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.
It had been a back-and-forth game, and it was tied for the 11th time at the under-eight timeout. Not much had been going right for NC State – Leslie was called for a charge just before (his third) and Georgia Tech was seemingly getting to every loose ball.
And of course, the fans weren’t the only ones upset about the officiating. The players were visibly frustrated with calls they felt should have gone their way. “We’ve just got to play through those calls,” freshman Rodney Purvis said. “I don’t know what we do wrong to the referees. It’s been like this three games where they’ve just been on us hard. Either way, we’re going to fight through it regardless and do whatever we’ve got to do to win the game.”
Last year’s NC State team had plenty of stretches like that, when a series of questionable bad calls, bad breaks and general bad vibes dragged the team down and made it play unfocused. In just two ACC games, this year’s NC State team is developing the opposite reputation.
And after the 12th tie of the game, NC State went on a 17-5 run over the next 4:46 to essentially clinch the game. Scott Wood, a senior who – like his team – had a reputation of letting frustrating stretches dictate how he played, had 11 of his 20 points during that run.
Earlier in the game, Wood was miffed that referee Jamie Luckie didn’t call a foul on a three-point attempt, and even more annoyed when Luckie called him for an offensive foul on a subsequent possession. So he stared Luckie down when he hit a three-pointer a few minutes later, and that sequence seemed to ignite him.
“I think that one call kind of frustrated him after he got the charge. He just shook it off and found better ways to get open,” point guard Lorenzo Brown, who had four points and three assists during the 17-5 run, said of Wood. “It’s actually the screens. We run a play called ‘corner’ and the big guys set screens for Scott.”
Wood hit some big shots late against Boston College when his team really needed some points. He’s become somewhat of a go-to guy down the clutch, but he doesn’t necessarily see it that way. “I think it’s just taking what the defense is giving us,” Wood said. “They’re really trying to take away C.J. (Leslie) and Richard (Howell), so they’re trying to call some plays to get the guards kind of moving a little bit and get them coming off screens.”
Wood has also developed a bit of a reputation for dunking. Well, it’s debatable whether you could call some of his dunks real dunks. And he had another “semi-dunk” against Georgia Tech – but not if you ask him. This semi-dunk, according to Wood, was only because a Georgia Tech player hit him as he was going up.
“I was just going to rip the goal down and (a Georgia Tech player) hit the back of my leg,” Wood said. “Go watch on film.”
All right, Scott. We get it. You got hit, and it affected your explosiveness. But final verdict: dunk or no dunk?
“I would count it as a dunk. That’s a white man’s dunk,” Wood said. “Any white person in this room would count that as a dunk.”
NC State: Three-Guard Lineups, Richard Howell Doesn’t Foul, T.J. Warren’s Efficiency, A Lucky Bounce
SIX STARTERS AND INTERESTING LINEUPS
NC State head coach Mark Gottfried has said all year long that he essentially has six starters (Lorenzo Brown, Rodney Purvis, Scott Wood, T.J. Warren, C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell). With some rare exceptions – a matchup he might want to exploit, or maybe a violation of team rules – there’s no real rhyme or reason to who that sixth starter will be.
The freshmen, Purvis and Warren, are the only two of the six that have missed starts, though. Purvis started the first five games, and after a loss to Oklahoma State and a close shave against UNC-Asheville, Warren started the next two (at Michigan and UConn). Warren struggled against the Huskies, and Purvis has been the starter the last two games.
But Gottfried said that both will get their minutes regardless, and that’s appeared to be the case. “It’s just not one of those things for me that I’m going to get all that worried up about,” Gottfried said. “I know players do. Everybody wants to start, I know that.”
Junior reserve Jordan Vandenberg missed the game with a knee injury, leaving NC State with seven healthy scholarship players on Saturday. Both Wood (a wing) and Leslie (a forward) were in foul trouble throughout the game, which resulted in some new lineups. At one point, three players who could in theory play point guard – Brown, Purvis and freshman reserve Tyler Lewis – were in at the same time.
After the game, Purvis was asked if that three-guard lineup had ever been used before. “Yeah, several times,” Purvis said. He paused, thinking it over. “Well…not really. Not a lot.” NC State goes with a lot of different lineups in practice, but Purvis said that he can’t remember ever being out there in practice with Brown and Lewis.
When asked if we’d see that lineup again, he seemed much more confident. “Every game, it seems to be a new guy in foul trouble with this team,” Purvis said with a grin. “So you’re going to see many different lineups. I can promise you that.”
