RTC Conference Primers: #2 – ACCPosted by rtmsf on November 6th, 2009
Steven Moore is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Predicted Order of Finish:
- North Carolina (13-3)
- Duke (12-4)
- Clemson (10-6)
- Maryland (10-6)
- Georgia Tech (9-7)
- Wake Forest (8-8)
- Boston College (8-8)
- Virginia Tech (7-9)
- Florida State (6-10)
- Miami (5-11)
- Virginia (5-11)
- North Carolina State (3-13)
All-Conference Team (with 2008-09 per-game averages):
- Greivis Vasquez (G), Sr., Maryland – 17.5 points, 5 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 33% 3-pt
- Malcolm Delaney (G), Jr. Virginia Tech – 18.1 points, 4.5 assists, 4 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 35% 3-pt
- Kyle Singler (F), Jr., Duke – 16.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 steals, 39% 3-pt
- Trevor Booker (F), Sr., Clemson – 15.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2 blocks
- Ed Davis (F), Soph., North Carolina – 6.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks
6th Man. Gani Lawal, F, Georgia Tech – 15.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks
Impact Newcomer. Derrick Favors, F, Georgia Tech
What You Need to Know.
With Tyler Hansbrough off saving puppies in cell phone commercials, and Greg Paulus quarterbacking a sub-par college football team, who is left to watch in the ACC this year? Well, as you might have expected, the prime candidates will both wear a shade of blue and still play on Tobacco Road.
But don’t sleep on those in purple, red, or even Yellow Jacket gold.
North Carolina and Duke set a new record for ACC equality this season when they equally shared the top spot in the coaches’ preseason poll. Their Feb. 10 showdown in Chapel Hill is already circled on every hoop fan’s calendar, while their season-ending tilt in Durham (March 6) already has Dick Vitale in a tizzy. The reigning National Champs lost not only Hansbrough, but also Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. And still, they are expected to win the ACC, thanks to a new shift of power to the frontcourt (more on that later). Duke also may rely heavily on its big men, which is a change of pace, since jump-shooting, floor-slapping guards usually reign supreme at Cameron Indoor.
Without those big names, you might think the ACC is lacking in star power this season. But if you want to be the smartest guy (or girl) in the room, tell your friends to watch Greivis Vasquez play. Make them sit down and watch a Maryland game. Just do it. The guy is pure energy, and always looks like he’s having the time of his life. Kyle Singler and even Trevor Booker might be the names you hear in 2010 NBA Draft projections, but Vasquez will have more to do with his team’s success than any other player in the conference.
While the Heels and Devils battle it out, the most interesting ACC subplot may lie in the race for NCAA Tournament berths. Don’t be surprised to hear Digger and Bilas discussing as many as eight or even nine possible candidates come February. While Clemson, Maryland, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest seem like prime candidates for dance tickets (and even top-6 seeds) come March, Virginia Tech, Florida State and even Boston College and/or Miami could be in the conversation with a few key wins.
That’s the one great equalizer for the lower-tier teams in a conference like the ACC. Steal one or two big wins against the Dukes, North Carolinas and Clemsons (especially on the road), and you’ll be hard to ignore in that selection room.
Predicted Champion. Maryland (NCAA Seed: #3). Go ahead, laugh at me. Be my guest. But when I watch college hoops, I love energy and do-it-all kind of players. So while the coaches may go the safe route and pick the Dukes and North Carolinas (I still think they finish 1-2 in the regular season), I’m gonna go out on a limb and take the Terrapins to make a run to the ACC Tournament title in Greensboro come March (if I’m right, you know where to find me – if I’m wrong, well, it’s just a blog, right?). Vasquez is the kind of player who can take over an entire tournament, and who won’t be troubled by four games in four or five days. Look for Adrian Bowie to help Vasquez with some of the offensive load, and Sean Mosely to help defend some of the league’s top stars. I still like North Carolina to be the last ACC team standing in the Big Dance, but don’t sleep on the Terps, who could easily make a Sweet 16 run.
