ACC Team Previews: Clemson

Posted by mpatton on October 28th, 2011

Brad Brownell had by far the most success of any of the new ACC coaches last season. He certainly landed in a nice place, with two very talented senior leaders in Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant. But in case you couldn’t tell, the man can flat out coach. After losing first round pick Trevor Booker, Brownell led the Tigers to their first NCAA Tournament win since Rick Barnes last did so back in 1997. This year he has a lot less to work with, but don’t think the Tigers won’t be fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid.

The first key for Clemson will be Andre Young. Young did a very good job last year sharing the backcourt responsibilities with Stitt. This year he needs to transition from off-the-ball sharpshooter who also spends time running the offense to floor general and, in announcer-speak, the straw that stirs the drink. Just behind Stitt in assists rate and offensive rating, it’s possible to argue he was the second most important player on the floor last season. Although it’s important to keep in mind that Young’s primary jobs were to allow Stitt to play off the ball some and keep opponents’ perimeter defenses honest, this year he’s going to need to really step into a bigger role, and it’s tough to tell how ready he’ll be.

Clemson's Andre Young Needs to Step Up This Season

After Young the Tigers desperately need a second option to step up. Milton Jennings, Tanner Smith and Devin Booker all have the talent and experience. The problem is none of them have lived up to their potential yet. Based on Smith’s play during the conference season last year (where he shot 39% from downtown), I’m inclined to choose him as the best second option but I think Smith thrives more as a rock-solid role player. You can count on him to efficiently put up ten or 12 points a game, but I’m not convinced he’ll exceed that with regularity. Booker showed flashes last year too, but mainly against less talented teams. It’s high time Clemson fans stopped comparing him to his older brother: even during his sophomore season, Trevor Booker was a much more efficient scorer. He didn’t settle for jumpers and shot well over fifty percent from inside the arc all four years. Unless Devin has put on some pounds and grit this summer, he won’t become a second or third option on offense.

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ACC Morning Five: 10.26.11 Edition

Posted by mpatton on October 26th, 2011

  1. ClemsonTigers.com: In celebration of 100 years of Clemson basketball, the athletic department nominated 72 Tiger alumni of whom 25 were chosen based on most fan votes. The roster is a little heavy with recent graduates, which comes as no surprise: Clemson was mostly irrelevant in basketball until the last couple of decades; and fans most likely voted for players they saw play. Trevor Booker, Horace Grant (Clemson’s lone ACC Player of the Year), KC Rivers and last year’s star Demontez Stitt headline the list.
  2. CBSSports.com: Jeff Goodman checks in after watching Duke practice with ten thoughts that include some doubts about the Blue Devils’ chemistry. Notably, Goodman agrees with Mike Krzyzewski‘s statement that Austin Rivers has a lot of maturing to do before living up to his high expectations; he also notes that despite his demonstrated success in China, Ryan Kelly can’t be expected to be this team’s star because of problems with inconsistency and defensive liabilities. The bottom line is that this Duke team is talented, but there are far more questions with it than with Duke teams of the past. It could be one of Coach K’s toughest coaching challenges, especially with the talent residing down the road in Chapel Hill.
  3. Washington Post: Duke might have questions, but Georgia Tech has legitimate rebuilding to do (both literally and on the court). The Yellow Jackets are looking at a depleted roster, a new coach and an under-renovation stadium. However, Brian Gregory is trying to look at the silver lining of splitting time at two arenas: “My hope is that, even for home games, we’ll start to build some of that chemistry that only develops in hotel rooms and on bus trips and in locker rooms, sitting on bad chairs, those type of things.” It’s an interesting point, though the lack of talent and experience will probably hurt the team more than its chemistry. Still this season is important for Gregory’s program to take that first step towards a better future.
  4. Yahoo: Marc Spears caught up with Harrison Barnes to talk about his decision to return to Chapel Hill this season. In many ways the lockout gives Barnes’ decision a “hindsight is 20/20″ look, but the quotes from Barnes definitely point to someone who really wanted to return to school. Spears also talked to Barnes about Kyrie Irving and his decision to turn pro: “We talked a lot about what it would mean if we left, what it would mean if we stayed. He played in 11 games and they had him slotted so high that it was kind of hard to turn it down. I felt like I had to make up a lot of ground. I don’t think another year would hurt me [sic].” It’s certainly better for college basketball that a guy as talented as Barnes is coming back, but you definitely can’t fault Irving for recognizing his moment and realizing a lifelong dream.
  5. Boston.com: Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik is looking to improve on last season, which seems like an attainable goal. He stresses his team’s maturity, both physically and mentally, compared to last season: “We have a team that works hard, a team that is together, a team that is hungry and humble and a team that is feeling the pain from last year, as I am,” Bzdelik said. I still think the Demon Deacons are a year or two away from truly turning things around, but I definitely agree that they should be better (I mean, they can’t get much worse).
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RTC Summer Updates: Atlantic Coast Conference

Posted by jstevrtc on July 21st, 2011

With the the NBA Draft concluded and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. The latest update comes courtesy of our ACC correspondent, Matt Patton.

