ACC Team Previews: North Carolina State

Posted by KCarpenter on October 20th, 2011

Looking at the North Carolina State roster from last year, it’s hard to see how this team was so bad. The pieces all seemed to be there, but the last year of Sidney Lowe‘s tenure was undoubtedly a disappointing season for the Wolfpack. The team won only fifteen total games last season and five in the conference. That said, N.C. State won all the games it was supposed to win and didn’t allow any serious upsets. The closest thing NCSU has to a bad loss was a defeats to Boston College and Virginia. That’s really not all that bad. The Wolfpack had a tough draw in the conference, playing the top three teams — Duke, North Carolina, and Florida State — twice. It doesn’t explain some of the other conference losses, nor does it explain the first round ACC Tournament flame-out against Maryland either. Sidney Lowe didn’t do a terrible job last year: he just did a mediocre job under tough circumstances and it finally cost him his job.

Mark Gottfried is The Ultimate X-Factor For North Carolina State

Enter Mark Gottfried. The new coach in charge, as many in Raleigh are quick to point out, is not Shaka Smart or Sean Miller. Gottfried is a proven leader of successful programs. Though his last few years at Alabama are cause for reasonable doubt, Gottfried should receive equal credit for the outstanding Alabama teams that he led in the early 2000s. The Sidney Lowe years weren’t terrible, but they were thoroughly mediocre. No matter what other roster changes have happened between last season and this one, no change is more important than Mark Gottfried taking the helm.

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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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ACC Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC. With conference tournament action set to tip from Greensboro on Thursday, get set for March Madness with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and postseason outlook.

Postseason Preview

North Carolina is hot.  It took almost all of the regular season, but the Tar Heels are finally living up to preseason hype.  UNC  should definitely be favored to win the ACC Tournament, but I wouldn’t bet on them.  I think the Heels are due for one more hiccup before the Big Dance.  They’ve flirted with disaster a couple of times and are coming off a huge win against Duke.  It’s tough to keep a young team focused, and this team starts two freshmen and two sophomores.  I also expect Duke to be playing with real purpose after the beatdown in Chapel Hill as it fights for a top seed.

As far as the bubble is concerned, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Boston College all need wins.  I don’t think any of them are safe at this point (which is the unfortunate part of Clemson clinching the bye).  Unfortunately, Clemson and Boston College will probably meet in the second round in a de facto “win and in” game.

Besides interesting bubble match-ups, look out for Duke and Maryland in the second round.  Maryland has been down this year, but the Terps never back down from a fight (especially one with Duke).  Also keep an eye on the semifinals when Boston College or Clemson will probably meet North Carolina.  The Tigers and Eagles both played North Carolina incredibly close in Chapel Hill, and both would really benefit from the resume boost.

The most exciting conference tourney prospect is a rubber match between Duke and North Carolina in the tournament finals.  These two teams are far and away the best teams in the conference, and both are in the conversation for a number one seed.  Oh yeah, and who wouldn’t want a third game of one of the best rivalries in sports.

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 1st, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

Hold onto your seats, Hokie fans, you’re on the right side of the bubble after a statement win against Duke this week.  Virginia Tech’s win was just what the doctor ordered, but the Hokies are far from a lock (for everyone but Dickie V).  The Hokies won despite a very poor night from star Malcolm Delaney, who did hit a huge three late but was otherwise ineffective.  Jeff Allen picked up any slack Delaney left, finishing with 18 points and 15 boards.  But the real credit goes to Virginia Tech’s defense, which held Duke to under 40% from the field.  Kyle Singler helped those numbers a lot with one of the worst 22 and 12 lines you’ll ever see.  Singler has been in a real shooting slump (he’s 8-36 from beyond the arc in his last nine games).  He got plenty of open looks against the Hokies but just couldn’t convert anything from outside 15 feet.  Singler played very well when he was taking shorter jump shots and getting into the lane and drawing contact, but the set jumper just isn’t there.  Duke fans need to hope this is part of his yearly slump because this team is much less dangerous without Singler as an outside threat.  Virginia Tech also stymied Seth Curry, who only played 15 minutes because of foul trouble, but managed to finish with no points and a crucial turnover on Duke’s last possession (where he tried to do too much).  I think Curry was just a little too emotionally wound up before the game: in case you don’t know the back story, Curry’s father, Dell Curry, was one of the best players in Virginia Tech history (the first Hokie to have his jersey retired).  Regardless of shooting slumps and emotional windings, this was a huge win for Virginia Tech, which was starting to drift towards the wrong side of the bubble.

