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ACC Weekend Previews, Jan. 4-6

Friday, January 3, 2014 10:26am

The ACCs football season still isnt technically over but, guess what? Its.BASKETBALL TIME! (Conference basketball, I mean. Its been basketball time since seemingly late September, which is way too early.)

So the previews are going to be a little different this year. And by a little different, I mean in no way that anyone will probably notice. But Im going to try to make them shorter and concentrate on what you all want - the narratives.

But I will pick one game each week and take a closer look at that. This week, the game that intrigues me the most is Pitt at N.C. State. If you had told me that on opening weekend, this is the game I would be profiling instead of Duke-Notre Dame, I would have laughed at you. Heck, if you had told me that two weeks ago I still might have laughed at you. Welp, sorry aboutall the things that have happened, Notre Dame. Yikes.

SATURDAY

PITTSBURGH (12-1) AT N.C. STATE (10-3)

Time: 12:00 p.m.

TV: ACC Network/TheACC.com/ESPN3

KEY FOR PITTSBURGH

Crash the offensive boards. This has been a Pitt speciality for seemingly the last 30 years. (Probably just like the last 10-15, but whatever.) And it is again this year - the Panthers rebound 40.6% of their misses, which is tenth-best in the country. Just one team so far this season has been able to keep Pitt off the offensive boards, and Ill give you all one guess as to who that was. Okay, Ill tell you - Cincinnati, in that 44-43 game that was an absolute affront to my eyeballs. But Cincinnati held Pitt to just 29.6% on the offensive glass. N.C. State has struggled on the defensive glass, ranking 237th in offensive rebounding percentage allowed (33.3%). Far too often, the Wolfpack will have a nice defensive possession and force a bad shot, only to see the rebound bounce right into the hands of a waiting opponent. Fail to box out or finish a possession, and find yourself giving up like 30 second-chance points to Pittsburgh.

KEY FOR N.C. STATE

A good defensive effort from start to finish. As young teams tend to do, the Wolfpack often get off to a slow start. This has particularly been true on the defensive end. But at a certain point in most games, theres an Oh! Defense is fun and leads to more offense! moment, like a eureka. Its kind of cool to watch, frankly, but it is generally something that happens in the middle portion of the game. It usually leads to forcing bad shots, which leads to run-outs, which leads to fun transition baskets! And thats fun for everyone! But it will let back up again towards the end. Doing that against Pitt, though, will likely result in yet another home loss and yet another hit to the Wolfpacks NCAA Tournament hopes. Pitt is hardly an offensive juggernaut, but it is 24th nationally in efficiency. The Panthers shoot 33% from three and 53.5% from two, but their free-throw rate isnt great. And N.C. State, quietly, now has the No. 35 effective field goal (eFG) percentage defense in the country, allowing just 44.4%. Thats probably because teams shoot 28.7% from three and 45% from two against the Wolfpack. So, more of that type of defense, and you should be good, N.C. State! Problem solved. Coach Brownlow, at your service, yet again.

HERES A GUY

Lamar Patterson. The biggest issue with Pitts senior guard used to be his inconsistency. It seems that Pitt fans are still collectively holding their breath and waiting for that to flare back up again, but so far, Patterson has been as consistent as it gets. He has scored in double figures in all but one game this season, and hes shooting 52.1% (up from 46.4% last year), 42.9% from 3 (up from 33.6%) and averaging 16.8 points (up from 10.0). And hes adding 4.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals an 0.4 blocks per game in 29.5 minutes. And he was the only Pitt player to hit double figures in that 44-43 hideous loss to Cincinnati, so he deserves a gold star for that or something.