Reader’s Take

Summer Storylines

  • New Faces: That’s right, the ACC will be totally different conference this season. Only five of the fifteen players selected as to the all-conference teams will be running the floor this season, namely four of North Carolina’s five starters (with Miami’s Malcolm Grant keeping the group from being only Tar Heels). Somewhat surprisingly, all of the ACC all-freshman squad will be back in action. Duke’s Kyrie Irving was a prominent frosh, but he didn’t play a single conference game before leaving school and UNC’s Harrison Barnes opted to return for his sophomore campaign. Keep an eye on Wake Forest’s Travis McKie and Maryland’s Terrell Stoglin especially. Both should be the stars on their respective teams.
  • However, the strength of the conference will rely heavily on the incoming players and coaches. Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Florida State all bring in consensus top 25 classes according to ESPN, Rivals and Scout. To make a long story short, the rich get richer. Duke’s Austin Rivers (ranked 1st by Rivals, 2nd by Scout and ESPNU) will be expected to contribute immediately, while North Carolina’s James McAdoo (8th by Rivals, 4th by Scout and 5th by ESPNU) and PJ Hairston (13th by Rivals, 20th by Scout and 12th by ESPNU) should be given ample time to find roles on an already stacked team.
  • Arguably more important, at least in the long term, are the new coaches: NC State welcomes Mark Gottfried, Miami welcomes Jim Larranaga, Maryland welcomes Mark Turgeon, and Georgia Tech welcomes Brian Gregory to the conference. The only coach I think is a surefire “upgrade” is Larranaga, who comes with some disadvantages (namely, age). While Gottfried experienced some success at Alabama, the Crimson Tide isn’t known as a basketball powerhouse and he didn’t leave the school on great terms. I also don’t think it’s a great sign that Ryan Harrow left for the bluer pastures of Kentucky. Gregory, though, sticks out as the strangest hire of the four. He had a fairly nondescript tenure at Dayton with many Flyer fans happy to see him leave. I know a tight budget hamstrung by Paul Hewitt’s hefty buyout deal probably kept the Yellow Jackets from going after the sexiest candidates, but the choice still surprised me. Gregory’s biggest disadvantage is his ugly, grind-it-out style of play that will eventually make it difficult to attract top recruits and could possibly alienate the entire GT fanbase (see: Herb Sendek).
  • North Carolina Navigates Investigation Waters: Finally, it may not be basketball-related, but it’s impossible to mention this offseason without discussing North Carolina’s impending date with the NCAA Committee of Infractions. The story has dominated ACC sports news. To briefly sum things up, the Tar Heels had an assistant coach, John Blake, on the payroll of an agent. If that wasn’t enough, the NCAA investigation unveiled thousands (I’m not kidding) of dollars in unpaid parking tickets and even several cases of academic fraud. The university has come out very firmly saying these infractions only involved the football team** but the scandal has gained national notoriety. (**Author’s note: the one connection with the basketball team is that Greg Little was one of UNC’s ineligible football players. Little was also a walk-on for the basketball team during the 2007-08 season, playing in ten games. North Carolina has said that his infractions occurred after his year with the basketball team, so no win vacations are in the basketball team’s future.)
  • Somehow, despite academic fraud, ineligible benefits and an agent runner on staff, the Tar Heels failed to get the NCAA’s most serious “lack of institutional control” violation for what appeared to be nothing less thana lack of institutional control. Again, this scandal is confined to football, but it’s one of the many recent scandals that have come to light in big time college athletics in the last couple of years (Connecticut, USC, Ohio State, Oregon, etc). These scandals could force the NCAA to augment its rules somewhat, and even though they may not directly relate to basketball, they may have a very real impact of college sports as we know it over the next few years.

    Freshman phenom Austin Rivers is ready for Duke, but how quickly will 2011's top high school point guard perform on the big stage? (Orlando Sentinel)

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Conference Report Card: ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 28th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

Conference Recap

The ACC had a down year though North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall-led resurgence and Florida State’s Sweet Sixteen appearance helped a little bit. Before and during the season, Duke was the runaway favorite in the conference: Kyrie Irving’s toe injury obviously was the pivotal point that brought Duke back down to earth. Equally pivotal (in the reverse direction) was Marshall’s move to starting point guard for North Carolina. With Larry Drew II at the helm, there is no way the Tar Heels could have come close to surpassing Duke for the regular season title. The down year did not really surprise most people, and despite lofty preseason expectations (read: people forgot how highly rated North Carolina was to start the season) I think the perception is that the league at least lived up to preseason expectations with a couple of notable exceptions: NC State, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech. NC State had NCAA Tournament talent, but did not come anywhere close to sniffing the Big Dance; Wake was arguably the worst major conference team in the country; and Virginia Tech once again found itself very highly seeded in the NIT. On the flip side, Clemson and Florida State both exceeded expectations.

Roy Williams and Kendall Marshall led a mid-season resurgence that resulted in a trip the Elite Eight. (News Observer/Robert Willitt)

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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Tuesday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 15th, 2011

Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay so we may as well get used to it. The road from 68 pretenders to 16 contenders begins on Tuesday night at the First Four in Dayton, and we’ll be breaking down every game for you throughout. Here’s tonight’s two games, and keep in mind that we’ll have a correspondent with RTC Live at every single game in this year’s Big Dance.

#16 UNC-Asheville vs. #16 Arkansas-Little Rock – Southeast Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – 6:30 pm ET on truTV.

Primm & UNCA Are Primed for Tonight

The NCAA Tournament tips off with the first round in Dayton tonight. Arkansas-Little Rock is making its third NCAA appearance, its first in 21 years since losing to UNLV in the first round of the 1990 Tournament, while UNC-Asheville is here for the second time in its history. These teams play a vastly different style of basketball and whoever can impose their will on the game will likely win. The Bulldogs of Asheville are much better defensively, ranked #89 in efficiency and first in the Big South Conference. They’ve won six straight games and no opponent has scored more than 63 points against them during this streak. Asheville likes to play at a quick pace and ranks tenth in defensive turnover percentage. They have to speed up this game and create a positive turnover margin in order to take Little Rock out of their comfort zone, a halfcourt setting. Turnovers have been a problem for Asheville (15 per game) with their two best players, guards Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm, accounting for six of those combined. With center D.J. Cunningham injured, Asheville has to depend on its backcourt almost exclusively. The Trojans shoot 39.7% from three (#12 nationally) but this guard-oriented team gets very little production inside. South Florida transfer Solomon Bozeman is by far their best player, averaging 16.5 PPG on 46.4% shooting from distance. If the shots aren’t falling, Little Rock will have a tough time winning this game. Guards control tempo and that will determine the outcome tonight.

The RTC Certified Pick: UNC-Asheville.

#12 Clemson vs. #12 UAB – East Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – 9 pm ET on truTV.

Stitt Is Happy to be Dancing Again

The most stunning and controversial inclusion into this year’s field was UAB, whose conference tournament quarterfinal loss to East Carolina was believed to have sealed their NCAA fate. Instead, the Blazers’ stellar RPI boosted their credibility in the eyes of the committee enough to warrant a spot in the newly instituted at-large play-in games in Dayton. They’ll take on Clemson, a team whose late-season wins over Virginia Tech and Boston College aided their cause. The Tigers new head coach, Brad Brownell, always sported formidable defensive units during his time at Wright State; his debut season at Clemson has proved no different as the Tigers rank ninth in the nation in defensive efficiency. Clemson has held opponents to a meager 44% from two-point territory and 32% from three-point range. The Tigers also boast a capable senior inside-outside duo in Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant, the latter ranking near the top of the nation in effective FG%, offensive rebounding and shot blocking. But the real matchup to watch involves Stitt against UAB point guard Aaron Johnson, a true floor general in every sense of the word. Johnson ranks fourth in the country in assist rate and the onus will be on Stitt to make life miserable in the halfcourt for Johnson. Both teams are below average when it comes to offensive efficiency when compared to other NCAA Tournament participants. Which point guard performs better between Stitt and Johnson could very well determine the outcome. We’re more trusting of Clemson’s talented supporting cast – Andre Young, Tanner Smith, Devin Booker and the aforementioned Grant to name a few – to make life easier for their point guard.

