By Charlie Manolakis
Welcome, football fans!
Last week saw the best of times and worst of times for this column, as a 6-1 run through the midweek contests was followed abruptly (though predictably) by a 2-5 showing Saturday, before Clemson helped me end things on a more positive note in their decisive win against Wake.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our most recent Power Rankings, where Mychal, Kinchen, and I share our thoughts on where all 15 teams stand at the halfway point of the ACC season. With still only a single game separating the top 6 teams in the standings, we’ll begin to see the proverbial men separate from the boys, as they face each other more frequently down the stretch of a back-loaded ACC schedule. And with 9-10 games remaining for everyone, late runs from those sitting just a few notches behind are still far from out of the question as well.
Tonight’s contest features one such opportunity for Louisville and Virginia Tech to continue to separate from the pack and to keep pace with the three one-loss teams at the top. Let’s jump right back in.
Picks to date: 37-11
Against the ‘Haslametrics’ spread: 26-21-1
Monday, February 4:
#14 Louisville at #7 Virginia Tech, 7pm
Haslametrics projection: VT 73, Louisville 66
For generations, man has wrestled with the great mysteries of our universe. Where did we come from? When is it smart to foul up 3? How did Cam Reddish get more open than Julian Edelman in the dying seconds against FSU?
Tonight, we put another of these mysteries to the test: will Virginia Tech ever play another close game? Through their first nine, the Hokies have only played in one contest decided by fewer than 11 points, a 52-49 win against Georgia Tech nearly a full month ago. The remaining six of their seven wins have all come by decisive margins, and perhaps they were unlucky to run into buzzsaws in Charlottesville and Chapel Hill on nights when the Hoos and Heels combined to hit 29 of 58 threes.
They are still expected to be without Justin Robinson, but tonight’s matchup against Louisville has all the makings of a great ACC battle. Even without Robinson, the Hokies can roll out the phenomenally talented Nickeil Alexander-Walker, four more perimeter threats who are knocking down north of 40% of their triples, and frontcourt veteran Kerry Blackshear who’s delivering exactly the year this team needed from him.
On the other side, Chris Mack has Louisville rolling at a level very few expected in his first year at the helm. Much like fellow sophomore NAW, Jordan Nwora has been one of the ACC’s breakout players of the year, and he possesses the size and talent to cause issues for the Hokies at both ends of the floor. While they also feature quality and depth in the backcourt, Louisville’s edge is likely to be down low. Malik Williams and Steven Enoch have both produced at a high level for the Cardinals this season, and the duo will have the freedom to give 10 fouls, to Blackshear’s 5. Both teams have rebounded at a comparable level this season, but after the beating Louisville took on the glass against UNC, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Coach Mack make that their #1 emphasis tonight.
Pick: I hate to make it sound this simplistic, but this one will largely come down to how well VT is able to knock down shots. Lost in the media frenzy surrounding their 47-24 win against the Wolfpack Saturday was that their first outing without their floor general Robinson was their second-worst offensive performance of the season (only slightly ahead of the aforementioned trip to Atlanta). They certainly have more than enough firepower to overcome his absence for the second game in a row, even against a motivated Louisville team, but I expect the Cardinals to get back on track here and move to 8-2. Whatever happens though, this isn’t one you’ll want to miss.