ACC Midweek: Valentine's Day GIFs
Posted February 13
It's Valentine's Day tomorrow! Which means that all of this week's previews with include love GIFs. And a lot of hurt feelings. Locally, NC State will hope its fans haven't become numb while North Carolina hopes a week of healing from its most recent heartbreak paid off. Duke will try to keep the honeymoon stage going with this "new-look" Duke squad.
But there are other league games this week! One of the hardest things to get over in any new relationship is the letdown, right? And outside the Triangle, a lot of teams will try to avoid said letdown. Miami can't stumble hosting Georgia Tech, while Virginia Tech will try to bounce back from beating Virginia to keep its winning ways going. Notre Dame, Louisville and Wake are heading into tough road games as well. So let's get to it!
NO. 10 NORTH CAROLINA (21-5, 9-3) AT NC STATE (14-12, 3-10)
Time: 8:00 p.m.
How in the world do you even start analyzing this game, considering that:
1. North Carolina won the first matchup in Chapel Hill by FIFTY-ONE POINTS,
2. NC State has looked in its last two games like it was trying to lose by more?
This is still a rivalry, of course. And that matters. Just ask Duke about a motivated NC State team. North Carolina has problems of its own, anyway. A tweaked hamstring kept Isaiah Hicks out of an 8-point loss at Duke, and right now, there's no guarantee he's coming back. And considering North Carolina has four of its final six games coming against the top teams in the league, games like this one at NC State become of the must-win variety if the Tar Heels want to keep the spot atop the league standings. Roy Williams has always said that he would rather beat State than eat, and he and his team had better be starving heading into this one. Of course, if NC State isn't starving after its last two performances, then WILL it be? And even if the Wolfpack is hungry, will it be enough? Julius Hodge did once say that when NC State is hungry, they eat. All of the food metaphors.
From an actual basketball perspective, there's not much to take away from the first matchup except you know, don't do that, NC State. North Carolina is going to seek to get back to its old ways on the offensive glass, and NC State has been plenty accommodating there (as in, you know, most places defensively). Really, the only place they're all right on defense in league play is avoiding putting opponents on the foul line, a place North Carolina doesn't get very often anyway. But that's what this game will come down to: if North Carolina gets eleventy-million second-chance opportunities, they'll win by double digits, even if State is able to put together a speical offensive performance.
Theo Pinson. He's North Carolina's second-most important player, and the first meeting with NC State was ihs first game of the season. He showed why in that game as he finished without a point but five rebounds, five assists and four steals. The Duke game was really the only time his fearlessness has backfired in any way on North Carolina, and even then, he finished with six points, seven rebounds and three assists in 19 minutes. Just maybe a time or two down the stretch, he should have fed the hot hand instead of taking it himself. But it's hard to complain. He hasn't been quite the sparkplug for North Carolina on the road as he has been at home so far (albeit in a limited sample size for both), and North Carolina is almost certainly going to have a moment on Wednesday where it hits a rough patch and needs some energy. Pinson knows what it's like to play at NC State, and he should be ready to provide that. If he can keep filling that role all year, no matter the struggles North Carolina goes through, he'll do what he can to pull them through it.
HERE'S A GUY
Dennis Smith. Jr. In the first matchup with North Carolina, the game - if it wasn't already over - effectively ended with Smith picked up his third foul on a questionable call (which came after he picked up his second on a silly reach-in). But the Tar Heels were already up by double digits, and the game would only get uglier, even when Smith returned. He would finish with 11 points, five assists and six turnovers; his 75 ORtg (offensive efficiency rating) was his second-worst of the season and nothing was good. But nothing is good now, either. While there's plenty of blame and criticism to go around, Smith - the talented one-and-done (almost certain to be) freshman is the face of this team, and he's received plenty. Not all of it is fair. Smith isn't a selfish player. He has the No. 1 assist rate in the conference. That doesn't mean he doesn't try to do it on his own sometimes when he shouldn't. Both can be true.
It does feel like he's spent a lot of this year trying to get his NC State teammates to "get on his level", as it were, whether with a well-timed glare or sharp verbal rebuke. But that's the competitor in him. And it came out again after the Wake Forest game: "I believe we're going to beat Carolina," he said in this postgame video from WRAL, which I had to see (and hear) myself to believe. Smith has never shied away from the spotlight or taking his share of the responsibility for this team. So it will be interesting to see if there's anything behind this statement, from either him or his team (or, perhaps more importantly, both).
(Special shoutout in this space to Torin Dorn, who was arguably the only NC State player to play well in the loss at Chapel Hill and had been nearly invisible since, until last Saturday in Winston-Salem when he finished with 14 points - his most in ACC play.)
