By Charlie Manolakis
Eight straight hours of basketball from noon until Duke-Virginia tonight?
Sign. Me. Up.
It’s a full weekend here at ACCBR too. Mychal’s got a big podcast coming in the next couple days, so keep an eye out for that, along with our updated power rankings (and maybe even a little bracketology buzz).
First things first, though. Let’s take a look at how all fourteen teams (sorry Wake, we’ll be back soon) stack up heading into this weekend’s action.
Picks to date: 43-12
Against the Haslametrics ‘spread’: 31-23-1
Saturday, February 9:
#9 Virginia Tech at #34 Clemson, 12pm
Haslametrics projection: VT 66, Clemson 62
This is far from earth-shaking news, but Justin Robinson is one of the best players in the conference. The Hokies just haven’t looked the same without him, especially on the offensive end and their last two outings have been two of their four least efficient offensive performances all season. Context is relevant here though, and yes, it’s significant that one of those was still a double-digit road win against NC State and the other was against an 8-2 Louisville team who has been a force defensively through ten ACC games.
However, do you know who else has quietly been just as tough for opponents to break down? The 4-5 Clemson Tigers, winners of three straight after a frustrating start against a challenging January schedule. The most significant hurdle remaining for Brad Brownell’s side, if they want to continue their recent run of form, is that they still have yet to beat a team not named Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, or Georgia Tech. This will be a golden opportunity to do so on their home floor against a VT team who was already beginning to see turnover issues emerge in the week or so leading up to Robinson’s injury. The Hokies primary facilitator and assist leader is not expected to play today as he is still in a walking boot.
Pick: The Hokies are undoubtedly talented enough to continue to compete at a high level in Robinson’s absence and they will likely figure it out again sooner rather than later. To win this one on the road though, they will need Nickeil Alexander-Walker to step up. In a way, he struggled against Louisville, turning the ball over six times. He still posted 17/4/4 and got to the line consistently so it wouldn’t shock me at all to see him carry the Hokies to a big-time win this weekend.
However, until VT can show it, I like Clemson +4 in this one and will roll with the home team to find a way to get back to .500 in the process.
***Editors Note: Injuries to Robinson and Horne leaves the Hokies with a short bench and without their leader. Agreed. Clemson +4 at home***
#69 Miami at #5 North Carolina, 12pm
Haslametrics projection: UNC 90, Miami 69
The Tar Heels have been one of the hottest teams in the country since their loss to Louisville early last month. When this offense is rolling, there are few who can slow it down or keep up and lately they’ve begun to buy in defensively as well. Dominant wins against Louisville and NC State have been their two most complete performances of the season and they will give themselves a shot to knock off either (or both) of Virginia and Duke in the next two weeks if they can sustain that level of focus and execution.
What they’ll need to avoid between now and then however, is doing exactly what I just did: Overlooking a visit from Miami with the Hoos match-up a mere 48 hours behind them. After struggling defensively for much of their 2-8 start to ACC play, the Canes have ratcheted up the intensity in their last two games. After holding Virginia to 56 points in what was still ultimately a losing effort, they smothered Notre Dame Wednesday night from the start and ran away with the second half in South Bend. They will need to dig deep for the third time in a row to contain the Tar Heels, but have proven themselves more than capable of that time and again in Jim Larranaga’s tenure.
Pick: Even with the momentum Miami has built, I don’t expect Carolina to stumble here. Unlike Notre Dame, they have the depth of talent to outlast the Hurricanes. Their size on the perimeter (even without 6’7 freshman Leaky Black) is another edge they were able to take advantage of on both ends of the floor in their first matchup in Coral Gables. Haslam’s projecting a huge margin here, but the way Carolina’s been playing lately it’s entirely within reach. Heels -21.
***Editors Note: Heels all day***
#41 NC State at #88 Pittsburgh, 2pm
Haslametrics projection: State 74, Pitt 71
Two programs coming off weeks they’d like to forget. The Wolfpack are mired in a three game losing streak that saw an overtime heart breaker against Virginia followed by historic 47-24 and 113-96 losses to Virginia Tech and UNC.
The Panthers are currently on a six game losing streak, punctuated by an overtime loss to Wake Forest on Tuesday night. There’s a lot of fun backcourt talent on both sides here, but with Markell Johnson leading a deep group of dangerous perimeter scorers, the edge should belong to State.
Pick: I hope this isn’t just wishful thinking on Kinchen’s behalf, but while I expect this one to be a competitive contest for much of the afternoon, I think this is where we’ll see the Wolfpack start to get back on track. State -3.
***Editors Note: I like the Pack to win and the Panthers to cover. Pitt +3***
#105 Boston College at #44 Syracuse, 2pm
Haslametrics projection: Syracuse 76, BC 66
How fleeting success can be in the ACC. Since comeback wins against Florida State and Wake Forest, Boston College has dropped three in a row. Most recently though, I was impressed by what they showed Tuesday night in Durham, going toe-to-toe with the Blue Devils and taking a slight lead into halftime. The second half unfortunately got away from them pretty quickly, but I”ll be keeping an eye on this match-up today, if only because I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve maybe been shorting the Eagles in my power rankings the past few weeks.
Syracuse, meanwhile, stands at a crossroads. After a 7-2 start which included a win in Cameron, the Orange were obliterated at home by Florida State earlier this week in a game many (including myself) expected to be a competitive affair. This is a win they’ll absolutely have to have. After this weekend, their remaining seven games will be a grind: at State, Louisville, Duke, at UNC, at Wake, UVA, at Clemson. Brutal. Jim Boeheim will be telling his guys that this closing run is an opportunity, and he’s right. But they’ll need to play like the “second weekend” team many projected them to be before the season to capitalize on it and that needs to start with taking care of business this afternoon.
