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 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 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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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

Another miserable week of basketball in the ACC.  By my count, the ACC notched zero good wins.  That said they only had three shots (Wake Forest against Richmond and Gonzaga or Miami at Duke).  The conference still managed to finish 15-7 (14-6 discounting the conference game), even against middling competition.

Bizarro Team of the Week:  Florida State.  Hands down.  Unanimous decision.  That’s what happens when you lose to a team projected to be the worst major conference team in Division I history.  The Seminoles handed Auburn its first (and very likely only) victory over a BCS-conference team in a hideous game of basketball.  You can blame it on Chris Singleton’s horrific free throw shooting (he went 4-12), but this game shouldn’t have been within 20.  Before this win Auburn had lost at home to UNC-Asheville, Samford, Campbell, Jacksonville and Presbyterian.  The only team the Tigers had beaten in the top 300 (out of the 345 total D-I institutions) according to Ken Pomeroy was number 210, Middle Tennessee State.  That’s epically bad.  And the Seminoles played worse.  They looked lazy and complacent the entire game, giving up uncharacteristic open threes and making more characteristic possessions of offensive ineptitude.  I used to think this team was the second best team in the ACC, but if that’s true, the ACC is much worse than anyone thought.

Team of the Week:  North Carolina has quietly won six of their last seven with the one loss coming to a very good Texas team (by two).  While they didn’t face particularly tough competition, the Tar Heels put away Rutgers and St. Francis handily.  I covered the St. Francis game, and, while it wasn’t perfect, the Tar Heels are better than when they started the season.  I’m still perplexed as to why Roy Williams insists on playing Larry Drew II over Kendall Marshall, but I haven’t won two national championships, so I won’t complain too much.  Carolina showed stretches of offensive and defensive brilliance (really the entire second half was a defensive show).  While pretty much everyone assumed Reggie Bullock was going to be their sharpshooter, it looks more and more like Leslie McDonald may be stepping up to that role.  I’m still not confident McDonald will be an elite scorer at the ACC level, but I think he could be just as solid as Will Graves was last year.  I think the other major concern in the backcourt will be developing an identity: last year Texas never really chose one point guard, and they paid the price.  That could be why Williams is sticking with Drew.  In the frontcourt, there’s as much talent as any team in the nation (and probably more), but there’s not a whole lot of toughness.  Tyler Zeller still allows smaller players to push him around; John Henson is pretty slight himself; and Harrison Barnes has looked much more willing to put up jumpers than take the ball to the basket.

Player of the Week:  Nolan Smith takes the honors this week after a dominant performance for Duke against Miami.  The Blue Devils were struggling offensively, but Smith scored 28 points with five rebounds and five assists to boot.  In the game against UNC Greensboro, Smith finished with 26 points, five rebounds and nine assists.  Especially when Kyle Singler isn’t having great nights, Smith is going to be crucial for Duke if they want to stay undefeated.

Power Rankings

1.  Duke (13-0, 1-0) struggled a lot against Miami.  Their offense still hasn’t found a real flow since losing Kyrie Irving to a toe injury.  They are still running tests to see how long he’ll be out, so we’ll keep updating you as news surfaces.  Kyle Singler and Seth Curry had an off night, but the bigger issue was the Plumlee brothers.  Mason and Miles Plumlee looked soft all night against Reggie Johnson and the Miami frontline.  They’re going to be crucial if Duke wants to cut down the nets again this season.  They can’t continue to be nonfactors (or worse) on both ends of the floor.  Both are athletic–especially Mason–and they’re going to have to start reaping the benefits of that athleticism and living up to the hype if Duke is going to reach its potential.  As an important aside, Mike Krzyzewski passed Dean Smith for second on the all time wins list with the win over UNC-Greensboro.

2.  North Carolina (10-4) took care of business (see above).  The most interesting moment from the Saint Francis postgame presser came when a reporter asked Roy Williams if Kendall Marshall’s increased minutes were a sign of things to come.  Williams responded that Marshall’s extra minutes were a product of Larry Drew’s defensive intensity (apparently Drew gave the “I’m tired” signal twice during the game).  But clearly Williams is not on the “bench Larry Drew” bandwagon.  They start conference play at Virginia Saturday.

3.  Maryland (9-4, 0-1) is rising largely thanks to losses by much of the conference.  The Terrapins throttled North Florida in their only game of the week.  The game was highlighted by strong performances from Jordan Williams (who finished with 17 points and 11 boards) and Sean Mosley (15 points, four rebounds and six assists).  Although one dark spot was Williams’ 1-10 effort from the charity stripe…  Still, Maryland fans have to like Mosley starting to look more like last season.

4.  Miami (11-4, 0-1) slaughtered Pepperdine before taking a respectable defeat in Cameron Indoor.  Reggie Johnson in particular was just terrific, finishing with 22 points on 9-10 shooting.  He’s starting to look like the third best big man in the ACC behind Williams and Zeller.  Assuming Johnson can keep out of foul trouble, the Hurricanes have a very impressive trio in Malcolm Grant (junior), Durand Scott and Johnson (both sophomores).  Assuming all three develop, Miami could be a contender next year.

5.  Clemson (11-4, 0-1) had the best record for the week (3-0) with dominant wins over Delaware State, Eastern Carolina and Citadel.  While none are elite teams, three wins are three wins (especially this week). Jerai Grant has exploded as of late and is 63.9% from the field.

6.  Virginia Tech (9-4, 0-1) took care of South Carolina Upstate before absolutely demolishing Mount Saint Mary’s.  The Hokies still have major injury woes, which will only add pressure to Malcolm DelaneyDorenzo Hudson may be the toughest of them all, as I expected him to be their number two option this season.  It’s hard to think of a way the Hokies could live up to their preseason hype between injuries and underperformance, and I still think they’re on the wrong side of the bubble.

