Lessons Learned: ACC Weekend Wrap-UpPosted by KCarpenter on January 14th, 2013
We are now three games into conference play and after a tremendous weekend that saw some of the best teams squaring off, the number one team go down, and a session of overtime, the hierarchy of the conference is coming into focus. Or maybe it is getting more muddled. In any case, even if it is still not clear which teams (besides Duke) are actually good, we did learn some other things this weekend:
- Duke Isn’t Invincible. No one seriously thought this, but the occasional loose talk of the Blue Devils going undefeated turned out to be, unsurprisingly, a bit premature. Obviously, a road loss to North Carolina State with Duke’s most efficient scorer, Ryan Kelly, sitting on the bench is not bad. Still, it is hard to win games when your opponent shoots over 50% from the field, 50% from three, and makes 20 free throws. Duke’s defense has been solid this year on the whole, this was Duke’s first true road game, and the Wolfpack is one of the better offensive teams in the whole country, yet none of these excuses changes the fact that NC State handled the Blue Devils’ on the inside and Duke had no answer for Richard Howell.
- Miami Doesn’t Miss Reggie Johnson Yet. It seemed like the Hurricanes would miss the formidable big man after a two-game losing streak that not so coincidentally began when Johnson was injured. Since those two games, however, Miami has played very well, with veteran Julian Gamble filling Johnson’s shoes convincingly. The Hurricanes share a spot with the Wolfpack on top of the ACC standings, currently undefeated in conference play. Gamble’s production has looked great on the offensive end, and Miami’s defense has looked impressive. Still, the tempo-free percentages tell a story: Gamble just doesn’t match the rebounding prowess of Johnson. It hasn’t cost the Hurricanes yet, but it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.
- Georgia Tech Is Not A Sleeper For The Conference Title. Before the start of the ACC season, there was a lot of mostly silly talk about the Yellow Jackets being one of the better teams in the conference that nobody was talking about. Folks pointed to a nice 10-2 record and a surprisingly high defensive efficiency rating as calculated by Ken Pomeroy. These impressive numbers, however, were taken without a more thorough understanding of their context. Georgia Tech played one of the easiest non-conference slates in the entire country. Now, sitting in the ACC cellar as the only team in the league without a conference victory, it’s become clear that Georgia Tech was, at best, a paper tiger. The team is capable of playing very good defense, and I would be surprised if they didn’t win at least a few conference games, but the offense remains absolutely dreadful and it’s hard to win much if you can’t score.
- Boston College Gets To The Foul Line At Will. Somehow, the Eagles beat the Demon Deacons at their own game, even if they lost the actual basketball game. While Wake Forest has had an excellent season in terms of getting to the free throw line, when the Deacs faced BC, the Eagles easily won the battle for the stripe. While Wake Forest managed 18 free throw attempts (and 10 made free throws), Boston College made 33 free throw attempts and converted 25. Freshman guard Olivier Hanlan went 7-of-7, continuing to march to the line whenever he feels like it.
- Virginia Has A Fouling Problem. In its past two games, the Virginia Cavaliers have accomplished the somewhat startling feat of attempting at least 11 more shot attempts than their opponent while playing at the slowest pace in the conference and somehow still losing. Seemingly out of nowhere,Virginia has developed a fouling problem in conference play. In Saturday’s game against Clemson, the Tigers attempted only 33 field goals yet amassed 27 free throw attempts. These numbers jump out because, on the year, Virginia has been a pretty good team at limiting opponents’ free throws, averaging a mere 31.8% ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempt percentage (FTA/FGA). The result against Clemson echoes a similar fouling problem that Virginia had against Wake Forest and suggests that the increase in fouls isn’t merely a strange blip in the numbers. In conference play Virginia has averaged an opponent FTA/FGA of 50.8%, which, if it held up for the whole season, would place the Cavaliers among the 10 worst Division I teams in this category.
- Obviously, Jackson Simmons Has Been The Answer This Whole Time. While North Carolina has struggled to find the best starting frontcourt partner for James Michael McAdoo, Roy Williams has vacillated between starting the offensively-limited Desmond Hubert, the defensively-impaired Brice Johnson, and the incredibly raw Joel James. After having some success with small line-ups, it seemed that the best answer might actually be 6’5″ P.J. Hairston, a strong swingman whose offensive punch and skill as a shooter led to some very successful scoring stretches for the Tar Heels. Still, one of the other three traditional big men tended to get the start. However, on Saturday, Williams seems to have found (and liked) a fifth approach: Jackson Simmons. Simmons, the undersized sophomore from Smoky Mountain High School, played 15 critical minutes in the victory over Florida State. Despite his relatively small stature, the sophomore is a fundamentally sound defender and an enthusiastic offensive rebounder. While he may not be a long-term solution for North Carolina, his strong performance on Sunday has made the battle for minutes among the young Tar Heel big men all the more competitive.