Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2010

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

  • So I was wrong about the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  The Big Ten won, 6-5 (thanks to a comeback victory for Purdue over Virginia Tech).  The ACC sported wins from Duke, Virginia, Boston College, Wake Forest and MarylandN.C. State, Clemson and North Carolina were totally embarrassed by Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois, respectively.  If you’re keeping score at home, the predicted bottom of the ACC is better than the bottom of the Big Ten.  Fantastic.  Duke is now the only ACC team with fewer than two losses.
  • Luckily, the bottom tier of the conference seems to be improving, making the ACC a turbulent sea of mediocrity.  In better news, Mike Krzyzewski won his 876th game Saturday to tie Adolph Rupp at third on the all-time wins list.

Team of the Week

Miami ekes this one out over Boston College and Virginia.  The Hurricanes scored two very impressive wins over West Virginia and Mississippi.  Durand Scott caught fire, torching the Rebels for 27 points, six rebounds and six assists.  Reggie Johnson added 17 points and ten boards.  The Hurricanes put up an astonishing 57 points in the first half before putting things in cruise control for a 13-point win.  Malcolm Grant lead the way against West Virginia, putting up 26 points on the afternoon.  Miami showcases three guys who have the ability to carry the team on any given night.  When Scott and Grant get to the foul line, they’re deadly.  And Miami’s two losses come in a heartbreaker at Memphis and an ugly game at Rutgers.

Bizarro Team of the Week

Virginia Tech wins hands down after losing their third straight game at home against Virginia.  Virginia’s definitely better than everyone thought, but that’s still inexcusable for a team searching for an elusive at-large bid.  I wrote in the Conference Primer that “Seth Greenberg’s squad should hear their names called come Selection Sunday, and they should be a pretty high seed.”  I was totally wrong.  There’s almost no chance they sniff a high seed, and they’re currently staring at another disappointing Selection Sunday if they can’t get it together.  They have no marquee victories: the only “Power Six” team the Hokies have beaten is Oklahoma State. Unlike Miami, the Hokies only have Malcolm Delaney, who puts up solid numbers, but he can’t do it alone.  They will need to find a real second threat to take some of the scoring load and defensive focus off Delaney.

Player of the Week

Kyrie Irving – I don’t like to repeat weekly honors for fear of beating dead horses.  But it’s tough to find a player in the country who was as valuable as Irving this week, much less the conference.  Irving exploded against Michigan State for 31 points, six rebounds, four assists, which is enough, to say nothing of his two steals and two blocks to boot.  In a game that featured four of the most talented seniors in the country (Duke’s Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith; Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers), Irving was the best player on the floor.  He scored at will: from the line, beyond the arc and off the dribble.  While he struggled in the first half against Butler–having to sit much of it after two offensive fouls–Irving was the difference-maker in the second period, exploding for 17 points in the second half alone.  So far this season, Irving has played against and with some of the best players in the country, and he’s consistently bested all of them.  Virginia’s Mike Scott was a close second.

Power Rankings

1. Duke (8-0): I went to the Duke – Butler game Saturday, and I was very impressed by both teams.  The most interesting thing to watch was how much Brad Stevens’ triangle and two frustrated Duke’s offense.  Duke also relied heavily on threes, even when they weren’t falling.  An off night in a hostile environment seems like Duke’s best shot to lose during ACC play.  Mason Plumlee will be a key factor on those nights.  If he disappears (or gets in foul trouble), forcing Duke into halfcourt sets will lead to a lot of jumpers.  Duke is a good enough shooting team that I don’t expect them to have but one or two “off nights” this season, but they’re far from unbeatable.

2. Miami (6-2): You’ll be seeing a whole lot of movement in these rankings between the second and 11th spots.  This is the first major leap.  I don’t expect Miami to stick around here for the whole season, but the Hurricanes showed that they are a talented team with a variety of weapons.   Their game against Central Florida (who just beat Florida) will be a big test for Frank Haith’s squad before conference play.