7.  NC State (9-4) got Tracy Smith back, which is huge.  They also blew out Alabama A&M and San Diego, which was expected.  With Smith I think the Wolfpack can right the ship and at least finish in the top half of the conference.  I’m not sure if they’ll be able to get the ten conference wins I think will be necessary to garner an at-large bid, but I think they’ll make a decent run.

8.  Boston College (11-3, 1-0) lost at heartbreaker at Rhode Island and beat South Carolina.  I may be punishing Steve Donahue’s squad a little too much (Rhode Island is a pretty good team) because I still think this team has a good shot to make the tournament.  Would you believe me if I told you the Eagles have the fourth most efficient offense in the country?  That’s got to get you somewhere, even if you do have a very subpar defense.  Now they just need to end their two-year losing streak to Harvard this week…

T9. Georgia Tech (7-6) is 7-6?  That’s awful.  If not for Wake’s infamous season, there would be a lot more negative press surrounding Paul Hewitt‘s squad, but I guess it pays to be not quite the worst.  The Yellow Jackets are still shooting horrendously from beyond the arc–although they made over 40% in a crazy double overtime loss to UNC Charlotte.  The two big issues with that loss are that Charlotte dismissed their best player earlier this season and the game was in Atlanta.

T9. Florida State (11-4, 1-0) lost to the worst major conference team in the country…see above for more.

T9. Virginia (9-5, 1-0) was blown out by Big 12 (normal) cellar-dweller Iowa State in Charlottesville.  Not really a promising outing.  Mike Scott is still out with an injury, and it shows: not one Cavalier player scored in double figures.  None.  KT Harrell (off the bench) led all Virginia scorers with 9.

12. Wake Forest (6-8) got a real boost in the worst major conference team in the country race thanks to wins out of Oregon State and Auburn.  Now if DePaul can go on a little run, the Demon Deacons might have it locked up.  Seriously.  Jeff Bzdelik’s squad lost at Richmond and to Gonzaga this week.  Both losses were expected, but they were also both red line upsets (for those fans of mid-majors).

A Look Ahead

If you look closely at the power rankings you’ll notice that the three teams that lost their first game of conference play are in the top half of the conference, while two of the three winning teams inhabit the lower portion of the rankings.  This means one of three things: (1) the rankings are totally off base; (2) the games were not good measurements of the teams’ talents; or (3) the conference is bad enough that pretty much every game is a toss-up.  I’m hoping the answer is 1 or 2, but I’m worried it’s 3.  I think Duke and North Carolina are going to rack up a ton of conference wins.  Maryland, Miami, Clemson, NC State, Boston College and a healthy Virginia might too, but I think there are much larger flaws on these teams that will lead to more inconsistency.  It’s looking like a lot of low seeds again this year from the Big Dance, buffered by lots of wins over middling and even plain bad conference opponents.  The good news is there’s not much place to go but up.

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 28th, 2010

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

A Look Back

Happy holidays. In honor of the holiday season, this post is going to be short and sweet. ACC basketball had another slow week. Only Florida State played games of note in the Diamond Head Classic. As the conference only played 15 games this week, I’ll try and give season summaries for each team, as we get ready to really kick off conference play.

  • Bizarro Team of the Week: Virginia took the prize this week with a loss to Seattle. At home. I understand Mike Scott is still out, but one player shouldn’t be the difference between a decent team and one ranked near the bottom of D-I. Especially when the Cavaliers were playing at home. No excuses.
  • Team of the Week: Florida State - The Seminoles came up big at the Diamond Head Classic this week, notching wins against Baylor and Hawaii. Even though they lost to eventual champion Butler, the Seminoles showed that you can win with some shutdown defense. Baylor was probably overrated to start the season, but they have about as much talent as any team in the nation (excluding the point guard position). Florida State definitely won’t win any offensive beauty pageants, but they finally showed they can really hurt opponents by keeping them out of an offensive flow.