THIS GUY

T.J. Warren. In a game like this, youve got to pick each teams best player. And Warren is certainly that, if not the best player in the entire league right now. Yes, I know, his team isnt that good, blah blah blah. Also, Warrens terrible if you hate scoring. I get that. In spite of being the focus of opposing defenses, though, Warren has one of the better turnover rates in the country, is shooting really well, and just continues to - as N.C. State SID Josh Rattray would tell you - get buckets (as his nickname, evidently, is Tony Buckets). If theres a concern, though, its that Missouri held him scoreless in the final 12 minutes or so of the Wolfpacks home loss last weekend to the Tigers; there was a bit of a collapse involved, but hey - N.C. State is a young team and those happen. What the young players cant do is forget who the best player on their team is. And thats T.J. Warren. Pitt is going to be make it tough on him, but again, he always seems to find a way to score.

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

Id like to give a special shoutout to the basketball gods for allowing N.C. States opponents to make 77.3% of their free-throw attempts, as it is the highest mark allowed by any team in the country so far this year. As if N.C. State fans dont already think the world is stacked against them. N.C. State leads the nation in percentage of points scored from inside the arc (65.2%) this season. N.C. States Jordan Vandenberg is fifth in the nation in ORtg (offensive efficiency) right now per Ken Pomeroy with a 144.0 rating. Pitts Cameron Wright is 17th in the country in steal percentage (4.9%).

NARRATIVES

Pittsburgh Win: A road win, over a pretty good team? What soft schedule?

Pittsburgh Loss: 

N.C. State Win: THIS TEAM MAKES N.C. STATE FANS FEEL SO HAPPY AND FREE!

 

N.C. State Loss: Just guessing:

PREDICTION

N.C. State, 72-71. I just have a feeling about this Wolfpack team right now.

GEORGIA TECH (9-4) AT MARYLAND (9-5, 1-0 ACC)

Time: 2:00 p.m.

TV: ACC Network/TheACC.com/ESPN3

THE SKINNY

Can we just call this the Mediocrity Matchup? Or maybe the Meh Matchup? Lets do that. These are two teams that were incredibly young last year, but each brought back most of their most important pieces and yet both continue to beaverage? Is that the word? Both have been dealing with injuries, one that is going to get worse before it gets better (Robert Carter, Jr. - Georgia Techs best rebounder - is going to be out for awhile with a knee injury), and one might be improving soon (Marylands point guard Seth Allen returning to the lineup). But both of these teams returned so many key pieces from a year ago that they should be better than they are. And arguably Maryland - which probably should win this game, considering the lack of Carter for Tech - has the worse losses. But both have settled on being ordinary, and thats disappointing.

NAMES TO KNOW

Kammeon Holsey. With Carter, Jr. out, the senior is in. And really, its kind of puzzling why the senior was ever out. Hes only playing 44.8% of Georgia Techs minutes this year, which wouldnt be so unreasonable if you didnt see that four players on the roster average a higher percentage of minutes (and all are at 65.4% or higher). And its his lowest percentage of minutes since his freshman year. Holsey - a 6-8 forward with tons of bounce - has always been an excellent rebounder, but hes even better at that this year (13.1% OR% and 20.2% DR%, per Ken Pom). Hes shooting just a hair under 50%, but hes averaging 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes, which is a problem. Still, hes going to have to step up and be more of a factor offensively - he had three straight 10-point games towards the beginning of the year and hasnt had more than seven since.

Seth Allen. Marylands sophomore point guard finally made his season debut against Tulsa after sitting out to heal a broken foot, and hes played two games now for the Terps. Its not necessarily his stats - hes played 41 minutes in two games now, and has a total of 21 points on 6-of-16 shooting - but his return means that Dez Wells can go back to his natural off-ball position eventually, for one thing. And it should help with Marylands turnover problem, too. The Terps are 242nd nationally in turnover percentage (19.8%). Roddy Peters has started/played significant minutes at the point in recent games, which has freed up Wells, but Peters has been (as most freshmen are) a bit spotty. So at some point, probably this weekend, Allens going to need to play a bigger role.

