IUPUI (6-11) at Maryland (11-1), 3:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Charles Mitchell. Maryland’s freshman rebounding machine continues to develop, and he set new career highs in points (19) and rebounds (14) against Delaware State, in just 24 minutes. He hasn’t played more than 24 minutes all year, as he’s coming off the bench to spell senior James Padgett. But Mitchell’s productivity, particularly on the glass, has Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon considering a lineup change. Padgett has gone eight straight games without reachign double figures in scoring, and his season-high in rebounds is six.
Random IUPUI facts: In 1998, IUPUI changed its name from the “Metros” to the Jaguars. Jinx the Jaguar is “the perfect personification of IUPUI athletics – He is powerful, swift and confident.” I guess there’s not a mascot to symbolize mediocrity?
Prediction: Maryland, 77-54. The only thing that could slow the Terrapins in this one is boredom.
The Citadel (3-7) at Clemson (7-4), 4:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Milton Jennings. Clemson’s talented junior forward has either struggled or not played in every winnable game Clemson has lost this year (arguably, the Tigers are just not as good as Arizona, and Jennings was great in that game). Typically, he has shown a tendency to show up more against name opponents, but he had 15 points in just 22 minutes. He needs to be engaged at all times for Clemson to have success in the league this year.
Random Citadel facts: The history of Citadel’s live bulldog mascot is storied, but we’ve covered it before. But who knew there was a costumed mascot, too? It’s hard to know, since even a Google Image search doesn’t yield many results. Seriously, Citadel. You don’t need Spike.
Prediction: Clemson, 66-44. The Citadel is terrible: two of its three wins are against non-Division I teams, and the Bulldogs have lost six straight.
Last week: 10-4
Cleveland State (6-2) at No. 25/24 NC State (5-2), 2:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: NC State’s three-point defense. NC State’s opponents are scoring nearly 32% of their points from behind the arc, even if they aren’t hitting a high percentage (33.1%). But in the last four games (all either close wins or losses), opponents have hit nearly 38 percent. UConn hit the lowest percentage (34.8%), but NC State also fouled UConn on a three-pointer twice in the final 3:09 (UConn hit four of those six free throws). Counting those, UConn scored over 43% of their points on three-point attempts. Cleveland State is hitting 36.7% of its three’s, and the Vikings are a solid team. If NC State doesn’t guard the three-point line, Cleveland State could keep the game close the same way UNC-Asheville did.
Random Cleveland State facts: Cleveland State was known as Fenn College from 1923-64, and when it was Fenn College, they were the Fenn Foxes. Now, they’re the Vikings. Boo. More teams besides Marist should be named “Fox”.
Also, look at these pranksters!
Prediction: NC State, 82-64. NC State won a tough game against Connecticut that they might not have a year ago. After some early tests, the Wolfpack is ready to win a game like this convincingly against a decent team at home.
South Carolina State (4-4) at Maryland (7-1), 2:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Pe’Shon Howard. Howard has had a great season in terms of assists (49) and turnovers (15), but the junior point guard hasn’t made a shot since November 20th. He’s shooting just 3-of-21 this season. He played just nine minutes in the rout of UMES, but head coach Mark Turgeon said he was dealing with a stomach issue. Turgeon’s lineup tweaks seem more experimental, but Howard ideally needs to become a scoring threat. Freshman Seth Allen and even starting guard Nick Faust ran the point some against UMES. Howard is the best option, but if injury or illness keeps him out – as it has before – he could get Wally Pipped.
Random South Carolina State facts: Bulldogs? Not a great mascot. But the South Carolina State band/dancers/whatever brings it, always. I’m not sure they’ll bring these girls with them, which is probably for the best if Maryland doesn’t want to get distracted.
And this is officially my favorite band ever. Pretty Brown Eyes!
Prediction: Maryland, 95-63. The best team South Carolina State has played so far is Albany. They lost by 25 points. Also, Ken Pomeroy ranks 347 D-I schools. UMES is 345th. South Carolina State is 343rd.
St. Francis (NY) (2-4) at Boston College (3-5), 2:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Boston College’s defense. Just, any defense would be fine. Harvard was pretty anemic offensively before hosting BC, when they put up 79 points and shot 55% from the floor. BC isn’t forcing many turnovers, so the least the Eagles have to do is guard the ball better. Or, just, at all. Or they’ll lose, even a game like this one.
Random St. Francis (NY) facts: I couldn’t find the reason that the school chose the Terrier mascot in 1933. So instead, I give you this:
In case y’all haven’t heard, though, the Terriers are coming. Or they were in 2010-11.
Prediction: Boston College, 71-65. The only team that has made easy work of St. Francis so far is Illinois. Army, Norfolk State and Albany beat St. Francis by a combined 18 points. This won’t be an easy one for BC. But then again, what game is?
No. 2 Duke (8-0) vs. Temple (6-0), 3:15 PM, ESPN (East Rutherford)
What to watch: How elite has Duke’s perimeter become? Mason Plumlee has been terrific this season, but the reason Duke has been great is because he has help. Last year, Duke lost to Temple and the Owls had five in double figures (led by two-guard Khalif Wyatt’s 22 points). Duke saw 33 of its 73 points scored by Mason and Miles Plumlee, who had 16 and 17, respectively. But no Blue Devil could slow down any of Temple’s guards, who did whatever they wanted offensively. All five of Duke’s guards had 28 points on 9-of-30 shooting.
This year, Duke has balance on both ends of the court. Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook have taken a lot of pride in defending on the perimeter, and Seth Curry has gotten better at it but is still limited physically. If Duke is going to be one of the nation’s best teams – which they look like right now – they’ll have to handle yet another tough test.
Random Temple facts: We’ve highlighted the Owl mascot in this space before. Fortunately for Temple’s mascot, it doesn’t live in Colombia. Or else it would have been kicked by this soccer player.
Hooter the Owl does celebrate its birthday every year, and other mascots come to join. There are some weird mascots out there.
Prediction: Duke, 81-70. This is just another stop on the Duke basketball revenge tour.
Mississippi Valley State (0-4) at Virginia (7-2), 4:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: The UVa freshmen. While they helped carry the team early, they haven’t been as efficient of late and as a result, haven’t played as much. Evan Nolte and Justin Anderson combined to average 14.3 points in 48.3 minutes in UVa’s first six games, but in the last three, they’ve combined for 6.7 points in just 25.3 minutes. Mike Tobey has played a total of 20 minutes in the last three games (after averaging 13.3 in the first six) and has just five points. Really, only backup point guard Teven Jones has seen consistent minutes, and that’s only because of the injury to starter Jontel Evans. This is the type of game that can allow the freshmen to get back on track, because UVa will need them going forward.
Random Mississippi Valley State facts: South Carolina State isn’t the only school with a great band/dancers.
Known as “The Mack of the SWAC”, Mississippi Valley State’s band even did a halftime performance blindfolded.
Prediction: Virginia, 73-47. Mississippi State is 0-4 this year and their closest loss was by 13 to Northwestern. It’s that bad. Although for some reason, the Delta Devils aren’t giving themselves a break – they’ll face Virginia Tech next, and won’t play a game they’re expected to win until early 2013, which will also be their first home game. Ouch.
