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ACC Weekend Previews, Feb.1-2

Friday, January 31, 2014 10:52am

Saturday

MARYLAND (12-9, 4-4 ACC) AT VIRGINIA TECH (8-12, 1-7 ACC)

Time: 12:00 p.m.

TV: ACC Network/ESPN3

THE SKINNY

 Umew? Is that sufficient? No? Are we sure? Okay. Well, Virginia Tech has lost seven straight games. And the Hokies couldnt even score on BOSTON COLLEGE. Maryland, meanwhile, snapped a three-game losing streak by barely hanging on to beat Miami in spite of leading 69-59 with 2:32 to go. And let Miami post its best offensive efficiency since December 30 in the process, on 60% eFG. (Gross.) Sobasically, Marylands going to have to keep Virginia Tech off the foul line and guard the three, I guess. And not get all turnover-ish. Thats my expert analysis. And Virginia Tech, if you came somehow stop this streak of awful basketball, good on you.

NAMES TO KNOW

Nick Faust. Hes the type of player who can win a game for Maryland.and for Marylands opponent. Sometimes, seemingly, hes both in the same game. Against Miami, he was 2-of-7 shooting for six points and had two assists to three turnovers. He has six turnovers in the last two games and has made just 6-of-23 threes in the last four games (8-of-30 in the last six), but nothing gets a shooter down, right? He did have his second-worst ORtg this season in a Maryland win (69), so they overcame his struggles. But the fact that hes ended at least 22% of Marylands possessions while on the court in three of the last four games is not a good thing.

Ben Emelogu. Why not, right? The Hokies are going to have to look to the future, and Emelogu is part of that. After missing two games, hes been back for two now and picked a bad time to hit a shooting slump. And by bad time, I mean basically all of ACC play. He's shooting 21-of-65 in league play so far (32.3%) and 5-of-17 in the last two games since his return. He was shooting 44.9% before ACC play began, for context. And his 72 ORtg against an awful Boston College defense on Wednesday was his worst in league play. Welp.

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

Virginia Techs offensive efficiency against Boston College of 86.3 was the worst by a D-I BC opponent this year (next-worst was a 95.6). Speaking of the VT offense, in its last two games it has had its two worst eFG% performances (37.7% against Boston College, 36.9% against Virginia) of the year to date. Maryland, meanwhile, has allowed its two highest free-throw rates of the year in the last two games (a 95.9 to Pitt in a loss and a 63.6 to Miami in a win). Miamis 63.6 free-throw rate was over 11 percentage points higher than its previous highest (a 52.0 against UNC). Maryland let Miami score 42 second-half points. Miami hadnt even cracked 56 points in the previous four games prior to that, for some perspective. And Miamis last two second-half scores COMBINED equaled 51. So, um, thats not very good, Maryland.

NARRATIVES

Maryland Win: 

Maryland Loss: 

Virginia Tech Win: 

Virginia Tech Loss: 

PREDICTION

Maryland, 71-59. Thats about all Ive got on this one. I fear Ive already said too much.

 

BOSTON COLLEGE (6-14, 2-5 ACC) AT NOTRE DAME (11-10, 2-6 ACC)

Time: 12:00 p.m.

TV: ACC Network/TheACC.com

THE SKINNY

Notre Dame is on its worst skid - losing six of seven games - since 2009, when it lost seven straight. It still finished 21-15 that year. If it wants to right that ship, itll have to win this one - Ken Pomeroy favors the Irish in four more games this year, and this is Notre Dames greatest chance (81%). But Boston College is on a roll! Kind of. Not really. The Eagles are playing better, but theyve still lost three of five, in spite of playing Syracuse and UNC tough at times, with the only two wins over Virginia Tech. And speaking of Ken Pom, he has Boston College favored to lose EVERY one of its remaining games. If it did that, it would be 6-25 (.194 winning percentage). Which would be its worst winning percentage since (scans record book) OH EVER. EVER. OF ALL TIME. GOOD GRIEF. Boston College isn't likely to lose its remaining games, so good news there. Okay, so to basketball. These are two of the worst defenses in the league and two pretty good offenses. Both are playing for.what are they playing for again? Pride? Okay then. Both of these teams also like to shoot threes, but only one is good at it. At least, right now. (That team is Boston College, in case you were wondering.) Of course, Boston College attempting 37 threes against Virginia Tech compared to just 17 threes is honestly kind of gross. I dont even care that they made 14 threes. Seriously? And Ryan Anderson attempts half ON HIS OWN? YOURE A DIVISION-I BASKETBALL TEAM! Sigh.

