Checking In On… the ACCPosted by Brian Goodman on December 2nd, 2011
Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.
- ACC/Big 10 Challenge: I’m not sure we can call it a challenge this year, as the ACC was dismantled 8-4 (with two of those wins being upsets). I don’t put much stock in the Challenge results although I do think it’s the best of the conference duels. I also think the Big 10 is a much better basketball conference than the ACC. The lone conference highlights came from Wake Forest and Virginia. The Demon Deacons got their second straight BCS-conference victory over Nebraska (on the road no less). To put the milestone in perspective, last season, Wake Forest didn’t win any road games against BCS competition and only won two home games against major conference schools. Meanwhile the Cavaliers rebuffed their critics (read: me) by beating a talented, well-coached Michigan squad.
- Tar Heel Questions: North Carolina may be the best team in the country, but any aura of invincibility was shattered by UNLV bum rushing the Tar Heels out in Las Vegas. UNLV played extraordinarily well: it exploited mismatches, slammed North Carolina inside and knocked down open shots. The Tar Heels left with major questions about who will take over games in tough spots, and whether John Henson and Tyler Zeller could step up inside in big moments. The big men reverted back to earlier seasons’ form, Henson settling for ill-advised jumpers and Zeller settling for no shots at all.
- Austin Rivers Criticism: High profile recruits going to high profile schools generate high profile expectations. But less than ten games into the season, in my opinion, is a little early to say that Austin Rivers cannot fit into Duke’s system. The statements are coming from Duke fans, Duke haters, and journalists alike. It’s true that Rivers hasn’t seamlessly moved to the college game, but he’s been Duke’s best offensive threat so far this season. Watch the Duke – Ohio State game: the only two offensive factors for Duke were Rivers and Mason Plumlee. Rivers has a well-documented crossover that allows him to get to the rim at will. With a little better shot selection and the occasional pass to open teammates, he’ll be near the top of college basketball’s offensive players relatively soon.
- Pre-Season Tournaments: We know Duke won the Maui Invitational for the fifth time, but how did other ACC schools fare in tournament play? Boston College took sixth at the 76 Classic (which, for the record has been a “Classic” since 2007) thanks to an overtime win over UC Riverside. Clemson has yet to take place in the Diamond Head Classic (est. 2009), but will take to Hawaii in late December with the possibility of playing a very talented Xavier squad. Florida State struggled at the Battle 4 Atlantis, getting beat by Harvard in the second round before losing a very close game against defending national champion Connecticut in the third place game. Georgia Tech had a mixed trip to the Charleston Classic (est. 2008), losing to St. Joseph’s and LSU with a win against VCU thrown in. Maryland struggled in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, getting blown out by likely NCAA Tournament teams Alabama and Iona. Miami will join Florida, Texas A&M, and FAU at the Orange Bowl Classic in mid-December. North Carolina came away with its first loss from the Las Vegas Invitational. NC State got some very valuable experience from the Ticketcity Legends Classic (est. 2007) losing to Vanderbilt in a close game but coming from behind to beat Texas. Virginia took fourth at Paradise Jam highlighted by a close (but bad) loss to TCU in the first round. Virginia Tech was competitive at the NIT Season Tip-Off, winning the third-place game over Oklahoma State after playing well in a loss to Syracuse. Finally, Wake Forest lost a very close game to Dayton, was blown out by Arizona State, and bounced back with a win over Texas Tech to take seventh at the Old Spice Classic (est. 2006).
- Boston College’s Identity: Boston College isn’t good, but the Eagles might be better off if Matt Humphrey passed the torch to Patrick Heckmann. Regardless, the Eagles will probably struggle a lot this season, but Heckmann has proven to be very efficient offensively so far.
- North Carolina (6-1): The Tar Heels may have suffered their first loss, but they’re still the best team in the ACC. They got a very good win at home against Wisconsin on Wednesday night, and did it playing Wisconsin’s style. That’s good and bad as it means they succeeded playing a very uncomfortable game thanks to very good defense, especially from Dexter Strickland. However, it also means Wisconsin controlled the tempo. The good news is Kentucky is a very young team that likes to run. This plays right into North Carolina’s hands as it has much more experience running fast, but staying in control.
