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
- 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).