NAMES TO KNOW

Olivier Hanlan. Remember him? Last years ACC Rookie of the Year? No? Well, hes still pretty good, in spite of how awful his team is. And hes really starting to feel it, especially as a shooter - hes made 4-of-8 threes in the last two games (he made 8-of-28 threes in the previous five ACC games). The ideal situation for Hanlan is that he can get to the basket AND make threes, but that hasnt really happened much. In the three games before this last two-game stretch, he made 3-of-17 threes and 7-of-14 twos, and he averaged 8.0 free-throw attempts a game. Hes averaged just 3.5 in the last two, and he didnt even attempt a two-pointer against Virginia Tech. Lets be honest - Hanlan can get some assists, but thats not his specialty. He needs to avoid turnovers (he has four assists and one turnover in the last two games) and, you know, make shots. The shot-making thing. Do that.

Garrick Sherman. The Shermanator struggled against Virginia, but he shouldnt feel too bad. Virginias defense is pretty good. Sherman has been just about the only bright spot for the Irish during this skid, but that wasnt true against Virginia. But heres the thing - he will be going up against a front line for the first time since arguably the Duke game that he has a decided advantage against. (Caveat: Duke wasnt playing Marshall Plumlee very much at the time, and Amile Jefferson was not playing well.) Boston College without Dennis Clifford is basically either a natural 4 in Ryan Anderson trying to play the 5, orno, thats basically it. Some of Eddie Odio at the 5. Sherman should have a much easier time going up against Anderson and trying to score, and he could take over the game. Could.

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

Notre Dame continues to confound with its attempted reliance on a three-pointer that isnt falling. The Irish have hit 45-of-154 threes (29.2%) in their last seven games compared to 130-of-257 twos (50.6%) and yet have still attempted over 37% of their field goals from three. It got better for just one game - at Wake, that number fell to 26.2% - but in this stretch where the Irish have lost six of seven, theyve taken at least 34% of their shots from three in every other game. And after the Wake game, it went back up again against Virginia to 38.3%. Boston College had its lowest offensive efficiency in a win this year (101.1) BECAUSE THE EAGLETS WON WITH DEFENSE! I may or may not feel that Virginia Techs offense is a bit of a self-check, but hey. STILL COUNTS! Virginia Tech averaged just 0.87 points per possession. It was only the FOURTH TIME all year that Boston Colleges defense held an opponent under a point per possession, and one of those times wasalso against Virginia Tech. The season low was 0.79 allowed to Division-II Philadelphia. Sacred Heart averaged 0.96 points per possession in a Boston College win. So thats six wins, four times holding opponents under a point per possession. Hmm. SENSING A TREND GUYS!

NARRATIVES

Boston College Win: Um.great?

Boston College Loss: 

Notre Dame Win: 

Notre Dame Loss: 

PREDICTION

Notre Dame, 81-74. ALL OF THE POINTS! ALL OF THEM!

GEORGIA TECH (11-10, 2-6 ACC) AT WAKE FOREST (14-7, 4-4 ACC)

Time: 12:00 p.m.

TV: RSN/ESPN3

THE SKINNY

Well, Wake Forest still has something to play for, and the game is at home. But five of Georgia Techs 15 ACC wins prior to this season (in the 2011-13 seasons) were against Wake Forest. And Georgia Tech didnt always have anything to play for then, either. Of course, neither did Wake Forest. But I digress. Wake has just two home games in its next six ACC games, and if it wants to make a push for postseason play, it has to start now. The Deacs still dont have a bad loss this year. This would certainly qualify. In conference play only particularly, these teams have been decidedly mediocre to bad statistically. Basically, Georgia Tech is going to have to remember that the worst defense is a heinous offense. Bad shots = turnovers. Why make anything easier for Wake? And in the halfcourt, Georgia Tech is going to have to defend like it at times has shown its capable of doing. Wake, meanwhile, HAS to make sure Georgia Tech doesnt get going on the offensive glass, particularly if the Deacs decide zoning the derpy Yellow Jacket offense is the way to go. I mean, basically Wake has to not screw this one up too much, pending Georgia Tech catching fire. (Not literally.)

