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February 3, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Sunday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: Wake Forest (13-6, 3-3 Atlantic Coast) at North Carolina St. (13-7, 2-4), 12:00 p.m. EST, ESPN360.com
Rankings: Wake Forest, #77 in Pomeroy Ratings (9th of 12 in ACC); North Carolina St., #95 (12th)
Pomeroy Prediction: North Carolina St., 67-64 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 40%
Prospectus: The Demon Deacons travel to play what the stats say is the worst team in the ACC in a game that could have NCAA-tournament bubble implications. The Wolfpack is the tallest team in the nation by average minutes-weighted height, but most of that height resides at small forward (6'8" Gavin Grant) and shooting guard (6'5" Courtney Fells), and thus North Carolina St.'s effective height--averaging the minutes at center and power forward--ranks only 22nd. The Wolfpack's height mainly manifests itself in an ability to get to the foul line, as the squad is first in the nation in free throw rate. Grant and 6'9" freshman forward J.J. Hickson have combined to shoot 230 free throws. Hickson is a beast down low, as he's taken more two-pointers than anyone else on the team and converted on 63 percent. The Demon Deacons have a big frontcourt as well, at +3.1 inches in effective height, but haven't been able to translate that into overall offensive efficiency, as the team is dragged down by horrible shooting from three-point range. Wake Forest's best trait is an ability to force turnovers, and the team could have a field day against the Wolfpack, which turns it over more than any other ACC team.

Matchup: North Carolina (20-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast) at Florida St. (13-9, 2-5), 2:00
Rankings: North Carolina, #7 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in ACC); Florida St., #69 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: North Carolina, 87-78 in 78 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 21%
Prospectus: Might the Tar Heels be looking ahead to the next game on the schedule, against Coach K's crew? You have to go back to 2002 to find the last time the Seminoles beat North Carolina, so you could say that an upset is brewing. The Tar Heels are a fun team to watch, combining a very fast pace (77 possessions/40 minutes) with the undisputed best offense in the country (first in both raw and adjusted efficiency). Interestingly, despite not being a particularly tall squad, North Carolina is the second-best offensive-rebounding team in Division I. Rumor has it that coach Roy Williams has a pretty decent collection of athletes over on Chapel Hill. Hitting the offensive boards doesn't seem to hurt the Tar Heels' transition defense quite as much as it does other teams, however, as North Carolina has been more stingy the faster the game goes--the team has allowed less than 0.9 points per possession in each of its seven quickest games this year (albeit against weaker opponents than its conference foes). If Florida St., which shoots a solid 38 percent from downtown, can get guards Isaiah Swann (47-of-120 from three), Ralph Mims (33-80), or Toney Douglas (30-89) to heat up, the Seminoles might be able to come up with an upset win.

Matchup: Wisconsin (17-3, 7-1 Big 10) at Minnesota (13-6, 3-4), 2:00
Rankings: Wisconsin, #5 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 11 in Big 10); Minnesota, #43 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Wisconsin, 65-60 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: The Badgers continue to be underrated by the mainstream media, but that might start to change after Thursday's convincing win over Indiana, which moved them into a tie for first place in the Big 10. Wisconsin faces a tougher test in traveling to face the Golden Gophers than might be divined from the latter's league record. Tubby Smith's new squad has four league defeats, but all of them were to three of the top four teams in the Big 10 (Indiana, Ohio St, and Michigan St. twice), and Minnesota stayed in each of the four except the loss to the Buckeyes. The Golden Gophers are a fun squad to watch on defense, as they lead the nation in steals and turnovers created, and rank in the top 20 in block percentage. Minnesota will need to rely on underclass thieves Damian Johnson and Al Nolen (each is in the top 15 in steal percentage) to pester Wisconsin's guards and create turnovers that lead to high-percentage opportunities in transition. If the Golden Gophers get sucked into Wisconsin's tempo, and run a slowdown half-court offense against a prickly Badgers defense, Minnesota has little chance of the upset.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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