Checking in on… the ACCPosted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2011
Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.
A Look Back
ACC storylines abound this week. Duke embarrassed by a bubble-worthy Saint John’s team in the normally friendly Madison Square Garden; North Carolina finally got some hype-worthy play out of Harrison Barnes as they solidify their runner-up status; Maryland won a couple of near must-win conference road games to stay in the hunt for an at-large bid; Florida State showcased the offense that lost to Auburn in a hideous defeat at Clemson; Virginia Tech joined the ranks of ACC squads to lose big in Atlanta; Boston College was forced to play in Cameron Indoor; Georgia Tech sniffed the top half of the conference before Brian Oliver’s untimely injury left them undermanned against the Terps; NC State continued its quest to remind Wolfpack nation why they should have never run off Herb Sendek; Miami upped its resume as the unluckiest team in the conference to notch two more losses by less than five points (their fifth in conference play); Wake Forest booted their potentially historically bad legacy with their first conference win; and Virginia rapidly progressed towards the team we thought they would be to start the season.
As you can see, the ACC–and really college basketball as a whole–creates a wild landscape. Yes you have your leaders (Duke in the ACC; Ohio State and Texas in their respective conferences), your disappointments (Virginia Tech still qualifies; nationally, Kansas State fits the bill) and your stragglers (Wake Forest joins Auburn and DePaul). But as last week showed (the top 25 went 22-20), anything can happen.
Player of the Week: Nolan Smith’s team may have left their defense and three-point shooting in Durham, but he played like a star. Kyle Singler came into this season with all of the POY hype, but people should have looked at Nolan Smith. Yes, Smith is still behind Kemba Walker (he’s closing that gap), Jimmer Fredette and probably Jared Sullinger (who, no offense, is starting to feel like the Mark Ingram “best player on the best team” Heisman). But he’s at least gaining on Walker and Sullinger. The ugly loss at St. John’s didn’t do Smith any favors, but to his credit, he was outstanding. This week, Smith averaged 30 points and six assists between the two games (and probably should have had more assists in the Saint John’s game, but as Tim Brando would say “the iron was unkind” to his teammates). Smith has really picked up as much slack left by Kyrie Irving as anyone could have hoped, forced to move into an on the ball position. He currently leads the ACC in both points and assists per game, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. No, Smith isn’t the most athletic player on the court. But he’s still a very good shooter with the ability to create his own shot while remaining the primary facilitator. To really have a chance at the award Smith needs Fredette to cool off, Walker to stay in his slump, and run the table in conference play. Likely? No, but it’s possible.
Team of the Week: Maryland finally may be living up to its statistical hype, after two very strong road wins over Virginia (66-42) and Georgia Tech (74-63). Those wins won’t go a long way in making a resume much better, but they keep it from getting worse. I’m still not entirely sure why this team hasn’t gotten into a groove: it has plenty of talent and a great coach. I know the guard play leaves a little to be desired, but between Terrell Stoglin, Adrian Bowie and Pe’Shon Howard, Gary Williams should find someone who can effectively run the offense. To say that Wednesday’s game at home against Duke will be a big game will be an understatement. Duke looks like it’s skidding, and Maryland looks like it may be getting things together. While it’s not a must-win for either team, everyone knows how much Maryland hates to lose to Duke.
Bizarro Team of the Week: Virginia came down to earth this week with ugly losses to Maryland and at Wake Forest. Yes, the Cavaliers gave the Demon Deacons their first conference win and for that alone deserve this week’s award. The Cavaliers allowed Wake its second most potent offensive performance of the season, largely because Wake hit nine of 19 from beyond the arc and got offensive production out of almost everyone with six players in double figures. I don’t think this is a sign that Wake is turning things around (though hopefully it’s steadily improving) so much as Virginia falling into its place near the bottom of the conference without Mike Scott.
- Duke (19-2, 6-1) took one on the chin at Madison Square Garden, but don’t overreact. St. John’s played its best game of the season and Duke played its worst. Going into the game, Duke as a team was shooting 40% from three. They started the St. John’s game 1-22. Some were forced, but no more than usual. This team (like most Duke teams) relies very heavily on jump shots, and some nights, they just won’t fall. Duke’s defense left much more cause for concern. The Blue Devils couldn’t find a way to stop St. John’s penetration and backdoor cuts to save their lives. Mike Krzyzewski cited effort (and St. John’s playing a beautiful game) afterwards, but giving up more than 90 points is always cause for concern.
