Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Mason Plumlee, Duke
Shane Larkin, Miami
Richard Howell, N.C. State
Joe Harris, Virginia
This was pretty straightforward, with respect to Seth Curry and Reggie Bullock, both of whom I thought deserved a spot. Ultimately, there wasn’t enough space.
Seth Curry, Duke
Reggie Bullock, North Carolina
Kenny Kadji, Miami
Akil Mitchell, Virginia
Lorenzo Brown, N.C. State
P.J. Hairston, North Carolina
Devin Booker, Clemson
Ryan Anderson, Boston College
Quinn Cook, Duke
Michael Snaer, Florida State
Toughest omissions: Durand Scott (Miami), Dez Wells (Maryland), C.J. Harris (Wake Forest), C.J. Leslie (N.C. State), James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina), Alex Len (Maryland).
Full disclosure: I’m a big believer in tempo-free stats, and those omissions came from a combination of those and, you know, the eye test. I watched a lot of ACC games this year. Consistency also played a role, and defense.
Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
T.J. Warren, N.C. State
Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Marcus Georges-Hunt, Georgia Tech
Toughest omissions: Devin Thomas (Wake Forest), Robert Carter Jr. (Georgia Tech), Joe Rahon (Boston College).
Daniel Miller, Georgia Tech
Julian Gamble, Miami
Durand Scott, Miami
Michael Snaer, Florida State
Tyler Thornton, Duke
Toughest omissions: Reggie Bullock (North Carolina), Jontel Evans (Virginia), Akil Mitchell (Virginia), Rod Hall (Clemson).
This was the most difficult category for me, and I don’t have a problem admitting that some of those picks might have been wrong.
Freshman of the Year: T.J. Warren, N.C. State.
Consistency and efficiency won the day here, as Warren edged Hanlan of BC. Sulaimon has recently hit the freshman wall, as most freshmen tend to, but he was taken out of the starting lineup and has generally looked frustrated while the other two are closing strongly. Warren was very good most of the year and is starting to hit his stride as a starter, which is part of what put him over the top for me.
Defensive Player of the Year: Julian Gamble, Miami.
I honestly had no idea what to do here, but Gamble has done a great job bothering opposing big men all year and has been very difficult to score against. And considering how much Miami’s defensive numbers have dropped since Gamble left the starting lineup/saw his minutes decrease in favor of Reggie Johnson only helped solidify that opinion. But I am very willing to admit I might have been wrong.
Coach of the Year: Jim Larranaga, Miami.
This seemed like a no-brainer until very recently, when it looked like Miami might not win the outright ACC regular-season title. Still, a weak ending to the season doesn’t take away from the body of work. And he has had this Miami team playing defense at a very high level, believing in each other and being unselfish. They’ve been very tough to beat most of this year, and he’s a big reason for that. Sure, they’re older, and experienced. But Frank Haith had older, tough-minded teams at Miami. They didn’t play like this.
(Side note: Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski and Tony Bennett also did some nice things this season.)
Player of the Year: Erick Green, Virginia Tech.
A lot of my case was made for Green here, but I’ll add this: the ACC Player of the Year award is not the Most Valuable Player. If it were, I would have gone with Shane Larkin. Green averages nearly double the amount of points as Larkin, is more efficient and has a higher assist rate despite having MUCH worse teammates. Larkin’s a better defender, but not significantly.
I tend to err on the side of picking a POY from a winning ACC team, preferably a team that wins the league (or at least a top-five team). It takes a very strong effort from a guy on a last-place team (or close to last) to even merit consideration, much less win it. He has to be significantly ahead of the pack. And Green was that guy to me, based on a combination of statistics and my judgment from watching him.
He did all he could to make his teammates better (compared to another high-volume scorer from last year, about whom his coach said “I can’t coach him”). That, combined with no one else on the top-five teams jumping up to grab the award (at least in my estimation), led to my vote. Reasonable minds can disagree, of course.
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
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.