- North Carolina (NCAA Seed: #1)
- Duke (NCAA Seed: #2)
- Clemson (NCAA Seed: #5)
- Georgia Tech (NCAA Seed: #6)
- Wake Forest (NCAA Seed: #8)
Maryland may be my pick to win the always-tough ACC Tournament, but North Carolina and Duke (surprise, surprise) are most likely to go deep into the Dance. With depth all around, these two teams have the bodies to survive the grind, and the coaches to put them in the best positions to win. UNC and Duke will both rely heavily on their frontcourts, as UNC counts on Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller and big-time recruit John Henson, while Coach K looks to Kyle Singler, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas – along with a pair of 6-10 McDonald’s All-Americans in Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee.
With Trevor Booker up front, Clemson may be the one team in the league with the size that matches up with the Devils and Heels. As long as Clemson can avoid yet another late-season swoon, the Tigers should be a top-6 seed with a real shot at the second weekend. As for Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets may be the biggest wild card in the league. With the return of big-man Gani Lawal, and the emergence of Atlanta-product Derrick Favors – who was nearly unanimous choice as preaseason Rookie of the Year for his hometown team – the Ramblin’ Wreck could easily jump into the upper tier of the league.
I can’t say I like North Carolina to repeat as national champs (still undecided on that front), but I can say I expect four ACC teams in the Sweet 16 – UNC, Duke, Clemson, and Maryland or Georgia Tech – with at least one reaching the Final Four.
- Boston College (NIT)
- Virginia Tech (NIT)
- Florida State (CBI)
- Miami (CBI)
Expect BC and Virginia Tech to pull off a few of those big ACC wins that at least merit a few swings of Digger’s highlighter during late-February “bubble” discussions. But the overall body of work, combined with a lack of depth that could cost them a few winnable games, will also cost the Eagles and Hokies any shot at the Big Dance. As for the Seminoles and Hurricanes: Toney Douglas and Jack McClinton are not walking through that door.
- North Carolina State
Times are tough right now in Charlottesville and Raleigh – and they won’t get any easier. Despite having mostly his own players after four years at N.C. State, Sidney Lowe won’t be able to push the Wolfpack any higher than ninth or tenth. As for the Cavaliers? Look at this way: A loss to Duke won’t be nearly as embarrassing as the football team’s defeat to the Blue Devils.
Top 10 RPI Boosters. There will be plenty of chances to boost league RPI during the conference slate, given the ACC’s overall strength. But these non-conference matchups will not only provide insight into the ACC’s tourney chances, but also give all of us some must-see-TV. A few of these games are potential matchups, given the right results in early-season tournaments.
- Nov. 17, 2009. Clemson at Liberty – 10 a.m. (ESPN). One of the stranger games on any team’s schedule, the Tigers are paying the Flames back for being a last-minute fill-in last season. And as part of ESPN’s 24-hour hoops marathon, you can have some bacon and eggs while you watch Booker lead one of the ACC’s big boys into the tiny Vines Center.
- Nov. 19, 2009. North Carolina vs. Ohio State (in New York City) – 9 p.m. (ESPN2). Part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, this will be the first test for the Tar Heels. The Buckeyes may not be as strong as last season, but they were still picked to finish third in the Big Ten.
- Nov. 20, 2009. North Carolina vs. Syracuse or California – 5 p.m./7 p.m. (ESPN2). Yes, the Coaches vs. Cancer classic has subregionals, but somehow there are still just four teams guaranteed to reach MSG: UNC, Ohio State, Syracuse, and California. Whether it’s the title game or consolation game, we should be in for a good affair.
