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.”
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.
RALEIGH, NC — Mark Gottfried’s successful approach with C.J. Leslie has been well-documented. But it didn’t begin and end with the 6-foot-9 budding star.
Hired last April to replace Sidney Lowe, Gottfried inherited a group that had done more than its fair share of losing and seen plenty of disappointment. But Gottfried had a ready-made group of veterans – a senior and two juniors – that could help him win right away as he rebuilt NC State.
Senior C.J. Williams and juniors Scott Wood and Richard Howell had been through plenty of bad times, and they didn’t want to spend the rest of their time in school rebuilding a program only to see the fruits pay off after graduation.
And so the question became how quickly would they buy in, if at all?
“First thing that had to happen with all these guys is they needed to get to know me and I needed to get to know them,” Gottfried said. “Until there’s a level of trust, players sometimes, they build a wall and it’s hard to break that wall. Who is this guy? Why do I need to listen to you?”
The toughest of the three was Howell. The 6-foot-8 (on a good day, per his head coach) forward is an imposing physical presence despite his lack of size relative to his competition. Post-practice sweat dripped steadily off of the end of his beard and he stared straight ahead as he talked about learning to trust Gottfried.
“It’s very hard for a coach to come in here and just click instantly with a player, especially a player who had been here two years and had been through the worst possible times,” Howell said. “The main thing is just trusting him. He tells us every day, nobody wants us to do better than he does and that’s something that we’ve bought into. That’s something that we’ve trusted and it’s got us this far, so we’re going to keep continuing to trust him.”
Getting through to Howell was a unique obstacle for Gottfried, particularly on a personal level. “There was a hard wall there that was hard to penetrate – not just on the floor, but away from the game,” Gottfried said of Howell. “If we sat down and just talked about his family or life, there weren’t a lot of times he wanted to let us in, let me in. Over time, that began to break down a little bit more.”
Even with Williams, a well-respected team leader, acceptance didn’t happen overnight. Williams had seen his playing time fluctuate wildly in his previous three years while capable Wolfpack teams never came close to reaching their potential.
When Gottfried was announced as the new head coach, the first thing Williams did is look up the new coach’s records his first year at Murray State and Alabama. He liked what he saw, but neither of Gottfried’s first-year teams made the NCAA tournament. His future teams did, and often: in 1997 and 1998, Murray State made the tournament and from 2002-06, Alabama did as well.
Williams, though, had just one more shot to make the NCAA tournament. So he went to Gottfried days after his hiring and let his feelings be known. “I said, ‘Coach, if you’re for this rebuilding stuff, I can’t do that. I’m a senior. I need to win right now. I’ve always had a dream of at least playing in the NCAA tournament’,” Williams said.
“‘I need to know that that’s what you want to do.’ He straight up told me, ‘C.J., I’m trying to win right now. I’m not trying to do the rebuilding. I don’t want to waste time.’”
While no other player could pinpoint a specific “aha” moment, Scott Wood did. It was less than two weeks after Gottfried had been hired. Wood went up to what he called the war room above the Dail Center to meet with Gottfried and assistant coach Bobby Lutz.
“He showed me the offense and what he likes to see, and then he put it into the picture that this is where everybody’s going to be,” Wood said. “It let me see into the future of how it was going to work, and it really made me realize that this could be a good thing for us.”
Williams said Gottfried watched tape of each player from the previous year to evaluate what they could do. He let each player know what he expected of them individually, and each player had to buy into that before they could win as a team.
“He watched tape of us from last year and what we can do,” Williams said. As a coach, he just kind of coached us from that point, seeing what we did as a group and then taking it like, ‘Okay, now I see what you do. This is what I expect out of you.’
“The accountability that we have as individual players has helped us build this team environment.”
Williams recalled Gottfried showing the team tapes of his Alabama teams to give them an idea of what the offense would look like. “Each of us was like, ‘Oh, okay, so this is where my shot is going to come from and this is where his shot is going to be.’ We all saw that everybody is going to have an equal opportunity to score their points,” Williams said.
