By Charlie Manolakis
Ready for more basketball after an entire 48 hours of real-life responsibilities? So are we and tonight’s lineup is exactly what the doctor ordered. NC State and Louisville are set to meet in the KFC Yum! Center (good lord), both with their eyes set on keeping pace with the front of the pack. At the same time, a talented Miami side that’s struggled to finish games will look to put #2 in the win column on their visit to Syracuse, whose shown flashes lately of the team many expected in the preseason en route to a 4-1 start. Is it 8:00 yet? My boss doesn’t seem to think so, but here’s hoping it gets here soon.
Picks to date: 23-7
Against the KenPom “spread”: 17-12-1
Thursday, January 24:
#30 NC State at #16 Louisville, 8pm
KenPom projection: Louisville 81, State 75
Kevin Keatts’s Wolfpack haven’t had the start to ACC play through five games they envisioned after a 12-1 nonconference run that saw them upset a top-10 Auburn team. But they still sit at 3-2 and have already secured two gritty wins away from home, which should never be unappreciated in ACC play.
The Cardinals on the other hand have secured all four of their wins by double digits, three by 19 points or more and their lone loss came in OT on the road at Pitt (see above).
The availability of Markell Johnson will be a big story and factor in tonight’s game (he traveled with the team, but has been limited in practice all week), but whether he’s able to suit up or not, the amount of talent both these teams have on the perimeter alone may well make this the game of the night.
Jordan Nwora against Torin Dorn is an electric pairing and if either (and hopefully it’s both) of McMahon/Cunningham and Beverly/Bryce get going from deep too, watch out. Both teams are strong on the glass and until State returns to the hot shooting that carried them through December (and frankly, if not tonight then it’s coming soon), they will need to continue to create second-chance opportunities to stay with Louisville in this one.
Pick: Could State catch fire, burn the house down and head back to Raleigh with a big-time double-digit win? Absolutely. I like the efficiency of Dwayne Sutton to be a factor here though and I think he steps up and helps the Cardinals get it done. Louisville gets the W, but State covers +6 and makes them grind this one out in a thriller.
#71 Miami at #38 Syracuse, 8pm
KenPom projection: Cuse 72, Miami 64
The Canes have to be the most frustrated team in the ACC through three weeks. They’ve been in three of their four losses late against UNC, FSU, and NC State, but just haven’t been able to find the legs down the stretch to get a second win across the line.
Syracuse meanwhile, despite not always looking like world-beaters, have played their way to a 4-1 start with perhaps the best win to date of the young ACC season, beating the top-ranked Blue Devils in OT in Cameron. This is one the Orange would be wise not to overlook before embarking on a three-game roadtrip which will take them through Blacksburg, Chestnut Hill, and Pittsburgh.
Tyus Battle has been a monster of late for the Orange, playing all 85 minutes and averaging 27 points, 4 boards, 3 assists, a block, and a steal last week in wins against Duke and Pitt. He’s only sat for a total of 7 minutes through 5 ACC games and the Orange will need him again tonight. He, along with Frank Howard and Elijah Hughes (and even Buddy Boeheim) all stand at 6’5 or taller and could present a significant challenge for Miami’s undersized backcourt who were exploited down the stretch in a similar matchup against UNC’s guards on Saturday.
Pick: Miami will likely need to continue shooting as efficiently as they did last week if they hope to head home with a win. More importantly, they will need to find a way to contain Battle and Frank Howard. I do like them to keep this one close, but I think the script remains the same with Syracuse outlasting them in the end. I’ll take the Canes +8.
Two great ones to look forward to tonight.