Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.
A Look Back:
And then there were none. The biggest conference news of the week was Duke losing at Florida State (as called by yours truly in last week’s Look Ahead). All the speculation to whether Duke could finish ACC play (and the regular season) undefeated was squashed thanks to a fantastic effort from the Seminoles. They popped Duke right in the mouth from the get-go, playing physical defense that negated any potential presence inside and forced the Blue Devils to take low percentage contested jumpers. I would say this is the formula to beat Duke, but I’m not sure how many teams in the country are super-tall, super-athletic and defensive-minded. The Seminoles were helped by a career effort from Derwin Kitchen (or a runner-up career effort: he had 29 in a game against Maryland last season) who led the way with 22 points on nine of 13 shooting with ten rebounds to boot. His contributions went beyond the box score, as Kitchen took over the game when Chris Singleton was forced to leave with four fouls. The question about Florida State this season has always been “can they score?” and they answered with a resounding yes. Singleton also deserves much of the credit: he played lock-down defense on Kyle Singler the entire first half and seemed to come up with a basket whenever the Seminoles needed one. Hats off to the Seminoles, who looked absolutely abysmal the past couple of weeks. It looks like the ACC may finally have a runner-up candidate.
Unfortunately, the ACC Vault does have limits. This isn’t the first time Florida State has knocked off #1 Duke in Tallahassee. It’s the third. Duke fans will have to forgive me for rubbing salt in the wound, but the Blue Devils won’t be short of any praise this season. Unfortunately, the Vault doesn’t carry either of the past two big time upsets out of the panhandle, but YouTube provides a decent recount.
- 2002: Duke had a 22-game winning streak. They had Carlos Boozer, Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy. Florida State somehow forces Williams to go 0-6 from the free throw line (including two that would have put Duke up three in the final 20 seconds). Monte Cummings then took the ball straight at Williams (I’ll let you debate whether it was a charge or a flop; I think it was a fine no-call) and over Mike Dunleavy to put the Seminoles up one.
- 2006: Duke was led by JJ Redick and Shelden Williams. Duke entered the game 27-1, and even with 50 points from Redick and Williams, the Blue Devils couldn’t withstand the dominant game from Al Thornton who finished with 26 (including a ludicrous 15-16 from the line). You might remember this as the game with the “controversy” about rushing the court. Coach Mike Krzyzewski expressed his concern that his players would get injured (largely because I think in the 2002 game Dunleavy and Williams almost got trampled as you can see they’re lying on the ground when the students come sprinting onto the court). Rushing the court is still a huge part of college basketball upsets, but I’d stress not running over 6’4 elite athletes for your safety as well as theirs.
Bizarro Team of the Week: North Carolina wins the award after playing four of the ugliest halves of basketball lucky enough to be televised this season. To be fair the Tar Heels beat Virginia Tech, but it wasn’t pretty. As Jay Bilas put it during the broadcast: “this is the kind of game you put the film in a time capsule and lose the map.” Little did anyone know that the Heels would come out with an even worse performance at Georgia Tech Sunday. UNC’s starters went a smooth 9-33 from the field, while Iman Shumpert finished with 13 field goals himself. The team did no better, finishing a nauseating 16 of 58 from the floor (good for 27.6%) in a drubbing at the hands of a mediocre Yellow Jacket team. In addition to shooting woes, North Carolina turned the ball over 18 times. The silver lining was John Henson went five of eight from the free throw line, his second best performance on the season (well above his season average of 36.8%). But really Roy Williams summed it up in the post game presser (I suggest reading everything): “No. We just didn’t come in frickin’ ready to play. Overconfident? How the crap … I’m mad at the world. We stunk. My coaching stunk and we stunk. I’m tired of saying we’ve got to build confidence. It’s easy to build confidence, by God, play better, then you will get some confidence. We’re not overconfident, we just weren’t as intense as we needed to be to start the basketball game.” Sounds like echoes from last year, which isn’t good for Carolina fans.
Team of the Week: Florida State. In addition to the huge upset over Duke, the Seminoles handily took care of NC State 84-71. If not for the inexcusable loss at Auburn a couple weeks ago, I think the Seminoles would’ve earned a spot in the top 25. That game just shows how inconsistent this team is from night to night. Hopefully Leonard Hamilton has everything together now. It would be nice to see the ACC with at least two decent seeds come March…
Player of the Week: A tie between Derwin Kitchen and Iman Shumpert, who both led their teams to home wins over Tobacco Road this week. Both are very talented yet inconsistent upperclassmen who need to do well for their respective teams to succeed.
- Duke (16-1, 3-1) remains atop the power rankings despite the loss at Florida State. Duke flirted with falling in their home win against Virginia. The Blue Devils trailed by seven at the half and looked totally out of sync. This team is a long way from being dominant without Kyrie Irving. Until they find a facilitator, that’s how it will stay. I still think they’re the best team (by a long shot) in the ACC, but whether they’re a true championship contender is still up in the air. For now, Blue Devil fans (and the Plumlees) should hope for either rapid development of Tyler Thornton or Irving’s toe, so Nolan Smith can go back to his natural two guard position.