RICHARD HOWELL DOESN’T FOUL (LATELY)
One guy that hasn’t been in foul trouble lately? Richard Howell. The senior has seemingly decided he doesn’t much care for losing, and since the loss at Michigan (when he fouled out) he has a total of four fouls in the last three games. NC State has arguably two of its toughest wins this year – UNC-Asheville and UConn – directly because of Howell not being in foul trouble. He played 68 minutes combined in those games, and only missed time during the UConn game because of taking an elbow to the head/neck region.
“Richard has been in foul trouble a number of nights and just can’t get in a flow. … Last year, there were very few games where he could get 34 minutes like he did (Saturday), very few, because of the foul situation,” Gottfried said. “He’s developing some discipline defensively. He’s not reaching as much. He’s not putting himself in positions where he’s trying to recover and make silly fouls. We’re a lot better as a team when all of them are out of foul trouble, quite honestly.”
Howell pulled down nearly half of NC State’s rebounds (19, a career-high, out of 42) by himself on Saturday, including 16 of their 32 defensive rebounds. He’s listed at 6-8, but he’s more like 6-7. His freakishly long arms and fantastic hands are part of the reason he had a tendency to reach in on the perimeter and try to get a steal, but they also make him the great rebounder that he’s become.
Sometimes, even his teammates have a tendency to assume he’ll get every rebound. “What happens to our team at times too is because he’s such a good rebounder, we’ve got other guys leaking our every now and then because we feel like he’s going to get it. If he doesn’t get it, balls are around the floor and bouncing and (the opponents) pick up some loose balls because we’re leaking out (in transition),” Gottfried said.
“But we’re leaking out because there’s so much confidence that Richard’s going to get it. What we’ve got to do is make sure that we still rebound as a team better. But he finds a way usually to help us start the break. He’ll get rid of it quick on an outlet pass so we can start the break. He made some nice passes, I thought, too tonight. He had a heck of a game.”
T.J. WARREN’S CRAZY EFFICIENCY
Warren continues to look like an ACC Rookie of the Year candidate. His game is reminiscent of former North Carolina star Antawn Jamison with his quick release and overall smoothness. Nothing looks difficult for Warren, and every shot looks like it’s going in (and most have – he’s hit 69% of his field goals this season).
As quietly as someone can have 21 points, Warren did that Saturday. He was 9-of-11 from the floor and 2-of-2 from three-point range. He has shot 7-of-11 from three this year (64%).
Even at 6-foot-8, he’s got the green light from three. Well, maybe. “Sort of, kind of, yeah,” Warren said. “I just want to have confidence when I’m shooting that. Coach told me to shoot that, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
When asked to elaborate on “sort of”, he said, “Shoot it when I’m open.” The follow-up question was: “When you’re feeling it?” Warren shrugged. “I mean, I can shoot it whenever.”
If there’s a negative with Warren, it’s that he hasn’t done much else besides score. He is averaging just 3.4 rebounds a game (he had five on Saturday, his most since November 15) and he has just two blocks all season. But considering he’s scored 131 points in 237 minutes, it’s very difficult to find fault.
It sounds insane to say this on a night when the Wolfpack put up 84 points and shot 57%, but they did leave plenty of points on the floor, as the saying goes. The Wolfpack shot just 64% from the foul line (which is their season average), blew a few transition opportunities trying to get “too cute” as their head coach put it and turned it over 17 times.
But there was one basket that even Purvis admits was probably a gift from the basketball gods. Brown attempted to throw Purvis an alley-oop in transition on the other side of the basket, but Purvis only got his fingertips on it, almost like he was setting the ball in volleyball. It popped up in the air and somehow fell in the basket.
They were fortunate on that play, but Purvis said that he and Brown are really starting to get a good feel for each other when they’re on the court together. “Honestly, I don’t know how that went in. It hurt my fingernail, so I don’t really know how that went in,” Purvis said. “The mental connection, we play a lot in practice, getting a feel for each other, knowing what each other can do, what spots and what’s good for each other. So we just try our best to capitalize on everything.”
Boston College (1-1) vs. Dayton (1-1), 2:30 PM, ESPNU (Charleston Classic)
What to watch: BC’s three-point shooting. The Eagles got going from three somewhat against Baylor, hitting 10-of-26 (38.5%), but they’ve made just 27.9% on the year. Meanwhile, their opponents have made 21-of-50 (42%). BC can’t afford to continue to be outscored like that from three.
Random Dayton facts: Dayton is coached by former NC State point guard Archie Miller. But the Flyer mascot – whose name is Rudy Flyer – comes from that whole thing where Ohio thinks they were first in flight just because the Wright Brothers are from there and built the plane there. Okay, that’s fine I guess. But the flight thing happened in North Carolina, so let’s get that part straight.
Prediction: Boston College, 75-66.