And they have. All five NC State starters averaged between 10 and 14 points in the regular season, which has held up in the postseason as well. Even after coming up short in a crucial three-game stretch in late February, which included a blown 20-point lead at Duke and home losses to Florida State and North Carolina, the Wolfpack managed to inch forward.
Their offense has been among the most efficient in the league all year, even as players like Wood and Williams went through slumps. They’ve returned to form, and both have hit huge shots in big moments in the NCAA tournament. Among the more recent improvements is a defense that has been downright dominant at times. That’s a far cry from where it was in November, or even December.
“(Gottfried’s) confidence is unbelievable in us. He tells us if we go out there and play hard, the sky is the limit to what we can do,” Howell said. “It definitely shows, not only on the offensive end but especially on the defensive end as well. I felt like that was something we were lacking last year.”
Howell’s progression has been part of the journey as well. He has a propensity to pick up silly fouls, and NC State isn’t the same team when he’s not on the floor, throwing his body around to fight for every available rebound. But he has stayed out of foul trouble for most of the last two games. He was dominant in the first round with 22 points against San Diego State and against Georgetown, he struggled to score but drew two fouls in the first 5:40 on the Hoyas’ star center Henry Sims.
State has always had Sweet 16 talent. It just had to believe that. The Wolfpack’s collapse at Duke and a disappointing close loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament called into question their ability to finish against good teams. Gottfried kept telling his team they were improving and they just lost to some good teams. But NC State ended the regular season without any great wins.
Now, the Wolfpack has two NCAA tournament wins over teams that spent most of the year in the top 25. Gottfried told his team all year that they were good enough to play with anyone in the country. Finally, the Pack and the nation have proof.
“It’s my job to convince our team that we are good enough, and we have to become good enough. It’s not smoke and mirrors. It’s not something you can just talk about,” Gottfried said. “You have to get better, and we did get better. But at the same time, I think this particular team needed – and still does – to believe that they’re good enough. And I do think that they believe that, so that’s exciting.”
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)
Virginia Tech (15-13, 4-9) at Duke (24-4, 11-2), 12:00 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3
All signs point to an epic showdown pitting Duke and North Carolina in the season finale, and Duke only has to beat Virginia Tech and Wake Forest to hold up their end of the bargain. Virginia Tech will fight hard, but at this point, the Hokies will be fortunate to make the NIT.
Key to the game: Ryan Kelly. Duke’s junior forward has quietly improved into one of Duke’s most critical players, and his line at Florida State wasn’t as good as his floor game. He made some critical plays when his team needed them the most, and he had some fantastic passes to set up his teammates for easy scores or free throws. Duke’s junior class (except Mason Plumlee) had been largely absent until recently, when Kelly, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins have all stepped up their games. Duke needs them to continue to do that because there’s not a ton of experience elsewhere on the roster.
Random stat: Virginia Tech hasn’t played as well as it could at times, but the Hokies have had 10 of their 13 ACC games decided by five points or fewer and are 4-6 in those games. Their only double-digit losses have come to North Carolina, Duke and Miami. If there’s a good sign for the Hokies, it’s that they’ve won three of their last five decided by five points or less after starting ACC play 1-5 in such games. But just one of those wins have come on the road (at Virginia).
Prediction: Duke 76, Virginia Tech 59
Boston College (8-19, 3-10) at Wake Forest (12-15, 3-10), 1:00 PM, RSN/ESPN3
I wrote at the beginning of conference play that if Boston College head coach Steve Donahue won five ACC games, I’d vote for him as Coach of the Year. He’s still wins two away but has Wake Forest and Georgia Tech as two of his remaining games. Watching BC play, they’re obviously well-coached but execution can only take you so far: experience and talent matter. Wake Forest has been pretty much the exact opposite of BC and yet they’re more talented, which is why they handled the Eagles in Chestnut Hill earlier this year. In theory, they should again.