Pick: Syracuse simply has too much on the line and is coming off too painful a defeat to let this one slip by. With the exception of Bowman, they have more talent and size across the board and will be hoping to keep the Tabbs-less Eagles from finding success shooting over their zone. Cuse -10.
***Editors Note: I am not confident enough in Cuse’s offense to give them a double digit pad. Orange win, Eagles cover. BC +10***
#13 Louisville at #24 Florida State, 4pm
Haslametrics projection: Louisville 73, FSU 72
A wire-to-wire victory in an energized Cassell Coliseum against the Hokies is exactly the response Louisville needed following their loss to Carolina. Like Syracuse, they still have many of their most challenging contests waiting in the weeks to come and this will almost certainly be among them.
Winners of four straight, Florida State is beginning to look like one of the most dangerous teams in the ACC. An 18 point win in the Carrier Dome sent the message that they have bigger and better things on their mind than a mid-table finish and now they have the chance to host another of the league’s top dogs. You couldn’t script a better appetizer for Duke-Virginia and I expect this one to be every bit as competitive.
The battle in the frontcourt between Kabengele/Koumadje and Enoch/Williams will fly relatively under the radar, but will be as influential a match-up as any. Terrance Mann against Jordan Nwora is must-see TV and I lean Nwora to have the upper hand. Both teams have plenty of backcourt talent as well, though I’m interested to see whether the Seminoles will be able to exploit their length on the perimeter against Cunningham, Fore, McMahon, and Perry, none of whom are listed above 6’2.
Pick: I can’t wait for this one. It feels like I say this every week, but I think Sutton makes the difference for the Cardinals again and puts them over the top. He’s been one of the league’s most dependable and efficient players and Louisville will need another big time game from him against MJ Walker if they want to leave Tallahassee with their fifth conference road win. A one-point line may as well be a pick-em, but I’ll run with the “favorites” here at Louisville -1.
***Editors Note: Agreed***
#2 Duke at #3 Virginia, 6pm
Haslametrics projection: UVA 70, Duke 67
What more needs to be said about this one? ***Editors Note: A lot, apparently 🙂 ***
Entering with a combined record of 40-3 (39-2 against the rest of the country), both these teams sit tied with UNC atop the ACC standings and are both deservingly projected to be 1-seeds a month or so from now. Their first meeting lived up to every bit of the hype and if you’re reading this now then you’ve been every bit as excited for Round Two as I have since the minute the buzzer sounded.
With the first win already in hand, Duke can essentially take a two-game lead over Virginia in the standings (at least as far as ACC Tourney seeding goes) with a win in Charlottesville tonight. They’ll have their facilitator and first line of defense back in Tre Jones, who was injured for the first meeting. They enter this one as hot as anyone in the country, having won their five games since then by an average of 21 points and with their 13-point win over Georgia Tech being the closest any opponent has come.
Virginia, on the other hand, enters on the heels of an overtime escape against NC State and a lackluster 56-46 win against Miami. They are also hoping they won’t have to play this round without their point guard, as Ty Jerome is still listed as questionable this morning after injuring his back against the Wolfpack. If he isn’t able to go, the 6’5 Jerome will be replaced once again by Kihei Clark, who stands at 5’9. Clark is certainly no stranger to Virginia’s rotation. In his first ACC start against Miami he dished out 6 assists, but also had 6 turnovers, which is as encouraging as it is troubling. Duke’s Jones is hailed as one of the nation’s top on-ball perimeter defenders and Clark (or Jerome) will need to protect possessions as Tony Bennett’s teams always must in their low-tempo system. Clark does not score at the volume Jerome does however, and the Hoos will need Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter to carry the load if they want to keep pace with the Blue Devils.
Pick: I’ve been ready to hammer Virginia on this pick since the first one ended in Cameron, but the loss of Jerome will be a huge blow if he is unable to go. I hate to throw out a conditional pick, but I think he’s too critical to their system on both ends of the floor. If he doesn’t play, Duke as a slight underdog is a gift from the analytics that treat teams as a constant. Blue Devils complete the sweep if he can’t go; Hoos -3 all day if he does.
***Editors Note: At -3 can I take the push? Sure I can***
Sunday, February 10:
#114 Georgia Tech at #95 Notre Dame
Haslametrics projection: ND 65, GT 60
Both these teams entered Wednesday night as three-point underdogs and both these teams left Wednesday night wondering what the hell went wrong. Injuries and sluggish offense (not necessarily unrelated) have taken a toll on their respective seasons and they’ll each be hoping to right the ship Sunday night.
Rebounding and defense always travel and while neither of these squads rebounds at a particularly elite level, Georgia Tech does have one of the league’s stingiest defenses (and their metrics stack up well nationwide too).
The Irish haven’t been as consistent defensively and don’t have the offensive weapons to run away from GT. Coming off a four-game skid, the Yellow Jackets will have the opportunity to separate again from the bottom of the pack and snag win #4 on the road.
Pick: Take the under, but I like Pastner’s squad for the analytical upset here. GT +5.
***Editors Note: As bad as Notre Dame has been, GT is averaging 54.5 ppg since hanging 92 on Wake. I’ll take the Irish -5 at home.***