Power Rankings

  1. Duke (11-0): Coach K’s team sat idle last week. The Blue Devils are clearly tops in the ACC with or without Kyrie Irving. However, they haven’t shown the same smooth offense that I think will be necessary in March to take the national championship. There’s still a whole lot of time for either Mike Krzyzewski to figure out a viable alternative to Irving at point, or let Irving’s toe heal. I think one (or both) are pretty likely, but until we hear more news from Durham we can only speculate.
  2. Florida State (11-3, 1-0): FSU had their most productive week of the year. I think the Seminoles are going to be most dangerous against teams with shaky point guard play (think North Carolina, Wake Forest and to a much smaller extent Duke). I think their game in January against the Blue Devils may be Duke’s best chance to lose in ACC play, since Florida State plays an elite defense that could really fluster Duke’s offensive weapons. That said, Florida State runs one of the ugliest offenses in the country. Essentially, they don’t run an offense. This means I doubt they will be able to win many games that reach the 70s.
  3. Boston College (10-2, 1-0): BC eked out a win over Bucknell. The Eagles have one of the most efficient offenses in the country, and I think they’ll be much better than expected during ACC play (given much of that credit goes to the ACC’s lack of depth). That said, barely beating Bucknell is probably not a great sign for future success. Regardless, Steve Donahue’s team looks like they’ve really bought into his program, which has helped reduce the new coach growing pains.
  4. North Carolina (8-4): UNC has only “good losses” but only one “good win” (Kentucky). Not really something to brag about. That said the Heels do look better on offense (though they struggle with offensive consistency), and they’re the second ranked ACC team according to Ken Pomeroy (after Duke). But Tar Heel fans won’t take “moral victories.” The Tar Heels probably should finish second in conference play, but they need to show the ability to win on the road (their only true road game, at Illinois, was very ugly).
  5. Miami (10-3): won three games in as many days against Oral Roberts, Rice and Akron. Durand Scott, Malcolm Grant and Reggie Johnson are real playmakers, but Johnson especially needs to learn to stay out of foul trouble (currently he’s averaging six fouls in 40 minutes). Scott and Grant have been lights out from downtown, and that will need to continue in conference play. I think the real key for the Hurricanes is defense. Although the Hurricanes are also question marks on the road: they’re only truly ugly loss came at Rutgers (and their only road win came against a horrendous Florida Gulf Coast squad).
  6. Maryland (8-4, 0-1): nothing too impressive out of Gary Williams and company. They beat up on New Jersey Institute of Technology as they should have. Not to come off sounding like a broken record, the Terrapins still need a leader. They need that player who can take over the game with two minutes to play, even if it’s only from the foul line. So far Sean Mosley has been a total flop, and Jordan Williams is at least another year from being that kind of player.
  7. Clemson (9-4, 0-1): beat a decent College of Charleston team on the road and dominated Delaware State (who almost beat N.C. State earlier in the week). Demontez Stitt’s return is good news for Tiger fans.
  8. Virginia Tech (7-4, 0-1): beat Saint Bonaventure in overtime. But the big news came when Dorenzo Hudson required surgery for a foot injury and will be out the rest of the season. To put it another way: the Hokies are done. If there was ever any hope that they could put it back together and live up to expectations, this erased it. The Hokies are hobbled (and just not all that talented). Expect them to drop from here on out. They could pull a Tennessee and beat Duke… but Seth Greenberg is no Bruce Pearl, so don’t count on it.
  9. Georgia Tech (6-5): didn’t do themselves any favors by losing to Siena this week. Admittedly, Siena is a solid mid-major squad (and the game was on the road). I’m worried about leadership here. No offense to Iman Shumpert intended, but he’s not the player I want running my offense on the road. He’s very streaky and can singlehandedly win games and singlehandedly lose games. Additionally, Georgia Tech shoots an abysmal 26.1% from three (only two of their players on the entire roster break 30%).
  10. Virginia (8-4, 0-1) took one on the chin this week from Seattle. This is a totally different team without Mike Scott, who has proved to be a real player. He’s the key to a successful ACC season. I’d still be surprised if this team can finish in the top half of the ACC (barring a totally superhuman season out of Scott).
  11. N.C. State (7-4): looked really bad against Delaware State. That’s not a game the Wolfpack can afford to win on a putback with 2.1 seconds to play. Tracy Smith still isn’t back, and he should add a totally new dimension to this team in a low post threat. The Wolfpack will need to finish solidly in the top half of the conference and might have to win a game in the NCAA Tournament to save Sidney Lowe’s job though. That looks like a long shot from where we’re standing now.
  12. Wake Forest (6-6): continued the nightmarish start by dropping a game to Presbyterian, a team still making the transition into D-I, at home this week. The Demon Deacons are looking like they’re going to go into conference play under .500, and they’re not going to be favored in any conference games this season. They’ve also got a couple of tough games (Richmond and Gonzaga) before they start conference play, and they’ve already shown they can lose to a Big South team. I’m not sure this season could end faster for Jeff Bzdelik unless Tony Chennault turns out to be a top-notch point guard.

Looking Ahead

In case you can’t tell, the ACC has major leadership issues. Most teams have point guard questions, and I’m not confident any of these teams (outside of Duke) are ready to win in hostile environments. The conference is marred by underachieving squads (N.C. State and Virginia Tech), inconsistent squads (North Carolina and Florida State) and just plain bad squads (Wake Forest and Georgia Tech). The only pleasant surprises have been Boston College and Miami. I’m seeing a lot of high seeds come Selection Sunday unless someone drastically improves (Florida State and North Carolina are in the best shape). But the season is still less than halfway done, and there’s still a lot of basketball to play. Here’s to a better 2011. Happy holidays.

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Set Your Tivo: Weekend Review

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 17th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

This is the last major weekend before conference play begins in earnest and it features a bunch of solid games but none that really jump out at you as must-watch. All in all it’s a pretty good set of games. Don’t forget about the two games in the Bahamas on Saturday (Richmond vs. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State). They’re not on television but are meaningful, especially the latter. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Texas vs. North Carolina (Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC) – 4 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

A Smaller Venue in Greenboro, But Still a Great Game

You may never see a game between two unranked teams have this much talent on the court as this one. Yes the Longhorns are ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls but they aren’t in our own top 25. Texas has played better this year on the strength of defense and better chemistry though a loss at USC was cause for concern. Still, Texas has a ton of talent and has the ability to turn this season into a successful one. Leading scorer Jordan Hamilton still has a so-so shot selection but he’s connecting on 41% of his treys, a positive sign for Rick Barnes. Freshman Tristan Thompson has also been a plus for the Longhorns, giving them an athletic post presence who can score and defend very well. When you look at this matchup with North Carolina however, Tyler Zeller (16/8) is going to have a significant height advantage inside. You may see Barnes turn to Matt Hill for a bigger defensive presence in the paint in an attempt to control UNC’s big man. Each team has had some issues at the point guard, especially North Carolina. The Tar Heels have seen better play from Larry Drew II (2:1 A/T ratio) but questions remain with the team averaging 15 turnovers per contest. With a talented freshman in waiting, Roy Williams has to make a decision on who should see the majority of time at the point as they head into ACC play. For Texas, Dogus Balbay has seen his minutes drop in favor of freshman Cory Joseph, a move that’s understandable from an offensive standpoint but questionable in the eyes of some who see the experienced Balbay as a team leader and an effective distributor, not to mention an outstanding defender. Texas is not a particularly great shooting team as a whole so the transition to Joseph could be more about transition opportunities and easy buckets plus Joseph is a much better shooter. As for North Carolina, getting Harrison Barnes going could be the key between middling outside the top 25 and being a consistently ranked team and #2 in the ACC. Barnes is still in a slump, shooting just 33% overall over his last five games including a dismal 5-24 (21%) from three. He’s still averaging double figures and has done a nice job rebounding but the Tar Heels need more out of their star freshman. To become a really good team, UNC needs John Henson to become a consistent third option. He rebounds very well but he’s in double figures one night and single digits the next. He may have a hard time with Thompson inside but Henson is able to stretch his game out a bit and that may open things up inside for the Tar Heels. This figures to be another close game, far different from last year’s Texas blowout. This time North Carolina has the crowd to their advantage and may come out on top by a few points. It’s a huge game for UNC, their last non-conference opportunity for a quality win. Texas still has games with Michigan State and Connecticut but this is a big game for them too in a quasi-road environment. We wouldn’t be surprised either way but a slight edge has to go to UNC in this game.