Key to the game: Boston College’s three-point shooting. The Eagles aren’t going to win many games if they don’t hit three’s. And they’ve hit 10-of-33 in their last two games, losing both by double digits. Last time against Wake, they hit just 4-of-21 3’s (19%, their lowest percentage in ACC play). Maybe with a few days to rest, they’ll be able to knock some down in Winston-Salem. But Wake’s had time off too and it’s clear they’re still mentally engaged.
Random stat: Believe it or not, there are scenarios that exist for BC to get an eight-seed in the ACC Tournament (courtesy of BC Interruption). If you are so inclined, click here.
Prediction: Wake Forest 69, Boston College 59
Maryland (16-11, 6-7) at Georgia Tech (9-18, 2-11), ACC Network split/ESPN3
Maryland still has an outside shot at a top-four seed in the ACC Tournament, but with games against Virginia and Carolina remaining, it’s not likely. Still, the Terrapins need to build on their positive momentum after a huge comeback win over Miami and they have to beat Georgia Tech, who has looked awful lately.
Key to the game: James Padgett’s development. With Alex Len and Ashton Pankey going through freshmen inconsistencies, Padgett has been perhaps the most consistent big man for Maryland this year. Padgett is 17th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and in the last three games, he is averaging 12.3 points per game. In Maryland’s ACC wins, Padgett has averaged 12.2 points in Maryland’s six ACC wins and 6.6 in ACC losses. The Terrapins really need him to develop.
Random stat: Georgia Tech is now averaging 50.2 points per game at home in ACC play. Since their home opener against Duke when they scored 74 points, Georgia Tech has not scored more than 52 points and has averaged 45.4 points in that span.
Prediction: Maryland 66, Georgia Tech 49
NC State (18-10, 7-6) at Clemson (14-13, 6-7), ACC Network split/ESPN3
As crazy as it may sound, this game could help determine fourth place in the conference standings. All five of the teams fighting for that spot (with records between 8-5 and 6-7) have tough remaining schedules. If NC State wants to have any shot at an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, it likely has to win out. Clemson is playing better lately and it’s a tough place to play, so it won’t be easy.
Keys to the game: Closing strong. Taking out a 22-point loss to North Carolina, Clemson’s ACC losses have all come by seven points or less. Clemson has just really struggled at making key plays late in close games, whether it be making foul shots or making a big basket when they really need it. NC State, on the other hand, is 2-2 in games decided by five points or less in league play (6-3 overall). But the Wolfpack’s confidence has really been hurt with its three-game losing streak, and that could turn the tide in Clemson’s favor, particularly at home.
Scott Wood. NC State’s junior sharp-shooter has been anything but lately, making just 3-of-22 shots over the last three games (all losses) and just 3-of-15 three’s. He seems visibly frustrated, not to mention exhausted. But NC State needs him: he has averaged 16.7 points in State’s seven ACC wins and just 8.3 in losses. Maybe with a few days off, he will have his legs back under him.
Random stat: While four of Clemson’s six league wins have come against the bottom three teams in the league (Wake Forest and Georgia Tech), Their other two wins have come against the No. 3 team (FSU) and No. 4 team (Virginia). And of NC State’s five wins, six have come against the bottom three teams.
Prediction: N.C. State 67, Clemson 65
North Carolina (24-4, 11-2) at Virginia (21-6, 8-5), 4:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3
Charlottesville has traditionally been a house of horrors for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels showed impressive focus on the road at NC State on Tuesday. Virginia had a nice road win as well but the Cavaliers are extremely hobbled right now. Virginia doesn’t match up well with Carolina, but that doesn’t always matter in hostile road environments.
Keys to the game: North Carolina on the offensive glass. The Tar Heels dominated the backboards against a Virginia team that typically doesn’t allow opponents to do that, and you’d better believe UVA head coach Tony Bennett will emphasize that to his team in the rematch. Virginia is very difficult to score on, particularly on a first-shot opportunity, but Carolina is starting to take better shots as opposed to just forcing up looks and rebounding their misses as they did against Virginia.
