Tournament Tweeting: ACC Semifinals Recap and Championship Preview

Semifinals Recap

First, some general tweets about the tournament:

 

 

#5 Duke 93, #1 North Carolina 83

For 26 minutes, North Carolina looked invincible, leading Duke 61-48 with 13:53 to play.  But after Joel Berry II went to the bench with four fouls, Duke held a 45-22 advantage for the duration of the game, including a 15-2 run over the next 3:18, to come from behind and stun their rivals to advance to the ACC championship.

In the second half, Duke shot 59 percent (13-22), while North Carolina shot 29 percent (12-42).  For the game, Duke was 59 percent from three (10-17), including five triples from Grayson Allen, while North Carolina shot 23 percent (5-22).  Both teams shot well from the foul line, but Duke attempted 19 more free throws (Duke 33-37, North Carolina 14-18).

Duke’s Jayson Tatum led all scorers with 24 points and co-led the Blue Devils with seven rebounds.  Luke Kennard scored 20, including a 10-10 night at the free throw line, while Allen scored 18 with five assists and Frank Jackson scored 15.  Harry Giles was a force defensively, with seven rebounds, four blocks and one steal in 15 minutes.

North Carolina, who outscored Duke 50-26 in the paint and outrebounded the Blue Devils 43-32, was led by their big men inside.  Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks co-led the Tar Heels with 19 points each, and Meeks grabbed 12 rebounds.  In the backcourt, ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson (6-22 from the floor) scored 16, while Berry scored 10 and Theo Pinson dished out eight assists.

In possibly the most intense rivalry in college sports, the Blue Devils won their second game in three meetings this season, and won their sixth straight ACC Tournament meeting with the Tar Heels.

Duke (26-8) advances to Saturday’s final, where they will try to become the first team to win four games in four days to win the ACC Tournament, and the first 5-seed to ever win the ACC Tournament in its 64-year history.  North Carolina (27-7) will await their NCAA Tournament seeding, where there is a strong possibility the Tar Heels will be one of the four top seeds, and it is almost certain they will play their first two games in Greenville, S.C.

 

Tweets from throughout the game:

 

 

#3 Notre Dame 77, #2 Florida State 73

Notre Dame was efficient from three and took advantage of Florida State’s mistakes to defeat the Seminoles and advance to the final.  While the final margin was just four points, the Irish led comfortably from the late stages of the first half through the second half before withstanding a late Seminole surge.

The Irish made 13 threes, shooting 48 percent from distance (13-27), while holding the Seminoles to 33 percent from three (5-15), and none over the game’s first 26:36.  Notre Dame scored 21 points off 18 Florida State turnovers, while the Irish only committed nine.  Florida State held a 41-23 rebounding edge, with Jonathan Isaac tying a tournament high with 15.

Steve Vasturia and Bonzie Colson led the Irish with 18 points, and Matt Farrell scored 15 with six assists, while Matt Ryan scored 11 off the bench; both Farrell and Ryan hit three triples.

Notre Dame led 42-26 at halftime, and led by as many as 18 early in the second half, before an 11-3 run by Florida State made the game closer late, but Colson and Rex Pflueger put the game away at the free throw line.

Notre Dame (25-8) advances to the championship game against Duke, as the Irish try to win their second title in three years after never previously winning a conference tournament in school history.  Florida State (25-8) will await their NCAA Tournament matchup, and is likely to play their first two NCAA games in Orlando.