NAMES TO KNOW

Marcus Georges-Hunt. Georgia Tech might have lost Robert Carter, Jr. (likely for the season), but it still has another good sophomore in Georges-Hunt. And hes starting to put some nice games together here. All for naught, perhaps, but hey. Its something. Hes averaged 15 points over the last two games on 8-of-21 shooting (0-of-4 from three) but has attempted 20 free throws (10 in each game). The fact that Georgia Tech now has two guards who can drive to the basket and create their own shots is a good thing, especially when both can draw fouls. (Daniel Miller read the previous sentence and wept quietly to himself.)  But seriously, its a better alternative than the Georgia Tech guards running out the shot clock at the end of regulation and shooting an airball, right? What, too soon? Anyway, he seems to like playing the Deacs (although until this year, who hasnt, really?), averaging 14 points in two wins over them last year on 10-of-17 shooting (4-of-7 from three). Honestly, Im running out of positives for Georgia Tech here. But he did shoot 5-of-9 against UNC, his best percentage performance since the Jackets loss at Duke. So theres that. Plus the free throws. Did I mention the free throws? I did? Welp.

Devin Thomas. Lost in the shuffle of Codi Miller-McIntyres foul trouble and Travis McKies journey on the Struggle Bus was Devin Thomas being kind of ineffective against Syracuse - overall, anyway. He finished with 12 points and was one of only two Deacs in double figures (the other was McKie, so that should be an indicator) and he was 4-of-9 shooting, had just five rebounds, three fouls and four turnovers. (He did have three assists, a steal and a block.) But covering that game in person, it was clear that Thomas struggled with Syracuses length. (When they say Syracuses players have a lot of length, this isnt Jay Bilas draft talk. This is REAL. Like, Inspector Gadget-arms long.) In two games against Georgia Tech last year, Thomas rebounded well (averaging 12.5 over the two games) but turned it over 10 times. Georgia Tech can make life difficult for opponents inside the arc and on the glass - particularly the offensive glass - and Thomas offensive rebounding percentage is down from last year (from 11.0 to 8.9 - the horror!), as is his block percentage (from 5.2 to 3.0). Anyway, hell get there. But Wake could use a good game out of him.

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

This is as close to .500 as Georgia Tech has been since 2012 during the regular season. And not in a good way. (Unless you want to count its final record last year of 16-15, which I dont. That wasnt during the regular season, jerks.) Georgia Techs Chris Bolden, no doubt motivated by the Twitter critiques from Austin Johnson, has had two of his four best ORtg performanceswell.ever in the last three games. He posted a career-high 191 against Boston College, but his 152 against UNC was his second-highest this season. Mostly because he didnt miss a lot of shots. He didnt take a lot either, but lets not get picky. And he only has one turnover in the last five games! Thatsgood! Somehow, UNC turned it over just six times in the win at Georgia Tech and it wasnt the lowest turnover percentage Georgia Tech has allowed this year (8.7%). No, both Maryland (8.6%) and Boston College (6.9%) have been lower. Speaking of turnover percentage, Wakes 12.3% was its lowest in a loss this year and lowest in a loss since February 2, 2013 (11.4% against Maryland). And yes, turnovers didnt matter because Wakes eFG% against Syracuse was 36.8%, a season low.

NARRATIVES

Georgia Tech Win: I mean.I dont even know anymore.

Georgia Tech Loss: Oh, look! More exclusive footage of Georgia Techs offense!

Wake Forest Win: Back on track! Starting another home streak!

Wake Forest Loss: The Buzz Out folk:

PREDICTION

Wake Forest, 71-65. WAKE DOESNT LOSE AT HOMEAGAINST OLD ACC TEAMS!

N.C. STATE (14-7, 4-4 ACC) AT NORTH CAROLINA (13-7, 3-4 ACC)

Time: 1:00 p.m.

TV: ESPN2/WatchESPN

THE SKINNY

So, yeah, N.C. State, youre probably going to want to rebound. N.C. State has now let four straight opponents get 40% or more of their missed shots, and the Wolfpack has gotten away with it three straight times. The two teams in this game are both among the nations worst in three-point shooting, although each has at least one guy that can get hot from time to time. Or at least, can make some threes. But we probably shouldnt bank on that happening, so the best way N.C. State can attack the Tar Heels is probably via their zone - which is getting more and more effective - or by getting to the foul line and avoiding foul trouble themselves. UNC is 14th in the league in both offensive and defensive free-throw rates, and the Tar Heels dont hit them even when they do get there. Really, its just so hard to know what to expect out of either of these teams (except for, again, the bad three-point shooting thing) that theres no real way to know what the important factors will be. Suffice it to say that, in the immortal words of Sidney Lowe, Gotta make shots. Someone has to make more shots. And the winner will be the team that does. ANALYSIS!

