Checking In On… the ACC

Posted by mpatton on December 14th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference. You can follow him on Twitter @rise_and_fire.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

  • Wake Forest’s Dynamic Duo: The Demon Deacons may not be the prettiest team to watch, but CJ Harris and Travis McKie are lighting up the box score. We knew (even if I, in a gaffe of all gaffes, left him off my All-Freshman team last year for Ryan Harrow) Mckie was going to be one of the ACC’s top players this year, but Harris has been a very pleasant surprise. The pair are efficiently combining for nearly 57% of Wake Forest’s points through the first 10 games of the year. Harris has already made as many threes as he made all last season on 18 less attempts, and he’s significantly more effective inside the arc. It remains to be seen how Harris will adapt to the defenses of ACC play, but so far he has to be leading the “surprise of the year” category.
  • Duke’s Post Presence: That’s right: after two solid years of berating the Plumlees as overrated and generally poor basketball players, it’s time to give credit where it’s due. Mason Plumlee has developed into a very good big man. No, he can’t make a free throw to save his life, but he’s much better offensively everywhere except the boards than he’s been the last few years. He developed a couple of solid post moves, stopped turning the ball over as much and learned to hold his ground on defense. If he can either learn to crash the offensive glass or hit 60% of his free throws, I’m confident in saying he’ll be one of the top three or four bigs in the ACC this season.
  • That’s right, the ACC Digital Network launched this season. Check out JR Reid break down North Carolina‘s softness and the conference power rankings. So far the coverage is fairly limited, but as it expands this could become one of the better sources of information for ACC fans.

Power Rankings

  1. North Carolina (8-2) stays atop the rankings with a hard-fought win over Long Beach State, which better get rewarded by the Selection Committee in March for playing such a tough non-conference schedule. The Tar Heels dominated on the inside with John Henson and Harrison Barnes leading the scoring, but it is worth noting that this is  another game where four Tar Heel starters played more than 30 minutes. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the ACC

Posted by mpatton on December 6th, 2011

Matt Patton is the ACC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter @rise_and_fire.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

  • Kentucky and North Carolina: College basketball’s “Game of the Century” lived up to the hype coming down to the last possession (even if it ended bizarrely) and was fun from start to finish (well, almost finish for Tar Heel fans). The game was a reminder that North Carolina can be the team people thought it would be coming into this season. The Tar Heels were aggressive, knocked down perimeter shots, and controlled a little over half of the game. Harrison Barnes was outplayed by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but Kendall Marshall was passable on defense [Author’s Note: That wasn’t meant to be a bad pun. He actually played solid defense on Teague most of the game.] and his usual self on offense (though I was very surprised he saw as much time guarding Marquis Teague as he did, considering Teague’s turnover woes). I’m not sure any college basketball fan would mind seeing a rematch this spring.
  • Terrell Stoglin Can Score: Unfortunately, his teammates are struggling to keep up their end. Only three BCS-conference teams (Penn State, Washington, and Utah) have players with higher usages, and none have players more likely to take a shot (shot percentage). Stoglin is the only player on the team averaging over 20 points a game with 22.4. His field goal percentage could be a little higher, but right now he’s the best scorer in the conference. For more on Stoglin, check out our post from yesterday on his scoring ability.
  • Sportsman of the Year: Mike Krzyzewski and Pat Summitt joined the prestigious ranks of Sports Illustrated‘s “Sportsman of the Year” winners and are only the third and fourth college basketball coaches to be chosen for the honor (Dean Smith and John Wooden are the other two). Both are worthy choices, as they both signify excellence over the course of 73 combined years of coaching.

Terrell Stoglin is Maryland's Offense.

Power Rankings

1) North Carolina (6-2) lost to the #1 team in the country on the road by one point. But it was the second straight game that the Tar Heels were unable to control the tempo. Is this a problem going forward, or is the defense good enough to win ugly?
Ken Pomeroy Fun Fact: The only player in Roy Williams’ rotation that is not averaging over a point per possession? James Michael McAdoo (fellow frosh PJ Hairston leads the team with a 129.0 offensive rating).

2) Duke (7-1) hasn’t played since last week. My guess is this means a lot of quality time watching film on Ohio State.
Ken Pomeroy Fun Fact: Duke has the third worst free throw defense in the country, as opponents are shooting a whopping 80.6% from the charity stripe against the Blue Devils this year.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 2nd, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

  • ACC/Big 10 Challenge: I’m not sure we can call it a challenge this year, as the ACC was dismantled 8-4 (with two of those wins being upsets). I don’t put much stock in the Challenge results although I do think it’s the best of the conference duels. I also think the Big 10 is a much better basketball conference than the ACC. The lone conference highlights came from Wake Forest and Virginia. The Demon Deacons got their second straight BCS-conference victory over Nebraska (on the road no less). To put the milestone in perspective, last season, Wake Forest didn’t win any road games against BCS competition and only won two home games against major conference schools. Meanwhile the Cavaliers rebuffed their critics (read: me) by beating a talented, well-coached Michigan squad.
  • Tar Heel Questions: North Carolina may be the best team in the country, but  any aura of invincibility was shattered by UNLV bum rushing the Tar Heels out in Las Vegas. UNLV played extraordinarily well: it exploited mismatches, slammed North Carolina inside and knocked down open shots. The Tar Heels left with major questions about who will take over games in tough spots, and whether John Henson and Tyler Zeller could step up inside in big moments. The big men reverted back to earlier seasons’ form, Henson settling for ill-advised jumpers and Zeller settling for no shots at all.
  • Austin Rivers Criticism: High profile recruits going to high profile schools generate high profile expectations. But less than ten games into the season, in my opinion, is a little early to say that Austin Rivers cannot fit into Duke’s system. The statements are coming from Duke fans, Duke haters, and journalists alike. It’s true that Rivers hasn’t seamlessly moved to the college game, but he’s been Duke’s best offensive threat so far this season. Watch the Duke – Ohio State game: the only two offensive factors for Duke were Rivers and Mason Plumlee. Rivers has a well-documented crossover that allows him to get to the rim at will. With a little better shot selection and the occasional pass to open teammates, he’ll be near the top of college basketball’s offensive players relatively soon.
  • Pre-Season Tournaments: We know Duke won the Maui Invitational for the fifth time, but how did other ACC schools fare in tournament play? Boston College took sixth at the 76 Classic (which, for the record has been a “Classic” since 2007) thanks to an overtime win over UC Riverside. Clemson has yet to take place in the Diamond Head Classic (est. 2009), but will take to Hawaii in late December with the possibility of playing a very talented Xavier squad. Florida State struggled at the Battle 4 Atlantis, getting beat by Harvard in the second round before losing a very close game against defending national champion Connecticut in the third place game. Georgia Tech had a mixed trip to the Charleston Classic (est. 2008), losing to St. Joseph’s and LSU with a win against VCU thrown in. Maryland struggled in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, getting blown out by likely NCAA Tournament teams Alabama and Iona. Miami will join Florida, Texas A&M, and FAU at the Orange Bowl Classic in mid-December. North Carolina came away with its first loss from the Las Vegas Invitational. NC State got some very valuable experience from the Ticketcity Legends Classic (est. 2007) losing to Vanderbilt in a close game but coming from behind to beat Texas. Virginia took fourth at Paradise Jam highlighted by a close (but bad) loss to TCU in the first round. Virginia Tech was competitive at the NIT Season Tip-Off, winning the third-place game over Oklahoma State after playing well in a loss to Syracuse. Finally, Wake Forest lost a very close game to Dayton, was blown out by Arizona State, and bounced back with a win over Texas Tech to take seventh at the Old Spice Classic (est. 2006).
  • Boston College’s Identity: Boston College isn’t good, but the Eagles might be better off if Matt Humphrey passed the torch to Patrick Heckmann. Regardless, the Eagles will probably struggle a lot this season, but Heckmann has proven to be very efficient offensively so far.

Seth Curry And Duke Got Undressed By The Buckeyes On Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Power Rankings

  1. North Carolina (6-1): The Tar Heels may have suffered their first loss, but they’re still the best team in the ACC. They got a very good win at home against Wisconsin on Wednesday night, and did it playing Wisconsin’s style. That’s good and bad as it means they succeeded playing a very uncomfortable game thanks to very good defense, especially from Dexter Strickland. However, it also means Wisconsin controlled the tempo. The good news is Kentucky is a very young team that likes to run. This plays right into North Carolina’s hands as it has much more experience running fast, but staying in control.
  2. Duke (7-1): The Blue Devils got absolutely handled at Ohio State on Tuesday, but they still have the best wins in the conference (at least number of quality wins). The worst news in the loss was Ryan Kelly’s disappearance on offense. He and Seth Curry absolutely have to have a positive impact on that end of the floor for Duke to live up to expectations this season. On a more positive note, Mason Plumlee looks like he’s made at least part of the leap people have been expecting since he arrived (still too many turnovers, but very solid otherwise). Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On.. The ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 22nd, 2011

Matt Patton is an ACC microsite writer for RTC.