- North Carolina (15-5, 5-1) has quietly moved into second with wins over Miami (on the road) and NC State. And look out, because Roy Williams has started playing Kendall Marshall at point, and Harrison Barnes is starting to live up to his potential (at least some of it). Barnes has scored in double figures in five of six conference games and hit huge shots along the way. In the Miami win, Barnes scored the last five points for UNC in the final minute and change to tie the game and then take the lead for good.
- Maryland (14-7, 4-3) looks like they may be getting things together. Duke’s trip to College Park Wednesday should tell us a lot more. See this week’s “Team of the Week” section above for an in-depth update on the Terps.
- Florida State (15-6, 5-2) is one of the most frustrating teams in the country. When Chris Singleton and Derwin Kitchen are playing well, the Seminoles are very tough to beat. Unfortunately, they don’t run any real offensive sets. So when Kitchen and Singleton are not creating their own shots, this team struggles to put up fifty. Leonard Hamilton’s teams are notoriously good on defense, but they’re looking worse and worse on offense. I’m not sure if that’s because of player personnel or coaching personnel, but I’d definitely start thinking about trying to pick up an offensive minded coach during the offseason.
- Clemson (15-6, 4-3) beat NC State and Florida State convincingly at home. You can’t overstate what a great job Brad Brownell has done with this team. While they may end up on the wrong side of Selection Sunday, the Tigers have really impressed me at times this season. By the way, Clemson has impressed Ken Pomeroy too: they’re 29th in his ratings.
- Virginia Tech (14-6, 4-3) seemed to be on the right track before going and losing to Georgia Tech. This team is still puzzling. They’ve had a ton of injuries, but that’s not it. When the Hokies are effective offensively, they win (12-0 when they score more than a point per possession). When they’re not, they lose (2-6 when they don’t). That might not be all that surprising, but you would think a team with that many veterans would be a little more consistent offensively. Despite their inconsistency, Ken Pomeroy has the Hokies ranked 31st.
- Boston College (14-7, 4-3) can’t really take too much heat for losing in Durham. They need Reggie Jackson to be a factor to beat good teams. But they’ve lost three out of four, so they’ll really need to at least split with Virginia Tech and North Carolina. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they’re projected to lose their next five games.
- Georgia Tech (10-10, 3-4) is a puzzling team to me. They don’t get to the free throw line (despite very aggressive guards) and they can’t shoot. There’s no reason Iman Shumpert, Glen Rice, Brian Oliver and Mfon Udofia shouldn’t be able to get to the line at will. They’re all tall (at least 6’5 except Udofia) and athletic, which creates huge mismatches for most teams. Why even settle for threes?
- NC State (12-9, 2-5) has lost five of their last six only sporting wins over Wake and Miami in conference play. To say this team has underachieved would be sugar-coating it. There is no reason this squad shouldn’t have made the NCAA Tournament. None. They have good guards (albeit young) and great post presence. I don’t see any way State hangs on to Sidney Lowe after this disaster.
- Miami (12-9, 1-6) may be the unluckiest team in basketball. If not for a one point win over Boston College, it would be defeated in conference play. The last five Hurricane games have been decided by a total of 12 points. Miami lost four of those games. Hopefully Frank Haith can turn things around with home games against Virginia and Georgia Tech this week.
- Wake Forest (8-13, 1-5) is out of the cellar for the week! Offensive balance and good shooting ruled the day in Winston-Salem. I’m not sure I see any more great shots at a win left on the schedule (though you should never bet on NC State or Georgia Tech on the road), so it’s good that the Demon Deacons got a win when they did. Things can only go up from here.
- Virginia (11-10, 2-5) fell to a desperate Wake Forest team looking for its first conference win to fall to one and five in their last six games.
A Look Ahead
- Tuesday Blizzard Warning: North Carolina at Boston College (9:00 PM, ACC Network)
- Wednesday Upset Watch: Duke at Maryland (9:00 PM, ESPN)
- Sunday Ticket: Florida State at North Carolina (2:00 PM, FSN)