NAMES TO KNOW

Tyler Lewis. Hes now played 15 or more minutes in four straight games for the first time since the first four games of the season, and N.C. States more veteran, steadier sophomore point guard has been invaluable to the Wolfpack in those minutes. Hes averaging just 6.0 points on 8-of-18 shooting (2-of-9 from three), but thats not what hes there for. Hes there to calm the offense down, run it well and find teammates. And hes done that, with 13 assists to just one turnover during this three-game N.C. State win streak. Cat Barber might be the more talented option at point - okay, he IS the more talented option - but in a road environment like this, in a place where N.C. State has traditionally struggled, why not let the guy who has shown hes not afraid of such environments try to steer the ship, so to speak? It will be interesting to see how much that happens. His 22 minutes against Florida State were his most since December 14, when he had 26 in a close win over Detroit. Barbers been good over this stretch too - 13 assists to two turnovers, even while hes struggling shooting the ball - and so clearly, something is working.

J.P. Tokoto. Oh yes, thats right. I went there. N.C. State fans already know why Im doing this. They feel, rightly or wrongly, that UNC always has a random player go off against them. (Okay, they feel this way about every team, but to be fair, UNC has always had a guy in more of a role-player mode who has had good games against the Wolfpack, seemingly.) Last year in UNCs loss at N.C. State, Tokoto had his only double-figure scoring game in ACC play with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting (he made all five of his two-point attempts) in 17 minutes. Obviously, Tokoto has a bigger role on this years UNC team, but hes still not necessarily a go-to scoring option. He has two double-figure scoring games in ACC play so far, and in UNCs last three games.um. Hes 5-of-12 shooting (1-of-3 from three), hasnt attempted a free throw and has four assists to six turnovers (and 12 fouls). Hes also made some questionable decisions not easily identified through a glance at a box score. Hes better than hes been playing, but all UNC needs from him is the guy who showed up against Clemson: a capable defender that doesnt try to do too much, who can score efficiency (2-of-3 shooting) and rebound (seven boards).

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

All but one player who saw at least 10 minutes for UNC against Georgia Tech had an ORtg over 100. That hadnt happened for the Tar Heels since a December 7 win over UNCG. N.C. State became just the third team all season to shoot over 50% from two-point range against Florida State, and the first to do it in a winning effort (Northeastern and Notre Dame, both close FSU wins, were the other two). So, lets explore the house of horrors for the Wolfpack that has been Chapel Hill, shall we? Oddly enough, the best showing N.C. State has had there in Roys time was in Year 1 (2004) when the Wolfpack fell 68-66. That game was also the first and only time N.C. States defense would hold UNC under an 100 ORtg at home (a 99.8). Since, UNC has won nine meetings by an average of 17.7 points. The only two times N.C. State posted an offensive efficiency of over 100 in Chapel Hill was during the two seasons UNC won the national championship (a 102.4 in 2005 and a 114.7 - the best against a Roy Williams-coached UNC team - in 2009). UNC has not only been over 100 every time, but above 120 five times and had an eFG% of better than 52% five times. N.C. State has had an eFG% of over 50% just twice and just once over 52%. And not only has N.C. State been below 100 all but twice, it has been below 95 seven times and below 85 three times.

Ill add this, though: UNC has finished in the top 15 in offensive efficiency under Williams seven times and outside the top 50 just once (yep, 2010). Its not like its weird for UNC to have good offensive games against anyone, much less N.C. State, a team that has finished in the top 50 nationally in defense exactly twice since 2005 and outside the top 100 six times in that span. Hardly a shocker that UNCs three best offensive teams under Williams: 2005, 2008 and 2009 - all had the best ORtgs against N.C. State. What IS shocking, though, is something stats cant measure, and thats how bad the Wolfpack has looked in some of those games. It doesnt matter how much confidence they come into that game with, something just always seems to beoff. Or to fall apart. In three straight years, N.C. State has had one of its six worst ORtgs of the season in Chapel Hill, and this team has been pretty good offensively. That is also slightly - or very - weird. Ill grant you that.