 

Reader’s Take I

Top Storylines

  • Coach K Gets 903: Mike Krzyzewski made basketball history by passing his mentor Bob Knight on the all-time wins list. The record is a testament to Krzyzewski’s consistent excellence over the last three decades. It was an incredible accomplishment and dictated the better part of a week’s coverage.
  • Eligibility and Injuries Plague ACC: The ACC has five players out with eligibility issues, seven are out with significant injuries, and one is out after violating team rules. Alex Len (Maryland) may have his eligibility after he sits out ten games (he’ll be back in late December), but DeQuan Jones (Miami) is out indefinitely because of the NCAA’s ongoing investigation into allegations of the Nevin Shapiro scandal; Shane Larkin (Miami) is awaiting word on his eligibility after transferring from DePaul; Thomas de Thaey (NC State) is waiting for his amateur status to be reviewed; and Ian Miller (Florida State) will miss at least first semester due to eligibility issues. On the injury front, JT Thompson and Marquis Rankin (Virginia Tech) are out for the season while Pe’Shon Howard (Maryland), Antwan Space (Florida State), Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson (Miami), and Leslie McDonald (North Carolina) are out indefinitely with various injuries. Wake Forest’s Ty Walker is suspended for violating the team’s honor code but is expected back against Seton Hall. Yikes.
  • Virginia Hype Came Too Soon?: Kellen Carpenter hit the nail on the head in his preview of the Cavaliers. He pointed out lack of offensive balance and inability to make twos as the two biggest questions facing Tony Bennett’s squad. The team has had success from inside the arc in its wins, bu looking at the boxscore from their loss to TCU reveals the Cavaliers shot less than 40% on two-point attempts. Mike Scott was still solid, but the rest of the team struggled a lot. The other problem is Virginia’s crawling tempo makes it very difficult to come back from deficits.
  • Mark Gottfied Can Recruit (and possibly coach, too): Mark Gottfried came into Raleigh with high expectations from the Wolfpack fanbase. So far, he has lived up to all of them. Gottfried has a top-five recruiting class sealed up thanks to signing TJ Warren, Rodney Purvis, and Tyler Lewis in the early period; he has another potential star possibly joining the ranks in Amile Jefferson. He also managed to get NC State its best non-conference win in quite a while with a huge comeback against Texas. One of the biggest problems with last year’s team was it could not come from behind. I generally chalked it up to effort or general pessimism that comes with frequent losses. Gottfried seems to have turned things around at least a little. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Conference Primers: #4 – Atlantic Coast Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 3rd, 2011

Matt Patton of RTC’s ACC Microsite is the RTC correspondent for the ACC. You can find him on Twitter @rise_and_fire.

Reader’s Take I

The ACC looks like it has three tiers this year. The top: North Carolina, Duke and Florida State. The bottom: Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. And then there’s everyone else.

 

Top Storylines

  • Can North Carolina Win Its Third Ring in the Roy Williams Era?: By all counts, yes. And to this point I haven’t heard any “undefeated” nonsense from anywhere, which means people’s expectations aren’t totally out to lunch. There are several other very good teams this year. Last year’s Tar Heel team wasn’t unstoppable, even at the end of the season (they lost to a #4 seed, remember?); I don’t expect them to be unstoppable this year, either. But if you’re looking for the most complete team with the fewest unknowns, you won’t find it anywhere else in college basketball. My one peeve with the offseason coverage of this team is the idea that four of the five starters should be first team All-ACC (or even All-American). There are only so many possessions in a basketball game. Only so many players can be integral. Part of the intimidating nature of this team on paper is that no one player controls the team’s fate: On any given night, Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller or John Henson are all candidates to blow up the scoreboard (though in Henson’s case, it’s usually keeping opponents off it). It’s the fact that the combination could be more than the sum of its parts that makes the Tar Heels a lock for preseason number one.

Another Season, Another Set of Huge Expectations in Chapel Hill

  • Will Florida State Challenge Tobacco Road And Make The ACC Interesting Again?: Yes. I was pretty low on Florida State for my summer update, but I’m currently very high on the Seminoles. Specifically, I think Bernard James is the best defender in the country (though John Henson is a significantly better rebounder), and Jeff Peterson will be able to find offense more effectively than Chris Singleton and Derwin Kitchen last season. Oh, and the Seminoles are also hungry after an ugly loss to VCU left them stranded in the Sweet Sixteen last year (and they then had to watch the Rams march on to the Final Four).
  • How Will This Year’s Batch Of New Coaches Fare?: I think Jim Larranaga will objectively perform the best, but I also think he has the most talent at his disposal. Against my better judgment, I’m warming up to this NC State team and Mark Gottfried’s leadership (at least for the first few years). As for Georgia Tech and Brian Gregory, yikes. There’s been a little recent buzz about the Yellow Jackets being better than people expect (which is a very low threshold), but I don’t see it. Gregory has an undermanned roster full of guys he didn’t recruit with nothing to speak of in the post, and he doesn’t have a dedicated home court. Not the combination for success. In College Park, Mark Turgeon should return Maryland to regular conference title contenders again once he reopens the pipeline to Washington, D.C., talent.
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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 1st, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

Hold onto your seats, Hokie fans, you’re on the right side of the bubble after a statement win against Duke this week.  Virginia Tech’s win was just what the doctor ordered, but the Hokies are far from a lock (for everyone but Dickie V).  The Hokies won despite a very poor night from star Malcolm Delaney, who did hit a huge three late but was otherwise ineffective.  Jeff Allen picked up any slack Delaney left, finishing with 18 points and 15 boards.  But the real credit goes to Virginia Tech’s defense, which held Duke to under 40% from the field.  Kyle Singler helped those numbers a lot with one of the worst 22 and 12 lines you’ll ever see.  Singler has been in a real shooting slump (he’s 8-36 from beyond the arc in his last nine games).  He got plenty of open looks against the Hokies but just couldn’t convert anything from outside 15 feet.  Singler played very well when he was taking shorter jump shots and getting into the lane and drawing contact, but the set jumper just isn’t there.  Duke fans need to hope this is part of his yearly slump because this team is much less dangerous without Singler as an outside threat.  Virginia Tech also stymied Seth Curry, who only played 15 minutes because of foul trouble, but managed to finish with no points and a crucial turnover on Duke’s last possession (where he tried to do too much).  I think Curry was just a little too emotionally wound up before the game: in case you don’t know the back story, Curry’s father, Dell Curry, was one of the best players in Virginia Tech history (the first Hokie to have his jersey retired).  Regardless of shooting slumps and emotional windings, this was a huge win for Virginia Tech, which was starting to drift towards the wrong side of the bubble.

Major indirect benefactor of the upset in Blacksburg: North Carolina.  Now if the Tar Heels can beat Duke in Chapel Hill this weekend, they share the regular season ACC title and grab the top seed in the conference tournament.  Ironically second-seed could be the desired seed depending on how the rest of the field works out because I think any sane coach would rather face Florida State (set to be the three seed currently) without Chris Singleton than Virginia Tech (lined up to be the fourth seed right now).

Team of the Week: Virginia Tech in a runaway.  Not too much more to be said, but the Hokies would probably be looking at an 11-seed if Selection Sunday was today (at least if Andy Glockner or Bracketology101 was seeding the bracket**).  That’s obviously better than not being in the field, but far from “lock” status.  To ensure a bid, I still think Virginia Tech needs to win out the regular season or win one game in the conference tournament (against a decent team).  Still that’s totally doable.  Between a couple of solid wins and a tough nonconference schedule, things should be looking up in Blacksburg.

**By the way, if you don’t follow Andy Glockner (@aglock) on Twitter, you should.  He’s one of the most responsive sports writers in the business and does a tremendous job with Bubble Watch at SI.com.  In addition to responsive, thoughtful analysis, you should expect a wealth of tweets on Team Bubble Watch (Marquette), Fulham, the Knicks and the New York Giants.  Most of you probably already knew this, but just in case anyone is new to Twitter, I thought I’d pass along the tip.  [ed note. – agreed]

Bizarro Team of the Week: Georgia Tech has lost its last eight conference games.  Next up: Wake Forest.  Looks like the ultimate place for the Demon Deacons to pick up a second conference win to me.  The frustrating thing about the Yellow Jackets is their talent to performance ratio.  Really Iman Shumpert, Glen Rice and Brian Oliver should make a much better team.  Truthfully, Mfon Udofia isn’t bad either, and Daniel Miller is developing.  The team needs a point guard and more consistency in the post.

Player of the Week: John Henson.  He’s been in double digit rebounding eight of his last nine games and double digit scoring in seven of his last nine.  Oh yeah, and he averaged six and a half blocks this week.  Most importantly, Henson hasn’t missed a free throw in three games (six for six).  The free throw stat is probably a mirage, but the rebounding and blocks are very real.  Henson is a huge defensive presence on North Carolina’s front line.  With Chris Singleton injured, I think he’s close to a lock for ACC defensive player of the year (at least he should be).  North Carolina has the second-ranked defense according to Ken Pomeroy, and Henson’s length deserves a lot of credit.

