The Clemson Tigers ended one of the most historic streaks of college basketball last season by taking off Tar’s heels for the first time in North Carolina at Chapel Hill. UNC is better in 2020-21, but so is Clemson, who is entering his latest ACC foray as a team in the top 20. Our experts reviewed this game and other of the best races over the weekend, while highlighting the current state of the 2021 Wooden Prize race and some of the key, recent deviations from the college hoops.
(Editor’s note: Clemson in North Carolina postponed Friday)
Straight to make predictions about the best games over the weekend
It took 60 games and 93 years to win Clemson at Chapel Hill and it looks like a reasonable chance for the 1
9 ranked Tigers to make two straight on Saturday (19:00 ET, ESPN). How do you think this Tar Heels team will be positioned in March? Give fans a reason to think this might still be the right North Carolina team. (Editor’s note: Clemson, North Carolina is postponed Friday).
Myron Medcalfe, senior basketball writer at the college: I think this team will still play its way in the 8th or 9th seed, but I don’t know that it will progress. These tar heels, which grab a lot of offensive ricochets but can’t do much with these second chance opportunities because they can’t shoot, seem vulnerable to a first-round disorder this crazy year.
With Caleb Love on the floor, they brought in only 92 points per 100 possessions and made turnovers to nearly one-fifth of their possessions, at hooplens.com. If they fail to understand the defender’s place, they will have more problems in the coming months. Relevance? Well, they still have a bunch of former five-star set and top 20 defense. If the offensive’s performance improves, they could win games in March. Perhaps.
Jeff Borzelo, College of Basketball: Entering the season, my biggest concern for Tar Heels was their scoring on the wings and whether they could find consistent shooting around the perimeter. I figured Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot would take most of the load inside, I loved Day’Ron Sharp in high school, and I expected Love to be a pretty elite keeper pretty soon. The last part has not happened yet and this is a huge problem.
Carolina is struggling with revs and trying to make 3 strokes and I’m not sure any of these changes will be soon. However, I don’t think the top of the ACC is very good, so they have to finish in the first six or seven of the league and make the NCAA tournament like 9-10 seeds. This team defended better than Carolina’s previous iterations, the inner group is still elite and I still give hope for love.
John Gasway, a writer at the College of Basketball: This can still be a suitable UNC team, because Tar Heels do two things very well. North Carolina plays defense and breaks the offensive glass. As for the shooting, well, did I mention that North Carolina plays defensively and breaks the insulting glass? These two traits may be enough to finish two or three games over .500 in the ACC game and win, say, number 9 in the tournament. If nothing else, heels can always miss a shot (this happens sometimes) and count on Brooks, Bacot or Sharpe to get it.
Joe Lunardi, ESPN Bractologist: What Tar Heels really needs is Cole Anthony to be a year younger. The previous star from last season would be a very missing piece for this year’s team. In the real world, however, the perimeter of North Carolina has a long way to go to balance its productive front. The size of the UNC is still a significant advantage, but the rest of the team will be seriously outperformed against the best teams in the country. Fortunately, none of the best teams seem to play in the ACC, so the heels have to slip into the tournament. However, they will not wear white and the first four is not excluded.
The 25-player Wooden Award watch list was unveiled on Wednesday night. What would the top 3 of your wooden newsletter look like right now?
Medcalf: Let’s be honest. Luke Garza of Iowa takes all three places, right? I think the field is fighting for second place. If I had told you before the season that Garza, who finished second after Obi Topin in last year’s race, would have returned as a 6-foot-11 big man, shooting 49% of the 3-point line, 66% of the arc and 74 % of the charity strip, all about KenPom’s best offensive team in America, you may not believe me. But it happened. This is his reward.
For number 2 I will choose Corey Kispert by Gonzaga. During the 2013-14 season, Doug McDermott averaged 26.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, while connecting with 45% of his attempts for 3 points. Kispert averaged 21.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG and 2.2 APG for Team No. 1 in America, while making 51% of his 3-point attempt, despite playing next to defender Jalen Suggs, who could be No. 1 in this year’s version of the NBA. Number 3 will be Ayo Dosunmu of Illinois (23.0 PPG).