NARRATIVES

N.C. State Win: 

 

And also:

 

N.C. State Loss: Well, listen, State fans. Still plenty of time to get other good wins and build an NCAA Tournament resume. And this year was supposed to be a freebie anyway. Also, youre supposed to be better than UNC in baseball this year. Plus, all of the.other stuff happening at UNC right now.

North Carolina Win: FOUR-GAME WINNING STREAK!

 

North Carolina Loss: 

PREDICTION

North Carolina, 68-60. I think the two teams will likely split their meetings this year. If I wanted to really get weird, Id say road team wins each. But Im risk-averse.

CLEMSON (13-6, 4-3 ACC) AT FLORIDA STATE (13-7, 4-4 ACC)

Time: 3:00 p.m.

TV: ESPN2/WatchESPN

THE SKINNY

So, Clemson, Id probably hold on to the basketball if I were you. The Tigers turned it over on 32.4% of their possessions in the first meeting with FSU, and just one FSU opponent has been over 50% in turnover percentage in the six games since (and none over 20% in the last five). Besides, Clemson, you have enough problems offensively without having to add turnovers to the mix. I mean, Clemsons turnover percentage in its loss at UNC was just 16.4%. But the awful shots it took did the trick just fine. As did Clemsons defense. And as for Florida State, the Seminoles were able to get offensive rebounds against the Tigers - the 42.4% was the highest by an ACC opponent until UNC had a 48.3%. But FSU has been above 29.6% on the offensive glass just twice in the six games since that win, and meanwhile, opponents are getting on the offensive glass more and more.

And so if FSU can shore that up a bit, the Seminoles should be in good shape as the sweet symphony of Clemson shots slamming into the side of the rim reaches a crescendo. At that point, it becomes artistic the way the rim chooses to send back various Clemson shot attempts. Will it die in the cylinder and fall off? Will it even touch the rim at all? Like each unique snowflake, each Clemson missed jumper is its own work of art.

NAMES TO KNOW

Adonis Filer. Heres a little secret: I basically looked through Clemsons box score against UNC for anyone who had a positive contribution and is not named K.J. McDaniels. And lo, a Filer appeared from on high. Sort of. Anyway, his minutes have been spotty in ACC play, as has his production. But he did finish with 12 points on 3-of-6 shooting (3-of-4 from three), and it was his most points (and threes) in an ACC game. Who cares if it was largely in garbage time? It counts the same. But Clemson would probably prefer to get a few of those in real time. Filer also had his first turnover-free game in ACC play against the Tar Heels, so thats also a legit positive. And his 174 ORtg was his best this season. So.yeah!

Okaro White. Okaro didnt reach against N.C. State! He only had three fouls! (#OkaroDontReach) But he did have his second-lowest ORtg in ACC play.in spite of scoring 20 points, which were his most of the season. Why, you ask? Well, he only hit 1-of-3 three-pointers (only) and was 5-of-10 from the foul line. He also had no assists to one turnover. Still, I think that Ken Pom formula might be a bit nitpicky in this case, dont you? I still maintain its a good thing for the Seminoles for White to be more of a go-to guy like he was in Raleigh, and certainly it couldnt hurt against Clemson. He struggled in that game with just two points on 1-of-6 shooting, but hes hit double figures for four straight games and been very efficient. More of that, Okaro.

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

Florida State had its lowest turnover percentage of the season (16.7%) in a loss on Wednesday night in Raleigh. Speaking of firsts in FSU losses this year, N.C. States free-throw rate of 16.2 was the lowest by an opponent to beat FSU this season, and by FAR. The next-closest was a 40.0 (Florida). UNC outscored Clemson in the first three quarters of last Sundays game, 61-31. Clemson had only allowed more points than that in a single game (61) three times this season (76 to Pitt, 64 to Auburn, 74 to Arkansas). UNCs ORtg against Clemson (131.3) was the highest the Tigers had allowed since Duke posted a 133.8 in 2006.

NARRATIVES

Clemson Win: Well, now that we know it was all Dabo Swinneys fault in Chapel Hill, problem solved.

Clemson Loss: Oh..Clemson.