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

The only Ken Pom category that Georgia Techs offense ranks in the top 100 in is offensive rebounding percentage (61st at 36.2%), which is good because the Yellow Jackets miss a lot of shots (207th in eFG%). Maryland is also in the top-100 in OR% (19th, at 38.8%), but the only other category the Terps are top-100 in offensively is three-point percentage (92nd, 36.5%). This doesnt seem promising as a high-scoring affair. Each team has a freshman - Corey Heyward in Georgia Techs case, and Varum Ram for Maryland - who is getting some playing time, but struggling to hold on to the basketball. Heywards turnover rate is 40% right now, while Rams is 42.5%. Ram plays 19.5% of Marylands minutes, while Heyward is at 19.4%. THESE TEAMS ARE MIRROR IMAGES, I TELL YOU! (Not really.)

NARRATIVES

I kind of want this to be the narrative for both teams, win or lose. I feel like I dont know much about either, and neither have been particularly impressive this season. Thus, this game will be:

PREDICTION

Maryland, 71-69. Everything in my head is telling me that it would make no sense to pick Georgia Tech. But thats whats making me think I SHOULD do it. Because ACC.

MIAMI (8-5, 0-1 ACC) AT NO. 2 SYRACUSE (13-0)

Time: 2:00 p.m.

TV: ACC Network/TheACC.com/ESPN3

THE SKINNY

Syracuse is really good at almost everything. Miami is okay at some things - mostly defense - and bad to awful at most others. If there is an intriguing matchup, though, its how well the young and inexperienced Hurricanes stand up against the Syracuse pressure. Syracuses opponents this year have turned it over on 25.6% of their possessions, third-most nationally. Miamis turnover rate is 17.2%, which is 101st - above average, but what will happen when the Hurricanes are in front of a raucous Carrier Dome crowd? It could get worse, is all Im saying. But Miami is a feisty bunch, led by Coach Tilde himself, that can play some defense, rebound, and is capable of sticking around in games long enough to beat you. Not likely to happen this weekend, but just worth pointing out. 

NAMES TO KNOW

Rion Brown. Everyone knew he would have to be the center of this Miami offense. And the senior has tried to be that, ending 24.1% of Miamis possessions when hes on the floor, and still maintaining his efficiency. His ORtg is 110.8, higher than last year, and his turnover rate is still pretty low, so hes got that going for him. As you might expect, though, being thrust into the role of the man from a bench contributor last year hasnt been that easy. In spite of it all, hes hit double figures in scoring in all but three games this year, and hes averaged 15.7 points and 7.0 rebounds in the last three games.

Tyler Ennis. When a player starts to get discussed more nationally, and the sentence accompanying said discussion is basically This guy isnt talked about enough, but he should be, and heres why, its a sign that youre about to be talked about enough - and perhaps more than enough. With Syracuses freshman point guard, though, theres good reason - hes 88th nationally in assist rate (30.5) and has a low turnover rate, not to mention ranking 11th in steal percentage. Raw numbers? Its 11.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.4 apg, 2.7 spg and just 1.2 turnovers per game. Yeah. So youll be hearing from him more. (BREAKING!)

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

Miamis opponents are scoring 36% of their points on three-pointers this year, which is sixth-most nationally. But this weekends opponent is actually better in that department; Syracuses opponents have scored 36.7% of their points from behind the arc (fourth-most nationally). If Syracuse has two players who rank in the top 59 nationally in block percentage (Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas), but neither plays more than 50.8% of Syracuses minutes, does it really count? (Answer: Yes.)

NARRATIVES

Miami Win:

Miami Loss: Well, I mean.yeah. Going to be a lot of that this season.

Syracuse Win: Welcome to the ACC! GREAT WIN BTW!

Syracuse Loss: 

PREDICTION

Syracuse, 77-59. Yeah. Pray for Miami.

NO. 7 DUKE (11-2) AT NOTRE DAME (9-4)

Time: 4:00 p.m.