Major indirect benefactor of the upset in Blacksburg: North Carolina.  Now if the Tar Heels can beat Duke in Chapel Hill this weekend, they share the regular season ACC title and grab the top seed in the conference tournament.  Ironically second-seed could be the desired seed depending on how the rest of the field works out because I think any sane coach would rather face Florida State (set to be the three seed currently) without Chris Singleton than Virginia Tech (lined up to be the fourth seed right now).

Team of the Week: Virginia Tech in a runaway.  Not too much more to be said, but the Hokies would probably be looking at an 11-seed if Selection Sunday was today (at least if Andy Glockner or Bracketology101 was seeding the bracket**).  That’s obviously better than not being in the field, but far from “lock” status.  To ensure a bid, I still think Virginia Tech needs to win out the regular season or win one game in the conference tournament (against a decent team).  Still that’s totally doable.  Between a couple of solid wins and a tough nonconference schedule, things should be looking up in Blacksburg.

**By the way, if you don’t follow Andy Glockner (@aglock) on Twitter, you should.  He’s one of the most responsive sports writers in the business and does a tremendous job with Bubble Watch at SI.com.  In addition to responsive, thoughtful analysis, you should expect a wealth of tweets on Team Bubble Watch (Marquette), Fulham, the Knicks and the New York Giants.  Most of you probably already knew this, but just in case anyone is new to Twitter, I thought I’d pass along the tip.  [ed note. - agreed]

Bizarro Team of the Week: Georgia Tech has lost its last eight conference games.  Next up: Wake Forest.  Looks like the ultimate place for the Demon Deacons to pick up a second conference win to me.  The frustrating thing about the Yellow Jackets is their talent to performance ratio.  Really Iman Shumpert, Glen Rice and Brian Oliver should make a much better team.  Truthfully, Mfon Udofia isn’t bad either, and Daniel Miller is developing.  The team needs a point guard and more consistency in the post.

Player of the Week: John Henson.  He’s been in double digit rebounding eight of his last nine games and double digit scoring in seven of his last nine.  Oh yeah, and he averaged six and a half blocks this week.  Most importantly, Henson hasn’t missed a free throw in three games (six for six).  The free throw stat is probably a mirage, but the rebounding and blocks are very real.  Henson is a huge defensive presence on North Carolina’s front line.  With Chris Singleton injured, I think he’s close to a lock for ACC defensive player of the year (at least he should be).  North Carolina has the second-ranked defense according to Ken Pomeroy, and Henson’s length deserves a lot of credit.

Power Rankings

1.  Duke (26-3, 12-2) barely edges out the Tar Heels this week.  The Blue Devils crushed Temple (a top 25 foe) at home this week before the loss to desperate Virginia Tech.  The game at North Carolina should be great.  I think Duke is marginally better, but the Dean Dome is going to be huge for North Carolina.  Mason Plumlee, especially has looked much better for Duke recently.  He’s quietly shooting almost 60% from the field (albeit on mainly dunks), and nearly averaging double digit rebounds.  He’ll be crucial in dealing with North Carolina’s length Saturday night.

2.  North Carolina (22-6, 12-2) can claim the top seed in the ACC Tournament with a win over Duke Saturday.  This team plays really well in spurts (cliche alert: it’s a game of runs), but there are still problems.  I think Roy Williams needs to trim his lineup down a little bit: the constant substitutions kill offensive flow for the Heels, especially early in a half.  Kendall Marshall still has a tendency to force things sometimes, but he makes the Tar Heels absolutely lethal in transition.  Look for Duke to try and force him to score.

3.  Virginia Tech (19-8, 9-5) isn’t out of the woods yet.  Don’t test the selection committee!

4.  Florida State (20-8, 10-4) is playing surprisingly well without Chris Singleton.  Yes, they got spanked at College Park this week, but really Leonard Hamilton has to be thrilled with the way his squad has adapted without its best defender and primary scoring option.  One possible wrench in the above plan for North Carolina stealing the top spot from under Duke is Florida State knocking off the Tar Heels in Tallahassee.  Without Singleton it will be difficult, but if North Carolina’s offense vaguely resembles what it trotted out against Boston College, Florida State is in the gold.

5.  Clemson (19-9, 8-6) needs a decent run in the ACC Tournament if it wants to make the Big Dance.  Though if Duke is willing to help another bubble team out Wednesday, that would help too.  Clemson’s other game is against Virginia Tech (bubble on bubble brawl), which is a must-win for both teams.  Regardless of what ends up happening, Brad Brownell has done a tremendous job with this team.  Give him a couple of years, and Clemson will be back on the right side of the bubble.  This is a team most people picked much lower in the preseason.