Virginia Tech (7-0) at West Virginia (3-3), 4:00 PM, ESPN2
What to watch: Virginia Tech on the defensive glass. West Virginia retrieves nearly 41% of its available missed shots, while Virginia Tech is allowing opponents to get just 27.6% of their misses. Against their last two opponents, Virginia Tech has a defensive rebounding percentage of 75.3%, which is excellent. They’ll have to keep that up against the Mountaineers, who don’t often make their first attempt.
Erick Green. Can he keep carrying the Hokies? He was in foul trouble early against Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech trailed as a result. In 26 minutes, he had 28 points and seven rebounds, picking up just one more foul the rest of the way. He’s been phenomenal. But is it asking too much of him to continue being this brilliant? We’ll find out.
Random West Virginia facts: In 1998, a University of Miami assistant coach announced he was suing West Virginia for a 1996 incident where he was hit on the head with a trash can. He alleged that the university failed to adequately protect the visiting team. The injury was reported originally as a bruise, but the lawsuit said he was “severely and permanently” injured. He and West Virginia settled. That assistant coach? Randy Shannon.
Prediction: Virginia Tech, 71-65. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I think the Hokies – should they still healthy – can beat anyone they play this year. West Virginia is a tough place to play, but the Mountaineers have not looked very good so far.
Seton Hall (6-2) at Wake Forest (4-4), 7:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Seton Hall’s three-point percentage. The Pirates are making 38.9% of their three-pointers, 39th in the country, and scoring 36.6% of all their points from three. Wake Forest has been mediocre at best defending the three, but they’ve been better lately: Wake’s last four opponents have made 29.2% of their three’s. If Seton Hall goes crazy from three, Wake will be in danger of being blown out at home. But what else is new, I guess?
Random Seton Hall facts: As usual, the original nickname is often better than the current one: Seton Hall was known as the Villagers for awhile. And as usual, a sportswriter’s random naming of the team is the one that stuck.
Prediction: Seton Hall, 72-59. Seton Hall doesn’t have any great wins or awful losses, but Wake Forest has no good wins and some awful losses.
UNC Wilmington (4-4) at Georgia Tech (5-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Can Georgia Tech score? The Yellow Jackets are fantastic defensively yet again, but at some point, they’re going to have to put up points. They finally started hitting some three-pointers against Georgia, which is a good sign. But they only hit 7-of-27 two-point attempts, which is beyond terrible, and had just ten points in the paint. They’re going to have to develop something consistent on offense that ensures they won’t be in any 40-point affairs this year.
Random UNC Wilmington facts: The sea hawk mascot has gone through a lot of changes over the years, but the late 80’s version (see above) was probably my favorite. Although this one is also strong:
Prediction: Georgia Tech, 79-52. They’re hitting three-pointers now – the rest will come.
East Tennessee State (2-4) at No. 20/16 North Carolina (6-2), 7:30 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: North Carolina’s defense. UAB is an up-tempo squad that presented some matchup problems for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels still allowed the Blazers to score 84 points, the most they have allowed this year. UNC’s last four opponents have combined to shoot 45-of-106 (42.5%) from three and average 0.89 points per possession. In Carolina’s first four games, opponents shot 24% from three and averaged 0.65 points per possession. Obviously, the caliber of opponent was significantly different in the first four games than in the last four. But if this UNC team – which will be hot and cold offensively all year – doesn’t make defense a priority, they’re going to lose some games they shouldn’t. Not this one, but prioritizing defense starts in games like this.
Random East Tennessee State facts: It makes perfect sense that a pirate would be the mascot of a land-locked school in Tennessee. After all, an old pirate supposedly hid some of his gold there in a creek once. A creek that went all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a new pirate in town, and he has a blue face.
Prediction: North Carolina, 82-59. Fortunately for the Tar Heels, East Tennessee State is pretty bad offensively. They’ve had a week off, and while they may be rusty at first, they should still play good, hard-nosed defense.
No. 8 Arizona (6-0) at Clemson (5-2), ESPN2, 8:00 PM
What to watch: Clemson’s three-point defense. Arizona is scoring 33.7% of its points from three and making 41.7% of its three-point attempts, and they take a lot. Clemson is allowing just 30% shooting from three, but they haven’t played a great-shooting team so far. Still, Brad Brownell’s teams traditionally play very good defense, but Purdue went to Clemson and made 8-of-18 three’s (44.4%) in one of Clemson’s two losses. They’ll have to at least contest Arizona’s three’s to have a chance to knock off the Wildcats at home.
Clemson’s changing roster. Starting guard T.J. Sapp decided to transfer earlier this week. Will freshmen Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper be able to step up and fill that role, since they had already been getting the majority of Sapp’s minutes? Milton Jennings is expected to return to the lineup after a suspension. Will he be able to have an impact?
Random Arizona facts: Rufus, the first wildcat mascot, came to campus in 1915. The freshman football team raised the money ($9.91) to buy him. A little over a year later, though, this happened:
…while endeavoring to perform gymnastic stunts in the limbs of a tree to which he was tied, Rufus Arizona… fell and was hung.
Prediction: Arizona, 79-64. The Wildcats haven’t really beaten anyone good yet, and they’ve only played one team away from home. But they’ve beaten most opponents fairly handily and been incredibly efficient offensively. It would take quite the effort by Clemson to knock off Arizona, and they’re not nearly ready enough to do that.
Maine at Florida State (4-4), ESPNU, 4:00 PM
What to watch: FSU giving up extra possessions. Charting possessions using offensive rebounds as a possession (as I do), over 36% of FSU’s opponent’s possessions have come off of FSU turnovers or opponent offensive rebounds. Opponents have turned those into 0.96 points per possession. Florida scored 0.59 points per possession on possessions not off an FSU turnover or a Florida offensive rebound, but turned their offensive rebounds and FSU turnovers (35 total) into 46 points (1.3 per possession). Giving up a lot of opportunities to opponents has really hurt FSU so far, even against bad teams.
Random Maine facts: The Maine fight song was a No. 1 hit in 1930!
Prediction: Florida State, 84-61. No, seriously FSU. You need to win this one big.
Last week: 14-2
Delaware (2-5) at No. 2 Duke (7-0), 2:00 PM, RSN
What to watch: The minutes of Duke’s bench. Duke has seven players that Mike Krzyzewski trusts right now: his starters, Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton. That’s it. Against Ohio State, freshmen Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy played a combined six minutes. Coach K will not play a freshman for the sake of letting him learn if he’s not doing the right things in practice or in games. Games like today give Murphy and Jefferson a chance to prove they deserve minutes. Duke could use the depth, but Krzyzewski is not going to manufacture it.
Random Delaware facts: Monte’ Ross was hired as Delaware’s head coach in 2006, and it was the first time since the 1994 season that Delaware wouldn’t be coached by a former Mike Krzyzewski assistant. Current Notre Dame head coach and Krzyzewski assistant Mike Brey coached at Delaware from 1995-00. Former Duke guard (and assistant) David Henderson took over from 2000-06. …. Delaware still hasn’t played a home game this season, and won’t until December 4.
Prediction: Duke, 95-72. After Duke’s previous four-game stretch, this should be a breeze.
Miami (4-1) at Massachusetts (3-2), 2:00 PM, CBS SN
What to watch: Reggie Johnson. The senior center did not play against Jacksonville a few weeks ago because of a “sore tailbone”. After scoring 22 points against Stetson in the season-opener, he has 23 points total in three games since. Miami can win without him being a force, but it would be a lot easier if he could be more consistent.
