ACC Tournament 2019
The three titans of the ACC are expected to thrive at the 2019 ACC tournament with No. 1 seeds in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on the line.
Virginia, who won the regular-season crown, enters the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, as the No. 1 seed, while North Carolina and Duke are on the same side of the bracket as the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, respectively.
But before the Cavaliers, Tar Heels and Blue Devils hit the floor, a crucial game with NCAA tournament bubble implications has to be played.
While Tuesday’s opening games at the ACC tournament might not be intriguing, the competition heats up Wednesday, and it will only continue to get better as it builds up to Saturday’s championship game.
All Times ET.
Tuesday, March 12
No. 12 Miami vs. No. 13 Wake Forest (Noon)
No. 10 Georgia Tech vs. No. 15 Notre Dame (2 p.m.)
No. 11 Boston College vs. No. 14 Pittsburgh (7 p.m.)
Wednesday, March 13
No. 8 NC State vs. No. 9 Clemson (Noon)
No. 5 Virginia Tech vs. Miami/Wake Forest winner (2 p.m.)
No. 7 Louisville vs. Georgia Tech/Notre Dame winner (7 p.m.)
No. 6 Syracuse vs. Boston College/Pittsburgh winner (9 p.m.)
Thursday, March 14
No. 1 Virginia vs. NC State/Clemson winner (12:30 p.m.)
No. 4 Florida State vs. Virginia Tech vs. Miami/Wake Forest winner (2:30 p.m.)
No. 2 North Carolina vs. Louisville vs. Georgia Tech/Notre Dame winner (7 p.m.)
No. 3 Duke vs. Syracuse vs. Boston College/Pittsburgh winner (9 p.m.)
Friday, March 15
Semifinal No. 1 (7 p.m.)
Semifinal No. 2 (9 p.m.)
Saturday, March 16
Championship (8:30 p.m.)
Clemson Beats NC State In Bubble Showdown
The first game in Charlotte with NCAA tournament significance opens Wednesday’s slate.
Clemson and NC State both have work left to do in order to secure their respective spots in the field of 68, and luckily for the selection committee, the head-to-head meeting in the ACC tournament should provide some clarity.
NC State, who won the regular-season meeting with the Tigers, is one of the last four teams in, according to ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi, but CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm has the Wolfpack as one of his first four teams out.
The Wolfpack are once again associated with the bubble after losing two of their last three regular-season games to Florida State and Georgia Tech, the latter of which was especially bad.
Clemson is the second-to-last team in, according to Lunardi and Palm’s most-recent projections.
Conversely, Clemson enters Charlotte with wins in four of its last five games, including back-to-back victories over Notre Dame and Syracuse.
The Tigers are playing the better basketball, and we’re picking them to advance into the quarterfinals for a matchup against Virginia.
Senior guard Marcquise Reed will be the driving force of Clemson’s victory, as he enters the ACC tournament off five 20-plus point performances in his last six games.
Clemson might not be able to earn a quality win over Virginia, but by beating NC State, it will separate itself from at least one of its fellow bubble contenders.
Virginia Adds To Trophy Case
Virginia has an opportunity to become the first back-to-back ACC tournament champion since Duke won three in a row from 2009-2011.
Although the road to the championship will be difficult for Tony Bennett’s team, it appears to be focused on not suffering a postseason disappointment again in 2019.
The Cavaliers, who should secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if they win the ACC tournament, have only lost to Duke this season.
Of course, a third meeting with Duke in the ACC tournament final would be an ideal outcome for the Cavaliers, as a final quality win would reinforce their resume to earn a No. 1 seed.
With Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Co. hungry for a victory over Duke, the Cavaliers avenge their defeats to Duke by controlling the production of the Blue Devils freshmen.
It won’t be an easy task for the Cavaliers since Duke is looking to get back into a rhythm with Zion Williamson potentially returning to the lineup, but we’re trusting the experience of the Cavaliers to finally get the job done after losing by 12 combined points in their meetings with Duke.
With the win over Duke, the Cavaliers will make a compelling case to secure the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament as they start their quest to eliminate the bad memories of the 2018 first-round loss to UMBC.
Preview: Wake Forest at Duke
One of the ACC’s worst teams takes on one of its best as Wake Forest visits Duke on Tuesday evening in the penultimate regular-season game for both. The Demon Deacons are coming off a lopsided home loss to Syracuse, while the No. 4 Blue Devils improved their record to 2-1 without Zion Williamson following a blowout win over Miami on Saturday.
