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ACC Basketball 2012-13 Season Previews, Part 2


Michael: [discussing evidence that links George Sr. to Saddam Hussein] If this information was so damaging, why didn’t you just shred it?

George Sr.: Well, Saddam owed us money.

Michael: And you didn’t realize that he wouldn’t pay?

George Sr.: Your mom had a good feeling about him.


Narrator: Gob, getting the feeling he could not return a completely frozen dead dove to a pet store and get the full refund the felt he was entitled to, decided to join him.

Georgia Tech is still paying former head coach Paul Hewitt, who they fired in March 2011. Hewitt is now at George Mason. But he managed to negotiate a $7.2 million buyout over five years. There have been major attendance problems in Atlanta, although the hope is that the new arena, McCamish Pavilion (opening Friday), helps reenergize the fans. And the team is certainly as bad as it ever was under Hewitt. Second-year head coach Brian Gregory has a lot of work to do.

2012 record/results: 11-20 overall, 4-12 ACC. Georgia Tech’s best win (per Ken Pomeroy’s rankings) was against NC State, which finished 35th. Naturally, the ACC eats its own.

Reason for optimism: Big men Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey are juniors now, and both ended their 2012 playing well. Miller averaged 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in Tech’s final ten games while Holsey added 10.7 points and 5.7 boards in that span. Last year’s leading scorer Glen Rice, Jr.’s departure is probably a good thing for this team, and they have some really good freshmen.

Reason for pessimism: Even without Rice, Georgia Tech returns over 80% of its scoring. But the Yellow Jackets averaged just 60.2 points last year. They have a senior point guard returning in Mfon Udofia, but that’s not necessarily a good thing: he had 88 assists to 85 turnovers last year. Jason Morris and Brandon Reed, Georgia Tech’s other two likely backcourt starters, didn’t shoot well either.


Tobias Fünke: Do you see me more as the respected dramatic actor or more of the beloved comic actor?

Carl Weathers: Whoa, whoa, whoa. There’s still plenty of meat on that bone. Now you take this home, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato. Baby, you’ve got a stew going.

Tobias Fünke: Yes, that’s fine, but I would like to focus on my acting, Mr. Weathers. I did give you my last $1,100.

Carl Weathers: Let me tell you a little story about acting. I was doing this Showtime movie, Hot Ice with Anne Archer, never once touched my per diem. I’d go to Craft Service, get some raw veggies, bacon, Cup-A-Soup… baby, I got a stew going.

Tobias Fünke: [pause] I think I’d like my money back.


George Sr.: [via satellite from prison] Sorry, some of my students are arguing the significance of the shankbone on the seder plate. But we do not – not wag our genitals at one another to make a point.

None of these quotes really fit Maryland this year, but Carl Weathers could really make an interesting stew with Maryland’s mixture of returning players, the late addition of Xavier transfer Dez Wells and some very talented freshmen. Okay, that’s a stretch.

2012 record/results: 17-15 overall, 6-10 ACC. Maryland deserves a special shout-out for not embarrassing the league in the non-conference last year. Their worst loss was at home to Illinois, a team that started 15-3 before losing 13 of its final 15.

Reason for optimism: Dez Wells. The sophomore averaged 9.8 points per game at Xavier, but he was just a freshman. By all accounts, he’s been dominant so far this year. Losing last year’s leading scorer Terrell Stoglin might seem like a big hole, but Stoglin had become more of a hindrance than a help by the end of last season. Sophomore Nick Faust hit double figures in nine of Maryland’s final 11 games. Seven-footer Alex Len has put on 30 pounds. Everyone seems ready to take the next step up from last year while incorporating a class of very talented freshmen into the mix.

Reason for pessimism: Is there enough talent around Wells for Maryland to be an NCAA Tournament team? Faust was fairly steady for a freshman, but Len was all over the place last year, and he was more down than up. This is not meant as a joke or sarcasm in any way: Stoglin literally took such a huge percentage of Maryland’s shots (37.8% when he was on the floor, per Pomeroy) that it could be difficult for his teammates to get used to being more involved. And while this year’s freshmen are good, they’re still freshmen.


Gob: My gut is telling me no… but my gut is also very hungry.


Lucille: What’s a Forget-Me-Now?

Gob: They’re pills that create a sort of temporary forgettingness. So if somebody finds out how you do a trick, you just give ’em one of these, and they forget the whole thing. It’s a mainstay of the magician’s toolkit, like how clowns always have a rag soaked in ether.

Every ACC reporter ever has been sucked into the Miami vortex. And we’ve all been burned by it, too. Yet every year, Forget-Me-Now pills cause some of us to slot them them too high – this year, it was fifth. Maybe this is the year. The Hurricanes have already shown why trusting them is dangerous by losing an exhibition game at home. Can Miami be elite? We’ll believe it when we see it.

