ACC Conversation: The Elite Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Mick McDonald, Matt Auerbach on February 21st, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald took some time this week to chat about what they like and dislike about the ACC’s top contenders and whether they think a team from the conference’s middle tier could make some noise in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Does Virginia Have Enough Inside Offense to Win in March? (USA Today Images)

  • Brad Jenkins: OK Mick. Why don’t you kick it off with your thoughts on Virginia?
  • Mick McDonald: Because of the pace they play, the Virginia guards aren’t getting enough credit on the offensive end. Having three guys who can shoot like Ty Jerome/Kyle Guy/Devon Hall is usually a good way to win in March. That said, if the jumpers aren’t falling (like in the Virginia Tech game), can they generate enough offense? It’s why DeAndre Hunter is such a huge piece for them. He can create mismatches and they need to work to find him shots (like in the Miami game) to get their offense going. Also, I’m not convinced Isaiah Wilkins is 100 percent. I think his back may still be bothering him and that’s worth keeping an eye on over the next few weeks.
  • Brad Jenkins: My concern is very similar. Virginia just doesn’t get many points that aren’t on jumpers from 15 feet out. Hunter has been playing great and definitely gives them more of a dynamic scorer, but if he’s out there in the last 10 minutes, who do you take off the floor? Not sure Wilkins at the five will work against bigger teams they may see in March.
  • Mick McDonald: It’s definitely an issue. They are going to have to shoot it well to make the Final Four. I do think between Jack Salt and Mamidi Diakite they have enough bodies to make the five-spot work, but they aren’t getting any offense there.
  • Brad Jenkins: The ACC Tourney will be important for them. Past NCAA failures have to be in the back of their mind. I think it would be a huge confidence boost if they cut down the nets in Brooklyn, especially considering how good Duke and North Carolina suddenly look.
  • Mick McDonald: Yes and no. I do think an ACC title would help their confidence… but this team might go 17-1 in the league, including getting the “win at Cameron” monkey off the program’s back. Tony Bennett has won an ACC Tournament. I don’t think a loss on Friday would doom them. I also think they’ll probably have the #1 seed in the South locked up prior to the ACC Tournament, which is important.
  • Brad Jenkins: But they’ve been a #1 seed before, so maybe this will be the year. That defense will keep them in any game, but that tempo will also keep opponents in the game. Moving on to Duke. Is there a real correlation to Grayson Allen finding his game and Marvin Bagley III being out?

  • Mick McDonald: It certainly seems that way. Look, I’m not going to going to try and get into Grayson Allen’s… let’s go with interesting… mind. But perhaps he needs to be the main focus of the offense to really excel. Does he just not perform when he isn’t the focal point?
  • Matt Auerbach: I honestly think that there is something to that, but it has less to do with floor spacing and X’s and O’s, and more about his psyche. I think he assumed this was going to be his team, but when Bagley is on the floor, he is always going to be the primary option. Ironically enough, Allen seems to relax more when he’s the lead dog. Sorry I’m just jumping in, my thoughts on Virginia aren’t relevant because I’m still just in utter shock they’re the top-ranked team in the country.

Is Grayson Allen Back? (USA Today Images)

