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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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 22nd, 2010

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

  • No news on Kyrie Irving or his toe, but Sidney Lowe did pipe in on Tracy Smith’s injury: per Brett Friedlander of Star News Online, Lowe said, “It’s a tough deal… It’s very frustrating, but I think it’s frustrating for Tracy as well.  This was a big year for him, a big year for us.”  Now, I don’t want to read too much into a coach’s postgame interviews following a tough loss to Arizona (who had their way with the Wolfpack inside), but it sounds like Lowe is starting to feel some hot seat pressure.  He continued: “I just think it’s one of those things where Tracy is going to have to decide he can play with a little bit of pain. That’s up to him… Certainly we don’t want him out there limping and everything. I think his biggest thing is getting over the fear of the injury itself…Structurally, everything is okay, but it’s his first real injury, so we have to be patient with him. The doctors say he’s okay, but they can’t feel his pain. So we have to go with what Tracy is saying.”  While I can feel his pain, Lowe really should stand by his players (read: not make it sound like he thinks they’re soft or faking injuries).  His job might be on the line, but Tracy Smith could have declared for the draft last year and never given Lowe the opportunity to complain about his injury.
  • Mike Scott of Virginia, Demontez Stitt of Clemson and Tony Chennault of Wake Forest are all out with injuries.  Scott underwent ankle surgery and his return time is still to be determined; Stitt required arthroscopic knee surgery and should be back before the end of the month; and Chennault is out for another month or so while his foot heals.
  • In other news, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski tied Dean Smith at second on the all-time win list with 879 after Duke soundly beat Elon in Durham Monday.  This is obviously a testament to the job that Coach K has done over his career at Duke, and there are sure to be plenty more wins for the Blue Devils as the season progresses.
  • Team of the Week: Virginia Tech sneaks past Georgia Tech for the award this week.  This is partially because I’ve ripped Virginia Tech the past couple weeks for being totally out to lunch.  But the Hokies got a very impressive (and much needed) win over Mississippi State on a neutral court.  Mississippi State was supposed to be the pride of the SEC West, but has come out with a slow start.  That said, a dominating win is a dominating win, and the Hokies won 88-57 with five players scoring in double figures.  Seth Greenberg should take note: his team is a whole lot better when Jeff Allen, Erick Green, Dorenzo Hudson and Manny Atkins produce on offense.  Malcolm Delaney only took 11 shots.  So when Virginia Tech starts back with losing ways because Delaney is the only one with any interest in trying to score, don’t be surprised.  However, if this team has finally figured out that they have the talent to win real games and they just need to utilize it, look out.  There’s a reason (albeit a somewhat misguided one) that this team had so much hype in the preseason, and they finally lived up to it.
  • Bizarro Team of the Week: Wake Forest – It was actually a fairly good week for the ACC overall.  But Wake Forest continued their epic struggles.  I really do hate choosing them week in and week out, but the only other losses in the conference came against good schools (Central Florida, Arizona and Texas).  Meanwhile Wake, almost lost to UNCG (yes, the 0-9 school out of the Southern Conference that hadn’t lost within double figures of an opponent all season).  Wake followed one almost loss with an actual loss at Xavier, which is much more excusable as the Musketeers are probably a Tournament-bound team.  Wake has to find some answers and find them fast.  Two of their next four games (Richmond and Gonzaga) are going to be very tough.  Wake legitimately has a strong case to be one of the top five worst major conference schools (along with Auburn, Oregon State, DePaul and South Florida).  Tony Chennault may hold the key for Wake to establish some decent guard play, but that remains to be seen.