The RTC Certified Pick: Clemson.

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

A Look Back

You probably know this by now, but the biggest news of the week was Larry Drew II leaving North Carolina.  He was immediately ripped by fans and experts alike (the word “quit” and phrase “addition by subtraction” probably started trending on Twitter) largely–in my opinion–because he didn’t tell the team his decision, instead letting his father do it for him.  It’s hard to tell if this is a case of “selfish kid” (as most have interpreted the story) or “overreaching parent.”  My guess is it’s a combination of the two, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter was the deciding factor.  Everyone from college professors to recruiting analysts will tell you that parents are the hardest to deal with because they have a tendency to only see one side of the story.  The transfer was still very surprising based on timing (he has to sit out a year anyways), and Drew was coming off a career game (in assists) against Boston College. Regardless, Drew’s transfer may show why Roy Williams was so hesitant to start Kendall Marshall in the first place, if he suspected a delicate situation.

On the other side of Tobacco Road, Duke picked up its first commit from the class of 2012 in Alex Murphy, a 6’8 wing player.  The comparison that has been tossed around most frequently is Kyle Singler, though I think that’s a somewhat lazy comparison.  The other name I’ve heard a little is Mike Dunleavy, which seems a little more accurate in terms of skill sets based on the very limited video I’ve seen of Murphy on YouTube.  There are rumblings that Murphy may reclassify and join Duke next year, as he’s in his fourth year of high school, but I don’t think he’d gain a considerable advantage by coming a year earlier based on Duke’s talent-laden 2011 class.

And last but not least, NC State’s CJ Leslie was suspended for violating team rules and missed a romping at the hands of Duke.  He certainly wouldn’t have made an appreciable difference in the outcome (Duke was up by thirty at one point in the first half), but his suspension is just a microcosm of NC State’s disastrous season.  For a fun (but depressing read), I highly suggest checking out Backing the Pack’s Profile of a Possible Savior series on current coaches that might make a good replacement for Sidney Lowe (currently they’ve profiled Old Dominion’s Blaine Taylor, Missouri State’s Cuonzo Martin and Richmond’s Chris Mooney, South Carolina’s Darrin Horn, Providence’s Keno Davis, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Dayton’s Brian Gregory).  My favorite “Important Question” by far: “Does he run the Princeton offense?”  Even if you’re not a State fan, I highly suggest checking these out as the Wolfpack probably won’t be the only team on the lookout for a new coach and it’s a nice group of successful, under-the-radar coaches.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alabama’s Anthony Grant gets profiled soon after the season he’s put together this year.

Player of the Week: Kendall Marshall wins after tossing 22 dimes in games at Boston College and against Florida State.  If anything, Drew’s transfer highlighted Marshall’s outstanding play.  Harrison Barnes was also in double figures for the seventh straight game (he is averaging just under 23 points a game in his last three outings), which brings us to our team of the week.

Team of the Week: North Carolina, without a doubt.  I briefly considered pushing the Tar Heels to the top spot in the power rankings, but Duke also had two dominant wins this week, so I held off.  But the Tar Heels are playing their best basketball of the season right now, having reeled off five straight wins (only one in single digits) after the embarrassing loss to Georgia Tech.  Everything is clicking right now: Barnes, Marshall, John Henson, Tyler Zeller and even Reggie Bullock (even if he still hasn’t found consistency).  This is the team that was picked in the top ten before the season.  This team is capable of beating Duke in Durham Wednesday night.  It’s also capable of losing by 20, but I’d put my money on a close game.  So far this season, Carolina has been an elite defensive team (ranked eighth, right behind Duke, in defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy), but in their last two games, they’ve put up unfathomable offensive numbers.  Against Boston College’s admittedly porous defense, the Heels put up a gaudy 139.5 offensive rating (100 is average) on the road.  More impressively, Carolina followed its dismantling of the Eagles with a 122.7 offensive rating against Florida State.  The previous best offensive efficiency mark came against the Seminoles: only one team prior to North Carolina had been able to break a 101 offensive efficiency rating.  Long story short, Wednesday night’s game at Duke just got a lot more interesting.

Bizarro Team of the Week: NC State, though Wake Forest and Georgia Tech also had dogs in this fight.  It’s safe to say that losing seven of your last eight followed by a suspension for your second best player is not really what Sidney Lowe had in mind.

Power Rankings

1.  Duke (21-2, 8-1) barely held on to the top spot in the power rankings after taking it to Maryland in College Park and unsurprisingly cruising to a big win at home over NC State.  Nolan Smith is playing like one of the best guards in the country, but he’s not the one that should scare opponents.  Mason Plumlee put up two double-doubles in Duke’s wins this week, notching 12 and 11 against Maryland and 16 and 12 against NC State (don’t forget Maryland and State have two of the strongest post players in the conference).  Plumlee has quietly become one of the best rebounders in the conference, with double-digit board totals in his last seven conference contests.  Keep an eye out for how the Plumlees handle John Henson and Tyler Zeller this week.

2.  North Carolina (17-5, 7-1) had its best week of basketball of the past two seasons last week and is finally living up to expectations.

3.  Florida State (16-7, 6-3) ran into a buzzsaw in Chapel Hill, but beat up on Wake at home.  Thanks to non-conference struggles and a weak ACC, Florida State could get a fairly bad seed come Selection Sunday.  But away from Tallahassee, the Seminoles have an offensive inconsistency that will make it nearly impossible to succeed in the one and done format of the tournament.

4.  Maryland (15-8, 5-4) lost to an angry Duke team at home before beating up on Wake at home.  Discounting the Duke game, the Terrapins have won four of five and have winnable games (other than at North Carolina) the rest of the way.  They’ll need to win most of those to lock up an at-large position.

5.  Boston College (15-8, 5-4) stopped the bleeding with a huge home win over Virginia Tech.  I was at the game, and the Eagles are very lucky to have come out with the win.  The Hokies could not buy a jump-shot in the first half (they literally had nothing but paint points and free throws) despite getting numerous good looks.  The game was a must-win for Boston College, and it can thank Reggie Jackson’s great final eleven minutes for the win.