Random Massachusetts facts: UMass is quite the stepping stone job. John Calipari, who took UMass to its only Final Four, left to go to the Nets in 1996. Bruiser Flint succeeded him, resigned in 2001 and went to Drexel, where he’s been since. Travis Ford was hired in 2005, had a good year and was snatched up by Oklahoma State. Steve Lappas is an interesting exception, hired in 2001 but basically let go in 2005. He had just one winning season. Before UMass, he took over at Villanova for his mentor, Rollie Massimino, who stopped speaking to him as a result. Also, people don’t seem to think he has the voice for his current job, a basketball analyst/studio commentator for CBS Sports Network.
Prediction: Miami, 73-61. I guess.
No. 15/17 Oklahoma State (5-0) at Virginia Tech (6-0), 2:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Erick Green and Marcus Smart. Both have been spectacular this year. Smart hasn’t had a game as good as the one he had against NC State a few weeks ago (20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists), but he’s still been very good. And it appears that Virginia Tech’s up-tempo offense suits Green well.He’s averaging 24.3 points on 51% shooting. He has always put up a lot of points, but often had to take a lot of shots.
Random Oklahoma State facts: Pistol Pete might have a freakishly large head and creepy expression, but the character he’s based on is beyond awesome. Frank “Pistol Pete” Eaton(1860-1958) saw his father murdered by “lawless former Confederates” when he was eight years old, so he basically tracked them all down and killed them. And he killed two of them before he turned 17. He also used to pick up lumps of coal with his feet.
Prediction: Oklahoma State, 81-80. Virginia Tech can win, but their defense is probably not far enough along yet. It should at least be a very entertaining game.
Green Bay (3-3) at Virginia (5-2), 4:00 PM, RSN
What to watch: UVa’s point guard situation. Senior point guard Jontel Evans is still coming back from injury, but freshman Teven Jones also made a somewhat recent return to the lineup (after suspension). UVa is 4-0 with Jones, and the freshman is averaging 6.3 points, 2.5 assists and a steal per game. Evans played 16 minutes against Wisconsin and didn’t score or record an assist. It’s going to be a process for him before he’s fully healthy, but Jones should still factor into the rotation.
Random Green Bay facts: Until Elon came along and ruined it, Green Bay was the only school to use the Phoenix as its mascot. That became the team name in 1970 after a schoolwide vote. But the alleged runner-up name, “Fighting Tomatoes”, would’ve been ever better. … This is a personal game for UVa head coach Tony Bennett, as Green Bay is both his and his father Dick Bennett’s alma mater.
Prediction: Virginia, 71-45. The Cavaliers have looked better and better since some of their pieces have returned to the lineup, and the win at Wisconsin on Wednesday night was big.
UAB (4-3) at No. 14/13 North Carolina (5-2), 6:00 PM, ESPNU
What to watch: UNC’s veterans. For the Tar Heels to have success this season, their older players must play better. In the blowout loss at Indiana, no one seemed able to step up and make a play. James Michael McAdoo struggled (4-of-15 shooting), but his three older teammates – Reggie Bullock, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald – combined to shoot 9-of-24 and 0-of-4 from three. Bullock and McDonald were just 3-of-14, and Bullock in particular has been a non-factor too much this year. He’s used to deferring, but he simply can’t anymore.
Random UAB facts: UAB’s mascot is a dragon named….Blaze. No really, that’s its name. But perhaps the best-loved mascot was Beauregard T. Rooster, who performed at games from 1979-92. The San Diego Chicken sued for some sort of infringement. Seriously.
Prediction: North Carolina, 81-67. UAB’s squad is coached by former North Carolina assistant Jerod Haase in his first year as a head coach. The Blazers have been competitive against some good teams, and they won’t be afraid. But UNC should win this game at least somewhat comfortably.
Wake Forest (3-3) at Richmond (5-2), 6:00 PM
What to watch: Can Wake Forest play any defense? All signs point to ‘no’. Wake’s opponents this year are shooting 46% and averaging 74.2 points (in low-possession games). Offensive juggernauts like William and Mary and Nebraska have torched the Deacons’ defense so far this season. So a team that actually is pretty good offensively in Richmond shouldn’t have many problems. But if Wake Forest wakes up defensively, this game could at least be close.
Random facts: The question everyone wants to know: why the Spiders? Well, because of legendary pitcher Puss Ellyson’s “lanky arms and stretching kick”, of course! Oh. Also, Richmond revamped the mascot’s appearance in 2011 because fans were complaining that the mascot didn’t have eight legs. They should have complained that it looked like a ladybug:
Prediction: Richmond, 72-58. Go ACC!
Clemson (4-2) at South Carolina (5-2), 12:00 PM, ESPNU
What to watch: Clemson’s newcomers. In the loss to Purdue, Clemson’s freshmen (Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper) and transfer DeMarcus Harrison combined to shoot 4-of-17 from the floor. Without Milton Jennings, an offensively-challenged Clemson squad can’t afford to have those guys disappear, even against a bad South Carolina team.
Random facts: The costumed rooster we see today, “Cocky”, is supposedly the son of the original, “Big Spur”. He was booed off the field in his first appearance because fans thought he was “not dignified enough”. Please, try to suppress your laughter. And South Carolina might have some of the most famous/successful mascot alums of all time (at least in the mascot world) – the original Cocky, John Routh, later became Billy the Marlin. Tommy Donavan went on to be Sir Purr for the Carolina Panthers.
Prediction: Clemson, 64-57. It wouldn’t shock me if Clemson dropped this one – they’ve lost to bad South Carolina teams before – but with the exception of the Purdue loss, Clemson has looked pretty good and competitive all year.
Mercer (3-4) at Florida State (4-2), 2:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Michael Snaer. As he goes, so go the Seminoles. In their losses, he shot 5-of-20 (2-of-8 from three). In wins, he shot 46.3% (11-of-21 from three) and averaged 17.5 points. If he struggles and his teammates do too, this is the type of game FSU can lose. But if they’ve come as far as they seem to have come since their season-opening South Alabama loss, they should win this one easily.
Random facts: Mercer originally became known as the Bears when they played Georgia in a football game in 1892. The Mercer players had handlebar mustaches and long hair. When they came out on the field, a spectator said, “Whence cometh that bear?”
Prediction: Florida State, 84-69. This Mercer team almost beat Wake Forest at Wake earlier this year. The key word is “almost”.
Maryland (5-1) vs. George Mason (5-2), 5:00 PM (Washington, DC)
What to watch: Can Maryland ever force turnovers? Whether it’s through a combination of bad luck, defensive strategies or really careful opponents, Maryland is forcing just 9.8 turnovers a game (6.8 a game in the last four). If they’re ever going to force any, now is the time: George Mason is turning it over on 22.3% of its possessions, according to Ken Pomeroy, which is 227th nationally. They can win without forcing them, and it’s probably just a statistical anomaly, but it’s bizarre to say the least.
Random facts: The leading scorer in George Mason history was Carlos Yates, who was killed at age 27 in a drug-related shooting. And just so everyone knows that people have been writing borderline-controversial columns for a long time now, this guy seemed to think he was asking for it?