North Carolina Win:
North Carolina Loss:
NC State Win:
NC State Loss:
North Carolina, 85-74. Yeah, I said it. Only 11 points. Fight me.
NO. 12 DUKE (20-5, 8-4) AT NO. 14 VIRGINIA (18-6, 8-4)
Time: 9:00 p.m.
Well, Virginia won't have very long to recover (mentally or physically) after their loss to Virginia Tech at least in part because of...this:
It's like a hanging chad, except not! Remember hanging chads? No? God that seems like eons ago now, doesn't it? What an adorable little controversy that was!
Duke has won three of four against Virginia dating back to 2014; the two schools have met just once the last two seasons, which is unfortunate for all of us college hoops fans. Because here's the question: is Duke kryptonite to UVa the same way UVa is kryptonite to, say, Louisville? Or has UVa just been on the bad side of a few close losses, which is no shame? And then there's the issue of Duke seemingly getting it together - their five straight wins give them the longest streak of any ACC team - compared to Virginia, somewhat concerningly, losing three of its last five games after losing double-digit leads in all three games. When all those are road games to NCAA Tournament teams, maybe you shrug your shoulders. But with Duke - a team that has erased a deficit in Charlottesville before (see: 2015) - coming to town, it has to be at least somewhat of a thing.
The foul line and the three-point line will both be big in this one. Duke and Virginia are No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in league-only three-point defense, and No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in ACC three-point percentage. Duke, meanwhile, has a pretty solid free-throw rate and Virginia can't seem to stop putting opponents on the foul line, something Virginia doesn't usually do with its defensive system. If the fouls pile up, that is advantage: Duke.
Luke Kennard. When the going gets tough, Duke gets Kennard (the ball). Or at least, Duke should. As he has at other points this season, he almost literally put Duke on his back against Clemson and said okay guys get out of the way we're not losing this stupid game:
The above GIF is Kennard hustling after two Clemson inbounds passes with the Blue Devils up two, helping to ensure the Tigers didn't get a clean look (although Clemson itself seemingly helped in that department). Here's the thing: as I've said all season, Kennard is Duke's best player this year, in college, right now, not NBA upside or whatever. The sooner Duke realizes that, the better. That doesn't mean you don't use your other pieces like Grayson Allen and Jayson Tatum - but it does mean that when you need a bucket, run something for Kennard. Let him make his magic happen. Duke certainly has seemed to realize this lately, but at times they go away from it. Virginia surely has watched enough tape to know how important Kennard is and will try to use that pack line defense to take him away. But he's going to be a load.
HERE'S A GUY
London Perrantes. You've seen me write here about how Duke likes to cut off the head of the snake of the opponent, proverbially speaking of course. That's Perrantes, and it's not close. Virginia has some nice complementary pieces, many of which will be very good, but Perrantes is and has to be THE guy. So Duke is likely going to approach him the same way they did Joel Berry - trying to tire him out, "get into his legs" (in Coach K speak) and make things as difficult for him as possible. The percentage of shots Perrantes takes when on the court in league play has soared from 18 percent to 26.1 percent (14th-most in the ACC). One thing Virginia's losses seem to have in common is that Perrantes can't get to the foul line: he has eight attempts in five league losses and seven of those came in the 2-OT loss to Virginia Tech. He has at least two attempts in every other ACC game. And sometimes, you just miss shots - Perrantes was 3-of-12 from three in Blacksburg. But he's shooting nearly 46 percent from three in league play. Still, Duke will try to keep him off the line and keep him from getting clean looks. Will it work? If it does, Virginia has no chance.
Virginia Win: It's a Valentine's Day GIF for me, because she still has my heart.
Duke, 69-62. I'll believe Virginia can beat Duke when I see it.
NO. 8 LOUISVILLE (20-5, 8-4) AT SYRACUSE (16-10, 8-5)
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Another classic Big East matchup! I'm sure Jim Boeheim won't mention it at all. I'll go ahead and roll my eyes preemptively. Even as Syracuse was playing well on the road finally, that loss to Pitt was predictable. Pitt's been fighting hard, and that's a tough place to play. Louisville is 3-3 on the road this year, but those losses are to Notre Dame, Syracuse and Virginia, so hardly a cause for concern. And they won at Georgia Tech by 15, at Boston College by 23 and at Pitt by 55, so it's not like it's been an issue. Where does Syracuse fall in that spectrum? Hard to know, but the Orange are 6-0 at home with three more to go and have knocked off some good ones there (FSU, Virginia, Wake, Miami, just to name a few). Syracuse is overall playing well right now, but so is a fully-whole Louisville, which escaped from tricky Miami on Saturday. Syracuse's defense hasn't been good this season, and Louisville is going to have to exploit that by either making 3's (which Syracuse has allowed like crazy) or hitting the offensive glass hard (another Syracuse weakness), all while avoiding a ton of fouls and contesting Syracuse's three's. Could be a tricky one, but...