Miami is reeling right now: disappointed after missing the NCAA tournament and beaten down by the NCAA (Durand Scott has been declared ineligible less than two weeks after Reggie Johnson had to sit out). But with talented young players like Shane Larkin and Trey McKinney Jones, all they can do is soldier on and try to get valuable postseason experience.
Key to the game: Shane Larkin. Miami’s young/speedy point guard will be handling the ball most of the time without Durand Scott, and he’s already shown he can do that. Against Florida State last Friday, Larkin took a season-high 14 shots (making six) and had 16 points, adding eight rebounds and five assists. It’s a very Scott-like stat line, and if Larkin can use the NIT to become a more seasoned player, Miami will be very scary next year.
Prediction: Miami 85, Valparaiso 72
Random Mascot Fact: Valparaiso used to have a mascot called the Uhlan (which has some sort of iffy ties to the Germans/Nazism). They changed to yet another war-mongering group fighting for its ideals: the Crusaders.
Last week: 8-3
Season: 140-50 (68-28 ACC) (8-3 Postseason)
Clemson (13-13, 5-7) at Georgia Tech (9-17, 2-10), 7:00 PM, RSN/ESPN3
Most important players: Andre Young, Clemson and Mfon Udofia, Georgia Tech. Andre Young went off the last time Clemson faced Georgia Tech, scoring 29 points on 9-of-12 shooting (7-of-9 from three). He’s made just 35.5% of his three’s since, but his 3-of-7 performance at Carolina on Saturday was his best in a road venue all season.
Without Glen Rice, Mfon Udofia has to do more scoring for Georgia Tech to win. His 15 points at Virginia Tech on Saturday were his most in nearly a month and nearly enough for the Yellow Jackets to win. Udofia has averaged 13.8 points in games without Rice and just 9.3 in games with Rice this year.
Random stat: Georgia Tech has lost ten ACC games, including six on the road. They have lost by an average of 8.2 points in six ACC road games compared to 15.8 points at home. Georgia Tech has averaged 52.8 points in home ACC games compared to 64.6 points in road games.
Prediction: Clemson 66, Georgia Tech 53
Miami (16-9, 7-5) at Maryland (15-11, 5-7), 8:00 PM, ACC Network split/ESPN3
Maryland is a tough place to play, but if Miami wants to keep its NCAA tournament at-large hopes alive, the Hurricanes have to win.
Most important players: Durand Scott, Miami and Alex Len, Maryland. Durand Scott had his ACC high of 24 points (on 11-of-14 shooting) in the overtime win over Maryland in the first meeting, and he’s found his groove lately, averaging 16.5 points on 61% shooting in the last two. Maryland’s backcourt is that much thinner without Pe’Shon Howard, and Scott could have his way with the Terrapins.
Alex Len’s last good stretch for Maryland came against Miami and North Carolina, when he averaged 12.5 points on 64% shooting. In the four games since, he has eight total points on 36.4% shooting. Maryland needs more from the talented big man, and maybe he can find a spark against Miami.
Random stat: Maryland lost 71-44 at Virginia on Saturday, but the game was tied at 31 at halftime. Maryland scored just 13 second-half points and just 11 in the final 19:52. Maryland averaged 0.34 points per possession from the 19:52 mark until the 3:45 mark when head coach Mark Turgeon took out the starters in the second half and made just three field goals.
Prediction: Miami 74, Maryland 67
North Carolina (23-4, 10-2) at N.C. State (18-9, 7-5), 8:00 PM, ACC Network split/ESPN3
With all the hoopla surrounding the ejection of former NC State superstars Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta last Saturday (and their 1988-89 team being honored before the game), this will be the most hostile environment North Carolina has faced this year. But if the Wolfpack can’t persevere through in-game adversity, the atmosphere won’t matter.
Most important players: Lorenzo Brown, NC State and John Henson, North Carolina. Lorenzo Brown’s two games last week were a mixed bag, but the NC State point guard did the right things against Florida State and Duke: he attacked the basket and averaged 7.0 free throw attempts. Carolina has struggled at times to stop the dribble, and Brown must remember to attack the basket.