TV: CBS

THE SKINNY

Notre Dame shoots 3s. Duke defends 3s. WHICH WILL PREVAIL?! Well, okay. Kind of. Notre Dame is making 39.2% of its three-pointers this year (35th in the country), and the Irish have a number of options in terms of shooters. Though those options have been cut a bit shorter with the announcement that junior guard Jerian Grant would be suspended for the rest of the year for academic reasons. But Notre Dame has to get good looks in order to make them, and Duke doesnt let up many of those. Duke has improved defensively the last few weeks, but the Blue Devils have held steady at defending the three, allowing just 27.5% from beyond the arc. Of course, Duke has already faced two teams ranked higher than Notre Dame in three-point percentage (Elon and UCLA), and held those teams to 13-of-43 shooting from beyond the arc (30.2%). So we shall see. Thats about the only hope the Irish have of pulling the upset.

NAMES TO KNOW

Eric Atkins. Without Jerian Grant, its basically going to have to be the Eric Atkins show. And judging by his effort against Canisius anyway, hes ready and willing to embrace that challenge. Whether it leads to results down the road for the Irish is anyones guess, but hey. He had 30 points on 10-of-14 shooting against Canisius, playing all 45 minutes, and added seven assists (and seven turnovers). But Duke also is well aware that hes Notre Dames most important player, and the Blue Devil defense - which has been much better lately - is designed to cut the proverbial head off the proverbial snake, if you will. And Atkins is that head.

Amile Jefferson. When the lanky 6-9 sophomore is playing well, he really gives the Blue Devils a nice lift off the bench. Duke doesnt have a ton of size - it doesnt need it, really - but Jefferson runs the floor and has the kind of athleticism that fits in perfectly on this roster. He needs to stay out of foul trouble, but when hes doing that, hes great for Duke. Hes not an elite post defender, but his quickness could bother some of Notre Dames more traditional bigs. And hes been on a tear here lately - relatively speaking - with 37 points in the last five games to go with 43 rebounds (27 in the last three alone).

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

Who leads Duke in ORtg? Jabari Parker? Rodney Hood? Andre Dawkins? Nope. Nope. Nope. Its.Tyler Thornton, checking in at 127.4, which is 96th nationally. Even glancing at his numbers, I still dont get it, but hey. Ken Pomeroy is the expert. If you want to get to know a bit more about Mike Breys statistical trends, well, thats what Im here for! Last years Notre Dame team was his first to finish outside the top-30 nationally in turnover percentage since 2003, and this years team is a tick above it, too. The Irish dont turn it over a lot, but they dont force a lot either. And Breys teams have been in the top 25 in offensive efficiency eight times since 2003 - this years group, 33rd, is his second-worst ever (if it holds up). And Breys teams shoot a lot of threes and generally make them. And Breys defenses have been routinely meh, although this years group at 122 nationally would be his worst since 2010.

NARRATIVES

Duke Win: As expected.

Duke Loss: FIRST TRUE ROAD GAME OMG! SEE I TOLD YOU GUYS DUKE NEVER PLAYS ON THE ROAD AND THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THEY PLAY AT AN OPPONENTS GYM I MEAN JUST CHECK THE ANALYTICS SHEESH KRZYZEWSKI IS SO OVERRATEDZ!

Notre Dame Win: 

Notre Dame Loss: Its going to be a long season, guys. But at least you can be there for each other.

PREDICTION

Duke, 91-73. Yeah. That kind of year for Notre Dame even with Jerian Grant, so no reason to think itll get much better without him. Especially against this Duke team.

CLEMSON (9-3) AT BOSTON COLLEGE (4-10, 0-1 ACC)

Time: 4:00 p.m.

TV: RSN/ESPN3

THE SKINNY

Bad offense versus bad defense! Well, thats kind of an exaggeration. Clemsons offense isnt horrible. BCs defense, on the other handwelp. Its 300th nationally, per Ken Pom. The Eagles dont force turnovers (334th in opponent turnover percentage), dont block shots, dont get steals and dont force opponents to miss (52.7% opponent eFG%). Opponents make 3s (37.6%), 2s (51.4%) and free throws (76.1%, which is 345th). And if they dont make shots, they get their offensive rebounds (34.8% OR% by opponents). So.um. Thatsbad. Clemsons offense is 145th in the country, and while thats not good, its not nearly as bad as Boston Colleges defense, which is just wretched. Besides, we havent yet reached the portion of the season where Clemsons halfcourt offense falls to pieces. 