Louisville, 75-68. Think Louisville just has a few too many guys for Syracuse.
NO. 25 NOTRE DAME (19-7, 8-5) AT BOSTON COLLEGE (9-17, 2-11)
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Every instinct in my body tells me this game will be close. But I don't know if I can make myself pull the trigger and actually say Notre Dame will lose. The Irish are coming off of a thorough dismantling of Florida State at home, and Boston College is the place where your dreams go to die. I think it says that in the brochure. It feels like a natural place for a letdown, but this is an old and experienced squad that has to know it's going to face a battle at Boston College. Even if it makes no sense logically that the game will be close. After showing some friskiness earlier in the season, though, the Eagles have now lost three in a row by double digits. Maybe their hope is the one that is dying.
Notre Dame Win:
Notre Dame Loss:
Boston College Win:
Boston College Loss:
Notre Dame, 79-71 .DON'T LET ME DOWN, IRISH!
WAKE FOREST (15-10, 6-7) AT CLEMSON (13-11, 3-9)
Time: 7:00 p.m.
TV: ACC Network
Wake has won some real, live road games this year in ACC play! Really. I've seen it. But can they win this one? It's going to be tough. Clemson's record isn't quite indicative of who they are, although if we're being honest, it's not terribly far off. The Tigers have some nice young pieces and Jaron Blossomgame, but they don't do anything particularly well (at least, not consistently). Wake does a lot of things well and its young pieces are fantastic. In theory, Wake should be riding high after destroying NC State by 30 and Clemson should be extra low after a heartbreaking loss at Duke. But Clemson might actually just have taken that moral victory and run with it, while Wake might find itself a little TOO confident. The ACC can be brutal, man.
Wake Forest Win:
Wake Forest Loss:
Clemson, 74-68. Going from NC State's defense to this is...well, it's quite the step up. And Wake still struggles to win on the road, while Clemson might be buoyed by its latest heartbreak rather than defeated by it.
VIRGINIA TECH (17-7, 6-6) AT PITTSBURGH (14-11, 3-9)
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Looking at the stats from Virginia Tech's double-overtime win over Virginia, it's hard to pick one that stands out the most as THE REASON they won. Maybe the foul line, where Virginia was just 14-of-24 and Virginia Tech was 20-of-26. But that's about it. Oh, and then this:
I'm sorry. It's still so unbelievable.
Anyway, Pitt is on a two-game winning streak and has always been a trickier team to play at home, where they play three times in the back half of the schedule. It would obviously take something improbable to pull off an NCAA Tournament berth, but they can at least help keep things going in a better direction in Kevin Stallings' first season by showing some fight and compete down the stretch here. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech will have to - on a short turnaround - find a way to get back up for this game, which they could really use as they try to keep building an NCAA resume.
Virginia Tech Win:
Virginia Tech Loss:
Pittsburgh, 76-71. This game just has "letdown" practically tattooed to its proverbial forehead.
GEORGIA TECH (15-10, 6-6) AT MIAMI (16-8, 6-6)
Time: 8:00 p.m.
TV: ACC Network
Miami has sneakily been playing pretty well after starting ACC play 2-4, winning four of six with the only losses coming to Florida State and Louisville on Saturday (narrowly). The back half of their schedule isn't forgiving, but they do have three home games - including this one. It's one that they can't afford to drop as they look to solidify an NCAA Tournament resume. On the flip side, though, Georgia Tech - which finds itself still clinging to the edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble - can't afford NOT to win it.
As far as the matchup, Georgia Tech has one of the best defenses in the country and Miami's has been a bit up and down but it still capable. Georgia Tech will need that defense to show up again and then pray they can hit some shots. Miami is comfortable in almost any pace, and Georgia Tech will try to make this a slow one. Keep hitting 3's, get to the foul line and avoid turnovers if you're Miami and you should win.
Georgia Tech Win:
Georgia Tech Loss:
Miami, 71-57. Georgia Tech usually either wins close or gets beaten by double digits. Josh Pastner is like the anti-Brian Gregory.
Last week: 10-4 (10-4 ACC)
Overall: 73-41 (64-36 ACC)