ACC Stock Report: Volume II

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 10th, 2019

With the intra-league docket on pause until New Year’s Eve, now is a good time for coaches to take a breath and evaluate where their teams sit in the wake of just completed holiday tournaments and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Finals and the holiday season dilute most schedules prior to the reconvening of the ACC slate, but there are still a few games with intrigue on the horizon. One of those occurs tonight, featuring the team that has established itself as perhaps the favorite to capture the league title.

Stock Rising: Louisville

Louisville is the Early Favorite in the ACC (USA Today Images)

I had some reluctance to fully buy in to this Louisville ensemble being the league’s best team, but given its performance through nine games, it may be time to cede to the results. The Cardinals were barely tested in seven November victories, winning all but one of those contests by double figures, while defeating zero top-80 KenPom teams. However, in vanquishing Michigan, a team that ran roughshod over stiff competition on its way to winning the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, the Cardinals definitively proved worthy of inclusion among the nation’s elite.  Chris Mack’s squad is doing it on both ends of the floor, the only team nationally inside the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. A microcosm of that balance is the team’s best player Jordan Nwora, who is about as an efficient three-level scorer as there is in college basketball. The 6’7” junior forward, who tested the draft waters last summer, is also excelling on the defensive end and on the glass, and is currently the leader in the KenPom Player of the Year standings.

In a year devoid of dominant outfits, consistent output needs to be acknowledged, and thus far, no one in the league has come close to the Cardinals’ level of consistency. Tonight, they get another chance to prove their worthiness of the nation’s top ranking against last year’s national runner-up, Texas Tech, at Madison Square Garden. Get past that, and it should be an undefeated Louisville entering Rupp Arena to face intrastate rival Kentucky on December 28.

Stock Middling: Virginia Tech

Picked to finish 14th in the preseason ACC standings, not much was expected from the Hokies in the wake of Buzz Williams’ departure. But, first year steward Mike Young, late of Wofford, coached his charges to an opening night upset win at Clemson, and then four blowout home wins, before providing one of Feast Week’s biggest surprises in beating the country’s consensus preseason #1 team, Michigan State, in Maui. Since, there has been a significant regression to the mean, as the Hokies have dropped three straight games, all by double figures, capped by a loss to Duke in Blacksburg Friday evening. Young’s team is hampered by a stark lack of size and an over-reliance on perimeter scoring. Averaging 45.5 percent of its points from beyond the arc, and less than 11 percent of its scoring from the charity stripe, Virginia Tech is going to have very little chance to compete on nights where it isn’t stroking it from deep. The next four contests are of the “get right” variety, but three of the Hokies’ first four games once league play recommences are on the road, including a January 4 trip to Charlottesville and the country’s stingiest defense.

Stock Falling: North Carolina

North Carolina is Struggling Mightily (USA Today Images)

For the first time since the 1947-48 season, North Carolina was held to fewer than 50 points in consecutive games — both in losses to Ohio State and Virginia last week. To be fair, the opposition happened to be the two most efficient defensive units in the country, but still, the Tar Heels look country miles away from being your typical Roy Williams’ squad. Known for a vaunted secondary break and pressurizing defenses into submission, this iteration of the Heels is playing at a snail’s pace by comparison, 79th nationally in adjusted tempo. Worse off though, is North Carolina’s shooting, as its three-point percentage is hovering just about 28 percent, 300th-best nationally, while the team’s trips to the line have been even less fruitful (63.5%).

The Tar Heels’ defense has been good, but some of the offensive burden is going to have to come off of the capable shoulders of freshman Cole Anthony if this team is going to recover. Anthony has been sensational at times, certainly as good as advertised on the whole, but the additions of Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling, a pair of floor-spacing graduate transfers, has yet to pay dividends. If the duo continues to shoot from deep at their current combined clip of 23.4 percent, defenses will continue to swarm Anthony and force the ball out of his hands — and even a player of his caliber will struggle to single-handedly create offense under circumstances like that.

Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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