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.
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.