ACC Weekend Preview: January 26

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 25th, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you ready for the weekend ahead in the ACC, which features another tough road trip for Clemson and an intriguing match-up in Blacksburg. (all rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, January 26

Virginia Appears Back on Track After Its Loss at Duke (USA Today Images)

#1 Virginia (17-1, 5-1) at #72 Notre Dame (11-8, 1-5). Tony Bennett’s club has been excellent this season thanks to the play of their big three: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and DeAndre Hunter. Each player is making more than 40 percent from long-range, owns an Offensive Rating better than 119.0, and is putting up PER’s of 21.5 or more. Three players consistently performing at such a high level makes Virginia very tough to beat regardless of support, but when the Cavaliers get contributions from others, they reach another level. That’s why the recent play of big man Jay Huff has been so intriguing. The sophomore is making his 10 minutes per contest really count. In the Cavaliers’ last four games, he is averaging 8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting 75.0 percent from three-point range. He has always had good offensive ability, but slow feet on defense has limited his playing time. Lately, though, the big man has improved just enough on that end of the floor so that Bennett is comfortable deploying him as a very valuable weapon off of his bench.

#49 Clemson (11-7, 1-4) at #31 NC State (15-4, 3-3). The Tigers are just 1-4 in ACC play to date, but it’s hard to blame Brad Brownell‘s club too much when the four losses came at Duke, at Syracuse, versus Virginia and at Florida State. Such is life in the loaded ACC. Knowing that Clemson was staring down that opening conference gauntlet is what made its non-conference performance so worrisome — the Tigers lost to the three best teams they played (Mississippi State, Nebraska and Creighton) and their best victory was a road win over rival South Carolina. Needless to say, Clemson needs to start improving its NCAA Tournament resume very soon. To do that, the Tigers need more production from sophomore Aamir Simms. In Clemson’s five ACC games, Simms (8.2 PPG) is making just 35.4 percent from the field and tallying an 83.7 Offensive Rating. When defenses focus on teammates Marcquise Reed or Elijah Thomas, Simms needs to be a viable option to score, especially against teams without much size (e.g., NC State). If they fail to turn the corner soon, the Tigers should begin planning on a trip to the NIT.

#34 Syracuse (14-5, 5-1) at #11 Virginia Tech (15-3, 4-2).  The Hokies’ non-conference schedule was rather weak (323rd nationally) this season, so the fact that their doors were blown off against the two best teams they’ve played (Virginia and North Carolina) is a little concerning. Virginia Tech’s defense — so predicated on forcing turnovers — caused just 21 miscues in those two losses, and its lack of overall depth is also a problem. Buzz Williams’ top four scorers are all playing more than 27 minutes per game, and if any of the quartet get into foul trouble (as Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker did in Chapel Hill), the Hokies’ quality of play goes downhill quickly. The good news is that Alexander-Walker has turned into a bona fide ACC star. The sophomore wing (18.3 PPG) is one of the leading scorers in the conference and is backing it up with monster efficiency numbers (28.0 PER, 63.1% eFG). Look for Williams to utilize Alexander-Walker as the playmaker at the foul line against the pesky Syracuse zone.

Mick McDonald (64 Posts)


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