Prediction: Maryland, 72-60. The Terrapins were impressive in their dismantling of Northwestern on the road last week. George Mason is a pretty good team, but not a great one, and they should make relatively easy work of Paul Hewitt’s squad.
ACC/Big Ten Challenge: 6-6
Last week: 15-9
Virginia (4-2) at Wisconsin (4-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN2
What to watch: ….. No seriously, while the pace of this game is not to my personal liking, it should be an intriguing matchup of styles between two slow-paced coaches who try to make it as difficult as possible on their opponents defensively while being as efficient as they can on offense. So we’ll see if that works out.
Random Wisconsin facts: Wisconsin used a live badger mascot in the 1940s, but – as you might imagine – with live animals, there are sometimes problems. Turns out, the badger didn’t like football and would often try to bite everyone in sight, even escaping its handlers a number of times. And so they replaced him with a raccoon named “Regdab” (which is “badger” backwards). There are no stories of it attacking anyone. But it was only a matter of time.
Prediction: Wisconsin, 45-38. I’m not trying to be funny with this prediction. Well, maybe a little. But how could this game go any other way?
Purdue (2-3) at Clemson (4-1), 7:15 PM, ESPNU
What to watch: How will Milton Jennings’ absence affect Clemson? The Tigers’ leading scorer might be running out of chances at Clemson – he’s been suspended multiple times in the past few years, and he’ll be suspended for tonight’s game after an arrest for marijuana possession. Without Jennings, there’s only one player 6-9 or taller available for Clemson – the 6-10 rarely-used freshman Landry Nnoko. Purdue has struggled this year, but they have plenty of big bodies – four are 6-9 or taller. Not to mention Clemson will have to find a way to replace his scoring.
Random Purdue facts: Creepy Purdue Pete is not Purdue’s official mascot. No, that’s a Boilermaker Special (a train). It’ resembles a Victoria-era locomotive that is still operated today. A miniature model of it still shows up at football games. And hey, not many mascots can say they’ve damaged a police car.
Prediction: Purdue, 63-55. Purdue has lost three games this year, but none of them were blowouts and both of their wins were by significant margins. Clemson without Milton Jennings is more likely than not a team that’s not capable of scoring enough points.
No. 13/14 Michigan State (5-1) at Miami (3-1), 7:30 PM, ESPN
What to watch: How will Shane Larkin play on a national stage? Shooting guard Durand Scott is back in the lineup for Miami after a three-game suspension, but even before his return, Larkin has been great. The sophomore point guard is averaging 17.3 points on 58% shooting, dishing out 4.5 assists per game. He is averaging 3.5 turnovers, but he’s upped his minutes to over 36 a game and he’s had to carry the load offensively as essentially the Hurricanes’ most consistent player so far. He’ll be facing off against Michigan State’s junior point guard Keith Appling, who’s the Spartans’ best player. He’s averaging 16.8 points and shooting 47% from the floor, and he’ll be a tough cover for Larkin. But Larkin will challenge Appling as well.
Random Michigan State facts: “Sparty” is perhaps best known for his cameo in one of the best “This is SportsCenter” ads, where he helps carry Kerri Strug across the newsroom.
Oh, and Draymond Green (who graduated last year after a productive eight-year stint at Michigan State) earns points for admitting that as a kid, he was terrified of Sparty.
Prediction: Michigan State, 74-61. Hmm. A Tom Izzo-coached team going into a far-from-intimidating road environment, against a team that has already lost to Florida Gulf Coast? Yeah, I’ll take the Spartans, even in a down year.
Georgia Tech (4-1) at No. 22 Illinois (7-0), 9:00 PM, ESPN2
What to watch: Georgia Tech’s veterans. Ask North Carolina how it worked out for them last night when they went into a hostile road environment and their veterans didn’t play well. Georgia Tech’s veterans have been fine – Mfon Udofia is averaging 10.2 points and Kammeon Holsey is averaging 10.6 – but Daniel Miller, Brandon Reed and Jason Morris have been virtually invisible this season. Miller in particular, who ended last season well, is averaging 5.6 points on less than 50% shooting. The Yellow Jacket freshmen have been impressive, but it would be asking a lot of them to carry the team at Illinois this early in their careers.
Random Illinois facts: Everyone knows Illinois as the Fighting Illini, and while that is still their official mascot, they no longer use the official manifestation (Chief Illiniwek). When the NCAA began cracking down on Indian mascots, Illinois got the dreaded “hostile and abusive” tag and was forced to get rid of it in 2007. There is some controversy about whether or not the mascot offended the local Sioux tribe, who it was intended to honor, and the students have continued to keep the mascot alive as best they can at sporting events.
Prediction: Illinois, 71-59. The Illini are ranked this season after cruising through the Maui Invitational field. Their best win so far is Butler, but other than a one-point win over Gardner-Webb a few days after getting back to the mainland, they’ve beaten everyone convincingly. Georgia Tech has improved quite a bit, as they showed by hanging with Cal and knocking off St. Mary’s last week in Anaheim, but they’re not ready to win this game yet.
Boston College (2-4) at Penn State (3-2), 9:15 PM, ESPNU
What to watch: How healthy is Ryan Anderson? BC’s leading scorer has struggled on a sprained ankle the last few weeks, and it’s shown in BC’s results. After blowing out FIU and narrowly losing to a then-ranked Baylor team, the Eagles looked great, and so did Anderson. They’ve lost three of four since, including a game to Charleston that he didn’t play in due to the injury and a home game to Bryant (he shot 4-of-14). If he’s not healthy enough for BC to beat a team like Bryant – at home – he’s certainly not going to be capable of helping carry the Eagles to a win at Penn State.
Random Penn State facts: Penn State’s head coach Patrick Chambers might look like your typical middle-aged coach, but he’s pretty hardcore. About ten years ago, he was jumped in a bar and stabbed in the neck with a broken vodka bottle. He still has the bag of bloody clothes and shoes he was wearing the night it happened, and he’s been known to break it out on occasion and show it to his players.
Prediction: Penn State, 61-53. I’m sorry, Boston College. I still have a deep amount of affection for you, but I can no longer trust you.
No. 4 Ohio State (4-0) at No. 2 Duke (6-0), 9:30 PM, ESPN
What to watch: How far has Duke’s defense really come? The Buckeyes have the No. 5 offense in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy. Last year, Duke went up to Columbus and allowed Ohio State to shoot over 59% in an 83-65 loss, providing the first indication that their defense might not be up to normal Duke standards. Ohio State has always had one of the more efficient offenses in the country and plenty of athleticism in its lineup, and this year is no different. Louisville and Kentucky are the best teams Duke has played – Louisville is offensively-challenged at times, and Kentucky was/is inexperienced. This will be probably the toughest defensive test Duke will face heading into ACC play.
Quinn Cook vs. Aaron Craft. Duke’s sophomore point guard’s confidence is sky-high right now; the reigning ACC Player of the Week averaged 13.7 points, 4.8 assists and two steals per game in Duke’s three games in the Bahamas. Duke beat three very good teams in the Battle 4 Atlantis, and his knack for making big plays in key moments had a lot to do with that. He’s turning those flashes of potential into something consistent, and Duke feeds off his energy. But Ohio State feeds off of senior point guard Aaron Craft, too. A notoriously annoying defender, Craft is a coach’s son and all the normal clichés apply. Cook held his own just fine against Louisville’s Peyton Siva, and Craft will test him mentally as well.
