ACC Semifinals: Rubber Match in North Carolina-Duke Rivalry

Rainman M.

Friday, March 9, 2018 12:37 PM UTC

Friday, Mar. 9, 2018 12:37 PM UTC

No. 1 Virginia (29-2) and No. 19 Clemson (23-8) square off in the ACC semifinals at 7 ET Friday in Brooklyn followed by legendary rivals No. 5 Duke (26-6) and No. 12 North Carolina (24-9). 

Virginia Cavaliers vs. Clemson TigersFree NCAAB Pick: VirginiaBest Line Offered: Heritage

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When Virginia hosted Clemson on Jan. 23, Clemson mustered 20 points in the final 30 minutes. The Tigers lost 61-36, failing to complete 33% of their shots. Bettors could mount two reasonable-sounding objections to my claim that we see the same ATS result tonight. One objection could be that Virginia will not take Clemson seriously and the Tigers will catch UVA looking ahead to the final. Virginia coach Tony Bennett keeps his team concentrated. In the ACC tournament since 2014, Virginia is 5-0 ATS when favored by five or more. The other objection would be that Virginia dominated Clemson at home and is unlikely to be so successful away from home. But UVA has actually been more reliable for bettors away from home, earning a 9-1 road ATS record in ACC play.

The two decisive factors in Clemson's defeat on Jan. 23 were poor field goal efficiency and turnovers. The matchup suggests that we see the same problems. Virginia's defenders are aware and have great hands. This year, they are stealing the ball like they hadn't done in prior years, ranking second in steal percentage and first in turnover percentage. Ty Jerome and Isaiah Wilkins, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, rank in the top 200 in steal percentage. Conversely, Clemson's offense ranks 10th in the ACC in turnover percentage and committed 19 turnovers when the teams met.

The Tigers will attempt threes against Virginia's defense, but they typically will be contested. Virginia ranks first in opposing three-point percentage and is a good matchup for the Tigers' offense, which has the fifth-highest proportion of threes attempted. Clemson's inside game, meanwhile, is lacking. The Tigers' half-court offense struggles to create scoring opportunities, ranking 11th in the conference in ratio between assists and field goals. Even when they do make it inside, they rank 10th in two-point percentage and 14th in block percentage and so are vulnerable to Virginia's strong rim defenders. Wilkins and center Jack Salt rank in the top 200 in block percentage and contribute to UVA ranking fifth in the category and second in opposing two-point percentage. Their ability to block shots plus the active hands of the other defenders contribute to Virginia being the top-ranked half-court defense.

Virginia will shut down Clemson again while being able to execute its screen- and catch-and-shoot-heavy offense against a Clemson defense that ranks 10th in turnover percentage and won't make the UVA offense uncomfortable.

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Duke Blue Devils vs North Carolina Tar HeelsFree NCAAB Pick: DukeBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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Since Duke lost to UNC 82-78 on Feb. 8, it has improved its defense by playing much more zone. Since then, Duke is 7-1 ATS. In these eight games, Duke allowed fewer than 60 points four times and 70 points or fewer in the rest. Against North Carolina on March 3, Duke won 74-64, holding UNC to just above 33% shooting.

Duke's defense excels at taking away the opponent's three-point shooting, holding its last six opponents to 34-for-141 (24.1%). It is built to force more turnovers by applying pressure to the passing lanes -- against UNC in the last meeting, for instance, Duke forced 14. As was evident in the Notre Dame game Thursday, the Irish offense was mostly limited to quick shots from two, hopefully evading the long wingspan of a Duke post defender, and fortunately (but without much more success) evading top shot-blocking center Wendell Carter, who was in foul trouble the whole game.

While UNC makes some twos, the Blue Devils can answer with threes. Duke began blowing out UNC once the Devils finally began making shots. Duke thrived in transition and otherwise creating scoring opportunities for their streaky shooters, who rank in the top 50 in both three-point and two-point shooting percentage. UNC's defense, meanwhile, represents a significant decline, ranking 12th in the ACC in efficiency. The Tar Heels are worst of all from three, ranking outside the top 10 in both proportion of attempted threes allowed and opposing three-point percentage. Duke is one of the top-two offensive rebounding teams and can thus procure extra chances. Offensive rebounding was an issue when the Blue Devils first lost to UNC. But Duke has outperformed its last five opponents in this category, including UNC. Duke's improvement in this area is due to its enhanced ability to force bad shots from its opponent.

Duke likes to push the pace, ranking 50th in offensive tempo, while its zone defense can slow down UNC and make it uncomfortable, ranking 273rd in opposing length of possession. The key for Duke to control the tempo will be its success on offense, which will allow its defense to set up, as opposed to allowing UNC to engage its transition game. Duke's offensive tempo will give it more scoring opportunities, which is exactly what chalk-layers seek.

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