2012 record/results: 20-13 overall, 9-7 ACC, NIT (L 2nd Round to Minnesota). Miami saved its worst for last, losing six of its final 11 games, including a 78-60 home loss in the NIT to Minnesota that was not as close as even that score would indicate. Miami’s best win over anyone not int he ACC last season, per Pomeroy’s rankings, was against No. 72 Massachusetts. Their six non-conference losses were all to teams inside the top 90 of Pomeroy’s rankings out of conference: but they were still losses.

Reason for optimism: There are always reasons for optimism when it comes to Miami basketball. This year, Miami returns most of its best players from a year ago, including mainstay Durand Scott and starting big men Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson. Speedy point guard Shane Larkin ended the year on a good note, averaging 12 points and 2.7 assists in the final three games. They have a ton of depth in all the important areas.

Reason for pessimism: From a personnel perspective? There aren’t any. Miami is capable of being as good as any other team in this conference, particularly considering the Duke, North Carolina and Florida State rosters this year. But will they? Despite having Kadji and Johnson, the Miami guards tend to ignore them: in Miami’s final two postseason losses last year, Johnson and Kadji combined for 24 shots in 85 minutes.


Tobias Fünke: Boy, I sure feel like a Mary without a Peter and a Paul.


Lindsay: [saying how stress can lead to drugs] … like the stress you put on George Michael, even when he gets an ‘A’.

Michael: *Minus*, and he knows an ‘A’ gets him ice cream.

North Carolina lost a lot to last year’s NBA draft, including over 66% of its scoring and four out of five starters. There’s enough young talent and veteran steadiness on this team for it to have a good year. But in Chapel Hill, expectations don’t change much – NCAA Tournament or bust – but even North Carolina fans understand that this team’s ceiling isn’t as high as past UNC teams. Rarely are there “freebie” years like this one.

2012 record/results: 32-6 overall, 14-2 ACC, No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament, Elite 8 (L to No. 2 seed Kansas). Obviously, Kentucky was playing very well last year and might have beaten North Carolina again anyway. But injuries cut Carolina’s title run short as point guard Kendall Marshall broke his wrist in the Round of 32 game against Creighton.

Reason for optimism: Carolina returns some of its best defensive players from last year (Dexter Strickland, Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo). While the young Tar Heels wait for their offense to click, defense shouldn’t be an issue. McAdoo and P.J. Hairston weren’t needed as freshmen much until the end of last year, but both responded with some big names (particularly McAdoo, obviously). Carolina has a veteran backcourt with Strickland, Leslie McDonald (who redshirted last season after tearing his ACL), Bullock and Hairston.

Reason for pessimism: Their veterans have experience, but they’re largely complementary players. Even their young talent isn’t as elite as it has been in past years. There is no go-to scorer on this team and there may not be throughout the course of the season, which might mean that the Tar Heels are offensively challenged for long stretches. Carolina’s early-season schedule is brutal and could cause the team to lose confidence quickly. Oh, and freshman point guard Marcus Paige – who will be the starter – weighs 160 pounds soaking wet.


Georgia Tech at Florida State

Georgia Tech (8-13, 1-6) at Florida State (14-6, 5-1), 7:00 PM, RSN/ESPN3

Okaro White has had some brilliant moments for Florida State but needs to stay out of foul trouble.

Florida State is rolling right now, but they’ve had six days off and Georgia Tech might just have found some offensive confidence against a good Carolina defense on Sunday. But the Seminoles play four of their next five at home and could easily enter their last five games of the season at 10-1 (their road game is at Boston College). But it starts with this one, and so far, the Seminoles have been winning games like this.

Stat to watch: Florida State’s field goal percentage. The Seminoles have caught fire, shooting 50% or better in two straight games and shooting 50% in their last four (averaging 81.3 points). In their first two league games, they had shot 38.1% and averaged 61 points. FSU has also improved its three-point shooting from 28.1% in the first two league games to 47.1% in the last four. Can they continue at this torrid pace, or will it fall off? And if their defense continues to be dominant, will that even matter? But certainly if FSU can continue to shoot as well as it has – or even at a 43-45% clip – its defense will be more than enough to give them wins most nights, including tonight.

Georgia Tech’s defense was excellent out of conference, holding opponents to 37.8% shooting (31% from three) and just 59.9 points per game. But in league, it’s gone way down hill: they’re allowing 72 points on 45.8% shooting (40% from three). In their last four games, it’s been even worse: Virginia, Clemson, Miami and North Carolina have shot 49.5% from the floor (48.5% from three) and averaged 72.8 points. Georgia Tech only allowed three teams to shoot over 40% against them out of conference. In ACC play, five have shot 45% or better and six have shot 40% or better (out of seven opponents). Georgia Tech has to hope FSU starts to miss a few shots.