Virginia’s three-point shooting. North Carolina is going to give up some open looks from three, but the Cavaliers have to knock them down. Lately they’ve been doing that, hitting 15-of-35 three’s (42.9%) in their last two games. Prior to that, Virginia had made just 48-of-171 three’s (28.1%) in league play. Carolina’s ACC opponents have made 33.8% of their three’s but the two teams that have beaten them in league play (Florida State and Duke) had to combine to shoot 26-of-63 (41.3%) from beyond the arc. Virginia may not have to make that many, but they’ll have to make more than they did in Chapel Hill (3-of-16, 18.8 percent).
Random stat: North Carolina posted its third-highest offensive efficiency number this season (per Ken Pomeroy) against NC State on Tuesday. But the Tar Heels allowed an offensive efficiency of 110.9, the fifth-highest it has allowed this year (the other four higher offensive efficiencies allowed by Carolina resulted in losses). It’s a big swing for NC State, which posted a 77.2 rating in Chapel Hill, its lowest of the year.
Prediction: North Carolina 68, Virginia 59
Last week: 10-3
Season: 120-41 (56-22 ACC)
Florida State (18-7, 9-2) at NC State (18-8, 7-4), 1:00 PM, ACC Network split/ESPN3
Not much to say about NC State losing at 20-point lead at Duke, so I’ll let @akulawolf on Twitter from the blog Backing the Pack say it for me:
I don’t know what there is to say about that game because I don’t have the strength to make jokes right now. These guys have been so close to breakthrough wins all season and they just have not been able to finish the job. I feel terrible for the players. I just hope they’re better at mental recovery than I am, because there’s another very important game on Saturday. I won’t be ready, but maybe they will be.
Florida State did its job to keep pace atop the league by coming back to beat Virginia Tech 48-47 on Thursday night, but calling it an ugly game would be an understatement. The Seminoles haven’t played well lately, averaging 57.5 points in the last three games, lucky to escape with wins in two out of the three. This is a winnable game for NC State, but it depends on where their heads are.
Stat to watch: None. This game will be a lot more about the mentality of each team, but particularly NC State.
Most important players: Scott Wood, NC State and Michael Snaer, Florida State. Michael Snaer has now made two game-winners for Florida State in ACC play with a three-pointer to beat Virginia Tech nearly a month after his game-winning three at Duke. And he has made numerous big shots down the stretch of close games, but he hasn’t played all that well in other stretches, shooting just 17-of-49 (34.7%) in that span. But Snaer has shown how good he is throughout the year and he’s more than capable of having a huge game. In four games against NC State, Snaer has averaged 11 points on 17-of-31 shooting (54.8%).
Scott Wood has had his way with Florida State over his career, averaging 16.8 points on 21-of-39 (53.8%) shooting and making 18-of-32 (56.3%) in four games. He did most of his damage in two games versus the Seminoles in 2010, when he averaged 24.5 points and made 13-of-21 three’s. He had a rough day against Duke, shooting 1-of-7 from the floor and 7-of-10 from the free throw line, including missing one late. He’ll need to bounce back because his shooting could open up the floor for State’s offense.
Random stat(s): In their comeback win over Virginia Tech on Thursday, Florida State had 12 points in the second half in the first 19:04 but scored eight in the final 56 seconds. … In NC State’s loss to Duke, the Wolfpack went up by 20 points with around 11 minutes to go. At that point, they had scored 1.05 points per possession and missed 20 shots. In the final 11 minutes, they scored 0.46 points per possession, missed 13 shots and turned it over five times.
Prediction: NC State 75, Florida State 67
Last week: 7-4
Season: 111-39 (47-20 ACC)
N.C. State (17-7, 6-3) at Georgia Tech (9-14, 2-7), 7:00 PM, ESPNU
N.C. State at 6-3 in the league is back in the thick of things now after Florida State, Duke and North Carolina all dropped to 7-2. But the Wolfpack absolutely has to win games like this one. This is N.C. State’s last game in an “easy” stretch (Boston College, Wake and now Georgia Tech) before it goes to Duke and then hosts Florida State and North Carolina, all in a six-day span. They have to stay focused in what will likely be a completely dead environment in Atlanta tonight. Georgia Tech has shown it will continue to play hard no matter how many disappointments they have, but the Yellow Jackets should just be focused on improving and building for the future at this point as opposed to wins and losses.
