By Charlie Manolakis
Missed y’all on my brief hiatus, but excited to be back for another great week in the best conference in basketball.
…What’s that? Someone out in Lexington or the Midwest knows better? Tell ’em they don’t have to count past 5.
What’s left to argue? Throw in #18 Florida State, #20 Virginia Tech, and Louisville only missing #25 by two votes for good measure. No one cares about depth, or “my worst teams are a little better than yours.” It doesn’t get any more competitive than three of the five best teams in the country locked in an endless circle of rock-paper-scissors. The best leagues play the best basketball, and no one plays better basketball than the ACC.
Alright, I’m off my soapbox. It’s good to be back. Let’s get started.
Picks to date: 47-15
Against the Haslametrics ‘spread’: 33-27-2
Monday, February 25:
#89 Notre Dame at #19 Florida State, 7pm
Haslametrics projection: FSU 76, ND 63
The Seminoles finally came back down to Earth this weekend in Chapel Hill, but don’t expect the momentum they’ve built to go anywhere.
The Tar Heels were able to take Florida State away from many of the interior offensive looks they were so successful with throughout their eight game win streak, but Notre Dame does not match up well enough to replicate that same defensive success. More specifically, the Irish simply don’t have an answer for Kabengele and Koumadje and the ‘Noles have the depth and talent on the perimeter as well to outwork and outperform tonight’s visitors in all phases of the game.
If Mike Brey’s squad wants to hang around on the road, they’re going to need a much more efficient performance from TJ Gibbs than he was able to deliver this weekend against the Hokies to lead the charge.
Pick: It’s possible I’ve already tipped my hand slightly, but I like the Seminoles to make it 9 of 10 without skipping much of a beat. FSU -13.
Tuesday, February 26:
#3 Duke at #12 Virginia Tech, 7pm
Haslametrics projection: Duke 78, VT 72
With both Justin Robinson and Zion Williamson still on IR for this Tuesday night showdown in Blacksburg, I feel almost obligated to ask: Should this win count for either team, with their opponent missing their most impactful player? Or should it count double, since they were missing their own?
In all seriousness, this would be a massive win for the Hokies in their effort to hang onto their impressive start and a double-bye for the ACC Tournament and they have the pieces to make this one a competitive contest against the #3 team in the nation.
Kerry Blackshear has been on an absolute tear through the month of February and (despite his lack of consistency in Robinson’s absence) Nickeil Alexander-Walker will have the opportunity to showcase his next-level talent against a team full of first-rounders in the national spotlight.
Duke showed significant strides in tightening up their interior defense sans-Zion in a dominant defensive performance against Syracuse.
There may not be a greater talent-equalizer in all of sports than the three point shot — and there are few teams in D1 more dangerous from downtown on any given night than the Hokies. Per KenPom, they’re one of only four teams knocking down more than 40% of their triples for the season.
Pick: With all that being said, I still think Duke gets the job done. Don’t be surprised, though, to see this one close deep into the second half. Duke separates down the stretch and covers 6.
#57 Miami at #216 Wake Forest, 7pm
Haslametrics projection: Miami 74, Wake 64
Can Miami continue to build on this late run? After opening conference play 1-8, they’ve won three of their last five. Had Coby White not gone ballistic and knocked down six second-half threes, it’s likely they would have beaten the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill too.
Wake, to their credit, have competed well and won two of the last three against their bottom-tier compatriots. When they’ve lost, though, they’ve lost ugly. Last night’s 20-point loss to the Wolfpack marked the smallest margin they’ve lost by since falling 65-61 to Boston College a month ago.
Pick: Unfortunately for the Deacs, Miami seems to have finally found another gear. They aren’t the cellar dweller I took some heat last month for putting my faith in too early and they’ll be looking to carry this momentum into their final four games before the tourney. I’ll take the Canes -10.
#36 Syracuse at #5 North Carolina, 9pm
Haslametrics projection: UNC 84, Syracuse 67
Williamson’s absence last Wednesday aside, the Tar Heels have looked fantastic in recent weeks and their climb to #5 in the AP poll reflects that the nation is beginning to take notice — though our founder-in-chief Mychal Hunter has been on the scent since the preseason and our latest ACCBR Power Rankings have them slotted even higher than the AP voters. They will welcome Syracuse to the Dean Dome Tuesday night looking to secure the eleventh win in their last twelve.