 

Tweets from throughout the game:

 

 

Championship Preview

 

#3 Notre Dame (25-8, 12-6) vs. #5 Duke (26-8, 11-7)
9:00 pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Notre Dame- 6th, Duke- 5th
AP Poll:  Notre Dame- 22nd, Duke- 14th
Regular Season:  Jan. 30 in South Bend:  Duke 84, Notre Dame 74

 

For commentary throughout the ACC Tournament and most major sporting events, follow me on Twitter:  @cstiles24

 

For what it’s worth….
My ACC Tournament Record:  9-4

First Round
Record:  2-1
Second Round Record:  3-1
Quarterfinals Record:  3-1
Semifinals Record:  1-1

Tournament Tweeting: ACC Quarterfinals Recap and Semifinals Preview

Quarterfinals Recap

First, some general tweets about the tournament:

#1 North Carolina 78, #9 Miami 53

The Tar Heels used a dominant performance on both ends of the floor to comfortably beat Miami, never leading by less than 11 over the last 12:10 and pulling away for the 25-point win.  After a 7-0 Miami run to close the first half pulled the Hurricanes to a 34-29 deficit, the Tar Heels held a 44-24 advantage over the final 20 minutes.

North Carolina shot 53 percent from the field (28-53), 83 percent from the free throw line (15-18). The Tar Heels had more assists (21) than Miami field goals (19), holding Miami to just 36 percent from the floor (19-53) and 24 percent from three-point range (5-21), while forcing 15 Hurricanes turnovers that led to 21 Tar Heel points.

Four double-figure scorers paced the Tar Heels, with Isaiah Hicks leading the way with 19; ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson scored 12, Joel Berry II netted 11 with five assists, and Kennedy Meeks added 10 with seven rebounds.  Theo Pinson scored nine, but led the Tar Heels with six assists.  Bruce Brown, with 21 points and seven rebounds, was the only Miami player to score more than seven, while the Hurricanes tallied just seven assists.  Brown was 9-13 for the floor; his teammates were a combined 10-40.

North Carolina (27-6) advances to meet rival Duke in the semifinals, while the 25-point loss was the worst of the season for Miami (21-11), who awaits their NCAA Tournament selection.

Tweets from throughout the game:

#5 Duke 81, #4 Louisville 77

Playing a second straight day with little depth against a rested Louisville team was no problem for Duke, who came from behind late to beat Louisville in a top-15 matchup.

After Duke held a 39-37 halftime lead, Louisville used a 24-10 run over the first 6:53 of the second half to take a 61-49 lead.  From that point, Duke held a 32-16 edge over the last 13:07, with three Luke Kennard threes and another by Jayson Tatum keying Duke’s run.

Tatum, who was 9-15 from the field, led all scorers with 25 points, before fouling out in the final minute.  Kennard had 24 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season, while Grayson Allen scored 18, breaking out of his recent slump in the second half.  Tatum, Kennard and Allen combined for 41 of Duke’s 42 second half points.

Deng Adel led Louisville with 21 points, while Quentin Snider scored 15 with five assists.  First team All-ACC selection Donovan Mitchell was held to eight points, shooting 3-14 from the field.

With his 59th career ACC Tournament win, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski passed North Carolina’s Dean Smith for the most all-time, and his Blue Devils (25-8) will meet North Carolina in the semifinals.  Louisville (24-8) will play in the NCAA Tournament after falling to 0-2 all-time in ACC Tournament play.

Tweets from throughout the game:

#2 Florida State 74, #7 Virginia Tech 68

Florida State used a physical gameplan to overmatch an undersized Virginia Tech team in the second half and earn their first semifinal appearance since 2012.

The Seminoles outrebounded the Hokies 45-31, including 18-8 on the offensive glass, and outscored them in the paint 42-20.  The Seminoles used a 16-1 run to turn a 52-52 tie with 9:17 to play into a 68-53 lead with 4:01 left, then withstood a late 10-0 Virginia Tech run to advance.

Dwayne Bacon led the Seminoles with 17 points despite struggling from the floor (4-17), hitting nine of his 10 free throws.  Jonathan Isaac scored 11 with 12 rebounds and Terance Mann netted 11 with nine rebounds.  Xavier Rathan-Mayes had nine points with six assists.

Zach LeDay, who scored a tournament-high 31 points on Wednesday, had 22 points and nine rebounds , yet appeared oversized at times on the boards against bigger Florida State players.  Seth Allen had 17 points and five assists, while Justin Robinson scored 14 with six assists.