#5 Kansas State vs. Florida (BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL) – 3:30 pm Saturday on FSN (****)

This is the first of two key games for Kansas State, the second coming on Tuesday against UNLV. Winning one or both will certainly help the Wildcats grab a better seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. Against Florida, K-State will have to contend with the Gators’ trapping pressure defense, something that could be a problem given their propensity for turnovers and some point guard issues. Jacob Pullen has been the main distributor at four assists per game but he turns it over more than three times per game, the most on a team that averages 16 turnovers as a unit. Florida’s back court pressure could cause a lot of problems for Kansas State and plenty of extra possessions for the Gators. Pullen doing a lot of ball handling could also be a factor in his overall struggle relative to last season. He’s never been a great shooter, 40% overall from the floor for his career, but his three point shooting is down over six percent to 33% this season. It is true that other teams are trying to lock him up like Duke did, but Pullen has to work through this and become a better player in order to lift Kansas State to the next level where they can compete for a national championship. Frank Martin may go with Will Spradling at the point in order to take some pressure off Pullen. As for Florida, expect them to fire up three’s as usual (17 per game) even though the Gators shoot just 32% as a team. Billy Donovan loves the trey, yet another Rick Pitino protégé who sticks to the system no matter the personnel he has. Erving Walker has improved dramatically but Kenny Boynton still can’t find the range for Florida. Walker shoots 20% better than Boynton from deep yet Boynton has 15 more attempts this season. Kansas State should look to isolate Walker and aggressively defend him, keeping the ball out of his hands. Pullen and Rodney McGruder may have to match Walker’s deep shooting but Martin will be content with Boynton chucking shots up and hitting once in a while, requiring Kansas State to clear the boards well. Both teams rank high in offensive rebounding percentage so the Wildcats must put an emphasis on keeping Florida off the glass as that will lead to easy Gator put backs. Florida is #15 in two point percentage, largely a result of offensive rebounds and the play of Vernon Macklin inside. Macklin against Curtis Kelly will be a key matchup to watch in the low post as each player finishes well and can rebound the basketball effectively. Kansas State should not bank on outscoring Florida from the line considering their awful free throw shooting (55%) and Florida’s ability to keep opponents off the line, second in the nation in defensive free throw rate. Only three players on K-State’s roster shoot over 70% from the line and Pullen is the only one of those three who gets there often. Martin’s depth will take a hit if Wally Judge is out, dealing with personal issues, but we don’t think that will have a major impact on the game. Kansas State is still a very deep team, able to go eight or nine deep if necessary. This should be a terrific game that may come down to the very end. Ken Pomeroy predicts a two-point Florida win so this game is essentially a toss-up. We see it that way as well.

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2010

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

  • So I was wrong about the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  The Big Ten won, 6-5 (thanks to a comeback victory for Purdue over Virginia Tech).  The ACC sported wins from Duke, Virginia, Boston College, Wake Forest and MarylandN.C. State, Clemson and North Carolina were totally embarrassed by Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois, respectively.  If you’re keeping score at home, the predicted bottom of the ACC is better than the bottom of the Big Ten.  Fantastic.  Duke is now the only ACC team with fewer than two losses.
  • Luckily, the bottom tier of the conference seems to be improving, making the ACC a turbulent sea of mediocrity.  In better news, Mike Krzyzewski won his 876th game Saturday to tie Adolph Rupp at third on the all-time wins list.

Team of the Week

Miami ekes this one out over Boston College and Virginia.  The Hurricanes scored two very impressive wins over West Virginia and Mississippi.  Durand Scott caught fire, torching the Rebels for 27 points, six rebounds and six assists.  Reggie Johnson added 17 points and ten boards.  The Hurricanes put up an astonishing 57 points in the first half before putting things in cruise control for a 13-point win.  Malcolm Grant lead the way against West Virginia, putting up 26 points on the afternoon.  Miami showcases three guys who have the ability to carry the team on any given night.  When Scott and Grant get to the foul line, they’re deadly.  And Miami’s two losses come in a heartbreaker at Memphis and an ugly game at Rutgers.

Bizarro Team of the Week

Virginia Tech wins hands down after losing their third straight game at home against Virginia.  Virginia’s definitely better than everyone thought, but that’s still inexcusable for a team searching for an elusive at-large bid.  I wrote in the Conference Primer that “Seth Greenberg’s squad should hear their names called come Selection Sunday, and they should be a pretty high seed.”  I was totally wrong.  There’s almost no chance they sniff a high seed, and they’re currently staring at another disappointing Selection Sunday if they can’t get it together.  They have no marquee victories: the only “Power Six” team the Hokies have beaten is Oklahoma State. Unlike Miami, the Hokies only have Malcolm Delaney, who puts up solid numbers, but he can’t do it alone.  They will need to find a real second threat to take some of the scoring load and defensive focus off Delaney.

Player of the Week

Kyrie Irving – I don’t like to repeat weekly honors for fear of beating dead horses.  But it’s tough to find a player in the country who was as valuable as Irving this week, much less the conference.  Irving exploded against Michigan State for 31 points, six rebounds, four assists, which is enough, to say nothing of his two steals and two blocks to boot.  In a game that featured four of the most talented seniors in the country (Duke’s Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith; Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers), Irving was the best player on the floor.  He scored at will: from the line, beyond the arc and off the dribble.  While he struggled in the first half against Butler–having to sit much of it after two offensive fouls–Irving was the difference-maker in the second period, exploding for 17 points in the second half alone.  So far this season, Irving has played against and with some of the best players in the country, and he’s consistently bested all of them.  Virginia’s Mike Scott was a close second.