Wake Forest was within five points early in the second half before going without a basket for over 13 minutes as the Orange ran away with it 79-54. “It’s tough playing against the Syracuse 2-3 (zone),” Wake Forest freshman forward Isaiah Mucius told reporters after the loss. “They’re super athletic. … We tried as best we could. They just played great defense and we had a tough time scoring the ball.” Duke bounced back following last Tuesday’s loss at Virginia Tech with a resounding 87-57 home win over Miami on Saturday where everyone contributed, much to the delight of its head coach. “Our guys played really well today. They responded to the practice we finally had. We had two really good days of practice. Especially our defense; our defense was outstanding. I’m proud of them. Everyone helped us today,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told the media afterward.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
ABOUT WAKE FOREST (11-17, 4-12 ACC): Sophomore guard Chaundee Brown led the Demon Deacons in scoring against the Orange with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, while Mucius added 10 points in 19 minutes off the bench. Leading scorer Brandon Childress (14.6 points) had an off-day with just five points on 1-of-8 shooting, including 1-of-7 behind the arc. Wake Forest shot just 32.7 percent from the field while getting outscored 44-10 in the paint and turned the ball over 23 times against Syracuse.
ABOUT DUKE (25-4, 13-3): Freshman RJ Barrett, the ACC’s leading scorer at 23.1 points per game, scored 19 points on 8-of-18 shooting against Miami, while Cameron Reddish matched him for game-high scoring honors on 7-of-14 from the field. Even Jack White, who hadn’t made a 3-pointer in his last 28 attempts, got in on the action as the junior forward scored nine on 3-for-3 shooting from 3-point range. The Blue Devils completely overwhelmed the Hurricanes, shooting 57.1 percent from the floor and winning the rebounding battle 45-29.
1. Duke leads the all-time series 172-78 and has won nine straight over Wake Forest, including an 87-65 win earlier this season.
2. Barrett needs 25 points to break the Blue Devils’ all-time scoring record for a freshman. The current record was set last season by Marvin Bagley III (694 points).
3. The Blue Devils lead the ACC in offensive rebounding (13.7 per game) and offensive rebounding percentage (36.1).
Williamson out as No. 3 Duke plays at No. 20 Virginia Tech
Duke figured out how to cope without freshman star Zion Williamson for one game.
It will have to do it again Tuesday night when the third-ranked Blue Devils play at No. 20 Virginia Tech in an ACC game in Blacksburg, Va.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters Monday that Williamson is making progress from a Grade 1 knee sprain suffered last Wednesday, but he added that the program will be cautious about the forward’s return.
“There’s no timetable,” Krzyzewski said. “We don’t want to put the pressure of time on him.”
Williamson went out with a sprained knee Wednesday night in the opening minute of a loss to North Carolina. He didn’t play Saturday night at Syracuse, but the Blue Devils found other sources to get it done in a 75-65 victory.
Most notably, RJ Barrett scored 30 points and sophomore guard Alex O’Connell added a career-best 20 points.
“We practiced a couple of days without Zion so we got a feel for our team without him,” O’Connell said. “As great of a player as he is, we have a lot of other talented guys on the team. It just shows once he gets back we will be an even stronger team.”
Duke (24-3, 12-2 ACC) shares first place in the conference with Virginia and North Carolina, while the Hokies (21-6, 10-5) sit in fourth place.
Virginia Tech is also dealing with the absence of a top player, having gone a few weeks without standout guard Justin Robinson, who has a foot injury. The Hokies are 4-3 since he went out, and coach Buzz Williams is keeping a timetable for his potential return under wraps.
“As our roster has changed, we categorize guys in one or two ways in rebounding — they’re either go-gets or get-backs guys,” Williams said. “One way we try to gain possessions is through offensive rebounding, which has never been a forte of ours.”
Redshirt junior forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. has become a go-to player for the Hokies, recording double-doubles in the past two games.
“He has just become integral to literally everything we do on both ends,” Williams said.
Barrett, who leads the ACC with 23.3 points per game, drained several big shots from the perimeter at Syracuse, but he also picked up some of the interior slack for Duke.
“It was just important for me to get in there and make reads,” Barrett said.
Barrett leads the ACC with six games with 30 or more points. He has set a conference freshman record with 20 games with at least 20 points; the previous mark of 19 was set by Georgia Tech guard Kenny Anderson in 1989-90.
Duke will be playing its third game in seven days. This trip will be its final out-of-state game until the NCAA Tournament, as all eyes continue to be on the potential return of Williamson, the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
“The main thing is for him to get healthy and continue to improve,” Krzyzewski said via ESPN. “We’ve got some new things we saw against Syracuse (on Saturday) and maybe there’ll be more (vs. Virginia Tech).”
Virginia Tech has lost two of its past three home games, falling to Louisville and Virginia, with a victory against Georgia Tech in between.
Duke has lost in each of the past two seasons in Blacksburg.
Preview: Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
Things could be better for No. 16 Virginia Tech, which enters Wednesday’s home contest against Georgia Tech riding a two-game losing streak and remaining without senior standout Justin Robinson. The point guard injured his left foot in a victory over Miami on Jan. 30 and has missed the past three games, a stretch in which the Hokies are 1-2 and are averaging just 54 points per game – 24.4 points fewer than before losing Robinson and his 14.4 points and 5.5 assists per contest.