Florida State (24-7) will meet Notre Dame in Friday’s semifinals, while Virginia Tech (22-10) will begin preparations for their their first NCAA Tournament since 2007.

Tweets from throughout the game:

#3 Notre Dame 71, #6 Virginia 58

In a surprising role reversal, the Notre Dame defense held Virginia in check while the Irish offense was efficient against Virginia’s defense, resulting in a convincing, nearly wire-to-wire win for the Irish.

Notre Dame, who had never beaten Virginia since joining the ACC in 2013 (0-5) and has typically struggled against Tony Bennett’s packline defense, shot 52 percent from the field (24-46), with an identical 12-23 mark in each half, while holding the Cavaliers to 39 percent (22-57).  The Irish were more proficient in more activity at the free throw line (Notre Dame 18-25, Virginia 7-12).

First team All-ACC honoree Bonzie Colson led all players with 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Irish.  Matt Farrell scored 14, while V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia each netted 12, and Vasturia added five assists.  Devon Hall and Darius Thompson led Virginia with 12, with Hall adding nine rebounds, while Ty Jerome and Marial Shayok each scored 10 and Jerome dished out six assists.  Virginia team leader London Perrantes was held to three points, while Kyle Guy was held scoreless; the pair combined to go 1-17 from the floor.

Notre Dame (24-8) advances to challenge Florida State in the semifinals, while Virginia (22-10) will await their NCAA Tournament seeding.

Tweets from throughout the game:

Semifinals Preview

#1 North Carolina (27-6, 14-4) vs. #5 Duke (25-8, 11-7)
7:00 pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  North Carolina- 1st, Duke- 5th
AP Poll:  North Carolina- 6th, Duke- 14th
Regular Season:  Feb. 9 in Durham:  Duke 86, North Carolina 78;  Mar. 4 in Chapel Hill:  North Carolina 90, Duke 83

#2 Florida State (24-7, 12-6) vs. #3 Notre Dame (23-8, 12-6)
appr. 9:30 pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Florida State- 3rd, Notre Dame- 6th
AP Poll:  Florida State- 16th, Notre Dame- 22nd
Regular Season:  Feb. 18 in Tallahassee:  Florida State 83, Notre Dame 80;  Feb. 11 in South Bend:  Notre Dame 84, Florida State 72

For commentary throughout the ACC Tournament and most major sporting events, follow me on Twitter:  @cstiles24

For what it’s worth….
My ACC Tournament Record:  8-3

First Round
Record:  2-1
Second Round Record:  3-1
Quarterfinals Record:  3-1

Tournament Tweeting: ACC Second Round Recap and Quarterfinal Preview

Second Round Recap

First, some general tweets about the tournament:

 

#9 Miami 62, #8 Syracuse 57

A game that I predicted would be a low-scoring game got there eventually, but not before both teams scored early and often in the first half before slowing down.  In a true “tale of two halves,” it was the best of games early and the worst of games late.  Miami, who led 36-28 at halftime, shot 62 percent in the first half (13-21) and 30 percent in the second (9-30), while Syracuse shot 52 percent (11-21) and 35 percent (8-23), respectively.

Brooklyn native Kamari Murphy led Miami with a double-double, with 16 points and 10 rebounds.  Davon Reed scored 14, Ja’Quan Newton scored 11 with six assists, and D.J. Vasiljevic scored 13 off the bench.  Syracuse was led by Andrew White III with 22 points and Tyus Battle with 14, and while Tyler Lydon was held to five points, he had 12 rebounds.

Syracuse led just once in the second half, at 41-40 with 12:23 to play, but got as close as two in the final minute; John Gillon missed a potential game-tying three in the closing seconds.

Miami (21-10) advances to play top-seeded North Carolina on Thursday, while Syracuse (18-14) will now settle in for a stressful Selection Sunday, with many suggesting their resume may not make the NCAA Tournament cut.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose teams are 0-3 in the ACC Tournament since joining the league, made headlines after the game for comments (see below) that the ACC Tournament had no value in Greensboro (where it has been held 28 times and is set to return in 2020).

