Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
A Look Back
You probably know this by now, but the biggest news of the week was Larry Drew II leaving North Carolina. He was immediately ripped by fans and experts alike (the word “quit” and phrase “addition by subtraction” probably started trending on Twitter) largely–in my opinion–because he didn’t tell the team his decision, instead letting his father do it for him. It’s hard to tell if this is a case of “selfish kid” (as most have interpreted the story) or “overreaching parent.” My guess is it’s a combination of the two, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter was the deciding factor. Everyone from college professors to recruiting analysts will tell you that parents are the hardest to deal with because they have a tendency to only see one side of the story. The transfer was still very surprising based on timing (he has to sit out a year anyways), and Drew was coming off a career game (in assists) against Boston College. Regardless, Drew’s transfer may show why Roy Williams was so hesitant to start Kendall Marshall in the first place, if he suspected a delicate situation.
On the other side of Tobacco Road, Duke picked up its first commit from the class of 2012 in Alex Murphy, a 6’8 wing player. The comparison that has been tossed around most frequently is Kyle Singler, though I think that’s a somewhat lazy comparison. The other name I’ve heard a little is Mike Dunleavy, which seems a little more accurate in terms of skill sets based on the very limited video I’ve seen of Murphy on YouTube. There are rumblings that Murphy may reclassify and join Duke next year, as he’s in his fourth year of high school, but I don’t think he’d gain a considerable advantage by coming a year earlier based on Duke’s talent-laden 2011 class.
And last but not least, NC State’s CJ Leslie was suspended for violating team rules and missed a romping at the hands of Duke. He certainly wouldn’t have made an appreciable difference in the outcome (Duke was up by thirty at one point in the first half), but his suspension is just a microcosm of NC State’s disastrous season. For a fun (but depressing read), I highly suggest checking out Backing the Pack’s Profile of a Possible Savior series on current coaches that might make a good replacement for Sidney Lowe (currently they’ve profiled Old Dominion’s Blaine Taylor, Missouri State’s Cuonzo Martin and Richmond’s Chris Mooney, South Carolina’s Darrin Horn, Providence’s Keno Davis, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Dayton’s Brian Gregory). My favorite “Important Question” by far: “Does he run the Princeton offense?” Even if you’re not a State fan, I highly suggest checking these out as the Wolfpack probably won’t be the only team on the lookout for a new coach and it’s a nice group of successful, under-the-radar coaches. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alabama’s Anthony Grant gets profiled soon after the season he’s put together this year.
Player of the Week: Kendall Marshall wins after tossing 22 dimes in games at Boston College and against Florida State. If anything, Drew’s transfer highlighted Marshall’s outstanding play. Harrison Barnes was also in double figures for the seventh straight game (he is averaging just under 23 points a game in his last three outings), which brings us to our team of the week.
Team of the Week: North Carolina, without a doubt. I briefly considered pushing the Tar Heels to the top spot in the power rankings, but Duke also had two dominant wins this week, so I held off. But the Tar Heels are playing their best basketball of the season right now, having reeled off five straight wins (only one in single digits) after the embarrassing loss to Georgia Tech. Everything is clicking right now: Barnes, Marshall, John Henson, Tyler Zeller and even Reggie Bullock (even if he still hasn’t found consistency). This is the team that was picked in the top ten before the season. This team is capable of beating Duke in Durham Wednesday night. It’s also capable of losing by 20, but I’d put my money on a close game. So far this season, Carolina has been an elite defensive team (ranked eighth, right behind Duke, in defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy), but in their last two games, they’ve put up unfathomable offensive numbers. Against Boston College’s admittedly porous defense, the Heels put up a gaudy 139.5 offensive rating (100 is average) on the road. More impressively, Carolina followed its dismantling of the Eagles with a 122.7 offensive rating against Florida State. The previous best offensive efficiency mark came against the Seminoles: only one team prior to North Carolina had been able to break a 101 offensive efficiency rating. Long story short, Wednesday night’s game at Duke just got a lot more interesting.
Bizarro Team of the Week: NC State, though Wake Forest and Georgia Tech also had dogs in this fight. It’s safe to say that losing seven of your last eight followed by a suspension for your second best player is not really what Sidney Lowe had in mind.
1. Duke (21-2, 8-1) barely held on to the top spot in the power rankings after taking it to Maryland in College Park and unsurprisingly cruising to a big win at home over NC State. Nolan Smith is playing like one of the best guards in the country, but he’s not the one that should scare opponents. Mason Plumlee put up two double-doubles in Duke’s wins this week, notching 12 and 11 against Maryland and 16 and 12 against NC State (don’t forget Maryland and State have two of the strongest post players in the conference). Plumlee has quietly become one of the best rebounders in the conference, with double-digit board totals in his last seven conference contests. Keep an eye out for how the Plumlees handle John Henson and Tyler Zeller this week.