- Duke (7-1): The Blue Devils got absolutely handled at Ohio State on Tuesday, but they still have the best wins in the conference (at least number of quality wins). The worst news in the loss was Ryan Kelly’s disappearance on offense. He and Seth Curry absolutely have to have a positive impact on that end of the floor for Duke to live up to expectations this season. On a more positive note, Mason Plumlee looks like he’s made at least part of the leap people have been expecting since he arrived (still too many turnovers, but very solid otherwise).
- Virginia (6-1): The Cavaliers got a much-needed win at home against Michigan this week, and they did it with offense. Tony Bennett’s club has struggled offensively this year, but hid the struggles behind very stingy defense. Having a good offensive game against strong competition bodes well for living up to the preseason hype. Mike Scott was a beast, going for 18 points and 11 rebounds, and the team only turned the ball over eight times.
- Florida State (5-3): The Seminoles are down, but not out. And really, they’re not that down. Losing at the Breslin Center is to be expected, especially when you settle for contested jumpers. Coming on the heels of a couple of close losses in the Bahamas may raise a few people’s eyebrows (and cause me to back off my bullish preseason predictions), but I still expect Leonard Hamilton’s squad to finish in the top three or four teams in the ACC.
- Miami (4-2): The Hurricanes lost a couple of true road games in the last week, and you can tell Reggie Johnson’s presence is missed. So far this season they’re shooting under 45% on twos, getting too many shots blocked and sit solidly in the middle-of-the-pack with regards to rebounding. The good news is Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant aren’t turning the ball over almost at all. I still think this team has the chance to be third in the ACC once Johnson returns in January.
- NC State (5-2): A loss to Indiana is nothing to fret over. Allowing opponents to shoot 40% from three is. NC State’s offense is significantly improved from last season, but its defense still needs a lot of work on the perimeter, creating turnovers and not fouling. Still, I’m not sure anyone can complain with the start to Mark Gottfried’s tenure. The upcoming game at Stanford should be an interesting one.
- Virginia Tech (5-2): The Hokies are better than we thought they would be, but a loss to Minnesota hurts. The Golden Gophers don’t have a point guard and were missing their two best players (Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III). The game was on the road though, which means it’s nothing to be alarmed over. But looking at Virginia Tech’s remaining schedule, it’s hard to see how–barring an epic conference season–it will make the Big Dance.
- Clemson (4-2): Clemson sports two home losses already against College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina. Those are two pretty good non-BCS teams, but not ones that should beat Clemson at home. But it’s hard to argue with the Tigers’ solid tempo-free profile, where Ken Pomeroy ranks them 39th in Division I. Andre Young is the real deal, but there are too many other holes on the roster right now.
- Wake Forest (5-2): The Demon Deacons continue to impress me early. The win at Nebraska is particularly impressive. Jeff Bzdelik’s most impressive player so far? CJ Harris, hands down. He and teammate Travis McKie are second and third in the ACC in scoring, respectively. If Bzdelik can find a way to improve the collective rebounding, Wake could find itself closer to the middle of the conference than the bottom.
- Georgia Tech (4-3): The Yellow Jackets are an up-and-down team. After beating a decent VCU team solidly, they turned around and took a loss to a bad LSU team. The loss to Northwestern isn’t as bad as history makes it look, but this team needs to find some consistent offense because its losses all came when the offense wasn’t effective.
- Maryland (3-3): I expected Maryland to be mediocre, but the Terrapins have looked worse than that so far. Outside of Terrell Stoglin, the offense is atrocious. He has as much as the next two leading scorers combined. Sean Mosley has played decently, but he’ll need to embrace his role as a second option going forward.
- Boston College (2-5): The Eagles are terrible. They’re ranked #258 (out of 345) in Divison I by Ken Pomeroy, placing them solidly in the lead for worst BCS-conference team (currently, they’re “ahead” of Utah by 21 spots). The third worst team is Providence at #153. Steve Donahue’s biggest problem is his already poor defense from last year got worse, and his offense dropped off a cliff. This team is incredibly young though so it should improve (relatively speaking) throughout the year.
- Player of the Week: Mike Scott led Virginia to two victories this week, totally 33 points and 21 rebounds over the two games. He’s near the top of the conference in both categories for the season, and his effective interior play has given Virginia a much-needed anchor for its offense. Most of the team’s offense comes from threes, but the perimeter guys get a lot better looks with Scott holding down the paint.
- Freshman of the Week: Austin Rivers has gotten better in almost every game. There are still flaws to his game, but it’s clear that no other conference freshman (not on Boston College) will be as important to his team as Rivers will be for Duke.