Most important players: Okaro White, Florida State and Julian Royal, Georgia Tech. All year long, White has had just six double-figure scoring games: three have come in the last four games. The gangly sophomore has been a big reason for FSU’s offensive resurgence as he has asserted himself, shooting 13-of-28 in the last four games (9-of-16 in the last three) and 14-of-14 from the foul line, adding 11.8 points in that span. He had ten rebounds against North Carolina (six offensive) and clearly bothered Carolina’s John Henson on both ends of the floor. He has seemingly been in foul trouble all season but has committed just three in the last two games combined. If White can get going, FSU can keep their offense rolling at a high level.

Georgia Tech’s Julian Royal (a 6-7 freshman forward) has just four double-figure scoring games this year but he’s averaging 9.7 points in 24.3 minutes over the last three games. Anything Georgia Tech can get from someone not named Glen Rice or Mfon Udofia is fantastic. Royal has shot 12-of-21 (3-of-4 from three) in the last three games, adding 13 rebounds, adding three steals. “As a freshman, he didn’t know if he was on foot or horseback when the season started,” Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory said. “Even during that first part of the year, he had some games where he played pretty well but then the next day in practice, it was, ‘Where’s Julian?’ … I really like him because I think he’s got a chance to be a heck of a player, but he’s a coachable kid.”

Random stat: Both Florida State and Georgia Tech have had great games against the North Carolina schools this year. Georgia Tech has yet to play Wake Forest and Florida State hasn’t faced N.C. State. But with three games each against the Big 4, the results are ridiculous: Georgia Tech averages 79.0 ppg (compared to 49.8 in four other league games) on 48.3% shooting (35.6% in all other league games). The Yellow Jackets have also made 50% of their three’s against North Carolina teams while making just 26.2% in all other ACC games. FSU’s results are not as insane but they still average 80.3 points against NC teams compared to 68.7 against all other league opponents and shoot 51% against NC teams (47.4% from three) compared to 41.4% (33.3% from three) against other ACC teams.

Prediction: Florida State 79, Georgia Tech 65


Last week: 12-0

Season: 92-31 (28-12 ACC)

Georgia Tech at North Carolina

Georgia Tech (8-12, 1-5) at North Carolina (17-3, 4-1), 6:00 PM, ESPNU

Mfon Udofia has improved this year for Georgia Tech, but is still erratic.

North Carolina has three easier games before their matchup with Duke on February 8th, starting with this one (or at least games they should win). The challenge for the Tar Heels will be to maintain that focus they have shown in the last 1 1/2 games; when they lose it, Florida State happens. If they can build good habits even against inferior opponents, they’ll be tough for anyone to beat. If there’s anything scary about Georgia Tech besides their offense, it’s that they are much, much better on the road (1-2, outscored by a total of two points) compared to at home (0-3, outscored by 54 points). And Georgia Tech has been a problem for North Carolina, winning four straight against the Tar Heels.

Stat to watch: North Carolina’s three-point percentage. The Tar Heels were a really good three-point shooting team in about their first 13 games, shooting 39.1% from three. But in their last seven games (including their last two non-conference games) they’ve shot just 28.4 percent. In ACC play, it’s even worse (20-of-81, 25 percent). The slumps of Reggie Bullock and freshman sharp-shooter P.J. Hairston have contributed to the three-point shooting woes, but it’s hard to know which stat line is the one to expect going forward. It’s more likely to be somewhere in the middle – maybe 36% or so – but only if Hairston can shake his slump. Still, if Carolina’s post men keep playing as well as they have, they won’t need to make many three’s. Georgia Tech has actually played some nice defense inside the arc, but teams have been either raining down three’s or hitting a bunch of foul shots against them (or both, in some cases). In the last two games, Clemson and Miami have combined to hit 17-of-34 three’s. They’re still likely going to be willing to take their chances with Carolina shooting three’s by crowding the paint, but so is every future Carolina opponent. The Tar Heels need to knock some down and get in a rhythm.

Most important players: Tyler Zeller, North Carolina and Mfon Udofia, Georgia Tech. Because Georgia Tech’s offense is so bad, Udofia’s improvement has gone somewhat under the radar. And he has been wildly inconsistent. He averaged 18 points in Georgia Tech’s first two ACC games (in a close loss to Duke and a win over N.C. State) but scored 23 total points in the next three games. Against Miami, he had his best game since the State win with 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting in 31 minutes. It seems like a random Georgia Tech guard has a breakout game against North Carolina once a year or so and since Glen Rice, Jr. has already had his, maybe it’s Udofia’s turn.