 

Tweets from throughout the game:

 

#5 Duke 79, #12 Clemson 72

Led by a trio of 20-point scorers, Duke slowly pulled away from Clemson in the second half before withstanding a late Clemson charge to hold on for the win.  Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, and Stiles on Sports ACC Player of the Year Luke Kennard each scored 20 points for the Blue Devils, with Tatum grabbing nine rebounds and dishing four assists.  Amile Jefferson added a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while Grayson Allen, in 12 minutes, was held scoreless for the first time since 2015.

Jaron Blossomgame led Clemson with 19 points, adding eight rebounds, while Shelton Mitchell scored 17 and Marcquise Reed netted 13.  Sidy Djitte earned a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

A back-and-forth first half led to a 33-33 tie at halftime, before Duke slowly pulled away, leading 62-49 with 8:28 to go.  A 19-7 Clemson run pulled the Tigers to a 69-68 deficit at the 2:51 mark, but Clemson’s momentum sputtered down the stretch.  Late free throws by Tatum turned a 75-72 game with 0:36 left into the final 7-point margin.

The Blue Devils outshot the Tigers 49 percent (30-61) to 39 percent (22-56), although Clemson used free throw shooting (24-26, compared to Duke’s 14-18) to stay in the game.  Duke (24-8) advances to meet Louisville in a top-15 quarterfinal matchup, while Clemson (17-15) awaits, most likely, an NIT bid.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski improved to a near-unfathomable 58-22 in the ACC Tournament, tying North Carolina legend Dean Smith for the most wins in ACC Tournament history.

 

Tweets from throughout the game:

 

#7 Virginia Tech 99, #10 Wake Forest 90

The Hokies used a 62-point second half to come from behind and defeat Wake Forest in the second highest-scoring regulation game in ACC Tournament history.  Zach LeDay led the Hokies with 31 points and 15 rebounds, both the most by any player so far in the tournament.  Four additional Hokies scored in double figures–Seth Allen scored 18, Justin Bibbs scored 15, Ty Outlaw scored 14 and Ahmed Hill scored 13–while Justin Robinson dished out seven assists.

Wake Forest led 44-37 at halftime after the first half ended with reserve forward Greg McClinton hitting an 80-foot buzzer-beater when after the ball deflected into his arms on Virginia Tech’s last-second play; the shot was the first made three-pointer of the junior’s career.  From that point, however, the Hokies held a 62-44 advantage, shooting 62 percent in the second half (16-26) for the third highest-scoring half in a game in ACC Tournament history.

Bryant Crawford led the Demon Deacons with 21 points and fellow point guard Brandon Childress added 15, while John Collins (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Dinos Mitoglou (12 points, 13 rebounds) each earned double-doubles.  McClinton’s miraculous shot before the half marked his only points of the game in just two minutes of action.

Virginia Tech’s win avenged an 89-84 Wake Forest win in Saturday’s regular season finale, and ended the Demon Deacons’ four-game winning streak.  The Hokies (22-9) advance to meet Florida State on Thursday, while Wake Forest (19-13) will learn their NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday–most projections have the Deacs in the field, although whether or not they will play in the “First Four” in Dayton or earn a bye to the Round of 64 is unclear.

 

Tweets from throughout the game:

 
#6 Virginia 75, #14 Pittsburgh 63

Virginia’s defense was solid, as usual, but the Cavaliers played just as solid of an offensive game in their second round win over Pittsburgh.  The Cavaliers shot 50 percent from three-point range (11-22) and 52 percent from the field in the second half (11-21), and were balanced offensively with four players earning three or more assists:  Ty Jerome with four and Devon Hall, Kyle Guy and London Perrantes with three each.

Guy led the Cavaliers with 20 points, with Perrantes adding 15 and Jerome scoring 11, while Isaiah Wilkins had eight points and eight rebounds.  Pittsburgh was led by Cameron Johnson with 20, while Jamel Artis and Michael Young ended their collegiate careers with 18 and 14, respectively.