3. North Carolina (5-3): The Tar Heels rebounded from a woodshed beating in Champaign to take down Kentucky in the Dean Dome.  The Kentucky game showcased the talented frontcourt of Tyler Zeller and John Henson, but don’t move your expectations too high.  Kentucky is a young team with major interior depth issues.  Roy Williams should be thrilled with the win, but he still needs to overcome backcourt problems. Why Larry Drew II continues to play more minutes than Kendall Marshall, I’ll never know.  Harrison Barnes had another lackluster week, but the Carolina offense is probably as much to blame as Barnes’ slump.

4. Florida State (6-2): Florida State is a tale of two teams.  Defensively, they are the most dominant team in the nation: they are ranked first by Ken Pomeroy in adjusted defense behind great shot-blocking and field goal defense (the Seminoles are holding opponents to a striking 31.6% from the floor).  However, on offense, Florida State is a total train wreck.  They turn the ball over way too much, and Chris Singleton is their only player averaging double figures in scoring.  In halfcourt sets, the team is inactive, leading to bad shots and turnovers.  Florida State is turning the ball over at an alarming 26.4% rate, good for 332nd in the country.  That has to change if they want to be a factor in conference play. I’m sorry, but if you give Duke a quarter of your possessions in transition it doesn’t matter how good you guard them in halfcourt sets.

5. Maryland (6-3): The Terps are a strange team this year.  They’ve been good, but not quite good enough.  They almost notched a major nonconference win against Temple but couldn’t hold on down the stretch.  That leaves them with three very strong nonconference losses (two of which could have gone Maryland’s way if someone had stepped up down the stretch).  Jordan Williams is a star, averaging 17 points and 12 rebounds a game, but he hasn’t shown the ability to step up when it counts at the end of games.  Just this week, Williams missed two crucial free throws with about a minute to go that would have brought the Terps within one.  It should be interesting to see if Gary Williams can coach someone into a leader this season: if he can, they’ll be a very tough team to beat; if he can’t, they’ll lose a lot of close games.

6. Boston College (6-2):  Stability has taken hold after the Eagles’ embarrassing loss to Yale.  Since then, the Eagles are 5-1 with wins over Cal, Indiana and Massachusetts.  The only loss comes to Wisconsin, who just trounced N.C. State.  Sunday at Maryland will give them a chance to earn their stripes.  A fun fact about Boston College: currently, the Eagles are ranked eighth in adjusted offensive efficiency by Ken Pomeroy largely thanks to taking care of the ball and making free throws.  Eighth!  Needless to say, I was surprised (and if you aren’t, you’re lying).

7. Virginia (5-3, 1-0): The Cavaliers had another impressive week, knocking off in-state rival Virginia Tech on the road.  That gives them two straight upsets.  Getting blown out by Stanford remains their ugly loss, but sometimes things happen on the road.  Mike Scott has been tremendous so far, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds a game.  Once Sammy Zeglinski gets totally healthy, Virginia could be a solid, tournament-bound team.  It’s definitely too early to make any guarantees, but if I had to put money on an ACC team from Virginia making the Big Dance, I’d really consider Tony Bennett’s squad.

8. N.C. State (4-3): Sidney Lowe’s seat is on fire.  Yes, Tracy Smith is still injured.  Yes, they Wolfpack’s three losses came against very good teams (Georgetown, Wisconsin and Syracuse).  But their top win is against George Mason.  N.C. State had a chance to make a big statement at the beginning of this season and impress voters.  Now, Arizona is the only noteworthy team separating the Wolfpack from conference play.  They have the talent.  Now Lowe just needs to find a way to convert that talent into big wins.

T9. Georgia Tech (4-3): Speaking of hot seats, Paul Hewitt may push the athletic department to finally buy him out.  He’s well on his way to having another fairly talented, very disappointing team.  I couldn’t move Georgia Tech up after an embarrassing loss to Northwestern, but the Yellow Jackets did play Syracuse close right after Thanksgiving.  At the core of their problems is an abysmal 26% clip from three (less than 20 schools in D-I are worse) when threes account for a third of their shots.  They’ll need to improve their efficiency drastically, or find a way to steal Derrick Favors back from the NBA to compete in the ACC this season.

T9. Virginia Tech (4-4, 0-1): I think we covered most of the Hokies’ problems above.  But I can’t say it enough: Malcolm Delaney can’t do it alone.  And if he keeps trying, they’ll keep losing.