John Henson has held NC State’s C.J. Leslie to a combined 9-of-27 shooting in the last two State-Carolina games. And Leslie’s numbers have gotten worse, not better, every time he faces Carolina. Leslie’s propensity to try to take Henson one-on-one in the last meeting really hurt the Wolfpack, and if Henson continues to shut him down as he has, Carolina should win easily.
Random stat: Two out of NC State’s last three head coaches have won their first game against North Carolina at home: Les Robinson and Sidney Lowe. Robinson (1990-96) won three of his first four vs. UNC and four out of six home games against the Tar Heels. Sidney Lowe (2006-11) won his first game against Carolina at home but lost 11 straight after that. Since Robinson left prior to the 1996-97 season, State is 3-13 at home against Carolina.
Prediction: North Carolina 81, NC State 71
Virginia (20-6, 7-5) at Virginia Tech (15-12, 4-8), 9:00 PM, ESPNU
How Virginia Tech won the first meeting between these two teams earlier this year remains a mystery, but the exhausted Hokies likely won’t have enough magic to repeat that, and Virginia knows how much it needs this game.
Most important players: Mike Scott, Virginia and Dorian Finney-Smith, Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech big man Victor Davila will miss this game with an injury, meaning whatever formula the Hokies concocted for slowing Virginia star Mike Scott last time could be adversely affected. Scott is averaging 20.6 points in UVA’s ACC wins and 16 in losses, so the Hokies will have to find a way to slow him.
Virginia Tech freshman Dorian Finney-Smith wasn’t a factor in the first meeting with Virginia this year, but he is averaging 10.8 points in the last five games. His length and athleticism could be a factor on both ends for Virginia Tech, particularly against Virginia’s thin front line.
Random stat: Virginia’s slow style of play has been a big part of the reason for their excellent scoring defense, but the Cavaliers are one of many slow-tempo teams that have played in the ACC since the shot clock was instituted. And yet they have held 11 opponents under 50 points this year, the most by an ACC team in the shot clock era.
Prediction: Virginia 54, Virginia Tech 51
Last week: 7-4
Season: 115-40 (51-21 ACC)
Miami (13-7, 4-3) at Duke (19-3, 6-1), 3:00 PM, ESPNU
While Virginia at Florida State was Saturday’s most meaningful game, this matchup has potential to be the most exciting of the weekend. Miami seems to be hitting its stride after a double-overtime win over Maryland, and the Hurricanes desperately need a marquee win. Duke, however, seems to be dialed in after letting St. John’s nearly come back on them last weekend. And with North Carolina and Florida State tied atop the ACC standings, all Duke has to do is win to keep pace. Florida State will almost surely win its next game (at Boston College), and that will set up a Wednesday night showdown between Carolina and Duke that will leave one time in great position and the other needing to play catchup. But Duke has to win this one first.
Stat to watch: The three-point line. Miami is going to continue to shoot three’s (they tried 28 against Maryland, making only eight), and eventually, they’re going to go in. In the Hurricanes’ four-game winning streak prior to ACC play, they shot 36-of-75 (48%) from three. When the Hurricanes shoot as low as 30% or better from three in ACC play, they are 3-0 and 11-3 overall. In losses, they have shot 28.6% from three and in ACC losses only, that drops to 19%. With Kenny Kadji back and point guard Durand Scott starting to feel it, it could get interesting if Miami starts draining three’s. And Duke’s defense hasn’t been as good as past Duke teams, but they are starting to lock down on the perimeter. Duke’s ACC opponents have shot 30% from three and in Duke’s ACC wins, opponents have shot 26.4 percent. But Duke hasn’t seen a team that will attempt as many three’s as Miami will perhaps since they played Michigan in Maui.