Syracuse, meanwhile, is still hunting a potential double-bye, as well as some stability of their own. They’re 2-3 in their last five, and none have been decided by single digits, though they played Duke close until late over the weekend. They will hope to exploit the length and athleticism of their zone to stifle Carolina’s resurgent interior offense and force the Heels to shoot over them. Battle, Howard, and Brissett will look to put UNC’s improving on-ball defense to the test on the other end of the floor as well.
Pick: While the Tar Heel alum in me appreciates the faith shown by Mr. Haslam’s algorithms, this is far too big a line for what’s likely to be a grinder between two of the league’s stronger defensive teams. Roy and the boys get the job done in the end, but give me Cuse +17.
Wednesday, February 27:
#131 Georgia Tech at #2 Virginia, 7pm
Haslametrics projection: UVA 69, GT 44
What a brutal projection. Though I suppose when you take two of the nation’s slowest-paced teams, one of whom sports the nation’s #243 offense and the other the nation’s #2 defense, it’s hard to expect much else from the computers.
The Yellow Jackets have looked better overall on the offensive end of late and for what it’s worth I expect them to outperform their meager projected total as well as the 25 point margin. For all the talented guards and wings who will be on the floor, Banks and Gueye against Diakite and Salt (and Huff, if he continues to earn minutes) will quietly be a massive factor in how long Georgia Tech will be able to hang around.
Pick: After securing their first six ACC victories by gaudy margins, it’s now been a full month since the Hoos have won by more than ten points (an uninspiring 56-46 home win against Miami on the 2nd). While this undoubtedly remains one of the top teams in the country, they’ve lost a bit of the luster they opened the first three months of the season with. There’s plenty of time left to find it before postseason play begins and while I think Wednesday night will be a step in the right direction, I don’t expect a full blowout. GT +25.
#34 Clemson at #98 Pittsburgh, 7pm
Haslametrics projection: Clemson 67, Pitt 62
Has any team in the ACC been more hot-and-cold than the Clemson Tigers? On second thought, has anyone been more consistently and painfully “Quadrant 2”?
Brad Brownell’s squad is 12-0 against Q3 and Q4 opponents, 3-3 against Q2, and 1-8 against Q1. Their lone Q1 win came at home, by eight points, against a Virginia Tech team still adjusting to life without Justin Robinson. Yet still they sit, squarely on the infamous “bubble,” still seeking a marquee win, but still with no crushing blemishes.
The moral of this story is if they want to make the dance, they’d better find a way to get the job done Wednesday night. With an almost unprecedented slew of dangerous mid-majors making their at-large cases, the last place Clemson wants to find itself is on the outside looking in. Or perhaps just as bad: staring down the barrel of a rematch with Lipscomb in Dayton.
Pittsburgh opened the ACC season with a bang, knocking off Louisville and Florida State in the Pete and announced to the league that the Kevin Stallings days were a thing of the past.
They haven’t won since.
What they haven’t done either, to their credit, is quit competing. They’re 0-6 in February, but all six were decided by single digits. Is Wedneday the night Johnson, McGowens, and Wilson-Frame align three strong performances again and get another home win back over the line?
Pick: The potential for Clemson to overlook this matchup with a visit from UNC on the horizon is there, but I like what Marcquise Reed showed over the weekend getting the Tigers back on track against BC. The urgency of Clemson’s veterans makes the difference against a young Pittsburgh team, even if Haslam might be right to project this one closer than many might expect. Clemson -5.
#17 Louisville at #85 Boston College, 9pm
Haslametrics projection: Louisville 74, BC 67
Another sneaky matchup with the potential to be much more competitive than it looks on paper.
Ky Bowman and the Eagles have shown some fight against mid-tier opponents and have played particularly well at home.
Louisville, the past few weeks, haven’t played particularly well anywhere. They’re safe for the tournament and still have plenty time to right the ship before then, but between the overtime loss to FSU and their 23-point collapse against Duke, something seems to have shaken loose in this team’s psyche.
Pick: I love the Eagles to cover 7 here and I’ll take them to pull off the upset too. If I’m way, way wrong (and it wouldn’t be the first time), it’ll be because Nwora put up another 32/10/4 night on 14-18 shooting.