ACC Stock Watch: Conference Play Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 16th, 2015

Conference play got under way for the ACC roughly two weeks ago, and the early games have lived up to their lofty billing in providing us with valuable insights. Some teams are clearly playing up to their potential and possibly even beyond it, while several others are already searching for answers for disturbing trends. Welcome to this week’s ACC Stock Watch, the first since the ACC’s teams started beating up on each other.

Trending Up

  • Virginia. It would be hard to imagine that a team entering ACC play at 12-0 could be trending up after just two weeks of action, but the Cavaliers have the look of a serious national title contender. The only team boasting both a defense and an offense among the top 10 in efficiency metrics, the Cavaliers have shown a keen ability to win games in a myriad of ways. It’s not just an elite defense carrying Tony Bennett’s team, as it showed in its awesome 89-80 double-overtime win over Miami two weeks ago. Virginia has already toppled the Hurricanes and Notre Dame and have shown no signs of slowing down.
  • North Carolina. With the best of the Tar Heels’ non-conference wins losing some luster (Ohio State, Florida), North Carolina badly needed a marquee win in conference play. Last weekend’s victory over Louisville qualified as such, and holding on to beat NC State in Raleigh on Wednesday night showed the team may have regained some of the toughness that was so sorely lacking. Could a 3-1 ACC start propel North Carolina to bigger things?
Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (

Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (

  • NC State. A 3-2 start in the ACC may not blow anyone away, but the Wolfpack’s demolition of Duke and their near-win over a surging North Carolina team shows Mark Gottfried’s group is capable of making some noise this year. Add in a blowout win over Pittsburgh an is there a reasonable argument that NC State belongs with the heavyweights?
  • Miami. There were plenty of questions about the direction in which the Hurricanes were heading when they closed the non-conference schedule by losing three of four. But Angel Rodriguez and company have answered the bell in the ACC, pushing Virginia to double-overtime and handling Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. With Notre Dame and NC State up next, we’ll know even more about Miami by this time next week.

  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina. Once news became public that Paige has been battling plantar fasciitis in his foot for weeks, that made his early-season doldrums a bit more understandable. Nevertheless, Paige has reclaimed the form that made him the preseason ACC Player of the Year. His game-winner against Louisville was enormous for UNC’s momentum, and a 23-point, nine-assist performance in a tough road win in Raleigh shows Paige still has the ability to put the Tar Heels on his shoulders.
  • Chris Jones, Louisville. Jones was a complete offensive liability in non-conference play, but since he was benched for the flop heard ’round the world, he’s been an absolute beast on the offensive end. In four ACC games, Jones is shooting 49 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. His 2.3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in those four contests bodes well for an improving Cardinals offense.
  • Devin Thomas, Wake Forest. Yes, Danny Manning’s team has started 1-4 in the ACC with several competitive losses, but the first two weeks of conference play have shown Thomas is a star. In his last four conference games, Thomas is averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds per contest. That includes a 31/11 game against Montrezl Harrell and Louisville and a 24/5 outing against Jahlil Okafor and Duke.


  • Syracuse. That 4-0 start in the ACC looks good until you notice who the Orange have actually played (Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Wake Forest), with three of those wins coming by three points or less. The loss of Chris McCullough for the season to injury has further depleted their depth, meaning a tougher stretch of games may truly expose Jim Boeheim’s group.
  • Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh’s a respectable 2-2 in ACC play so far but a one-point overtime win over Boston College didn’t do much to raise expectations, nor did getting handled easily by NC State and Clemson. The Panthers still don’t seem to have much of an identity this season and are in danger of finishing closer to the bottom of the standings than the top.
  • Clemson. It’s hard to fault Clemson for a 1-3 start when those losses are at the hands of North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia, but the Tigers’ inability to score points is again an issue. Brad Brownell’s team currently ranks 280th in points per game in the country and 266th in field goal percentage. Without the lockdown defense the Tigers sported last year with K.J. McDaniels in the lineup, it could be a long season for the Tigers.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville. It’s not so much that ACC play has caused Harrell’s star to dim, but that he hasn’t had much of a chance to really shine. The improved play of the Cardinals’ guards and the big frontcourts focusing on him have made getting touches difficult for the Wooden Award candidate. After a monster 25-point, 13-rebound performance against Wake Forest, Harrell has averaged a modest 8.7 points per game on only seven shots in the three games since. He hasn’t lost any of his talent or ability to take over games, but his teammates aren’t finding him nearly as often.

Trending Down

  • Duke. What is left to say that the whole country isn’t already debating? Duke’s two-game losing streak is a revelation, but the way that both NC State and Miami made them look completely ordinary and disinterested is very unusual for a Coach K team with this much talent. The defense has clearly regressed, and if the Blue Devils fall at Louisville this weekend, full-on panic mode may begin in Durham.
The Duke faithful are puzzled by the team's recent slide (getty images)

The Duke faithful are puzzled by the team’s recent slide (getty images)

  • Georgia Tech. With so much talk circulating about Brian Gregory’s job security, an 0-4 start in the ACC is far from what he needed. This team is improved, especially with Charles Mitchell patrolling the frontcourt, but the Jackets’ inability to close tight games has doomed them. They’ve lost twice to Notre Dame — once in double-overtime and again by three. Syracuse clipped them by a point. This team is improving, but in a conference so stacked, marginal improvement not be enough to save Gregory’s job.
  • Tyus Jones, Duke. The unsung hero among Duke’s three ballyhooed freshmen, Jones has found the ACC to be a very unwelcoming place. The point guard is shooting a putrid 20 percent from the field in the Blue Devils’ first four contests, only scoring five points per game. His leadership of the offense looks disjointed too, with way too many quick perimeter shots going up without even a nod toward the NPOY candidate, Okafor. For this team to get back on track, Jones has to steady the reins of the Blue Devils’ offense.
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. When conference play rolled around, it appeared as if there was only one true contender to battle Okafor for ACC Player of the Year. Grant had an otherworldly run through his team’s non-conference schedule, but has had trouble adjusting to the defensive intensity of his conference opponents. Following a 24-point debut against Georgia Tech, the senior has managed just 8.7 points per contest on 28.5 percent shooting. With Zach Auguste’s absence still not resolved, teams will continue to focus their defense on the Fighting Irish star. Can he overcome the spotlight of being the target every night and get back to his dominant ways?
Lathan Wells (77 Posts)

A 30-year old unabashed college basketball fan, I currently reside in Richmond, Virginia. I especially enjoy following the ACC and the local teams, VCU and the University of Richmond. I hope to continue my journalistic pursuits in the sports arena full-time in the future, but in the meantime I am really enjoying covering the greatest sport there is for RTC. Follow me on Twitter @prohibitivefav.

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