Miami has defended the three-point line pretty well in ACC play, particularly in its wins when it has allowed 23-of-82 (28%) in four ACC wins compared to 12-of-39 (30.8%) in losses. The biggest difference, though is that in wins, Miami’s opponents attempt 20.5 three’s and just 13.0 in losses. Miami wants to make opponents shoot three’s rather than get into the paint, and Duke is certainly prone to do that from time to time. But the Blue Devils are playing smarter basketball and have cut down on their attempts recently, averaging 17 attempts in their last two ACC games compared to 22.2 in their first five. Their 44.4% at Virginia Tech (8-of-18) was their second-best percentage in league play. Three-pointers are so important for Duke’s momentum in that building, and if Miami can limit Duke’s three’s (thus limiting some of those patented Duke runs) and hit a few of their own, they’ll have a chance. And if Duke gets rolling from three, the Blue Devils will win easily.
Most important players: Kenny Kadji, Miami and Austin Rivers, Duke. Kenny Kadji missed Miami’s double-overtime win over Maryland on Wednesday with a concussion, and his absence was notable as eventually, Miami had to play essentially a five-guard lineup. He’s a very tricky matchup as he can shoot three’s and score down low against physical defenders. With Reggie Johnson being a virtual non-factor right now, Kadji has responded by averaging 16.5 points in league play on 56% shooting and adding 6.5 rebounds and two blocks. In his last three games of action, Kadji averaged 18.3 points on 54% shooting and hit 3-of-9 three’s and 10-of-13 free throws. He also averaged 8.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and three blocks in that span. He’s been in foul trouble just once (he fouled out of the Clemson game) and he’ll need to stay out of foul trouble and play as well as he has been playing for Miami to have a chance this afternoon.
Austin Rivers had arguably his best game in a Duke uniform on Thursday at Virginia Tech with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, marking his best shooting percentage of the year (63.6%). His four three-pointers (in six tries) set a new career high for three-pointers made and tied his best percentage of the year. And his five assists were his second-most this year. But what really made his game great was his defense. Duke Hoop Blog has been charting Duke’s defensive statistics, and they had Austin Rivers with a 90% stop percentage. He’ll likely be on Durand Scott and/or Malcolm Grant for most of the Miami game and if he can shut them down, Miami won’t be nearly as lethal on offense. Rivers might also spend some time guarding the speedy Shane Larkin, who – according to the Category 6 Miami blog – was a former high school rival of his in Orlando. Rivers has all the physical tools to be an elite defender, and he has often talked about how important defense is to him. If continues to be as dialed in as he has been, Duke should win this one easily.
Random stat: Miami and Boston College are the only remaining ACC teams that have never beaten Duke in Durham. The Hurricanes have only beaten Duke twice – once in 1962 at home and are 1-11 against Duke since joining the ACC. Their only win came in Miami in 2008. But since then, Miami has lost five games by an average of just 6.8 points. The closest Miami has come to beating Duke in Cameron was in 2009 when they lost by three in overtime. They have lost their other four games in Cameron by 11 points or more and two by 20 or more.
Prediction: Duke 79, Miami 72
Last week: 12-0
Season: 100-32 (36-13 ACC)
Maryland (13-7, 3-3) at Miami (12-7, 3-3), 8:00 PM, ACC Network split/ESPN3
This is perhaps the best ACC game of the week, featuring two teams tied in the middle of the ACC standings. Maryland has games against North Carolina and Duke coming up in their next three contests, but Miami has a tougher road. The Hurricanes have Duke, Florida State and North Carolina in three of their next four games after this one. Obviously, if either team loses this one, they will be facing an uphill climb to stay in the middle of the ACC pack or even go beyond that. But the winner could make a move as only four teams have fewer than three ACC losses.
Stat to watch: Miami’s shot selection. It’s not exactly a stat, but watching Miami play, even the casual observer can tell when they get in one of their funks where all they do offensively is jack up bad three-pointers. They have gotten away with it in wins, making 25-of-58 (43.1%) but not in losses (10-of-53, 18.9%). But it’s also a big reason they’re not getting to the foul line as much: they averaged 23.4 attempts prior to ACC play and just 13 attempts in conference. They’re last in the league in that category. Miami needs to be more aggressive on offense and take the ball inside, whether it be via dribble or passing to their big guys. In Maryland’s ACC wins, opponents have shot just 14.7 free throws (still more than Miami has averaged) compared to 21.7 attempts in Maryland’s league losses. The Terrapins have allowed 61 points in wins and 79 points in losses, holding ACC teams to 39.3% shooting in wins and allowing 48% in losses. Maryland’s opponents have attempted nearly 29% of their shots from beyond the arc in their ACC wins and compared to just 18% in losses. Miami has attempted at least 29% of its shots from three in every ACC game this year.