Random Ohio State facts: Ohio State adopted the Buckeye (a type of nut from Ohio’s state tree) in 1965, and the first costume was made of papier-mâché that was basically an enormous head (see above picture). In 1975, a reworking of the costume with “a prune-like head” was unveiled, but booed off the field. The redesign was essentially the creepy Buckeye we see today.
Prediction: Duke, 85-78. It’s very difficult to win in Cameron, and the Blue Devils are a much better defensive team than they were a year ago. Even if they struggle at times to get stops, the momentum of the home crowd often helps them pick up their defensive intensity another notch. This team is full of enthusiastic defenders anyway, and they’ll feed off of the crowd to get stops in key moments.
ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Day 1: 3-3
Last week: 21-6
Buffalo (0-1) at Florida State (0-1), 7:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Florida State’s three-point defense. If you’re going to knock off a team like Florida State, and you’re a team like South Alabama, it helps to make 9-of-15 three-pointers. And if you’re a team like Florida State that relies on its defense, that can’t happen.
Random Buffalo facts: They’re not the Buffalo Bills…..they’re the Buffalo Bulls. Even the note on the top of their Wikipedia page says “Not to be confused with Buffalo Bills”. Oh, and Elizabeth Taylor and one of her 15 husbands, Mike Todd, donated the first live mascot to Buffalo in 1957.
Prediction: Florida State, 71-60.
Fairfield (1-0) at Virginia (0-1), 7:00 PM, ESPN3 (NIT Season Tip-Off)
What to watch: Virginia’s defense. The Cavaliers allowed George Mason to shoot 53% from the floor in a narrow loss last Friday. That’s not the Virginia we’re used to seeing. UVa did struggle against more athletic opponents last year from time to time – Fairfield is not one of those such opponents – but their defense was good enough to hold down the less talented teams. If it’s the Virginia defense we’re used to, they should shut down Fairfield tonight.
Random Fairfield facts: Imagine that: a mascot that actually means something associated with the University or its location.
Prediction: Virginia, 68-46.
Presbyterian (0-0) at Clemson (0-0), 7:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Milton Jennings. The senior has admitted that he has played disinterested basketball from time to time. But in Clemson’s exhibition win, he had 14 points, eight rebounds and two steals in 26 minutes. If Clemson’s going to win games this year, he needs to stay interested against all opponents.
Random Presbyterian facts: Presbyterian used to have an annual rivalry game with Newberry College, where they played for a derby. The prize stems from a huge brawl after a 1946 basketball game when a Newberry student stole the derby off the head of a Presbyterian student.
Prediction: Clemson, 72-49.
Rhode Island (0-1) at Virginia Tech (1-0), 7:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Virginia Tech’s rebounding. In an impressive 80-62 win in the opener over East Tennessee State, the only blemish was being out-rebounded 39-37. The Hokies don’t have a ton of size, but they should be able to handle the boards against smaller opponents, or they’ll be in big trouble when they get to the tougher portion of their schedule.
Random Rhode Island facts: There’s an entire Wikipedia section devoted to Rhode Island’s similarities to North Carolina, everything from the mascot to the color to the fight song. You be the judge.
Prediction: Virginia Tech, 84-61.
Morehead State (1-0) at Maryland (0-1), 8:00 PM, RSN
What to watch: Alex Len. He was unstoppable against Kentucky. But the sophomore had some good games last year – he had a two-game stretch against Miami and North Carolina where he averaged 11.5 points and 8.0 rebounds – but he totaled 41 points in his final ten games, including two games with no points. He looks like a different player – if he continues playing like that, he’ll prove that he is.
Random Morehead State facts: Morehead State’s mascot is an eagle named Beaker. And one time, this happened:
Prediction: Maryland, 81-52.
Last week: 11-1
The ACC is as underrated as a conference as Arrested Development was a television show. Okay, maybe not. But since Arrested Development was brilliant in making fun of its characters, the most appropriate way to preview a league we all love is by making fun of it.
2011 record/results: 9-22 overall, 4-12 ACC. All four ACC wins came by a combined 12 points. But one of those wins was over Florida State. (Never forget.)
Lucille Austero: Today at lunch, you were ashamed to be with me.
Gob: No. I was ashamed to be seen with you. I like being with you.
Lucille: Buster. Thank God you’re back. There’s no shame in being a coward.
Buster: A coward? I’m not a coward. Would a coward have THIS?
[holds out a stuffed seal]
Lucille: What the hell is that?
Buster: These are my awards, Mother. From Army. The seal is for marksmanship and the gorilla is for sand racing.
We all secretly love Boston College. A team that played almost all freshman last year managed to defy the odds and…okay, they didn’t defy the odds. Their non-conference losses last year were embarrassing, but they’re still the plucky underdogs.
Reason for optimism: It can’t get any worse, right? BC returns 75% of its scoring and 70% of its minutes played, even with the transfers of Matt Humphrey and Gabe Moton. The Eagles were really young last year, but all of their freshmen got experience. Big men Ryan Anderson and Dennis Clifford had some nice moments, particularly Anderson. As usual, BC will have a plethora of guards that will shoot plenty of 3’s. Maybe they will even make some!
Reason for pessimism: The Eagles are still young with just one junior (the rarely-used Danny Rubin), eight sophomores and four freshmen. And though those freshmen got a lot of playing time, they weren’t a super-talented group anyway. At times, they were physically overwhelmed by their ACC foes. And unless Boston College has a weight room filled with miracles, that’s not likely to change much.
Gob: Is that George Michael’s girlfriend? What is she funny or something?
Michael: I’m sure Egg is a great person.
George Michael Bluth: It’s… it’s Ann.
George Michael: Uh, Uncle GOB, the $20?
George Oscar ‘Gob’ Bluth: A magician never reveals his secrets.
George Michael: I don’t need the secret, I need…
[GOB is gone]
George Michael: Wow, that’s so much like stealing.
Clemson can beat you and leave you scratching your head wondering how exactly that just happened, and where your $20 went. There’s nothing particularly attractive about Clemson’s style, but sometimes it simply works. Clemson is still the ACC’s equivalent of George Michael’s plain girlfriend, Ann.
2011 record/results: 16-15 overall, 8-8 ACC. The Tigers beat two of the ACC’s better teams (Florida State and NC State) at home in spite of going 8-6 in the non-conference with losses at home to Charleston and Coastal Carolina. ACC! ACC!
Reason for optimism: Under head coach Brad Brownell, Clemson’s defense makes it hard on even some of their much more talented opponents to score. Seniors Devin Booker and Milton Jennings have all the physical skills to take that next step forward, and sophomores like K.J. McDaniels and T.J. Sapp showed flashes.
Reason for pessimism: Clemson lost two of its most important pieces from a year ago in Andre Young and Tanner Smith, and last year’s freshmen, in limited minutes, certainly didn’t prove they could fill that void. Clemson is relying on two mercurial big men in Jennings and Booker to carry the offensive load with an inexperienced point guard in sophomore Rod Hall trying to get them the ball.
[Tobias has painted himself blue]
Tobias Funke: I blue myself.
Michael Bluth: There has got to be a better way to say that.