Power Rankings

1.  Duke (26-3, 12-2) barely edges out the Tar Heels this week.  The Blue Devils crushed Temple (a top 25 foe) at home this week before the loss to desperate Virginia Tech.  The game at North Carolina should be great.  I think Duke is marginally better, but the Dean Dome is going to be huge for North Carolina.  Mason Plumlee, especially has looked much better for Duke recently.  He’s quietly shooting almost 60% from the field (albeit on mainly dunks), and nearly averaging double digit rebounds.  He’ll be crucial in dealing with North Carolina’s length Saturday night.

2.  North Carolina (22-6, 12-2) can claim the top seed in the ACC Tournament with a win over Duke Saturday.  This team plays really well in spurts (cliche alert: it’s a game of runs), but there are still problems.  I think Roy Williams needs to trim his lineup down a little bit: the constant substitutions kill offensive flow for the Heels, especially early in a half.  Kendall Marshall still has a tendency to force things sometimes, but he makes the Tar Heels absolutely lethal in transition.  Look for Duke to try and force him to score.

3.  Virginia Tech (19-8, 9-5) isn’t out of the woods yet.  Don’t test the selection committee!

4.  Florida State (20-8, 10-4) is playing surprisingly well without Chris Singleton.  Yes, they got spanked at College Park this week, but really Leonard Hamilton has to be thrilled with the way his squad has adapted without its best defender and primary scoring option.  One possible wrench in the above plan for North Carolina stealing the top spot from under Duke is Florida State knocking off the Tar Heels in Tallahassee.  Without Singleton it will be difficult, but if North Carolina’s offense vaguely resembles what it trotted out against Boston College, Florida State is in the gold.

5.  Clemson (19-9, 8-6) needs a decent run in the ACC Tournament if it wants to make the Big Dance.  Though if Duke is willing to help another bubble team out Wednesday, that would help too.  Clemson’s other game is against Virginia Tech (bubble on bubble brawl), which is a must-win for both teams.  Regardless of what ends up happening, Brad Brownell has done a tremendous job with this team.  Give him a couple of years, and Clemson will be back on the right side of the bubble.  This is a team most people picked much lower in the preseason.

6.  Maryland (18-11, 7-7) is probably out of the bubble picture after its loss to North Carolina, which is really a shame.  The Terps are clearly good enough to be a tournament team, they just couldn’t win games (somewhat of an oxymoron, I know).  Maryland closes out the season with games at Miami and against Virginia.  But Terrell Stoglin has really improved.  He’s averaging over twenty points a game over his last six games (with three games of at least 25 points).  Between him and Jordan Williams (who should come back, as he’s a little slow and undersized for the next level), they’ll be really good.  Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Maryland gets a decent draw and goes to the finals of the ACC Tournament this year (which would probably draw a bid to the Big Dance in the process, assuming the run included a win over North Carolina or Duke).

7.  Boston College (17-11, 7-7) lost to Miami this week.  That’s no way to sell an already lacking mediocre resume to the committee.  Reggie Jackson is a tremendous player; Joe Trapani makes a great right-hand man; and Corey Raji is one of the most undervalued offensive players in the ACC this year.  But for whatever reason, Boston College struggles to bring a consistent product to the floor.  One thing the Eagles really need to do during the offseason is try and get students excited about the team.  Boston College has good players, a good coach in Steve Donahue, and is probably just on the wrong side of the bubble: how can it not attract students to the games?

8.  Miami (17-12, 5-9) completed its season sweep of Boston College before losing to Florida State.  If Reggie Johnson can stay out of foul trouble, the Hurricanes are a very difficult team to beat.  They still need to make the transition from “tough out” to “favorite”, but I like Johnson, Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott a lot.

9.  Virginia (14-14, 5-9) picked up a win against Georgia Tech on the road before falling to a Boston College team desperate to improve its resume.  This week looks like another split week between a very winnable game against NC State and a tough one at Maryland.

10. NC State (15-13, 5-9) lost to North Carolina before beating Georgia Tech.  State fans still react negatively when Sidney Lowe chooses to play Javier Gonzalez over Ryan Harrow.  Credit the upperclassmen for a great game against Georgia Tech though: Tracy Smith and Scott Wood combined for 38 points on 20 field goals.  That’s efficiency.

11. Georgia Tech (11-17, 3-11) should just count down the days till the end of the season.

12. Wake Forest (8-21, 1-13) shoots free throws pretty well (second in the ACC at 73.6%).  Everything else?  Not so much.  Actually, the youth is promising, so there’s that, too.

A Look Ahead

  • Tuesday Bubble Struggle: Boston College at Virginia Tech (9:00PM, ESPNU) – The Hokies fight to stay on the right side of the bubble while Boston College faces a win-or-go-to-the-NIT (probably) game.  Should be fun to watch.  Keep an eye on Reggie Jackson and Malcolm Delaney.
  • Wednesday Upset Watch: North Carolina at Florida State (7:00PM, ESPN) – Can the Chris Singleton-less Seminoles knock off the streaking Tar Heels?  It’s possible, especially if the Tar Heels are missing shots from the outside.  The question is whether Florida State has any way to keep John Henson and Tyler Zeller off the boards.
  • Primetime Saturday: Virginia Tech at Clemson (12:00PM, ESPN2) – Another battle for the bubble showcasing Virginia Tech.  I’m not sure Clemson is cut out for the Big Dance this year, but a win here keeps them in the conversation.
  • Rivalry Rematch: Duke at North Carolina (Saturday, 8:00PM, CBS) – For the first time in the rivalry’s storied history, it’s coming to primetime.  This really should be a pick ‘em game.  Neither team can afford to get off to a slow start.  UNC needs to keep Duke cold from the perimeter, and Duke needs to not look soft inside.  My pick: Duke in a very close one on the back of Nolan Smith.
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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 23rd, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

A lot has happened the past two weeks, so let’s tackle it in chronological order and we’ll sum things up at the end.

  • Duke and North Carolina lived up to the hype.  Last year just didn’t feel right with the games being lopsided.  Kendall Marshall is probably the best passer from halfcourt I’ve ever seen.  He’s not fast, but he pushes the ball up the court just as fast as Ty Lawson or Raymond Felton but he dishes from halfcourt instead of right around the basket.  Marshall looked terrific in the first half against Duke, killing the Blue Devils on long rebounds which turned into quick points in transition and in halfcourt sets.  Duke finally managed to neutralize him by playing the passing lanes in the second half and forcing him to score first and pass second.  The other Carolina player that impressed me is John Henson.  I’ve never been huge on Henson: he’s always struck me as a soft player that you should just back down.  Why face up against him and allow him to use his length to alter your shot when you can back him down?  But the more games I watch, the more shots I see Henson affect.  The infusion of Kendall Marshall’s lobs has also made Henson much more dangerous on the offensive end.  On Duke’s side of the rivalry, Seth Curry deserves some props for his recent play.  Curry has been outstanding lately, becoming a legitimate third option and giving Nolan Smith some valuable time to work off the ball.  This Duke team definitely has flaws, but if it plays like it did in the second half against Carolina, there aren’t many teams in the country that could keep pace.

Bubble Trouble: With only Duke and North Carolina representing the ACC in the “lock” category–though I’m inclined to put Florida State in assuming it wins two of its remaining four games (11-5 in the ACC with a win over Duke has to be enough, right?)–there are a lot of teams still working towards at-large bids.  Perennial bubbler Virginia Tech leads the way, closely followed by Clemson, Boston College and Maryland.  Only the Seminoles and Hokies managed a winning record during the last two weeks.  Here’s a recap of those on the Bubble:

  • Florida State went 3-0 against arguably the worst teams in the conference.
  • Virginia Tech went 2-1, slaughtering Georgia Tech and beating Maryland at home, allowing Virginia to complete the sweep on the season before dispatching Wake Forest.
  • Clemson beat Boston College (a huge game, bubble-wise), barely lost in Chapel Hill, inexplicably lost at NC State before beating Miami on the road.
  • Boston College lost at Clemson, beat Maryland and barely lost at North Carolina.
  • Maryland slaughtered Longwood in a meaningless nonconference game, lost at Boston College, lost at Virginia Tech and barely beat NC State at home.

Add all of that up and you get Florida State sitting at 9-3 in ACC play, Virginia Tech and Clemson suffering horrible losses, Boston College avoiding marquee wins and Maryland continuing to avoid any wins that might be described as decent.  Ouch.  Not a good week for the ACC bubble.  Past Florida State, I think all of these teams need a significant ACC Tournament run (Maryland and Boston College might need to win the whole thing at this point).  Conceivably, the ACC could have three teams in the tournament if no one steps up down the stretch.  That’s pathetic for a conference that prides itself on basketball greatness (or really any major conference aside from the Pac-10 or SEC).