Tyler Zeller’s uptick in play recently has drawn some comparisons to former Tar Heel Sean May, who went from pretty good to utterly dominant during the course of the 2004-05 season. Zeller hasn’t played a full season yet, so whether or not he can do what May did remains to be seen. But looking at what he’s done so far, giving just percentages and averages from the first and second halves of the season to date (when each began to become more dominant), it’s hard to tell them apart:


First part of the season: 54.3% FG, 73.8% FT, 15.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg

Second part of the season: 58.3% FG, 77.9% FT, 19.7 ppg, 12.2 rpg


First part of the season: 52.4% FG, 76.0% FT, 13.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg

Second part of the season: 62.3%, 86.4% FT, 17.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg

Player A is Sean May, whose second part of the season was 19 games (the first part was 18 games). Player B is Zeller, whose second part began in ACC play. It will be tough for Zeller to keep up this pace, but he’s talented enough to do it. The similarities between May and Zeller’s seasons are uncanny, particularly considering how each were/are perceived. Like Zeller, May often was knocked as a “soft” player before he went into beast mode. Zeller has played with a kind of anger the last five games that had only come out occasionally before. If he can combine his skill set and finesse with that fire, look out.

Random stat: Georgia Tech’s opponents have scored more than 70 points just twice in ACC play. The Yellow Jackets are 1-1 in those games, beating N.C. State 82-71 and losing at home to Duke, 81-74 in one of Georgia Tech’s better games this year.

Prediction: North Carolina 85, Georgia Tech 59


Last week: 7-5

Season: 88-31 (24-12 ACC)

Georgia Tech at N.C. State

Georgia Tech (7-8, 0-1) at NC State (12-4, 1-0), 9:00 PM, RSN/ESPN3

Mfon Udofia had a great game against Duke, but he lacks consistency throughout his career.

Georgia Tech played extremely well in a near-upset of Duke last Saturday. The Yellow Jackets are entering a stretch of games that are winnable (if they play like they did against Duke) and their ACC schedule isn’t particularly daunting (Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida State once each). They could end up with a better record in league play than they perhaps should. N.C. State had a nice win on Sunday night against Maryland, but let the Terrapins hang around a bit longer than they would have liked. It’s wide open for N.C. State to finish as high as third in the league if it can win the games it should, including this one. The Wolfpack could go into one of their toughest stretches (at Miami, at UNC and Virginia at home) 4-0 in the ACC.

Stat to watch: Offensive rebounds/second-chance points. Georgia Tech dominated Duke on the backboards on Saturday, 38-26 (Duke’s largest rebounding deficit of the year). Georgia Tech has been a good rebounding team all year, ranking 4th in defensive rebounding percentage and 6th in offensive rebounding percentage. But N.C. State has been even better in offensive rebounding percentage (3rd) and close in defensive rebounding percentage (5th). The Yellow Jackets have really improved their offensive rebounding; their 15 against Duke were their most since the second game of the season (as were their 15 second-chance points). Georgia Tech held Duke to just six second-chance points on nine offensive rebounds. The nine offensive boards were Duke’s fewest in a month and their six second-chance points are their fewest since the Michigan State game.

N.C. State has thrived on getting second looks; the Wolfpack are averaging 14.1 second-chance points off of 12.7 offensive rebounds per game. In wins this year, State has out-scored opponents 183-118 (+5.4) on second-chance points and in losses, they’ve been out-scored 44-42. For the most part, they’ve been able to keep that in check but Maryland put up 16 second-chance points (a season-high by a Wolfpack opponent) on 13 offensive rebounds. Georgia Tech has been pretty bad offensively most of the year, and if N.C. State can hold them to one shot per trip, Tech’s offense shouldn’t pose many problems to the Wolfpack defense. But if they allow multiple looks, it could come back to bite them.

Most important players: C.J. Leslie, N.C. State and Mfon Udofia, Georgia Tech. As Mark Gottfried took over at N.C. State, “C.J.” Leslie was put to bed and “Calvin” was born. “Calvin” has been excellent for the Wolfpack this year, but an example of how head-scratching “C.J.” could be is last season against Georgia Tech. Leslie played 20 minutes and scored three points on 1-of-10 shooting (0-of-3 from three, 1-of-4 from the foul line) and added three fouls and three turnovers. Observers wondered how interested “C.J.” was in playing hard and/or intelligently for his former head coach, Sidney Lowe. That is not an issue for “Calvin”, who is averaging 13.5 points on 53% shooting and is always active and engaged. Georgia Tech doesn’t really have anyone that can guard him. But this is exactly the type of game that will solidify how C.J. has morphed into Calvin.

Udofia is frustrating. He has some spectacular games but he sprinkles in plenty of inauspicious-to-blah performances. It’s been difficult for him to take the reins of this team after all that Iman Shumpert did for the Yellow Jackets last year. He’s trying his best, averaging 10.8 points on 40% shooting to go with 2.5 assists (and 3.1 turnovers). But against Duke, he showed how tantalizing he can be at times with 19 points, four rebounds and four assists, making 6-of-9 shots (2-of-3 three’s). Last year at State, Udofia had 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting (3-of-5 from three) in the RBC Center. State’s defense hasn’t been great and while Glen Rice is likely to have a big night, if State can’t contain Udofia, they are in trouble.