[Tobias creating buzz around the water cooler]
Tobias Fünke: That Funke is some kind of something. Boy, this Funke is all anybody’s ever talking about. So sick and tired of hearing about how brilliant that Funke is. Overrated.
Lucille: Oh, George, I should have never doubted you. Even when you slept with my sister it was for a good reason.
George Sr.: Got her to stop drinking, didn’t it?
Duke was picked to finish second in the league, but the Blue Devils are fine with lower expectations – in fact, they’ll gladly let NC State carry the load of preseason hype for once, rather than just them and North Carolina. But doubt Mike Krzyzewski at your own peril – he always seems to get it done. Even some of the worst Duke teams under Coach K (since the 80’s) have gone on to at least make the NCAA Tournament.
2011 record/results: 27-7 overall, 13-3 ACC, No. 2 seed in NCAA Tournament, First Round (L to 15-seed Lehigh). According to Ken Pomeroy’s final rankings, five of Duke’s seven losses were to teams outside the top 20 (three to teams ranked 46 or worse). It’s no coincidence that Duke finished 70th in defense per Pomeroy, its worst finish since 2009 (20th).
Reason for optimism: Coach K is a pretty good reason. But another? Senior big man Mason Plumlee is ready to take the next step and become a dominant player, versatile forward Ryan Kelly is healthy, and they have two freshmen – shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon, and forward Amile Jefferson – ready to inject a shot of energy and talent into the program.
Reason for pessimism: Even if Duke’s defense is improved, they still have to score. There’s a lot of young talent on this team, but no one is as good a scorer as Austin Rivers was last year. Senior Seth Curry is dealing with a foot injury, and Krzyzewski said he likely won’t be fully healthy all year. Sophomore Quinn Cook will take over the point guard duties, and he’s talented but unproven.
Gob: Zero hour, Michael. It’s the end of the line. I’m the firstborn. I’m sick of playing second fiddle. I’m always third in line for everything. I’m tired of finishing fourth. Being the fifth wheel. There are six things I’m mad about, and I’m taking over.
Lucille Austero: Do you like ham?
Carl Weathers: No.
Carl Weathers: I love it.
Narrator: Michael was having brunch with Sally Sitwell at a restaurant called Skip Church’s Bistro. In addition to brunch, the restaurant was known for an item on the menu called the “Skip’s Scramble”, an omelet that contained everything on the menu. Do not order the Skip’s Scramble.
Florida State won the ACC tournament last year for the first time in program history. It was just the second time in 19 years that a team from outside North Carolina won it. FSU has been picked in preseason polls below its actual finish for four straight years now, and the Seminoles are tired of it. At ACC Media Day, Michael Snaer said that if FSU were Duke or North Carolina, everyone would assume they would be good this year instead of picking them fourth. Head coach Leonard Hamilton brings in a plethora of long, athletic players that need some work offensively. But at times, FSU’s rotation has been more of a “Skip’s Scramble” – everyone plays at least ten minutes, only one player scores more than 10 points and everyone gets at least one turnover.
2012 record/results: 25-10 overall, 12-4 ACC, No. 3 seed in NCAA Tournament, Second Round (L to 6-seed Cincinnati). Seven of FSU’s losses were to Pomeroy top-50 teams. But three were to No. 93 Princeton, No. 76 Clemson and No. 259 Boston College.
Reason for optimism: Snaer is great, and point guard Ian Miller can be when he wants to be. It was only two exhibition games, but forward Okaro White appeared ready to be the complementary scorer to Snaer. Junior forward Terrance Shannon is finally healthy. There are some exciting young players. With all the scoring options (four of their top five scorers from a year ago return), the offense is much less likely to go into one of its patented droughts.
Reason for pessimism: As usual, FSU has a lot of big bodies (including three seven-footers), but they’re projects. The Seminoles have always struggled with turnovers and outside shooting, and they don’t have anyone on the roster that has proven they can do either one reliably. Miller doesn’t always defend as well as he needs to, and White has been unreliable at best. A hodgepodge of scoring options hasn’t mattered in past years when FSU’s offense has bogged down: why should this year be any different?
No. 8 Maryland (16-14, 6-10) vs. No. 9 Wake Forest (13-17, 4-12), 12:00 PM, ESPNU/ACC Network
This might seem like a no-brainer Maryland win, nine of Maryland’s ACC games were decided by fewer than ten points (12 by 15 or fewer) and their biggest win this year was a 16-pointer over Boston College. They beat Wake Forest by just six at home earlier this year. And Wake has won two of its last five games and played Duke close. A loss to Wake would be a devastating way to end the year for Maryland.
Key to the game: Which team’s post players will show up? In the last three games (all losses), Maryland’s Ashton Pankey, James Padgett and Alex Len have combined for 46 points on 18-of-45 shooting (10-of-27 from the foul line). Pankey in particularly has struggled; the freshman doesn’t have a basket in that span (0-of-11) and played just 14 minutes over the last two games.
But Maryland allowed the last two frontcourts they faced to score 101 points; just two players (Tyler Zeller and Mike Scott) had 69 by themselves. And Wake’s frontcourt is heating up: Carson Desrosiers, Travis McKie and Nikita Mescheriakov have averaged 39.5 points the last two games on 59% shooting. If Maryland’s frontcourt keeps getting outplayed as badly as it has been, this could be an early upset.
Random stat: Terrell Stoglin, who made All-ACC second team, has had a rough go of it in the last month or so. Prior to Maryland’s game at Duke, he was averaging 22.2 points on 43.6% shooting (54.3% from inside the arc) in ACC play. In the final seven games, he shot 32% and 28.2% from inside the arc, but he still averaged 20 points.
Prediction: Maryland 71, Wake Forest 66
No. 5 NC State (20-11, 9-7) vs. No. 12 Boston College (9-21, 4-12), 2:00 PM, ESPNU/ACC Network
NC State needs to win this game and at least one more to earn an NCAA Tournament berth. The Wolfpack has a nice draw to do that – Boston College won’t help, but a win over Virginia would and certainly a potential matchup with No. 1 seed North Carolina would give them a chance at a huge win. But it starts with this game, and Steve Donahue’s Boston College team won’t just roll over.
Key to the game: NC State’s execution. Obviously, the Wolfpack are more talented than Boston College. But the Eagles haven’t shown any quit all year and have played NC State close once (at their place). It’s a good thing that State appears to have found its confidence again. It’s not good if that confidence is misplaced and they think they can coast through this game. Boston College has no postseason beyond the ACC Tournament and they will play that way.
Random stat: Scott Wood shot 4-of-28 from the floor (4-of-20 from three) in NC State’s four-game losing streak in ACC play. But in their last two games (both wins), Wood shot 10-of-23 from the floor and 8-of-17 from three.
Prediction: NC State 77, Boston College 62
No. 7 Clemson (16-14, 8-8) vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech (15-16, 4-12), 7:00 PM, ESPNU/ACC Network
Both of these teams continue to fight hard through disappointment, but Virginia Tech just seems to lack confidence right now and Clemson has gained quite a bit of it. The Tigers are playing very well and could be a dangerous team going forward for anyone in their bracket, should they advance.