As for injuries, Chris Singleton hurt his foot in the game against Virginia.  You can’t overstate Singleton’s importance for the Seminoles: he’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the country and he’s their primary scoring option.  His versatility allows him to shut down the opposing team’s best player at the two, three or four.  This gives the selection committee a lot to think about with Florida State.  Without Singleton, this is a very different team.  At the same time, a favorable schedule will mean it probably closes out the season at 11-5 in conference play.  Personally, I think the Seminoles will squeak by barring a collapse of epic proportions, but the injury certainly opens the door for a lot more questions.  Kyrie Irving is back in the news after a couple of optimistic tweets about his injury: from Saturday: “Rehab going really well…I’m getting that feeling back!!! Yessir”; from Monday: “I’m definitely op(toe)mistic!!”.  Jeff Goodman of FoxSports.com later tweeted: “Getting mixed reports on whether he [Irving] will return. Tough to say yet.”  Essentially, no one knows anything (largely because Duke has been so quiet in the matter), but things are sounding much more optimistic.

Player of the Week: Nolan Smith has been tremendous in ACC play.  Currently, he’s averaging almost 22 points per game with more than five assists and just under five rebounds.  He’s on pace to be the only player ever to lead the ACC in scoring and assists for a season.  Against North Carolina, he had 34 (22 in the second half), good for his season high.  He also put up 18, 22 and 28 points in wins at Miami, at Virginia and against Georgia Tech.  Smith puts up gaudy tempo-free numbers too, posting the fifth-highest offensive rating among players used in more than 28% of their team’s possessions.  You might recognize a couple of household names right below him: Jimmer Fredette (8) and Kemba Walker (9).  I suspect we won’t see a unanimous national player of the year like last year, but Smith has certainly put himself in that top group (that should probably include Arizona’s Derrick Williams too).

Team of the Week: Duke.  I just can’t give the award to a Florida State team that beat Georgia Tech, Virginia (at home) and Wake, so that leaves the Blue Devils.  Ever since the St. John’s beating (which doesn’t look nearly as bad now), Duke has played at a much higher level–especially on the defensive end.  Duke did get off to a very shaky start against North Carolina, but good teams make adjustments and win games (which Mike Krzyzewski did).  My one concern with this team right now is its consistent struggle stopping penetration.  That’s going to be crucial during the NCAA Tournament.  Mason and Miles Plumlee need to be better at coming to help stop the drive (and I don’t mean by committing stupid reaching fouls).  But other than that, Duke is one of the best teams in the country with the top spot in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings to prove it.  Side note: the Blue Devils also sport top rankings in both polls, though their current resume lags behind Pittsburgh and Ohio State.

Bizarro Team of the Week: Maryland.  Frankly, the Terps are trying to steal the season’s award out from under Wake Forest’s feet.  Watching a Maryland game is one of the most frustrating things you can do: there’s clearly a good deal of talent on the roster, but they fold in the second half of every game.  It’s unbelievable.  Only two of Maryland’s losses have come by double digits (against Virginia Tech and Duke), but the Terps don’t have anything resembling a good win (best two are against Penn State and College of Charleston).  Jordan Williams can’t do everything, but I could’ve sworn Gary Williams would have found a way to win close games by now.

Power Rankings

1.  Duke (25-2, 12-1) is in a real battle for a one-seed with Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Texas, Kansas and the winner of BYU and San Diego State.  With only four to go around, two of these teams are going to make very dangerous two seeds.  I think Duke is in control of its own destiny in that if the Blue Devils win out, I think they’re a lock for the top line (wins against Temple, Virginia Tech and at North Carolina plus whoever they face in the conference tournament would dramatically improver its resume).  I think Duke can probably get away with losing at North Carolina, provided that’s the only slip-up.  Any more than that and Duke will need some major help from the other contenders.

2.  North Carolina (20-6, 10-2) showed it’s not quite all the way back to contender status after coughing up a huge first half lead at Duke.  But I think the Tar Heels have a great shot to get revenge when Duke comes to Chapel Hill if they play with the same tenacity.  The UNC that barely beat Clemson and coasted to a home win over Wake can’t show up, though.

3.  Florida State (19-7, 9-3) needs to keep winning.  I think 2-2 is enough in these last four games, but it definitely couldn’t hurt to steal one either at Maryland or home against North Carolina.  Derwin Kitchen is going to be the key player for the Seminoles moving forward without Singleton.

4.  Virginia Tech (18-8, 8-5) needs to learn to win games it’s supposed to.  The Hokies had no business losing to Virginia to start ACC play, and they had no business losing to them last week.  Those are the games that force Seth Greenberg to sit through sweaty and heartbreaking Selection Sundays.  A win against Duke could help make up for the bad losses.

5.  Clemson (18-9, 7-6) took a feather from Virginia Tech’s cap by losing at NC State last week.  Brad Brownell has done a great job in his first year, but the Tigers will be on the wrong side of the bubble with any more losses like that.  I think the final game against Virginia Tech will be as big as any game for the Tigers this season.  Clemson has a similar problem to other ACC bubble teams: no real marquee wins.  No offense to College of Charleston and Florida State, but the Tigers need to find another one before exiting the ACC Tournament.

6.  Boston College (16-10, 6-6) is close to cooked between too many bad losses and just not that many good wins (Texas A&M can only carry you so far).  This roster looks better on paper than in person right now, although Reggie Jackson is one of the best players in the conference.

7.  Maryland (17-10, 6-6) is a team with tons of potential, but very little execution.  If Jordan Williams doesn’t declare for the draft, though, look out for the Terps next year.

8.  Virginia (13-13, 4-8) would’ve been a much scarier team without Mike Scott’s injury.  This team will never be the most fun to watch, but Tony Bennett looks like he’s got the program moving in the right direction.  And they did sweep Virginia Tech.

9.  NC State (14-12, 4-8) is one of my biggest disappointments of the season.  I thought the Wolfpack had the talent to compete for second in the ACC with Florida State, Virginia Tech and North Carolina.  I still do.  But for whatever reason, Sidney Lowe can’t capitalize.  This team shows flashes of brilliance that make you wonder what might have been.  I don’t blame Lowe entirely, but someone has to be held accountable for his thus far underachieving tenure.

10. Miami (16-11, 4-8) have had all of its conference games decided by seven points or less, except for two double-digit losses to Duke (by ten and eleven points).  Miami’s record looks far worse than it should, which is why I think they could be very dangerous come the ACC tournament and next season.  Durand Scott, Malcolm Grant and Reggie Johnson are only getting better.

11. Georgia Tech (11-15, 3-9) has three conference wins including one against North Carolina and one against Virginia Tech?  The Yellow Jackets have talent, but right now it doesn’t fit together.  The biggest problem is a total inability to win away from home (literally zero road wins this season).

12. Wake Forest (8-20, 1-12) is officially the worst major conference team, according to Ken Pomeroy (number 249 as I write this).  The good news is things can only go up from here.  The big problem with the Deacs right now is defense.  When they hold opponents under a point per possession, they generally win (only one loss comes with a defensive efficiency rating of less than 100, and that’s a 99.1 against Gonzaga).  This team is still very young.

A Look Ahead

Wednesday, February 23:

  • Temple at Duke (7:00 PM, ESPN2) – Duke gets a shot at another top 25 opponent when the Owls come to Cameron Wednesday night in Coach K’s annual “strong mid-major we could see in the NCAA’s” game.  Look out for Lavoy Allen and Ramone Moore, who are both outstanding players in the A-10.
  • Florida State at Maryland (9:00 PM, ACC Network) – This game features the country’s fourth and 11th best defenses according to Ken Pomeroy in what is probably Maryland’s last gasp for an at-large (interestingly enough the ACC has defenses ranked 2, 3, 4, 11 and 18 in Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Maryland and Clemson).

Saturday, February 26:

  • Duke at Virginia Tech (9:00 PM, ESPN) – This is a huge chance for the Hokies to pick up a marquee win and close to seal their trip to the Big Dance.  Jeff Allen will be key, as he should be able to have his way with Duke’s often soft interior.  The best match-up will definitely be Nolan Smith and Malcolm Delaney (who is right behind Smith in scoring and assists).

Sunday, February 27:

  • Maryland at North Carolina (7:45 PM, FSN) – In another match-up featuring excellent defense, Maryland takes on North Carolina.  The most interesting part of this game will be to watch Jordan Williams take on Tyler Zeller and John Henson.  North Carolina’s bigs have looked soft, and Williams is liable to put up a monster night.
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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2011

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.

Power Rankings

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.

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

ACC storylines abound this week.  Duke embarrassed by a bubble-worthy Saint John’s team in the normally friendly Madison Square Garden; North Carolina finally got some hype-worthy play out of Harrison Barnes as they solidify their runner-up status; Maryland won a couple of near must-win conference road games to stay in the hunt for an at-large bid; Florida State showcased the offense that lost to Auburn in a hideous defeat at Clemson; Virginia Tech joined the ranks of ACC squads to lose big in Atlanta; Boston College was forced to play in Cameron Indoor; Georgia Tech sniffed the top half of the conference before Brian Oliver’s untimely injury left them undermanned against the Terps; NC State continued its quest to remind Wolfpack nation why they should have never run off Herb Sendek; Miami upped its resume as the unluckiest team in the conference to notch two more losses by less than five points (their fifth in conference play); Wake Forest booted their potentially historically bad legacy with their first conference win; and Virginia rapidly progressed towards the team we thought they would be to start the season.