NAMES TO KNOW

K.J. McDaniels. If you play ACC fantasy hoops - I dont, because no one ever invites me to their super-special leagues - youre already a huge McDaniels fan. He was always a stat-stuffer in terms of rebounds, steals and blocks, but now, hes becoming a more consistent scorer, too. His scoring average is up from 10.9 last year to 16.8 this year on 47.3% shooting (up from 43.3% last year), and hes getting to the foul line 4.4 times a game, compared to 2.8 a year ago. Hes also averaging 6.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.9 blocks this year. Thatll do nicely. Boston College likely doesnt have a guy who can guard even last years version of McDaniels. Soyeah.

Joe Rahon. BCs sophomore point guard was never spectacular a year ago, but he was always solid with a chance of excellent. This year, hes meh with a chance of awful and an occasional great. In 115 minutes over BCs last four games - three losses and a win over D-II Philadelphia - Rahon has scored a total of 16 points on 6-of-20 shooting, and has five assists to nine turnovers. In fact, his assist rate is down this year from his sophomore year, and his turnover rate is up. The biggest issue is that if he is going to be on the court as much as he is - at least 30 minutes in all but two games this year - hes going to need to play better. Its that simple, really. ANALYSIS!

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

Whos the less experienced team among these two? If you guessed Boston Collegeyoure wrong. But not by much. BCs average experience level is 1.38 years (per Ken Pom) while Clemsons is 1.29. Since Pomeroy has been tracking stats, the worst a Boston College defense under Al Skinner finished in the nation was 199th. Steve Donahues BC defenses have finished 226, 185, 192 and now this years defense is 300th. Woof. And that would be the worst finish for a Donahue-coached defense since Pomeroy was tracking stats Brace yourselves, but Clemson - yes, that Clemson - is 11th in the nation in free-throw shooting (77.1%). And the Tigers are 2nd in free-throw defense (opponents have shot 60.9%). Somewhere, Oliver Purnell weeps.

NARRATIVES

Clemson Win: Congrats, you beat the most disappointing team in the ACC non-conference in the last decade or so!

Clemson Loss: Exclusive footage of Clemsons offense:

Boston College Win: OH SO NOW YOU PLAY WELL YOU JERKS?!?!?! SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?! THIS IS WHY WE CANT HAVE NICE THINGS IN THE ACC!

Boston College Loss: This is basically what the Boston College season has turned into:

PREDICTION

Clemson, 61-50. Avert your eyes, folks.

VIRGINIA (9-4) AT FLORIDA STATE (9-3)

Time: 5:00 p.m.

TV: ESPN2/WatchESPN

THE SKINNY

Well, if you like turnovers, this is the game for you! These are two of the bottom 80 or so teams in the nation in turnover percentage! FSUs old bugaboo is still a thing this year - the Seminoles are 320th in turnover percentage (22%). Welp. But Virginia, even with its very limited possessions, cant take care of the ball, either - the Cavaliers are 271st in turnover percentage (20.5%). They definitely cant afford to turn it over that much, particularly against a Florida State defense that is 31st nationally in opponent turnover percentage (21.7%) and 15th in steal percentage. 

Certainly, defense will be a thing that happens. It will be up to you, the viewer, to figure out what percentage of it to chalk up to good defense vs. sheer derpitude. For instance, last years 56-36 blowout Virginia win in Charlottesville. Like that one. I meanyeah. (I do love that, per the Tallahassee Democrat, Leonard Hamilton said of that loss that they gave us our hat and showed us where the door was. Never change, Lenny.) But this year, FSUs defense is back to being more like it used to be - tough to score on inside the arc. The Noles are 5th in two-point defense (40.2% allowed) and 15th in block percentage.