The offensive struggles continued in Saturday’s 59-51 defeat at Clemson, as the Hokies shot an abysmal 28.3 percent from the field in losing consecutive games for the first time this season. “I think they’re trying incredible hard,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams told reporters after Saturday’s loss when asked about revamping the team in Robinson’s absence. “I think our staff and our guys are trying really hard to do what we want to do.” The Yellow Jackets look to snap a five-game losing streak after falling 69-59 Sunday at Notre Dame, and despite holding the Fighting Irish to 32.8 percent shooting from the field could not overcome allowing 20 offensive rebounds and committing 14 turnovers. “They hurt us with those offensive rebounds and turnovers,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner told the media after his team was outscored 29-12 off turnovers and second-chance opportunities.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Raycom
ABOUT GEORGIA TECH (11-13, 3-8 ACC): Freshman guard Michael Devoe hit 4-of-5 3-point attempts Sunday en route to a career-high 18 points, and has reached double-figures scoring in four of his past six games to bump up his scoring average to 9.2 per game. Junior forward James Banks finished with 12 rebounds against Notre Dame and is shooting 55 percent from the field on the season. The Yellow Jackets are last in the ACC in scoring at 65.5 points per game but limit opponents to 64.3 points per game (25th nationally).
ABOUT VIRGINA TECH (18-5, 7-4): Sophomore guard and leading scorer Nickeil Alexander-Walker shot 3-for-14 from the field against Clemson to finish with 13 points, and is averaging 13.7 points per contest since the Hokies lost Robinson – off his season average of 17.3 points per game. Junior forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. scored 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting Saturday, and the ACC’s seventh-leading scorer (17.3 points per game) is shooting 16-for-32 from the field in his past three games. The Hokies begin the week ranked second in the nation in 3-point shooting (41.5 percent).
1. Georgia Tech’s seven 3-pointers Sunday is its most against ACC competition this season.
2. The Hokies tightened their playing rotation against Clemson, using just seven players and employing their bench for only 22 minutes total.
3. Virginia Tech senior G Ahmed Hill scored 15 points as the Hokies held off the Yellow Jackets 52-49 in the first meeting on Jan. 10 in Atlanta despite shooting just 18.5 percent from 3-point range.
Preview: Boston College at Duke
While Zion Williamson is making a mockery of the ACC with his offensive play during conference action, Tre Jones is also showing he has few peers on the defensive end. Behind the contributions of two of the country’s best rookies, No. 2 Duke sets its sights on a sixth straight victory Tuesday in its final tune-up before the most challenging part of its schedule when it hosts Boston College.
Williamson is averaging a league-best 25.1 points while shooting 71.8 percent from the field during ACC play, dipping below 25 points only once over the last six contests while converting at least 60 percent of his field-goal attempts in every game. He scored 29 points on 13-of-17 shooting, added six rebounds and five steals in Saturday’s 91-61 rout of St. John’s, but Jones was not to be outdone. He had 13 points, a career-high seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals while holding Shamorie Ponds – the Big East’s third-leading scorer – to nearly 10 points below his season average. “If (Jones is) doing his job, then they’re going to shoot under 40 percent. … He’s as good as anybody in the country on defense,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. Jones’ next challenge will be to lock up the ACC’s third-leading scorer in 6-1 junior guard Ky Bowman (20.8 points), who exploded for 30 points, 10 boards and nine assists in an upset of the Blue Devils last season.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPNews
ABOUT BOSTON COLLEGE (11-9, 2-6 ACC): Bowman, who also paces the Eagles with 3.5 assists and ranks second with 7.8 rebounds, has reached double figures in an ACC-best 29 consecutive games and posted his seventh double-double of the season after finishing with 25 points and 10 boards in Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame. Freshman Wynston Tabbs (13.9 points) – the team’s second-leading scorer – was spotted with crutches on the bench and missed a third straight game with a left knee injury. The Eagles owned a 15-5 edge on the offensive glass Saturday – turning it into a 17-2 advantage in second-chance points – but they allowed the Fighting Irish to become the third conference opponent to shoot over 50 percent against them.
ABOUT DUKE (19-2, 7-1): Williamson (22.3 points, 9.0 rebounds), who ranks second overall in the ACC in scoring, third in rebounding and third in the country in field-goal percentage (68.7), extended his school freshman record of 25-point games to 10 and is 43-of-54 from the field over the last four contests. RJ Barrett (ACC-best 23.1 points, 7.3 rebounds), who recorded his fourth double-double and third in the last seven games with 15 points and 14 boards versus the Red Storm, needs 15 more points to reach 10th place on the single-season Duke freshman scoring list. Fellow freshman Cam Reddish (13.0 points) tallied 16 points Saturday and is averaging 13.9 points in his last six outings, nearly double the 7.7 points per game he scored over his previous six contests.
