Five Surprises from Opening Weekend in the ACC

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 14th, 2017

Although the competition was mostly uninspiring over the last several days, it was a very busy weekend of basketball around the ACC. This week will bring an improvement in competition for the league, beginning with Duke taking on Michigan State in the first game of the Champions Classic in Chicago tonight. Just because the opposition wasn’t great, though, doesn’t mean we should ignore opening weekend. Here are the five biggest surprises from the first weekend-plus of the brand new ACC season.

Wake Forest Fell Hard to Georgia Southern on Friday Night (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  1. Wake Forest loses to Georgia Southern. This was a mild surprise but certainly not shocking to anyone who follows the mid-majors. Georgia Southern features two excellent guards in Ike Smith and Tookie Brown, both of whom played well on Friday night. Wake Forest, in its first game without all-ACC star John Collins, showed just how much they will miss the big man this season. In a game with ample opportunity to show their value, junior center Doral Moore battled foul trouble and finished with just two points, while sophomore center Sam Japhet-Mathias played just seven minutes without a point. Danny Manning’s small-ball, backcourt-heavy lineup is workable with Bryant Crawford leading the way, but not if they don’t even have the best backcourt on the floor.
  2. North Carolina’s freshmen big men are off to a great start. Losing Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley to graduation and the professional ranks meant there were a lot of questions going into this season about the quality and depth of Roy Williams’ frontcourt. In the Tar Heels’ opener on Friday night against Northern Iowa, freshmen Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley provided some answers. The two combined to score 23 points and grab 14 rebounds over 32 minutes of action. Williams will need continued production from this pair to run his preferred inside-out offense this season.
  3. Nickeil Alexander-Walker is already Buzz Williams’ go-to scorer. We knew coming into the season that Alexander-Walker was a special freshman who would probably become Virginia Tech’s best player, but did anyone expect it this quickly? In the Hokies’ first two games against Detroit Mercy and The Citadel over the weekend, Alexander-Walker scored 24 and 29 points, respectively, with a scorching eFG of 75.0 percent. He is the perfect fit for Buzz Williams’ preferred style, and it already looks like he will thrive in a small-ball lineup in Blacksburg.
  4. Lonnie Walker coming off the bench for Miami. We have talked extensively about Miami’s stellar backcourt that features returnees Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown alongside incoming freshman Lonnie Walker. In the Hurricanes’ first two games against Gardner-Webb and Navy over the weekend, however, Walker came off the bench in favor of sharpshooter DJ Vasiljevic. Vasiljevic was awful against the Bulldogs, shooting just 1-of-10 from three-point range, but Jim Larranaga placed him back in the starting lineup against Navy (where he went 4-of-8 from three-point range on his way to 16 points). Walker received ample playing time, logging 25 and 24 minutes in the two games, respectively, and scoring a combined 18 points. How Larranaga rotates his guards (including freshman Chris Lykes) this season will be an interesting storyline throughout.
  5. Pittsburgh loses to Navy and Montana. The Panthers losing a game or two isn’t exactly a surprise — there will clearly be a number of additional losses this year at Pittsburgh. That said, losing to a pair of mid-majors is a new low for a program that was considered among the very best for much of the 2000s. Navy turned around after its opening victory and lost to Miami by 34 points on Sunday. This is going to be a long season at the Oakland Zoo. If the Panthers win more than a single ACC game this season, it will be a shock.
Mick McDonald (70 Posts)

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