Power Rankings

1. Duke (8-0): I went to the Duke – Butler game Saturday, and I was very impressed by both teams.  The most interesting thing to watch was how much Brad Stevens’ triangle and two frustrated Duke’s offense.  Duke also relied heavily on threes, even when they weren’t falling.  An off night in a hostile environment seems like Duke’s best shot to lose during ACC play.  Mason Plumlee will be a key factor on those nights.  If he disappears (or gets in foul trouble), forcing Duke into halfcourt sets will lead to a lot of jumpers.  Duke is a good enough shooting team that I don’t expect them to have but one or two “off nights” this season, but they’re far from unbeatable.

2. Miami (6-2): You’ll be seeing a whole lot of movement in these rankings between the second and 11th spots.  This is the first major leap.  I don’t expect Miami to stick around here for the whole season, but the Hurricanes showed that they are a talented team with a variety of weapons.   Their game against Central Florida (who just beat Florida) will be a big test for Frank Haith’s squad before conference play.

3. North Carolina (5-3): The Tar Heels rebounded from a woodshed beating in Champaign to take down Kentucky in the Dean Dome.  The Kentucky game showcased the talented frontcourt of Tyler Zeller and John Henson, but don’t move your expectations too high.  Kentucky is a young team with major interior depth issues.  Roy Williams should be thrilled with the win, but he still needs to overcome backcourt problems. Why Larry Drew II continues to play more minutes than Kendall Marshall, I’ll never know.  Harrison Barnes had another lackluster week, but the Carolina offense is probably as much to blame as Barnes’ slump.

4. Florida State (6-2): Florida State is a tale of two teams.  Defensively, they are the most dominant team in the nation: they are ranked first by Ken Pomeroy in adjusted defense behind great shot-blocking and field goal defense (the Seminoles are holding opponents to a striking 31.6% from the floor).  However, on offense, Florida State is a total train wreck.  They turn the ball over way too much, and Chris Singleton is their only player averaging double figures in scoring.  In halfcourt sets, the team is inactive, leading to bad shots and turnovers.  Florida State is turning the ball over at an alarming 26.4% rate, good for 332nd in the country.  That has to change if they want to be a factor in conference play. I’m sorry, but if you give Duke a quarter of your possessions in transition it doesn’t matter how good you guard them in halfcourt sets.

5. Maryland (6-3): The Terps are a strange team this year.  They’ve been good, but not quite good enough.  They almost notched a major nonconference win against Temple but couldn’t hold on down the stretch.  That leaves them with three very strong nonconference losses (two of which could have gone Maryland’s way if someone had stepped up down the stretch).  Jordan Williams is a star, averaging 17 points and 12 rebounds a game, but he hasn’t shown the ability to step up when it counts at the end of games.  Just this week, Williams missed two crucial free throws with about a minute to go that would have brought the Terps within one.  It should be interesting to see if Gary Williams can coach someone into a leader this season: if he can, they’ll be a very tough team to beat; if he can’t, they’ll lose a lot of close games.

6. Boston College (6-2):  Stability has taken hold after the Eagles’ embarrassing loss to Yale.  Since then, the Eagles are 5-1 with wins over Cal, Indiana and Massachusetts.  The only loss comes to Wisconsin, who just trounced N.C. State.  Sunday at Maryland will give them a chance to earn their stripes.  A fun fact about Boston College: currently, the Eagles are ranked eighth in adjusted offensive efficiency by Ken Pomeroy largely thanks to taking care of the ball and making free throws.  Eighth!  Needless to say, I was surprised (and if you aren’t, you’re lying).

7. Virginia (5-3, 1-0): The Cavaliers had another impressive week, knocking off in-state rival Virginia Tech on the road.  That gives them two straight upsets.  Getting blown out by Stanford remains their ugly loss, but sometimes things happen on the road.  Mike Scott has been tremendous so far, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds a game.  Once Sammy Zeglinski gets totally healthy, Virginia could be a solid, tournament-bound team.  It’s definitely too early to make any guarantees, but if I had to put money on an ACC team from Virginia making the Big Dance, I’d really consider Tony Bennett’s squad.

8. N.C. State (4-3): Sidney Lowe’s seat is on fire.  Yes, Tracy Smith is still injured.  Yes, they Wolfpack’s three losses came against very good teams (Georgetown, Wisconsin and Syracuse).  But their top win is against George Mason.  N.C. State had a chance to make a big statement at the beginning of this season and impress voters.  Now, Arizona is the only noteworthy team separating the Wolfpack from conference play.  They have the talent.  Now Lowe just needs to find a way to convert that talent into big wins.

T9. Georgia Tech (4-3): Speaking of hot seats, Paul Hewitt may push the athletic department to finally buy him out.  He’s well on his way to having another fairly talented, very disappointing team.  I couldn’t move Georgia Tech up after an embarrassing loss to Northwestern, but the Yellow Jackets did play Syracuse close right after Thanksgiving.  At the core of their problems is an abysmal 26% clip from three (less than 20 schools in D-I are worse) when threes account for a third of their shots.  They’ll need to improve their efficiency drastically, or find a way to steal Derrick Favors back from the NBA to compete in the ACC this season.

T9. Virginia Tech (4-4, 0-1): I think we covered most of the Hokies’ problems above.  But I can’t say it enough: Malcolm Delaney can’t do it alone.  And if he keeps trying, they’ll keep losing.

11. Clemson (5-3): Clemson quietly sports back-to-back losses against Michigan and at South Carolina this week.  Things probably won’t get any easier for the Tigers, as they take on Florida State in Tallahassee this Sunday.  There’s not any one glaring problem with this team, but Brad Brownell needs to make some changes.  Clemson isn’t terrible in any one statistic, but they don’t shine anywhere either.

