ACC Basketball Preview And Prediction: Orange Among Teams Desperate For Wins

The Atlantic Coast Conference is projected to get 10 teams into the NCAA Tournament by some experts, but in order for that to happen several teams will need to start picking up a few more wins.

As it stands now, six ACC teams are locks to the tournament. These teams include No. 8 UNC, No. 7 Louisville, No. 10 Duke, No. 19 Florida State, No. 21 Notre Dame and Miami are locks to get in.

No. 18 Virginia (18-9) has struggled recently, losing four straight, but should be in good shape. Virginia Tech (19-8) also is a virtual lock.

Syracuse (16-12), Georgia Tech (16-12), and Wake Forest (15-12) have some work to do. Joe Lunardi of ESPN has the Orange in as a 12th seed. Lunardi has the Yellow Jackets as one of his last four in. And the Demon Deacons as one of his first four out.

With two weeks remaining in regular season play, the teams on the proverbial bubble need to start winning games. And it starts on Wednesday night.

Syracuse (8-7 ACC) has the toughest schedule of the three teams remaining. SU hosts Duke at home and then travels to Louisville (Sunday). The Orange then close the season at the Carrier Dome against Yellow Jackets on March 4. They are coming off a difficult road loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday.

Georgia Tech is 10th in the conference with a 7-9 record. The Yellow Jackets, who fell to N.C. State on Tuesday by two, travel to Notre Dame on Sunday. The Jackets host Pittsburgh next Monday before closing the season against the Orange.

Wake Forest is 6-9 in league play and will need to defeat Pitt on Wednesday to stay in the NCAA Tournament conversation. After hosting the Panthers (4-10), Louisville visits Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum on March 1. The Deacons close the campaign at Virginia Tech on March 4.

There are three ACC games on February 23.

Duke (22-5, 10-4) at Syracuse (16-12, 8-7) Time: 7:00 p.m. ET. TV: ESPN

This matchup marks the first time in NCAA Division I history that two coaches with 1,000 career wins face each per ESPN. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has the most wins at 1,065 while Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim is second with 1,001 — which includes the 101 victories vacated by the NCAA.

Duke appears to be coming together after a rough start to ACC play. The Blue Devils have won seven straight and are a game behind conference leaders UNC in the standings.

Duke has defeated three ranked teams during this win streak, including two on the road where they are 3-3 on the season. The Blue Devils have had to fight for each win during the streak as none have been by double-figures, and the average margin is 6.4. Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen, and Jayson Tatum have carried the team during the stretch. Allen has struggled the last three games tallying 24 points, on 7-of-28 shooting (25 percent).

Syracuse is in a three-way tie for seventh in the conference. The Orange have lost three straight as they have struggled on the defensive end. SU is ninth in the conference in scoring defense, giving up 75.5 points a game, and is ninth in scoring defense (0.1). They have surrendered at least 70 points in 11 of their 14 ACC games, and are 6-10 overall when surrendering over 70 points.

Andrew White and Tyler Lydon are key for the Orange. Both players have played every minute of each of the last eight games. White, the leading scorer in conference play (20.5), has scored 20 or more points in seven of those game though Lydon has been more inconsistent.

Duke leads the all-time series 5-4, which includes going 3-2 since 2013-14. The Orange are 14-3 at the Carrier Dome this season and 2-4 against ranked teams.

Prediction: Duke 79, Syracuse 70.

Louisville (22-5, 10-4) at North Carolina (23-5, 11-3), 9:00 p.m. ET TV: ESPN

This game will go a long way in determining the seeding for the upcoming conference tournament. North Carolina currently holds a one game lead over Louisville and Duke in the conference standings.

UNC has won two straight and is 4-1 in the last five. The Tar Heels are a dangerous team that ranks among the highest scoring teams in the nation and can tighten up defensively when needed. The Tar Heels can score inside with Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks as well as outside with Joel Berry II along with Justin Jackson. Junior forward Theo Pinson may be the key, as the Tar Heels are 8-1 in games he has played.

Carolina has won at least 11 conference games for the 33rd time, including the 12th time in 14 seasons under head coach Roy Williams. The Tar Heels have eight wins over the NCAA top-50 wins. Sophomore Kenny Williams is likely out for the remainder of the season after undergoing right knee surgery.

Louisville has won three in a row and six of eight. The Cardinals have the highest scoring margin in conference play this season (+10.1), thanks in large part to owning the second-best defense in the league. The Cards rank second in the ACC in scoring defense, second in field goal percentage defense and second in three-point field goal defense percentage.

Donovan Mitchell, who is the team’s leading scorer, has been terrific over the last 14 games. He has averaged 19.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2.2 steals and has made 42-of-97 three-pointers (.433). Mitchell leads the ACC and is 17th in the nation in steals (2.1 per game). Quentin Snider and Deng Adel also is averaging double-figures for the season. Anas Mahmoud is second in the conference with 2.12 blocks.

North Carolina leads the all-time series 11-5, though the series is tied 2-2 since Louisville entered the ACC. The Tar Heels are 2-0 against the Cardinals in Chapel Hill.

Louisville is 4-5 against ranked teams this season. The Cards are also 5-3 on the road.

Prediction: UNC 73, Louisville 68

Pittsburgh (15-12, 4-10) at Wake Forest (15-12, 6-9)

This game features two teams going in opposite directions. Wake Forest has lost three of four while Pitt has won three of four. There is a lot on the line for both teams, including conference tournament seeding. The winner will also enhance its chances of earning an NCAA Tournament bid.

Wake Forest is one of the worst defensive teams in the league as well as the country, ranking 292nd in scoring defense. The Demon Deacons have given up 80 or more points in nine of 10 games, which includes surrendering at least 90 in the last two games. On the bright side, the Deacons have a positive scoring margin in conference play due to a dynamic offense.

Wake is led by 6-foot-10 sophomore John Collins, who is one of the best players in the conference. Collins was named the ACC Player of the Week on Monday for his work over the last two games where he averaged 30 points and posted two double-doubles. He is nearly producing a double-double (18.9 points, 9.6 rebounds) while leading the league in shooting percentage (62.1) and ranking third in blocks (1.7). Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods are also averaging double-figures, with 15.7 and 12.9 points, respectively.

Pitt is playing its best basketball since starting the year 11-2. A big reason for the improvement is that the Panthers have put an emphasis on the defensive end. And they have gotten contributions from others besides their Big three — Michael Young, Jamel Artis, and Cameron Johnson.

Pitt, which is allowing over 76 points per game, has held their last five opponents under that total.

Seniors Sheldon Jeter, who poured in a career-high 29 points in the Panthers upset of Florida State on Saturday, and Chris Jones have stepped up their play. Still, the Panthers are led by the big three — who account for about 68 percent of the team’s scoring. Young leads the conference with 20.2 points a game and Artis is third with 19.5.

[Image by Rich Schultz/ Getty Images]

Prediction: Wake Forest 76, Pitt 70.

[Featured Image by Nick Lisi/AP Images]