  • Mick McDonald: Brad, you know Duke better than most. How is this team so bad defensively?
  • Brad Jenkins: It will definitely be interesting to see how the chemistry works out when Bagley returns. In theory it should be fine – Bagley isn’t ball-dominant – but Allen must figure out how he fits again. As for the defense, the switch to zone has been more effective than I thought it could be. I think we may be beyond the point that they’re lucky teams are missing shots. I couldn’t believe it when I saw they’ve held 10 of 12 opponents under 1.00 points per possession.
  • Matt Auerbach: At the end of the day, I think Duke is in a very similar position as it was a year ago. They’re talented but susceptible to being beaten by less talent, capable of winning it all, or bowing out in the first weekend.
  • Brad Jenkins: With all the talk about Allen, Trevon Duval‘s improved play has been equally important. But I still don’t trust that he won’t have a terrible game at the worst time and doom the Blue Devils. So, is anybody in the league playing as well as North Carolina right now? Did we see this coming even with the veterans they have? I mean, Wofford happened.
  • Mick McDonald: Fletcher Magee! Don’t sleep on the Terriers! In all seriousness, I have to give Roy Williams a ton of credit for going with the smaller lineup. It was clear once Cameron Johnson came back it was the right move, and even though it’s not his normal style at all, he enabled it.
  • Matt Auerbach: Outside of Virginia, it’s tough to argue any team is even approaching their level. For all of the great Kansas teams that underachieved on his watch, Roy has really done an under-appreciated job at Carolina, winning with teams that just aren’t vintage Carolina teams. Their talent is slightly above league average at best, but his guys really do develop as they grow into veterans. I mean, are we really just supposed to gloss over that Luke Maye is putting up All-American numbers? Wasn’t he a walk-on?
  • Mick McDonald: The Luke Maye transformation into unstoppable double-double machine is one of the most remarkable ACC storylines in years. Also, do you really want to bet against Joel Berry in March? I don’t.
  • Brad Jenkins: I think it’s amazing that they play small half the time but still outrebound EVERYBODY! And they are once again a great cutting and passing team. They have good (not incredible) individual offensive talent but they are functioning beautifully as a unit. The question is whether can they stop elite offenses if they have an off night shooting.
  • Mick McDonald: I think the answer is no and they are probably not going to Final Four #3 in a row, but it just goes to show you how good Williams is that this team is even in this spot right now.
  • Matt Auerbach: And for that reason, as great as the one-two punch of Berry and Maye is, I think Theo Pinson is the team’s most indispensable piece.
  • Brad Jenkins: Before we go, is there any other ACC squad we think can do some damage in March?
  • Matt Auerbach: It’s a shame what happened to Clemson, because I thought with their experience and cohesion they really could have made a run. They couldn’t afford to lose Donte Grantham, or anyone, for that matter.
  • Mick McDonald: It’ll depend on match-ups for teams like Florida State, Miami, NC State, etc. Like you, Matt, I loved this Clemson team before Grantham went down. I think not having him makes them really vulnerable.
  • Matt Auerbach: Ditto on Florida State and NC State for me. As for Miami, I just don’t see it. I wanted to, but I can’t.
  • Mick McDonald: Miami needs Bruce Brown back to do anything, but I probably agree with you, Matt. They’ve been so disappointing this season.
  • Brad Jenkins: I like Clemson as well, even without Grantham. They really play good team defense. But my NCAA sleeper would be Florida State. They’re so balanced that I could see them knocking off a #2 seed in a year when that may not be a normal #2 (think Auburn, Texas Tech, etc.)
  • Mick McDonald: I could definitely see the Seminoles getting to the second weekend. Maybe make up for that stink bomb they dropped against Xavier last year.
  • Matt Auerbach: I think the reality of the league, for me at least, is that this year, no result would shock me.  Virginia, Duke, North Carolina — I could see any of them losing their respective second games just as easily as I could see any of them showing up in San Antonio. The next tier of the league is full of teams like Florida State, Miami, NC State or Syracuse that are dangerous enough to win a few games, but inconsistent enough to be eliminated before the ink is dried on peoples brackets.
  • Mick McDonald: What about the only ACC team to beat Virginia, Virginia Tech? Anyone like the Hokies?
  • Matt Auerbach: I love Buzz Williams, and I do believe he’ll eventually break through there in a big way, but I don’t think they guard enough to make any real run. They’d have to be unconscious shooting it.
  • Brad Jenkins: This has been fun. One last thought: Bonzie Colson may be getting close to getting back on the court. I guarantee that none of the top three teams in the ACC want to face him on Friday in Brooklyn. Wouldn’t him leading the Irish on a run be an interesting problem for the NCAA selection committee?
  • Matt Auerbach: They’re the elephant in the room, because with him, this is a top end league team, with a coach who certainly can piece things together on the fly. It would be a rough spot for the committee to evaluate them if they somehow beat Virginia and then scooped another pair of quality wins in Brooklyn without winning the title.
  • Mick McDonald: They’ve had so much trouble without him, I think they really need that Virginia game to make a case. If they get that, all bets are off.
Mick McDonald (70 Posts)

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