ACC Stock Watch: Feast Week Edition

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 1st, 2015

As the the majority of the league transitions from Feast Week into the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, now is as good a time as any to make some initial evaluations. Based on what we’ve seen through two-plus weeks of the young season, let’s take stock in each of the 15 ACC clubs, reviewing what has transpired so far, and considering in what direction we surmise each to be trending.

Trending Up

Jim Boeheim has his Orange playing at an extremely high level right out the gates. (Getty)

Jim Boeheim has plenty to be thankful for after his club’s performance in winning the Battle 4 Atlantis (

  • Syracuse: Not many teams are feeling better about itself than Syracuse is at the moment. Picked to finish ninth in the ACC standings, the Orange probably surprised even themselves in taking home the title at the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis. Seamlessly intertwining veterans Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney with rookies Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon, Jim Boeheim looks to have a team capable of reinvigorating his spirits during his 40th year at the helm. Banned from the postseason a year ago and forced to miss the first nine conference games this season, Boeheim appeared worn down last March as tumult swirled around his program. His current team, however, showed considerable resolve in coming from behind to beat both Connecticut and Texas A&M in the Bahamas, appearing eerily similar to some of his special clubs of the past and proving that there is still some juice left in the Hall of Famer’s tank. The Orange entertain Wisconsin on Wednesday before a weekend trip to the nation’s capital to visit old friend Georgetown.

  • Wake Forest: If Wake’s performance in Maui is any indication, it looks as though the program is finally back in good hands with Danny Manning. The second-year head coach appears ahead of schedule with his team, as the Demon Deacons left Hawaii with a pair of impressive victories against blue-bloods Indiana and UCLA, finishing third in a tournament where they had been considered an afterthought. What’s more is that Manning’s charges have yet to play at full strength, as last year’s leading scorer, Codi Miller-McIntyre, remains sidelined with a broken foot.

Poised to Break Out

It was only a matter of time before Roy Williams and UNC got back on track. (Getty)

It was only a matter of time before Roy Williams and UNC got back on track. (Getty)

  • North Carolina: After dropping a game at Northern Iowa, the Tar Heels responded by winning the CBE Classic with victories over Northwestern and Kansas State. It is entirely reasonable to reserve any judgment on the Heels until Marcus Paige returns to the lineup, but in the interim, head coach Roy Williams has to be encouraged by Justin Jackson’s recent tear. After struggling out of the gates this year, the sophomore has tallied 68 points while shooting a blistering 25-of-43 from the floor over the last three contests. And while losing a senior captain is never ideal, the additional opportunities it has provided for Joel Berry and Nate Britt will undeniably prove beneficial at some later point. The team’s sternest test to this point comes tonight when #2 Maryland makes the trip to Chapel Hill, a game where Paige is expected to make his season debut.

Safe Dividend Payers

Despite losing some key players, the advanced stats say Tony Bennett and Virginia are still looking as good as ever. (USA TODAY Sports)

Despite losing some key players, the advanced stats say Tony Bennett and Virginia are still looking as good as ever. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Virginia: Fourth in offensive efficiency and 10th in defensive efficiency, the computers love what they have seen from Virginia thus far this season. And while their recent years of national and ACC success gives them the benefit of the doubt, the Cavaliers haven’t looked particularly impressive to the naked eye. After a five-point loss at George Washington two weeks ago, the Cavs easily rolled their way to the Charleston Classic title with their closest margin of victory being 17 points against a soft field. The ‘Hoos will get plenty of opportunities soon to prove that their analytics supersedes the eye test. Tonight’s trip to Ohio State begins a five-game stretch against teams all rated in KenPom’s top 75.
  • Duke: While the numbers suggest that Duke is the most efficient offensive team in the country, the indelible impression of its team remains how overmatched the Blue Devils were in their thorough defeat to Kentucky. After the loss at the Champions Classic, freshman Derryck Thornton was inserted into the starting lineup and he responded with 33 points in victories over VCU and Georgetown. Notable too was the resilience of Grayson Allen, who came into the Kentucky tilt ablaze, left with some shaken confidence, and quickly rediscovered it in the form of 62 points in New York. Duke gets another shot to continue to erase the stench left from the Kentucky performance this Wednesday when the Devils host defensively-challenged Indiana.

Don’t Chase the Momentum

  • Miami (FL): Miami’s last week is a microcosm of the program during the last few seasons: underrated and unappreciated to start, utilizing a chip on the shoulder to outperform and generate some excitement, only to have it abruptly halted in its tracks. After ripping through the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship with dominant victories over Mississippi State and highly regarded Utah and Butler, Miami had staked a legitimate claim as the most impressive team of the young campaign. The Hurricanes then backed up all that good will with a home loss to Northeastern, by no means embarrassing but surprising nonetheless. Still, this is a veteran club, with a roster savvy and talented enough to compete with the league’s upper echelon. Consistency is the key, though, and Jim Larranaga’s group will get their next crack at it when they travel to Nebraska tonight.