No. 6 NC State (2-0) vs. Massachusetts (2-0), 5:00 PM, ESPN2/U/3 (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
What to watch: The running game. Both of these teams are fine with going up-tempo, and that should keep NC State engaged on both ends. The Wolfpack got out to a big lead last night but seemed to lose interest defensively late in the game, per their head coach, in a slow-paced affair. Massachusetts will have to be wary of when they run against NC State, because if they try to out-run the Wolfpack, they’ll lose. UMass creates more possessions with pressure defense (at times full-court), so NC State will have to make good decisions.
Chaz Williams versus Lorenzo Brown. Brown will be nearly half a foot taller than the diminutive UMass point guard, but Williams has never let size get in the way. The junior averaged 16.9 points and 6.2 assists last season and he’s up to 7.5 assists this year. Like Brown, he’s a good rebounder (4.4 a game last year, 5.0 this year). Also like Brown, he’ll turn it over from time to time but has a knack for getting steals. Brown became a much better defender last season, but this will be his biggest challenge yet on both sides of the ball.
Random UMass facts: You’d think that UMass would have been the Minutemen for most of its history, but no – they were the Redmen until 1972.
Prediction: NC State, 89-71.
Wake Forest (1-0) vs. No. 23/UR Connecticut (2-0), 6:30 PM, CBS SN (Paradise Jam)
What to watch: Turnovers. Wake Forest shot 64% against Radford in their season-opening win, but only won by 12 points, in large part because they turned it over 18 times. Radford had 22 of their 67 points off of Wake’s turnovers. UConn has made opponents pay for turnovers, turning 31 turnovers into 39 points in two games. This isn’t a great matchup for Wake anyway, and they can’t afford to give away possessions.
Random Connecticut facts: UConn decided to get a mascot in the 1930s because they were inspired by a story of Rhode Island’s ram mascot being kidnapped. The husky was selected by a student poll. Jonathan IV was notoriously feisty: he once bit Yale’s bulldog mascot on the nose and would growl when an opposing basketball team scored on UConn.
Prediction: Connecticut, 75-69.
Clemson (1-0) at Furman, (1-1), 7:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: The Clemson freshmen. Four saw at least 16 minutes, and three of them combined for 26 points in 57 minutes. Last year, Clemson head coach Brad Brownell couldn’t trust his freshmen for extended minutes. He may not have a choice this year, so this young group is going to have to come along quickly.
Random Furman facts: For awhile, the Furman football team was “the Hurricane” and the baseball team was the Hornets. Only the basketball team was the Paladins, and they were dubbed that by a sportswriter. It was adopted for all teams in 1961.
Prediction: Clemson, 76-57.
Florida State (1-1) vs. BYU (2-0), 7:00 PM, TruTV (Coaches vs. Cancer)
What to watch: Florida State’s defense. According to Ken Pomeroy, Florida State’s defense is 48th in the country. That’s a respectable ranking for most, but not a team like Florida State that’s perennially in the top 10. BYU is more than capable of putting up very good offensive numbers, so FSU is going to have to get this fixed, and quickly. The Seminoles have allowed 72 points per game to two subpar teams on 46% shooting and 47% from three.
Random BYU facts: It’s still Hammer Time at BYU, evidently. But the Cosmo the Cougar, can break it down.
Prediction: BYU, 82-71.
Jacksonville (1-1) at Miami (1-1), 7:00 PM, RSN
What to watch: Miami looks to go 2-1 against the Atlantic Sun. That’s right – their first three opponents are from the Atlantic Sun. Miami struggled with Stetson and lost to Florida Gulf Coast because they couldn’t defend them inside the arc (40 points in the paint) or on the backboards (the Canes were out-rebounded 40-32). Starting shooting guard Durand Scott will serve the final game of his suspension against Jacksonville, and he had nothing to do with either of those ugly stats from the Miami loss.
Random Jacksonville facts: The dolphin became the official mascot in 1947, and a 59-year-old live dolphin – Nellie – is the live mascot (she lives in St. Augustine).
Prediction: Miami, 83-75.
Long Island (0-2) at Maryland (1-1), 7:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Long Island is an up-tempo team that thrives on getting to the foul line, and the Blackbirds are as good of a team as Maryland will see before the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. The Terps were sloppy at times against Morehead State, and they can’t afford to let down too much in this one.
Random Long Island facts: Long Island used to be known as the Blue Devils, but then they dressed all in black and a local reporter wrote they reminded him of a blackbird.
Prediction: Maryland, 84-68.