 

Florida State Win: Waitwe beat Clemson in something else? And not just in Signing Day, which is next week? Is another sport in session right now? It is? And were pretty good at it? Great! Well take it! Count us in, in, say, mid-February. Gives us a few weeks to really digest Signing Day.

Florida State Loss: 

PREDICTION

 Florida State, 62-53. I still believe in the Seminoles. I do not still believe in Clemson.

NO. 17 DUKE (17-4, 6-2 ACC) AT NO. 2 SYRACUSE (20-0, 7-0 ACC)

Time: 6:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN/WatchESPN

THE SKINNY

OLD ACC VERSUS NEW ACC! BOEHEIM VERSUS KRZYZEWSKI! ENOUGH DRY WIT TO.DRY OUT THE OCEAN! Okay, but really, this is a big game. These are two of the best three offenses and defenses in the league. Yep, Dukes ACC-only offense is No. 1 and its defense is up to No. 3! Syracuse is No. 2 in defense and No. 3 in offense. Naturally, one would assume that the Syracuse zone is susceptible to three-pointers because its, you know, a zone. But if you know ANYTHING about said zone, you know that has very little to do with it. The reason Syracuse would struggle with Duke is the same reason ANY opponent struggles with Duke - multiple offensive weapons, many of whom are all capable of hitting three-pointers/heating up at different times. Syracuse does have one thing most Duke opponents dont/havent had: LEEEEEENNNNNNGGGGGGTTTTH. TREMENDOUS WINGSPANS!

Seriously though, it was insane watching a long arm of a Syracuse forward reach up from out of nowhere to snag a rebound away from a hapless Wake Forest player. That length works to Cuses benefit on the perimeter as well, where it helps them get out to shooters a bit faster/recover quicker/etc. And it also helps the Orange get offensive rebounds. And they get a LOT - 40.1% of their misses, which helps them overcome even bad offensive performances. Duke has struggled on the defensive boards, but no opponent has rebounded more than 38.9% of their misses against Duke. To me, the two biggest keys will be Dukes ability to get looks from three (often hard to come by) AND Syracuses ability to dominate the offensive glass.

NAMES TO KNOW

Andre Dawkins. Hes a unique weapon for Duke in that when hes on the court, hes one of the last players who teams worry about. And its always a huge mistake. Because if you let Dawkins get going, he is going to single-handedly kill your team. Just ask Pittsburgh. No, seriously, ask them. Jim Boeheim said after the Wake Forest game that defensively, they didnt concentrate on Codi Miller-McIntyre as much as they did Coron Williams. That might seem like a puzzling strategy, but Syracuse keys in on shooters to try to deny them open looks. In the first three ACC games, it worked well: Miamis Rion Brown, Virginia Techs Jarell Eddie, and UNCs Marcus Paige combined to shoot 5-of-15 from three in three Cuse wins. But int he next three games, Boston Colleges Lonnie Jackson, Pitts Lamar Patterson and Brown combined to shoot 13-of-23. Williams 2-of-7 was the worst by a primary shooter against the Syracuse defense this year. Problem for Duke is while Dawkins is probably the primary three-point shooter, plenty of others can make them. Rasheed Sulaimon. Quinn Cook. Tyler Thornton (from the corner). Rodney Hood. Jabari Parker at times. Socan Dawkins be the guy that Cuse is worrying about the least, OR the guy that is somehow opening things up for others? Pretty sure Im somehow overthinking this. I now have a headache. Good thing Boeheim is a Hall of Famer.

Tyler Ennis. Hes just.I mean, as Jim Boeheim said after the Wake game, he hit a freshman wall in the first half, then climbed over it and landed on the other side in the second, scoring eight of his 18 points in a four-minute second-half stretch when Wake Forest had pulled to within three points. But this is nothing new for the freshman point guard. The reason Cuse is undefeated is because of how clutch hes been, how in control hes been. Whats interesting about Ennis, though, is that even he has said in the past that both he (and his teammates) at times benefit from opponents concentrating on C.J. Fair. Its interesting to note, not to dismiss his accomplishments - its not his job to take over games with his scoring necessarily anyway, and while he can and has scored effectively, thats not why he makes the Orange so good - but it makes me wonder how Coach K will strategize defending the Orange. He believes strongly in cutting the proverbial head off the snake of the opponent, and the head in this case is clearly Ennis. Is Quinn Cook up to the task defensively? How much help will he have? Can they disrupt Ennis enough to take Syracuse out of what they want to do?