6.  Virginia Tech (15-7, 5-4) lost a tough game at Conte Forum, but the Hokies were in less trouble than the Eagles.  That’s no excuse for how Virginia Tech lost the game, though.  First, Malcolm Delaney was sent to the foul line with a chance to tie with under thirty seconds left.  Then the Hokies decided it was a good plan to drop the ball off to slumping Erick Green, who hadn’t hit a single shot all game, for the final hurrah.  Regardless, I don’t think the Hokies’ at-large hopes are crushed by the loss.  They still have a couple of chances for good wins–home against Maryland and Duke–left on the schedule.

7.  Clemson (16-7, 5-4), otherwise known as the fourth team in the conference at five and four, lost a killer at Virginia before flirting with disaster against Georgia Tech.  As much as I like Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant, I’m not sure either is cut out to be the go-to guy on an ACC team.  Unfortunately, I think Clemson is going to be the odd man out (or one of two odd men out from the five and four bunch) unless they can grab two of North Carolina (home), Boston College (home) and Virginia Tech (home).

8.  Miami (14-9, 3-6) turned the tables this week, winning two more excruciatingly close games at home over Georgia Tech and Virginia.  Not that home wins over Georgia Tech and Virginia are that impressive, but this Hurricane team really needed them.  If Reggie Johnson can find a way to commit less fouls, he’s going to be an immovable object in the post.  Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott both have some work to do before becoming primary playmakers for a team in conference contention (also known as not disappearing during important stretches), but this team will only get better next season with nearly everyone coming back.

9.  Virginia (12-11, 3-6) almost blew a huge lead to Clemson, but somehow managed to hold on in the final seconds.  Tony Bennett has done a great job with what’s been available for him and his team the past couple of years, but he’s still decidedly in the “rebuilding” process at Virginia.  Give him two more years and Virginia should be back in the top half of the conference.

10. Georgia Tech (10-12, 3-6) has lost three of their last four, including losses to Miami and Clemson this week.  Things aren’t going to get any easier from here as the Yellow Jackets have to face Florida State (home) and Virginia Tech on the road this week.  In stark contrast to Tony Bennett, Paul Hewitt has struggled mightily getting the most out of his normally quite talented players.  Hewitt seems like a great guy, but he’s just a level too high in coaching.

11. NC State (12-11, 2-7) is discovering how it feels to have the bottom fall out.

12. Wake Forest (8-15, 1-7) already knows how it feels to have the bottom fall out: if having the bottom fall out is losing 11 of your last 13 games.

A Look Ahead

Welcome to Rivalry Week.  The best rivalry in all of college basketball–if not all of sports–opens the first game of the season in Durham Wednesday night at 9:00 PM on ESPN (or the ACC Network depending on your location).  North Carolina seems to be peaking right in time for the big game, while Duke looks like it has bounced back from the ugly loss at St. John’s.  Really, this should be a phenomenal game: the atmosphere and emotions will be off the charts, and these are the two best teams in the ACC (by a very solid margin).

The other two teams with a very big week ahead are Clemson and Boston College–who both look dangerously close to the wrong side of the bubble right now.  The Tigers play at Boston College Tuesday in a must-win for both teams (9:00 PM, ESPNU).  After that, Clemson gets North Carolina at home Saturday in what could be an epic letdown game and a great chance to get revenge for what transpired in Chapel Hill (1:00 PM, ACC Network).  Boston College gets another chance to boost its at-large resume when the Terrapins come to town Saturday (1:00 PM, ACC Network).

Needless to say, this should be one of the more exciting weeks in the ACC.

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Checking In On… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

RTC is interested in learning how to improve our Checking In On… series in each conference.  Let us know in the below poll where we can improve this weekly piece (feel free to add specific comments).  Thanks.

A Look Back

The biggest news came out of Charlottesville when Virginia announced that Mike Scott needs season-ending surgery on his ankle.  Scott was Virginia’s best player and only post threat.  I was just starting to buy into Tony Bennett’s squad as a potential sleeper for the top half of the conference, but without Scott, they don’t stand a chance.  Don’t get me wrong, this Virginia team will still win some games in the ACC, but I don’t think there’s any chance they can sneak into the Tournament (despite having the best non-conference win of the ACC, a November road triumph at Minnesota ).

ACC Vault Film Session

In honor of the crushing loss Virginia sustained at home against North Carolina last week, our historical matchup will feature the same two teams, this time in Chapel Hill from 1983.  Virginia was in a better place then as far as a post presence goes, with superstar big man Ralph Sampson.  On the other side of the court, North Carolina wasn’t really slumming talent-wise with Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan and Brad Daugherty.  That’s three top five NBA Draft picks on the same team (the next season they added sixth overall pick Kenny Smith).  Like our game last week, Virginia led most of the game by as much as 16 points.  But the Tar Heels came storming back, and the Cavaliers led by three with just under three to play.  That doesn’t sound like much, but in the age without a shot clock (which was introduced three seasons later), they should have had no trouble holding the ball.  But Sampson missed the front end of a one-and-one, and what follows is must-see basketball.  Jordan got the putback to close the deficit to one with a minute to play.  Then His Airness (with four fouls) picks Rick Carlisle’s pocket and finishes it off with a huge tomahawk jam.  All in all, it was an epic game, even if Virginia finished with a loss.

  • Bizarro Team of the Week: Boston College Wait; am I allowed to give the award to a team undefeated in conference play with the second best overall record?  Yes.  That’s what happens when you start conference play 2-0, including a road win at Maryland, but go 0-2 in the Ivy League portion of your schedule.  In addition to an early season slip-up at home against Yale, Boston College lost to Harvard for the third year running.  Maybe Harvard and Yale were bitter they couldn’t beat Steve Donahue when he was at Cornell last season and played their best games of the season.  Or maybe Boston College is just grossly inconsistent.  I’ll hear arguments for a little of both, but I’m starting to lean towards the latter.  Truthfully, the Harvard loss wasn’t nearly as bad as the Yale one, but there’s no excuse for going winless at home against the Ivy League.
  • Team of the Week: Clemson – The Tigers have quietly won seven straight since losing at Florida StateDemontez Stitt and Jerai Grant combined for 35 points and Grant added 11 boards in the win against Miami.  The Tigers may not be loaded with star talent, but Brad Brownell has done a fantastic job getting the Tigers back on track after three straight losses earlier this season.  He’s looking like a solid early choice for ACC Coach of the Year if he can get Clemson back to the Big Dance this year without Trevor Booker.
  • Player of the Week: Tracy Smith is back.  He looked absolutely dominant in NC State’s game against Wake Forest.  Now, I don’t want to look too much into a big-time performance against an abysmal team, but Smith controlled all aspects of the game.  He was very vocal on offense, even away from the ball; made great passes; and was virtually unstoppable when he wanted to score.  He’ll definitely challenge Jordan Williams for the conference’s best big man this year, and Smith brings solid range that Williams can’t match.  He also pulled down 11 boards in the dominant conference opener.