(ed. note – following the submission of this week’s check-in, Wake dropped a game to a team known as the Presbyterian Blue Hose to continue its nightmare campaign)

A History Lesson: In case you hadn’t heard, the ACC and Raycom Sports teamed up to produce the ACC Vault.  We covered the Vault on its official opening last week, and I highly suggest you spend some time perusing the website.  It’s very easy to use (whether you want to find a specific play or a game).  I’ll be promoting one game a week with a few of my thoughts.  This week, I’m going to stick with the 1997 ACC Championship between North Carolina and North Carolina State.  You can see most of my thoughts on the game in the article on the site’s release, but the game has some historical significance.  It was Dean Smith’s last ACC game, and one of Herb Sendek’s first.  The Tar Heels brought star power with Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter and Shammond Williams, while N.C. State countered with a more deliberate offense that led to far more open looks than one might have expected in such a David vs. Goliath game.  Please feel free to comment if you have any suggestions for great games too!

Power Rankings

  1. Duke (11-0) beat Elon handily in their one game of the week.  Offense still lacks a real flow without Irving, and Coach K might need to investigate switching Nolan Smith back to the two guard.  Seth Curry would take some time but has a point guard build, or he could try running the offense through Kyle Singler.  Not sure either is ideal, but it’s definitely worth trying a couple things out before getting too deep into conference play.
  2. Florida State (9-2, 1-0) beat Stetson and Loyola Marymount this week to continue their winning ways.  They have games at Hawaii and Auburn (go ahead and chalk that one up) before heading to Virginia Tech to continue conference play.
  3. Boston College (9-2, 1-0) beat Bryant 93-77 in their lone game of the week.  Should be interesting to see how this team holds up in conference play.
  4. North Carolina (8-4) gets a boost in the ratings for playing a talented Texas team very close.  After watching the game, I literally have no idea why Roy Williams continues to play Larry Drew II at point instead of Kendall Marshall.  Marshall played much better than Drew II, but still only saw significant playing time when Drew II was sidelined with foul trouble (it’s no coincidence that the Tar Heels lost the lead when Marshall went out).
  5. Georgia Tech (6-4) got a much needed win over Richmond this week.  The Yellow Jackets still look like they’re very much on the wrong side of the bubble, but beating a team that looks like a contender in the A-10 is a quality victory.  Now a win this week against Siena would give Paul Hewitt another good win against decent mid-major competition.
  6. Virginia (8-3, 1-0) soundly beat Oregon and eked out a win over Norfolk State without the aid of Mike Scott who is averaging team best 16.3 points and 10.4 rebounds a game.  For the Cavaliers to be relevant, they desperately need Scott’s production.
  7. Virginia Tech (6-4, 0-1) took care of business in the Bahamas this week.  Now they need to sustain this level of play.
  8. Miami (8-3) lost a tough game against Central Florida this week.  The Hurricanes struggled with foul trouble inside with Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble fouling out in 16 and 25 minutes, respectively.  Central Florida is undefeated so far, but the Hurricane defense was vulnerable with Johnson and Gamble playing very limited minutes.  Keep an eye on their foul trouble in ACC play.
  9. Maryland (7-4, 0-1) didn’t play this week, but they have three cupcakes before continuing conference play at Duke.  The Terrapins really need Sean Mosley to step up and give them a more consistent second option beyond Jordan Williams.  They are still a leaderless team right now, so winning close games (or games on the road) will be pretty difficult.
  10. N.C. State (7-4) missed out on a huge chance to add a resume victory over Arizona this week, and Tracy Smith’s absence in the paint was evident.  The Wolfpack and Sidney Lowe really need Smith’s production and ability to open up the floor for jump shooters.
  11. Clemson (7-4, 0-1) won two creampuff games this week with Demontez Stitt in recovery. Jerai Grant had two excellent games off the bench.
  12. Wake Forest (6-6) continues to struggle.  Here’s to hoping that Tony Chennault has the answers.

A Look Ahead

Finals are over!  That’s good news for everyone–especially college basketball fans.  We still have a couple more uninteresting weeks before conference play really begins.  Probably the best chance for good games comes from Florida State, who will probably take on Butler (or Utah) and then most likely Baylor or Washington State in the Diamond Head Classic, a tournament that should give the Seminoles an opportunity to build their at-large resume.  All three match-ups are very intriguing because each team has shown significant defensive strength so far this season.

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