Most important players: Sean Mosley, Maryland and Durand Scott, Miami. Scott had been averaging 9.6 points on 41.3% shooting in ACC play, averaging just 9.2 shot attempts per game (7.6 two-point attempts). At Boston College, he asserted himself with 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting (7-of-14 from inside the arc), adding six rebounds, four assists, three steals and no turnovers in 32 minutes. There is no question that Miami needs that from him: some of the freshmen/newcomers have shown flashes, but ultimately this Miami offense can’t run well without Scott and Malcolm Grant playing well. Scott has averaged 14 points on 55% shooting in two games against Maryland, adding 4.0 assists and 2.0 turnovers.
Sean Mosley started ACC play on a tear, averaging 15 points on 14-of-31 shooting (5-of-9 from three) in Maryland’s first three games, helping the Terrapins start out 2-1. But he had three points at Florida State and six against Duke (Maryland lost both). Then, he showed how valuable he can be to the Terrapins by scoring 15 big points against Virginia Tech in a close win. The senior has struggled in his new assignment of being a scorer, but as Testudo Times pointed out, the team really values his leadership. Maryland is 7-2 when Mosley scores 10 or more points and 9-2 when he has eight or more. In ACC play, the Terrapins are 3-1 when he has 10 or more and 0-2 when he has fewer than eight. They need him to provide offense when he can in addition to playing pretty solid defense on some elite guards this year.
Random stat: James Padgett – one of Maryland’s most improved players – leads the nation (according to Ken Pomeroy) in offensive rebounding percentage, which is the percentage of possible offensive rebounds a player gets, scaled by percentage of the team’s minutes that a player sees. Padgett pulls down 18.8% of available offensive boards, 0.4% better than the next-closest player. He has averaged 5.0 offensive boards in Maryland’s ACC wins and 2.3 in losses. In just 19 minutes against Wake, he had SIX offensive boards.
Prediction: Miami 74, Maryland 68
Last week: 12-0
Season: 92-31 (28-12 ACC)
Miami (11-7, 2-3) at Boston College (7-13, 2-4), 1:00 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3
Miami could – and frankly, should – get to 3-3 in the league with a home game against Maryland giving them a real shot at 4-3. That would be huge for them as they will travel to Duke on Super Bowl Sunday, then host Virginia Tech followed by games against Florida State and North Carolina. Not a good stretch for Miami, and it goes 2-2 in that stretch, at least it would stay above .500. But winning games like this one is key. Given how competitively Boston College had been playing, their loss last weekend to Wake Forest was surprising. But their 66-49 loss at Virginia was closer than the final would indicate and the Eagles’ old pluck showed up again. If Miami thinks it can just show up and beat BC on pure talent, they should ask Virginia Tech and Clemson how that worked out for them.
Stat to watch: Points in the paint. Boston College is almost entirely dependent on getting three’s to go down and hoping their opponents take – and miss – three’s as well. The Eagles don’t defend well in the paint but when they do, they have won. Clemson and Virginia Tech combined for 40 points in the paint while in four ACC losses, opponents have AVERAGED 40 points in the paint. Reggie Johnson isn’t much of a threat on the block right now since he’s still out of shape, so if BC can force Miami to take a ton of three’s (and they generally don’t need much coaxing to launch a terrible jumper), they’ll have a chance.
Miami needs to make more of an effort to get the ball into the paint, either to Kenny Kadji or via guard penetration. Too often, the Hurricanes have been willing to settle for long jump shots late in the shot clock. Nearly 33% of their shot attempts in ACC play have been three-pointers, and they’re barely getting to the foul line (13 times a game in league play). Against North Carolina, Miami had 36 points on the paint and made 51% of its two-pointers. The problem was they took 16 three’s (making three) and got to the foul line just ten times. They have shot just 10-of-53 from three in their ACC losses and 18-of-37 in wins. That’s far too much reliance on the three-pointer and they need to take higher-percentage shots, particularly against a BC team that can’t defend them.
