ACC Conversation: Regular Season Recap

Posted by The ACC Team on March 12th, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald take a look back at the regular season, including the All-ACC selections, and look ahead to the ACC Tournament.

Virginia and North Carolina Finished 1/2 in the ACC Standings (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: Guys, it’s been a solid regular season. For the most part, predictions held to form. Before we look at the ACC awards, any thoughts on how the conference season went?

Matt Auerbach: I think, speaking for all of us, the season pretty much held to form. The top three teams were a cut above the rest — quite possibly the three best teams in the country. Florida State and Virginia Tech were just a notch below that group, but both teams are viable threats to advance deep into the NCAA Tournament. For me, the middle and bottom of the conference was a lot weaker than expected. I knew the top three would separate themselves because they are all so elite, but the bottom of the league was often times non-competitive.

Mick McDonald: I think it was about as expected. I thought Mike Brey would get more out of a young Notre Dame team than he did, but Rex Pflueger‘s injury early in the year basically ended any chance of the Fighting Irish being interesting.

Brad Jenkins: Yeah, injuries and suspensions really curtailed the seasons at Notre Dame and Miami. Does that make Syracuse the biggest disappointment?

Mick McDonald: They definitely are for Matt!

Matt Auerbach: For me, without question!

Mick McDonald: I think Clemson should be on that list too, though. The Tigers brought a lot back from a Sweet Sixteen team and are as on the bubble as you can possibly be heading into the ACC Tournament.

Matt Auerbach: I really whiffed on Syracuse. Oshae Brissett had a disappointing year and they got next to nothing from Jalen Carey. I expected a big jump from a few guys on their roster who actually regressed, and thus, the Orange had another nondescript regular season.

Mick McDonald: I look forward to watching them in the Sweet Sixteen again this year

Matt Auerbach: Probably as close to a lock as there is.

The ACC Player of the Year Missed His Last Six Games (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: Would not be a total surprise, would it? There was a lot of chatter today when Zion Williamson won ACC Player of the Year, despite missing the last six games of the regular season. That seems like a legitimate gripe to me but I’m not sure there was another clear-cut candidate –Virginia and North Carolina were so balanced that no one guy stands out.

Mick McDonald: Williamson still deserved to win. It wasn’t even a debate for me. He had one of the greatest seasons in ACC (and college basketball) history. Missing six games doesn’t change that for me, especially when the next best candidate was probably his teammate who had a lesser year.

Matt Auerbach: People like to complain about just about everything nowadays. Williamson, while missing the significant time, was undeniably the most outstanding player in the league this season.

Brad Jenkins: I pretty much agreed with the three All-ACC teams. My only changes would be to swap Virginia’s Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy on the first team, Marcquise Reed with Ky Bowman on the second team and maybe Mfiondu Kabengele over Nickeil Alexander-Walker for the last spot on third team. What do you guys think?

Mick McDonald: Definitely agree with Jerome over Guy on the first team. Jerome is the straw that stirs the drink for Virginia. Guy had a fantastic shooting year but I think Jerome deserved it a bit more.

Matt Auerbach: I agree totally on Jerome over Guy, but I won’t rail against the way it shook out. Guy had a really terrific year in his own right. It’s also tough to not see North Carolina point guard Coby White on the first team, but who is he replacing?

Mick McDonald: Yeah to me, Williamson, RJ Barrett, DeAndre Hunter and Cameron Johnson all absolutely have to be there. You can debate the fifth guy. White would be in the running with the two Virginia guards and Kerry Blackshear would be under consideration for me there too, but I would have gone with Jerome.

Brad Jenkins: I was pleasantly surprised to see Tony Bennett win ACC Coach of the Year. My feelings are that the coach of the best team should get it rather than whoever overachieved media expectations, but I was surprised at the margin in the voting? Any quarrels there?

Matt Auerbach: None at all. I think he’s the best coach in the league and I think Virginia is the best team in the league, and I agree that the latter shouldn’t deter the vote away from him. Without their horrendous finish, I think Louisville’s Chris Mack would have garnered some serious consideration, but Bennett is the right choice.

Mick McDonald: I watched Dave Leitao coach Virginia for several seasons. Tony Bennett can win it every single year and I will have no issues. (Perhaps I am a bit biased, though.)

