ACC Midweek Previews: Can road teams bounce back?
Posted January 10
Updated 9:00 a.m. Wednesday
So far in ACC play, home teams are 17-6. That seems pretty absurd. There have been four losses by the "home" team, and of those, two were in overtime (Clemson to North Carolina, Pitt to Notre Dame) and one was on a buzzer-beater (Florida State at Virginia). The other was Georgia Tech, who lost at home to Louisville because Georgia Tech is bad. I guess North Carolina didn't get that memo to open the season. And by the way, there have only been four "close" games (overtime or four points or less) and three blowouts (wins by 19 or more) out of 23 games. Which means all it takes is a run here or there to get over the hump - and road teams generally aren't getting it. Will they start to see a few breaks go their way? The local teams sure hope so as all three hit the road this week, plus Notre Dame will try to stay undefeated in ACC play when it hits the road and two old Big East rivals reunite.
NO. 7 DUKE (14-2, 2-1) AT NO. 9 FLORIDA STATE (15-1, 3-0)
Time: 8:00 p.m.
TV: ACC Network
Duke's proverbial backs are against the wall as they played sloppily in their most recent win over Boston College (in Jeff Capel's debut in Mike Krzyzewski's temporary absence), and now they lost fifth-year senior and captain Amile Jefferson for some length of time. And they'll be playing on the road at FSU, a team that is not only very good but also going to be pumped to play them. This is exactly the type of game Duke often finds a way to win, against the odds. But FSU might just be a different beast. The Seminoles have some size to exploit a potential mismatch there without Jefferson, but they can also go small if needed and feel just fine about their matchups there, too.
Grayson Allen. I'll save you the time: no, your tripping joke likely isn't funny and yes, I've probably already heard it. So please don't tweet it at me. But don't think I'm going to ignore Allen's tripping issues! Because one of the players he tripped plays for FSU in Xavier Rathan-Mayes. No, I don't think he's going to trip Rathan-Mayes again. But what I do think is that this FSU team, like most teams Duke will play the rest of the year, is going to try to get under his skin. And this is Allen's first road game since coming back from his one-game tripping suspension. It won't be a friendly atmosphere. All those things combined seem to equal trouble, but if Allen plays like he's been playing since his return - as more of a distributor than a scorer - and can keep his head about him, he's still one of the best players in the league, if not the country. If he can't? Well. Watch out.
HERE'S A GUY
Dwayne Bacon. The 6-7 sophomore came back to school to the surprise of some, but so far it's proved the right decision as he's improved his numbers almost across the board. In league play only, he's taking 40% of his team's shots when he's on the floor, which is absurdly high and leads the league. And FSU is 3-0, so, I'd say it's working! He draws fouls at a high rate slashing to the basket as a small forward (sometimes even playing the four) and even more terrifyingly, he's increased his three-point percentage from 28.1% last year to 37.1% this year (41.2% in league play). But he'll likely match up against either Luke Kennard or Jayson Tatum for Duke, one of which will make his life difficult on the defensive end and potentially get him in foul trouble in Kennard and the other of which is a pretty capable on-ball defender in Tatum who has an inch on Bacon and plenty of lateral quickness, too. FSU has other weapons but they'll need Bacon to......
Duke Loss: Duke fans, to this season
Florida State Win:
Florida State Loss:
Florida State, 84-77. This will be an up-and-down affair, I think, and I think the Seminoles - tough week and all - find a way to get this one at home with a fired-up crowd and a limping Duke team. (And they would have just as good a chance against full-strength Duke, I might add, btu I do think Duke makes it close a la the Kansas game earlier this year in spite of injury issues.)
NO. 11 NORTH CAROLINA (14-3, 2-1) AT WAKE FOREST (10-6, 1-3)
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Speaking of full-strength teams, North Carolina is steadily approaching being that as Theo Pinson returns from injury and continues to get his sea legs under him. There's no question the version of the Tar Heels we saw on Sunday was much more akin to the one we saw earlier in the year that terrified everyone - and even THAT version was without Pinson. But, tell me if you've seen this movie before - a talented, under-performing Wake Forest team returns home after a disappointing road stint and knocks off a ranked opponent. It's happened plenty of times. Wake is desperate right now too, as the Deacs are staring at 1-4 in ACC play straight in the face with two home losses already. This was supposed to be the year the Deacs start to take the next step, but so far it's looked like more of the same.