1. After BC, four of Duke’s next six opponents are ranked – including three of the next four: No. 3 Virginia, No. 17 Louisville, North Carolina State and No. 8 North Carolina.
2. Bowman has played 403 of a possible 405 minutes over the last 10 games and averages a Division I-high 39 minutes for the season.
3. Jones’ five turnovers Saturday matched the number he has committed during ACC play.
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Preview: Virginia Tech at Virginia
Virginia hasn’t broken much of a sweat while beginning ACC play with three straight wins for the second straight season, using its trademark recipe of precision offense and suffocating defense. The top-ranked Cavaliers figure to get tested in a big way this week, however, as they begin a challenging two-game stretch Tuesday when they host No. 7 Virginia Tech in the 148th edition of the Commonwealth Clash.
The Division I leader in fewest turnovers per game (8.9) and scoring defense (51.2 points), Virginia is coming off decisive road victories over Boston College (83-56) and Clemson (63-43) and have yet to play a game closer than 13 points during league action. The Cavaliers return home in hopes of avenging their only regular-season conference loss from a season ago – a 61-60 overtime defeat to the Hokies on Feb. 10 – before traveling to No. 2 Duke this weekend. Virginia Tech matched its best start to a season since 1982-83 with Wednesday’s 52-49 road victory over Georgia Tech, as the nation’s second-best 3-point shooting team entering the contest survived an 18.5-percent effort beyond the arc to earn its ninth straight win. “As demented as it sounds, I think what transpired tonight was very good for us. We were in a similar position 43 days ago (in a 63-62 loss) at Penn State and didn’t handle it as well. I thought our guys hung in there even though it wasn’t as pretty as we want it to be offensively,” coach Buzz Williams told reporters.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Raycom Sports
ABOUT VIRGINIA TECH (14-1, 3-0 ACC): The Hokies are one of only six Division I teams with four players averaging 12 points, including leading scorer Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.2 steals), who was named to the midseason Top 25 watch list for the Wooden Award prior to Wednesday’s game. Kerry Blackshear Jr. (14.1 points, 6.2 boards) posted his second double-double of the season and is averaging 18.3 points and eight rebounds during conference play. Justin Robinson (13.1 points) ranks second in the ACC in assists (5.8) and needs only 18 more to tie Bimbo Coles (547) for the most in school history, while Ahmed Hill (12.7 points) is one of five Hokies shooting at least 42 percent from 3-point range.
ABOUT VIRGINIA (15-0, 3-0): Kyle Guy (team-high 15.3 points) struggled offensively against Clemson (5-for-15 from the field, including 3-for-9 beyond the arc) but it didn’t keep his coach from paying his 46-percent 3-point shooter a nice compliment. “Dell Curry was one of the best I saw when I played with him (in the NBA). Sometimes he wasn’t even square, but he could just get that shoulder or that wrist pointed at the rim. Didn’t really matter what else was there. … I think Kyle has that ability,” coach Tony Bennett told the Daily Press. Jay Huff – a 7-1 sophomore who averages 4.8 points and 2.6 rebounds – made his impact felt for the second time in four games Saturday, finishing with 11 points, seven rebounds and a block in only 10 minutes of action.
1. Tuesday will mark the first time that both teams enter the Commonwealth Clash ranked inside the top 10.
2. Virginia has held seven opponents below 50 points, while Virginia Tech has done so five times.
3. The Hokies’ win in Charlottesville last season is the Cavaliers’ only home loss in the last 26 games.
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Preview: Clemson vs. Pittsburgh
Not many ACC teams can claim wins over Clemson in recent years, but Pittsburgh is one of them. The Panthers will try to play spoiler once again when they face the No. 2 Tigers on Saturday in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, N.C.
The Panthers handed Clemson a 43-42 home loss in the most recent meeting in 2016 – the Tigers’ only loss en route to the national championship. Another loss to Pittsburgh would cost the Tigers their fourth consecutive ACC title, and it might deny them a chance to play for another national crown. Clemson has hardly been challenged lately, winning its past seven games by at least 20 points, though the vaunted defense had its most worrisome performance of the season in last week’s 56-35 victory over rival South Carolina. Pittsburgh had its four-game winning streak snapped with a 24-3 loss at Miami last week as the offense inexplicably fell flat after totaling 86 points in the previous two contests.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: Clemson -27.5
ABOUT CLEMSON (12-0, 8-0 ACC): The Tigers have been dominant on both sides of the ball as they rank third in the nation in total offense and seventh in defense. Clemson boasts one of the most prolific – and most balanced – offenses in the nation with freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence (2,488 yards, 22 touchdowns, four interceptions) and running back Travis Etienne (1,307 yards, 19 TDs) leading the way. The defense has been especially tough against the run, allowing more than 117 rushing yards once and holding seven opponents to 90 yards or fewer on the ground.