6.  Maryland (18-11, 7-7) is probably out of the bubble picture after its loss to North Carolina, which is really a shame.  The Terps are clearly good enough to be a tournament team, they just couldn’t win games (somewhat of an oxymoron, I know).  Maryland closes out the season with games at Miami and against Virginia.  But Terrell Stoglin has really improved.  He’s averaging over twenty points a game over his last six games (with three games of at least 25 points).  Between him and Jordan Williams (who should come back, as he’s a little slow and undersized for the next level), they’ll be really good.  Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Maryland gets a decent draw and goes to the finals of the ACC Tournament this year (which would probably draw a bid to the Big Dance in the process, assuming the run included a win over North Carolina or Duke).

7.  Boston College (17-11, 7-7) lost to Miami this week.  That’s no way to sell an already lacking mediocre resume to the committee.  Reggie Jackson is a tremendous player; Joe Trapani makes a great right-hand man; and Corey Raji is one of the most undervalued offensive players in the ACC this year.  But for whatever reason, Boston College struggles to bring a consistent product to the floor.  One thing the Eagles really need to do during the offseason is try and get students excited about the team.  Boston College has good players, a good coach in Steve Donahue, and is probably just on the wrong side of the bubble: how can it not attract students to the games?

8.  Miami (17-12, 5-9) completed its season sweep of Boston College before losing to Florida State.  If Reggie Johnson can stay out of foul trouble, the Hurricanes are a very difficult team to beat.  They still need to make the transition from “tough out” to “favorite”, but I like Johnson, Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott a lot.

9.  Virginia (14-14, 5-9) picked up a win against Georgia Tech on the road before falling to a Boston College team desperate to improve its resume.  This week looks like another split week between a very winnable game against NC State and a tough one at Maryland.

10. NC State (15-13, 5-9) lost to North Carolina before beating Georgia Tech.  State fans still react negatively when Sidney Lowe chooses to play Javier Gonzalez over Ryan Harrow.  Credit the upperclassmen for a great game against Georgia Tech though: Tracy Smith and Scott Wood combined for 38 points on 20 field goals.  That’s efficiency.

11. Georgia Tech (11-17, 3-11) should just count down the days till the end of the season.

12. Wake Forest (8-21, 1-13) shoots free throws pretty well (second in the ACC at 73.6%).  Everything else?  Not so much.  Actually, the youth is promising, so there’s that, too.

A Look Ahead

  • Tuesday Bubble Struggle: Boston College at Virginia Tech (9:00PM, ESPNU) – The Hokies fight to stay on the right side of the bubble while Boston College faces a win-or-go-to-the-NIT (probably) game.  Should be fun to watch.  Keep an eye on Reggie Jackson and Malcolm Delaney.
  • Wednesday Upset Watch: North Carolina at Florida State (7:00PM, ESPN) – Can the Chris Singleton-less Seminoles knock off the streaking Tar Heels?  It’s possible, especially if the Tar Heels are missing shots from the outside.  The question is whether Florida State has any way to keep John Henson and Tyler Zeller off the boards.
  • Primetime Saturday: Virginia Tech at Clemson (12:00PM, ESPN2) – Another battle for the bubble showcasing Virginia Tech.  I’m not sure Clemson is cut out for the Big Dance this year, but a win here keeps them in the conversation.
  • Rivalry Rematch: Duke at North Carolina (Saturday, 8:00PM, CBS) – For the first time in the rivalry’s storied history, it’s coming to primetime.  This really should be a pick ‘em game.  Neither team can afford to get off to a slow start.  UNC needs to keep Duke cold from the perimeter, and Duke needs to not look soft inside.  My pick: Duke in a very close one on the back of Nolan Smith.
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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2011

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

NIT-Picking

  • 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).

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Set Your Tivo: 01.19.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 19th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Three interesting contests headline tonight’s schedule, including NC State’s endeavor to pull a shocker of its own over now-#4 Duke. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#25 Cincinnati @ #16 Notre Dame – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Abromaitis Plays the Most MPG for the Irish But Has Been Held Under His Season Average for Three Straight Games

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Set Your Tivo: 01.14-01.16

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 14th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Another action-packed weekend awaits grateful hoop fans as we’re about two months away from March Madness. Conference play is really heating up and races are beginning to take shape. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#23 Vanderbilt @ Tennessee – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)

Often Overlooked, Ezeli Is A Workhorse For the Commodores.