Random Stat(s): N.C. State has won six straight games, their longest winning streak since winning seven straight during the 2007-08 season. …. N.C. State’s Scott Wood has hit 47 straight free throws dating back to last season (37 straight this year) and is seven shy of tying J.J. Redick’s ACC record of 54 straight …. Mark Gottfried was only the second N.C. State head coach to win his ACC debut. The other? Les Robinson.

Prediction: N.C. State 78, Georgia Tech 64


Last week: 6-3 (4-2)

Season: 66-22 (5-3)

Georgia Tech: ACC Outlook

Glen Rice, Jr. is the only playmaker Georgia Tech has.

Record to date: 7-7

Strength so far: Defense. Georgia Tech’s opponents are shooting 37.7% and averaging 59.9 points per game. The most points they have surrendered are 76 (to Northwestern). Georgia Tech is fifth in the league in points per possession (0.789) allowed and one of six teams allowing fewer than 0.79. Georgia Tech’s opponents turn it over 15.5% of the time and have averaged just 11.7 turnovers in 75.7 possessions. That means Georgia Tech has been playing a lot of half-court defense in low-possession games (opponents average 75.8 possessions) and doing it quite well.

Needs improvement: Any aspect of their offensive game whatsoever. Georgia Tech is dead last in the league in points per possession (0.829) and tenth in loss of ball (19.7%). Their defense has held opponents to below 0.85 points per possession in 10 of 14 games this year, but Georgia Tech is 5-5 in those games because they can’t score. Georgia Tech has averaged less than 0.8 points per possession in seven games and is 1-6 in such games; it has averaged 0.88 points per possession or better six times (6-0). Georgia Tech has shot 52% from inside the arc this year but just 29.2% from three, worst in the league.

Most important player: Glen Rice, Jr. It sure seemed like the junior responded well to his early-season suspension; he scored double figures in eight of his first nine games back and averaged 14.7 points on 52% shooting, adding 7.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks in 31.3 minutes. In Georgia Tech’s two losses since Christmas, Rice has averaged 2.5 points on 2-of-10 shooting in just 20.5 minutes. He didn’t start against Alabama – it could be because he went scoreless in the game against Fordham, but it could also be that he’s back in head coach Brian Gregory’s doghouse.

Reason for optimism: There is nowhere to go but up offensively. Georgia Tech has some talented pieces. Sophomore Kammeon Holsey is shooting 69% from the floor and averaging 9.6 points in 22.4 minutes. He’s hit 15-of-19 shots and scored 31 points in Tech’s last three games in just 61 minutes. Jason Morris is Tech’s best three-point shooter at 32.5% (ugh), but he’s getting better, making 12-of-27 in the last eight games after starting the season 1-of-13.

Reason for pessimism: When the offense is bad, it’s really bad. It doesn’t seem to matter who they’re facing – Georgia Tech’s offense can be terrible on any given night. The Yellow Jackets shot slightly worse against Alabama (40.8%) than they did against Alabama A&M (40.9%). So there’s no real reason to think their offensive issues will turn around, especially since in ACC play, they will face five of the nation’s top 54 defenses, five of the top 40 and three of the top 13.

Surprising stat: Georgia Tech is tenth in the nation in block percentage (per Ken Pomeroy), swatting 16.4% of their opponents’ attempts. They allow 41% shooting inside the arc, 14th in the country.

Most likely win/s (1): Wake (3/3)

Most likely losses (12): Duke (1/7), @NCST (1/11), @Maryland (1/15), UVA (1/19), @Clemson (1/21), Miami (1/24), @UNC (1/29), @FSU (2/1), NCST (2/9), @Wake (2/15), @Va. Tech (2/18), @BC (2/29)

Toss-ups (3): BC (2/4), Clemson (2/21), Maryland (2/25)

Best-case scenario: 4-12

Worst-case scenario: 1-15 (It’s possible, based on the way they’ve played, but 2-14 seems more likely as a worst-case.)

ACC Preview: Jan. 3

Cornell (4-8) at Maryland (9-3), 8:00 PM, ESPN3

Touchdown the Bear mimicking former Cornell head coach (and current BC coach) Steve Donahue. Donahue has probably been in this posture quite a bit this year.

Testudo Times wrote about how Maryland has (and will continue to) improve with the recent additions of Alex Len and Pe’Shon Howard, including how the tempo will increase with added depth.The numbers definitely bear that out – Maryland had shot 50% or better just once before Len came back. In his two games so far, the Terps have shot 56-of-110 (51%) and averaged 79 points. Before that, they were shooting 42.8% and averaging 67.4 points.

Yes, it’s a small sample size. But with Len, Maryland has its first two double-digit wins over anyone this season. It had beaten Mount St. Mary’s (309th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings) and Radford (315th, the lowest-ranked team Maryland has faced) by a combined eight points. It has beaten Albany (187th, the highest-ranked team Maryland has played since December 4th) and Samford (295th) by a combined 23 points. It’s an improvement, and that’s all you can ask for if you’re a Maryland fan.

