A Quick Whip Around the ACC

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 9th, 2018

With the calendar now flipped to 2018 and conference play in full bore, three teams remain undefeated atop the ACC standings. Notable by its absence among that group is consensus preseason favorite Duke, which, after dropping Saturday’s tilt in Raleigh to NC State, is now two games behind the triumvirate of leaders (ClemsonVirginia and Notre Dame).

The Looks Say It All (USA Today Images)

A primary culprit for the Blue Devils’ struggles in league play thus far is the frigid shooting of senior guard Grayson Allen. Allen, a preseason all-ACC selection, is shooting just 33.3 percent from the field in conference play, including a 21.7 percent clip from beyond the arc. While it’s easy to hone in on Duke’s sieve-like defense when evaluating its losses, Duke also needs Allen to perform up to his All-America capabilities to become the team it expects. Remember, with Marvin Bagley III relegated to the bench in the second half of Duke’s victory over Michigan State in November, it was Allen’s elite shot-making that made the difference. Much like the 2015 National Championship team, these Blue Devils are heavily relying on their young stars to take them home. But, for all the heroics of Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Allen himself three seasons ago, there would have been no fifth banner in Durham without the quiet and steady leadership of senior Quinn Cook. For Mike Krzyzewski to earn his sixth title, Allen needs to snap out of his recent funk.

Speaking of funks, another preseason first-teamer has spent the entire season in one. Bruce Brown, an anticipated breakout star at Miami after posting an extremely impressive freshman year, has leveled off to this point in his second campaign. With averages of 11.8 PPG/7.1 RPG/4.1 APG, and his team winning 13 of its first 15 games, it is reasonable to argue that any criticism is unwarranted. But outside of a road win at Minnesota five weeks ago and a home win Sunday over rival Florida State, the Hurricanes’ record is mostly toothless. As for Brown, his talent is clearly beyond reproach but his willingness to assume the alpha dog role for Miami is not. While Dewan Huell’s breakout season has been a welcome surprise and Ja’Quan Newton, Lonnie Walker IV and Chris Lykes all possess explosive play-making abilities in their own right, it is Brown who needs to increase his aggressiveness. Adjusted for minutes played, Brown ranks an astounding fourth on the team in the percentage of shots taken, per KenPom. Correspondingly, a ranking of third on the squad (and 47th in the ACC) in usage rate is just too low for a player of his caliber. For Miami to reach its ceiling this season, a more assertive — even a selfish — version of Brown must emerge.

Kudos to Mike Brey, the wizard of playing with half a deck of cards. Somehow, without the services of his two senior stars Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, Notre Dame went into the Carrier Dome last weekend and out-scrapped Syracuse in an ugly but effective 51-49 victory. We’ve seen this routine before from Brey — most notably in the 2011-12 season when he willed five able-bodied players into a nine-game Big East winning streak utilizing a “Burn Offense” that generally MacGyvered its way to victories — so it shouldn’t surprise anyone. A repeat performance on that scale will be a tall task, particularly if Farrell’s absence is extensive, but discrediting Notre Dame’s chances as long as the mock turtlenecked magician walks its sidelines is an error in judgment.

Lastly, we’ll bid adieu with, well, a hopeful final adieu to the officiating career of Teddy Valentine. In last Wednesday’s loss to Florida State, North Carolina guard Joel Berry II made a motion toward Valentine to argue a clear hold that impeded his ability to chase down an errant pass. Upon his approach, the SENIOR CAPTAIN NATIONAL CHAMPION Berry was rebuked by Valentine, childishly and rudely folding his arms and turning his back to the player. After all, Berry is just a kid, and he should know better than to challenge such an authority figure? Valentine has once again forgotten that his job is a mere footnote in the event taking place, because people attend games or watch them on the tube to see players like Berry. Nobody tunes in to watch Valentine blow his whistle or recite his histrionic dance steps before he determines a block or a charge call. His response to the justifiable criticism the incident engendered was to contemplate retirement — TV Teddy, as always. News flash to Teddy, the game will survive just fine without you. Here’s to hoping we find out soon.

Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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