Virginia led 34-23 at halftime, and after Pittsburgh closed to a 44-43 deficit with 13:08 left, the Cavaliers held a 24-11 edge over a methodical stretch of over 10 minutes to put the game away.  While Virginia played well offensively, they held Pittsburgh to 40 percent from the field (18-45) and 34 percent from three (10-29).  Virginia’s bench scored 23 points, while Pitt’s was held scoreless.

Virginia (22-9) advances to play Notre Dame in Thursday’s quarterfinals, while the loss ended the season for Pittsburgh (16-17).

 

 

Tweets from throughout the game:

 

 

Quarterfinals Preview

#1 North Carolina (26-6, 14-4) vs. #9 Miami (21-10, 10-8)
12:00 pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  North Carolina- 1st, Miami- 9th
AP Poll:  North Carolina- 6th, Miami- receiving votes
Regular Season:  January 28 at Miami:  Miami 77, North Carolina 62

 

#4 Louisville (24-7, 12-6) vs. #5 Duke (24-8, 11-7)
appr. 2:30 pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Louisville- 2nd, Duke- 5th
AP Poll:  Louisville- 10th, Duke- 14th, Clemson- unranked
Regular Season:  Jan. 14 at Louisville:  Louisville 78, Duke 69

 

#2 Florida State (24-7, 12-6) vs. #7 Virginia Tech (22-9, 10-8)
7:00 pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Florida State- 3rd, Virginia Tech- 7th
AP Poll:  Florida State- 16th, Virginia Tech- unranked
Regular Season:  Jan. 7 at Florida State:  Florida State 93, Virginia Tech 78

 

#3 Notre Dame (23-8, 12-6) vs. #6 Virginia (22-9, 11-7)
appr. 9:30 pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Notre Dame- 6th, Virginia-4th
AP Poll:  Notre Dame- 22nd, Virginia- 21st
Regular Season:  Jan. 24 at Notre Dame:  Virginia 71, Notre Dame 54

 

For commentary throughout the ACC Tournament and most major sporting events, follow me on Twitter:  @cstiles24

 

For what it’s worth….

ACC Tournament Record:  5-2

First Round
Record:  2-1
Second Round Record:  3-1

Tournament Tweeting: ACC First Round Recap and Second Round Preview

First Round Recap

#12 Clemson 75, #13 NC State 61

The Tigers turned a 39-28 halftime lead into a comfortable victory, as the Wolfpack never got closer than 10 in the second half.  Clemson earned their third straight win–and first in the ACC Tournament since 2014–by outscoring NC State 40-22 in the paint.  The Tigers were led by Shelton Mitchell and Jaron Blossomgame with 22 points each, while Sidy Djitte led all players with 13 rebounds.

Abdul-Malik Abu and Maverick Rowan led NC State with 14 points each, while ACC Freshman of the Year Dennis Smith Jr. was held to seven points in reportedly his final collegiate game before turning pro.  The Wolfpack, who lost their 10th game in the 11 since a Jan. 23 win at Duke, shot only 38 percent from the floor (19-for-50) in their final game under coach Mark Gottfried, whose end-of-season firing was announced on Feb. 16.

 

Tweets from throughout the game:

 

#10 Wake Forest 92, #15 Boston College 78

The Demon Deacons used a 14-1 run in the second half to turn a 53-53 tie into a 67-54 lead, on their way to a 14-point win over Boston College for their first ACC Tournament win in three years.  Wake Forest’s Bryant Crawford led all players with 20 points and six assists, while All-ACC First Team forward John Collins turned a first-half struggle into a 19-point, 12-rebound performance.  Keyshawn Woods and Austin Arians added 17 for the Deacs, with Arians nailing five three-pointers.

Jerome Robinson led the Eagles with 17 points, as they were more competitive than many expected, but picked up their 15th straight loss.  ACC All-Freshman honoree Ky Bowman left with a knee injury late in the first half with seven points and two assists in 14 minutes.