NAMES TO KNOW

Joe Harris. At the beginning of the season, many were - justifiably - throwing around Harris name as an ACC Player of the Year candidate. And the senior lived up to the billing for the most part, hitting double figures in five of Virginias first eight games and making 16-of-29 threes. Virginia was 7-1 in that span. But sinceeesh. Virginia is 2-3 in its last five games with a hideous loss to Wisconsin at home (hideous in the way it looked rather than quality of opponent), a loss at Green Bay, and a blowout loss at Tennessee. And in the last five games, Harris has averaged 9.0 points and shot just 3-of-20 from three. And suddenly he cant hit free throws (62.5% this year compared to 74% a year ago). And his turnover rate is higher than its ever been (19.0%; the highest he had in a season was 17.1% as a freshman). Virginia has a lot more around Harris than in previous seasons, so he doesnt have to do as much. But Virginia is just not going to be very good if Harris doesnt play well. Period.

Aaron Thomas. Hes red hot for the Seminoles right now, and the sophomore wing is evolving into FSUs best defender. Or maybe hes already there. But hes always been pretty efficient on the offensive end, and this year hes getting better and better, more than doubling his scoring average from last year (up to 12.9 from 6.0) and shooting almost 10 percentage points better (from 40.8% to 50.5%). In the last three games, hes averaged 21 points on 23-of-37 shooting (5-of-9 from three). He has one of the best steal percentages in the country, per Ken Pom (4.8%, 23rd nationally) and one of the better free-throw rates (51.4). Hes been in single digits scoring just four times this year, and two were FSU losses (two points against Michigan and five at Minnesota), so FSU needs him to be on, as some of its other offensive weapons have been more inconsistent. Hes clearly up to the task.

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

What if I told you that as of right now, of these two teams, Florida State is not the team using the higher percentage of bench minutes? (A NEW 30 FOR 30!) Thats right - Lenny Ham Roulette is using 31.1% of its minutes from the bench, while Virginia is using 33.3% of its minutes with the bench. Bennett Bench Bingo? Almost every number for Virginias Akil Mitchell - who made Third Team All-ACC a year ago - is down from last year - well, except for the bad ones, like turnover rate (up nearly seven percentage points) and free-throw rate (75.8). And I mean everything - shooting percentage, rebounding percentages (which are still good) - is down, except for his block percentage, and thats not up much. And his free-throw rate being up isnt a good thing since hes shooting 48.9% from the foul line. FSUs Michael Ojo, on the other hand, has shown a lot of improvement. If he played enough to qualify, Ojo would be among the nations best in block percentage (9.0) and certainly in free-throw rate (106.5 - !!!). That whole 7.1 fouls called per 40 minutes could be a problem, though.

NARRATIVES

Virginia Win: Okay, okay, not bad, Virginia. I see you.

Virginia Loss: YepI mean.I justI cant.

Florida State Win: 

Florida State Loss: So all that good play in the non-conference was just.fake? SIGH, FSU! SIGH!

PREDICTION

Florida State, 67-63. Heres the thing: I love the way Florida State is playing this year. And I kind of hate the way Virginia is playing. Usually, Ken Pomeroy feels the opposite about Virginia. But this year, he has the Cavaliers ranked 43rd and FSU ranked 28th, giving FSU a 72% chance of winning at home. BUT Ive been burned by the Seminoles before. Im still going to go with them, albeit cautiously.

SUNDAY

NO. 19 NORTH CAROLINA (10-3) AT WAKE FOREST (10-3)

Time: 8:00 p.m.

TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN

THE SKINNY

Wake will need to take care of the basketball - its season-high 21 turnovers in last years loss at North Carolina led to 26 UNC points. The Deacs are doing okay as far as turnover percentage goes this year (17.2%, 95th in the country) but when the Tar Heels are clicking defensively in their scrambles and traps, they can force plenty of turnovers. And particularly if UNC gets behind, it might go to full-court or three-quarter court pressure a bit earlier than one would think - and the Tar Heels are much better at that this year than theyve been in years past.