Gasaway: Garcia, Jared Butler of Baylor and Hunter Dickinson of Michigan. To be clear, Dickinson was not included in the middle of season 25 and will not actually reach within a mile of the wooden prize. He is a freshman who was not overly significant before the season, so he will not be able to make up for that foundation against (worthy!) Like Garza and Butler. But everyone does me a favor and compares the accuracy and use of the young man’s possession of 2 points with what we saw from a famous (rightly!) Famous freshman in Duke two years ago. This is a lighting comparison.
Lunardi: Garza is the obvious number one choice and that probably won’t change. Then I will go with the best players in the two best teams, Drew Tim from Gonzaga and Jared Butler from Baylor. In fact, if pressed, Butler and Ayo Dosunmu will be a tie for third. And how random would it be if Butler had a star named Jared Baylor?
Borzelo: I think Garza is the obvious number one choice right now. He entered the season as a tough favorite to win the wooden prize and did not disappoint. His “bad” games are still 18 and 6, 22 and 9, 16 and 14. These numbers alone may be good enough to attract a player from all over America. I would go with Dosunmu at number 2, although I think there is a big difference between Garza and Dosunmu. Dosunmu scored at least 30 points three times, was very good in situations at the end of the match and drastically improved his external shooting.
I love calling Hunter Dickinson to Gasaway and Jared Butler would be my mid-American team in the middle season, but I will pick Gonzaga players for my number 3. The first few weeks of the season would be Suggs. Then Tim would be the chosen one. At the moment, however, Kispert is playing out of his mind. He has scored at least 25 points in three of his last four games and has shot 75.8% of 2 and 50.8% of 3.
Four players who were on the original Wooden Watch list – Keyontae Johnson (Florida), Caleb Mills (Houston), Chris Smith (UCLA) and Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia) – will not play again this season. Which of their teams can best withstand this absence and make a fuss in March and who is in the biggest trouble?
Borzelo: I’m going with Houston. I think the Cougars are obviously in the AAC class, with or without Mills, and that probably means they have to head to the NCAA tournament in the best form in terms of seeding. Calvin Sampson is also loaded on the perimeter. Quentin Grimes has the season we all expected to come out of high school a few years ago, Marcus Sasser is great, and DeJonne Jarro is the type of all deal. Freshman Tramon Mark also had moments.
In fact, I think all four teams need to survive the absences and make the NCAA tournament, but Florida can be in the biggest trouble. Keyontae Johnson was the best player out of the four aforementioned absentees and while transfers Anthony Duruji (Louisiana Tech) and Colin Castleton (Michigan) have played well in recent games, I am most concerned about the Gators.
Medcalf: I also think Houston will be fine. Mills’s role changed to an excellent Pumi team that didn’t need him to record the minutes he played a year ago. We watched Justin Gorham (12.5 PPG in the last two games without Mills) do more in foul to help his team beat SMU and Wichita State in back games. Sampson has depth with this group.
I also think Florida took the biggest hit on that list. Johnson was on trend as a potential first-round pick when he crashed against the state of Florida in the worst incident of the year. Plus, the SEC looks like a more complicated race than it seems to be entering the season.
Gasaway: Houston is certainly doing well without Mills. The cougars are far from undefeated and, as it is, we will probably see this team finish the regular season with an extremely small number in the loss column. Mills was the top scorer last year, but he was not the last word in efficiency. In his absence, Grimes performed this role capable, and UH overwhelmed American opponents with offensive boards and trips to the line.
Lunardi: The answer with the knee is Houston, for all the reasons articulated above. But West Virginia’s epic return to Oklahoma is still on the mind, and Bob Huggins seems more than happy to drive him out with Derek Culver as the lone wolf in front. I think the mountaineers will recover and, unfortunately, the biggest loss will be Keyontae Johnson from Florida.
The ESPN.com expert chooses the best games this weekend
(Lines, when available, from the Caesars Sportsbook. Predictors do not have access to lines when predicting a result.)