Holding Pattern

  • Louisville: Winners of the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational, the Cardinals have yet to face a significant challenge during their 5-0 start. Drexel transfer Damion Lee has lived up to his reputation as a gifted scorer, ranking 45th nationally in offensive rating. We’ll have a much more accurate gauge of just how good Rick Pitino’s club is after Wednesday’s trip to East Lansing, where they face the nation’s hottest player in Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine.
  • Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh has won its first four contests, all at home and one of which was over a Division II opponent. And while that sort of scheduling may raise an eyebrow or two, remember that Jamie Dixon endured a tough break when his opening night game against Gonzaga was called at halftime due to unsafe playing conditions. The Panthers actually led that game at halftime, and a win there would have carried weight with the NCAA Tournament committee come March. The rest of Pitt’s schedule is largely devoid of such opportunities, making tonight’s home tilt against an impressive Purdue team even more critical.
  • Notre Dame: While on the surface losses to Monmouth and Arkansas would cause alarm bells to ring, the dynamic duo of point guard Demetrius Jackson and forward Zach Auguste have proven a worthy encore to the supremely productive twosome of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. They’ll lead their teammates into Illinois on Wednesday to face a club that is more formidable than its 3-4 record would indicate.

Too Early to Buy… Too Talented to Sell

Seen here during an official recruiting visit, Malik Beasley has been even better than advertised so far. (24/7)

Seen here during an official recruiting visit, Malik Beasley has been even better than advertised so far. (24/7)

  • Florida State: The Seminoles’ youth has been even better than advertised offensively, led by freshmen Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon to the 10th-best effective field goal percentage nationally. Beasley, the less-ballyhooed of the two, ranks sixth in the country in true shooting percentage while averaging 20 points per game. Florida State’s defense, its hallmark under Leonard Hamilton, was particularly disappointing in a loss in the Virgin Islands to Hofstra. And while the team bounced back from that with a pair of consolation victories, the integration of the rookies with star holdover Xavier Rathan-Mayes has proven challenging. The sophomore has scored just 50 points in the first five games while shooting a paltry 11 percent from beyond the arc. This work in progress continues with a trip to Iowa on Wednesday.
  • North Carolina State: After getting blitzed in their home opener against William & Mary and losing Terry Henderson in the process, the Wolfpack looked like a team on the ropes right out of the gate. A loss to Arizona State in the opener at the Legends Classic confirmed that viewpoint, but just when NC State appeared most vulnerable, it punched back with a comeback overtime win against LSU and its stud freshman Ben Simmons. Furthermore, point guard Cat Barber has been nothing short of spectacular through the team’s first six games, averaging 21 points, six rebounds and nearly seven assists per contest. Can he keep up this pace? Barber has played 96 percent of the team’s minutes thus far, ranking as the sixth most utilized player in the country. He’ll need to be well-rested as Michigan’s dynamic backcourt visits Raleigh this evening.

Long Way From a Buy Recommendation

  • Clemson: After three easy victories to open the season, the Tigers stepped up in class and split a pair of games at the Main Event in Las Vegas. Clemson yielded 16 made three-pointers in a 17-point loss to Massachusetts before bouncing back in dispatching Rutgers by 18. Jaron Blossomgame has led the way for Brad Brownell’s club, shooting 61 percent from the floor in averaging 18 points per game.
It hasn't been the start Buzz Williams was hoping for. (Matt Gentry/Roanoke Times)

It hasn’t been the start Buzz Williams was hoping for. (Matt Gentry/Roanoke Times)

  • Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams hasn’t gotten off to the kind of start he hoped for in his second year in Blacksburg. The Hokies dropped their home opener to Alabama State before notching three wins against lesser foes; they then stepped up in class and lost by 22 points to Iowa State. Williams’ club, one of the least experienced squads in Division I basketball, bounced back with a nice overtime win over UAB. South Florida transfer Zach LeDay has been a pleasant surprise, recording a double-double in five of the team’s first six contests. He’ll look to continue that roll tonight as the Hokies play host to Northwestern.
  • Georgia Tech: After a home loss to East Tennessee State, the Yellow Jackets were in dire need of a productive trip to New York at the NIT Season Tip-Off. What they got was what we have grown accustomed to during Brian Gregory’s tenure, as they beat an undermanned Arkansas team by 10 points and then proved no match for Villanova in the championship game. The sterling play of senior Charles Mitchell on the interior has been a highlight, as the Maryland transfer is averaging 12.5 boards per game. The Jackets fall victim to the uneven number of teams in the ACC and Big Ten this week, excluding them from participation in the challenge.
  • Boston College: After winning its first three games of the season for the first time in seven years, positive sentiments permeated the Eagles’ program. A trio of losses at the Wooden Legacy quelled those vibes. The opening rout at the hands of a Michigan State team that is clicking on all cylinders is one thing, but to back that up by getting largely dominated by the likes of UC Irvine and Santa Clara is quite another.
Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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