ACC Conversation: Pre-Conference Edition – Part 2

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), Mick Mcdonald (@themickmcdonald) on January 4th, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald recently got together to chat about the ACC heading in to conference play. Here’s Part 2 of that conversation.

Justin Robinson has guided Virginia Tech into contender status in the ACC. (

Brad Jenkins: Can Florida State or Virginia Tech crack the top three in the ACC? They both look like solid clubs, but are they being overlooked?

Matt Auerbach: I like both teams, and they deserve to be ranked inside the top 10 nationally. But I don’t believe that either will elevate above the aforementioned three squads when the league plays out.

Mick McDonald: Both definitely could, although I like Buzz Williams’ club a bit more. They are lethal offensively with so many guys who can light it up, and they play really hard on the defensive end. Their schedule has been light so far, so I’m very much looking forward to some bigger opportunities coming up shortly. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Justin Robinson can make an argument for best backcourt in the country and Kerry Blackshear is a match-up nightmare.

Matt Auerbach: Truthfully, there’s no denying both belong inside the top 10 based on merit, but I don’t view either as a legitimate threat to make a Final Four without some unusual breaks falling their way.

Mick McDonald: Agree with Matt. These two are rightful top 10 teams, but the ACC is just so loaded that could mean finishing fourth or fifth.

Matt Auerbach: If forced to choose one team over the other, I’d definitely lean towards the Hokies because of the backcourt. With a guy like Robinson surrounded by elite shooters, they can be impossible to stop if they get rolling.

Brad Jenkins: My only concern with the Hokies is that they are so reliant on great shooting. I’m just not sure how they can beat good teams on off shooting nights. I actually think Florida State may be better now that Phil Cofer is back in the lineup, but the Seminoles tend to not always progress very well through league play. Let’s move on to some surprise teams. Are NC State and Louisville legit?

Mick McDonald: I think NC State is legit in terms of a lock NCAA Tourney and potential second weekend team. Kevin Keatts is proving himself as one of the best young coaches in the country — that team looks like a nightmare to prepare for.

Matt Auerbach: Well, you saw the Pack in person, Brad, and your bird’s eye view confirmed what we had been seeing from afar. NC State is the real deal. Balanced, explosive, efficient and great chemistry makes for beautiful offensive basketball and that’s what Keatts’ team has going right now.

Mick McDonald: Louisville I’m less high on. I’d expect the Cardinals to be right near the bubble most of the season. It’s no surprise to me that Chris Mack is doing more than we expected with a weird roster, and I think they’ll probably end up getting in as a #10 seed or so.

Matt Auerbach: Agreed on Louisville. Mack’s club is far better than I thought, and Jordan Nwora is turning into a star. But expecting them to finish in the top half of the league is a big ask with this roster’s limitations.

Brad Jenkins: I agree. NC State plays with confidence and energy that will especially make the Wolfpack very tough at home, but I worry about their lack of rim protection. They won’t turn most ACC teams over like they have been doing against lesser squads. And Louisville probably doesn’t have the talent to hold up over 18 league games without some slumps, but look out, next year! A couple of ACC underachievers so far have been Syracuse and Clemson, but both have looked better lately so it’s a little early to be spreading dirt over them. Am I wrong?

Matt Auerbach: No, I think you’re spot on, particularly with a Syracuse club that I vastly overrated in the preseason. Still, I think the Orange figured some things out after a horrendous first half against Arkansas State. That may have been the bottom for this team. I can now see them turning things around and having the type of season commensurate with their talent level. Clemson getting Marcquise Reed back healthy looked the part in beating a good Lipscomb team last weekend. Now we’ll see just how back they are when they play Duke on Saturday.

Mick McDonald: I think both teams are still NCAA Tournament teams and will knock off a few upper echelon teams during the year. They both play tough defense and have guards (Reed for Clemson and Tyus Battle for Syracuse) who can take over a game. That said, I’d be pretty surprised if either challenged for the top four or five slots in the league.

Brad Jenkins: Miami, Notre Dame and Boston College had high hopes in the preseason but have all been ravaged by attrition — injuries and/or suspensions. Do any of this group have a shot at finishing .500 in the league?

Matt Auerbach: In short, my answer is no, but if forced to choose, it would be Miami.

Mick McDonald: I was the high man on Notre Dame and have been disappointed by the Irish so far this year. Obviously losing Rex Pflueger (plus one of their freshman) were daggers, but their biggest issue is TJ Gibbs just isn’t good enough to be the main man on an upper level ACC squad. Boston College will pick off a few teams at home and Ky Bowman is always worth watching, but the Eagles just don’t have enough talent to win every night out.

Brad Jenkins: Dewan Hernandez has hired a lawyer to combat his eligibility issues and he is still practicing with the Hurricanes so maybe he can return in time to salvage this season. But I’m not sure if that would be enough to get Miami into NCAA contention. As for the other three teams: Wake Forest is a dumpster fire; Georgia Tech can’t score; and Pittsburgh just doesn’t have enough dudes (yet). Can Jeff Capel coax five or six ACC wins out of that bunch?

Mick McDonald: He probably actually can. His freshman guards are pretty good and there are a few wins to be had at home since they aren’t Stallings-level bad this year. I’m also a big Xavier Johnson fan.

Matt Auerbach: I guess from the perspective of the good teams in the league, asking the question, “Where would I like to play the least?” Pitt is the clear answer. Capel has those guys giving great effort every night. Wake and Georgia Tech just aren’t teams that are going to challenge the big boys often enough to be taken seriously.

Mick McDonald: Also, speaking of Wake Forest… I know he keeps getting a big time 4-star (or even 5-star) recruits every year (Chaundee Brown last year; Jaylen Hoard this year), but when is it time to pull the plug on Danny Manning?

Brad Jenkins: Steve Alford is available.

Matt Auerbach: So is Rick Pitino.

Brad Jenkins: Guys, this has been a great chat heading into conference play. Any parting thoughts?

Mick McDonald: There are going to be some really fun games and individual match-ups this season, so I can’t wait to get it going, but MAN are those two Duke-Virginia games going to be awesome. I will watch De’Andre Hunter and Braxton Key try to guard RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson for as long as possible, please.

Matt Auerbach: Really looking forward to seeing how it all plays out. I thought the league was better this season from a depth perspective, but the top two are undeniably two of the best teams in the country, and North Carolina is right there knocking on that door. And there is enough in the #4-#8 tier, especially with the emergence of NC State, to make this league special yet again.

Brad Jenkins (368 Posts)

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