By Charlie Manolakis
Two nights. Six games. Our top-6 teams (counting Duke at ND last night) all face tests away from home. A chance for my Tar Heels to knock Mychal’s Yellow Jackets down a peg in the next ACCBR rankings.
With so much to look forward to, why waste any more time? Let’s jump right in.
Picks to date: 26-8
Against the ‘analytic’ spread: 18-15-1
Tuesday, January 29:
#10 North Carolina at #83 Georgia Tech, 7pm
Haslametrics projection: UNC 78, GT 68
I know what I said a moment ago, but I don’t like this at all. Fresh off a 21 point beat down of the Hokies in the Dean Dome, the Tar Heels travel down to Atlanta to face the Yellow Jackets. Historically, that’s been bad news for individuals arriving with a golden fiddle/too much confidence and dueling with the locals. It’s also been bad news for Carolina recently, who stumbled on their last trip to McCamish two years ago, en route to an ACC title and national championship. To make matters more precarious, with a chance to avenge its loss to Louisville this weekend and a rematch with the Wolfpack Tuesday night, the look-ahead potential is off the charts.
Georgia Tech, meanwhile, has quietly put together a 3-4 start in the league despite a number of key contributors missing time and gave the high-flying Blue Devils all they could handle for much of Saturday afternoon. Don’t think they want another crack at the blue bloods after seeing what they were capable of in Cameron? Hard-nosed defense has given Carolina trouble this year and sparks will almost certainly fly in the point guard duel between Coby White and Jose Alvarado. Most of you will be watching UVA-State and with good reason, but make sure you keep an eye on this one too.
Pick: I think Carolina has the firepower and depth to eventually wear the Jackets down and leave with a win, but I’ll be (pleasantly) surprised if it’s by double digits. GT +10.
**Editors Pick** : Carolina kills GT on the offensive glass. UNC -10.
#1 Virginia at #32 NC State, 7pm
Haslametrics projection: UVA 77, State 63
Per Haslametrics, the Wolfpack rate almost dead last in “momentum”, with four of their five least efficient performances coming this month. It should surprise no one, meanwhile, that Virginia’s “momentum” is among the highest nationwide. In fact, four of their five best performances have come in ACC play.
Having Markell Johnson back will be a huge lift for State, in what is set to be a wild clash of styles. Kevin Keatts’s press driving transition, creating good shots and crashing for second chances. Meanwhile Tony Bennett plays a grind-you-down pack line defense that wants nothing more than to take you out of transition, out of your normal offense, force you to take bad shots and keep you off the offensive glass. On the other side of the ball, State forces turnovers on over 23% of their opponents’ possessions (14th best in the nation), while Virginia (because why wouldn’t they?) rates #1 and only coughs it up 13% of the time.
Pick: Something’s got to give and unfortunately for the Wolfpack, I don’t think it’s going to be Virginia. State has more than enough perimeter talent to knock down triples at an elite clip, which is the best way to give Virginia trouble for everyone not named Zion Williamson.
This is also a lot of points at home. State seems to grab a surprise at PNC every year and I like their chances to keep this one closer than many expect. I’ll still take the Hoos comfortably enough though, with State covering 14.
**Editors Pick**: Torin Dorn against De’Andre Hunter is a marquee matchup. State should have lost to Clemson. I’ll lay the points.
#75 Pittsburgh at #56 Clemson, 9pm
Haslametrics projection: Clemson 66, Pitt 62
If there’s a more gut-wrenching way to lose in all of sports than a missed free throw and a buzzer beater, I don’t want to know what it is. I still hurt for the kid from Houston who had a chance to end Michigan’s run to the title game in the first weekend before Jordan Poole’s split-legged prayer was answered. I feel the same for Marcquise Reed. This is a Clemson team that is starting to feel eerily like the Tigers of two years ago that went 2-8 against ACC foes in games decided by 5 points or less. I kept them in the top 10 of my power rankings and still have hopes that this veteran squad can get it going, but this game is one they have to have at home against Pitt.
The Pitt Panthers have lost three straight (granted those three were at Cuse, vs Duke, and at Louisville) and will be looking to build on what had been an impressive 2-2 start. They have yet to win a true road game though, and are up against a Clemson side who is desperate to find win #2.
Pick: After a brutal opening schedule, the Tigers need to capitalize on a stretch of several winnable games coming in their next five. Elijah Thomas has a big day down low, and Clemson starts to shake off the demons. Tigers -4.