As you can see, the ACC–and really college basketball as a whole–creates a wild landscape.  Yes you have your leaders (Duke in the ACC; Ohio State and Texas in their respective conferences), your disappointments (Virginia Tech still qualifies; nationally, Kansas State fits the bill) and your stragglers (Wake Forest joins Auburn and DePaul).  But as last week showed (the top 25 went 22-20), anything can happen.

Player of the Week: Nolan Smith’s team may have left their defense and three-point shooting in Durham, but he played like a star.  Kyle Singler came into this season with all of the POY hype, but people should have looked at Nolan Smith.  Yes, Smith is still behind Kemba Walker (he’s closing that gap), Jimmer Fredette and probably Jared Sullinger (who, no offense, is starting to feel like the Mark Ingram “best player on the best team” Heisman).  But he’s at least gaining on Walker and Sullinger.  The ugly loss at St. John’s didn’t do Smith any favors, but to his credit, he was outstanding.  This week, Smith averaged 30 points and six assists between the two games (and probably should have had more assists in the Saint John’s game, but as Tim Brando would say “the iron was unkind” to his teammates).  Smith has really picked up as much slack left by Kyrie Irving as anyone could have hoped, forced to move into an on the ball position.  He currently leads the ACC in both points and assists per game, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.  No, Smith isn’t the most athletic player on the court.  But he’s still a very good shooter with the ability to create his own shot while remaining the primary facilitator.  To really have a chance at the award Smith needs Fredette to cool off, Walker to stay in his slump, and run the table in conference play.  Likely?  No, but it’s possible.

Team of the Week: Maryland finally may be living up to its statistical hype, after two very strong road wins over Virginia (66-42) and Georgia Tech (74-63).  Those wins won’t go a long way in making a resume much better, but they keep it from getting worse.  I’m still not entirely sure why this team hasn’t gotten into a groove: it has plenty of talent and a great coach.  I know the guard play leaves a little to be desired, but between Terrell Stoglin, Adrian Bowie and Pe’Shon Howard, Gary Williams should find someone who can effectively run the offense.  To say that Wednesday’s game at home against Duke will be a big game will be an understatement.  Duke looks like it’s skidding, and Maryland looks like it may be getting things together.  While it’s not a must-win for either team, everyone knows how much Maryland hates to lose to Duke.

Bizarro Team of the Week: Virginia came down to earth this week with ugly losses to Maryland and at Wake Forest.  Yes, the Cavaliers gave the Demon Deacons their first conference win and for that alone deserve this week’s award.  The Cavaliers allowed Wake its second most potent offensive performance of the season, largely because Wake hit nine of 19 from beyond the arc and got offensive production out of almost everyone with six players in double figures.  I don’t think this is a sign that Wake is turning things around (though hopefully it’s steadily improving) so much as Virginia falling into its place near the bottom of the conference without Mike Scott.

Power Rankings

  1. Duke (19-2, 6-1) took one on the chin at Madison Square Garden, but don’t overreact.  St. John’s played its best game of the season and Duke played its worst.  Going into the game, Duke as a team was shooting 40% from three.  They started the St. John’s game 1-22.  Some were forced, but no more than usual.  This team (like most Duke teams) relies very heavily on jump shots, and some nights, they just won’t fall.  Duke’s defense left much more cause for concern.  The Blue Devils couldn’t find a way to stop St. John’s penetration and backdoor cuts to save their lives.  Mike Krzyzewski cited effort (and St. John’s playing a beautiful game) afterwards, but giving up more than 90 points is always cause for concern.
  2. North Carolina (15-5, 5-1) has quietly moved into second with wins over Miami (on the road) and NC State.  And look out, because Roy Williams has started playing Kendall Marshall at point, and Harrison Barnes is starting to live up to his potential (at least some of it).  Barnes has scored in double figures in five of six conference games and hit huge shots along the way.  In the Miami win, Barnes scored the last five points for UNC in the final minute and change to tie the game and then take the lead for good.
  3. Maryland (14-7, 4-3) looks like they may be getting things together.  Duke’s trip to College Park Wednesday should tell us a lot more. See this week’s “Team of the Week” section above for an in-depth update on the Terps.
  4. Florida State (15-6, 5-2) is one of the most frustrating teams in the country.  When Chris Singleton and Derwin Kitchen are playing well, the Seminoles are very tough to beat.  Unfortunately, they don’t run any real offensive sets.  So when Kitchen and Singleton are not creating their own shots, this team struggles to put up fifty.  Leonard Hamilton’s teams are notoriously good on defense, but they’re looking worse and worse on offense.  I’m not sure if that’s because of player personnel or coaching personnel, but I’d definitely start thinking about trying to pick up an offensive minded coach during the offseason.
  5. Clemson (15-6, 4-3) beat NC State and Florida State convincingly at home.  You can’t overstate what a great job Brad Brownell has done with this team.  While they may end up on the wrong side of Selection Sunday, the Tigers have really impressed me at times this season.  By the way, Clemson has impressed Ken Pomeroy too: they’re 29th in his ratings.
  6. Virginia Tech (14-6, 4-3) seemed to be on the right track before going and losing to Georgia Tech.  This team is still puzzling.  They’ve had a ton of injuries, but that’s not it.  When the Hokies are effective offensively, they win (12-0 when they score more than a point per possession).  When they’re not, they lose (2-6 when they don’t).  That might not be all that surprising, but you would think a team with that many veterans would be a little more consistent offensively.  Despite their inconsistency, Ken Pomeroy has the Hokies ranked 31st.
  7. Boston College (14-7, 4-3) can’t really take too much heat for losing in Durham.  They need Reggie Jackson to be a factor to beat good teams.  But they’ve lost three out of four, so they’ll really need to at least split with Virginia Tech and North Carolina.  Unfortunately for the Eagles, they’re projected to lose their next five games.
  8. Georgia Tech (10-10, 3-4) is a puzzling team to me.  They don’t get to the free throw line (despite very aggressive guards) and they can’t shoot.  There’s no reason Iman Shumpert, Glen Rice, Brian Oliver and Mfon Udofia shouldn’t be able to get to the line at will.  They’re all tall (at least 6’5 except Udofia) and athletic, which creates huge mismatches for most teams.  Why even settle for threes?
  9. NC State (12-9, 2-5) has lost five of their last six only sporting wins over Wake and Miami in conference play.  To say this team has underachieved would be sugar-coating it.  There is no reason this squad shouldn’t have made the NCAA Tournament.  None.  They have good guards (albeit young) and great post presence.  I don’t see any way State hangs on to Sidney Lowe after this disaster.
  10. Miami (12-9, 1-6) may be the unluckiest team in basketball.  If not for a one point win over Boston College, it would be defeated in conference play.  The last five Hurricane games have been decided by a total of 12 points.  Miami lost four of those games.  Hopefully Frank Haith can turn things around with home games against Virginia and Georgia Tech this week.
  11. Wake Forest (8-13, 1-5) is out of the cellar for the week!  Offensive balance and good shooting ruled the day in Winston-Salem.  I’m not sure I see any more great shots at a win left on the schedule (though you should never bet on NC State or Georgia Tech on the road), so it’s good that the Demon Deacons got a win when they did.  Things can only go up from here.
  12. Virginia (11-10, 2-5) fell to a desperate Wake Forest team looking for its first conference win to fall to one and five in their last six games.

A Look Ahead

  • Tuesday Blizzard Warning: North Carolina at Boston College (9:00 PM, ACC Network)
  • Wednesday Upset Watch: Duke at Maryland (9:00 PM, ESPN)
  • Sunday Ticket: Florida State at North Carolina (2:00 PM, FSN)
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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

Things are starting to take shape for the conference with a few games under our belts, so this will be a Power Rankings combined with A Look Ahead that includes NCAA Tournament projections.

The biggest news out of this week probably comes out of Chapel Hill, where Roy Williams finally decided to heed the analysis of countless fans and writers by starting Kendall Marshall over Larry Drew II.  Marshall had seen a steady increase in playing time (even if Williams did blame Drew’s fatigue) over the last few weeks, and after the drubbing at Georgia Tech, Williams finally decided to make the change.  Ironically, Drew responded well with his third-highest point total of the season.  Kendall Marshall may be a little slower laterally, but he’s a much better facilitator, which is what Williams’ offense requires.  Not to be outdone, Sidney Lowe made a very similar move to start Ryan Harrow against Miami.  Harrow had a tough day offensively, but he sealed a Wolfpack victory with his clutch steal in the final 30 seconds.  In other point guard news, Tony Chennault is finally suiting up for Wake Forest and played some valuable minutes in the loss at Duke.  I don’t think his presence makes Wake’s season outlook any better, but he’ll be a big part in rebuilding this program.