- Nov. 20, 2009. Georgia Tech vs. Villanova or George Mason – 1p.m./3 p.m. (ESPNU). Provided the Yellow Jackets top Dayton and Villanova fends off George Mason, we could be in for a real slugfest down in Puerto Rico. Back-to-back wins over Dayton and Nova could fill up the Yellow Jacket bandwagon very quickly. Tech could then meet Indiana or even a strong mid-major like Boston University (hooray, alma mater!) in the final on the 21st.
- Nov. 22, 2009. Boston College vs. Purdue – 8:30 p.m. Assuming the Eagles can beat St. Joseph’s and Purdue can get past South Dakota State, we should see a strong matchup – at least on paper. The Boilermakers are a sexy Final Four pick this year, while the Eagles are lacking in depth and expectations. A win – or even a close finish – for the Eagles would make a big statement for the ACC.
- Nov. 23 thru Nov. 25, 2009. Maryland at the Maui Invitational – (ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU). Assuming the Terps top host Chaminade (ask Ralph Sampson), they could face some tough tests in a bracket that is always one of the toughest of the preseason (not to mention having better weather than the Great Alaska Shootout). The second round would see Maryland face Vanderbilt or Cincinnati, followed by the likes of Colorado, Gonzaga, Arizona or Wisconsin. A strong showing here, and the Terps won’t be under the radar, anymore.
- Nov. 16 thru Nov. 27, 2009. Duke in NIT Season Tip-off – (ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU). Potential games against Charlotte, Arizona State or TCU are all well and good, but the reason juicy matchup could take place on the 27th at MSG, as Duke vs. UConn could be one of the best games of the non-league season. We all root for upsets in the Big Dance, but in this bracket, I want to see the heavyweights.
- Nov. 29, 2009. Clemson vs. Butler or UCLA – (ESPN2/ESPNU). The Tigers would have to first get past Texas A&M and probably West Virginia, but could see the Bulldogs or Bruins in the final of the 76 Classic in Anaheim.
- Dec. 1:, 2009. Big Ten/ACC Challenge – Wake Forest at Purdue, Maryland at Indiana, Michigan State at North Carolina. As usual, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge provides some juicy matchups, including these three. Wake Forest vs. Purdue would be the one to watch, if not for the Tar Heels and Spartans. These teams have become very familiar foes the last few years, so don’t expect many friendly glances during this showdown.
- Dec. 5, 2009. North Carolina at Kentucky – 12:30 p.m. (CBS). This one could be the non-conference game of the year in the entire nation. With Calipari and his prized recruits in Lexington, expect Rupp to be rocking as the big bad Tar Heels come to down. With Nantz and Kellogg on the call, it’ll even feel like a National Championship game (minus “One Shining Moment”, of course). And as if you needed a second course, Wake Forest travels to Gonzaga later in the day (5:30 p.m., ESPN2).
- Dec. 19, 2009. North Carolina at Texas – 2 p.m. (ESPN). As if the Tar Heels road schedule wasn’t tough enough, we get another potential Final Four preview in Austin.
- Nov. 24, 2009. Florida State at Florida
- Nov. 26, 2009. Clemson vs. Texas A&M (Anaheim, Calif.)
- Dec. 6, 2009. Villanova at Maryland (in Washington, D.C.) – 7:30 p.m.
- Dec. 9, 2009. Harvard at Boston College (Remember last year?…..)
- Dec. 19, 2009. Gonzaga vs. Duke (in New York City) – 4 p.m. (CBS)
- Dec. 31, 2009. Richmond at Wake Forest – 7 p.m. (ESPNU) – Don’t sleep on the Spiders.
Key Conference Games.
- Jan. 23, 2010. Duke at Clemson – 9 p.m. (ESPN w/Gameday). With the Gameday crew on hand, the entire state of South Carolina will be ready for this one, as Duke faces its toughest road test this side of the Dean Dome. If Booker can anchor the middle against Duke’s big front-court, we could be in for a slugfest.