ABOUT PITTSBURGH (7-5, 6-2): The Panthers averaged 40.8 points during their four-game run to clinch the ACC Coastal Division title, but managed only 200 total yards and did not find the end zone last week. To have a chance Saturday, they’ll need a big rebound from running backs Qadree Ollison (1,134 yards, 10 TDs) and Darrin Hall (935 yards, nine TDs), and quarterback Kenny Pickett (1,825 yards, 12 TDs, 5 interceptions) can’t make many back-breaking mistakes. They’ll likely need to put up some points, because a defense that allows 399.9 yards and 27.8 points per game will have a tough time shutting down the Tigers.
1. Clemson has won eight consecutive games in December dating to a loss to Virginia Tech in the 2011 ACC Championship.
2. The Tigers have scored at least 27 points in a school-record 12 straight contests.
3. Pitt has won its last four games against top-three teams when unranked, including the 2016 victory over No. 2 Clemson and a 24-14 win over No. 2 Miami to close the 2017 regular season.
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North Carolina at Clemson
North Carolina hopes to continue its dominance over Clemson when the 20th-ranked Tigers host the No. 17 Tar Heels on Tuesday. The Tar Heels have won 10 straight against the Tigers dating to 2010, including an 87-79 home victory on Jan. 16.
Clemson is 11-0 at home but North Carolina has won in its last four trips to Littlejohn Coliseum. The Tigers have split their last six games and are coming off a 72-70 win at Georgia Tech on Sunday. North Carolina is trying to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2014. The Tar Heels followed last Monday’s 80-69 loss at Virginia Tech with a 95-91 overtime loss to North Carolina State on Saturday.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (16-6, 5-4 ACC): The Tar Heels aren’t the most efficient team at the offensive end, but they can push the pace and have several proven scorers with forward Luke Maye (18.6 points, 10.5 rebounds) and guard Joel Berry II (17 points) leading the way. Forward Kenny Williams (11.2 points) has struggled to get involved on offense recently, scoring in double figures in only one of the past five games. The Tar Heels have struggled a bit at the defensive end, especially on the perimeter – allowing 10.2 3-pointers per game, which is on pace for the most in program history.
ABOUT CLEMSON (17-4, 6-3): The Tigers have taken on a different dynamic since losing forward Donte Grantham (14.2 points, 6.9 rebounds) for the season, taking on a more guard-oriented approach built around Marcquise Reed (15.4 points), Gabe DeVoe (12.3 points) and Shelton Mitchell (12 points, 4.1 assists). DeVoe scored a career-high 25 points against Georgia Tech, and Reed dished out 11 assists and had three steals. The Tigers still have a strong big man in Elijah Thomas (10.5 points, 7.4 rebounds), but he was limited to 19 minutes before fouling out against the Yellow Jackets and could be in for more of the same without Grantham to help in the post.
1. North Carolina has won 16 of 18 meetings when both teams are ranked in the Top 25.
2. Clemson is 5-1 in games decided by five points or fewer or in overtime.
3. The Tar Heels lead the nation in rebounds per game (43.4) and are second in rebound margin (11.7).
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UNC versus Pitt Preview
Pittsburgh may have finally found a replacement for All-American running back James Conner. After a bye week, Darrin Hall seeks a third straight 100-yard effort on Thursday night when the surging Panthers host struggling North Carolina. UNC versus Pitt will be broadcast at 7:30pm on ESPN. Play this game as part of Thursday GoW cross sports contest starting at 7:30pm ET.
Conner ran for 3,733 yards and a 5.6 yards-per-carry average during his four-year career with the Panthers, including a 1,765-yard, 26-touchdown campaign in 2014. Hall, a junior who had carried the ball only 131 times in 2 1/2 years, broke out for 254 yards in Pitt’s 24-17 victory at Duke on October 21 and followed that up with 111 yards on 25 carries in a 31-14 victory against Virginia on October 28. The Panthers improved to 4-5 with the wins and now have a chance of earning a 10th straight trip to a bowl game. North Carolina has lost six straight games, but the Tar Heels have won the last four games in the series, and since 2013 are the only team the Panthers have not defeated in the Coastal division.
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (1-8, 0-6 ACC)
In their last contest on October 28, the Tar Heels outgained Miami 428-415 and had 27 first downs, 11 more than Miami, before succumbing 24-19. Nathan Elliott replaced injured starter Chazz Surratt in the first half, completed 16-of-39 passes for 173 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, ran for 79 yards and caught a 33-yard pass. Wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams completed 2-of-3 passes for 51 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 25 yards.