No. 11 North Carolina (2-0) at Long Beach State (1-1), 11:05 PM, ESPNU
What to watch: How will the young Tar Heels handle the road? Carolina has looked good at times and shaky at others. Now, they’ll be in a very difficult environment facing a team coming off of a program-changing season a year ago. The 49ers are not going to just roll over for UNC, and they’ll have to tough their way through it.
Random Long Beach State facts: They’re the 49ers, but the baseball team doesn’t use this mascot. Instead, they’ve dubbed themselves the Dirtbags. It stems from 1989, when the lack of a field meant infielders often had to use a local all-dirt Pony League field to practice, thus rejoining their teammates covered in dirt. And that’s easily the most flattering definition of dirtbag ever.
Oh, and also, Long Beach State has a senior guard named Peter Poppageorge. They could dominate an all-name team tournament: Branford Jones, Deng Deng, Gatete Djuma?
Prediction: North Carolina, 75-64.
Last week’s picks: 10-2
Lindsay Funke: You’ll never be able to pull this off, Michael. You’re the good guy. This isn’t you.
Michael: It’s me now, Lindsay. It’s the me that can recline.
[he leans back and hits his head on the railing]
Lindsay Funke: I’m saying every time something starts to go well for you, you blow it.
Tobias Fünke: Nothing has ever gone well for me, and you know that.
NC State has not been the favorite in quite some time, and whenever it had a semblance of preseason hype, the team has fallen flat on its face (see 2008). In the fan base, a phenomenon of NC State….stuff has arisen: the concept that what can go wrong, will go wrong, in all sports. And sometimes, things no one would even think could go wrong, go wrong. Sheer terror has gripped NC State fans as they see that their team is the prohibitive favorite to win the league.
2012 record/results: 24-13 overall, 9-7 ACC, No. 11 seed in NCAA Tournament, Sweet 16 (L to No. 2 seed Kansas). Yes, NC State lost 13 games last year. But they lost to just two teams all season that finished outside Pomeroy’s top 50, and 11 of their 13 losses were to top-33 teams (eight to the top 20).
Reason for optimism: As the Wolfpack bought into what then first-year head coach Mark Gottfried was selling, they became a better defensive team by the end of the year and won six of their final eight games. Their only two losses were to top-10 teams North Carolina and Kansas, by a combined five points. Oh, and they return pretty much their entire core from last year: four of five starters, including point guard Lorenzo Brown, who should complete the transition he began last year from very good to elite.
Reason for pessimism: There’s little depth on this team, and the depth they do have they’re not likely to use. Big men Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie are still going to pick up questionable fouls, and when those one or both have to sit down, freshman T.J. Warren could come in along with…Thomas de Thaey? Jordan Vandenberg? Both are unproven, and not as good as last year’s go-to big man sub DeShawn Painter, who transferred. Senior small forward Scott Wood is the only reliable three-point shooter on the team, and he has struggled to get off his shot against more athletic defenders. Who else can make outside shots if he’s not hitting?
Michael: Maybe we were better off with me being businesslike and you being the good time useless party guy.
Gob: It got us this far. And I must say I miss the laughter. Oh God, how they used to laugh with me.
Michael: AT you. We have to figure out a way to hire everybody back. A meeting.
Gob: A party.
Michael: No, we just had a party.
Gob: Yeah but I didn’t get to have any fun.
Gob: [arms crossed] Then there’s me. The joker. The goofball. The magician.
[quickly makes a magician’s gesture with his hands]
Michael: I thought you were gonna do a little fireball there.
Gob: I was. It didn’t go off.
I have no idea why those quotes work for Virginia. They just do.
2012 record/results: 22-10 overall, 9-7 ACC, No. 10 seed in NCAA Tournament, First Round (L to No. 7 seed Florida). Virginia began the season 15-2 with one of their losses being a close one at Duke that convinced everyone the Cavaliers were for real. But they finished the season 7-8.
Reason for optimism: Head coach Tony Bennett will have Virginia playing pesky defense, as usual. UVa lost Mike Scott, who was one of the best players in the ACC last year, but they still have two starters left (wing Joe Harris and point guard Jontel Evans). Harris was always steady, but Evans had some very encouraging offensive performances last year. Bennett has brought in six freshmen, at least three of which should make a contribution.
Reason for pessimism: Scott was Virginia’s go-to guy last year. The only even semi-proven player on this roster is Harris, and even he averaged just 9.8 points in ACC play. Evans was far from consistent: somehow, he averaged 10.8 points in four games against FSU and UNC, but 7.6 against other ACC opponents. Akil Mitchell will have to replace Scott, and he found himself frequently in foul trouble last year. Through a combination of graduation and transfers, Virginia is dangerously thin.
Michael: You want to be in charge?