Key to the game: Rebounding. In two previous matchups with Virginia Tech, Clemson – not traditionally a great offensive rebounding team – collected 42.9% of its misses. Clemson didn’t shoot very well in either matchup (a combined 6-of-30 from three) but got second-chance points. And Virginia Tech got its share in the first meeting, but failed to get many in the second (nine second-chance points on six offensive rebounds). The Tigers have a big size advantage and should use it.
Random stat: These two teams are the unluckiest in the ACC (per Ken Pomeroy) and only five teams are unluckier in the nation.
Prediction: Clemson 59, Virginia Tech 55
No. 6 Miami (18-11, 9-7) vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech (11-19, 4-12), 9:00 PM, ESPNU/ACC Network
If Miami wins, it sets them up for a rematch with Florida State and the potential to get a win that would likely seal an NCAA Tournament berth. If they don’t, the Hurricanes are almost certainly out.
Keys to the game: Get Malcolm Grant rolling. Miami’s senior sharp-shooter has shot just 28.9% from three-point range since returning from the death of his older brother just prior to conference play. In his first 12 games back, he shot 18-of-79 (22.8%) from three. In the last five, he has shot 15-of-35 (42.9%) from three and 8-of-15 in the last two. Miami desperately needs him to consistently make three’s – in their ACC wins, he has shot 22-of-66 compared to 11-of-42 in losses.
Georgia Tech’s improved frontcourt. Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey combined to score just eight points in their first meeting with Miami this year. But Miller has been in double figures in eight of his last nine games and Holsey in six of eight. The duo has averaged 23.7 points on 57% shooting in their last three games. When Miami has let opposing ACC frontcourts score 23 or more, they are 1-6.
Random stat: Playing in Philips Arena isn’t necessarily a home court advantage for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are 3-7 there this year (3-5 in ACC play) and have averaged just 54.1 points. But they have won their last two games there (against Maryland and Wake Forest), averaging 66 points after averaging 51.1 points in their first eight games at Philips.
Prediction: Miami 75, Georgia Tech 61
Last week: 9-3
Season: 132-47 (68-28 ACC)
No. 4/3 Duke (25-4, 12-2) at Wake Forest (13-15, 4-10), 9:00 PM, ESPNU
For Duke, this game is all that’s standing in between Saturday’s Carolina game being for the regular-season ACC title. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, not only have they been playing well on the road, but Wake Forest is not good.
Keys to the game: The foul line. It’s not often opponents make more free throws than Duke attempts in Cameron, but Wake did just that in the first meeting, shooting 24-of-35 to Duke’s 16-of-23 from the charity stripe. Wake has a knack for getting to the foul line (and little else), and while Duke has depth to withstand foul trouble, they don’t want to send a team struggling offensively like Wake to the line repeatedly.
Random stat: Prior to the Carolina game, Duke averaged 53.4% shooting from two-point range on 34.9 attempts per game in league play. Since/including the Carolina game, Duke has shot 43.3% from two on 32.3 attempts.
Prediction: Duke 84, Wake Forest 61
Georgia Tech (10-18, 3-11) at Boston College (8-20, 3-11), 7:00 PM, RSN/ESPN3
Any notion of Steve Donahue getting a few Coach of the Year votes despite Boston College’s record went out the window after his Eagles were swept by Wake Forest this weekend. And those were two of BC’s worst losses this season, to a team that has more talent but has been awful. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, managed to win an ACC home game on Saturday. So there’s that.
Key to the game: Not being awful. The ACC has been bad, but the games have mostly been entertaining (even when slower-paced). There have been exceptions, though, and many have involved one of these two teams. These are two young teams with relatively new head coaches, and each team could use a good deal of positive momentum going forward. It would be nice to see this game be somewhat watchable.
Random stat(s): This was Georgia Tech’s first win without Glen Rice, Jr. in the lineup since the second game of the year (Delaware State). Rice has now missed six games due to suspension: the first three this year (Georgia Tech was 2-1) and the last three (1-2).
Prediction: Georgia Tech 66, Boston College 61
Maryland (16-12, 6-8) at No. 6 North Carolina (25-4, 12-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3
With Maryland coming off of a loss to Georgia Tech and Carolina needing only to win to face Duke for the regular-season title on Saturday, this has “trap game” written all over it. Maryland has just one road win this year,and Carolina’s only home loss in the last two years was to Duke a few weeks ago. But Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon has his Terrapins playing hard, and Carolina can’t afford to overlook this one.
Key to the game: Maryland’s bigs. James Padgett, Ashton Pankey and Alex Len combined for 23 points and 15 rebounds. Their defense doesn’t show up in the box score (Tyler Zeller and John Henson combined to shoot 15-of-29) but Maryland bothered their shots with their length. And most importantly, both Henson and Zeller were in foul trouble. If they can find the magic they had against North Carolina – and get Carolina’s bigs in foul trouble – they’ll make things interesting in Chapel Hill.
Random stat: Maryland shot 7-of-14 (50%) from three against Georgia Tech, but just 12-of-41 (29.3%) from two-point range. In their last two road games, Maryland has shot just 19-of-74 from inside the arc (25.7%) but 14-of-33 (42.4%) from three.
Prediction: North Carolina 88, Maryland 69
Miami (17-10, 8-6) at NC State (18-11, 7-7), 9:00 PM, RSN/ESPN3
Miami, now without Reggie Johnson, rode a mix of adrenaline and desperation to a win over Florida State and their fans rushed the court afterwards. They’ve been told they’re “in” the NCAA tournament now. That sets up well for NC State – Miami is prime for a letdown, but can the Wolfpack take advantage?
Keys to the game: NC State’s psyche. The little things seem to be going wrong for NC State right now, from shooting 38.5% from the foul line at Clemson (a season-low) to committing silly turnovers and ill-advised fouls. It’s not as if the Wolfpack isn’t playing hard, but they need to be smarter and just a bit more focused. They can win this game, but they have to believe that.
Random stat: Miami scored 11 points on its first 25 possessions against Florida State (0.44 points per possession). In the last 4:34 of the first half and all of the second half, Miami scored 67 points on 52 possessions (1.29 per possession).
Prediction: NC State 75, Miami 69
Virginia Tech (15-14, 4-10) at Clemson (15-13, 7-7), 9:00 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3
Clemson has won four of its last five games and is playing its best basketball. Virginia Tech has lost three of its last four games, but to three of the best teams. Clearly, both teams have navigated well through adversity and disappointment, and both have something to play for in terms of seeding.
Keys to the game: Who can win a close game? Virginia Tech beat Clemson at home earlier this year, 67-65. Since, Virginia Tech is 2-4 and excluding a 16-point loss at Miami, five games have been decided by a total of 11 points. Clemson had six of its first eight games decided by seven or fewer points but since the loss in Blacksburg, the Tigers are 4-2, winning two by double digits and losing once by 22. They won by three in overtime against NC State on Saturday though. While both teams have struggled executing late in close games, Clemson seems like the more confident team. Tech Hoops took a look at Virginia Tech’s Erick Green and his struggles in “clutch” situations this year. Hint: it’s not good, and Virginia Tech needs more from him late.
Random stat: Duke attempted 46.2% of their shots from three-point range against Virginia Tech last Saturday. Only one Hokie opponent this season has attempted a higher percentage of their shots from beyond the arc (half of Boston College’s attempts were from three).