2. North Carolina (17-5, 7-1) had its best week of basketball of the past two seasons last week and is finally living up to expectations.
3. Florida State (16-7, 6-3) ran into a buzzsaw in Chapel Hill, but beat up on Wake at home. Thanks to non-conference struggles and a weak ACC, Florida State could get a fairly bad seed come Selection Sunday. But away from Tallahassee, the Seminoles have an offensive inconsistency that will make it nearly impossible to succeed in the one and done format of the tournament.
4. Maryland (15-8, 5-4) lost to an angry Duke team at home before beating up on Wake at home. Discounting the Duke game, the Terrapins have won four of five and have winnable games (other than at North Carolina) the rest of the way. They’ll need to win most of those to lock up an at-large position.
5. Boston College (15-8, 5-4) stopped the bleeding with a huge home win over Virginia Tech. I was at the game, and the Eagles are very lucky to have come out with the win. The Hokies could not buy a jump-shot in the first half (they literally had nothing but paint points and free throws) despite getting numerous good looks. The game was a must-win for Boston College, and it can thank Reggie Jackson’s great final eleven minutes for the win.
6. Virginia Tech (15-7, 5-4) lost a tough game at Conte Forum, but the Hokies were in less trouble than the Eagles. That’s no excuse for how Virginia Tech lost the game, though. First, Malcolm Delaney was sent to the foul line with a chance to tie with under thirty seconds left. Then the Hokies decided it was a good plan to drop the ball off to slumping Erick Green, who hadn’t hit a single shot all game, for the final hurrah. Regardless, I don’t think the Hokies’ at-large hopes are crushed by the loss. They still have a couple of chances for good wins–home against Maryland and Duke–left on the schedule.
7. Clemson (16-7, 5-4), otherwise known as the fourth team in the conference at five and four, lost a killer at Virginia before flirting with disaster against Georgia Tech. As much as I like Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant, I’m not sure either is cut out to be the go-to guy on an ACC team. Unfortunately, I think Clemson is going to be the odd man out (or one of two odd men out from the five and four bunch) unless they can grab two of North Carolina (home), Boston College (home) and Virginia Tech (home).
8. Miami (14-9, 3-6) turned the tables this week, winning two more excruciatingly close games at home over Georgia Tech and Virginia. Not that home wins over Georgia Tech and Virginia are that impressive, but this Hurricane team really needed them. If Reggie Johnson can find a way to commit less fouls, he’s going to be an immovable object in the post. Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott both have some work to do before becoming primary playmakers for a team in conference contention (also known as not disappearing during important stretches), but this team will only get better next season with nearly everyone coming back.
9. Virginia (12-11, 3-6) almost blew a huge lead to Clemson, but somehow managed to hold on in the final seconds. Tony Bennett has done a great job with what’s been available for him and his team the past couple of years, but he’s still decidedly in the “rebuilding” process at Virginia. Give him two more years and Virginia should be back in the top half of the conference.
10. Georgia Tech (10-12, 3-6) has lost three of their last four, including losses to Miami and Clemson this week. Things aren’t going to get any easier from here as the Yellow Jackets have to face Florida State (home) and Virginia Tech on the road this week. In stark contrast to Tony Bennett, Paul Hewitt has struggled mightily getting the most out of his normally quite talented players. Hewitt seems like a great guy, but he’s just a level too high in coaching.
11. NC State (12-11, 2-7) is discovering how it feels to have the bottom fall out.
12. Wake Forest (8-15, 1-7) already knows how it feels to have the bottom fall out: if having the bottom fall out is losing 11 of your last 13 games.
A Look Ahead
Welcome to Rivalry Week. The best rivalry in all of college basketball–if not all of sports–opens the first game of the season in Durham Wednesday night at 9:00 PM on ESPN (or the ACC Network depending on your location). North Carolina seems to be peaking right in time for the big game, while Duke looks like it has bounced back from the ugly loss at St. John’s. Really, this should be a phenomenal game: the atmosphere and emotions will be off the charts, and these are the two best teams in the ACC (by a very solid margin).
The other two teams with a very big week ahead are Clemson and Boston College–who both look dangerously close to the wrong side of the bubble right now. The Tigers play at Boston College Tuesday in a must-win for both teams (9:00 PM, ESPNU). After that, Clemson gets North Carolina at home Saturday in what could be an epic letdown game and a great chance to get revenge for what transpired in Chapel Hill (1:00 PM, ACC Network). Boston College gets another chance to boost its at-large resume when the Terrapins come to town Saturday (1:00 PM, ACC Network).
Needless to say, this should be one of the more exciting weeks in the ACC.