- Florida State (13-5, 3-1) skyrockets after a great week. Now if they can only show some consistency.
- Maryland (11-6, 1-2) still can’t close. They had Villanova on the ropes with a lead in the second half, but a few missed shots and turnovers later and the Wildcats were back on top for good. Jordan Williams is still a year away from being a shut the game down type of player (and he may never be one if his free throw shooting doesn’t improve). Someone in the Terrapin backcourt needs to step up soon, or the team will find itself looking at a nasty ticket to the NIT. The good news is that Jordan Williams hit some pretty nice 15-footers, which would make him truly impossible to guard. Right now, he’s playing like the best big man (and probably the best player in the conference). Now if Gary Williams can just find a suitable sidekick (my personal guess is Terrell Stoglin).
- Clemson (14-4, 2-1) dominated Georgia Tech at home 87-62. Jerai Grant led the way with a career-high 20 points and eight rebounds. Grant is one of the most overlooked players in the conference, largely because he plays at Clemson. He’ll be the key if Clemson wants to stay out of the conference cellar this season (well, not the cellar because Wake Forest has it booked for the season, but you know what I mean).
- Boston College (13-5, 3-1) got a good win against NC State before losing a heartbreaker to Miami on the road. This team is better than I expected, but that’s not a very high bar. Reggie Jackson is quietly averaging nearly 20 points a game, but they’re racking up some losses that look bad on an at-large resume (Yale, Harvard and Miami to name three).
- Miami (12-5, 1-2) edged Boston College out at home. This team feels on the brink of being decent, but they just can’t quite make the leap. Frank Haith certainly has the personnel to field a strong team, but something seems to be missing. This week they’ll get a shot at Florida State at home and NC State on the road for two solid wins.
- Virginia (10-7, 1-2) almost shocked the world by almost beating Duke in Durham. Unfortunately the Cavaliers couldn’t sustain the defensive effort after holding Duke to only 25 points at the half. Duke went on to put up 51 in the second half. Losing Mike Scott really took an entire dimension out of this team, but they’ve made the best of it so far (even if they’ve come up just short).
- Georgia Tech (8-8, 1-2) got pummeled at Clemson before handing out a beating of their own against Carolina. It’s pretty simple: when Iman Shumpert and Glen Rice Jr. are playing to their abilities Georgia Tech is a tough team to beat. When they aren’t, the Yellow Jackets are subpar. I’m not sure Shumpert is capable of going off for 30 any given night, so I feel pretty safe in saying that the Yellow Jackets are still looking at the bottom fourth of the ACC come the end of the year.
- Virginia Tech (11-5, 2-2) barely lost at Carolina after just dominating Wake Forest 94-65 at home. The Wake result says far more about the Demon Deacons than it does Seth Greenberg’s squad. They’re going to need to win close games like the one at Carolina if they want to finally have a happy Selection Sunday. Right now they still rely far too much on Malcolm Delaney (though playing him off the ball has helped tremendously), and they’re just too shallow to perform night in and night out. Injuries have really lowered the potential for this team.
- North Carolina (12-5, 2-1) fell apart this week. See above. This team is looking more and more similar to last year’s NIT squad. Too soft; not enough effort; dumb turnovers; no leadership. They show flashes of brilliance accompanied by halves of ineptitude. It’s slowly killing Williams, who was just beginning to sound like he enjoyed coaching again until this week. At this point (though it has always been my stance), it’s time to hand Kendall Marshall the reins. If he loses a few along the way, so be it. He’s the future of this program.
- NC State (11-6, 1-2) lost a couple of road games this week. I think it’s safe to say the Wolfpack are a major disappointment. Tracy Smith is still the man, but they have a similar point guard crisis to Carolina. Sidney Lowe still insists on playing Javier Gonzalez despite Ryan Harrow’s talent. I know Harrow is small and a little bit of a defensive liability. But let’s face it: State’s defense isn’t that good with or without Gonzalez. Lowe needs to make some major changes and get this program moving back in the right direction.
- Wake Forest (7-11, 0-3) had a rough week, losing to Maryland by 19 at home and 29 to Virginia Tech on the road. Yikes. Not much positive to say here.
A Look Ahead:
The ACC prognosis is very weak. Unfortunately only Duke and Florida State (when they come to play) stand out as even consistently “good” teams. That means spreading the conference losses around a lot (as seen by the fact that no team has played five games and no team is unbeaten). This is going to make getting at-large bids really difficult. Maryland is definitely good enough to deserve a ticket, but they still don’t have any marquee wins (unless they can beat Duke). UNC has a pretty strong resume, but it won’t matter if they keep getting blown out by the likes of Georgia Tech.
This week’s important games:
- Tuesday Tiger History (8:00 PM, ACC Network): Can Clemson get that elusive win in Chapel Hill on the 55th try? No joke, as founding members of the ACC Clemson has never won a game in Chapel Hill. This looks like the perfect time to give it a run, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
- Thursday: Virginia Tech at Maryland (9:00 PM, ESPN2)