ACC play predictions: First 4 games

Redshirt senior guard Sheldon McClellan goes up for a dunk in the first half of Saturday's game against Wake Forest at the BankUnited Center. The Canes won 77-63 and face Duke Monday evening. Matthew Trabold // Contributing Photographer

Dec. 31 – NC State vs. Miami

The Hurricanes’ ACC schedule starts off against a heavily improved Wolfpack team. NC State lost its leading scorer Cat Barber to the NBA, but it welcomes in point guard Dennis Smith and Turkish big-man Omer Yurtseven, both potential lottery picks come July. UM will look to counter with senior guard Davon Reed, who will be part of the effort to fill the scoring void left by departed seniors Ángel Rodríguez and Sheldon McClellan. However, NC State is a team with players who can score in a variety of ways. This will prove to be a problem for Miami’s young defense, and the Wolfpack will have an easier time putting up points.

Prediction: NC State 67 – Miami 57

Jan. 4 – Miami @ Syracuse

Coach Jim Boeheim’s unit lost some major talent in the backcourt, but Syracuse does bring in a top-25 recruit and return all of its frontcourt rotation. Miami’s own top-25 recruit, freshman forward Dewan Huell, will have a chance to show how he responds to playing against an experienced group of bruisers. Centers Ebuka Izundu and Rodney Miller will have to step up and clean the glass against an Orange team that makes an impact on the offensive boards. Syracuse is known for its suffocating 2-3 zone, but the departures in the backcourt of Malachi Richardson and Michael Gbinije make the perimeter defense slightly less potent. The best way to beat a zone is to hit three pointers, and the Canes have the shooters to knock down the deep ball in Reed (38 percent from three last season), sophomore guard Anthony Lawrence (43 percent), junior guard Ja’Quan Newton (35 percent), top-30 recruit Bruce Brown and Australian freshman guard Dejan Vasiljevic. Look for Miami to come out on top in a high-scoring game.

Prediction: Miami 75 – Syracuse 70

Jan. 12 – Notre Dame vs. Miami

After back-to-back trips to the Elite Eight, Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish may finally see some regression. Without clear replacements for explosive guard Demetrius Jackson (NBA) and double-double machine Zach Auguste (graduated), Notre Dame will struggle to compete with the powerhouses of the conference this season. Junior Steve Vasturia, senior V.J. Beachem and junior Bonzie Colson will put up good numbers in Brey’s scheme, but this is a team in transition. Look for the Hurricanes to take full advantage of a Fighting Irish team that already struggled to defend the three (ranked No. 297 in Division I) and pour it on in a comfortable home win.

Prediction: Miami 86 – Notre Dame 72

Jan. 14 – Miami @ Pittsburgh

Miami starts a three-game road swing with a trip to the Steel City. Pittsburgh will have a new Coach in Kevin Stallings, and he will have his work cut out for him with a backcourt that could struggle to spread the floor. The Panthers are much stronger on the wing and have a talented group of returning players that form a deep unit of perimeter options. With their athleticism, defending the three-ball should be a strength for this team. This is a contest where the Hurricanes may not be able to rely on the three-point shot to score, so Izundu, senior forward Kamari Murphy and Huell will need to dominate the paint against a team that’s weak inside. They will. Miami wins big.

Prediction: Miami 64 – Pitt 50