ACC Stock Report: Volume VII

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 28th, 2019

Sitting alone atop the conference at 11-1 and with a sweep in hand over defending champion Virginia, the smart money a little over a week ago was on Duke to cruise to its first ACC regular season title since 2010. An explosive sneaker appears to be the only thing that can slow down the freight train known as Zion Williamson, and his freak injury has led the Blue Devils to drop two of its last three games, leaving the door open for the Cavaliers and North Carolina. At 13-2 in the standings, they both now sit a game clear of Duke with only three left to play.

Stock Rising: Kerry Blackshear, Jr.

Kerry Blackshear Has Been a Stalwart for Virginia Tech This Season (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech was looking like a fashionable dark horse Final Four contender after winning 17 of its first 20 games this season. However, when senior point guard Justin Robinson went down with an injury that has kept him sidelined all February, those high hopes turned into a matter of survival. The play of Kerry Blackshear, Jr., however, has the Hokies back on the attack.

After losing two of their first three with Robinson out, Buzz Williams’ squad has now won four of five, including Monday’s upset victory over Duke. In that game, Blackshear led the Hokies in scoring for the fourth consecutive time, finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds. The junior has averaged 22.6 points per game and 10.0 boards per contest over this key stretch. Holding on to fourth place in the ACC standings and maintaining its relative KenPom placement (11th at the time of Robinson’s injury and now) has been no small feat without its floor general and best overall player around — the inspired play of Blackshear is the reason why.

Stock Holding: Clemson

Clemson has seemingly paid rent in this space for a good portion of the second half of the season. After struggling mightily in the front-loaded portion of its ACC schedule, the Tigers recovered over a four-game stretch to crawl back to .500. Two gut-wrenching road losses followed — one at the buzzer to Miami, the other on a blocked shot at the buzzer against Louisville. A lifeless home effort against Florida State dropped the Tigers back to 5-8, but recent wins over Boston College and Pittsburgh have put their NCAA Touranment hopes back on life support. A critical, needle-moving opportunity will come Saturday in the form of a visit from North Carolina, a possible signature win Brad Brownell’s club could hang its hat on to make the case for a potential at-large bid.

Stock Dipping: Tre Jones’ Shooting Touch

Tre Jones Needs to Find His Range (USA Today Images)

There is no overstating Jones’ value as an all-around player. He defends very well, and his ability to engineer an offense is the perfect complement to his explosive, ball-dominant teammates. However, since Zion Williamson’s knee injury, teams have dared Jones to beat them from deep and he has been unable to deliver. The freshman point guard has made only three of his 17 attempts from beyond the arc in the last three games, and while his 17.6 percent conversion rate is trouble, it is his (nearly) six attempts per game that really strikes a chord. His previous high in three-point attempts over a three-game span had been 11, and for a player who is only connecting on 24.6 percent of those tries, it is clear that he is pressing offensively.

Jones, of course, is not alone on his squad, as the Blue Devils’ struggles from beyond the arc this season have been well-documented. If they manage to find a way to win the National Championship, Duke at 30.7 percent would be the worst three-point shooting title team in college basketball history. The return of Williamson will cure much of what ails Duke, but there is going to be a game over the next six weeks when it needs to stretch the defense in a meaningful way with three-point shooting. Jones is a vital component of that strategy, as he will undeniably be the perimeter player the opposition will challenge to beat them from distance.

Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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