Michael: You want to deal with what I deal with? A sister who takes your money and throws it away. A mother who you can’t trust. A company whose founder may be on trial for treason. Is that what you want?
Gob: What kind of vacation time does it offer?
Lucille: The company is in danger.
Michael: What tipped you off? The falling profit margins or the fact that we’re a regular feature on Bill O’Reilly’s most ridiculous item of the day?
Gob: I’ve made a huge mistake.
Former Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg was on the hot seat, and his assistant coaches were jumping ship. On their way out, they gave exit interviews to Virginia Tech. James Johnson, who left to take the top assistant job at Clemson last year, was no different. Two months later, he was hired as the head coach at Virginia Tech to replace Greenberg, who supposedly (according to the aforementioned exit interviews) didn’t create a “family atmosphere” for his staff. Interesting. You wanted to be the boss, James Johnson? Well, good luck. I wonder if either he or the Virginia Tech administration thinks they’ve made a huge mistake yet.
2012 record/results: 16-17 overall, 4-12 ACC. The Hokies were 11-3 entering ACC season before the wheels fell off. They lost 12 games by fewer than ten points. Even their four ACC wins were decided by a total of six points.
Reason for optimism: Point guard Erick Green is a special player, and there is some experience around him. In fact, Virginia Tech will only have one scholarship freshman. Forward Cadarian Raines got a lot better last year, and neither Robert Brown nor Jarrell Eddie have been shy about trying to carry some of the scoring load. Their starting five is as good as any, but…
Reason for pessimism: …if any of them have to come out of the game for any reason – injury, foul trouble, anything – the Hokies will be in big trouble. There are only eight scholarship players on the roster. And the ones behind the starting five either aren’t very good, are unproven, or both.
Tobias Fünke: Come on, Lindsay. We’ve had some great times.
[a white screen appears with text reading: “Footage not found.”]
Michael: I burned it. Down to the ground.
George Sr.: There was money in that banana stand.
Michael: Well, it’s all gone now.
George Sr.: There was $250,000 lining the inside walls of the banana stand.
George Sr.: Cash, Michael. What the hell did you think I meant when I said…
George Sr.: [yells] There is money… in… the banana stand.
Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik could make Ron Wellman look smart after all. It didn’t seem like a good hire three years ago, and the timing was strange considering former head coach Dino Gaudio had just made the NCAA Tournament. It seemed like an even worse hire when Bzdelik won just one ACC game in 2011 and showed just slight improvement last year with a 13-18 record. Wake Forest fans have had to cope with some pretty bad basketball along the way, and they’re still trying to rekindle fan interest. If Bzdelik’s freshman class is as advertised, though, it shouldn’t take long.
2011 record/results: 13-18 overall, 4-12 ACC. About the only good thing you can say about last year’s Wake Forest team is that it finished the non-conference schedule 9-5 with just two embarrassing losses (Arizona State and Wofford). Half of their ACC wins were against BC.
Reason for optimism: C.J. Harris and Travis McKie are one of the best returning duos in the country. And they might just finally have some help this year, particularly McKie, from a very highly-touted freshman class. Also, it can’t get worse for the Deacons than it’s been the last few years. Even if Wake struggles, the freshmen are good enough to start winning back the hearts and minds of Wake fans as they finally have a reason for hope.
Reason for pessimism: It’s essentially Harris, McKie, sophomore sharp-shooter Chase Fischer and a gang of freshmen at this point. McKie and Harris are great players, but it’s impossible to know how the freshmen will play on a given night. So, maybe it can get worse – at least before it gets better. They’re going to start a freshman at point guard (Codi Miller-McIntyre). Ken Pomeroy only has the Deacs projected for nine wins this year.
Okay, I went through and actually predicted this game by game because I’m either insane or…no, just insane. My ACC ballot was based on those predictions.
1. Florida State (14-4)*
2. Duke (14-4)*
3. NC State (13-5)**
4. UNC (13-5)**
5. Miami (13-5)**
6. Maryland (9-9)
7. Clemson (7-11)
8. Wake Forest (6-12)
9. Virginia (5-13)
10. Boston College (5-13)
11. Virginia Tech (4-14)
12. Georgia Tech (3-15)
*Duke and Florida State only face off against each other once, and I have Florida State winning. Ergo, Florida State wins the ACC regular-season. (But not the Tournament. I think NC State will win that. Since that’s the actual ACC winner, I figured I might as well go ahead and call that one, too.)
**Those 3-4-5 teams finish with the same record, so I just sort of arbitrarily ordered them because I didn’t feel like going back and looking at tiebreakers.