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

This is just the second 20-0 start in Syracuse history, and the first one was 2011-12, surprisingly enough. (Well, its not all that surprising. Its hard to go undefeated.) At halftime in Winston-Salem, three of Syracuses top four players - Ennis, Jerami Grant and Trevor Cooney - were without a made field goal (0-of-13) and Syracuse had shot 25.8% from the floor as a team. And Syracuse led by three points. Yeah. In Dukes first four ACC games, it was outscored 62-78 in the fourth quarter. In the last four games, since Virginia made that late comeback at Cameron and nearly snuck out with a win? Duke has outscored opponents by 38 points in the fourth (93-55). For the sake of perspective, Syracuse is at its best in the fourth and in seven ACC games, it has won that quarter 130-84. Thats an average of 18.5-12.0. Dukes average in the last four games has been 23.3-13.8. With all the hand-wringing about Dukes defensive rebounding this season - some of it with cause - the Blue Devils allowed five opponents to rebound a higher percentage of their misses than theyve allowed in any game this year; four Duke opponents last year had a 40% OR% or higher. Just two Duke opponents this year have been over 35%.

NARRATIVES

Duke Win: Hard to be 100% sure, but.working to confirm..yep. Duke is BACK!

Duke Loss: Well, I mean, come on. OPPONENTS SIMPLY DO NOT GET UP TO PLAY ANY OTHER TEAM IN THEIR OWN BUILDING EXCEPT DUKE! Just look at this. And this. Huge crowd? Where have we seen that before? NOWHERE ELSE. Oh, and of course, this. Really, Syracuse? This your first big game at home ever? How is Duke supposed to win in an environment like that anyway when THIS IS YOUR SUPER BOWL, SYRACUSE? Sheesh. Shouldnt even count as a full loss. More like a half loss. And just ask your buddies Notre Dame about that Duke hangover.

Syracuse Win: NEW YOOOOOOOOOOOOORKKKKKK!

Syracuse Loss: YOU DONT RUN THIS LEAGUE YET, JIM BOEHEIM! DONT JUST THINK YOU CAN COME DOWN SOUTH AND TELL US HOW DELICIOUS OUR RESTAURANTS ARE AND CHARM US BACK INTO LIKING YOU!

Who are we kidding. How could anyone not like Jim Boeheim?

PREDICTION

Duke, 78-71. I dont know why. Theres no logic behind it. Just feels like the Blue Devils are kind of on a roll right now. And Syracuse is a very good team, no question, but theres been some playing with their food going on. Cant do that against Duke.

NORFOLK STATE (12-9, 6-2 MEAC) AT MIAMI (10-10, 2-6 ACC)

Time: 7:00 p.m.

TV: ESPN3

THE SKINNY

Seriously, Miami? No. Just.no. A MEAC NON-CON OPPONENT IN JANUARY?!?! Do I have to do this? If I have to preview this game I will make it as cursory as possible. For the children. Miami found a bit of an offensive groove against Maryland. Now, it will be facing a Norfolk State team that is 320th nationally in defense. Not even Boston College is that bad. So, maybe get something going on offense.

NAMES TO KNOW

Malcolm Hawkins. Hes hit double-figures in all but one game that hes played in this year for the Spartans, and he takes 28.2% of their shots when hes on the floor. And hes shooting 45% from two and 43.6% from three. The senior guard also gets to the foul line quite a bit, drawing 5.5 fouls per game. Hes a good shooter and scorer, and regardless of how this game turns out, hell have the ball in his hands a lot.

Davon Reed. If only because Jim Boeheim joked after the Wake game that sometimes shooters are unpredictable, that a guy who wasnt even on the scouting report for Miami hit three three-pointers. It was Reed, a 6-6 freshman, and after hitting at least one three-pointer in 13 of Miamis first 14 games, he went three games without hitting one. Then in the last two games, starting with a 3-of-4 effort against Cuse, he hit 4-of-7. Maybe hes getting his shot back. Maybe hell get it back for good against Norfolk State. Maybe he wont. I dont know. WHY IS THIS GAME BEING PLAYED, AGAIN?!?!?!

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

Norfolk State is the most experience team in college basketball this year, per Ken Pom. Seriously. An average age of 2.73 years. Miami had scored 98 points in its previous two games combined before managing 71 in a loss to Maryland, which was the most points Miami had scored in 2014.