Wake Forest, who likely solidified their NCAA Tournament bid with the victory, shot 53 percent from the field (25-47) and 47 percent (9-19) from three after hitting four in a row to start the game.  The Demon Deacons (33-43) made more free throws than the Eagles (18-26) attempted, and have now beat an opponent three times in a season for the first time since 2003 (Florida State).

Tweets from throughout the game:

 

#14 Pittsburgh 61, #11 Georgia Tech 59

An experienced Pittsburgh team who struggled all season extended their season another day, while ending the NCAA Tournament hopes of Georgia Tech (17-15), as the Panthers survived a final-minute surge by the Yellow Jackets for the 2-point win.  Pitt’s four seniors scored 53 of their 61 points, with Michael Young leading the way with 17, while Sheldon Jeter had 14 and Jamel Artis and Chris Jones each added 11.

Second Team All-ACC selection Ben Lammers was held to six points for Georgia Tech, although he grabbed 15 rebounds.  Tadric Jackson led the Yellow Jackets with 17 points, with Quinton Stephens adding 16 with 10 rebounds and Josh Okogie scoring 15.

Both teams struggled from the floor, with Pittsburgh shooting 39 percent (21-54) overall and 26 percent (6-23) from three, and Georgia Tech shooting 35 percent (22-62) overall and 22 percent (4-18) from three.  The Panthers, who assisted 15 of their 21 field goals, can guarantee NIT eligibility (a record of .500 or better) with a win tomorrow against Virginia, and such a quality win would help the likelihood of actually getting a bid as well.

 

Tweets from throughout the game:

 

For commentary throughout the ACC Tournament and most major sporting events, follow me on Twitter:  @cstiles24

 

Second Round Preview

#8 Syracuse (18-13, 10-8) vs. #9 Miami (20-10, 10-8)
12:00 pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network
Favorite:  Miami by 2
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Syracuse- 10th, Miami- 9th
AP Poll:  Syracuse- unranked, Miami- receiving votes
Regular Season:  Jan. 4 at Syracuse:  Syracuse 70, Miami 55

 

#5 Duke (23-8, 11-7) vs. #12 Clemson (17-14, 6-12)
appr. 2:30 pm ET, ESPN/ACC Network
Favorite:  Duke by 6.5
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Duke- 5th, Clemson- 11th
AP Poll:  Duke- 14th, Clemson- unranked
Regular Season:  Feb. 11 at Duke:  Duke 64, Clemson 62

 

#7 Virginia Tech (21-9, 10-8) vs. #10 Wake Forest (19-12, 9-9)
7:00 pm ET, ESPN2/ACC Network
Favorite:  Wake Forest by 2
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Virginia Tech- 7th, Wake Forest- 8th
AP Poll:  Virginia Tech- unranked, Wake Forest- receiving votes
Regular Season:  Mar. 4 at Virginia Tech:  Wake Forest 89, Virginia Tech 84

 

#6 Virginia (21-9, 11-7) vs. #14 Pittsburgh (16-16, 4-14)
appr. 9:30 pm ET, ESPN2/ACC Network
Favorite:  Virginia by 10
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Virginia-4th, Pittsburgh- 13th
AP Poll:  Virginia- 21st, Pittsburgh- unranked
Regular Season:  Jan. 4 at Pittsburgh:  Pittsburgh 88, Virginia 76, overtime;  Mar. 4 at Virginia:  Virginia 67, Pittsburgh 42

 

For what it’s worth….