ACC Player of the Year: Michael Snaer, Florida State. NC State’s Lorenzo Brown, C.J. Leslie and maybe even Richard Howell will make a run at this. I think Miami’s Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji might also have something to say about this. But Snaer is a man on a mission, and while those other teams will be more offensively balanced, Snaer will be FSU’s best player on both ends of the floor.
ACC Rookie of the Year: T.J. Warren, NC State. Call it a hunch.
All-ACC First Team:
Michael Snaer, Florida State
Lorenzo Brown, NC State
Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Reggie Bullock, North Carolina
Mason Plumlee, Duke
(Honestly, they said “last call for ballots” and I panicked, writing down the first five or so names I could think of that I had been considering. But in hindsight, I think it’s a good list.)
No. 1 North Carolina (31-5) vs. No. 13 Ohio (29-7), 7:47 PM, TBS (St. Louis, MO)
Kendall Marshall is likely out for this game, so Carolina is going to have to make do without its point guard. The Tar Heels are capable of doing that, but they’re playing an Ohio team that can force a ton of turnovers and will pressure the Carolina backup point guards.
Key to the game: Carolina using its size advantage. The tallest Ohio player is 6-8, and their two NCAA tournament opponents have hit 53.2% of their two-point attempts (Ohio made 46.2% from two). But the Bobcats have won in the tournament by getting to the foul line and hitting three’s (15-of-34, or 44.1%) while their opponents have hit just 9-of-38 three’s (23.7%). Maybe the Bobcats, who shoot 33.8% from three on the year, will go cold. But even if they don’t, Carolina has to make sure it dominates the paint on both ends, which it doesn’t need Marshall to do.
Opponent to watch: D.J. Cooper. The 5-11 junior point guard has been among the national leaders in both assist rate and steal rate since his freshman year, and he has basically been the Ohio offense. Lately, he’s been a tricky matchup for opponents since he’s hitting three-pointers (41.7% in the NCAA tournament) and slashing to the basket. He’s averaging 19.8 points and 6.4 assists over the last five games.
While Kendall Marshall was hardly a defensive dynamo, he still called the defenses for Carolina and helped his teammates get where they needed to be since he knew opponents’ sets. Michigan and South Florida are pretty good defensive teams, and even they couldn’t find a way to contain him. It seems like a tall order for a freshman point guard or even a very solid defensive player in Justin Watts, who is not used to guarding point guards.
Prediction: North Carolina 74, Ohio 65
Random Mascot Facts: Ohio was just known as the “Green and White” until 1925 when they picked the Bobcat “for its reputation as a sly, wily, scrappy animal”. They renamed their mascot “Rufus” in 2006 (because the bobcat species name is Lynx rufus). In 1940, Bing Crosby gave Ohio a live bobcathe had received from an fan of his swing band (called The Bobcats). It went to the Cleveland Zoo and eventually died after it was allegedly poisoned.
And today’s Bobcat mascot is perhaps best known for doing this to the Buckeye:
No. 11 NC State (24-12) vs. No. 2 Kansas (29-6), 10:17 PM, TBS (St. Louis, MO)
NC State believes it can win this game, even facing a very good Kansas team in St. Louis (which is just under a five-hour drive from Lawrence). If State can play smart basketball and maintain its self-belief throughout any adversity during the game, the Wolfpack will at least have a chance down the stretch.
Key to the game: NC State’s inside game vs. Kansas. The Jayhawks present all kinds of matchup problems for NC State on both ends with a front line of potential National Player of the Year in Thomas Robinson (6-9) and 7-foot shot-blocking machine Jeff Withey. But C.J. Leslie presents matchup problems for Kansas as well with his athleticism, and Richard Howell can be just as tenacious as Robinson on the glass. And like NC State, Kansas doesn’t have much of a bench. State needs to find a way to get Kansas’ bigs in trouble as they did Georgetown’s. If State is the team in foul trouble, it could be a long evening.
Opponent to watch: Tyshawn Taylor. After a very shaky start to the season, Taylor has been fantastic, leading his team in scoring during the Big 12 season. His strength has been as a scorer (of his 13 games with 20 or more points, 11 have come in the last 19 games). He shoots nearly 50% from the floor and 42% from three, and he takes plenty of shots. Taylor also bounced back from some horrifying turnover numbers (including 11 in a loss to Duke). He committed three or fewer turnovers in 14 of Kansas’s final 21 games.
If he has a weakness, it’s at the foul line where he shoots just 69.4 percent, and he doesn’t rebound very well. That’s a good matchup for State’s Lorenzo Brown, who averages 4.5 rebounds. With as well as Brown has been defending lately, this matchup could help turn the game in the Wolfpack’s favor. Brown seems more than ready to take on the challenge, but it will be a stiff test as Taylor hardly lacks for confidence.
