ACC Capsules: UNC back on track

North Carolina finally had some time to feel good about itself this past

week. The Tar Heels ended a rare two-game ACC losing skid with a

hard-fought win at Florida State that had the trimmings of a team that

potentially learned from its previous problems.

The Tar Heels

dominated the glass, out-rebounding the usually physical Seminoles

41-19. In fact, UNC grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, matching FSU’s game

total. Also, sophomore wing P.J. Hairston came off the bench to score a

career-high 23 points, which included him converting 4-of-9 3-pointers.

If he’s found his stroke, UNC’s offense will be much better moving

forward. 

Coach Roy Williams may have unleashed a missing link

down low by finally giving sophomore Jackson Simmons extended minutes.

Simmons scored eight points and had four rebounds – all on the offensive

glass – in 15 minutes of action. Perhaps as important as the numbers is

that Simmons set screens, was in the proper place on offense at all

times, ran the floor hard and defended well. 

“He gives you 100

percent effort,” Williams said after Saturday’s game. “And what was his

first big-time play? He dove on the dadgum floor. He dove on the floor

and I think we made a 2 from the far side. … And then he runs a play

we’ve been working on, (and) every time we’ve run it we’ve screwed it

up. He ran the play correctly and we got a backdoor layup.

“And

then he goes out and sets a screen on the ball and sets it solidly He

had three big plays and so I knew I was going to give him some chances

in the second half as well.”

Simmons helped give the team a

gritty edge it needs to beat Maryland on Saturday at the Dean Smith

Center. A win over the Terrapins, especially one aided by a tough,

physical effort, would be further evidence that UNC is transitioning

into the kind of team it wasn’t in earlier losses to Butler, Indiana,

Texas and Virginia. The Heels even wilted late in a home loss to Miami

less than two weeks ago. 

Maryland’s depth, athletic ability and

that it has physical players and 7-foot center Alex Len present a

significant challenge to the Tar Heels. But it’s also an opportunity to

get a firm hand on the layering process of becoming an NCAA Tournament

team capable of making noise. 

Pick: UNC, 70-65

Wake Forest (9-7, 2-2) at Virginia Tech (10-6, 1-2)

When: 2 p.m.
Full Court Press:

The Demon Deacons are coming off a tough trip to Clemson that revealed

issues scoring the ball and a lack of toughness necessary to win on the

road in the ACC. The Hokies have been off for a week, and in their last

game won at Georgia Tech in overtime. On paper, Virginia Tech is a bit

better than Wake Forest, especially with the nation’s leading scorer,

Erick Green, who is averaging 24.8 points per game. But the Hokies need

production from other players to notch a second league win. Rebounding

and turnovers could be the difference.
Pick: Virginia Tech, 77-70

Florida State (10-6, 2-1) at Virginia (11-5, 1-2)

When: 4 p.m.
Full Court Press:

This is a crucial game for the Cavaliers. They dropped contests at Wake

Forest and Clemson after beating UNC at home, but have had a week to

get ready for a Florida State team that has scoring issues at times.

Virginia is usually excellent defensively, and is almost always so at

home. The home crowd should recognize the importance of this game and be

a factor. Still, Virginia needs very good guard play and to pound the

boards against a Seminoles team that was out-rebounded by the Tar Heels

41-19 last week. FSU must shoot well and hold down the turnovers.
Pick: Virginia, 64-59

Jan. 20

Clemson (10-6, 2-2) at N.C. State (14-3 3-1)

When: 6 p.m.
Full Court Press:

Clemson will be physical with the Wolfpack, including in the backcourt,

and overall take a cue from Maryland in its win Wednesday over Mark

Gottfried’s team. N.C. State wants to play fluidly, and the way to

loosen up the Tigers is to run and hits some perimeter shots. N.C. State

also has an advantage inside with C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell. The

Wolfpack needs to make a healthy statement in this game. Tinkering

around with Clemson won’t do this club any good. It needs a healthy

victory by a wide margin.
Pick: N.C. State, 74-58

Season record: 131-29