By Charlie Manolakis
Seven more games tipping off between 12 and 6?? Tomorrow can’t get here fast enough. In the meantime, feel free to join us for a few minutes of your Saturday morning while we prepare for another great weekend of ACC action!
Picks to date: 14-2
Against the KenPom “spread”: 9-7
Saturday, January 12
#2 Virginia at #40 Clemson
KenPom projection: UVA 65, Clemson 58
Trips to Cameron Indoor and the Carrier Dome followed by a visit from the undefeated Virginia Cavaliers wouldn’t be a soft landing to the start of conference play for any team. Brad Brownell’s Tigers have struggled to hit the ground running through their first two games so far. It should come as no surprise that Ken’s numbers expect two of the stronger defensive teams in the country to produce a low-scoring affair and one under-the-radar match-up to keep an eye on will be Elijah Thomas against Jack Salt on the glass. Second chance opportunities become even more influential in a low-tempo, low-scoring game where possessions are at a premium. Clemson, led by Thomas, is one of the best in the country on the defensive boards.
Pick: Clemson has been woeful offensively to open league play, while Virginia seemingly can’t stop shooting 40+% from 3. I like both of those extremes to regress a little this weekend. UVA moves to 3-0, but Clemson covers 7 and sets themselves up to rebound in the weeks ahead.
#39 Louisville at #6 North Carolina
KenPom projection: UNC 85, Louisville 73
After turning the ball over 18 times in Pittsburgh and dropping one I tried to warn them about Wednesday night, the Cardinals will be anxious to get back on the court and put one back in the win column. Unfortunately, they may need to wait until next week, as Roy Williams has the Tar Heels rolling. They return home for the first time in ACC play at 2-0 after road wins in Pittsburgh and Raleigh. Were this one being played in the KFC Yum! Center (and as an aside…for the love of all that is holy, Louisville, please find a new sponsor), I would be much more concerned for the Heels coming off a big win at State, but the Heels are 24-3 against ACC foes in the Dean Dome the past three seasons and that was before they put ole Roy’s name on the floor.
Pick: 12 points is a lot for a Louisville side who’s only been beaten by that margin once all year and has shown they can compete with quality opposition regardless of venue. Heels get the win, but Louisville makes them sweat it out. Cards +12.
#118 Boston College at #74 Notre Dame
KenPom projection: ND 75, BC 69
VT, Syracuse, UNC, NC State, VT, UVA, Louisville, FSU. Both these teams have had this Saturday circled as the must-win in their first 5 ACC games since the schedule came out this fall. Both enter looking to put an end to their respective two-game skids into the conference season. The mix of backcourt experience, inexperience, and playmaking firepower that will be on display with Gibbs-Hubb-Goodwin up against Bowman-Chatman-Tabbs. The offenses should be nothing short of electric. While the nation’s eyes will be on ESPN’s Louisville-UNC/Duke-FSU doubleheader, this one has the potential to be every bit as thrilling in South Bend.
Pick: Tabbs understandably struggled in his return Wednesday against UVA, but the importance of having him back for BC can’t be understated. The Irish have been up-and-down defensively this year and with the pressure Tabbs can take off Bowman I think we could see the Eagles find some much-needed offensive rhythm. I’ll take the Eagles +6 and the leadership of Bowman, Chatman, and Popovic to find a way into the win column.
#87 Pittsburgh at #23 NC State
KenPom projection: State 82, Pitt 70
Only took Jeff Capel two ACC games to stop the bleeding at Pittsburgh and put the Panthers back in the win column. It was an impressive OT win against Louisville. After leading for nearly 25 straight minutes until Louisville’s late rally tied the score in the closing seconds of regulation, Pitt never wavered in overtime. Freshman Trey McGowens capped off a spectacular 33-point night with a coast-to-coast bucket over Ryan McMahon that put his team ahead for good. A very different mood awaits them in Raleigh, however. Coming off a tougher-than-anticipated win in Miami and a sobering loss at home to the Tar Heels, State knows this is the time to start getting things right. After this weekend, they’ll play three straight on the road before returning home to host Clemson, UVA, and Virginia Tech. This is an experienced bunch, and Coach Keatts won’t let them overlook the importance of this game to the season they know is within their reach. Pitt traveling south coming off the emotional high of a big home win gives me pause as well.
Pick: Second time in three games so far I’ve agreed with the Wolfpack faithful—Kevin Keatts is a winner this weekend and the Pack get back on track. State -12.
#1 Duke at #22 Florida State
KenPom projection: Duke 81, FSU 74
Since they steamrolled Florida on opening night, I’ve yet to be truly impressed again by Florida State—at least relative to their billing as a top-4 contender. Certainly, at 13-2 with their only ACC loss being at UVA and a relatively favorable schedule the rest of the way (home/away splits with Wake, Miami, GT, and Clemson), everything is still on the table for the Seminoles. The Blue Devils’ arrival in Tallahassee this weekend will be a good bellwether (in addition to a well-timed second chance, soon enough after the beating they took in Charlottesville) to see whether they’re ready to be one of the top dogs in the ACC this year. In the eight games since their loss to Gonzaga, the Blue Devils haven’t been held to a margin closer than 11 against anyone, setting the stage for a huge opportunity for the Seminoles to make a lasting impression in their own gym on national television.
Pick: I really hope this game lives up to the billing, as Florida State has more than enough size, athleticism, talent, and depth to compete with the Blue Devils. Until they show they can put it all together though, I can’t pick against the absolute tear Duke’s been on. Wouldn’t be too surprised to see the Fab Four struggle in a hostile environment early, but wouldn’t be too concerned about it either. Duke -7.
#161 Wake Forest at #65 Miami
KenPom projection: Miami 79, Wake 68
Hurricane fans, enjoy this breath of fresh air. Wake was 1-8 on the road in ACC play last year and uninspiring in double digit losses in all three road fixtures this season (GT, Tennessee, and Richmond) does little to offer much optimism away from Winston-Salem. Miami’s schedule also puts them right back through the wringer after this weekend, with their next five against UNC, Syracuse, FSU, VT, and UVA. Ouch. The back stretch of their schedule will offer better chances to string together some wins, but the Canes are too talented to stay out of the win column for too long, even with a shorter rotation than they expected. Look for them to take care of business Saturday afternoon and to steal at least one or two more in the next two weeks.
Pick: I don’t think it’s by double-digits, but Canes get the win. Wake covers +11.
#78 Georgia Tech at #31 Syracuse
KenPom projection: Syracuse 67, GT 58
Syracuse has impressed me through their first two ACC matchups, but so have the Yellow Jackets. After taking care of Wake Forest comfortably in their opener, they came within a couple shots not dropping (maybe a couple whistles not blowing) and ultimately a possession short of shocking the Hokies in McCamish Pavilion Wednesday night. Similarly to UVA-Clemson, expect a lot of defense from both teams here and a lot fewer points. Defense and rebounding travel and while the Jackets aren’t an elite rebounding team (neither are the Orange, to be fair), they showed against a powerful Hokie offense that they can be disruptive enough to keep this one within reach against a Syracuse team that has struggled at times to score consistently.
Pick: Still expect Syracuse to get the result at home, but I like GT +11.