Cornell’s best win was against Lehigh, and the Big Red have lost three in a row (although they lost by a combined 11 points at Illinois and Penn State in that span). Cornell shoots a ton of three’s, Maryland’s three-point defense isn’t terrible (33.5%). Also, Cornell’s opponents get to the foul line a lot and that’s where Maryland has lived this year; its ratio of attempts to field goal attempts (53.2) is 4th nationally.

Prediction: Maryland 79, Cornell 66

Random: Cornell has been known as the Big Red since 1905, but the bear has a long history as a university symbol. In 1915, they had a live bear cub named “Touchdown” at games. Touchdown even traveled with the team. Since 1939, they’ve changed it to a student in a bear costume.

Something tells me PETA wouldn't like this.

 Alabama (10-3) at Georgia Tech (7-6), 9:00 PM ESPNU

Big Al the Elephant.

Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory pointed out after the Mercer loss that the Yellow Jackets are playing hard, but it hasn’t been enough. (The Yellow Jackets went on to lose at Fordham.) It likely won’t be enough tonight as this game is an awful matchup for Georgia Tech. Alabama’s offense isn’t great, but they are shooting 52.7% from inside the arc (just 27.4% outside it). But Georgia Tech has not allowed an opponent

The Yellow Jackets just can’t score. In their last six games against teams (of which they have lost three), they have shot 44% and 29% from three, averaging 62.5 points. So it doesn’t matter that they are holding opponents to 35% shooting and 58.2 points in that same span. And in their three most recent losses, getting to the foul line has been a huge issue: Georgia Tech has averaged 12 attempts (just 6.7 makes) while opponents have averaged 25.3 attempts (17.7 makes).

Alabama has the No. 10 defense according to Ken Pomeroy. Georgia Tech has faced two top-50 defenses (LSU and Tulane, losing to both) and averaged 50 points, shot 37% and attempted a total of 15 foul shots. They also had 36 turnovers. Alabama is holding opponents to 25.7% from thee and 40.8% from two, their 40.1% effective field goal percentage defense is third nationally.

The Crimson Tide is 7-1 at home and 3-2 away from home. Alabama had lost three of four contests to Georgetown, Dayton and Kansas State before turning it around, beating Oklahoma State and Jacksonville since. And they’ve averaged 70.5 points, a scoring bonanza for them. It will be more than enough for the Tide.

Prediction: Alabama 65, Georgia Tech 49

Random: It’s hard to have a Crimson Tide mascot, so Alabama has been represented by an elephant officially since 1979. In 1930, Atlanta Journal writer Everett Strupper wrote: “At the end of the quarter, the earth started the tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stamped this Alabama varsity.” … They were known as the Red Elephants by sportswriters after that. They had a real elephant for a time, too:


Yesterday: 2-2. I got my ACC Fail wrong in picking Virginia to lose rather than Wake Forest (in fairness, had I known C.J. Harris would miss the Wake Forest game, I would have picked Wofford). I’m sorry, Virginia.

Last week: 12-3

Season: 57-18

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

ACC Preview: Dec. 19

Nicholls State (4-7) at UNC (9-2), 7:00 PM, ESPNU

Former Louisiana governor Francis T. Nicholls (you can see his left arm missing).

Four years ago to the day, North Carolina slept-walk through a win over Nicholls State in the Smith Center, 88-78. The Tar Heels allowed 14-of-28 shooting from beyond the arc and Carolina could never quite pull away. The players were as somber in postgame interviews as they would be after a loss.

It was the kind of Roy Williams postgame press conference that sportswriters love, featuring quotes like: “It wasn’t a very good game for us. You don’t have to be a nuclear physicist or a basketball coach to figure that out.” When asked whether his team was tired: “They may be tired of me but they will be a hell of a lot more tired of me tomorrow (in practice).”

This is the type of game that Carolina has to dominate from start to finish. They have really only done that once, against Evansville. Nicholls State’s best win is over Louisiana-Monroe, ranked 308th of 345 teams in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. Nicholls is 333rd, the lowest-ranked opponent the Tar Heels will face.

Prediction: North Carolina 95, Nicholls State 66

Random: “Nicholls” comes from former Louisiana governor Francis T. Nicholls, who was a brigadier general in the Confederate Army during World War II. He lost his left arm in the Shenandoah Valley and his left foot in the Battle of Chancellorsville.

UNC-Greensboro (2-9) at Duke, 7:00 PM, RSN

Austin Rivers and Seth Curry were going to split the duties as Duke’s primary ballhandler but the two have combined for 56 assists to 47 turnovers. It’s been reserves Tyler Thornton (19.2 mpg) and freshman Quinn Cook (8.7 mpg) that have looked the most like “true” point guards. Without Curry or Rivers, both of whom fouled out late against Washington, Cook came in and steadied the ship, as he has done all year.

But Duke has so much depth in its backcourt and each player has a different strength. If the Blue Devils can get just a bit better defensively, particularly on the perimeter, they will cruise through most of ACC play and easily lock up a top-two NCAA Tournament seed.