Stat to watch: Rebounding. N.C. State can be an incredibly tough and physical team to rebound against. But the Wolfpack have had some bad outings in that department, most coming in recent games. North Carolina pounded them 48-26 on the glass and while they beat up Virginia on the backboards, Boston College of all teams out-rebounded them 30-28 in Chestnut Hills. Since pulling down 42 rebounds (18 offensive) against a good defensive rebounding Virginia team, N.C. State has 50 rebounds combined in its last two games (19 offensive) against mediocre to bad rebounding teams in Boston College and Wake Forest. And Georgia Tech is actually not too bad of a rebounding team. Georgia Tech is 7-6 when it has an offensive rebounding percentage of 33.3% of higher (including exactly 33.3% at N.C. State) and 2-8 with a percentage lower than that. Conversely, the Yellow Jackets are 1-7 when allowing an offensive rebounding percentage of 32% or more and 8-7 when allowing less than that. N.C. State rebounding just 30.6% of its misses against Georgia Tech, its seventh-lowest percentage of the season. N.C. State will have to be aggressive and attack the offensive glass to ensure they get second looks, while making sure Georgia Tech isn’t able to do that.
Most important players: Scott Wood, N.C. State and Daniel Miller, Georgia Tech. It’s hard to call what Scott Wood was going through a “slump” – he failed to hit double figures only once in AC play – but in a three-game stretch preceding last week’s Wake game, he hit just 11-of-32 shots (8-of-24 three’s). Against Wake, though, he appeared to get his stroke back with 23 points (a season-high) on 8-of-12 shooting (6-of-10 from three). But in the first game against Georgia Tech, Wood had 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting, tied for his worst percentage in league play (2-of-9 from three was his worst). In State’s three ACC losses, he has shot 7-of-26 from three compared to 20-of-40 in wins. State needs Wood to keep being that consistent three-point threat because he makes their offense so much more difficult to defend.
Daniel Miller has had an up-and-down year, but the sophomore big man has really started to come on lately. He started the season with double-figure scoring games in six of the first 10 outings, but he has had just three in the last 13 games. One of them came against N.C. State, where he hit 4-of-8 shots and 2-of-3 foul shots, also tying a season-high with four blocks. He shot just 12-of-31 in the five games after that, scoring just 25 points. But in the last two games, he has averaged 10 points on 8-of-13 shooting and added 14 rebounds, two assists, three steals and four blocks. It’s unlikely a nice game for him will mean as much tonight as it did in Raleigh a few weeks ago, but it’s big for his confidence going forward if nothing else.
Random stat: Clemson is still dead last in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s Luck rankings (-.157) but Georgia Tech is now second-to-last in the ACC at -.080 (322nd nationally). N.C. State is fifth in the ACC and 100th nationally in Luck at +.030.
Prediction: N.C. State 78, Georgia Tech 61
Last week: 10-2
Season: 101-36 (37-17 ACC)
NC State (15-5, 4-1) at North Carolina (16-3, 3-1) (16-3, 3-1), 7:00 PM, ESPN
Finally, this rivalry means something again – at least for now. But if new N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried continues recruiting as well as he has, it will mean something for years to come. If North Carolina wins, they have a shot of going into their first matchup with Duke on February 8th with a 7-1 ACC record. If N.C. State wins, they could not only sweep the Tar Heels but also have a shot at finishing first in the league. They have the easiest ACC schedule of any of the contending teams. And N.C. State, should they win tonight, could go into a three-game stretch in mid-February of Duke, Florida State and North Carolina with a 9-1 ACC record.
Stat to watch: Rebounding. It’s been a bugaboo for both teams in their losses. North Carolina was out-rebounded in all three of its losses and the worst was by UNLV (48-39); the Rebels had 20 second-chance points while the Tar Heels managed a season-low six. N.C. State has been out-rebounded in three losses; it held Stanford to just 36.2% shooting but allowed the Cardinal to post the highest offensive rebounding percentage allowed by the Wolfpack this year.