12. Wake Forest (5-3): Wake rounds out the ACC for the third week in a row, despite two wins.  Color me unimpressed by beating Iowa and Holy Cross at home.  Wake is still struggling mightily rebounding, turning the ball over (but also forcing turnovers), and shooting in general (interestingly, they manage 44% from downtown).  The most frightening part of their poor field goal shooting has been that it has come against bad teams.  If you can’t break 50% against cupcakes, conference play is going to be very tough (also known as, Wake will be tabbed to lose every game, baring drastic, sudden improvement).

A Look Ahead

  • The non-conference week ahead figures to be pretty quiet, but on Sunday, conference play continues with Boston College at Maryland and Clemson at Florida State (the games are at 4:00 PM and 6:15 PM EST on Fox Sports Net).
  • Is Duke really such a draw for CBS that enough viewers will watch them play a nondescript St. Louis team at home to make it worth the network’s while?

History In the Making in Durham

Coach K now sits only three games behind Dean Smith and 26 games behind Bob Knight in all-time wins.  For my math-inclined friends: Duke has 23 regular season games, three possible ACC tournament games, and six possible NCAA tournament games.  That totals 32 total (possible) games, putting Coach K at 908 for his career.

Of course, that requires Duke going undefeated (or losing less than six of their possible games).  Can the Blue Devils do it?  It would be fitting that the coach to pass Knight on the wins list did it with the first undefeated squad since Knight’s 1976 Hoosiers.  But it probably won’t happen.  Technically, it’s possible (as it is for 19 other teams in D-I).  And yes, the ACC looks really weak so far.  But Duke still relies too heavily on threes (often struggling in halfcourt sets), and if they’re struggling in a hostile environment, they could fall flat.  Not to mention Butler’s zone really gave Kyrie Irving a lot of trouble the first half.  I’m not sure how many teams Duke will see as good as Butler defensively (besides Florida State), but the Bulldogs showed that Duke is beatable if you keep them out of transition.  Every game has more and more pressure–not to mention the fact that they’ve only won eight games so far.

In short, don’t get on a plane to Vegas to put your life savings on the Blue Devils going 40-0.  Even finishing the regular season unscathed leaves six possible games against top competition on neutral courts.  That alone is a daunting task for even the best of teams, not to mention one relying on a freshman point guard, even if he goes #1 overall next June.  While it’s tough to pick out a specific team that will knock Duke down, all it takes is a great night (with a mediocre night from Duke).  This team has flaws, and eventually those flaws will catch up to them.

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2010

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back:

The ACC looks out of sorts right now.  Duke is the only undefeated team remaining (to put that in perspective, the Big East has seven undefeated teams and even the normally middling SEC has two unbeaten teams left); the conference is fifth in the RPI (behind the Mountain West, no less); and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is shaping up to fall to the Big Ten for the second straight year.  Admittedly, the strongest teams in the ACC have lost to respectable top 25 foes; the RPI is shoddy this early, since it’s still nearly impossible to judge strength of schedule; and the matchups in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge favor the ACC enough where it should be an actual challenge as to which conference will win.

Team of the Week

Say hello to the Virginia Cavaliers.  Yes, the same team I slated ninth last week just overcame a ten-point halftime deficit to shock upstart Minnesota on the road.  That’s a huge road win for the ACC in the Challenge (especially considering no one picked Virginia to even make this a game).  The Golden Gophers were ranked 13th and 15th in the Coaches’ and AP polls, respectively, coming into Monday night’s contest.  The Cavaliers were led by seniors Mustapha Farrakhan (23 points, 4-5 from three), Mike Scott (17 points, 12 rebounds), and freshman Joe Harris (24 points, 4-6 from three).  Tony Bennett showed his team might not be the most talented squad in the ACC, but they can surprise some people.

Player of the Week

Kyrie Irving had a phenomenal week.  He totally shut down All-American Jacob Pullen on the defensive end, while offensively he finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists.  Irving has a quick first step and the ability to create his own shot, which combines with very good court vision (especially for a freshman) to make him virtually unguardable.  He can shoot the three, get to the bucket, or collapse the zone while dishing it to an open teammate with relative ease.  Expect to see his name here multiple times this season.

