Eight ACC Takeaways From the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 30th, 2018

This year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was full of tight games that came down to the wire, so it was fitting that the event ended in a deadlocked 7-7 tie. In fact, 10 of the 14 games were decided by two possessions or fewer, with the Big Ten coming out ahead in six of those nail-biters. Below we offer takeaways from the event for eight ACC squads — four of which came out winners and four of which came out losers.

Louisville Shows Some Toughness

Louisville celebrates a gutsy home win over Michigan State. (Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal)

It appears that Chris Mack’s plan to restore toughness to the Louisville program may already be ahead of schedule, as the Cardinals proved very resilient in Tuesday’s 82-78 overtime victory over Michigan State. After watching a nice lead evaporate late in regulation, Louisville responded well in the extra session behind Ryan McMahon’s career game (24 points, 12-of-13 FT). Tough teams get to the free throw line often and nobody’s better at that aspect of the game right now than the Cardinals.

Key Stat: Louisville made 30-of-41 free throws against the Spartans. Season FTA% = 65.5% (#1 nationally).

Frank Howard is Important to Syracuse

With Frank Howard on the sidelines with an injury, Syracuse struggled mightily from the perimeter in its first four contests. That was particularly true for Orange starters Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and Elijah Hughes, who together connected to make only 11-of-56 shots from behind the arc. With Howard now back in the lineup, Jim Boeheim’s guys suddenly have found the range — Battle, Brissett and Hughes combined to make 7-of-15 shots from deep in Syracuse’s 72-62 win at Ohio State on Wednesday.

Key Stat: Syracuse shot 11-of-24 (45.8%) on three-pointers against the Buckeyes. In its first four games without Howard, the Orange converted only 20.5 percent.

Virginia Gets Offensive

For the second time in Virginia’s last three outings, Tony Bennett’s celebrated defense was subpar – Maryland managed to score 1.18 points per possession (PPP) in the Cavaliers’ 76-71 road win on Wednesday evening. That’s a number that was topped by just one Virginia opponent last season — UMBC posted 1.19 PPP in last March’s historic upset of the Cavaliers. Virginia beat its old ACC rival by outscoring them, using hot shooting from deep (45.5% 3FG) and tremendous ball security.

Key Stat: Virginia with only two turnovers. Season TO% = 11.7% (#2 nationally).

Boston College Gets Defensive

Boston College has not fielded a top 100 KenPom defense in over a decade, but the Eagles are currently ranked 69th in defensive efficiency this season. What has changed for Jim Christian’s club? Part of the answer lies in the paint, as Minnesota learned in the Eagles’ 68-56 win on Tuesday in Conte Forum. The Gophers were miserable from deep (5-of-30 3FG), but they also struggled to finish around the basket, unlike most Boston College opponents of the past.

Key Stat: Boston College’s interior defense (40.0% 2FG) against the Gophers. Season 2FG defense = 41.0% (#16 nationally).

North Carolina’s Defense is Struggling

Roy Williams was not pleased with North Carolina’s defensive effort at Michigan. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

In its first five outings of the year, North Carolina’s defense looked pretty good against average competition. But as the schedule has gotten tougher, Roy Williams’ defense has wilted — the Tar Heels have allowed its last three opponents to average 84.6 points per game. In Wednesday night’s 84-67 thrashing at the hands of Michigan, the Tar Heels couldn’t stop the Wolverines’ offensive attack. Michigan made 62.5 percent of its two-point attempts and a sizzling 50.0 percent from distance.

Key Stat: North Carolina allowed 1.21 PPP against Michigan. In its last three games combined, the opponent’s PPP = 1.14.

Clemson’s Backcourt Misses Gabe Devoe

Brad Brownell used a three-guard attack to lead Clemson to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. With only Gabe Devoe departing from that trio, the Tigers were expected to be at least as good in the backcourt this year but that has not been the case. Without Devoe to space the floor on offense, Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell — who combined to shoot 36.0 percent from deep last year — aren’t getting as many good looks from the perimeter. In Tuesday’s 68-66 home loss to Nebraska, the senior duo only attempted five three-pointers.

Key Stat: Together, Reed and Mitchell went 2-of-5 from 3-point range. Season combined 3FG% = 30.8%.

Virginia Tech’s Achilles Heel is Still the Same

Virginia Tech has most of what a team needs to be a national contender: experienced leaders; excellent shooters; and strong perimeter defenders. But just like last year, Buzz Williams is missing size and depth up front. That weakness was exploited repeatedly by Penn State in the Hokies’ 63-62 defeat on Tuesday evening. The Nittany Lions grabbed 14 offensive boards and scored at will inside the paint (57.1% 2FG).

Key Stat: Virginia Tech allowed 40.0 percent OR%.  Season Opponents’ OR% = 32.6% (#281 nationally).

Miami Can’t Afford Off Nights From its Backcourt

In the biggest surprise of the challenge, Miami fell at home to Rutgers 57-54 on Wednesday night. Jim Larranaga’s guards had their worst outing of the year — Chris Lykes and Dejan Vasiljevic combined for just 11 points, while shooting a dismal 4-of-19 from the field and teaming up for seven turnovers. Those two have been very productive and efficient heading into this one, so Larranaga hopes that this game was an anomaly.

Key Stat: Offensive Ratings for Lykes (62.0) and Vasiljevic (41.0). Season ORtg = Lykes (105.0) and Vasiljevic (120.0).

Brad Jenkins (368 Posts)

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