ABOUT PITTSBURGH (4-5, 2-3 ACC)
Complementing Hall’s breakout is an improved defense that has yielded just 31 points in the last two games after allowing an average of 37.8 points during a five-game losing streak to Power-5 schools. Quadree Henderson, who was an All-American kick returner last season, returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown against the Cavaliers – his seventh career kick return TD, two shy of the FBS record, and eight combined kick returns for scores, one short of the record. Quarterback Ben DiNucci has completed 55 percent of his passes for 895 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions.
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Clemson vs Virginia Tech
Defending national champion Clemson has passed a few early tests already but will face their biggest one yet on Saturday (8 p.m. on ABC). The second-ranked Tigers put their school-record 11-game road winning streak on the line when they visit No. 12 Virginia Tech in an ACC showdown between unbeaten teams. Enter this Game of the Week contest right here.
Clemson already has beaten two ranked opponents, holding off Auburn in a defensive struggle and routing Louisville on the road, and pulled away in the fourth quarter of a 34-7 win over Boston College last week. The Hokies survived a tough test in a 31-24 win over West Virginia to open the season but have coasted past inferior competition over the last three weeks.
ABOUT CLEMSON (4-0, 2-0 ACC)
The Tigers boast one of the nation’s best defenses, ranking third nationally in total defense (227 yards per game) and scoring defense (9.2 points) despite a challenging early schedule. The offense has been remarkably consistent as well, considering all Clemson lost at the skill positions. Quarterback Kelly Bryant has been terrific, passing for 873 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions while rushing for 268 yards and seven scores, and freshman running back Travis Etienne (292 yards, four TDs) averages 12.7 yards per carry.
ABOUT VIRGINIA TECH (4-0, 0-0 ACC)
The Hokies have long been regarded for their stellar defense and special-teams work, but they’re putting up huge offensive numbers so far this season. Redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson has been superb, completing 65.2 percent of his passes for 1,127 yards with 11 touchdowns and one interception, albeit against weak competition. Jackson has a tremendous weapon in receiver Cam Phillips, who has recorded 34 receptions for 523 yards and five touchdowns through four contests.
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NCAA Football 2017 Season
ACC Atlantic Division Preview
The ACC Atlantic division stuffed the trophy case last season. Clemson defeated Alabama for the national title, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy, Florida State defeated Michigan in the Orange Bowl, and six out of the seven teams finished with a winning record. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks.
After climbing as high as third nationally in mid-September and ranking fifth in the College Football Playoff poll after Week 12, the Cardinals wobbled down the stretch. Too many sacks and fumbles. Too many missed tackles and blown assignments.
The defensive issues have been assigned to Peter Sirmon, who has only one season of experience as a coordinator. Associate coach Mike Summers built solid offensive lines for head coach Bobby Petrino at Arkansas and during his first run at Louisville. Petrino has drilled his team over the 22 fumbles lost last season. Odds are the Cards are looking at another third-place Atlantic Division finish behind Florida State and Clemson.
Clemson reached college football’s pinnacle with its win over Alabama, but staying there won’t be easy. Over the last 25 years, only two teams (Alabama and Nebraska) have repeated as consensus national champions.
The Tigers must overcome significant offensive skill position losses as well as the graduation of linebacker Ben Boulware, the emotional leader of the defense. The schedule sets up well, with Auburn and Florida State at home, but given the offensive uncertainty, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a very slight step back this fall.
Florida St. Seminoles
Despite a somewhat disappointing 10–3 campaign in 2016, the Seminoles again will begin the season with sky-high aspirations. They bring back nearly everyone from a defense that ranked in the top 25 nationally, as well as a talented quarterback in Deondre Francois and some dynamic skill players.
If the offensive line can jell in time for a season-opening clash with Alabama in Atlanta, the Seminoles could be a legitimate national championship contender. A loss there wouldn’t knock them out of the race, but the remaining schedule is daunting with road trips to Clemson and Florida in a span of 14 days in November.
NC State Wolfpack
Head coach Dave Doeren hopes that experience translates into a breakthrough after a season of “almosts” in 2016. NC State almost beat national champion Clemson. NC State almost beat perennial power Florida State. Including those two heartbreakers, four of the Wolfpack’s six losses were by seven points or fewer.
The Wolfpack return 22 seniors, half of whom start, from a team that finished the 2016 season with a flourish. There is a sense among Wolfpack fans that this could be Doeren’s best team, but it also could be his last chance, if things don’t go right.
With so many of the same parts back from last year, led by DE Bradley Chubb and slot receive Jaylen Samuels, the Wolfpack have a chance break out of the seven- and eight-win rut and be a legitimate factor in the ACC.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
The Deacons had only seven seniors play more than 100 plays last year, and every player who scored is back. Still, this team is young, with only nine scholarship seniors. Head coach Clawson faces a much more difficult schedule, has four new assistants and questions about depth everywhere. Wake Forest has little margin for error, and injuries could wreak havoc. The Deacons are 6–24 in November over eight seasons, and they could need two late wins to go bowling. Clawson could field a better team but end up worse off in the standings.