Power Rankings

  1. Duke (15-0, 2-0) dominated UAB before getting the job done against Maryland.  Duke’s two close wins to start conference play might be cause for concern, but no one has waltzed through their schedule so far.  The Blue Devils are going to lose a couple of games this year, probably on the road when threes aren’t falling–and the other team is shooting well.  But wins are wins, and it’s very important to know how to win close games as well as blowouts.
  2. North Carolina (11-4, 1-0) got a tough, conference road win this week at Virginia.  After the game, Roy Williams was very pleased with his team’s aggressive play, even if the execution wasn’t flawless.  The Tar Heels are still woefully inconsistent on offense, but never scoff at a road win.
  3. Maryland (10-5, 0-2) moves up after a tough loss at Duke and a woodshed beating of Colgate.  The Terrapins gave Duke everything they could handle at Cameron.  Jordan Williams, as usual, was phenomenal, but the guard play left a lot to be desired.  If Gary Williams can figure out a way to get his backcourt to start performing well, look out.  The Terrapins still haven’t shown they can close out a close game, but I think they’ll develop that skill as the season progresses.  The Duke game at College Park on February 2nd is looking to be one of the best games of the season (and maybe Duke’s best chance for a regular season loss).
  4. NC State (11-4, 1-0) got a couple of wins against unimpressive teams this week.  That said, I was at the Wake Forest game, and the second half was an offensive showcase for the Wolfpack.  Sidney Lowe needs this team to keep up that sort of offensive efficiency and challenge for an at-large bid.
  5. Clemson (12-4, 1-1) has bounced back from an ugly stretch earlier.  Now they must prove they can beat better teams.
  6. Virginia Tech (10-4, 1-1) will have trouble overcoming all of their injuries, but they played a very strong game against Florida State.  I don’t think they have the depth to be the team everyone expected, but Seth Greenberg’s squad shouldn’t be the nations biggest disappointment.
  7. Boston College (12-4, 2-0) had a disappointing week.  See above.
  8. Miami (11-5, 0-2) may be showing their true colors, having lost their first two games of 2011.  Both were road games, but I expected the Hurricanes to do a little more at Clemson.  More specifically, I expected more of Reggie Johnson.  After he had a dominant game at Duke, he was a total nonfactor at Little John, playing 26 minutes but only attempting three field goals.  He has to be one of their primary options unless Malcolm Grant or Durand Scott are having career games.  Johnson will be the key for Miami going forward.  When he’s playing well (and isn’t in foul trouble), they will be a very tough team.  When he’s not, Frank Haith might want to start checking out potential job openings.
  9. Virginia (10-6, 1-1) needs an inside threat, but I don’t think they have one now that Mike Scott is out for the year.  They were able to hang with North Carolina for most of the game but couldn’t close it out.  They also only managed 19 points in the second half.  You’re not going to win many games scoring 19 points in either half (just ask Florida State).  Tony Bennett has done a very good job getting this team to the level it’s at.  I know it’s probably frustrating for Cavaliers fans, but I think he’s building a good program.  His style isn’t spectacular, but I see him as a Herb Sendek-esque coach: never elite, but very consistent.
  10. Florida State (11-5, 1-1) lost an ugly game at Virginia Tech.  One thing is clear about the Seminoles: they don’t run an offense.  Chris Singleton is a great player.  There’s no denying that.  But the rest of the team has some real trouble on offense.  Take the game in Blacksburg: Singleton was 9-14 from the field; rest of the team was 13-48.  That’s not going to cut it.
  11. Georgia Tech (7-7, 0-1) looks like they’re ready to join Wake Forest in the ACC cellar after falling in three of their last four (and to .500).  Can’t say I’m that surprised.  If Paul Hewitt couldn’t win with Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal, he’s going to have a real tough team winning without them.
  12. Wake Forest (7-9, 0-1) finally got a win at the Big South!  That’s right, the Demon Deacons took care of the Panthers to improve to 1-2 in Big South play.  Unfortunately the Deacs play in the ACC, where even in a down year victories are going to be harder to come by.  I count three winnable games for Jeff Bzdelik’s squad: Georgia Tech at home, Virginia at home and Florida State at home.  Florida State is probably a stretch, but hey, they lost to Auburn right?

A Look Ahead

Conference play is in full swing.  Below are chances for teams to make big statements this week (all times EST), with one big non-con game this weekend.

  • Wednesday Upset Watch: Duke at Florida State (9:00PM, ESPN): Duke hasn’t played in an environment like Tallahassee yet this season.  They’ve also had two pretty close games in ACC play.  I fully expect the Seminole defense and atmosphere to lead to an off shooting night.  The only question is whether Florida State will be able to score.  I’m guessing not, but they need to make a statement.
  • Thursday: Virginia Tech at North Carolina (9:00PM, ESPN): This should be an interesting measuring-stick game for both of these teams.  Virginia Tech doesn’t have any big bodies inside, so I think the Carolina frontcourt will be too much, not to mention homecourt advantage.
  • Saturday: Maryland at Villanova (1:00PM, CBS) gives Maryland a much-needed chance for a marquee win.  Call me a homer, but I think they’ve got a shot.  Jordan Williams will be unguardable, and the Villanova guards haven’t been as good as advertised.  Gary Williams just needs to figure out how to get a serviceable game out of his backcourt, which might be asking a lot.
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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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Morning Five: 12.14.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 14th, 2010