NARRATIVES

I can think of just one GIF to describe this game:

PREDICTION

Miami, 63-51. Sure.

SUNDAY

VIRGINIA (16-5, 7-1 ACC) AT NO. 18 PITTSBURGH (18-3, 6-2 ACC)

Time: 12:30 p.m.

TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN

THE SKINNY

Two of the best offenses and defenses in the league, AGAIN! IN ONE WEEKEND! For Pitt, it will be about avoiding turnovers. Pitt has turned it over on 20% or more of its possessions in three of its last five games. The Panthers didnt do that against Duke, but Duke managed to make Pitts defense look like Swiss cheese, so theres that. But Virginia has the No. 1 turnover percentage defense in the league, and UVas last four opponents have turned it over on 27.2% of possessions, 17.7%, 20.5% and 32.5% - respectively, all Virginia wins. Only two teams all year that have turned it over less than 19% of the time against Virginia have failed to beat Virginia (UNC and Norfolk State). And for Virginia, the Cavaliers have to keep the Panthers off the foul line. Pitt has scored 26% of its points in league play from the line and have the No. 1 free-throw rate (54.7), and Virginias free-throw defense is the only part of its league-only defense thats bad. Pitt hasnt had a rate of worse than 37.5 in league play and has been above 44.4 all but once. Virginia kept both UNC and N.C. State off the foul line (each had a 19.1 free-throw rate) but every other Virginia opponent in ACC play has been at 37.5 or above. The Hoos cant put Pitt on the line that much.

NAMES TO KNOW

London Perrantes. Watching the broadcast of the UVa-Notre Dame game earlier this week, I couldnt be sure, but I think the announcers really like this Virginia freshman point guard. That was sarcasm. But their affection for him is understandable - he finished the game with just four points, but had five assists to no turnovers and two steals in 29 minutes. His numbers dont wow you - he has hit double figures in scoring just once in ACC play - but he has 22 assists to four turnovers in Virginias last four games (30 to five in the last six games). But hell be going up against Pitt point guard James Robinson whos equally careful with the basketball (35 assists to seven turnovers in the last eight games) AND has the No. 23 ORtg in the nation (131.5). Should be fun to watch.

Lamar Patterson. He struggled against Rodney Hoods excellent defense in the Duke game, and Virginia will certainly try to take him out of the game as well. Can he bounce back? He still finished the Duke game with 14 points, but it took him 14 shots to get there, and he turned it over five times. (He also had a season-low one assist.) In fact, Patterson has 19 turnovers over the last five games and 11 in the last three. A few too many, probably. In Pitts losses this year, Patterson has shot 6-of-18 from two (33.3%). In all other games, hes 78-of-134 (58.2%). Goes without saying that if Patterson isnt playing well, Pitt doesnt have much of a chance against even decent teams, much less good teams. But Patterson has been as steady as any player in the ACC, and were kind of nitpicking at this point, but hey. Gotta find something.

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

Dukes offensive efficiency against Pitt (129.5) was the highest the Panthers have allowed since November 2011 (Long Beach State had a 131.7). Dukes 11.3% turnover percentage was also the lowest by a Pitt opponent this year. Pitts 46.1% eFG against Duke was its highest in a loss this year. Virginia has two losses this season when opponents have had an offensive efficiency rating of 85.0 or worse (VCU at 85.0 and Wisconsin at 83.8). Coming into this season, since 2003, Virginia had never lost a game when holding an opponent to 85.0 or worse. The closest they came was a 2008-09 season loss to Auburn (which posted an 85.2). Virginia has allowed less than 10 points in at least one quarter of each ACC game it has played so far this season.except Duke.

NARRATIVES

Virginia Win: Slow and steady wins the race!

Virginia Loss: CANT WE JUST HAVE THIS ONE NICE THING WE ALL SAT THROUGH THE WISCONSIN GAME I MEAN COME ON

Pittsburgh Win: I think were warming back up to you, Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Loss: I get it. Virginia is pretty good. Still. You make me sad, Pitt.

PREDICTION

Pittsburgh, 67-62. Just like the Panthers a lot at home. What Duke did there was NOT easy.  If this were at Virginia, it would be a much tougher choice. Still think these two teams are among the best in the league.

Overall: 51-17 (43-13 ACC)

Last week: 13-1 (13-1 ACC)