Prediction: Kansas 78, NC State 71
Random Mascot Facts: A Jayhawk is a mythical bird (combination of a blue jay and a sparrow hark) and its usage dates back to 1848, referencing the settlers in the Kansas Territory. A blue jay is known to rob other nests and a sparrow hawk is a stealthy hunter, so as this website says: “Don’t turn your back on this bird.” But the best recent story about the Jayhawk involved a little girl (a Kansas State fan) who refused to color in a picture of a Jayhawk and instead colored in a picture of a Wildcat:
Last week: 5-4
Season: 146-54 (14-7 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)
NC State (18-7, 7-3) at Duke (21-4, 8-2), 9:00 PM, ACC Network split/ESPN3
Duke is now tied for the lead in the ACC with six games to go, and two of those six games are against teams it is tied with, including a chance to avenge a loss to Florida State and nullify FSU’s head-to-head advantage. They’ll also get a home rematch with North Carolina. But of the other four remaining games, tonight is the toughest by far. NC State has just one “bad” loss (Georgia Tech) and no “big” win. And while the Wolfpack is still listed as in the NCAA tournament as of this moment, that could change if they can’t get a big win or two, or if they lose a few they shouldn’t. They will want this game badly, and Duke has certainly shown it is vulnerable in Cameron. The Blue Devils will have to be very focused.
Stat to watch: The offensive glass. Both teams have had some success on the offensive boards this year, but both have also struggled to keep their opponents off of the boards. NC State started off well in this category, posting a defensive rebounding percentage of 72.7% and an offensive rebounding percentage of 34.5% in its first four ACC games. But in the last six, the Wolfpack has rebounded just 30.7% of available offensive boards and 64.7% of defensive boards. The only dominant rebounding game they’ve had in that stretch was against Virginia, when they rebounded 47.4% of their misses and 82.8% of Virginia’s (but still lost).
Duke had posted just one defensive rebounding percentage above 70% prior to pulling down 74.4% of available defensive boards against Maryland. And Duke’s 44.7% on the offensive glass was also a season-high in league play. But it’s still less than two weeks removed from Miami coming into Cameron on Super Bowl Sunday and pulling down 43.5% of available offensive rebounds on their way to an overtime win. NC State has shown it’s capable of rebounding that well, but it won’t be easy and Duke is certainly a much more confident rebounding team than they were a week ago.
Most important players: Lorenzo Brown, N.C. State and Miles Plumlee, Duke. Miles Plumlee’s 22 rebounds against Maryland on Saturday were the most by a player under Mike Krzyzewski, breaking a record previously held by NBA star Elton Brand. His performance was reminiscent of former Duke center Brian Zoubek’s breakout game against Maryland in 2010 when the 7-footer had 17 points and 17 rebounds. Zoubek, like Plumlee, was a senior and had been only contributing sporadically before that outburst sparked his confidence and made him into a force that helped lead Duke to a national championship. Duke Hoop Blog took a look at the parallels between each players’ senior seasons, and whether or not Plumlee can keep it up.
The senior forward was said to be one of the most improved players coming into the season, but it hasn’t materialized yet. He’s had some nice games against N.C. State in the past: last year, he averaged 7.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in two games against N.C. State in just 19.5 minutes per game. If Plumlee is indeed going to turn into a Zoubek-like force for the Blue Devils, it will start tonight.
NC State point guard Lorenzo Brown has had his struggles this season in league play, including a three-game stretch where he shot just 8-of-23 from the floor (3-of-10 from three) and averaged 7.3 points, 5.7 assists and 4.7 turnovers. But in the last two games, he’s averaging six assists and three turnovers to go with 12.5 points on 8-of-18 shooting. He also got to the foul line six times at Georgia Tech in a tough road win and those six attempts were his most in ACC play. He had been attempting a ton of free throws before ACC play began, but a combination of tougher opponents and looser officiating led to that number going way down. But Brown has a nice history (albeit limited) against Duke: the sophomore struggled in his first meeting with Duke last season, shooting 0-of-6 and notching just one assist in 20 minutes. But at Cameron, he had 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists and no turnovers in 34 minutes and shot 6-of-13 from the floor and 3-of-6 from the foul line.
Random stat: It’s been so long since NC State has beaten a Mike Krzyzewski-coached Duke team in Cameron Indoor Stadium that it became a topic on Twitter
(#TweetsFromStatesLastRoadWinAgainstK). The last time they did it was 1988. The Wolfpack knocked off a Pete Gaudet-coached Duke team in Cameron in 1996 when Krzyzewski was out with a back injury.