Power Rankings

  1. Duke (6-0): Duke showed off a dominant performance against Kansas State to start the week.  As mentioned before, Irving was phenomenal.  Five Duke players finished in double figures, and the game never felt in question despite subpar performances from seniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith.  This Duke team has a ton of offensive weapons.  Especially when the threes start to fall, the Blue Devils put up points in a hurry.  Huge game this Wednesday against Michigan State.
  2. Florida State (5-1): Florida State lost a closely contested game to Florida at home this week.  Not surprisingly, the Seminoles’ offense was the root of their troubles: they finished shooting an ugly 33% from the field and 55% from the charity stripe.  Defensively, they held an explosive Gator team to under 40% from the floor.  They’ll need to score more than 50 points if they want to beat Ohio State this Tuesday night, but watch out if Chris Singleton can get this offense into a rhythm.
  3. Clemson (5-1): The Tigers needed overtime to take care of a pesky Seton Hall team in the Virgin Islands, but the bigger concern is on the glass.  Clemson has only averaged 32.2 rebounds a game (good for 287th in Division I), and they play at a pretty good pace.  While they might not need a dominant rebounding performance to beat Michigan, they’ll need to improve before conference play rolls around.
  4. Maryland (5-2): After a tough 2kSports Classic, the Terrapins enjoyed a light week, taking care of Delaware State and Elon.  Elon kept it a little close for comfort after a slow start, but a dominating 24 points and 13 rebounds from Jordan Williams sealed the deal.  Maryland really needs Sean Mosley to step into a more involved role: last year, he averaged more points, more rebounds and less turnovers.  It’s tough to lose a player like Greivis Vasquez (who used 30.6% of Maryland possessions last season), but as this team matures, players should find their respective roles.
  5. N.C. State (4-1): The Wolfpack are still without Tracy Smith.  Smith’s role on this team cannot be understated: he’s the best rebounder, senior leader, and first offensive option for an otherwise very young team.  Not having Smith really showed down the stretch as Georgetown took over the finals of the Charleston Classic (not to mention in the nine rebound advantage).  Smith is supposed to come back in the middle of December, and N.C. State will be a very different team when he does.
  6. Virginia Tech (4-2): The Hokies sport two quality losses (Kansas State and UNLV), but they weren’t all that competitive in either game.  So far, Seth Greenberg’s squad relies too heavily on Malcolm Delaney and hasn’t shown the ability to give him the support he needs to be successful.  They have a real measuring-stick game at home against Purdue this week.  This team has played a tougher schedule than last year’s “snubbed” squad, but they haven’t capitalized on any of the opportunities.
  7. Virginia (4-3): Despite Sammy Zeglinski’s injury Tony Bennett’s squad got the first quality win of the season at Minnesota.  Don’t think this punched a ticket to the Big Dance (or even the NIT), but it’s a great sign for the Cavaliers going forward.
  8. North Carolina (4-2): North Carolina continues to underachieve.  The Tar Heels were only up six on the University of North Carolina-Asheville with five minutes to play, and then barely eked out a win over the College of Charleston Sunday.  Both games were at home.  So far, no one has stepped up as the leader of this team.  Tyler Zeller looks like the most likely candidate right now, but he needs to be much more aggressive if he’s going to be the go-to guy this season (and avoid nagging injuries).  There is plenty of talent to be found, but someone needs to take over and make this his team.
  9. Boston College (4-2): Boston College rebounded with wins against Texas A&M and Cal, but lost to a talented Wisconsin team.  The Eagles seem to be getting more and more comfortable with Steve Donahue’s style, but they are far from perfect.
  10. Georgia Tech (4-2): The Yellow Jackets played two impressive games this week.  After beating a talented UTEP team they took a (slightly overrated) Syracuse team down to the wire.  Paul Hewitt has got talent this year in Brian Oliver and Iman Shumpert.  Now he only has to coach that talent to its potential.
  11. Miami (4-2): The Hurricanes are a mixed bag.  Maybe the team is too caught up in Randy Shannon’s recent firing.  But I expected Durand Scott to be much more of a factor.  They definitely should move up in the rankings as the season progresses, but the big three of Malcolm Grant, Scott and Reggie Johnson (who admittedly is averaging a very solid 12 points and 10.5 rebounds a game) will be expected to really step up.  This week the Hurricanes get tests against Mississippi and West Virginia this week.
  12. Wake Forest (3-3): The Demon Deacons took care of Marist, but dropped a game at home to Winthrop. Tuesday night’s game against Big Ten cellar-dweller Iowa will not be for the faint of heart.

A Look Ahead to the ACC — Big 10 Challenge (predictions included)

Monday

  • 7:00PM Virginia at Minnesota: Minnesota (1-0, Big 10)

**Author’s Note: Virginia already won this game, but I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I picked Virginia.

Tuesday

  • 7:00PM Iowa at Wake Forest: Wake Forest (1-1)
  • 7:00PM Georgia Tech at Northwestern: Northwestern (2-1, Big 10)
  • 7:30PM Ohio State at Florida State: Ohio State (3-1, Big 10)
  • 9:00PM Michigan at Clemson: Clemson (3-2, Big 10)
  • 9:30PM North Carolina at Illinois: North Carolina (3-3)

Upset alert: look for North Carolina to at least temporarily find themselves on the road at Illinois.

Wednesday

  • 7:15PM Indiana at Boston College: Boston College (4-3, ACC)
  • 7:15PM N.C. State at Wisconsin: Wisconsin (4-4)
  • 7:30PM Purdue at Virginia Tech: Purdue (5-4, Big 10)
  • 9:15PM Maryland at Penn State: Maryland (5-5)
  • 9:30PM Michigan State at Duke: Duke (6-5, ACC)

Call me a homer, but I like the ACC to win the challenge.  Especially since Virginia was able to steal a win on the road Monday night.  The games to keep an eye on now are Ohio State – Florida State, North Carolina – Illinois, Purdue – Virginia Tech and Michigan State – Duke.  No games are gimmes for either conference (as Virginia proved), so it should be another great year of the Challenge.  Don’t forget to tune in for a couple of the games, though I’d suggest looking for games taking place outside of Winston-Salem.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.15.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 15th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Monday begins an exciting week of hoops featuring a marathon of games and many big matchups later in the week. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Wofford @ Clemson – 7 pm (no TV, live stream on www.clemsontigers.com) (***)

After a loss to Minnesota on Friday, Wofford gets another crack at a road win against a major conference team. The Gophers were able to hold Terrier star Noah Dahlman in check, limiting him to 15 points. Clemson must do the same as they’re not as talented as Minnesota. The Tigers, under the direction of first year coach Brad Brownell, are coming off an 87-64 victory over Western Carolina in their season opener also on Friday. Clemson is going to pose a significant problem for Wofford in the frontcourt. Wofford has only three players 6’8 or taller on its roster and none of them played against Minnesota. By contrast, Clemson has four guys at least that height. All contributed on Friday, led by Devin Booker’s 16/7. Brownell’s big men scored 52% of their points, while Minnesota’s front line scored 70% (48 of 69) of their points against Wofford including 43 out of 48 in the paint or from the foul line. The Terriers did a nice job limiting Blake Hoffarber and Al Nolen to a combined ten points but they got absolutely destroyed up front, including on the boards (41-29 in favor of Minnesota). Coach Mike Young needs a big performance out of his junkyard dog player Tim Johnson (10/13 vs. Minnesota) if the Terriers hope to get this win. The problem for Wofford is Johnson shot 37% from the line last year so if he’s fouled it’s essentially a turnover most of the time. A solid performance out of the Clemson backcourt, led by Demontez Stitt, will only make it much more difficult for Wofford to win. The Tigers lead the all-time series (50-16) between these upstate South Carolina rivals. For Young’s team to win, he’ll need to come up with some clever defensive strategies to counter the serious height disadvantage his team faces. While it’s possible he can do that, it is unlikely Wofford can win the game given the matchups. Ken Pomeroy gives Clemson an 88% chance to win and that’s about how we see it as well.

