ACC Stock Report: Volume IV

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 23rd, 2018

By week’s end, the conference slate will be at the halfway point for the majority of the league. And with that milepost will come some clarity, as unbeaten Virginia, which sits alone atop the ACC standings, is facing its toughest week to date. The Cavaliers’ difficult stretch commences tonight with a home tilt against Clemson and culminates with a trip to preseason favorite Duke on Saturday. Virginia’s modus operandi is painstakingly familiar, with an elite defense bogging down the opposition at a far stingier clip than any of Tony Bennett‘s previous teams in Charlottesville. Syracuse’s 61-point outburst against the Cavaliers two weeks ago represents the most points Virginia has allowed since its only loss, a seven-point road defeat to West Virginia coming at the beginning of December. Virginia’s style of play isn’t for everyone, but it is a pleasant reminder that the only numbers that truly matter in the era of advanced metrics are the ones on the scoreboard when the clock reads zero. Credit Bennett’s team for already knocking out three ACC road wins so far this year.

Virginia Basketball Does Not Go Away Quietly (USA Today Images)

Stock Up

Part of my reticence in buying into Virginia this season has been assuaged recently by the development of burgeoning prospect De’Andre Hunter. Just one short season ago, I scoffed at the love the computer rankings showed to the Cavaliers in large part because I couldn’t find a difference-maker on the roster in the mold of Mike Scott, Joe Harris, Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon. That same critique fostered my negativity on Virginia heading into this season. But Hunter is a game-changer. The redshirt freshman is undoubtedly still raw, but his athletic potential and certain skill development under the tutelage of Bennett should make him a contributor on an NBA roster in the near future. After going scoreless in his first career ACC game, Hunter has posted double-figures in five of his last six outings while converting at a 59 percent clip. While the senior leadership of Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins along with the sharpshooting of Kyle Guy have represented the foundation for this team, it is a player like Hunter who can be carry Bennett through to his first Final Four. If Virginia can navigate the perilous waters that await this week, then it’ll be time to eat my crow and jump aboard the crowded Wahoos bandwagon.

Stock Down

Poor Clemson. What appeared to be Virginia’s toughest challenge to date instead looks like a physical and emotional mismatch. On the surface, all is good for head coach Brad Brownell, as his Tigers are tied with Duke at 5-2 for third place in the ACC and sporting their highest national ranking since 2010. Yet Clemson still limps into John Paul Jones Arena tonight after enduring a pair of disappointments on Saturday that will have a meaningful impact on its present and future. First, Donte Grantham’s collegiate career is now over after he suffered a torn ACL in a hard-fought victory over Notre Dame. The team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, Grantham was enjoying his finest season as a Tiger. His loss really stifles some of the optimism that Clemson was set to become a darkhorse postseason candidate this year. A few hours later, local wunderkind and top prospect Zion Williamson, who had overtly flirted with the notion of staying in-state to play his required year of college hoops in 2018-19, surely broke the hearts of the Clemson faithful when he chose Duke over a star-studded field of suitors. Beleaguered, yes — but this team, Brownell’s finest at Clemson, still has a chance to achieve special things this season. We’ll get a good gauge of where they are mentally tonight, as no team can quite test another team’s will like Virginia.

Matthew Auerbach (60 Posts)

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