Most important players: Shane Larkin, Miami and Dennis Clifford, Boston College. Larkin has really come on in the last two games in particular, averaging 7.5 points, 5.0 assists and just 2.0 turnovers in 26.5 minutes a game. He is shooting much better – 5-of-10 in that span as opposed to 1-of-7 to start out ACC play – but it’s more his energy that’s given the Hurricanes a lift. Larkin is a speed demon and while Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant can use their craftiness to get to the hoop, Larkin can push the ball up the court faster than any Miami player. When he’s doing that and he’s under control, he’s a difference-maker. When he’s out of control, he has games like he did in Chapel Hill where he had five turnovers in in 24 minutes. No one on Boston College can guard his speed if he harnesses it well.
Clifford has struggled against big front lines, and Miami has one of those. But he is really starting to get better every game. And he perseveres through his struggles better – or at least as well – as any player in the ACC during the course of a game. N.C. State’s front line was dominating him on both ends, but he ended the night with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting, five rebounds and two blocks. Facing Wake Forest’s Ty Walker, he shot just 3-of-9 but had four rebounds and three assists. And against Virginia’s pack-line defense he had eight points on 4-of-8 shooting and two blocks. If Clifford can continue to get comfortable and gain confidence – not to mention get some of the Miami bigs in foul trouble – BC might have a shot.
Random stat: Miami has made a three-pointer in 329 straight games and has made at least one three-pointer in 786 out of the 789 games since the three-point shot was adopted 25 years ago.
Prediction: Miami 72, Boston College 64
Last week: 7-5
Season: 88-31 (24-12 ACC)
Miami (9-5, 0-1) at No. 3 North Carolina (14-2, 1-0), 9:00 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3
Carolina has looked a tad sleepy in its last six games (with the exception of Texas), winning handily in all of them. Carolina hasn’t been significantly challenged since December 21st, when Texas came to the Smith Center. But the Tar Heels are a mature group and they seem to understand that ACC teams are going to be gunning for them. The Boston College game getting down to nine points in the second half was a wake-up call. Both games last year with Miami were close and so Carolina should be ready. Still, Miami is perhaps the best matchup for Carolina on paper in the league: two guards that can penetrate and shoot and two post men who can score and play great defense.
Miami will be motivated, no doubt – they have lost their last two games to Carolina by a combined five points, and lost by just seven in Chapel Hill in 2010 when Carolina was terrible. The Hurricanes lost a tough one at Virginia, but their effort in that game (particularly on defense) shows the Hurricanes are for real and are a much different team since the return of Reggie Johnson and the emergence of Kenny Kadji. Miami will likely be favored to win its next five games after Carolina (Ken Pomeroy has them favored to win six of their next seven), which would theoretically put them at 6-2 in the league and in great position down the stretch. But they will want this one badly.
Stat to watch: Miami’s three-point shooting. If Miami starts raining three-pointers, look out. And the Hurricanes rained three’s against Carolina in two narrow losses last year, making 22-of-54 (40.7%). But in the final ten minutes of those games, Miami was a combined 1-of-12 from beyond the arc compared to 21-of-42 (50%) in the first 30 minutes of each game. Miami led by as many as 14 in the regular-season meeting and by 19 (with 9:55 to go) in the ACC Tournament loss. Last year, Carolina shot 33.3% from three (5-of-15) in the first half of the two meetings and 50% (11-of-22) in the second half. Miami shot 13-of-27 (48.1%) from three in the first half and 9-of-27 (48.1%) in the second half.