Prediction: Duke 77, N.C. State 64
Last week: 7-4
Season: 108-39 (44-20 ACC)
Wake Forest (11-11, 2-6) at N.C. State (16-7, 5-3), 1:00 PM, ACC Network split/ESPN3
By now, it’s pretty clear that the only way Wake Forest is going to win an ACC game against a team with legitimate talent is by slowing the pace to a crawl, hoping their opponent misses shots and they make some. Against North Carolina, they slowed it down and North Carolina missed shots, but the Deacons missed even more. And after a scare at Boston College on Wednesday, N.C. State understands now more than ever that they can’t take any of their remaining league games for granted. With its next stretch here, the Wolfpack should be 7-3 in the ACC before having three straight opportunities to knock off the top three teams in the league (Duke, Florida State and North Carolina, the latter two at home). But it has to get through this one first, and just because it won 76-40 in Winston-Salem a few weeks ago doesn’t mean the rematch will be easy. Although with the way Wake has been playing, it could be.
Stat to watch: Wake Forest’s three-point shooting. For once, you shouldn’t watch this statistic because of N.C. State’s three-point defense, which has actually improved significantly. This is more of an indictment of Wake’s offense and how much the Deacons have struggled to hit three’s in ACC play. In the non-conference, Wake hit 36% of its three’s, averaging 5.7 made three’s per game. In ACC play, Wake has hit just 25% and averaged 4.0 makes. In 11 wins this season, Wake his made 40.8% of its three’s compared to just 22.3% in 11 losses. In the ACC, it’s been even worse: the Deacons have made 20.6% of their three’s in league losses compared to 38.7% in two wins. Wake’s worst outing this season? A 2-of-20 performance against N.C. State in the 76-40 loss on January 14th.
C.J. Harris is Wake’s best shooter but he’s in a bit of a slump, making just 9-of-27 (33.3%) in league play. Still, he has over a quarter of Wake’s made three’s and along with Travis McKie (who has made just 6-of-25) those two have accounted for 47% of Wake’s made three’s in league play. Before conference play, those two accounted for half of Wake’s made three’s but they hit 46.5% combined. Tony Chennault and Chase Fischer have made three’s here and there, but the Deacons need them to step up and make a few more to take some pressure off of McKie and Harris. If they can, Wake might have somewhat of a chance. They’re certainly more offensively talented in general than Georgia Tech, which managed to beat N.C. State in Raleigh.
Most important players: Lorenzo Brown, N.C. State and Travis McKie, Wake Forest. McKie continues to play hard despite some frustrating outings, but last time he faced N.C. State, he was ejected after hitting Scott Wood with an elbow. It was unlike McKie to do that, but he was clearly frustrated. He’ll have to be able to contain that this time around. Against the league’s best teams, it’s been a mixed bag: he was 1-of-5 against N.C. State, 1-of-13 against Florida State and 2-of-11 against North Carolina. But he was 6-of-12 at Duke and 8-of-14 at Maryland, so it’s clear he can do it. And even when his shot isn’t falling, he’s really improved his rebounding: he’s averaging 10 rebounds in ACC play and 10.8 in the last five games (12.5 in the last two). But he had just four against N.C. State in thee last meeting. He’ll need to keep hitting the boards hard and eventually his shot will fall.
It’s not so much that Lorenzo Brown is playing badly, it’s how the sophomore point guard has looked while doing it. He doesn’t seem nearly as confident on the floor and at times, he seems unsure of his exact role in the offense in terms of how often he needs to assert himself as a scorer. He began ACC play averaging 13.3 points on 48% shooting, adding 32 assists (8.0 per game) to just 11 turnovers. But in the last four games, Brown has averaged 7.3 points on 35.5% shooting, adding 23 assists (5.8 per game) to 19 turnovers (4.8 per game). Brown is an excellent player and it showed in particular with his 20-point outing at Wake Forest in the first meeting this year. Even North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall, much less of a scoring threat generally than Brown, tore apart the Wake defense for 14 points on Wednesday. If Brown can’t get back on track in this game, it will be a bad omen for the rest of his – and State’s – season.
Random stat: N.C. State’s Richard Howell was whistled for just two fouls at Boston College on Wednesday, dropping his foul per game average to 3.3. But he is still on pace to at least challenge a rather dubious record of fouls in a season. Per Stephen Schramm at the Fayetteville Observer, the N.C. State single-season record is held by former point guard Ilian Evtimov, of all people (he had 110 fouls in 2005). The career record (372) is held by Cozell McQueen.
Prediction: N.C. State 82, Wake Forest 61
Last week: 12-0
Season: 96-31 (32-12 ACC)