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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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Set Your Tivo: 01.11.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 11th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Three key conference clashes from different leagues take place tonight with two of the home clubs desperately needing a win. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#17 Wisconsin @ #20 Michigan State – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

Leuer Made the Midseason Top 30 Wooden Award List, Yet Many Fans Couldn't Pick Him Out of a Lineup.

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

Another miserable week of basketball in the ACC.  By my count, the ACC notched zero good wins.  That said they only had three shots (Wake Forest against Richmond and Gonzaga or Miami at Duke).  The conference still managed to finish 15-7 (14-6 discounting the conference game), even against middling competition.

Bizarro Team of the Week:  Florida State.  Hands down.  Unanimous decision.  That’s what happens when you lose to a team projected to be the worst major conference team in Division I history.  The Seminoles handed Auburn its first (and very likely only) victory over a BCS-conference team in a hideous game of basketball.  You can blame it on Chris Singleton’s horrific free throw shooting (he went 4-12), but this game shouldn’t have been within 20.  Before this win Auburn had lost at home to UNC-Asheville, Samford, Campbell, Jacksonville and Presbyterian.  The only team the Tigers had beaten in the top 300 (out of the 345 total D-I institutions) according to Ken Pomeroy was number 210, Middle Tennessee State.  That’s epically bad.  And the Seminoles played worse.  They looked lazy and complacent the entire game, giving up uncharacteristic open threes and making more characteristic possessions of offensive ineptitude.  I used to think this team was the second best team in the ACC, but if that’s true, the ACC is much worse than anyone thought.

Team of the Week:  North Carolina has quietly won six of their last seven with the one loss coming to a very good Texas team (by two).  While they didn’t face particularly tough competition, the Tar Heels put away Rutgers and St. Francis handily.  I covered the St. Francis game, and, while it wasn’t perfect, the Tar Heels are better than when they started the season.  I’m still perplexed as to why Roy Williams insists on playing Larry Drew II over Kendall Marshall, but I haven’t won two national championships, so I won’t complain too much.  Carolina showed stretches of offensive and defensive brilliance (really the entire second half was a defensive show).  While pretty much everyone assumed Reggie Bullock was going to be their sharpshooter, it looks more and more like Leslie McDonald may be stepping up to that role.  I’m still not confident McDonald will be an elite scorer at the ACC level, but I think he could be just as solid as Will Graves was last year.  I think the other major concern in the backcourt will be developing an identity: last year Texas never really chose one point guard, and they paid the price.  That could be why Williams is sticking with Drew.  In the frontcourt, there’s as much talent as any team in the nation (and probably more), but there’s not a whole lot of toughness.  Tyler Zeller still allows smaller players to push him around; John Henson is pretty slight himself; and Harrison Barnes has looked much more willing to put up jumpers than take the ball to the basket.

Player of the Week:  Nolan Smith takes the honors this week after a dominant performance for Duke against Miami.  The Blue Devils were struggling offensively, but Smith scored 28 points with five rebounds and five assists to boot.  In the game against UNC Greensboro, Smith finished with 26 points, five rebounds and nine assists.  Especially when Kyle Singler isn’t having great nights, Smith is going to be crucial for Duke if they want to stay undefeated.

Power Rankings

1.  Duke (13-0, 1-0) struggled a lot against Miami.  Their offense still hasn’t found a real flow since losing Kyrie Irving to a toe injury.  They are still running tests to see how long he’ll be out, so we’ll keep updating you as news surfaces.  Kyle Singler and Seth Curry had an off night, but the bigger issue was the Plumlee brothers.  Mason and Miles Plumlee looked soft all night against Reggie Johnson and the Miami frontline.  They’re going to be crucial if Duke wants to cut down the nets again this season.  They can’t continue to be nonfactors (or worse) on both ends of the floor.  Both are athletic–especially Mason–and they’re going to have to start reaping the benefits of that athleticism and living up to the hype if Duke is going to reach its potential.  As an important aside, Mike Krzyzewski passed Dean Smith for second on the all time wins list with the win over UNC-Greensboro.

2.  North Carolina (10-4) took care of business (see above).  The most interesting moment from the Saint Francis postgame presser came when a reporter asked Roy Williams if Kendall Marshall’s increased minutes were a sign of things to come.  Williams responded that Marshall’s extra minutes were a product of Larry Drew’s defensive intensity (apparently Drew gave the “I’m tired” signal twice during the game).  But clearly Williams is not on the “bench Larry Drew” bandwagon.  They start conference play at Virginia Saturday.