On the injury front, big news coming from Kyrie Irving’s father.  Per Jeff Goodman, Irving will not have surgery, which would have ended his season.  Irving’s father also asserts that the cast will come off February 4, so look for news around then about his prognosis.

And say hello to the newly-ranked Florida State Seminoles, who joined the AP top 25 at number 22 this week!

  • Player of the Week: This week, I’m going with role players.  Ryan Kelly will get the spotlight, but Erick Green and Richard Howell are getting shout-outs, too.  Last week, Ryan Kelly went a perfect 10-10 from the field including 6-6 from beyond the arc.  He also collected 14 boards over the two games.  He’s been criticized for being soft, but when he’s scoring in double figures, Duke is awfully tough to beat.  Erick Green got the job done for Virginia Tech at Maryland.  The sophomore has steadily seen his playing time increase with injuries, and he paid his dues with 24 points and four steals (on an efficient 12-16 from the field).  Finally, Richard Howell led all scorers for NC State with 17 in their win over Miami.
  • Team of the Week: Virginia Tech jumped back into relevance this week with a commanding win at Maryland and a less impressive home win over Longwood.  The Hokies stumbled a bit early this season, but they’ve found their groove of late: Seth Greenberg’s squad has won nine of their last ten (barely losing to North Carolina on the road) despite major injury issues.  They’re still not out of woods (read: off the bubble) yet, but things are definitely looking up.  I still think they’ll need to win 11 or 12 games in conference play or have a strong showing in the conference tournament, but they’re off to a solid start.  As to why, credit Seth Greenberg for playing Malcolm Delaney off the ball where he excels, and really getting the most out of his entire roster.  They may lack depth, but they make up for it with scrappy play.
  • Bizarro Team of the Week: Miami lost two games by a total of four points–and yes, things are looking up when the Bizarro Team of the Week only sports close losses.  First they lost to “bad Florida State” (the team that lost to Auburn) after holding the Seminoles to no field goals in the first 9:49.  It should be noted that Florida State only managed one jumper; the rest of their points came from the free throw line, layups and dunks for a vast majority of the first half.  However, after Miami hit a three to extend their lead to ten early in the second half, it was all Florida State.  Miami attempted to right the ship at NC State when they chewed up a 17-point second half deficit and drew within one in the final minute.  Unfortunately, fate stood strong and left the Hurricanes just short.  With the losses Miami falls to one and four in conference play but appears to be a much better team on paper (with three playmakers).  They could deal some brutal losses to teams looking for an at-large bid as the season progresses.

Power Rankings and Bracket Projections:

Lock It Down

Duke (18-1, 5-1) could totally tank from here on out and still expect to make the field (see Texas last year).  That said, they’re looking like they finally may have found their sea legs after the loss at Florida State.  Different players have been stepping up (this week, Kyle Singler and Ryan Kelly).  The Blue Devils will need some consistency from their interior to really be a complete team, and if Kelly can remain a scoring threat and Mason Plumlee keeps up his rebounding and defense they’ll have it covered.

Projected seed: 1-2

Should Be In

Florida State (15-5, 5-1) still has major offensive issues, but ten conference wins looks like a lock given their schedule (which I think would get them a decent seed).  Derwin Kitchen needs to continue being a factor on offense, and every win from here on out will make Auburn look like more and more of an anomaly.

Projected seed: 4-5, although they’re drawing very close to the 2010 Maryland resume for a three-seed if they can finish with three or less conference losses.

Need To Keep Winning To Go Dancing

Virginia Tech (13-5, 3-2) looked dead just a couple of weeks ago.  But Jeff Allen and Malcolm Delaney have really stepped up to the plate recently.  A win against Duke would seal the deal, but the real key is to keep winning and don’t look back (also known as don’t repeat losses like home to Virginia).

Projected seed: 6-9

Boston College (14-6, 4-2) has a historically large gap between their offense and defense.  Unfortunately, the Eagles have some tough losses on their resume, and they definitely haven’t looked infallible.  That said, they’ve already played Florida State and only have one game against Duke, so most of their games are winnable.  There’s not a whole lot of margin for error with the perceived (rightly) dearth of talent in the conference though, so the Eagles probably need to split their series with North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Projected seed: 8-9

North Carolina (13-5, 3-1) has a brutal conference schedule the rest of the way: two games against Duke, Florida State and Boston College, with a little Maryland (home) on the side.  This team has struggled on the road (and at home for that matter), but I think they’ll get better with Kendall Marshall running the show.  Their strong non-conference win over Kentucky (and close loss against Texas for that matter) give the Tar Heels a little more wiggle room than the rest of their ACC brethren, but they’ve got to win some road games.  A win over Duke would be nice too.

Projected seed: 6-11

Fighting To Survive

Maryland (12-7, 2-3) should almost be in panic mode.  The Terrapins have zero good wins, two conference home losses and seven total losses.  There’s no room for error, and Gary Williams is going to have to find a way to basically win out (i.e. beat Duke and Florida State at home, and win two of three from UNC, Boston College and Virginia Tech on the road).  There’s still a very slim chance for the Terps, but they’re looking more and more NIT-worthy by the day.

Projected seed: 11-NIT

NIT-Picking

  • Clemson (13-6, 2-3) is off to a strong start under Brad Brownell, but I can’t see this team heading to the Big Dance.  They lost a couple of brutal games this week (at North Carolina and at Maryland) that would have put them right in the mix, but both times the Tigers went cold down the stretch after being in a good place to win.  Still, the NIT is not a bad destination after losing Trevor Booker and Oliver Purnell.
  • Virginia (11-8, 2-3) will always be a “what might have been” story after losing Mike Scott to a season-ending foot surgery.  I was a huge doubter coming into the season, but the Cavaliers have a couple of very good wins and play almost everyone tough (this week they lost a close one at Boston College and beat Georgia Tech).  With Scott, they could definitely have finished in the top half of the conference.  Without him I think they’re looking at a trip to the NIT.
  • NC State (12-7, 2-3) should have made the tournament this year.  There is no denying they have the talent.  You can argue Tracy Smith’s poorly timed injury was the problem, but truthfully they just haven’t gotten it done.  There’s no doubt in my mind that Sidney Lowe loves the NC State program, but it’s time to part ways.  He’s just not cut out for coaching at this level.  Unless the Wolfpack put on a spectacular finish, I don’t see Lowe keeping his job.  This week they got beat badly at home by Duke and eked out a home win over Miami.

Rebuild For Next Season

  • Georgia Tech (9-9, 2-3) absolutely blitzkrieged Wake Forest in Atlanta this week.  The Yellow Jackets would have won by forty if not for a scoring drought in the final minutes.  This team really misses the inside void left by Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal, and struggles with inconsistent play out of the backcourt.  The good news is everyone important is coming back.  The bad news is that probably includes Paul Hewitt.
  • Miami (12-7, 1-4) at one point looked like a contender for second in the conference.  On paper, the Hurricanes still do.  Malcolm Grant, Durand Scott and Reggie Johnson are all great players.  Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to put it together yet.  The great news is they’re all coming back, and I can’t imagine they won’t be in the top half of the conference.  In the meantime, Johnson should really practice not fouling so he can stay on the court for longer.  Truthfully, they should be much higher than this (and probably have a good shot at the NIT), but one and four is too much to overlook right now.
  • Wake Forest (7-13, 0-5) needs to keep looking ahead.  Tony Chennault showed some positive things (beyond the box score) against Duke.  Hopefully he’ll be able to cut down on the team’s turnovers as the season progresses, and maybe run a little bit of offense.  Right now the Demon Deacons should really just shoot for winning a couple of conference games (and hope to fill some roster holes with new recruits).  The good news is there’s nowhere to go but up.

A Look Ahead

Keep an eye on the teams in the mix for the NCAAs, as Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Maryland, Boston College and Florida State all start the week on the road.  Duke also has an interesting nonconference matchup against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on January 30 (1:00 PM, CBS).

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back:

And then there were none.  The biggest conference news of the week was Duke losing at Florida State (as called by yours truly in last week’s Look Ahead).  All the speculation to whether Duke could finish ACC play (and the regular season) undefeated was squashed thanks to a fantastic effort from the Seminoles.  They popped Duke right in the mouth from the get-go, playing physical defense that negated any potential presence inside and forced the Blue Devils to take low percentage contested jumpers.  I would say this is the formula to beat Duke, but I’m not sure how many teams in the country are super-tall, super-athletic and defensive-minded.  The Seminoles were helped by a career effort from Derwin Kitchen (or a runner-up career effort: he had 29 in a game against Maryland last season) who led the way with 22 points on nine of 13 shooting with ten rebounds to boot.  His contributions went beyond the box score, as Kitchen took over the game when Chris Singleton was forced to leave with four fouls.  The question about Florida State this season has always been “can they score?” and they answered with a resounding yes.  Singleton also deserves much of the credit: he played lock-down defense on Kyle Singler the entire first half and seemed to come up with a basket whenever the Seminoles needed one.  Hats off to the Seminoles, who looked absolutely abysmal the past couple of weeks.  It looks like the ACC may finally have a runner-up candidate.