  1. You know it’s coming every week, and yet you still get excited when you see the words:  Seth DavisHoop Thoughts.  In this week’s edition, Davis breaks down 26 of the nation’s teams from the perspective of whether they can make foul shots, and he comes up with some interesting conclusions by looking at contenders through that prism.  He also has some insider information on page two of his piece about Kyrie Irving’s toe injury that you’re going to want to read, especially if you’re a Duke fan interested in reading tea leaves.
  2. Clemson guard Demontez Stitt had arthroscopic surgery on Monday to clean out his left knee and will miss several weeks as he rehabilitates it.  The senior guard is having a productive season, hitting for 14/3 in nearly 31 minutes per game for the Tigers.  The schedule lightens up for his 5-4 squad during the time he is projected to be out of the lineup, with only a troublesome game at College of Charleston as a potential pitfall.  Brad Brownell hopes to have him back in action for their second ACC game against Miami (FL) on January 8.
  3. It’s no secret that Xavier’s 6-2 start to the 2010-11 season represents a little bit of fool’s gold because the Musketeers have already escaped with two overtime wins over IUPUI and Wofford (3OT) and dropped early contests to ODU and Miami (Ohio).  Paul Daugherty writes that XU’s struggles in the pre-conference season are a result of identity searching for a team who lost some very good players in the form of Jordan Crawford and Jason Love.  Still, who among us is willing to bet against the Musketeers figuring out their strengths and causing major problems for the A-10 and the rest of the country by March?
  4. It’s not often that you hear of a school offering to forfeit games that they’ve already won, but Arkansas State is proposing that very thing to the NCAA in its summary disposition report to the NCAA Infractions Committee.  As a result of inadvertently using several ineligible players who were not making satisfactory progress toward their degrees a few years ago, the Red Wolves program is offering to cut a basketball scholarship for the upcoming two years and give back 27 wins that they earned in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.  Could you imagine Kentucky or Connecticut doing something like that?
  5. There’s very little else going now, so presumably we’re going to talk about the long-awaited debut of point guard Josh Selby for Kansas all week.  Mike DeCourcy notes that Bill Self said in his teleconference on Monday that Selby is unlikely to start in KU’s weekend game versus USC, and that he will probably play off the ball for most of his first game as a Jayhawk.  Even though much has been written in the weeks leading up to his debut about his Rivals #1 ranking, it’s peculiar that two other scouting services rated Selby as low as #12 in the Class of 2010 rankings.  We’re sure he’s going to be a great Jayhawk in time, but maybe we also shouldn’t get too caught up in the hype machine this week until, you know, we’ve actually seen the kid play.
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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 13th, 2010

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

A Look Back

The biggest news this week (in the country) was Kyrie Irving’s injury.  Here’s what we know: it’s a “complicated” ligament injury that will have him out for an undetermined period of time.  Initial estimates pointed to him coming back in three to four weeks, but Mike Krzyzewski noted that he could be out all season.  I’d be surprised if Irving sat the whole season, but obviously I don’t know exactly what the injury is.  What I do know is Duke has one of the best medical staffs in the country.  Rather than speculate on the nature or duration of the injury, I’ll try and address the effect of the injury on Duke.

Kyrie Irving was Duke’s best player (so far) this season.  If you watched the close games, he totally took over for long stretches.  While he struggled a little making decisions in the halfcourt offense, Irving was phenomenal in transition.  Without Irving, Nolan Smith will be expected to step into the point guard role (a place he struggled last season).  His production will definitely take a hit, and Duke will not be as effective out in transition.  Audacity of Hoops had a very interesting statistical view of Irving’s plus-minus (expounded out to forty minutes) on the floor versus on the bench.  The sample size is small, but the point is clear: Duke is a very good team even without Irving.  Are they number one?  Probably not.  Only time will tell.  Coach K is one of the best “adapters” in the land.  For example: in 2001, he navigated Duke around Carlos Boozer’s broken foot, and Boozer came back just in time for the Big Dance (where they then won the national championship).  Regardless, Irving’s injury is huge, so I’ll keep you posted on any updates (which should be coming in the next week or two).

Team of the Week: Boston College – With a solid road win over Maryland and topping a streaking Providence, BC takes the honors this week.  The Terrapins led late in the game but couldn’t score for the last two and a half minutes.  Maryland did not score a single point down the stretch.  None.  Still, Steve Donahue and his players deserve the credit.  They took advantage of Maryland’s lack of a leader when it counted.  The Eagles have a solid team that has the talent to finish second in the ACC.  Do I think they will?  Probably not.  But Donahue is a good coach, and the players look like they have bought into his system.  The Eagles have won their last five games (losing to Wisconsin on a neutral court), and they have a very winnable nonconference schedule extending into January.

Bizarro Team of the Week – Wake Forest: I’d like to give this to Maryland for coughing up the game to Boston College.  Unfortunately, Wake Forest took note of the Maryland effort and outdid them by losing to UNC Wilmington –by 12.  Really?  UNCW.  Ken Pomeroy ranks UNCW as a solid 234th in the nation.  Defensively, they’re even worse (304th out of 345 teams).  But Wake couldn’t manage to score 70.  I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but Wake is terrible.  They’ve dug a cellar under the ACC and are camping out.  I would not be surprised if they didn’t win one game in conference play (they certainly won’t be favored in any of them).  I really hope Jeff Bzdelik gets things turned around soon (I have faith he will once he gets some of his recruits into the system).  Wake lost a lot of talent, but they’re still much more talented than UNC Wilmington, Winthrop or Stetson.  Those losses are unacceptable.

Player of the Week: Jordan Williams, Maryland - Williams is the obvious choice, but I hate giving this honor to someone who couldn’t get up a bucket in the last two minutes of a close game.  But in truth it wasn’t his fault (at least directly).  As a big man, he requires someone to get him the ball.  Long story short: that didn’t happen.  Still, I’d like to see him get a little more aggressive down the stretch.  But you can’t argue with his numbers: 23 points and 13 rebounds in 26 minutes against UNC Greensboro and 27 points and 13 rebounds against Boston College.