Prediction: Clemson 65, Virginia Tech 61
Last week: 7-4
Season: 123-44 (59-25 ACC)
Virginia (19-5, 6-4) at Clemson (12-12, 4-6), 7:00 PM, ESPNU
Virginia doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of in an 18-point loss at North Carolina; the Cavaliers made things difficult for the Tar Heels with their defense, even though they couldn’t buy a shot on their own end. And now an already-thin Virginia team has been hit with another injury as swingman Joe Harris has a broken bone in his non-shooting hand and is a game-time decision. But the Cavaliers can’t afford to lose this game: two games against Maryland and home match-ups with Florida State and North Carolina remain. Clemson has had some really good games in ACC play (two 20-point wins and an 11-point win) sandwiched around some rough offensive outings. It doesn’t get any easier facing Virginia, but maybe they can build on their offensive success, particularly since they’re at home.
Stat to watch: Clemson’s two-point attempts. This is not because of Clemson – the Tigers don’t generally get too three-point happy offensively – but because of Virginia’s pesky defense. Virginia is happy to let you jack up three-pointers, which is probably why Clemson attempted 21 – their most attempts in ACC play – in their first meeting. It wasn’t pretty, but North Carolina decided it wasn’t going to win by jacking up three-point attempts (the Tar Heels were 1-of-10 from three), so they just took shot after shot inside the paint until they went in, scoring 40 points in the paint (the most Virginia has allowed this year). Clemson doesn’t have the athletes that the Tar Heels do across the board, but big men Devin Booker and Milton Jennings are more than capable of scoring inside. And it’s not like the Tar Heels shot a high percentage from two (just 39.7%) but they took 58 two’s, the most all season against Virginia. Only N.C. State (42 two’s) has attempted close to as many against the Cavaliers. But Clemson will have to be able to pound the offensive glass, and Virginia is not going to want to let that happen after North Carolina dominated the offensive boards on Saturday. Clemson has to make sure it stays disciplined and takes the shots it wants.
Most important players: Jontel Evans, Virginia and Milton Jennings, Clemson. Jennings didn’t play in the first matchup, but he has averaged 10 points against Virginia in two games over his career and he might have made a difference in that close contest. He had been suspended by head coach Brad Brownell for the second time this season. Since his return, he’s averaging 14.5 points on 11-of-19 shooting (4-of-6 from three) and adding 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists 24.5 minutes. Maybe the junior has bought in and maybe he hasn’t, but Clemson is 0-3 in games Jennings has been suspended for and they really need him to show up in this one.
Virginia’s point guard Jontel Evans is built like a bowling-ball running back, and the senior uses his strength – and deceptive quickness – very well to get into the lane. He’s been more and more aggressive lately for Virginia, and the Cavaliers are going to need that. Of his 155 points this year, 59 have come in Virginia’s last seven games, all after the Cavaliers lost Assane Sene to injury. Now with Harris’s injury, Evans is going to have to continue being aggressive. He was dominant against North Carolina at times and had a season-high 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting (4-of-4 from the foul line). He’s also averaging 5.0 assists in the last four games, which is great for a Virginia offense that might find things increasingly difficult as their already-thin depth gets even thinner.
Random stat: Clemson might want to save up some of its offense. In two of Clemson’s convincing ACC wins (Florida State and at Wake) the Tigers have shot 53.8% from the floor (41.7% from three) and averaged 78.5 points. In their other eight league games, Clemson has shot 40.7% (29.8% from three) and averaged 64.9 points. Considering how many close losses the Tigers have had, they might have wished they had a few of those buckets from their 20-point wins over FSU and Wake in some other games.
Prediction: Virginia 62, Clemson 59
Last week: 7-4
Season: 107-37 (43-18 ACC)
Clemson (11-10, 3-4) at Virginia Tech (12-10, 1-6), 4:00 PM, RSN/ESPN3
Even the fans of each school won’t enjoy watching this game, right? Although if Clemson wins this one, they have a legitimate chance to go 8-8 in league, something that seemed very unlikely even a week ago. But the Tigers continue to fight, nearly stealing a win at Virginia without star forward Milton Jennings (suspended for academic reasons). Virginia Tech, meanwhile, has lost three straight at home for the first time under head coach Seth Greenberg. Do the Hokies have anything left mentally at this point? As 2011 ended with a win at Oklahoma State, the Hokies were 11-3 and still had a chance to make the NCAA tournament. They’ve lost six of the last seven games since.
Stat to watch: Rebounding. Without Milton Jennings, Clemson was annihilated on the backboards by Virginia. The Tigers had been one of the best teams in the country in terms of not allowing opponents to get second looks, but that has slipped in recent games. In the last four games, Clemson has a defensive rebounding percentage of 63.2% after posting a 70.3% in the first three games. Their offensive rebounding percentage has also fallen way down from 35.6% in their first three games to 25.4% in the last four. And they’ve been out-rebounded by an average of nine rebounds a game in that span and outscored in second-chance points 43-31. The Tigers need to rebound better against a Virginia Tech team that has had problems in that area on and off all season. The Hokies have collected just 27% of their misses in ACC play (11th in the league) and, even worse, have a defensive rebounding percentage of 63% (worst in the league). The Hokies’ defense actually hasn’t been half bad but if they keep allowing opponents to get second looks (they’ve been outscored 79-64 in league play in that category) it will have all been for nothing.
Most important players: Victor Davila, Virginia Tech and Tanner Smith, Clemson. Andre Young struggled against Virginia, but Clemson nearly won anyway because Tanner Smith stepped up with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting (4-of-5 from three), adding three assists and no turnovers in 32 minutes. The senior has struggled some in ACC play shooting the ball but he’s averaging 12.3 points and his all-around game has been a huge plus for Clemson. He’s averaging 4.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and two steals in league play and he’s making 44% of his three’s, including 6-of-9 in the last two games and 11-of-20 in the last four games. He’s struggled with turnovers at times but in the last three games he has 11 assists and three turnovers. In a game that should be close, the kinds of things Smith provides could put Clemson over the top.
Victor Davila hasn’t always been assertive, but the senior has been much more consistent in that regard in recent games. In the last three games, Davila has averaged 14 points on 71.4% shooting (75% from the foul line), adding 6.3 rebounds in 27.3 minutes. He’s also attempting seven shots and 5.3 foul shots a game in that span. In the previous 22 games, Davila averaged 6.5 points on 52.1% shooting (61% from the foul line) and averaged 3.8 rebounds in 21.8 minutes. He attempted 4.9 shots and 2.3 free throws in that span. Virginia Tech lacks a lot of size (or at least size that can score) and Davila is really the only Virginia Tech big guy who has proven himself capable of scoring in ACC games. He could have an advantage on the inside against Clemson, which will be without Milton Jennings. But the Hokies need him to exploit it.
Random stat: Ken Pomeroy calculates all kinds of statistics, and one of them is Luck (which you can see for free here). “Luck” is basically the difference in winning percentage between a team’s record and their expected record. Clemson is last in the ACC and 342nd nationally (out of 345 teams) in Luck at -.125. Virginia Tech is second to last in the league and 335th nationally at -.104. Pomeroy has Clemson at 93rd in his rankings and Virginia Tech at 53rd. Clemson is 167th in the RPI and Virginia Tech is 88th.
Prediction: Clemson 67, Virginia Tech 61
Last week: 12-0
Season: 96-31 (32-12 ACC)