UNC-G has lost six in a row after new head coach (former Tar Heel) Wes Miller lost his first game against ECU on Friday, 71-62. UNCG led 50-40 with 11:19 to go but an 18-4 run by ECU over the next 5 minutes gave the Pirates a four-point lead. UNC-G’s best result of the year was a 15-point loss at Florida State where the Spartans forced 26 turnovers. That won’t happen in Durham.

Prediction: Duke 89, UNC-G 60

Random: Gerry Austin, a former ACC referee who went on to the NFL from 1982-2007, went to UNC-G. Austin refereed the 1993 NFL Wild Card round between Buffalo and Houston (Oilers), when Frank Reich engineered a 32-point comeback.

North Florida (5-6) at Virginia Tech (8-3), 7:00 PM, theACC.com

A real-life osprey.

Virginia Tech’s 85-60 win over Campbell was impressive, particularly as they held the nation’s No. 1 three-point shooting team to 1-of-12 from three. But the best part was senior Dorenzo Hudson had his best performance since the third game of the season, scoring 15 points (snapping a six-game single-digit streak) on 46% shooting.

And Jarrell Eddie’s recent surge might not be a fluke; the sophomore saw limited minutes last season but is averaging 25.7 this year and is averaging 10.1 points. In the last three games – all Virginia Tech wins – the 6-7 guard/forward has averaged 16.7 points on 16-of-22 shooting and 9-of-11 from three.

The Ospreys’ six losses this year are to Alabama (then ranked 19th), Florida (then 7th), Ohio State (then 3rd), Miami, at Kansas State in overtime and at Auburn. That’s a tough schedule, but Virginia Tech is better.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 68, North Florida 61


Ozzie the Osprey.

Ozzie and Harriet are the two osprey mascots for North Florida.  Per the UNF website, Ozzie’s weight is “a few pounds short of elevator limit”, his height is 7’2” and his motto is “awesome by association”.

Alabama State (2-7) at Clemson (5-4), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Clemson’s defensive-oriented 60-40 win over in-state foe Winthrop on Saturday was much-needed. The Tigers had lost their previous three games against in-state opponents. Travis Sawchik from the Charleston Post and Courier wrote about the increasing contributions of Clemson’s freshmen. Rod Hall, T.J. Sapp, K.J. McDaniels and Bernard Sullivan combined to shoot 5-of-11 from the floor (3-of-5 from three).

One of Alabama State’s wins came on the road against Isiah Thomas’s Florida International squad. But the Hornets lost two of their next three to Stephen F. Austin and St. Louis, scoring a combined 83 points in both games.

Prediction: Clemson 72, Alabama State 56

Random: Per Wikipedia, singer Clarence Carter is among Alabama State’s notable alumni, which allows me to link this.

Alabama A&M (2-4) at Georgia Tech (6-4), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

The Yellow Jackets played well in wins over Georgia and Savannah State. Against Savannah State, Glen Rice, Jr. played 27 minutes and had a season-low six points on just five shots; he hadn’t attempted fewer than 10 all season. Head coach Brian Gregory has been playing him some at the point guard spot. It’s not a natural position for Rice, who is used to being a wing scorer.

“When he plays (point guard), he becomes even more focused and more concentrated on what needs to be done,” Gregory said. “That’s helped him when he moves back to the wing spot where now his job sometimes is simple, we need him to score some points. But he is making better decisions al the way around because of his time at the time point.”

Alabama A&M is much worse than Savannah State; the Bulldogs have averaged 48.7 points in losses to Alabama, South Alabama and Michigan.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 75, Alabama A&M 51

Random: Alabama A&M’s notable alumni include Robert Mathis (of the Indianapolis Colts), John Stallworth (NFL Hall of Famer) and Ruben Studdard (former American Idol winner).

Last week: 8-1

Season: 27-11

ACC Basketball: Not Terrible?

The ACC's new slogan: Not as bad as you think.

The ACC is the last major conference without a loss this year (22-0). The season is barely a week old, but last year at this point, the ACC was 19-5 with awful losses to Stetson, VCU (both by Wake Forest) and Kennesaw State (Georgia Tech). This year, the league is beating who it should, which is more than some conferences can say.

