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ACC Basketball Preview: March 3

Monday, March 3, 2014 12:12pm

NOTRE DAME (15-15, 6-11) AT NORTH CAROLINA (22-7, 12-4 ACC)

Time: 7:00 p.m.

TV: ESPN/WatchESPN

THE SKINNY

So, a bit of good news, bad news here for Notre Dame. Good news? The season is almost over, and you can forget a lot of this ever happened! So thats good. More good news, if youre into this sort of thing? Carolina didnt play all that well in its win over Virginia Tech, so you never know what could happen!

Also, Notre Dame played a pretty good game against UNC last time - at least, at times - even if the final score didnt indicate it. Notre Dame started off hitting its first four three-pointers against UNC in the first meeting, and Tar Heel fans nationwide rolled their eyes and thought to themselves, Welp, here we go again. (Most other fan bases were likely playing the worlds smallest violin for them.) Except the Irish would go more than 15 minutes of game action without hitting another and finished making just 6-of-21 threes after starting 4-of-4. (Is that bad?) And whats worse, Notre Dame turned it over a lot more than it usually does AND North Carolina was able to turn those into points (23, to be exact). Thats haunted the Irish some in games where it played reasonably well against better opponents, and it came back to bite them again in the overtime loss to Pitt when they turned it over on over 24% of their possessions, most since 25.2% against UNC. In other words, if Notre Dame turns the ball over and cant make threes, it has no chance. Do those two things, though, and who knows?

NAMES TO KNOW

Garrick Sherman. A lot of opposing big men arent able to have much success against the Tar Heels length. Sherman, though, definitely did as he had 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting (though just six rebounds). After the UNC game, he would go four straight games in single digits as he struggled with an injury, but we all knew the Shermanator would come back better than ever.

And in the win over Georgia Tech last week, he had 21 points (his most since January 21) on 10-of-15 shooting. He still hasnt had more than eight rebounds in over a month now, but if hes scoring efficiently, theres no need. Pitt on Saturday, though, was able to turn Sherman into a no-factor - he played 31 minutes but had his lowest ORtg since November 15, as he had six points on 3-of-5 shooting, attempted no free throws and turned it over five times. And he went without an offensive rebound for the first time since the season-opener. Notre Dame will need some semblance of an inside threat to hang with the Tar Heels, and if hes not playing well, forget it.

Marcus Paige. In one of the more puzzling stat lines of the year, just a game removed from his fantastic performance against N.C. State, UNCs sophomore point guard posted his lowest usage percentage of the season in a close win at Virginia Tech (14%). He also finished with single digits for the first time since January 20 (a loss at Virginia), but to be fair, this was also the first time all season he finished in single digits AND had an ORtg over 100 (a 124). He did have some foul trouble (which is why he played just 30 minutes), but his one assist was a season low. He didnt have a turnover and he was just 3-of-7 shooting, so he didnt force anything.

But as his head coach Roy Williams said afterwards, he needs to be more selfish at times. Its almost like Paige is still learning when to be selfish and when not to, but during this stretch run here, North Carolina needs him to be as selfish as possible because hes clearly their best player. The game at Notre Dame was another that UNC won without a dominating performance from Paige - it was also back when McAdoo was playing very well - but Paige still had a good game, finishing with 16 points. Paige may not care much about winning ACC Player of the Year, but thats an award thats still out there for him. But not if he continues to defer so much. And really, though, its not selfish of him to look to score more if hes the best player on the floor for his team, right?

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

North Carolina is using just 15.7 seconds of the shot clock in ACC play before taking a shot - the fastest in ACC play - but its ACC opponents are using 19.8 seconds before ending a possession, which is 11th out of 15 teams. Notre Dame, meanwhile, is burning a ridiculous 20.3 seconds before ending a possession in league play and that is somehow not last in the league, but 11th. ELEVENTH! Notre Dames 1.23 points per possession against Pittsburgh were its best against a team not named Boston College in ACC play since a 1.23 in the win against Duke on January 4. North Carolinas 60-possession game against Virginia Tech was tied for its slowest game both of the year and in ACC play (a 60-possession loss to Syracuse), both of which are the slowest games UNC has played since a 58-possession, 48-46 win over Boston College in 2011. It was as hideous as the numbers suggest.

NARRATIVES

Notre Dame Win: …….

Notre Dame Loss: 

North Carolina Win: Probably a lot of this will be going on:

North Carolina Loss: 

PREDICTION

North Carolina, 79-70. Fun times.

