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Brownlow’s GIFs: ACC basketball is upon us at last

January 5, 2019
Duke huddles during the Blue Devils' game versus Indiana on Tuesday, November 27, 2018 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC. Duke won 90-69. (Photo by Jack Morton)

With 2019 officially here, we can officially start the ACC basketball season! I’m so glad that we will always have this time-honored tradition to foll- wait, what’s that? We’re starting games in November next year?

*deep, prolonged sigh*

Okay. Well I’ll enjoy the calendar continuity while it lasts. And this first weekend is intriguing if you like good basketball or bad basketball!

We get one matchup that’s almost as fun (Florida State at Virginia) as another matchup is basically the exact opposite of fun (Wake Forest at Georgia Tech). And then we get a whole bunch in the middle.

(Reminder: when I refer to Ken Pom or tempo-free stats, I’m using statistician Ken Pomeroy’s subscription-based stats. I subscribe so y’all don’t have to.)

So let’s get to the GIFs!

JANUARY 5

BOSTON COLLEGE (9-3) AT NO. 10 VIRGINIA TECH (12-1, 1-0)

Time: 12 p.m. TV: ACC Network

#ANALYSIS

For the most part, the ACC follows a pretty logical order. There are six - maybe as many as seven or eight - teams that are good. There are two teams that are really bad (Georgia Tech and Wake). The others, though, sort of float in a no-man’s land. And I think Boston College is one of those, in spite of their Ken Pom ranking of 105, which is second-worst in the league. They’re weird in that they have a 12-point win over Minnesota and an 8-point win over Loyola, plus a mere 5-point loss in overtime to Providence, all Ken Pom-top 70 teams. But they have a loss to No. 202 IUPUI and a loss to No. 187 Hartford, that one on New Year’s Eve. Sigh. BC has been banged up, but a BC team that shots just 30.7% from three is not a BC team that will win many ACC games.

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, finds itself at No. 10 in the country IN BASKETBALL!, largely on the strength of its neutral-court win over Purdue. The next-best win for the Hokies was Washington by 12 and then the 15-point win over Notre Dame, both pretty impressive. They’ve lost their only road game of the year, but this game is at home and Virginia Tech has not struggled too much with inferior opponents, particularly at home. This is a typical Buzz Williams Virginia Tech team in that it’s one of the nation’s best offenses and an excellent shooting team, ranking No. 2 in the country in three-point shooting. But what really has to please Buzz - and it’s early yet, of course - is that his team’s defensive efficiency is on track to be the best for one of his teams since 2012, when he was at Marquette. Defense has lagged since he’s been in Blacksburg, and this team getting it together on that end could turn it from really good into an elite team.

NARRATIVES

Boston College Win:

Boston College Loss:

Virginia Tech Win:

Virginia Tech Loss: The top 10 to Virginia Tech

PREDICTION

Virginia Tech, 89-75. Eagles might yet make some noise in ACC play, but not today.

NO. 15 NORTH CAROLINA (9-3) AT PITTSBURGH (10-3)

Time: 12 p.m. TV: ACC Network

#ANALYSIS

In just a few months in Pittsburgh, Jeff Capel has turned the Panthers from a complete disaster into a ... well, I guess we’re not sure yet. Is Pitt just respectably bad? Are they like, slightly below average? Either way is a drastic improvement ,but still. So far, Pitt’s best Ken Pom win is over No. 84 Saint Louis. But last year at this time, before Pitt completed a winless ACC slate, Pitt was 8-5, had a blowout loss on the resume and just one win by more than 12 points. This year, they’re 10-3, have one bad loss (by one to Niagara) and two other losses to good teams by a combined 11 points.

Two stats stand out here: while Pitt is a much-improved defensive team under Capel, ranking 41st nationally in defensive efficiency, the Panthers are 264th in defensive rebounding. Last weekend, Colgate got over half of its own missed shots. COLGATE! So North Carolina is going to have to exploit that; the Tar Heels typically live on the offensive glass, but ranking 29th in OR% this year is actually low for them. The other stat is turnover percentage. North Carolina turns it over on 17.8% of its possessions, good for 114th nationally. It’s not horrible, but it’s a clear weakness for this team, and one Pitt knows how to exploit as the Panthers are eighth nationally in defensive turnover percentage. If the three-pointers aren’t falling and North Carolina is turning the ball over left and right, they’re plenty capable of losing this game.