- Jan. 19 and Jan 26, 2010. Clemson at Georgia Tech; Clemson at Boston College. With the campus and team looking forward to the Duke game on the 23rd, the Tigers need to watch out for these sandwich road trips on either side. Clemson heads south to face the Jackets, stops home for the showdown with Duke, then heads all the way north to meet the Eagles. With three wins in seven days, Clemson becomes a national force. But 1 or 2 losses, and they could be the same-old disappointing Tigers.
- Feb. 7, 2010. North Carolina at Maryland – 2 p.m. (FSN). The only meeting between the schools should see a raucous crowd at the Comcast Center. If Vasquez can win this one, and play well against North Carolina’s complex defense, he may legitimize what I think could be Naismith consideration.
- Feb. 9, 2010. Boston College at Wake Forest – 7 p.m. This one may not seem too glamorous, but it could go a long way in telling how many NCAA bids will be given to the ACC. If BC can steal this one, and maybe one against Duke or UNC, the Eagles could surprise some people and stay in the tourney discussion.
- Feb. 13, 2010. Maryland at Duke – 1 p.m. (CBS). With the national audience watching, Maryland – just six days removed from a home date with UNC – could propel itself into the national spotlight, or wither under the Cameron pressure. Only time will tell. The teams will also meet in the penultimate game of the year, March 3 in College Park.
- Feb. 10 and March 6, 2010. Duke at North Carolina; North Carolina at Duke – both at 9 p.m. (ESPN). Big shocker, but these two games will not only raise the hype-meter to astronomical proportions, but they will also likely tell us which ACC power will have a better shot at cutting down the nets in April.
Digging Deeper. Other than North Carolina and Duke, which combine to boast 27 current NBA players, the ACC school with the next highest total is Georgia Tech with seven. Wake Forest has six alums in the NBA, followed by Boston College (3), Maryland (3), Florida State (2), Miami (2), N.C. State (2), and Virginia (1). Six NBA head coaches and 11 assistant coaches are also from ACC schools.
Fun With KenPom. What’s interesting about the ACC the last few years is that although there have been a lot of very good teams in the league, there has only been one great team. UNC in 2007, 2008 and 2009 was the only ACC squad that finished in the top five in Pomeroy, and Duke in 2008 was the only other team to finish in the top ten. Compare that with the Big East putting three teams into the Pomeroy top five just last season. Virginia and Georgia Tech were the only pretty-bad teams in the league last year, as both hovered around the #100 mark. Again, compare with the bottom of the Big East, which was simply abominable. Yet the ACC was a more highly-rated league than the ACC last year because their bottom-feeders were far worse than the ACC’s. This illustrates that there are different ways to evaluate “conference strength” and either way — looking at only the top teams or looking at the entire thing — has its merits.
NCAA Tournament History. When you have two teams with nearly 200 wins in the NCAA Tournament between them (actual: 188, which isn’t all that far behind the SEC and Pac-10), you’re going to have a really strong record. That much is true, as the ACC has gone 341-174 (.662), which is easily the best record among conferences all-time. Would you believe that Clemson is the only school that, as an ACC member, has a losing record in the Big Dance? And barely. The Tigers are 8-9 in the NCAAs, while every other school is .500 or better. Furthermore, every team (even the recently hapless NC Staters from Raleigh) has made the NCAA Tournament since 2006, which shows that teams in this conference (outside of the top two) tend to cycle between pretty good to not so good relatively quickly.
Final Thoughts. With 179 national TV appearances this season, much of the country will get rightfully sick of the ACC hype. But with 53 current NBA players, including eight rookies, the talent is never in question. What the league really needs is for a team NOT from Tobacco Road to make a strong statement and get into the Final Four mix. With Maryland and Clemson on their heels, North Carolina and Duke will have to earn their way through March, and could easily watch one of their conference foes cut down the nets. And with so many tough non-conference games, no one can accuse this BCS conference of cupcake scheduling. Judging by the love/hate relationship most college basketball fans have with the ACC and its member schools, the conference is obviously doing something right.