ACC Taking Stock: Volume III

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 12th, 2017

Far be it from me to rain on the parade taking place in Chestnut Hill after Boston College’s stunning upset over the nation’s #1 team over the weekend, but buying high and selling low is no way to make a living. Make of it what you will, but the smart money is on the Eagles’ takedown being a result we are not likely to remember a few months from now. That, however, doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it today.

Saturday Will Probably Be The Highlight of BC’s Season, But There Are Other Signs For Optimism (Anthony Nesmith/CSM)

While the national media spun Saturday’s result into a narrative of “what’s wrong with Duke?”, allow us to view it through the prism of a Boston College fan. It’s been a decade since the Eagles were relevant in the college hoops landscape — mostly spent in complete obscurity, to be honest — but the brilliance of their backcourt over the weekend was no fluke. Ky Bowman’s near-triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in carving up the Duke defense, along with Jerome Robinson‘s perfect 5-of-5 day from three-point range, ensured that Duke was going to have a difficult time keeping up. It is more likely than not that Saturday’s result will be the highlight of the year in Chestnut Hill, but, if even for a day, some level of excitement returned to the once proud program. And with a dynamic duo populating Jim Christian‘s backcourt for the remainder of this year and presumably next, the trajectory could finally be pointing up for college basketball in Beantown.

As for Boston College’s vanquished opponent, Duke had been flirting with defeat in several furious come-from-behind wins over Texas, Florida and Indiana. The hot-button panic issue centered around Duke’s ball-screen defense, which in truth was an abomination — the Blue Devils will have to alter their approach by either hard-hedging or rushing the ball-handler as opposed to switching everything. Or, it could be back to the zone defense that Mike Krzyzewski effectively employed earlier this year. And while Duke’s defensive deficiencies were glaring, blame can also be found on the offensive end as Duke hoisted 30 threes (making eight) on an uncharacteristically cold shooting night. If you exclude Gary Trent Jr.’s six makes, the rest of the Blue Devils connected on only 2-of-17 from distance. The hard truth is that Duke’s advantage this season lies with its front line. There are only a handful of teams around the country that can even moderately slow down Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, but those two should be getting more than the 19 total shots they received on Saturday.

A pair of “show me” stories also highlight this weekend’s slate, as huge opportunities await a pair of teams who have been better than anticipated this season. Most observers thought Virginia Tech was poised to make a return to the NCAA Tournament despite the graduation of its two leading scorers Seth Allen and Zach LeDay, but few predicted this kind of early hot start. The Hokies are leading the country in scoring at 96.2 PPG and are the most efficient group in college basketball in effective field goal percentage (64.2%) and second in three-point shooting (46.8%). An early season beatdown of Washington gained further validity last week when the Huskies beat Kansas, but generally speaking, the Hokies have feasted on light competition (338th-ranked strength of schedule). That number will get a significant boost on Saturday as Virginia Tech invades Rupp Arena to challenge a rapidly improving Kentucky team. The Wildcats’ length and athleticism can mask its inexperience — they rank 12th in defensive efficiency and ninth in block percentage. Regardless, we are about to find out just how potent the Virginia Tech offense is.

It was widely believed that last year’s disappointing season was going to put the nail in the coffin of Brad Brownell’s tenure at Clemson. Afforded another opportunity, however, Brownell has gotten his Tigers off to a respectable 8-1 start including a solid road win against Ohio State. The Tigers have used a balanced attack to mitigate the loss of star Jaron Blossomgame, with all five starters averaging double-figures. Saturday’s neutral-site game (Sunrise, FL) against a vulnerable Florida team is a real opportunity to build some at-large equity and to announce themselves as players in the upper half of the ACC. Better late than never, as they say.

Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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