The Tar Heels are going to have to avoid both foul trouble and turnovers, things they've struggled with as of late. But Wake is going to have to play better defense than it has, as it hasn't forced turnovers particularly well or kept opponents off the foul line either (or gotten there as much as Wake teams of recent years have). As the old adage goes, you've got to make shots, and Wake will have to get hot again from three to get this one in front of a hyped home crowd that needs to see something good happen.
Luke Maye. Yeah, I said it. Look, the 6-8 sophomore has been seeing steady minutes for North Carolina - 25.6% of the Tar Heels' available minutes, and 32% in ACC play - and it's not because Roy Williams owes him a favor or something. Since he returned from injury against Indiana, he's seen double-digit minutes in every game except said Indiana game. Is he the best player on the roster, or even top 5? Of course not. But he's been coming into the game and giving the Tar Heels something off the bench. He had a career-high eight rebounds against NC State on Sunday (to go with nine points) and last year against Wake, he had six points in 15 minutes. North Carolina's bigs could find themselves in foul trouble and if they do, they'll need good Maye to show up.
HERE'S A GUY
John Collins. If you haven't seen Wake much this season, you may have wondered to yourself how they would replace Devin Thomas down low. Well, wonder no more. The sophomore center has been excellent for the Deacs this season, hitting double figures in all but one game, not to mention blocking shots and rebounding incredibly well. He also draws fouls very effectively, which could be an issue for the Tar Heels who have struggled with foul trouble at times, particularly on the road. But Collins himself has struggled with that and could have his hands full with North Carolina's trio of big men. Collins has picked up four fouls in three of the last five games and has seen his minutes limited as a result. If he finds himself in foul trouble in this one, the Deacs are in big trouble.
North Carolina Win:
North Carolina Loss: Quite the come-down
Wake Forest Win: Wake winning a big home game after being disappointing on the road where have Wake fans seen this movie before
Wake Forest Loss: Wake's at home and ready to get on the right track oh wait a darned minute
North Carolina, 82-71. The Deacs will hang for awhile, maybe even lead, but I think a late run by Carolina will seal it.
NC STATE (12-4, 1-2) AT BOSTON COLLEGE (8-8, 1-2)
Time: 9:00 p.m.
TV: ACC Network
From the moment this game appeared on the schedule, I was worried about it for the Wolfpack - especially when I saw tha tit immediately followed the game at North Carolina. So many things about this game spell disaster for NC State - road game, 9:00 at night, a pretty dead environment and coming off of an emotionally-draining loss (I actually thought they'd be coming off a win, so I was only about 60 points off or so!). There's this narrative that NC State loses after facing Duke and UNC, but that simply isn't true - well, at least, not after losses. They're 0-4 after wins over either since 2013, but even that is misleading - three of the losses were a combined six points. The other was at Boston College in 2015 though, and that's the one people remember.
It's not bouncing back from playing UNC that this team has to worry about, though - it's basically throwing away EVERYTHING that happened in that game, because it was all bad. All of it. You have to go back to 2006 to find an offensive efficiency mark that was worse than the 65.8 they had on Sunday (a 61.5 at Iowa, in a three-point loss!). Nothing went their way. So they have to refocus themselves and get ready for a game Boston College team that isn't just going to lie down. NC State is infinitely more talented than the Eagles, but so is Duke and even the Blue Devils played with their food a bit on Saturday against BC. NC State has to be focused from the opening tip, even though it won't be easy. It's really that simple.
Torin Dorn. NC State's Charlotte transfer guard has been struggling a bit as of late after having a fantastic start to the season for the Wolfpack - after posting an offensive efficiency mark of 120 or better in six of NC State's first seven games, he's now crossed that mark just twice in the last nine and hasn't even been over 100 in ACC play yet (or since Dec. 22 against McNeese). Part of it is turnovers - he has 12 in the last four games - but he's also not racking up assists like he was, and even his free-throw shooting is suffering (3-of-8 in ACC play in spite of being over 71% on the season). He played hard against North Carolina even when things weren't working for him (or his team), though, and he's going to have to bring that energy to his entire team in this one.
HERE'S A GUY
Jerome Robinson. The Raleigh native (and Broughton alum) is BC's go-to guy this year, and the Eagles are going to go as he goes largely. There's only so much he can do, but he has hit 20 points in all three ACC games so far. He had 22 points in the Eagles' win over Syracuse on 9-of-12 shooting and 3-of-4 from three (with four assists and three turnovers) and has averaged 20.5 points in the two losses since on 14-of-32 shooting (2-of-8 from three), with two assists and seven turnovers. NC State has struggled some with opposing guards and is going to have to at least be aware of Robinson at all times.