ACC Tournament Record/First Round Record:  2-1

Tournament Tweeting: ACC First Round Preview

ACC Tournament First Round 

#12 Clemson (16-14, 6-12) vs. #13 NC State (15-16, 4–14)
12:00 pm ET, ESPN2/ACC Network
Spread:  Clemson by 6
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Clemson- 11th, NC State- 14th
AP Poll:  both teams are unranked
Regular Season:  March 1 at Clemson: Clemson 78, NC State 74

 

#10 Wake Forest (18-12, 9-9) vs. #15 Boston College (9-22, 2-16)
appr. 2:30 pm ET, ESPN2/ACC Network
Spread:  Wake Forest by 13
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Wake Forest- 8th, Boston College- 15th
AP Poll:  Wake Forest- receiving votes, Boston College- unranked
Regular Season:  Jan. 3 at Wake Forest: Wake Forest 79, Boston College 66; Jan. 31 at Boston College:  Wake Forest 85, Boston College 80

 

#11 Georgia Tech (17-14, 8-10) vs. #14 Pittsburgh (15-16, 4-14)
7:00 pm ET, ESPNU/ACC Network
Spread:  Pittsburgh by 1
Stiles on Sports ACC Ranking:  Georgia Tech- 12th, Pittsburgh- 13th
AP Poll:  both teams are unranked
Regular Season:  Feb. 28 at Georgia Tech:  Georgia Tech 61, Pittsburgh 52

 

Fast Five: Reasons The Patriots Will Win Super Bowl LI

Tonight, the New England Patriots will meet the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI in Houston.

I’ll be honest:  as someone who has lived one-third of Atlanta sports heartbreak (Braves) and who has never liked the Patriots, I’ll be rooting for the Falcons to win tonight.  But objectively, I think the Patriots will win their fifth Super Bowl.

While there are several stats being around favoring the Patriots that are truthfully irrelavant (the team wearing white jerseys has won 11 of the last 12 Super Bowls, the Patriots are 7-2 with referee Carl Cheffers, the Falcons haven’t won a playoff game outside Atlanta since 2002, etc.), here are five legitimate reasons why the Patriots will hoist the Lombardi Trophy tonight:

5. Trends Favor New England

There are several stats that, while based on games in the past, show overall trends that favor the Patriots.  For instance, the Patriots are 12-0 in the playoffs in the Belichick/Brady era against teams they didn’t face in the regular season (compared to 12-9 in rematch games).

The Patriots, who are tonight’s betting favorite, are 15-3 against the spread this season, compared to underdog Atlanta, who is 12-6.

Sunday is Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s first meeting as a head coach against Bill Belichick; previous coaches making their debut vs. Belichick are 3-22.

The Patriots are 16-0 in games Dion Lewis has played since he signed before the 2015 season, while they are 7-0 since losing star tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season to injury.

4. Experience

An experience factor can sometimes be overblown, but it may have legitimately played a role in last year’s Broncos victory over the Panthers.  The Patriots are clearly the more experienced team, with players on the current roster having appeared in Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLII, XLVI, and XLIX.

Patriots QB Tom Brady has appeared in six previous Super Bowls, while the entire Falcons roster has appeared in five previous Super Bowls combined.

Quinn has actually coached in two of the last three Super Bowls before tonight, as Falcons defensive coordinator in Super Bowls XLVIII and XLIX, but this just his 35th game as an NFL head coach, finishing his second season with Atlanta.

3. Defense

Both teams enter tonight’s game with a strong offense, but the Patriots clearly have the stronger defense.

Atlanta’s offense is second in total yards (New England is fourth), and has scored the most points per game (33.8) in the NFL.  Meanwhile, the Patriots defense has allowed the least points in the league, while the Falcons rank 27th of the 32 teams.

This Super Bowl is the seventh between the stingiest defense and the highest-scoring offense–in the previous six, the team with the top defense is 5-1.  Perhaps there really is something to the old adage “defense wins championships.”

While these two teams are the top two in the league in the offensive efficiency metric, the Patriots (7th) defensively outrank the Falcons (22nd) by far.  Some will point to the fact the Patriots have played nine games against seven of the league’s nine worst offenses (which may why their defensive efficiency isn’t even higher), but their defense was very strong two weeks ago, holding the explosive Steelers offense to 17 points in the AFC Championship.