Power Rankings

  1. Duke (10-0): Duke didn’t have any trouble with Bradley or Saint Louis this week.  Andre Dawkins looked especially good, scoring a career high 28 points against Bradley in Irving’s absence.  All that talk about the effects of Irving’s injury applies more to Duke’s national hopes than their conference aspirations.  Without Irving, Duke is still the class of the ACC.  They’ll be much more susceptible to a couple of losses, but they still have a lot of offensive weapons.
  2. Miami (FL) (7-2): Miami took care of Stetson this week.  Not a whole lot more to say.  But I encourage you to check out Miami’s game against Central Florida, the only unbeaten squad left in the Sunshine State.  The game is on Fox Sports at 1:00 PM EST Saturday.
  3. North Carolina (7-3): The Tar Heels beat Evansville decisively but weren’t ever able to put Long Beach State away.  The game never felt like Long Beach State was going to win, but Roy Williams probably wanted more separation.  However, two major pieces of good news for Tar Heels fans came out of the game: Harrison Barnes had his first double-double (19 points and ten rebounds), and Larry Drew II hit six of seven from the field to finish with 13 points and eight assists.  That’s the kind of production most expected Barnes to showcase from the start, and the Heels will be thrilled if he can keep his numbers at those levels.  As for Drew, that’s the first competent offensive performance he’s had this season (and more critical fans might suggest in his entire career).  Chapel Hill point guards aren’t known for scoring in bunches, a product of Williams’ system, but a starting point guard needs to be able to hit shots.  He had some particularly important shots late in the second half when Long Beach State was trying to mount a comeback.
  4. Boston College (8-2, 1-0): See “Team of the Week.”
  5. Florida State (7-2, 1-0): Florida State continued their painful offense, but they did get strong contributions from Deividas Dulkys (17 points), Derwin Kitchen, Bernard James and Okaro White (nine points each).  The Seminoles need to find a way to repeat that production night in and night out rather than relying on Chris Singleton for everything.  If they can score 75 every time out, they will win the majority of their games.
  6. Virginia (6-3, 1-0): Mike Scott is a player.  So far, he’s averaging 16.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.  He had an off night against Radford, but finished with ten points and 13 boards.  He’ll be crucial if Virginia wants to keep from sliding back down into the second half of the ACC (where everyone picked them in the preseason).  A lot of credit goes to Tony Bennett for getting this team ready to play and picking up a couple great wins already.
  7. Maryland (7-3, 0-1): This team can’t win close games unless someone steps up.  Sean Mosley is having an awful year (his numbers are down significantly from his sophomore season).  If I had to guess, I’d say his decreased production comes from more pressure in Greivis Vasquez’s absence.  His offensive efficiency rating has dipped from 116.6 last season to an ugly 89.0.  I think Terrell Stoglin may need to be the one to step up down the stretch.  It’s tough being a freshman leader, but someone has to do it (or at least get Jordan Williams the ball).  Otherwise, this team is going to lose a lot of close games.
  8. N.C. State (5-3): Not much to report here apart from a win over South Carolina Upstate.  Although the close loss to Syracuse is looking better after the Orange totally dismantled Michigan State this week.  Once Tracy Smith is healthy, this team could still make a run for second.  Keyword: could.  I’m totally disenchanted with Sidney Lowe’s coaching, so I don’t expect it to happen, but they should at least get to the middle of the pack.
  9. Virginia Tech (5-4, 0-1): Life is tough for Virginia Tech basketball fans.  They get built up and let down season after season.  This week’s win at home against Penn State was nice, but it’s not going to help the at-large resume a lot (Maryland beat the Nittany Lions on the road by a much more convincing margin).  The good news for Hokie fans is that Malcolm Delaney didn’t have to beat Penn State solo: three other Hokie players scored in double figures (Jeff Allen had a double-double, while Terrell Bell and Erick Green added some help).  Seth Greenberg is going to have to find a way to get that sort of production against better teams too.
  10. Georgia Tech (5-4): Georgia Tech blew a lead to in-state rival Georgia to lose a heartbreaker.  The Yellow Jackets bounced back with a win over Savannah State, who is admittedly very bad (1-10 to be exact).  This week, Paul Hewitt can add a real resume booster with a win against A-10 contender Richmond.
  11. Clemson (5-4, 0-1): Brad Brownell got off to a quick start, but they’ve dropped their last three games–most recently choking away a lead at Florida State.  Demontez Stitt is having knee troubles, but luckily for the Tigers, they have two very winnable games ahead of them in Savannah State and UNC Greensboro which they should be able to handle even if they’re without their leading scorer.
  12. Wake Forest (5-4, 0-1): Ugh.  See “Bizarro Team of the Week.”

A Look Ahead

It’s exam time, ladies and gentlemen!  That means the good games are few and far between.  There are a couple of gems coming up.  Saturday is definitely the best day:

  • Central Florida vs. Miami (1:00 PM, FSN)
  • Texas @ North Carolina (4:00 PM, CBS)
  • Georgia Tech vs. Richmond (5:00 PM)
  • Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State (8:00 PM)
  • Wake Forest @ Xavier ** (8:00 PM, CBSCS)
  • Arizona @ N.C. State (4:30 PM, FSN) on Sunday is also one to keep an eye on because Arizona’s Derrick Williams is a beast in the paint.

**OK, so that probably won’t be a great game unless Wake makes some major adjustments.

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2010

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

  • The ACC looks rough early.  I think I was a little optimistic coming into the season, especially with Virginia Tech.  I definitely underrated Florida State and Maryland marginally (at least so far), but as a whole, play has been underwhelming in the early going.
  • Unfortunately, the ACC wasn’t helped when N.C. State’s Tracy Smith went down with a knee injury.  I really think Smith would have been a major factor in the Georgetown game.  State was absolutely picked apart inside, and Smith’s talent and experience would have been invaluable — especially as things started getting out of hand in the second half.  I’m not sure Smith would have been the difference, but he certainly would have helped significantly.  Smith is expected to be back in around three weeks.  The injuries don’t stop there: Virginia Tech is having major injury issues with J.T. Thompson and Allan Chaney out for the season.  Virginia’s Sammy Zeglinski is out for the first couple of months recovering from knee surgery.  Wake Forest is fighting injuries to Melvin Tabb (mono), Tony Chenault (foot, 8-10 weeks) and Nikita Mescheriakov’s eligibility (not to mention anyone who has suffered through watching them play).
  • In recruiting news, the ACC had a huge signing day.  Duke looks ready to reload with three LOI’s from 5-star recruits Quinn Cook, Austin Rivers and Michael Gbinje (not to mention 4-star Marshall Plumlee).  North Carolina inked two 5-stars in James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston.  Virginia Tech also has a sneaky-good class coming in with four-star recruits Dorian Finney-Smith, Marquis Rankin and C.J. Barksdale.

Player of the Week: Chris Singleton, Florida State: Singleton has been absolutely unbelievable for the Seminoles so far.  Through four games, he’s averaging 19.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 3.8 steals per contest.  The performance that sealed the deal was his unconventional triple-double against UNC Greensboro (22 points, 11 rebounds, 10 steals, 6 assists and 4 blocks).  If he can keep his scoring up this season, the Seminoles could be a dark horse in the ACC runner-up race.

