By Charlie Manolakis
What’s more fun than Louisville – Virginia Tech on a Monday night? How about four more games on a Tuesday (and two tomorrow to boot).
The January jitters are gone and with whispers of March beginning to crescendo, it’s time to start learning who these teams really are. Six teams currently stand within a game and a half of Virginia atop the ACC, but only one will have a banner to show for it come fall. Only a handful more will see their name on a seed line six weeks from now as well. Stick with us here at the ACC Basketball Report for everything you’ll need to know between now and early April, be sure you’re not missing Mychal’s breakdowns every week on the podcast and let us know what’s on your mind too–on Twitter or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Four big ones tonight, two more tomorrow and another packed weekend right around the corner.
Picks to date: 38-11
Against the ‘Haslametrics’ spread: 27-21-1
Tuesday, February 5:
#108 Boston College at #1 Duke, 7pm
Haslametrics projection: Duke 96, BC 66
The Eagles struggled last week to continue to build on the momentum of back-to-back comeback wins, dropping two at home against Syracuse and Notre Dame. They now sit at 2-6 in the league and find themselves looking uphill tonight at a visit to Durham to face the Blue Devils, who won their last two contests by a margin of 52 points.
Tre Jones and Ky Bowman will be a great one-on-one battle at point guard, but Coach K’s Blue Devils will be bigger, more talented and more athletic than Bowman’s cast at every other position. Unless they’re able to heat up from three-point-land the way they did in their win over the Seminoles and knock down another absurd percentage of their triples, I don’t think they have much of a path to keeping this one close.
Pick: While I don’t expect this one to reach a 30-point margin, they did just beat St. John’s by that total over the weekend. I’ll take my chances with the least exciting pick possible at BC +30, but Duke rolls in Cameron.
#85 Pittsburgh at #210 Wake Forest, 7pm
Haslametrics projection: Pitt 71, Wake 63
I hope you like free throws. Only six teams in all of D1 score more than 24% of their points from the line and you’re looking at two of them right here. In the bigger picture, both these teams have lost five straight and will be looking to right the ship tonight in Winston-Salem. I made the comment to Mychal over the weekend that I have more confidence in Pitt’s upside than any of the other teams currently at the bottom of the ACC standings and their consistent placement at #10/11 in all three of our individual power rankings this week suggests I’m not alone.
After a red-hot start to ACC play and a pair of 30-point performances in their two ACC wins to date, freshman Trey McGowens has struggled through the Panthers’ five-game skid. Tonight presents a great opportunity for him to get back on track and Pitt will need him to return to a consistent level of production if they want to finish the season strong.
Pick: They may not have left with the outcome they wanted, but I was encouraged by the fight Pitt showed in the second half against Syracuse. Wake has looked completely deflated in blowout losses to Louisville and Clemson and this is they game they’ll have circled on the calendar with the Seminoles and Tar Heels on deck. I like them to keep this one close, but the Panthers separate late. Pitt -8.
#39 NC State at #5 North Carolina, 8pm
Haslametrics projection: UNC 91, State 75
Can Carolina keep their hot streak rolling after a dominating performance in Louisville? The Tar Heels have won five straight and at 7-1 are right where they want to be in the thick of the title chase. On the heels of a historic loss to Virginia Tech, meanwhile, State will be looking to shake off the shooting demons and secure a resume-boosting win against their hated rival.
If the Heels can bring the same intensity defensively and on the glass that they showed they’re capable of over the weekend, they could certainly win this one by the sort of margin Haslam is forecasting. Coby White and Nassir Little are continuing to improve steadily, and Leaky Black (still injured, unfortunately) and Brandon Robinson have emerged as steady, valuable contributors off the bench.
Markell Johnson and Torin Dorn have plenty of supporting talent of their own, though and more than enough offensive firepower to make this one a competitive contest, especially if they can catch Carolina easing off the gas early in the night.
Pick: I like the Tar Heels to move to 8-1 in the end, but expect a fight from the Wolfpack and for them to keep this one within reach most (if not all) of the way through. State +16.
#29 Florida State at #41 Syracuse, 8pm
Haslametrics projection: Syracuse 70, FSU 68
The importance of this game for both teams can’t be overstated. After a frustrating 1-4 start, the Seminoles have rattled off three wins in a row and now face their first test in this run against the pack at the top. To finish among the best, they’re going to need to start beating the best and they can’t afford to let many more slip along the way.
On the other side, Syracuse is off to a strong 7-2 start, but face a much tougher road in the back half of their ACC slate. A rematch with Duke awaits, in addition to meetings with Virginia, UNC, Louisville, and Virginia Tech. The best hopes they have of a double-bye (or their first finish above 10-8 since 2014, for that matter) will begin with defending home court against the resurgent Seminoles tonight.
Pick: I can’t wait for this one. Size and athleticism across the board. Leonard Hamilton running out hockey lines against 35+ gladiator minutes from Battle, Howard, and Brissett. I think the Seminoles have shown a little more in their last few outings and I like their urgency at 4-4 to help make the difference tonight. But strap in when the clock hits 8, folks. State-Carolina has the potential to be the game of the night, but this one will be right up there too.
Wednesday, February 6:
#44 Clemson at #101 Georgia Tech, 7pm
Haslametrics projection: Clemson 62, GT 59
Brad Brownell’s Tigers have finally begun to right the ship, and visit a Georgia Tech side who wants to do the same following a three-game skid. Elijah Thomas has been on a tear in the weeks since these teams met previously, and the Jackets will hope the return of Abdoulaye Gueye will help tip the balance in the frontcourt back their way. Alvarado against Reed will undoubtedly be a match-up worth keeping an eye on as well. Turnovers have plagued both teams’ offensive efforts of late. With two top-30 defenses (per Haslam and KenPom) going head to head, the lead guard who’s able to run the cleanest show offensively will put his team in position to bring home a much-needed W.
Pick: I’ve tried to stay relatively positive on Clemson through the early struggles and think they’ll be rewarded here for doing the same for themselves. GT’s due to start seeing the ball go through the basket again soon, but I think the Tigers have enough to pull out a tough one on the road even if that happens here. Clemson -3.
#76 Notre Dame at #88 Miami, 7pm
Haslametrics projection: Miami 72, ND 69
I think Haslam’s right on that we’re in for a battle here. These two squads have both faced their share of adversity, losing key guys who they expected to be major contributors before the season. And with three combined wins halfway through ACC play, both will be viewing this one as a chance to start the back nine off on a positive note.
Pick: For one of them, of course, it will be, and I like Miami’s experience to help pave the way. While depth is clearly a challenge for the Canes this year, this is an equally thin Notre Dame team, and they have the backcourt talent to offset the quietly phenomenal year John Mooney has been having for the Irish. Miami -3.