The average team ranking in each conference, average ranking of opponent in wins and losses by each conference is below (rankings courtesy of Ken Pomeroy):

  • ACC (22-0):       Avg. ranking: 58.8; Avg. opponent rank (wins): 193.6; Avg. opp. rank (losses): N/A
  • Big 10 (20-2):    Avg. ranking: 40.4; Avg. opponent rank (wins): 239.8; Avg. opp. rank (losses): 3.5
  • Big East (30-3): Avg. ranking: 57.3; Avg. opponent rank (wins): 241.9, Avg. opp. rank (losses): 61.3
  • Big 12 (17-2):     Avg. ranking: 59.5, Avg. opponent rank (wins): 244.9; Avg. opp. rank (losses): 62.5
  • SEC (19-5):        Avg. ranking: 70.4; Avg. opponent rank (wins): 214;  Avg. opp. rank (losses): 110.2
  • Pac 12 (18-6):    Avg. ranking: 83.5, Avg. opponent rank (wins): 208.8; Avg. opp. rank (losses): 102.3

The ACC has a difficult trek back to the dominance it once had over the rest of college basketball. The perception of it won’t change overnight, or even in one season. But here are some teams that have a chance to get some big wins for the ACC in the next 10 days:

  1. Maryland. The Terrapins are playing in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic, which starts tomorrow, and face an athletic No. 16 Alabama squad in the first round. Maryland had a hard time with UNC-Wilmington, but the Terrapins will get better as the year goes along under new head coach Mark Turgeon.
  2. Virginia Tech. The Hokies advanced to the semifinals of the Preseason NIT, where they face No. 5 Syracuse in Madison Square Garden on November 23rd. Virginia Tech is banged up and lacks a true go-to scorer, but that balance has been beneficial so far in a 3-0 start. An upset seems unlikely, but head coach Seth Greenberg’s teams have done it before.
  3. Florida State. The first two rounds of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas shouldn’t be challenging for the No. 25 Seminoles. But they could face No. 4 Connecticut in the title game on November 26th. The Seminoles are good enough defensively to win, but UConn is also excellent on defense. Florida State still has a chance to steal one if it’s a low-scoring affair.
  4. Duke. The Maui Invitational field is loaded, and the No. 6 Blue Devils could conceivably beat two ranked teams. Duke will face either No. 10 Memphis or No. 17 Michigan in the semis and then No. 12 Kansas (should they advance) in the championship game on November 24th.
  5. N.C. State. The Wolfpack will play in the Legends Classic in the Meadowlands starting with No. 18 Vanderbilt on November 19th. Should N.C. State win, it would likely face Texas on November 21st; he Longhorns are unranked but still a name program. Wins like those would add to the already-positive momentum that Mark Gottfried has generated by signing a top-five recruiting class.

ACC teams have had some inexplicable losses in recent years that have hurt the league’s reputation almost as much as failing to win big games has. Florida State lost at Auburn last year while Virginia lost at home to Seattle. Miami lost to UCF and Rutgers. Boston College lost to Harvard (for the third straight year) and Yale, both at home. (Wake Forest’s plethora of awful losses aren’t really worth mentioning.) We’ll call this the “Don’t Embarrass Us, Please” group:

  1. Virginia. The Cavaliers have managed to find one of the least competitive holiday tournament: The Paradise Jam in St. Thomas. Virginia with a healthy Mike Scott needs to beat TCU in the first round on November 19th and should beat Norfolk State or Drexel in the next round. No. 21 Marquette would be its likely opponent in the championship game, but the ACC needs wins in those first two.
  2. Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets will go to the Charleston Classic (starting November 17th) and face St. Joseph’s followed by VCU or Seton Hall. Georgia Tech is 2-0 under new head coach Brian Gregory, but there are plenty of teams in the Charleston field that would potentially be terrible losses (St. Joseph’s, Western Kentucky or even Seton Hall and LSU).
  3. Clemson. The Tigers host College of Charleston on November 19th and Coastal Carolina on November 22nd. Neither team is a “cupcake” (Charleston is 133rd, Coastal 163rd per Ken Pom), but particularly considering both games are in Littlejohn Coliseum, these are must-wins.
  4. Miami. The Hurricanes travel to Ole Miss on November 25th. Ole Miss (2-0) is not a bad team, but Miami has a lot of talent and could make the NCAA Tournament under new head coach Jim Larranaga. With non-conference games at Purdue, at West Virginia and Memphis looming, the Ole Miss game is a must.
  5. North Carolina. The No. 1 Tar Heels will play in the Las Vegas Invitational (November 25-26) in a surprisingly weak field. Carolina can’t lose to South Carolina (lost to Elon yesterday), Southern Cal (lost at home to Nebraska) or even UNLV, arguably the second-best team in the field.

Wake Forest should be better this year, but a November 19th home matchup against improved North Carolina Central is scary. The Deacons travel to Orlando for the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving and will play Dayton on November 24th followed by Arizona State or Fairfield, the latter of which has embarrassing loss potential.

Boston College nearly lost to New Hampshire at home and could lose at Holy Cross or to UMass. The Eagles will play in the ESPN 76 Classic in Anaheim and could lose to first-round foe St. Louis on November 24th. BC has to feel pretty good if it can win two of those three games. The rest of the field in Anaheim isn’t great, but neither is Boston College.

Considering there are four new head coaches and three in Year 2, the perception was that the league would be terrible, and it still might be. But maybe the coaching carousel has stopped spinning long enough for some of the “other” programs (not Carolina and Duke) to finally develop consistency.

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