Film Session:

Unfortunately, the ACC Vault does have limits.  This isn’t the first time Florida State has knocked off #1 Duke in Tallahassee.  It’s the third.  Duke fans will have to forgive me for rubbing salt in the wound, but the Blue Devils won’t be short of any praise this season.  Unfortunately, the Vault doesn’t carry either of the past two big time upsets out of the panhandle, but YouTube provides a decent recount.

  • 2002: Duke had a 22-game winning streak.  They had Carlos Boozer, Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy.  Florida State somehow forces Williams to go 0-6 from the free throw line (including two that would have put Duke up three in the final 20 seconds).  Monte Cummings then took the ball straight at Williams (I’ll let you debate whether it was a charge or a flop; I think it was a fine no-call) and over Mike Dunleavy to put the Seminoles up one.
  • 2006: Duke was led by JJ Redick and Shelden Williams.  Duke entered the game 27-1, and even with 50 points from Redick and Williams, the Blue Devils couldn’t withstand the dominant game from Al Thornton who finished with 26 (including a ludicrous 15-16 from the line).  You might remember this as the game with the “controversy” about rushing the court.  Coach Mike Krzyzewski expressed his concern that his players would get injured (largely because I think in the 2002 game Dunleavy and Williams almost got trampled as you can see they’re lying on the ground when the students come sprinting onto the court).  Rushing the court is still a huge part of college basketball upsets, but I’d stress not running over 6’4 elite athletes for your safety as well as theirs.

Bizarro Team of the WeekNorth Carolina wins the award after playing four of the ugliest halves of basketball lucky enough to be televised this season.  To be fair the Tar Heels beat Virginia Tech, but it wasn’t pretty.  As Jay Bilas put it during the broadcast: “this is the kind of game you put the film in a time capsule and lose the map.”  Little did anyone know that the Heels would come out with an even worse performance at Georgia Tech Sunday.  UNC’s starters went a smooth 9-33 from the field, while Iman Shumpert finished with 13 field goals himself.  The team did no better, finishing a nauseating 16 of 58 from the floor (good for 27.6%) in a drubbing at the hands of a mediocre Yellow Jacket team.  In addition to shooting woes, North Carolina turned the ball over 18 times.  The silver lining was John Henson went five of eight from the free throw line, his second best performance on the season (well above his season average of 36.8%).  But really Roy Williams summed it up in the post game presser (I suggest reading everything): “No. We just didn’t come in frickin’ ready to play. Overconfident? How the crap … I’m mad at the world. We stunk. My coaching stunk and we stunk. I’m tired of saying we’ve got to build confidence. It’s easy to build confidence, by God, play better, then you will get some confidence. We’re not overconfident, we just weren’t as intense as we needed to be to start the basketball game.”  Sounds like echoes from last year, which isn’t good for Carolina fans.

Team of the Week: Florida State. In addition to the huge upset over Duke, the Seminoles handily took care of NC State 84-71.  If not for the inexcusable loss at Auburn a couple weeks ago, I think the Seminoles would’ve earned a spot in the top 25.  That game just shows how inconsistent this team is from night to night.  Hopefully Leonard Hamilton has everything together now.  It would be nice to see the ACC with at least two decent seeds come March…

Player of the Week: A tie between Derwin Kitchen and Iman Shumpert, who both led their teams to home wins over Tobacco Road this week.  Both are very talented yet inconsistent upperclassmen who need to do well for their respective teams to succeed.

Power Rankings:

  1. Duke (16-1, 3-1) remains atop the power rankings despite the loss at Florida State.  Duke flirted with falling in their home win against Virginia. The Blue Devils trailed by seven at the half and looked totally out of sync.  This team is a long way from being dominant without Kyrie Irving.  Until they find a facilitator, that’s how it will stay.  I still think they’re the best team (by a long shot) in the ACC, but whether they’re a true championship contender is still up in the air.  For now, Blue Devil fans (and the Plumlees) should hope for either rapid development of Tyler Thornton or Irving’s toe, so Nolan Smith can go back to his natural two guard position.
  2. Florida State (13-5, 3-1) skyrockets after a great week.  Now if they can only show some consistency.
  3. Maryland (11-6, 1-2) still can’t close.  They had Villanova on the ropes with a lead in the second half, but a few missed shots and turnovers later and the Wildcats were back on top for good.  Jordan Williams is still a year away from being a shut the game down type of player (and he may never be one if his free throw shooting doesn’t improve).  Someone in the Terrapin backcourt needs to step up soon, or the team will find itself looking at a nasty ticket to the NIT.  The good news is that Jordan Williams hit some pretty nice 15-footers, which would make him truly impossible to guard.  Right now, he’s playing like the best big man (and probably the best player in the conference).  Now if Gary Williams can just find a suitable sidekick (my personal guess is Terrell Stoglin).
  4. Clemson (14-4, 2-1) dominated Georgia Tech at home 87-62.  Jerai Grant led the way with a career-high 20 points and eight rebounds.  Grant is one of the most overlooked players in the conference, largely because he plays at Clemson.  He’ll be the key if Clemson wants to stay out of the conference cellar this season (well, not the cellar because Wake Forest has it booked for the season, but you know what I mean).
  5. Boston College (13-5, 3-1) got a good win against NC State before losing a heartbreaker to Miami on the road.  This team is better than I expected, but that’s not a very high bar.  Reggie Jackson is quietly averaging nearly 20 points a game, but they’re racking up some losses that look bad on an at-large resume (Yale, Harvard and Miami to name three).
  6. Miami (12-5, 1-2) edged Boston College out at home.  This team feels on the brink of being decent, but they just can’t quite make the leap.  Frank Haith certainly has the personnel to field a strong team, but something seems to be missing.  This week they’ll get a shot at Florida State at home and NC State on the road for two solid wins.
  7. Virginia (10-7, 1-2) almost shocked the world by almost beating Duke in Durham.  Unfortunately the Cavaliers couldn’t sustain the defensive effort after holding Duke to only 25 points at the half.  Duke went on to put up 51 in the second half.  Losing Mike Scott really took an entire dimension out of this team, but they’ve made the best of it so far (even if they’ve come up just short).
  8. Georgia Tech (8-8, 1-2) got pummeled at Clemson before handing out a beating of their own against Carolina.  It’s pretty simple: when Iman Shumpert and Glen Rice Jr. are playing to their abilities Georgia Tech is a tough team to beat.  When they aren’t, the Yellow Jackets are subpar.  I’m not sure Shumpert is capable of going off for 30 any given night, so I feel pretty safe in saying that the Yellow Jackets are still looking at the bottom fourth of the ACC come the end of the year.
  9. Virginia Tech (11-5, 2-2) barely lost at Carolina after just dominating Wake Forest 94-65 at home.  The Wake result says far more about the Demon Deacons than it does Seth Greenberg’s squad.  They’re going to need to win close games like the one at Carolina if they want to finally have a happy Selection Sunday.  Right now they still rely far too much on Malcolm Delaney (though playing him off the ball has helped tremendously), and they’re just too shallow to perform night in and night out.  Injuries have really lowered the potential for this team.
  10. North Carolina (12-5, 2-1) fell apart this week.  See above.  This team is looking more and more similar to last year’s NIT squad.  Too soft; not enough effort; dumb turnovers; no leadership.  They show flashes of brilliance accompanied by halves of ineptitude.  It’s slowly killing Williams, who was just beginning to sound like he enjoyed coaching again until this week.  At this point (though it has always been my stance), it’s time to hand Kendall Marshall the reins.  If he loses a few along the way, so be it.  He’s the future of this program.
  11. NC State (11-6, 1-2) lost a couple of road games this week.  I think it’s safe to say the Wolfpack are a major disappointment.  Tracy Smith is still the man, but they have a similar point guard crisis to Carolina.  Sidney Lowe still insists on playing Javier Gonzalez despite Ryan Harrow’s talent.  I know Harrow is small and a little bit of a defensive liability.  But let’s face it: State’s defense isn’t that good with or without Gonzalez.  Lowe needs to make some major changes and get this program moving back in the right direction.
  12. Wake Forest (7-11, 0-3) had a rough week, losing to Maryland by 19 at home and 29 to Virginia Tech on the road.  Yikes.  Not much positive to say here.

A Look Ahead:

The ACC prognosis is very weak.  Unfortunately only Duke and Florida State (when they come to play) stand out as even consistently “good” teams.  That means spreading the conference losses around a lot (as seen by the fact that no team has played five games and no team is unbeaten).  This is going to make getting at-large bids really difficult.  Maryland is definitely good enough to deserve a ticket, but they still don’t have any marquee wins (unless they can beat Duke).  UNC has a pretty strong resume, but it won’t matter if they keep getting blown out by the likes of Georgia Tech.