After Florida State dominated Carolina on the glass in a way that went beyond statistics, the Tar Heels bounced back by out-rebounding Virginia Tech 51-28. Carolina has shown it is capable of rebounding efforts like that but like everything else with the Tar Heels, it comes down to their focus and concentration.
N.C. State was out-rebounded by Miami, a big reason the Hurricanes were able to erase a large second-half deficit on Sunday. But N.C. State is an excellent rebounding team and will try to be physical with Carolina’s bigs, since they lack the height advantage. It has worked for some teams but when John Henson and Tyler Zeller are attacking the boards as savagely as they have been (averaging 22 boards between them the last two games), they’re difficult to stop.
Carolina has allowed nine teams to post an offensive rebounding percentage of 30% or better and 6-3 in those games. N.C. State is 3-3 when it fails to crack 32% on the offensive glass. Something’s got to give, and if N.C. State lets the Tar Heels get a bunch of second looks, this game will be over very early. And if the Tar Heels let an already-good offensive team in N.C. State get second and third looks, they could be in trouble.
Most important players: Reggie Bullock, North Carolina and Scott Wood, N.C. State. The point guard battle will be the most closely watched, but this one will be interesting: not watching the two go one-on-one, but what the game means for each player. Wood has hit just 4-of-24 shots (16.7%) in four career games against the Tar Heels, adding just 3-of-18 three’s (16.7%) and 1.3 points per game. Last year, Wood shot 47% (45% from three ) in 14 ACC games against teams not named Carolina, averaging 10.1 points in 31.5 minutes. In two games against North Carolina, he shot 20% and 33.3% from three (1-of-3), averaging 2.5 points in 23.0 minutes and adding 4.0 fouls. The Wolfpack needs him way too much for him to do that again. Scott Wood has been in single digits scoring-wise or missed games due to injury six times this season. N.C. State is 3-3 in those games and one of the wins was a nail-biter at home against Princeton.
Reggie Bullock will be stepping into the starting lineup in place of Dexter Strickland, who tore his ACL against Virginia Tech and will miss the season. Strickland was Carolina’s best perimeter defender (though Bullock, who has won three defensive player of the game awards from the Carolina coaching staff, is no slouch). “You can teach someone the defensive principles to be a better team defender and I think Reggie’s done a better job of learning those. Now, we’re throwing him another curveball because he’s got to understand now that when you’re playing the two-spot full-time you’ve got to be able to get back and give us defensive balance sometimes as well,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said. “The one thing he’s really improved on is his offensive rebounding … Now, he can’t get (to the offensive boards) quite as much because he’s got to be able to get back.”
Bullock normally shoots three’s well but he’s gone cold from three and so have the Tar Heels. In the last six games, Bullock has shot just 8-of-27 from three (29.6%) and Carolina has shot 28%. In the first 13 games, he shot 26-of-61 (42.6%) and the team shot 39.1 percent. He’s just 1-of-10 shooting (0-of-4 from three) in two career games against N.C. State, although he has played a total of 28 minutes in the two games. Obviously, he’ll need to do more this time around.
Random stat(s): Lorenzo Brown is averaging 6.9 assists per game, making him the first N.C. State player to average more than 4.6 in a season since Chris Corchiani in 1991 (9.6). …. Kendall Marshall currently has the best career assist-turnover ratio in Carolina history (2.8). Ty Lawson, not surprisingly, is second (2.78). Third and fourth? King Rice (2.4) and Matt Doherty (2.3). Ed Cota and Raymond Felton aren’t in the top five. … N.C. State has shot a higher percentage in five losses (47.8%) than it has in five wins (47.7%). … Usually, more offensive rebounds means more missed shots, which is good for a defense. But Carolina is 3-3 when opponents have more offensive rebounds and 11-0 when they Carolina has more offensive rebounds.