N.C. STATE (17-12, 7-9 ACC) AT PITTSBURGH (22-7, 10-6 ACC)

Time: 9:00 p.m.

TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN

THE SKINNY

Well.hmm. I can say this - the first meeting between these two teams took place so long ago, its hard to extrapolate much from it. Except for this part - if N.C. State lets Pitt out-tough them the way they did then, this game wont be close. But Pitts a different team since then - and not in a good way - while N.C. State is.Im not sure. The Wolfpack has been riding an emotional rollercoaster in the last five games, nearly beating Syracuse before getting blown out at Clemson, beating Virginia Tech, then nearly beating UNC and losing in disappointing fashion to Miami. Two letdown losses, two near-huge wins and nowwhat, exactly? The players are saying all the right things, and this is an absolute must-win for them.

Its close to that for Pitt too, though, as the Panthers are starting to take all kinds of guff for a weak non-conference schedule as theyre struggling late in the season. N.C. State is now dead last in ACC-only defensive rebounding, so theres that. The Wolfpack is going to have to crash the boards against a Pitt team that will be more than happy to use second chances to score. And N.C. State is going to have to keep Pitt - No. 2 in ACC-only free-throw rate - off the line, which will be easier said than done, as N.C. State is No. 14 in defensive free-throw rate (ACC-only). Really, though, this is a winnable game for the Wolfpack and theyre going to have to find some mental fortitude if they want this one.

NAMES TO KNOW

Tyler Lewis. Back in the first meeting with Pitt, Lewis played just five minutes. Hes played 15 or more in all but one game since, and thats not a coincidence. N.C. States offense just runs better with him at the helm, and that change could make a difference in this game. The sophomore point guard has 36 assists to three turnovers in N.C. States last six games, and his play is a big reason why N.C. State has been in position to get those huge wins over Syracuse and UNC in the first place. But Lewis remains a defensive liability, and Pitts point guard James Robinson is certainly capable of exploiting that. Lewis has to keep the offense under control and running smoothly to give the Wolfpack a chance.

Lamar Patterson. So is he back? It would certainly appear that way - his 134 ORtg against Notre Dame was his best since January 25, and he was vintage Patterson again with 20 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals. Its the same kind of game he had in the win over N.C. State, really - 22 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals. Its what vaulted him into ACC POY conversations before a hand injury set him way back, and hes still not shooting great - hes 15-of-48 from three in the last six games - but he did make 5-of-10 two-pointers against the Irish, his best percentage since January 25. Hes going to need to knock down shots, and to be the Patterson thats made Pitt so good - a versatile stat-stuffer who can shoot, yes, but can also make big shots and avoid turnovers. If he does that, plus help hold T.J. Warren to an inefficient day (for him, anyway) like he did in the first meeting (23 points on 8-of-19 shooting), that should be enough for Pitt.

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

Pittsburgh has now allowed five straight opponents to have an offensive efficiency of 100 or higher, including Notre Dames 122.6, the highest allowed by Pitt in a win this season. Pitt, though, had an efficiency on offense of 128.7, its fourth-best this year and third-best against Notre Dame all season. Pitt was somewhat fortunate Notre Dame turned it over on 24.2% of its possessions since the Irish had an eFG% of 69.0%, the highest allowed by Pitt this season by far and highest overall by a Pitt opponent in the Ken Pom era. Somehow, Miami had an offensive efficiency of 139.8 against N.C. State, which was the highest by an N.C. State opponent this season and Miamis highest of the year. It was also the highest mark against N.C. State since UNC had a 148.4 in 2006. So, the highest in seven years. By THIS Miami team. I meanwoof. N.C. State is now 16-3 when holding opponents under 110 in OE and 1-9 when opponents eclipse that mark. Miamis 64.1% eFG% was the highest allowed by N.C. State since Syracuse shot 65.3% in a December 2011 win in PNC Arena.

NARRATIVES

N.C. State Win: STILL ALIVE, BABY!

N.C State Loss: Welp.

And also:

Pittsburgh Win: Is this the part where you all ask us to apologize for winning again? Please. Stay mad.

Pittsburgh Loss: Pitt, please accept your bid to the NCAA Tourname- OH MY GOD IS PITT ALL RIGHT?

PREDICTION

Pittsburgh, 60-52. I just think this might be one gut-punch too many for the Wolfpack.

 Last week: 10-4 (10-4 ACC)

Overall: 100-32 (91-28 ACC)