Most important players: John Henson, UNC; Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant, Miami. Grant and Scott are winless against the Tar Heels in their Miami careers, but not because of them: they have combined to average 31.7 points on 53% shooting (43% from three). Scott has averaged 16.7 points on 64% shooting (!) and 7-of-13 from three. Carolina has been fortunate that he has only gotten to the foul line six times in three games. Grant has averaged 15.0 points (16.5 in two meetings last year on 47% shooting from three). On the flip side, Henson has put up some subpar games against Miami, averaging 8.3 points on 48% shooting (9.0 points on 41% shooting last year in two games). He has averaged 10.7 rebounds against Miami, though, and 4.3 blocks. But Kenny Kadji gives Miami more size to defend Carolina’s bigs. Tyler Zeller has also struggled against Miami in the past, and so Henson will have to be more like the player he has been most of this season, averaging 14.9 points on 56% shooting.
Random Stat: The 19-point second-half deficit Carolina overcame in last year’s ACC Tournament game against Miami was the largest the Tar Heels have overcome to win since January 27, 1993. Carolina was down by 21 in the second half against FSU in that game and trailed by 19 with under nine minutes remaining, but came back to win.
Prediction: North Carolina 92, Miami 77
Last week: 6-3 (4-2)
Season: 65-21 (4-2)
Record to date: 9-4
Strength so far: Three-point shooting. Despite attempting the second-most three-pointers in the ACC, Miami is second behind Duke in three-point percentage (39%). The Hurricanes have been hot lately, too: in their last four games, they have shot 48% from three, including a scorching 14-of-20 that saved them from an embarrassing loss to Florida Atlantic.
Needs improvement: Rebounding. Miami is eighth in the league in defensive rebounding percentage but 10th in offensive rebounding percentage. The good news is that it already has been improving: in the last three games, Miami has out-rebounded its opponents by an average of +7.0 after being out-rebounded in its first ten games by 2.3.
Most important player: Reggie Johnson. The 6-10, 284-pounder has lost nearly 40 pounds since he arrived as a hefty freshman in 2008. He’s nearly doubled his playing time since his freshman year (up from 13 minutes to 26), and he looks better than ever physically. Johnson has been back for just four games, but he has shot 50% and averaged 10.8 points. But his team is clicking since his return; Miami has averaged 88 points on 56% shooting (48% from three), adding 27 free-throw attempts a game. In the first nine games, Miami didn’t shoot over 50% once (39.9% overall) and averaged 67.2 points, making 35.5% of their three’s and averaging 21.9 free-throw attempts.
Reason for optimism: Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji have given the Canes an inside duo. Johnson has always needed someone to take attention away. Kadji has exploded in the last six games, two prior to Johnson’s return, averaging 16.5 points on 61% shooting (62% from three), adding six boards and 2.2 blocks in 29.7 minutes. In Miami’s first seven games, he averaged 5.6 points on 45% shooting and missed the only three-pointer he took, averaging just 18.9 minutes. With Johnson, he has averaged 18 points on 63% shooting in 30.8 minutes. If Kadji can continue to be an offensive threat, teams can’t concentrate on slowing down Johnson. The emergence of those two down low allows Miami to be a truly balanced offensive team for the first time perhaps since it joined the ACC in terms of perimeter and post scoring threats.
Reason for pessimism: Statistically, their defense is one of the worst in the league right now (9th in efficiency, allowing nearly 49% effective field goal percentage and allowing 36% from three). Even with Johnson, they let UNC-Greensboro go for 89 points, the most they have allowed in regulation.
Surprising stat: Miami is 56th nationally in block percentage (12.5%), despite missing their best shot-blocker for most of the season in Johnson. Reflecting his absence, though, they’ve had 10.3% of their shots blocked (221st).
Most likely wins (6): Clemson (1/18), NCST (1/22), @Ga. Tech (1/24), Wake (2/18), @BC (1/29), BC (3/3)
Most likely losses (5): @UVA (1/7), @UNC (1/10), @Duke (2/5), @FSU (2/11), UNC (2/15)
Toss-ups (5): Maryland (2/1), Va. Tech (2/9), FSU (2/26), @Maryland (2/21), @NCST (2/29)
Best-case scenario: 10-6
Worst-case scenario: 7-9