Two big games in the ACC and another in the Big Ten highlight Thursday's schedule. Wake Forest visits Atlanta in a homecoming game for Al-Farouq Aminu, but he and the rest of the Demon Deacon frontcourt will have their hands full. Derrick Favors, Gani Lawal and Zachary Peacock make up one of the more talented frontcourt trios in the nation and lead a Yellow Jacket squad that can expect multiple NBA scouts every night. But that has little bearing on whether or not Paul Hewitt's team wins games, with the backcourt being the key. If Iman Shumpert and Mfon Udofia fail to make sound decisions and take care of the basketball, Georgia Tech is in trouble.
On the other side is the ACC's (and maybe America's) fastest point guard in Ishmael Smith, who ranks third in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio. If the aforementioned Yellow Jacket duo can't keep Smith in front of them (he was clocked on two different occasions against North Carolina at going coast-to-coast in less than five seconds) it's going to be a long night at the Thriller Dome for the home team. Both teams struggle from beyond the arc and rank among the top three in the ACC in field goal percentage defense, likely placing the emphasis on rebounding margin and turnover ratio.
Another important game in the ACC is Virginia Tech visiting in-state rival Virginia with the Cavaliers tied in the loss column for first place (a half-game out as a result of Maryland's four conference wins to their three) and the Hokies sitting at 2-2. The key for Virginia Tech is a simple one: Jeff Allen must play focused and avoid silly fouls. Malcolm Delaney and Sylven Landesburg are two of the conference's best guards and it isn't a stretch to expect those two to cancel each other out. Wisconsin visits Purdue in a game that both teams need in order to stay within sight of Michigan State. Jon Leuer (wrist) is out for the Badgers, who needed a superlative showing from Trevon Hughes to avoid a bad loss to Penn State on Sunday. Hughes vs. Chris Kramer should be an entertaining individual matchup.
7p ESPN Wisconsin at Purdue
7p ESPN2 Seton Hall at South Florida
7p ESPNU St. John's at Pittsburgh
7p CBS College Duquesne at Xavier
9p ESPN2 Mississippi State at Arkansas
9p ESPNU Mississippi at Auburn
10:30p FSN UCLA at Oregon
11p ESPN2 Gonzaga at Santa Clara
11p ESPNU Portland at San Francisco
7p Wake Forest at Georgia Tech
7p Virginia Tech at Virginia
7p Siena at Saint Peter's
7:30p Long Island at Robert Morris
8p Stanford at Arizona
8:30p California at Arizona St
10p Saint Mary's at Pepperdine
10p Cal Poly at UC Santa Barbara
Georgia Tech over Wake Forest: The reason for this pick: turnovers. Georgia Tech may take a lot of grief for their numbers but overall the Demon Deacons are worse, ranking 12th in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio and 11th in turnover margin. Wake as a team averages a conference-worst 12.3 assists per game, and with Ish Smith averaging 5.9 per game by himself that has to give you pause in picking this one. Yellow Jackets win this one late.