3.  Maryland (9-4, 0-1) is rising largely thanks to losses by much of the conference.  The Terrapins throttled North Florida in their only game of the week.  The game was highlighted by strong performances from Jordan Williams (who finished with 17 points and 11 boards) and Sean Mosley (15 points, four rebounds and six assists).  Although one dark spot was Williams’ 1-10 effort from the charity stripe…  Still, Maryland fans have to like Mosley starting to look more like last season.

4.  Miami (11-4, 0-1) slaughtered Pepperdine before taking a respectable defeat in Cameron Indoor.  Reggie Johnson in particular was just terrific, finishing with 22 points on 9-10 shooting.  He’s starting to look like the third best big man in the ACC behind Williams and Zeller.  Assuming Johnson can keep out of foul trouble, the Hurricanes have a very impressive trio in Malcolm Grant (junior), Durand Scott and Johnson (both sophomores).  Assuming all three develop, Miami could be a contender next year.

5.  Clemson (11-4, 0-1) had the best record for the week (3-0) with dominant wins over Delaware State, Eastern Carolina and Citadel.  While none are elite teams, three wins are three wins (especially this week). Jerai Grant has exploded as of late and is 63.9% from the field.

6.  Virginia Tech (9-4, 0-1) took care of South Carolina Upstate before absolutely demolishing Mount Saint Mary’s.  The Hokies still have major injury woes, which will only add pressure to Malcolm DelaneyDorenzo Hudson may be the toughest of them all, as I expected him to be their number two option this season.  It’s hard to think of a way the Hokies could live up to their preseason hype between injuries and underperformance, and I still think they’re on the wrong side of the bubble.

7.  NC State (9-4) got Tracy Smith back, which is huge.  They also blew out Alabama A&M and San Diego, which was expected.  With Smith I think the Wolfpack can right the ship and at least finish in the top half of the conference.  I’m not sure if they’ll be able to get the ten conference wins I think will be necessary to garner an at-large bid, but I think they’ll make a decent run.

8.  Boston College (11-3, 1-0) lost at heartbreaker at Rhode Island and beat South Carolina.  I may be punishing Steve Donahue’s squad a little too much (Rhode Island is a pretty good team) because I still think this team has a good shot to make the tournament.  Would you believe me if I told you the Eagles have the fourth most efficient offense in the country?  That’s got to get you somewhere, even if you do have a very subpar defense.  Now they just need to end their two-year losing streak to Harvard this week…

T9. Georgia Tech (7-6) is 7-6?  That’s awful.  If not for Wake’s infamous season, there would be a lot more negative press surrounding Paul Hewitt‘s squad, but I guess it pays to be not quite the worst.  The Yellow Jackets are still shooting horrendously from beyond the arc–although they made over 40% in a crazy double overtime loss to UNC Charlotte.  The two big issues with that loss are that Charlotte dismissed their best player earlier this season and the game was in Atlanta.

T9. Florida State (11-4, 1-0) lost to the worst major conference team in the country…see above for more.

T9. Virginia (9-5, 1-0) was blown out by Big 12 (normal) cellar-dweller Iowa State in Charlottesville.  Not really a promising outing.  Mike Scott is still out with an injury, and it shows: not one Cavalier player scored in double figures.  None.  KT Harrell (off the bench) led all Virginia scorers with 9.

12. Wake Forest (6-8) got a real boost in the worst major conference team in the country race thanks to wins out of Oregon State and Auburn.  Now if DePaul can go on a little run, the Demon Deacons might have it locked up.  Seriously.  Jeff Bzdelik’s squad lost at Richmond and to Gonzaga this week.  Both losses were expected, but they were also both red line upsets (for those fans of mid-majors).

A Look Ahead

If you look closely at the power rankings you’ll notice that the three teams that lost their first game of conference play are in the top half of the conference, while two of the three winning teams inhabit the lower portion of the rankings.  This means one of three things: (1) the rankings are totally off base; (2) the games were not good measurements of the teams’ talents; or (3) the conference is bad enough that pretty much every game is a toss-up.  I’m hoping the answer is 1 or 2, but I’m worried it’s 3.  I think Duke and North Carolina are going to rack up a ton of conference wins.  Maryland, Miami, Clemson, NC State, Boston College and a healthy Virginia might too, but I think there are much larger flaws on these teams that will lead to more inconsistency.  It’s looking like a lot of low seeds again this year from the Big Dance, buffered by lots of wins over middling and even plain bad conference opponents.  The good news is there’s not much place to go but up.

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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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