-10), 1:00 PM, RSN/ESPN3

Steve Donahue's young Boston College team is incredibly well-coached.

I wrote at the beginning of conference play that if Boston College head coach Steve Donahue won five ACC games, I’d vote for him as Coach of the Year. He’s still wins two away but has Wake Forest and Georgia Tech as two of his remaining games. Watching BC play, they’re obviously well-coached but execution can only take you so far: experience and talent matter. Wake Forest has been pretty much the exact opposite of BC and yet they’re more talented, which is why they handled the Eagles in Chestnut Hill earlier this year. In theory, they should again.

Key to the game: Boston College’s three-point shooting. The Eagles aren’t going to win many games if they don’t hit three’s. And they’ve hit 10-of-33 in their last two games, losing both by double digits. Last time against Wake, they hit just 4-of-21 3’s (19%, their lowest percentage in ACC play). Maybe with a few days to rest, they’ll be able to knock some down in Winston-Salem. But Wake’s had time off too and it’s clear they’re still mentally engaged.

Random stat: Believe it or not, there are scenarios that exist for BC to get an eight-seed in the ACC Tournament (courtesy of BC Interruption). If you are so inclined, click here.

Prediction: Wake Forest 69, Boston College 59


Maryland (16-11, 6-7) at Georgia Tech (9-18, 2-11), ACC Network split/ESPN3

James Padgett (right) made huge plays for Maryland late in the comeback win over Miami.

Maryland still has an outside shot at a top-four seed in the ACC Tournament, but with games against Virginia and Carolina remaining, it’s not likely. Still, the Terrapins need to build on their positive momentum after a huge comeback win over Miami and they have to beat Georgia Tech, who has looked awful lately.

Key to the game: James Padgett’s development. With Alex Len and Ashton Pankey going through freshmen inconsistencies, Padgett has been perhaps the most consistent big man for Maryland this year. Padgett is 17th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and in the last three games, he is averaging 12.3 points per game. In Maryland’s ACC wins, Padgett has averaged 12.2 points in Maryland’s six ACC wins and 6.6 in ACC losses. The Terrapins really need him to develop.

Random stat: Georgia Tech is now averaging 50.2 points per game at home in ACC play. Since their home opener against Duke when they scored 74 points, Georgia Tech has not scored more than 52 points and has averaged 45.4 points in that span.

Prediction: Maryland 66, Georgia Tech 49


NC State (18-10, 7-6) at Clemson (14-13, 6-7), ACC Network split/ESPN3

NC State's Scott Wood has had a frustrating last three games.

As crazy as it may sound, this game could help determine fourth place in the conference standings. All five of the teams fighting for that spot (with records between 8-5 and 6-7) have tough remaining schedules. If NC State wants to have any shot at an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, it likely has to win out. Clemson is playing better lately and it’s a tough place to play, so it won’t be easy.

Keys to the game: Closing strong. Taking out a 22-point loss to North Carolina, Clemson’s ACC losses have all come by seven points or less. Clemson has just really struggled at making key plays late in close games, whether it be making foul shots or making a big basket when they really need it. NC State, on the other hand, is 2-2 in games decided by five points or less in league play (6-3 overall). But the Wolfpack’s confidence has really been hurt with its three-game losing streak, and that could turn the tide in Clemson’s favor, particularly at home.

Scott Wood. NC State’s junior sharp-shooter has been anything but lately, making just 3-of-22 shots over the last three games (all losses) and just 3-of-15 three’s. He seems visibly frustrated, not to mention exhausted. But NC State needs him: he has averaged 16.7 points in State’s seven ACC wins and just 8.3 in losses. Maybe with a few days off, he will have his legs back under him.

Random stat: While four of Clemson’s six league wins have come against the bottom three teams in the league (Wake Forest and Georgia Tech), Their other two wins have come against the No. 3 team (FSU) and No. 4 team (Virginia). And of NC State’s five wins, six have come against the bottom three teams.

Prediction: N.C. State 67, Clemson 65


North Carolina (24-4, 11-2) at Virginia (21-6, 8-5), 4:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3

John Henson had 10 rebounds against Virginia in the first meeting this year.

Charlottesville has traditionally been a house of horrors for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels showed impressive focus on the road at NC State on Tuesday. Virginia had a nice road win as well but the Cavaliers are extremely hobbled right now. Virginia doesn’t match up well with Carolina, but that doesn’t always matter in hostile road environments.

Keys to the game: North Carolina on the offensive glass. The Tar Heels dominated the backboards against a Virginia team that typically doesn’t allow opponents to do that, and you’d better believe UVA head coach Tony Bennett will emphasize that to his team in the rematch. Virginia is very difficult to score on, particularly on a first-shot opportunity, but Carolina is starting to take better shots as opposed to just forcing up looks and rebounding their misses as they did against Virginia.

Virginia’s three-point shooting. North Carolina is going to give up some open looks from three, but the Cavaliers have to knock them down. Lately they’ve been doing that, hitting 15-of-35 three’s (42.9%) in their last two games. Prior to that, Virginia had made just 48-of-171 three’s (28.1%) in league play. Carolina’s ACC opponents have made 33.8% of their three’s but the two teams that have beaten them in league play (Florida State and Duke) had to combine to shoot 26-of-63 (41.3%) from beyond the arc. Virginia may not have to make that many, but they’ll have to make more than they did in Chapel Hill (3-of-16, 18.8 percent).

Random stat: North Carolina posted its third-highest offensive efficiency number this season (per Ken Pomeroy) against NC State on Tuesday. But the Tar Heels allowed an offensive efficiency of 110.9, the fifth-highest it has allowed this year (the other four higher offensive efficiencies allowed by Carolina resulted in losses). It’s a big swing for NC State, which posted a 77.2 rating in Chapel Hill, its lowest of the year.

Prediction: North Carolina 68, Virginia 59


Last week: 10-3

Season: 120-41 (56-22 ACC)


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