Jan. 2 ACC Previews
No. 1 Duke (11-0) vs. Davidson (7-5), 7:00 PM, ESPN3 (Charlotte)
What to watch: Duke’s three-point defense. Duke’s had some dicey moments in the past two games against Elon and Santa Clara, and all those moments have come courtesy of their opponents hitting three-pointers. Those teams combined to make 16-of-45 (35.6%) over the last two games after Duke held opponents to 29.7% in the first nine games. Davidson will have to hit three’s (a lot of them) to keep this game close, and the Wildcats are making 38.8% from beyond the arc this year.
Mason Plumlee. Not many teams have anyone that can guard the 6-10 big man, who’s playing as well as anyone in the country right now, but Davidson certainly doesn’t have more than one (6-10 Jake Cohen). Duke needs to feed Plumlee early and often and exploit that advantage. If there’s anything to nitpick with Plumlee’s game recently, it’s that he’s made just 21-of-37 free throws (56.8%) over the last four games, but he’s shooting so well from the field that it really hasn’t mattered much, and Davidson only has so many fouls to give anyway.
Random Davidson facts: Davidson earned the Wildcat nickname back in 1917 when just 22 football players traveled to Atlanta to play Auburn, a team that had outscored its first six opponents 141-6. Davidson was just 2-4, but somehow they won 21-7. Atlanta sportswriters dubbed them the Wildcats because of their “ferocity”. Davidson had a live wildcat until the late 1960s, and they used to feed it by putting live chickens in its cage. Can’t imagine why that wouldn’t fly today.
Prediction: Duke, 87-72. Davidson might keep it close for awhile – it’s pretty clear the Blue Devils are ready for ACC play at this point, and Bob McKillop is a good coach – but Duke should win this one relatively comfortably.
UT-Chattanooga (5-8) at Georgia Tech (9-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Robert Carter, Jr. The freshmen was inconsistent to start the year and had just two double-digit scoring games in the first seven. But he’s averaging 13.8 points on 63% shooting in the last four games to go with 7.8 rebounds. Carter gives Georgia Tech yet another good post player, but he can shoot from three and his diverse skill set is something Georgia Tech doesn’t really have right now anywhere else on the floor. The Yellow Jackets need all the offense they can get.
Random UT-Chattanooga facts: Now, this is how you transition from an offensive Indian mascot to a real one. Chattanooga was known as the Moccasins, but in 1996, they had to change their name. They shortened it to “Mocs” and a mockingbird is their mascot. The mockingbird head is shaped like the state of Tennessee. Yeah, it’s kind of a lame mascot. But hey, at least it makes sense and preserves the history of the old one.
Prediction: Georgia Tech, 77-54. The Yellow Jackets are starting to click, and Chattanooga is awful.
Xavier (6-5) at Wake Forest (6-5), 7:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: The Wake Forest defense. To say Xavier has been struggling offensively as of late would be putting it mildly, but the Musketeers have the talent to be able to turn it around. And Wake has had issues of its own defensively. Wake’s opponents are shooting 44% from the floor, and the Deacons have allowed 48% shooting in five losses.
The foul line. Wake’s free-throw rate, per Ken Pom, is second-best in the country. And it’s a good thing, too: the Deacons score over a quarter of their points from the foul line. But Xavier isn’t letting opponents get to the line much. Wake Forest has won just two games this year when it hasn’t made at least 20 free throws.
Random Xavier facts: Yes, Xavier has a Musketeer mascot named D’Artagnan (so creative). But the most famous mascot is the Blue Blob, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s beloved around campus despite having absolutely no meaning whatsoever.
And then Xavier head coach Chris Mack involved the Blue Blob in this very regrettable “Call Me Maybe” parody:
Prediction: Xavier, 65-59. Wake has struggled offensively against athletic opponents this year, and this game should be no different.
Florida State (8-4) at Auburn (5-7), 7:00 PM, Fox Sports South
What to watch: How far has Florida State’s defense come? Because Auburn’s offense is terrible. Florida State is so young that head coach Leonard Hamilton hasn’t been able to install all the defensive looks he usually uses. (This great piece by Michael Rogner from the Run The Floor blog takes a look at how gradually, Hamilton has trusted this team more and more defensively.) After holding just three of its first seven opponents to below 40% shooting, three of its last four opponents have shot below 40% (FSU has won four straight).
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Auburn isn’t great defensively, but they force a decent amount of turnovers (23%) and Florida State will turn it over against teams that aren’t good at forcing them. FSU has averaged 13.3 turnovers during this four-game winning streak after averaging 17 turnovers in the first eight. FSU tends to turn it over in bunches when it does happen, and they can’t do that in a road game against an opponent that won’t go away.
Random Auburn facts: The War Eagle has been explained before, so we’ll look at Aubie the Tiger’s origins. He was only around as a cartoon on the cover of the game programs for nearly 20 years starting in 1959. In 1979, they made him a real costume based on the older game programs and it’s been winning mascot national titles ever since. Auburn may or may not have had a live tiger mascot for at least one game.
Prediction: Florida State, 73-62. It would be way too predictable for Florida State to inexplicably lose this game for the second time in the last three years, right?
La Salle (9-2) at Miami (8-3), 9:00 PM, RSN
What to watch: Can Miami beat a decent team without one of its starters? Before the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas, Miami’s one loss – early, to Florida Gulf Coast – was explained away by the absence of guard Durand Scott. Then, just before the Christmas tournament began, center Reggie Johnson broke his thumb and he will miss six weeks. The Hurricanes promptly lost both games. They’re going to be without him for a good chunk of ACC play and may lose some games during that time. After losses to Arizona and Indiana State (the former a blowout), they can’t afford to drop a home game to La Salle at this point if they want to make the NCAA Tournament.
Random La Salle facts: The Explorers are so named because of a Philadelphia sportswriter’s mistake (yeah, yeah): he thought the university was named after french explorer Sieur de La Salle. It’s named after St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle. Well, at least they have a cool mascot anyway. And you can’t think of explorers without thinking of conquering indigenous peoples, which is at least a little intimidating. Recently, though, they did try to make the explorer look like a superhero instead.
Prediction: Miami, 66-58. At some point, Miami’s going to have to win without some of its players in the lineup. Their other players are good enough to do it.
Last week: 10-4