Power Rankings

  1. Duke (4-0): Through four games, the Blue Devils have been incredible.  Kyrie Irving introduced himself to the college basketball world with nine assists and one turnover against Princeton.  Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith have looked good, not great, but Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry can shoot.  If the Blue Devils catch fire from downtown (and with five players who could shoot 40% from beyond the arc in Singler, Smith, Curry, Dawkins and Irving, that should happen plenty) they’ll be close to unbeatable.  It’s still early, but so far the Blue Devils lead both adjusted offense and adjusted defense in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. Duke’s ability to get past Marquette in the second half Monday without much from Kyle Singler speaks to their depth across the starting lineup. How will Mason Plumlee build on his big game in Kansas City?
  2. Virginia Tech (2-1): I’m leaving the Hokies here mainly out of respect for Kansas State.  The Hokies have come out flat: they rely too much on Malcolm Delaney and are easily drawn into sloppy play.  There’s a reason Seth Greenberg’s squad didn’t make the tournament last year: they weren’t that good.  I expect Virginia Tech to get better (though losing J.T. Thompson really hurts), but I expected a team that returns all five starters to be ready to go right away.
  3. Florida State (4-0): The Seminoles have a very good defense: color me not surprised.  It’ll be interesting to see how Florida State’s defense evolves as the season progresses, but they’ll get a big test next Sunday against Florida.  If the Seminoles can muster up some solid offense, they’ll be a very tough team to beat this year.  Definitely a tournament-level team, and arguably a top-25 team so far.
  4. N.C. State (3-1): Getting blown out in the second half by Georgetown wasn’t good, but it wasn’t terrible.  N.C. State is a very young team with Tracy Smith, and it’s no surprise they struggled against a veteran Georgetown team with one of the country’s best backcourts (especially if you consider Georgetown’s biggest weakness in the post).  Hopefully, for Sidney Lowe’s sake, the Wolfpack get Smith back before their showdowns with top-25 teams Wisconsin and Syracuse.  In the meantime I expect them to manhandle Fairleigh Dickinson.
  5. Clemson (4-1): The Tigers’ lone loss comes against Old Dominion (one of the top mid-majors in the country), and Clemson made a game of it, only losing by one after an ugly first half.  There’s no doubt they miss Trevor Booker, but Demontez Stitt looks like he’s ready to take on a much bigger offensive role this season.  Consistency will be the biggest question for the Tigers going forward.
  6. Maryland (3-2): I thought Maryland would be totally lost without Greivis Vasquez, but the Terps played Pitt and Illinois down to the last minute.  Gary Williams has done a great job getting this team to such a competitive level very quickly.  Unfortunately, Maryland still turns the ball over a lot, and they haven’t shown an ability to close out big games.  That said, I’m still very impressed with the showing they put up at the 2k Classic against two of the country’s top teams. The Terps would be better served to feed Jordan Williams the ball more than they have.
  7. North Carolina (2-2): This team is having some major growing pains.  Two straight losses to Minnesota and Vanderbilt are not what Tar Heel Nation was expecting out of Harrison Barnes’ debut.  Before you’re too quick to judge Barnes, remember: he’s a freshman (with colossal expectations), and the Heels do not have a legitimate point guard.  If I were Roy Williams, I’d bench Larry Drew II immediately to get some quality time in for frosh Kendall Marshall.  Marshall is the future of the program, and can he really play that much worse than Drew?
  8. Miami (2-2): Miami can deal with losing at Memphis.  And they made a very close game of it.  But getting blown out at Rutgers?  That’s totally unacceptable.  Reggie Johnson (12 points and 14 boards) was the only Hurricane in double figures.  I’m not sure where Durand Scott was, but he needs to step up his game if the Hurricanes don’t want to join the lowest tier of the conference.  Right now, I’m pegging Miami as a horrendous road team that could prove a tough out at home.  They just as easily could be a terribly inconsistent team.  Frank Haith’s seat started warming up this week.
  9. Virginia (2-2): The Cavaliers are the best of the worst this week.  While they notched wins over William and Mary and U.S.C. Upstate, they got blown out by the Pac 10 – first by Stanford, then by #11 Washington.  If it’s possible to have a bad time during a November trip to Hawaii, Virginia has found the way. They’ll try to salvage things against Oklahoma on Tuesday.
  10. Georgia Tech (3-1): 3-1 isn’t that bad, right?  Georgia Tech has looked awful so far-most notably in their blowout loss at Kennesaw State.  The most important question is what was Paul Hewitt doing playing at Kennesaw State in the first place?  What good comes out of that game?  The Yellow Jackets get a chance to prove the doubters (which should be nearly everyone at this point) partially wrong this week with a game against UTEP.
  11. Boston College (2-1): Boston College has got to stop losing to Ivy League teams.  They lost to Yale last week.  Yale isn’t even supposed to be a real competitor in the Ivy League, much less the ACC.  Steve Donahue runs a very different style than Al Skinner, and I’m not sure he or his players have totally adjusted.  It’ll take a few years to get everything optimized to his style of play, but in the meantime he should be avoiding the easy losses. To keep the bad loss from dwelling, the Eagles beat Holy Cross rather soundly.
  12. Wake Forest (2-3): Wake Forest has major issues.  So far they’ve lost to Stetson, been blown out by Virginia Commonwealth, and couldn’t keep up at Winthrop. They check in at a smooth 159th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, lowest among any of the “Power Six” conference teams, save DePaul and Auburn.  So far the Demon Deacons miss Ish Smith more than anything: currently they sport a ghastly 25.5% turnover percentage…  That means they turn it over more than once every four possessions.  If Wake can’t improve their offensive execution by conference play, the ACC will have a new conference doormat.

A Look Ahead

The non-con tournaments continue!  Duke will look to make a major statement this week at the CBE Classic in Kansas City with a big game against #4 Kansas State Tuesday. It may as well be a true road game with the Wildcats’ campus just two hours away.  Wake Forest, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech also participate in early-season tournaments throughout the week.  Most importantly, the Big 10-ACC Challenge is right around the corner (starting November 29).  While the Big 10 looks like a far superior conference on paper, the basketball gods were very kind in placing games (Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Duke all play at home) and somehow Wake Forest drew Iowa and Boston College drew Indiana.  Even if the ACC doesn’t win, there are a ton of great games, so make sure to get it on your calendar early.

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