Miami (FL) @ #20 Memphis – 12 am on ESPN (***)

Josh Pastner is a Man Down But Will Be Ready Regardless

Josh Pastner’s heralded recruiting class lost a piece on Saturday as Jelan Kendrick was kicked off the team by Pastner and his staff. While it’s certainly unfortunate for the Tigers, Memphis fans know they still have a terrific class coming in led by Will Barton and company. Barton has received all the headlines it seems but it was his brother, Antonio Barton, who stepped up in his collegiate debut and led Memphis in a romp over Centenary on Friday. Antonio had 17 points, four assists and five steals in only 23 minutes of action. Chris Crawford also had a big game, hitting every shot he took from the floor for 16 points. Memphis shot 55% overall, including 52% from behind the arc in totaling 104 points. Even more encouraging were 25 assists on 33 made field goals. The bad news? The competition gets much tougher tonight as Frank Haith’s Miami Hurricanes visit FedEx Forum in the first game of ESPN’s 24 Hours of Hoops marathon. Miami finished last in the ACC last year but made a nice run in the conference tournament. They have one of the better backcourt tandems in the conference in Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant, who combined for 43 points and ten assists in an opening win over Jacksonville on Friday. Grant has been around, giving a verbal to Seton Hall back in 2005 then reneging and signing with Villanova. Eventually he transferred to Miami where he seems to have found a home. It’ll be interesting to see these two go up against the deep and talented (but young) Memphis backcourt. Miami has some talent up front, too. Adrian Thomas, Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble return for Haith. Johnson is an absolute brute in the paint. Standing 6’10 and checking in at 300 pounds, he somehow has the endurance to play a number of minutes (24 against Jacksonville) and still put up good numbers. These three combined for 35 points the other night and will be tough for Memphis to handle. That job falls to Will Coleman, Angel Garcia and freshman Tarik Black. We expect this to be a fairly high scoring game as both teams shot over 50% in their openers. Vegas pegs the Tigers as five and a half point favorites at home which seems a tad low given Memphis’ ranking and expectations. We do expect Miami to be in this game but Memphis is at home and should be able to take care of business.

St. John’s @ St. Mary’s – 2 am on ESPN (****)

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Summer School in the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on September 7th, 2010

Steve Moore is the RTC correspondent for the ACC and an occasional contributor.

Around The ACC:

  • Encore, Encore: Duke won the national title by toppling Butler in a hard-fought final, but unlike recent championship squads, there’s no major mass exodus of talent from Durham (unless you’re related to Jon Scheyer or Brian Zoubek), so the Blue Devils will have a legit chance to repeat.
  • New Faces, New Places: Former Cornell head coach Steve Donahue, best known for elevating the Big Red from NCAA Tournament floormat to the Sweet 16, takes the lead for Boston College. Another import is former Wright State general Brad Brownell, who will lead Clemson after the departure of Oliver Purnell. Brownell previously served at UNC-Wilmington, so it shouldn’t take long for him to reopen that pipeline. Lastly, Jeff Bzdelik comes to Winston-Salem, hoping to provide Wake Forest with long-term stability.
  • No News Is Good News: Rumors came and went surrounding conference realignment, but in the end, the ACC held steady amongst the national wave of teams changing conferences.

McDonald's All-American Kyrie Irving looks to complement an already-stacked Blue Devils squad on their way to a repeat.

Power Rankings (last season’s conference and overall records in parentheses)

  1. Duke (13-3, 35-5): The Blue Devils don’t rebuild, they just reload. Losing Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek hurts, but when Coach K gets back from Turkey, he’ll be happy to see familiar faces in Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Mason and Miles Plumlee. College basketball fans everywhere can also rejoice in another season of Curry, as Stephen’s brother Seth is eligible to play after transferring in 2009, and Kyrie Irving (West Orange, NJ) makes his long-awaited debut. The frontcourt will have to pick up for the loss of Zoubek, but with this much talent to being with and Josh Hairston arriving in Durham, I don’t think it’ll be a problem.
    BETTER OR WORSE?: If you can believe it, I think Duke might be even better. They can’t top last year’s national title, obviously, but I don’t see any other ACC team touching them for the regular season title.
  2. Virginia Tech (10-6, 25-9): The Hokies lose no one. I repeat: NO ONE. Find me another team in the nation that doesn’t lose a key contributor. With one of the ACC’s most exciting players, Malcolm Delaney, coming back, Tech also learned its lesson from NCAA snubs in the past and scheduled at least a couple interesting nonconference games, including Kansas State (away), Purdue, Penn State, Mississippi State and possibly Oklahoma State, depending on how the 76 Classic plays out in Anaheim.
    BETTER OR WORSE?: Better, at least by enough to not be sweating it out come Selection Sunday. Whether they can make noise in March, no one really knows, but the Hokies will dance this season.
  3. Boston College (6-10, 15-16): Experience, experience, experience. No one has more of it in the ACC than the Eagles. BC’s new coach, former Cornell boss Steve Donahue, has more Sweet 16 experience than most coaches in the ACC. Don’t underestimate the Eagles this season (this coming from a Boston University grad and card-carrying BC hater). With so much youth all around the ACC, BC’s experience will be invaluable, and Donahue was an absolute no-brainer to replace Al Skinner.
    BETTER OR WORSE?: Better – much better. With Corey Raji, Joe Trapani and others leading the way, BC will join NC State as the league’s most improved teams, and should get an NCAA invite. Now if only they’d man up and put my alma mater back on their schedule. Read the rest of this entry »
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