**Editors Pick** : Agreed. Aamir Simms and Eli Thomas are going to have big games here. Reed is going to give McGowans and Johnson problems.
Wednesday, January 30:
#8 Virginia Tech at #101 Miami, 7pm
Haslametrics projection: VT 76, Miami 65
I still can’t figure out whether these are two of the most predictable or most unpredictable teams in the ACC. I’m starting to lean towards predictable, which actually worries me for both teams. Miami just doesn’t seem to have enough to compete night in and night out. With the NCAA being what it is and now Dewan Hernandez ain’t walking back through that door it’s easy to get pessimistic.
On the other hand, the key to beating the Hokies may simply be playing them away from Cassell Coliseum. They’ve looked nothing like themselves in all four true road games (including Penn State), suffering blowout losses to UVA, UNC and escaping maybe their worst performance of the year with a 52-49 win against a Georgia Tech team who couldn’t buy a basket or a whistle the whole night. They’ve won all four by double digits at home though, and just beat Syracuse by 22.
This brings us to what really matters: the matchup. Quite simply, Virginia Tech has better talent than Miami this year and more of it. This one gets dicey if Blackshear slips into foul trouble early and opens the door for Izundu and Waardenburg down low. I haven’t spent enough time this year giving credit to NAW and Justin Robinson though, both are phenomenal scorers and playmakers. Look for them to pop off again in Coral Gables. If Hill, Outlaw, and others are able to contribute as well, Miami will be forced to play honest defensively.
Pick: I don’t feel great taking these Hokies on the road yet, but they have more than enough to get the job done. Hokies -11.
**Editors Pick**: Hokies by 15 plus. Robinson is rolling and the big guards will give Miami’s undersized back court issues. VPI pulls away in the final 10.
#16 Louisville at #166 Wake Forest, 8pm
Haslametrics projection: Louisville 80, Wake 66
As has been the norm under Danny Manning, Wake has been much more competitive in Winston-Salem than they have on the road. Chris Mack’s Cardinals are not NC State nor the Boston College team they let slip through their fingers Saturday afternoon. Steven Enoch and Malik Williams will be more than the Deacs can handle in the frontcourt, while Jaylen Hoard will have his hands full with Jordan Nwora. The Cardinals’ backcourt simply offers more at both ends of the floor than Childress and Chaundee Brown as well.
Wake’s path to success, as it’s been much of the year, will be by getting to the free throw line. Keeping opponents off the line is an area where Haslametrics rates Louisville well (#64), but they have been inconsistent at times. Pitt attempted 33 in their win a few weeks ago, while UNC and GT both reached totals in the mid-to-high-20s, albeit in games which were never much in doubt.
Pick: I’ve been impressed with what Louisville has shown this year and don’t expect a slip here, even on the road. Cards -14.
**Editors Pick**: Agreed. Fade Danny Manning. All day, everyday.
#42 Syracuse at #98 Boston College, 8pm
Haslametrics projection: Syracuse 72, BC 69
Syracuse better come ready to play a full 40 minutes, as late runs in critical situations have begun to characterize this team. They erased an 11 point deficit in South Bend, taking the lead in the closing seconds before ultimately losing by 3. At Louisville a few days later, they cut a 21 point second half lead to 7 inside the final four minutes, but the Cardinals were able to shut the door. Lately, those runs have started to turn into wins. They trailed Florida State by 10 at the half, opened the second on a 21-4 spurt and never looked back. This past Saturday they snatched a road win against Wake with a 9-0 run in the game’s final minutes.
Syracuse, after looking impressive through a 5-1 start, came crashing back to reality in Blacksburg over the weekend. The Orange, thus far, seem to be a team that will go as far as their defense can carry them and the Hokies absolutely scorched them for their worst defensive outing by nearly every measure. Duke remains their only win of the season where the Orange conceded more than 1 point per possession.
Pick: These two teams traded double-digit home wins in their two meetings last season, but the Orange have the pieces to continue their vastly improved year. Ky Bowman put up 20 in their losing effort against the Orange last year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one follow a similar script. Syracuse certainly has the ability to stifle the rest of Bowman’s supporting cast. BC can hang around, especially if Syracuse is sluggish again offensively, but 3 isn’t many points to work with. I’ll take the Orange -3.
**Editors Pick**: BC is 20-44 from deep in their last two games. They are also holding opponents to 31.4% from deep on the season and rank sixth in the league during ACC play. Bowman is getting some mojo back. I’ll take the analytical upset. BC moneyline