2. Tom Brady

While Falcons QB and NFL MVP Matt Ryan has had a phenomenal season in his own right, throwing for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns and a historically good 7-0 touchdown-interception ratio in the playoffs, many (including me) expect Tom Brady to embrace the moment, as he always seems to do, and have the better game.

Brady threw for 3,554 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, even after missing the first four games due to the “Deflategate” suspension, and his 28-2 touchdown-interception ratio is the best for a single season in NFL history.  He’s done this at the age of 39, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down at an age when many players have already been retired for a few years.

In six previous Super Bowls, Brady has thrown 13 touchdowns against four interceptions, averaging 267 yards per game, including 328 against Seattle (and Dan Quinn’s defense) two years ago.  With a win, Brady would become the second-oldest Super Bowl-winning quarterback, and would be the winningest quarterback in Super Bowl history with five titles.  Brady has three previous Super Bowl MVPs, and a fourth would be a record, breaking a tie with Joe Montana.

1. It’s Not Wise to Bet Against The Belichick-Brady Patriots

Since taking the Patriots head coaching job in 2000, Bill Belichick’s team is 201-71 in the regular season (including a 5-11 debut before he got things turned around), and 24-9 in the playoffs with four Super Bowl titles, with every playoff game coming during Brady’s tenure.  The Patriots have basically ruled the NFL since 2001, and if not for two New York Giants upsets of New England in Super Bowls, they would have six titles in the Belichick/Brady era.

Every Super Bowl the Patriots has played has been close, and in they have shown their ability to win the game in the clutch, especially offensively, on the biggest stage in American sports.

This is no disrespect to the Falcons, although they will probably play that card with most of the national media picking against them; this is simply an acknowledgement of the Patriots incomparable ability with Belichick and Brady to win, plain and simple.

I’ve picked against New England before because I wanted them to lose, and I have learned it is usually a mistake to bet against the Patriots.

 

 

Super Bowl LI
New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, 6:30 pm ET, FOX
at Houston, Tex. (NRG Stadium)
Patriots:  16-2, def. Pittsburgh 36-17 in AFC Championship
Falcons:  13-5, def. Green Bay 44-21 in NFC Championship
Betting Favorite:  Patriots by 3

Prediction:  Patriots 31, Falcons 27

 

 

For what it’s worth…

Overall Record: 79-54-1
Last Week: 1-1
College Overall Record: 67-48
NFL Game of the Week: 12-6-1

Game of the Week: 10-5
Big Game Guarantee: 3-7
Upset of the Week: 4-6
Closer Than the Experts Think: 4-6
Not Closer Than the Experts Think: 7-3
Overhyped/Bad Spread Game: 5-5
Group of Five Game of the Week: 7-3
Is This Futbol?: 8-2
Is This Basketball?: 8-2
Toilet Bowl: 6-4
Miscellaneous: 5-5

For an explanation of the categories for Twitter Picks, click here.

Twitter Picks for NFL Championship Weekend

NFC Championship Game
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, 3:05 pm ET, FOX
Green Bay:  12-6, def. Dallas 34-31 in Divisional Round
Atlanta:  12-5, def. Seattle 36-20 in Divisional Round
Favorite:  Falcons by 5

 

AFC Championship Game
Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
Sunday, 6:40 pm ET, CBS
Pittsburgh:  13-5, def. Kansas City 18-16 in Divisional Round
New England:  15-2, def. Houston 34-16 in Divisional Round
Favorite:  Patriots by 5

 

 

 

For what it’s worth…

Overall Record: 78-53-1
Last Week: 3-1
College Overall Record: 67-48
NFL Game of the Week: 11-5-1

Game of the Week: 10-5
Big Game Guarantee: 3-7
Upset of the Week: 4-6
Closer Than the Experts Think: 4-6
Not Closer Than the Experts Think: 7-3
Overhyped/Bad Spread Game: 5-5
Group of Five Game of the Week: 7-3
Is This Futbol?: 8-2
Is This Basketball?: 8-2
Toilet Bowl: 6-4
Miscellaneous: 5-5

For an explanation of the categories for Twitter Picks, click here.