Boston College Eagles
Coach Steve Addazio was squarely on the hot seat after his team dropped to 4–6 last year and suffered back-to-back losses to Louisville and Florida State by a combined 97–14 margin. But the Eagles earned wins over Wake Forest, UConn and Maryland, and Addazio had his third bowl trip in four seasons, a feat that is well within reach this season as well.
New athletic director Martin Jarmond will certainly give his own assessment of the state of the program, but right now Addazio seems to have the Eagles in that second tier of the Atlantic Division.
Is that BC’s ceiling under Addazio? It could be. As experienced as the Eagles are this season, don’t expect them to break that barrier just yet.
Head coach Dino Babers hopes to replicate the second-season growth he experienced with Eastern Illinois (five more wins) and Bowling Green (two) at Syracuse in 2017. But after achieving a 4–8 mark in Year 1, he faces one of the toughest schedules in the nation. In addition to games with Atlantic Division foes Florida State, Clemson and Louisville, SU travels to Miami and LSU. The plan is for Babers’ offense to reach peak performance around Weeks 4-6. The team will need to maintain that production while making significant strides on defense if it wants to make its first bowl game since 2013.
NCAA Football 2017 Season
ACC Coastal Division Preview
Miami won the coastal division last year and there is little doubt that they won’t repeat that success this year. Virginia Tech are their closest competition for top spot. Georgia Tech and Pitt are the dark horses of this division. Anything can happen this year in the division. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks.
If Miami finds a quarterback and the secondary settles down, this could be a special year. The Hurricanes have a favorable schedule that includes a tough test early — Florida State in Week 3 — and home/road balance the rest of the way. With the rest of the ACC Coastal rebuilding, the Hurricanes should be able to compete for the division title with an outstanding defense and an offense that does just enough. If QB N’Kosi Perry arrives early — some inside the program compare him to Deshaun Watson or Lamar Jackson — expectations in South Florida will skyrocket.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Coach Justin Fuente had plenty of success after succeeding the legendary Frank Beamer as Virginia Tech’s coach, returning the school to its 10-win standard, claiming the Coastal Division title for the first time since 2011 and giving Clemson all it could handle in the ACC title game. Now comes the harder part: restoring the Hokies to their former mantle as ACC champions. The offensive exodus will challenge this team, particularly early, but Hokies fans hope a full year in the new system, several key returning pieces and Fuente’s offensive acumen can offset some of the loss of talent. It helps to have associate coach Bud Foster’s always-trusty defense. In a Coastal Division that doesn’t figure to have a clear-cut frontrunner, there are plenty of reasons to believe Virginia Tech has as good a chance as anybody.
Pitt made headlines by defeating national champion Clemson and Big Ten champ Penn State last season. The question is: What can it do for an encore?
Despite the loss of 12 starters, and a schedule that features back-to-back games with Penn State and Oklahoma State, head coach Pat Narduzzi believes the wins will keep coming. Based on his first two seasons and a couple of strong recruiting classes, there is reason to believe Narduzzi can produce another solid year for the Panthers.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Hopes were high a year ago, but the Tar Heels fell short in their quest to reach the ACC Championship Game for the second year in a row. While the Coastal Division race remains as unpredictable as ever, UNC probably has too much uncertainty to be considered a legitimate threat. Are there enough playmakers on offense? Can the graduate transfers provide a big lift immediately? Can the defense become an asset instead of a liability? And is it possible that the team hold its own on special teams? The Tar Heels have enough talent to earn a fifth consecutive postseason berth, but doing so probably won’t be easy.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Something clicked midway through 2016. The Yellow Jackets finished strong, posting a 9–4 season including a win at Georgia that should give them momentum in a division in which the top programs are all losing multiple key players. With eight returning defensive starters and nine on offense, there are some proven, experienced ingredients. But replacing Justin Thomas, a highly productive three-year starter at quarterback, may not be that simple. And on defense, the front six has some intriguing young players but no clear-cut difference makers or vocal leaders. How Georgia Tech fills those personnel holes will likely determine whether it wins the Coastal for a fifth time in head coach Paul Johnson’s decade on the flats or has to sweat reaching bowl eligibility.
With a track record of success at BYU, a reputation for instilling order and accountability, and methods and metrics straight out of a business management text, head coach Bronco Mendenhall seemed to have an answer for every contingency when he arrived at Virginia, playfully warning fans not to make travel plans during bowl season.
Reality hit home when the season started, however, and by the end of a 2–10 campaign, Mendenhall admitted he’d underestimated the scope of the rebuilding project. Expectations have been re-calibrated, with Mendenhall cautioning that a turnaround could take a while. After laying the cultural foundation last season, he’s turning his attention to improving the execution that was so woefully lacking.