NAMES TO KNOW

Cameron Johnson. This will be the senior’s first trip back to Pittsburgh since he transferred out after the 2017 season. Johnson spent three seasons there and getting to North Carolina as a graduate transfer was not easy under former head coach Kevin Stallings. His old coach is gone, but Johnson - a Moon Township, PA native - is almost certainly going to feel emotional playing in his home state, at the arena he called home for three years. He’s faced his old team once before, and he finished with 14 points but was just 1 of 7 from three. The last time he played at home was, interestingly enough, against North Carolina in an 18-point loss. Johnson is shooting a blistering 48.5% from three so far this season and 56% from two - both of which are career-high marks - but his turnover rate is also a career high (16.8%). Johnson has 10 turnovers in the last three games and had five against Harvard. He’s too old to be making those kinds of mistakes, and if he lets his emotions carry him in a bad way, it could be troublesome.

Xavier Johnson. Pitt’s freshmen have been a big reason the team is improved, and Johnson - a 6-3 point guard - is chief among them so far, dominating Pitt’s offense by taking 26.2% of the shots when he’s on the court. He’s hit double figures in every game this season so far, he’s shooting nearly 43% from three and his assist rate is 26th best in the nation. He’s struggled with turnovers, as you would expect a freshman to do, but he gets to the foul line really well and has done more than should be expected of a freshman in his position. The battle of freshmen point guards vs. UNC’s Coby White will be an interesting one.

NARRATIVES

North Carolina Win:

North Carolina Loss:

Pittsburgh Win:

Pittsburgh Loss:

PREDICTION

North Carolina, 79-64. This one will be ... cosmetically displeasing.

SYRACUSE (9-4) AT NOTRE DAME (10-4, 0-1)

Time: 12 p.m. TV: ACC Network

#ANALYSIS

The question of the year: Is Syracuse actually going to have a bad season, or are they doing the thing they have done lately where it seems like they’ll have a bad season and then they rattle off enough wins at the end of the year to save an NCAA Tournament berth, squeak in, then make the Final Four or something?

And then, there’s Notre Dame. Sigh. Those of you who have followed these previews for awhile know how much I enjoy watching Mike Brey’s offense. The good news is that the Irish are steadily improving there, starting to find their three-point stroke in recent games and putting up some of their best offensive performances to date. And that’s with some key injuries and illnesses affecting the team. Some will resolve themselves, and some won’t - senior Rex Pflueger is out for the year with a torn ACL, and that’s a huge loss. They had injuries last year and still should have made the Tournament. But this is a young team. They’re going to take their lumps. It’s not always going to be pretty.

Sigh. I miss you, Notre Dame. I just miss you.

NARRATIVES

Syracuse Win: SYRACUSE BACK!

Syracuse Loss: LOL Syracuse is doing this thing where they try to convince us they won’t make the Tournament, except...

Notre Dame Win: Me, in my head: “I’m not going to let myself believe Notre Dame is good again.”

My heart:

Notre Dame Loss:

PREDICTION

Syracuse, 73-67. Notre Dame is too limited, even at home.

WAKE FOREST (6-5) AT GEORGIA TECH (7-5)

Time: 2 p.m. TV: ACC Network

#ANALYSIS

It’s a little early in ACC play to be assaulting everyone’s eyeballs with this, isn’t it? This game is an actual sadness factory. If you see a friend or relative that is not a Wake Forest or Georgia Tech fan watching this game of their own volition and not laughing hysterically, please ask them if they are all right. Danny Manning and his $18 million buyout (seriously, that’s a real number) are projected to lose all but one ACC game this year. Which is actually up from zero after the win over Cornell. Wake is already sporting such losses as St. Joseph’s, Houston Baptist, Richmond and Gardner-Webb, all of which are ranked 107th or worse in Ken Pom. Woof. Maybe a Wake Forest booster will find, like, $9 million in a couch cushion and use it to buy out Danny Manning, but who knows?

The only reason Georgia Tech is just barely inside Ken Pom’s top 100 themselves is their defense. Their offense is so aggressively gross that it actually seems like they’re doing it on purpose. There is no power conference team that is worse than them in offensive efficiency.

NARRATIVES

Wake Forest Win:

Wake Forest Loss:

Georgia Tech Win:

Georgia Tech Loss:

PREDICTION

Georgia Tech, Gross to Wake Forest, Somehow More Gross. This game should come with an advisory.

NO. 9 FLORIDA STATE (12-1) AT NO. 4 VIRGINIA (12-0)

Time: 3 p.m. TV: ESPN2

#ANALYSIS

Just like we all thought, Florida State entered ACC play ranked in the top 10. In basketball. And not even close to the top 25 in football. Sure. And this is back to being a Leonard Hamilton team in the truest senses of it: an inconsistent-shooting team that turns it over way too much (277th in turnover percentage) but forces a ton as well and uses its length and athleticism to create some issues defensively. Oh, and they’re reliant on getting offensive rebounds and foul too much. But they’ve got a lot of really nice pieces plus some impressive wins and aren’t quite fully healthy yet (Phil Cofer is working his way back into form).