Rebounding will be key, too - UNC gets to the offensive boards a lot, but Wake isnt allowing opponents to do that much this year (22nd in OR% allowed at 26.4%, while UNC gets 37.4% of its misses). And in UNCs losses - sometimes even its sloppy wins - it's allowed opponents to hit the offensive glass a bit too hard for Roy Williams liking. Wake has the athletes/ability to do that, getting 34.6% of its misses this year (97th nationally) while UNC is allowing opponents to get 31.5% of their misses (164th).

NAMES TO KNOW

Devin Thomas. One of the best rebounders in the league, Wakes 6-9 sophomore seems poised to make a big leap this year (NO PUN INTENDED!). He's averaging 11.5 points and 9.3 rebounds on 52.7% shooting through 13 games, all numbers that are up from last season. Wake has played four top-75 teams, per Ken Pom, and Thomas has shot 11-of-34 against them (compared to 47-of-76 against everyone else) and averaged 7.8 points and 7.5 rebounds (3.7 if you take out the Richmond game) compared to 13.2 points and 10.1 rebounds against everyone else. But Thomas has shown over the last year or so that hes capable of getting it done against elite frontcourts. And UNC has certainly shown it can defend the post, shutting down Kentuckys Julius Randle.

Brice Johnson. The curse of Tyler Zeller lives! (No seriously, this was a thing James Michael McAdoo said - somewhat jokingly - after the UNCW game, that Zeller cursed the starting-5 spot before he left.) Johnson had been having a great year with seven double-figure scoring games in UNCs first eight. Then he was held to single digits in UNCs next four games, including two starts at center, and when he came off the bench against UNC-Wilmington, he was really good again. Sowhat does it mean? Not sure, but Johnson himself said he hit the freshman wall hard last year around this time of year - he had nine double-figure outings in his first 15 games and none in the final 21 - and he definitely wants to prove hell hit no such wall this season.

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

UNC has not shot free throws well this year (BREAKING!) but Wake Forest is actually worse in that category, making 61.9% of its attempts (333rd nationally) compared to 62.4% for UNC (329th). Well, this should be.interesting. Speaking of Johnson, UNC is 3-2 this season when he fails to hit double figures, and 7-1 when he does, and one of those wins when he didnt hit double digits was in overtime over Davidson (another was over Kentucky, but still). And lets not leave out Thomas: Wake is 2-3 this year when he doesnt score at least 10 points and 11-0 when he does.

NARRATIVES

North Carolina Win: Hey, a road win against a team that is not in the top 25! Somehow we have to call this progress for the Tar Heels, right? THIS TEAM IS LEARNING TO WIN GAMES AGAINST TEAMS THAT ARE NOT GOOD AS OPPOSED TO JUST TEAMS THAT ARE REALLY GOOD! (Seriously, this team is so weird.)

North Carolina Loss: Could you hardly have expected the Tar Heels to win a game against a team thats not in the top 25, but also isnt terrible? Now youre asking too much.

Wake Forest Win: So, I Google image searched Jeff Bzdelik smiling. Ill have you know that other than a few near-smiles that were more disturbing than anything, I could not find one. And then I remembered that I dont think Ive ever seen him smile in a way that wasnt sarcastic. But I wanted to find a smug smile of Jeff Bzdelik that would be directed at Wake fans who want him gone.

Heres the closest I could find:

Wake Forest Loss: There were a lot more pictures of an.annoyed Jeff Bzdelik. Or perhapsruffled. I dont know, but its almost like under the surface brews a discontentment that none of us will ever understand. Anyway, I think this was my favorite:

PREDICTION

Wake Forest, 79-73. I know, I know. Why would this happen? I honestly have no idea. Because Bzdelik always seems to get that job-saving win at the right moment, and because North Carolina has yet to beat a mediocre team away from home. (Except, I guess, Richmond?) The Deacs will no doubt be fired up, and playing at home, and its the first ACC game. Wouldnt surprise me if the Tar Heels won, but I have a hunch.

Overall: 8-4