ACC Teams Struggling to Adapt to Styles of New ProgramsPosted by Christopher Kehoe on January 16th, 2014
Much was made of the three former Big East teams entering the league this season and having to adapt to the ACC’s style of play. This notion was supported by the simple fact of sheer numbers; the returning ACC teams would number 12 teams while the Big East was sending over only three units. What did not get enough preseason attention was how the ACC as a whole would adapt to the very different styles of play of the three incoming teams, all quite successful programs in their own rights. Notre Dame under head coach Mike Brey is known for its selfless team basketball, execution, cutting and the extra pass, while developing a litany of elite low post big men like Luke Harangody, Jack Cooley, and now Garrick Sherman. While the Irish lost its best player in Jerian Grant for the year, their style of play was on display and ultimately decided the outcome in a statement win against Duke.
Syracuse’s famous 2-3 zone has helped in establishing itself as one of the best teams in the nation and has put the Orange among a group of three unbeaten teams remaining. Their defense has flummoxed ACC opponents to the tune of allowing only 50.0 PPG to ACC foes through their first four games. They clearly have taken charge and dominated the tempo in their outings, most recently holding UNC a full 30 points below its season average of 75.6 PPG. While it remains early in the ACC race, so far it seems obvious that both Syracuse and Pittsburgh have been forcing their own tempo and style of play on their opponents and not vice versa. Jamie Dixon’s Panthers are known for their toughness and gritty play, both of which were evident in their recent 12-point road victory over N.C. State. Famed ESPN analyst Dick Vitale confirmed this theory and perception when he noted: “There are certain programs that get certain labels that help them big-time psychologically… the mindset is where you’re at a negative before you ever start playing, and I think Pittsburgh has that, that label of being tough.”
While many may see that label as a mental fabrication or the product of ‘groupthink,’ Pittsburgh uses the characterization as an advantage and is winning a lot of games regardless. Behind some great senior leadership and the inspired play of Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, they have positioned themselves in a 4-0 tie atop the ACC heading into a crucial Saturday showdown at the Carrier Dome. Two steady and heady point guards may determine the outcome of that game, with Pittsburgh’s James Robinson first in the nation in assist to turnover ratio and Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis coming in fourth. If Pitt can pull one out on the road against Syracuse’s long-limbed forwards and vaunted zone defense, it just may be that the entirety of the ACC needs to adapt to the style of the Panthers and not the other way around.