Matt Auerbach: Shoutout to Roy Williams as well. North Carolina is North Carolina, but not many had the Tar Heels finishing 16-2 in this league.

Mick McDonald: Roy deserves a ton of credit. Lots of people liked North Carolina this year, but I don’t think anybody had them in the running for a #1 seed.

Matt Auerbach: Since we’re being honest and owning my Syracuse error, I believe I had them #1 overall in the preseason. So Roy did what he was supposed to.

Brad Jenkins: Roy Williams is getting a lot of deserved praise for another outstanding coaching job, but there’s no question that Virginia faced a tougher schedule (e.g., Zion twice) so Bennett should get the slight edge. The only other takeaway I had from the ACC awards voting is that FOUR voters left RJ Barrett off the All-Rookie Team. Who are those guys and why are they allowed to vote?

Matt Auerbach: The same guys who didn’t vote Willie Mays to the Hall of Fame? That’s insane.

Mick McDonald: I thought it was really odd that both he and Hunter weren’t unanimous first-teamers. Not having Barrett on the All-Rookie team is actually insane. In fact, that is a direct declaration of war against Canada.

Matt Auerbach: The guy scored 750 points for a team that finished 14-4 in ACC play. Those guys should have their votes taken away from them, because they are clearly incapable of voting without prejudice or they just fail to understand basketball.

Brad Jenkins: Moving on to the ACC Tournament, what are the top storylines? Clemson against NC State in a bubble buster? The return of Zion? The NCAA #1 seeds at stake?

Mick McDonald: I think how Duke plays with Williamson (presumably) back in the lineup is the top storyline. If he comes back and they win the ACC Tournament, there is no way they aren’t a #1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament.

Matt Auerbach: I think the return of Zion transcends any other storyline to take place there. Duke, with him, is the favorite to win it all, so seeing how close to 100 percent he is, is notable.

Mick McDonald: NC State vs. Clemson will definitely be interesting, as the winner will feel pretty good and the loser is going to have a loooooong wait until Sunday evening. It also features the least interesting Tuesday since the tournament expanded. Normally there is at least one interesting team playing today. Not this year. Yikes.

Matt Auerbach: The NC State-Clemson game should be really entertaining because it will feel like a play-out type of deal. Semifinal Friday, if form holds, could really be special.

Mick McDonald: I will say, from a Virginia perspective, this feels like the least important ACC Tournament ever. Just get to the NCAA Tournament without an injury, regardless of result, and start making up for a year ago.

Brad Jenkins: I’ll be there to cover it and I’m hoping we get chalk into the semifinals. If we do, I think a lot of folks are excited about a Duke (with Zion) match-up with North Carolina. But to those who think that Duke will win that one I would say this: Duke was clearly better than the Tar Heels a month ago, but they weren’t playing any better than North Carolina is right now. Thoughts?

Matt Auerbach: I totally agree with that, but he’s just such a game-changer it’s easy to just assume plugging him back in makes them the best team in the country again. But, both Virginia and North Carolina are very much improved over the last month — the Tar Heels perhaps more so than any other team in the country. I just hope that Zion is healthy, and that we get that full strength rematch, and the winner gets Virginia on Saturday night — but, as Mick said, this is just a primer for these three teams as any of them could end up in Minneapolis a month from now.

Mick McDonald: Exactly. Just give me Virginia, Duke and North Carolina all at full strength in the NCAA Tournament. All three could cut down nets and get to Minneapolis.

Brad Jenkins: Well said, guys. There are bigger stakes ahead for sure and dare we say three ACC Final Four teams is a real possibility?

Mick McDonald: Definitely possible. Very unlikely, just because March happens. But all three have a great chance.

Matt Auerbach: I can’t see why not. Duke fully healthy has the highest ceiling; North Carolina may be playing the best basketball in the country right now; and Virginia, despite what happened a year ago, is the safest bet to get to the Final Four.

Brad Jenkins: Thanks, fellas. This has been a great conversation! March is here so let’s enjoy the Madness — it will be over before we know it.

Matt Auerbach: Enjoy Charlotte, Brad. Can’t say I’m not envious!

Mick McDonald: Great chat guys, enjoy the action this week!

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