ACC Weekend Preview: February 23

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 22nd, 2019

This weekend in the ACC features a stiff test for each of the three contenders for the ACC championship. Rush the Court ACC writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you set. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, February 23

Everyone Recalls the Last Regular Season Contest Between Louisville and Virginia (USA Today Images)

#1 Virginia (23-2, 11-2) at #19 Louisville (18-9, 9-5). The Cavaliers continue to roll toward a #1 seed, but a concerning trend has developed recently with this team. In Virginia’s last six games, it has logged a turnover rate of 17.0 percent or higher four times — this coming after a run of 14.2 percent or lower throughout ACC play. The Cavaliers, the slowest-paced team in college basketball, cannot afford to waste offensive possessions against good teams. Their margins are thinner in that regard. When Louisville has the ball, Chris Mack’s go-to scorer, Jordan Nwora (17.3 PPG, 28.0% usage), will see a pair of overwhelming defenders in DeAndre Hunter (90.9 DRtg) and Braxton Key (81.8 DRtg). The Cardinals need Nwora to lead the way, because they’ve been a nightmare offensively since their massive blown lead against Duke. In their past two games, Louisville has shot just 30.6 percent from the field and 25.5 percent from long distance. The Virginia defense isn’t usually the cure for offensive ailments.

#17 Florida State (21-5, 9-4) at #5 North Carolina (21-5, 11-2). The game of the weekend in the ACC features two of the hottest teams in college basketball. During Florida State’s current eight-game winning streak, the Seminoles have locked opponents down on the defensive end, holding teams to an icy 38.3 percent shooting from the field. Despite playing just 20 minutes per game and coming off Leonard Hamilton’s bench, Mfiondu Kabengele (31.1 PER, 126.0 ORtg) has asserted himself as one of the most efficient players in the league. He could be a nightmare match-up for a North Carolina team that doesn’t have much depth on its front line. The Tar Heels instead have depth on the wing, and they’re led by Cameron Johnson, who needs to be getting more hype as a potential first-team All-ACC candidate. In ACC contests, Johnson (138.4 ORtg, 28.0 PER) has been a dynamo and remains a steady force around Coby White and Luke Maye in the sport’s seventh-best offense.

#3 Duke (23-3, 11-2) at #38 Syracuse (18-8, 9-4). Could an exploded Nike change the entire landscape of the 2018-19 college basketball season? While losing Zion Williamson for a rivalry game against North Carolina was certainly a blow to Duke on Wednesday night, it appears things could have been much worse, as Williamson only has a Grade 1 knee sprain and is considered ‘day to day’ to return. He will not, however, play on Saturday, which will make Duke short-handed for the second straight time facing the Orange this season. Without Williamson against North Carolina, Mike Krzyzewski’s team put together its worst effective field goal percentage (40.3%) of the season. They’ll have to figure it out against Syracuse’s always-tricky zone, which absolutely locked down Louisville (25.9% from the field) earlier this week. Duke could use a big game from a pair of shooters who have mostly disappeared in ACC play. Alex O’Connell has made just six threes in ACC contests while shooting 31.0 percent from long-range, and Jack White is making just 14.7 percent from three-point land. Against that Syracuse zone, a few made triples from either O’Connell or White could be key to a Duke bounce-back victory.

Mick McDonald (70 Posts)

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