11. Clemson (5-3): Clemson quietly sports back-to-back losses against Michigan and at South Carolina this week.  Things probably won’t get any easier for the Tigers, as they take on Florida State in Tallahassee this Sunday.  There’s not any one glaring problem with this team, but Brad Brownell needs to make some changes.  Clemson isn’t terrible in any one statistic, but they don’t shine anywhere either.

12. Wake Forest (5-3): Wake rounds out the ACC for the third week in a row, despite two wins.  Color me unimpressed by beating Iowa and Holy Cross at home.  Wake is still struggling mightily rebounding, turning the ball over (but also forcing turnovers), and shooting in general (interestingly, they manage 44% from downtown).  The most frightening part of their poor field goal shooting has been that it has come against bad teams.  If you can’t break 50% against cupcakes, conference play is going to be very tough (also known as, Wake will be tabbed to lose every game, baring drastic, sudden improvement).

A Look Ahead

  • The non-conference week ahead figures to be pretty quiet, but on Sunday, conference play continues with Boston College at Maryland and Clemson at Florida State (the games are at 4:00 PM and 6:15 PM EST on Fox Sports Net).
  • Is Duke really such a draw for CBS that enough viewers will watch them play a nondescript St. Louis team at home to make it worth the network’s while?

History In the Making in Durham

Coach K now sits only three games behind Dean Smith and 26 games behind Bob Knight in all-time wins.  For my math-inclined friends: Duke has 23 regular season games, three possible ACC tournament games, and six possible NCAA tournament games.  That totals 32 total (possible) games, putting Coach K at 908 for his career.

Of course, that requires Duke going undefeated (or losing less than six of their possible games).  Can the Blue Devils do it?  It would be fitting that the coach to pass Knight on the wins list did it with the first undefeated squad since Knight’s 1976 Hoosiers.  But it probably won’t happen.  Technically, it’s possible (as it is for 19 other teams in D-I).  And yes, the ACC looks really weak so far.  But Duke still relies too heavily on threes (often struggling in halfcourt sets), and if they’re struggling in a hostile environment, they could fall flat.  Not to mention Butler’s zone really gave Kyrie Irving a lot of trouble the first half.  I’m not sure how many teams Duke will see as good as Butler defensively (besides Florida State), but the Bulldogs showed that Duke is beatable if you keep them out of transition.  Every game has more and more pressure–not to mention the fact that they’ve only won eight games so far.

In short, don’t get on a plane to Vegas to put your life savings on the Blue Devils going 40-0.  Even finishing the regular season unscathed leaves six possible games against top competition on neutral courts.  That alone is a daunting task for even the best of teams, not to mention one relying on a freshman point guard, even if he goes #1 overall next June.  While it’s tough to pick out a specific team that will knock Duke down, all it takes is a great night (with a mediocre night from Duke).  This team has flaws, and eventually those flaws will catch up to them.

Brian Goodman (781 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.


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4 Responses to “Checking in on… the ACC”

  1. Ben says:

    Uh, Matt, that 43 point loss at the hands of UW was rather ugly. Even if UW is really good.

  2. Matt Patton says:

    True. We’ll say they were tired from all of the traveling. It’s definitely not as ugly as being torched by a Stanford team picked to finish bottom of the barrel in the Pac 10, but it would’ve been nice if they were more competitive.

  3. David says:

    You seem to cover just about every angle in this well written article, The only thing that you seemingly didn’t account for in the last paragraph is the caveat, what if Duke improves their weakness? Which is something that they do every single year… why not expect it to happen again this year?

  4. Matt Patton says:

    It’s true, they could improve on their weaknesses. And I think they will improve dramatically with a loss. Teams need to know they’re not invincible to make major adjustments a lot of the time, and I think it’ll take a real scare (so far none of Duke’s close games have been “scary”…Duke has always been in control) to make them adjust.

    Now there is also the possibility that Kyle Singler gets out of his funk and plays the POY season everyone predicted. That happens, and Duke becomes head-and-shoulders above the country. Right now they are the best team, but still beatable. Make him a superstar and get Mason Plumlee to be more consistent, and undefeated will be much closer.

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