With a tighter on-field operation and a fair amount of talent returning, Virginia could be better, but fans likely won’t need to alter their bowl season travel plans just yet.
Duke Blue Devils
For an example of how far Duke football has come, one needs look no further than last season. In the decade since he arrived in Durham, head coach David Cutcliffe turned what had been a football wasteland into a program that reached four straight bowl games, briefly cracked the top 25 and made great strides in recruiting, facilities and visibility. So when the 2016 squad stumbled through a season defined by injuries, bad breaks and head-scratching losses, oddly enough, it felt out of character.
This season, the Blue Devils should have a chance to get back to a more familiar Cutcliffe-era script. Quarterback Daniel Jones should give the offense a dynamic leader and, if the defense can find answers, the Blue Devils have every reason to believe they can make strides and compete for a bowl bid in a Coastal Division that lacks a clear hierarchy.
Virginia Tech Hokies
ACC (22-10, 12-2)
by Joel Welser
Coach Buzz Williams has quickly built Virginia Tech into a program that can compete in the tough ACC. Last season in his second year with the team, Coach Williams led Virginia Tech to the NIT. This year they have taken the next step and reached their first NCAA Tournament since 2007.
Big Wins: 12/31 Duke (89-75), 2/12 Virginia (80-78), 2/27 Miami FL (66-61)
Bad Losses: 11/25 vs Texas A&M (65-68), 1/4 at N.C. State (78-104), 1/14 Notre Dame (71-76)
Coach: Buzz Williams
Why They Can Surprise:
The Hokies are a very good shooting team. The team as a whole shoots 49.2 percent from the floor and 40.5 percent from beyond the arc, which are both tops in the ACC. Seth Allen, Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs all shoot over 37 percent from three-point territory. Allen is a good all-around scorer too and he needed to boost his outside shooting this season to become even more dangerous and he has done just that. Justin Robinson has boosted his scoring from last season. His outside shooting has been inconsistent, especially compared to the impressive shooting of his teammates, but Robinson can get to the basket and finish or find one of his teammates.
Why They Can Disappoint:
The Hokies responded relatively well when Chris Clarke was lost for the year with an injury in the middle of February, but his loss raises a lot of concerns for this team. Clarke is a 6-6 wing, but he was great on the glass and averaged 7.3 rebounds per game. The rest of the backcourt has not been able to pick up the slack in that department. Zach LeDay is the team’s leading scorer and a strong rebounder, but he does not get much help.
The other issue is the complete lack of depth on this team. Coach Williams only has seven players left at his disposal. Freshman forward Khadim Sy will usually start over LeDay, but only plays a handful of minutes when LeDay needs a break. That leaves the five players on the perimeter to cover the other four spots and without Clarke and his rebounding ability, this is a small team. Ty Outlaw is a 6-6 wing too and he has been asked to fill most of Clarke’s minutes. While Outlaw can score some points, he is not the same when it comes to rebounding and defending against the bigger and tougher opponents that he has had to face in ACC play.
Justin Robinson, Sophomore, Guard, 10.3 ppg, 4.8 apg
Justin Bibbs, Junior, Guard, 9.2 ppg, 1.6 apg
Ahmed Hill, Sophomore, Guard, 11.6 ppg, 1.2 apg
Ty Outlaw, Junior, Guard, 6.0 ppg
Khadim Sy, Freshman, Forward, 4.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg
Key Role Players:
Zach LeDay, Senior, Forward, 16.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg. 1.0 bpg
Seth Allen, Senior, Guard, 13.4 ppg, 3.3 apg
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 79.0 (54th in nation, 5th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 73.9 (223, 11)
Field-Goal Percentage: 49.2 (10, 1)
Field-Goal Defense: 44.5 (215, 10)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 8.8 (57, 3)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 40.5 (10, 1)
Free-Throw Percentage: 73.0 (88, 6)
Rebound Margin: -1.9 (265, 15)
Assists Per Game: 15.1 (72, 6)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.2 (86, 10)
Recent Postseason Appearances:
2016 NIT First Round win over Princeton
2016 NIT Second Round loss to BYU
2011 NIT First Round win over Bethune-Cookman
2011 NIT Second Round loss to Wichita State
2010 NIT First Round win over Quinnipiac
2010 NIT Second Round win over Connecticut
2010 NIT Quarterfinal loss to Rhode Island
2009 NIT First Round win over Duquesne
2009 NIT Second Round loss to Baylor
2008 NIT First Round win over Morgan State
2008 NIT Second Round win over UAB
2008 NIT Quarterfinal loss to Mississippi
2007 NCAA Round of 64 win over Illinois
2007 NCAA Round of 32 loss to Southern Illinois
*all team stats through 3/5
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