ACC Predictions: UM’s challenging conference schedule continues

Photo by Josh Halper
Sophomore guard Chris Lykes attacks the basket against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge on Nov. 28, 2018.

12 p.m. Jan. 19 – Miami vs. No. 13 North Carolina 

The No. 13-ranked Tar Heels have already picked up three wins over ranked opponents this season, but last weekend the unranked Louisville Cardinals dominated North Carolina 83-62.

The Heels (13-4, 3-1 ACC) got back on track with a win over Notre Dame, sparked by freshman Coby White, who’s averaging 14.4 points along with 3.6 assists per game. Neither of those marks leads the team, but the eye test says it’s White who makes the North Carolina click on offense.

The 6-foot-5 guard turns the ball over nearly three times per contest, but the lack of spacing around White is more to blame than poor decision-making.

The scarcity of shooting represents the Heels’ biggest weakness. Senior Luke Maye is having a frigid season from 3-point range, just shooting 32 percent. Only White, who is shooting 36 percent from distance, and senior Cameron Johnson, who leads the team at 45 percent from beyond the arc, are consistent perimeter threats. Running those two off the line should be a point of emphasis for the Hurricanes.

UNC’s biggest strength, as it has been for years under coach Roy Williams, is rebounding. For all of Maye’s shooting struggles, the 6-foot-8 forward gobbles up 10 boards per game, a hearty chunk of a rebounding effort which ranks third in the nation.

If they want to hand the Tar Heels their first ACC road loss, Miami needs to dare North Carolina’s non-shooters to fire away, while keeping the battle on the glass close.

Prediction: North Carolina 73 – Miami 68

8 p.m. Jan. 24 – Miami @ Syracuse

Syracuse secured what might be the most impressive win in college hoops this season on Monday night, knocking off No. 1 Duke in overtime on the Blue Devils’ home floor. Junior guard Tyus Battle led the charge with 32 points, well above his average of 18 point per game, and has been excellent for coach Jim Boeheim all season.

The tried-and-true Syracuse formula remains the same: throw opposing offenses out of whack with the patented 2-3 zone, grind out the opponent and hope its star guard can sink just enough buckets to win. That formula works even better when that star guard has a stellar sidekick, and junior Elijah Hughes has been just that.

While Battle tends to do most of his damage in the paint, Hughes is a high-volume outside shooter who can scorch the nets. Hughes has been the only reliable option from downtown in Cuse’s first four conference games.

On the other end of the floor, the Orange rank in the top 25 in the country in both scoring defense and field goal percentage defense. They’re happy to settle into their 2-3 zone and let teams jack semi-contested threes, knowing that the inconsistency of college shooters will tilt outcomes in their favor most of the time. The Hurricanes will get plenty of solid looks from three, but hitting enough of them to win, plus holding down the duo of Battle and Hughes, might prove too difficult in the Carrier Dome.

Prediction: Syracuse 75 – Miami 62