Prediction: North Carolina 87, N.C. State 79
Last week: 7-5
Season: 82-31 (19-12 ACC)
NC State (12-5, 1-1) at Wake Forest (10-6, 1-1), 1:00 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3
Wake Forest has played above expectations, beating Virginia Tech and nearly stealing a road win at Maryland. It will be very interesting to see how N.C. State responds to losing its first ACC game. Their head coach Mark Gottfried wasn’t shy about the number of ACC wins he sees as the goal – 11 – and if the Wolfpack want to get there, they have to win games like this. But Wake is confident, and N.C. State’s may still be shaken.
Stat to watch: Three-point shooting. This is not just because Georgia Tech, one of the worst three-point shooting teams in D-I, shredded the nets on 9-of-15 three-pointers against N.C. State on Wednesday. And it’s not just because N.C. State is allowing opponents to shoot 39.2% from three. It’s also because Wake Forest is a pretty good three-point shooting team. The Deacons are shooting just 36% from three but in wins, they have shot 41.5% (25.6% in losses). Wake Forest also defends the three-pointer pretty well, allowing just 32%. Wake has held ACC opponents to 10-of-37 (27%) from three, including Virginia Tech, who was red-hot from three coming in (the Hokies shot 6-of-22).
The Wolfpack has struggled to shoot three’s lately, just 7-of-28 in ACC play (25%) and 23-of-76 in the last five games (30.3%). If Scott Wood isn’t making three’s, N.C. State isn’t either: he has shot just 3-of-13 in ACC play and 12-of-35 (34.3%) in the last five games after starting the season 31-of-63 (49.2%). It’s not fair to put it all on Wood, who has made 47% of State’s three’s (44% accuracy) while his teammates’s accuracy is 30.6%. But Wood tweeted out an apology Wednesday night to N.C. State fans from @ScottWood15: “Sorry wolfpack nation. My worst game since coming to state. I’ll turn it around no more 10th plAce promise [sic].” If the Wolfpack wants to avoid disappointment, someone needs to help him.
Most important players: Richard Howell, N.C. State and C.J. Harris, Wake Forest. Howell averaged 13.6 rebounds in the five games leading into ACC play. He has a total of eight rebounds in two ACC games and just four against Georgia Tech. He also has averaged 3.5 fouls and 3.0 turnovers in two ACC games (four turnovers and four fouls against Georgia Tech) and no blocks. His foul trouble in the first half helped Georgia Tech take an 11-point lead at the break. Wake Forest is not a good rebounding team and Maryland was able to dominate the backboards, out-rebounding Wake 45-37 (21-10 on the offensive glass). It can be difficult to score against Wake at times, particularly if they slow it down, but N.C. State has to be able to exploit its size advantage and Howell is a big part of that.
Harris missed Wake’s last non-conference game against Wofford (Wake lost). But since his return, Harris has struggled (by his standards), averaging 11.5 points on 37% shooting. Before his injury, he was averaging 18.7 points on 54% shooting. In Wake’s ten wins, he has shot SIXTY percent from the floor and 64% from three, averaging 19.1 points. In the five losses he has played in, he has averaged 15 points but on 37% shooting (31.6% from three). Considering the damage the Georgia Tech guards were able to do against N.C. State’s defense, the Wolfpack had better be ready to deal with Harris.
Random Stat: Maybe it’s a good omen that N.C. State didn’t equal its longest winning streak since 2008 on Wednesday night. As the 2008 season began, the Wolfpack was coming off of a promising end to Sidney Lowe’s first season as head coach (2006-07), reaching the ACC Tournament title game. State started the 2007-08 season picked third in the ACC and went 11-3 in the non-conference, riding a seven-game winning streak into ACC play. It then got clobbered in its opener at UNC, 93-62: the Tar Heels went on a 25-0 run in the first half as N.C. State scored just 13 first-half points. As good as it would get for N.C. State in ACC play was 4-4 (15-7 overall) – then the wheels really fell off. The Wolfpack lost their last eight games to finish 15-16.
Prediction: N.C. State 89, Wake Forest 74
Last week: 6-3 (4-2)
Season: 68-24 (7-5)