NC State Win:
NC State Loss:
Boston College Win:
Boston College Loss:
NC State, 78-71. Sometimes things feel too obvious. Picking NC State to lose this game feels like a trap. And I'm not buying into it. I think the Wolfpack is too good not to bounce back here.
SYRACUSE (10-6, 2-1) AT VIRGINIA TECH (12-3, 1-2)
Time: 7:00 p.m.
This is a tough one. Syracuse is on a two-game win streak, but both games were at home and the Orange have lost their two road games this season by an average of 16 points. And one was at Boston College, so yeah. But the Hokies are reeling right now, to put it mildly. After NC State dismantled the Hokie defense, Florida State basically followed suit and this looks nothing like the team that was starting to take on head coach Buzz Williams' defensive-minded identity. The Hokies don't have a lot of size, but they did have grit and toughness and that appears to be lacking a bit right now. It's hard to imagine Buzz's team looking like that a third time in a row. But can they bounce back mentally? And can Syracuse's rotation, now pared down to essentially just five like Jim Boeheim likes it, withstand a tough road environment?
Virginia Tech Win: There you go way to end that losing streak
Virginia Tech Loss: There's a word for what Virginia Tech's been doing lately
Virginia Tech, 75-67. Think the Hokies' depth (relatively speaking) wins out, but they'll be tested.
PITTSBURGH (12-4, 1-2) AT NO. 14 LOUISVILLE (13-3, 1-2)
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: ACC Network
Pitt certainly has the offense to hang with a team like Louisville, as they showed in their win over Virginia. But the Panthers' defense is...well. Not ideal. Louisville isn't amazing offensively, but areas they struggle are areas Pitt isn't any good at defensively anyway. And Pitt, by the way, is DEAD LAST in the country in defensive turnover percentage. Louisville doesn't turn it over much anyway - just isn't a great shooting team. Pitt is good defensively, though, at keeping opponents off the foul line and off the offensive boards. They're going to have to do that in this one, particularly on the defensive boards. But on the Louisville end, they have yet to have a great performance in league play on offense and will need to rely on their stingy defense (No. 1 in Ken Pom's latest) to carry them yet again.
Louisville Win: Same
Louisville, 77-69. Pitt makes a late run, maybe, but think Louisville controls this from the jump. It feels like they're due.
CLEMSON (11-4, 1-2) AT GEORGIA TECH (9-6, 1-2)
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: ACC Network
The question is of course do Clemson fans start caring about basketball season as of this moment, or do they wait a few weeks to come down from the high of winning a national title? They could probably stand to skip this game, although it's one that Clemson certainly needs to win so the team can't afford to skip it. Clemson might find itself 1-2 in ACC play, but the Tigers are no joke with an overtime home loss to North Carolina and a five-point loss at Notre Dame. Georgia Tech is not good, but as we've learned so far, winning on the road in league play is far from a given. Still, here's what Clemson has coming: Virginia at home, at Louisville, Virginia Tech at home, at Pitt. Could easily go 2-2 against that - but could also go 1-3 or worse. Can't afford to drop silly ones like this one if you're Clemson. Because yes, Georgia Tech is still bad.
Georgia Tech Win:
Georgia Tech Loss: My general feelings on this game anyway
Clemson, 72-57. Ew.
NO. 20 NOTRE DAME (14-2, 3-0) AT MIAMI (11-3, 1-1)
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Notre Dame has to lose at some point....right? ACC teams on the road have typically had a hard time, and Miami is certainly a tricky place to play - the Hurricanes haven't lost at home yet, although the Irish will be by far the best team they've faced there. Miami got manhandled by Syracuse, but that felt like it was more about the Orange than the Hurricanes. And Notre Dame is playing well, finding a way to win games. If it gets close, you have to feel like Notre Dame is going to find a way to pull it out with their experience and playmakers. But Miami's defense under Jim Larranaga has always been stingy, and the Irish do kind of seem due for one of those games where they can't hit the broad side of a barn. Which would be tough to do in Miami, anyway.
Notre Dame Win:
Notre Dame Loss: I TRUSTED YOU
Miami Loss: Trying to make a leap into the ACC elite this year but
Notre Dame, 77-71. I predicted the Irish would take their first loss last weekend. I was wrong. I won't doubt you again, Notre Dame. For now.
Last week: 11-3 (11-3 ACC)
Overall: 22-12 (12-8 ACC)