This week’s important games:

  • Tuesday Tiger History (8:00 PM, ACC Network): Can Clemson get that elusive win in Chapel Hill on the 55th try?  No joke, as founding members of the ACC Clemson has never won a game in Chapel Hill.  This looks like the perfect time to give it a run, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
  • Thursday: Virginia Tech at Maryland (9:00 PM, ESPN2)
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Checking In On… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

RTC is interested in learning how to improve our Checking In On… series in each conference.  Let us know in the below poll where we can improve this weekly piece (feel free to add specific comments).  Thanks.

A Look Back

The biggest news came out of Charlottesville when Virginia announced that Mike Scott needs season-ending surgery on his ankle.  Scott was Virginia’s best player and only post threat.  I was just starting to buy into Tony Bennett’s squad as a potential sleeper for the top half of the conference, but without Scott, they don’t stand a chance.  Don’t get me wrong, this Virginia team will still win some games in the ACC, but I don’t think there’s any chance they can sneak into the Tournament (despite having the best non-conference win of the ACC, a November road triumph at Minnesota ).

ACC Vault Film Session

In honor of the crushing loss Virginia sustained at home against North Carolina last week, our historical matchup will feature the same two teams, this time in Chapel Hill from 1983.  Virginia was in a better place then as far as a post presence goes, with superstar big man Ralph Sampson.  On the other side of the court, North Carolina wasn’t really slumming talent-wise with Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan and Brad Daugherty.  That’s three top five NBA Draft picks on the same team (the next season they added sixth overall pick Kenny Smith).  Like our game last week, Virginia led most of the game by as much as 16 points.  But the Tar Heels came storming back, and the Cavaliers led by three with just under three to play.  That doesn’t sound like much, but in the age without a shot clock (which was introduced three seasons later), they should have had no trouble holding the ball.  But Sampson missed the front end of a one-and-one, and what follows is must-see basketball.  Jordan got the putback to close the deficit to one with a minute to play.  Then His Airness (with four fouls) picks Rick Carlisle’s pocket and finishes it off with a huge tomahawk jam.  All in all, it was an epic game, even if Virginia finished with a loss.

  • Bizarro Team of the Week: Boston College Wait; am I allowed to give the award to a team undefeated in conference play with the second best overall record?  Yes.  That’s what happens when you start conference play 2-0, including a road win at Maryland, but go 0-2 in the Ivy League portion of your schedule.  In addition to an early season slip-up at home against Yale, Boston College lost to Harvard for the third year running.  Maybe Harvard and Yale were bitter they couldn’t beat Steve Donahue when he was at Cornell last season and played their best games of the season.  Or maybe Boston College is just grossly inconsistent.  I’ll hear arguments for a little of both, but I’m starting to lean towards the latter.  Truthfully, the Harvard loss wasn’t nearly as bad as the Yale one, but there’s no excuse for going winless at home against the Ivy League.
  • Team of the Week: Clemson – The Tigers have quietly won seven straight since losing at Florida StateDemontez Stitt and Jerai Grant combined for 35 points and Grant added 11 boards in the win against Miami.  The Tigers may not be loaded with star talent, but Brad Brownell has done a fantastic job getting the Tigers back on track after three straight losses earlier this season.  He’s looking like a solid early choice for ACC Coach of the Year if he can get Clemson back to the Big Dance this year without Trevor Booker.
  • Player of the Week: Tracy Smith is back.  He looked absolutely dominant in NC State’s game against Wake Forest.  Now, I don’t want to look too much into a big-time performance against an abysmal team, but Smith controlled all aspects of the game.  He was very vocal on offense, even away from the ball; made great passes; and was virtually unstoppable when he wanted to score.  He’ll definitely challenge Jordan Williams for the conference’s best big man this year, and Smith brings solid range that Williams can’t match.  He also pulled down 11 boards in the dominant conference opener.

Power Rankings

  1. Duke (15-0, 2-0) dominated UAB before getting the job done against Maryland.  Duke’s two close wins to start conference play might be cause for concern, but no one has waltzed through their schedule so far.  The Blue Devils are going to lose a couple of games this year, probably on the road when threes aren’t falling–and the other team is shooting well.  But wins are wins, and it’s very important to know how to win close games as well as blowouts.
  2. North Carolina (11-4, 1-0) got a tough, conference road win this week at Virginia.  After the game, Roy Williams was very pleased with his team’s aggressive play, even if the execution wasn’t flawless.  The Tar Heels are still woefully inconsistent on offense, but never scoff at a road win.
  3. Maryland (10-5, 0-2) moves up after a tough loss at Duke and a woodshed beating of Colgate.  The Terrapins gave Duke everything they could handle at Cameron.  Jordan Williams, as usual, was phenomenal, but the guard play left a lot to be desired.  If Gary Williams can figure out a way to get his backcourt to start performing well, look out.  The Terrapins still haven’t shown they can close out a close game, but I think they’ll develop that skill as the season progresses.  The Duke game at College Park on February 2nd is looking to be one of the best games of the season (and maybe Duke’s best chance for a regular season loss).
  4. NC State (11-4, 1-0) got a couple of wins against unimpressive teams this week.  That said, I was at the Wake Forest game, and the second half was an offensive showcase for the Wolfpack.  Sidney Lowe needs this team to keep up that sort of offensive efficiency and challenge for an at-large bid.
  5. Clemson (12-4, 1-1) has bounced back from an ugly stretch earlier.  Now they must prove they can beat better teams.
  6. Virginia Tech (10-4, 1-1) will have trouble overcoming all of their injuries, but they played a very strong game against Florida State.  I don’t think they have the depth to be the team everyone expected, but Seth Greenberg’s squad shouldn’t be the nations biggest disappointment.
  7. Boston College (12-4, 2-0) had a disappointing week.  See above.
  8. Miami (11-5, 0-2) may be showing their true colors, having lost their first two games of 2011.  Both were road games, but I expected the Hurricanes to do a little more at Clemson.  More specifically, I expected more of Reggie Johnson.  After he had a dominant game at Duke, he was a total nonfactor at Little John, playing 26 minutes but only attempting three field goals.  He has to be one of their primary options unless Malcolm Grant or Durand Scott are having career games.  Johnson will be the key for Miami going forward.  When he’s playing well (and isn’t in foul trouble), they will be a very tough team.  When he’s not, Frank Haith might want to start checking out potential job openings.
  9. Virginia (10-6, 1-1) needs an inside threat, but I don’t think they have one now that Mike Scott is out for the year.  They were able to hang with North Carolina for most of the game but couldn’t close it out.  They also only managed 19 points in the second half.  You’re not going to win many games scoring 19 points in either half (just ask Florida State).  Tony Bennett has done a very good job getting this team to the level it’s at.  I know it’s probably frustrating for Cavaliers fans, but I think he’s building a good program.  His style isn’t spectacular, but I see him as a Herb Sendek-esque coach: never elite, but very consistent.
  10. Florida State (11-5, 1-1) lost an ugly game at Virginia Tech.  One thing is clear about the Seminoles: they don’t run an offense.  Chris Singleton is a great player.  There’s no denying that.  But the rest of the team has some real trouble on offense.  Take the game in Blacksburg: Singleton was 9-14 from the field; rest of the team was 13-48.  That’s not going to cut it.
  11. Georgia Tech (7-7, 0-1) looks like they’re ready to join Wake Forest in the ACC cellar after falling in three of their last four (and to .500).  Can’t say I’m that surprised.  If Paul Hewitt couldn’t win with Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal, he’s going to have a real tough team winning without them.
  12. Wake Forest (7-9, 0-1) finally got a win at the Big South!  That’s right, the Demon Deacons took care of the Panthers to improve to 1-2 in Big South play.  Unfortunately the Deacs play in the ACC, where even in a down year victories are going to be harder to come by.  I count three winnable games for Jeff Bzdelik’s squad: Georgia Tech at home, Virginia at home and Florida State at home.  Florida State is probably a stretch, but hey, they lost to Auburn right?

A Look Ahead

Conference play is in full swing.  Below are chances for teams to make big statements this week (all times EST), with one big non-con game this weekend.

  • Wednesday Upset Watch: Duke at Florida State (9:00PM, ESPN): Duke hasn’t played in an environment like Tallahassee yet this season.  They’ve also had two pretty close games in ACC play.  I fully expect the Seminole defense and atmosphere to lead to an off shooting night.  The only question is whether Florida State will be able to score.  I’m guessing not, but they need to make a statement.
  • Thursday: Virginia Tech at North Carolina (9:00PM, ESPN): This should be an interesting measuring-stick game for both of these teams.  Virginia Tech doesn’t have any big bodies inside, so I think the Carolina frontcourt will be too much, not to mention homecourt advantage.
  • Saturday: Maryland at Villanova (1:00PM, CBS) gives Maryland a much-needed chance for a marquee win.  Call me a homer, but I think they’ve got a shot.  Jordan Williams will be unguardable, and the Villanova guards haven’t been as good as advertised.  Gary Williams just needs to figure out how to get a serviceable game out of his backcourt, which might be asking a lot.
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