Virginia has not shown itself to be especially mortal yet this season, unless you want to point to defensive efficiency. Yep, those lazy Hoos are FOURTH in defensive efficiency. FOURTH. Since when is that good enough?! It’s been awhile since Virginia has played anyone worth talking about, and not all of their wins have held up well. Florida State will be the best team they’ve faced so far. The games have been competitive in recent years - a 4-point win in Tallahassee last year followed revenge for two straight losses to FSU the years before that.

In theory, it should be an on-paper mismatch; an up-tempo, often-disorganized FSU offense forced to be patient and look for good shots while being exceedingly patient and disciplined on the other. But as FSU has climbed its way back into relevance, this game has become one where the Seminoles clamp down defensively like his past great teams would consistently (and are more and more now, too). Virginia hasn’t shot better than 40% from two against the Seminoles in three years. It should probably try that in this game.

Just a thought.

NARRATIVES

Florida State Win:

Florida State Loss:

Virginia Win:

Virginia Loss: Virginia’s first loss since .... oh. Oh no.

PREDICTION

Virginia, 63-57. This will be fun. Florida State is good.

CLEMSON (10-3) AT NO. 1 DUKE (11-1)

Time: 8 p.m. TV: ESPN

#ANALYSIS

I’ve seen a lot of games at Cameron Indoor. Not quite as many as Mike Krzyzewski, but hey. Goals. I’ve seen a lot of teams come into Cameron and struggle, from smaller teams to teams that ended the season being good. In fact, in their last two trips to Cameron, Clemson has shot a combined 6 of 27 from three and if you add in last year’s loss at home - where they decided to, uh, also be bad - it’s 11 of 47 in the last three regular-season meetings from beyond the arc. That won’t beat almost any team in the history of ever, much less Duke. And especially not on the road.

Oh, and hey, more good news! Clemson is 264th nationally in three-point percentage (31.6%) on the season and 257th in turnover percentage (20.5%) - so, uh, Duke’s already-good defense should be okay here. One area where Duke has been vulnerable defensively is on the boards; Clemson doesn’t even do that well. Clemson shoots nearly 60% from two, which is great! But Duke’s opponents shoot just 41.7% from two and Duke has the No. 2 block percentage in the country. Just not a lot of ways to see that Clemson matches up all that well with Duke at all, really.

NAMES TO KNOW

Shelton Mitchell. He’s only played in two games versus Duke in his career - both in 2017 - but he’s played pretty well in both, averaging 20 points against the Blue Devils on 13 of 25 shooting (5 of 5 from three). He has, um ...not been shooting so well this season, making just 29.5% of his three-point attempts, which is the worst for him since his freshman season at Vanderbilt (be transferred to Clemson the next year). You’d think it was because his duties as a passer had surpassed his shooting as a priority, but his assist rate is the worst of his career too, and his turnover rate is just slightly higher than last year but still. He’s got to find his shooting stroke for Clemson to be any good this season.

Tre Jones. This game has the potential to be a bit of a slog against a good defensive team, which is not unlike what Duke faced its last time out against Texas Tech. In that game, though, Tre Jones decided he was going to be the energy force his team needed on both ends of the court, finishing with 13 points, five assists and six steals. It was a night where RJ Barrett couldn’t hit a 3-pointer and the Blue Devils couldn’t stop turning it over. But Jones took over instead. This Duke team is plenty talented already, but Jones being that sort of a spark for this group could turn them from really good into REALLY great.

NARRATIVES

Clemson Win:

Clemson Loss: Exclusive footage of Clemson’s offense

Duke Win:

Duke Loss:

PREDICTION

Duke, 90-72. Luckily, most Clemson fans will already be preparing for the national title game on Monday night anyways.

JANUARY 6

MIAMI (8-5, 0-1) AT LOUISVILLE (9-4)

Time: 6 p.m. TV: ESPNU

#ANALYSIS

The NC State game on Thursday was sort of a good news, bad news scenario for the Hurricanes - the good news is they played a great half but just lost their legs late, which will certainly happen when playing against a deep and pressuring team like NC State. The bad news is that they’ll have, like, two full days to rest (including a trip to Louisville) before playing a pretty deep Louisville team as well, although not one quite as fast-paced as NC State. Miami did almost everything it needed to against NC State except get defensive rebounds and it still lost. To have a 9.5% turnover percentage against that NC State team, particularly with the turnover issues Miami has had, is impressive. Louisville, though, will not have played in over a week, will be at home and will also make it tough for Miami to get what it wants on offense. Louisville will be eager to get the bad offensive taste out of its mouth after the ugly loss to Kentucky and start 2019 on a good note under new head coach Chris Mack.

NARRATIVES

Miami Win:

Miami Loss:

Louisville Win:

Louisville Loss:

PREDICTION

Louisville, 77-68. Louisville gets back on track here. Miami does, too - just, um, not a good track for them.

Last week: N/A Overall: 8-6

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