ACC Mid-Season Review and Conference Play Preview

After a month full of games, it’s about time to take a look at the landscape of college basketball as we stand now, and specifically, where the ACC sits in the scope of Division I basketball as a whole. It’s early, as teams are still looking to improve and solidify their identities; however, we have been able to learn a lot about what the ACC is made of through the first month’s slate of games.

College basketball experts had the ACC pegged as a top heavy conference with a few teams that could be expected to compete for a championship in March, but expected the rest of the conference to be relatively weak. In the preseason AP poll, 3 of the top 6 teams were from the ACC (UNC, Duke, UVA), but only one other ACC team managed to squeak into the top 25 (Notre Dame). The general consensus was that it was going to be a down year for just about every ACC team other than UNC, Duke, and UVA.   Thus far, this prediction seems to have been slightly off the mark.  Where the experts have been wrong in their preseason predictions is their appraisal of the middle and bottom of the conference. Here’s an overview of the ACC after a month of play.

Let’s start with the top of the conference. As we sit today, UNC, Duke, and UVA have shown glimpses of being legitimate title contenders.

The Elite

North Carolina

UNC showed their elite talent and depth in their eight point win over Maryland in star player, Marcus Paige’s, first game back from injury, as well as in their easy win over a Northwestern team that looks to be in NCAA tournament contention this year. They had a few struggles early, but have looked excellent since the return of Marcus Paige. Even with the recent loss to Texas, this is still an elite team that looks capable of competing with anyone in the country.

Duke

Duke has been up and down this year, but was able to show just how talented this team is in their wins against VCU, Georgetown, and their complete domination of Indiana. Grayson Allen has been a force for the Blue Devils thus far and looks to be a legitimate player of the year candidate as many experts predicted at the beginning of the season. This team isn’t anywhere close to the Blue Devil team that won the national championship last year; however, this is still a very talented team that has shown they can compete with anyone in the country.

 

Virginia

The University of Virginia had a tough start to their season, but has bounced back quite nicely. They looked very steady in a dominate second half win over previously undefeated West Virginia in the Jimmy V classic, and showed that it is possible to play a half court style game against the hectic Mountaineers. Malcolm Brogdon is the leader of this team and has been a steady force all season.

All of these teams have shown signs of weakness already this season, however. UNC lost to Northern Iowa and Texas, Duke was dominated by a very talented Kentucky team, and UVA lost an early game to George Washington. They all have shown that they can struggle at times, but have also beaten strong teams from other power conferences. A lot more will be learned about these three talented teams once we are able to see the take on each other, and the rest of the talented ACC teams in conference play. Once again, the ACC looks to have a great chance for another National Championship.

Now that we have discussed the top of the conference let’s begin to move down the ACC totem pole. The rest of the conference was expected to have a down year, but this hasn’t been the case for the most part. Let’s take a look at the teams that are falling, on the rise, as well as the teams I am still unsure about.

Teams that are Falling

NC State

NC State

NC State was a team that many thought would be able to compete with the top of the ACC this year. Thus far, they have played nowhere close to that level. The same day that Mark Gottfried signed his brand new shiny contract, the Wolfpack lost at home to William and Mary. By 20. Yikes.  The pack are paced in just about every statistical category by Cat Barber, but he just doesn’t seem ready to lead a team through a successful ACC campaign quite yet. The season started with promise, but with three loses already in this young season; the Wolfpack haven’t been able to find their stride quite yet.

Teams on the Rise

Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech was predicted to finish among the bottom of the conference in the preseason, but have looked a lot better than a conference bottom feeder thus far. Marcus Georges-Hunt is leading the way and has helped the Jackets to big wins over Arkansas, Tennessee, and Green Bay. Georgia Tech still has a long way to go if they want to get to the top of the conference, but already this season, they have made huge strides in the right direction.

Louisville

Louisville was essentially written off by the media as soon as the sex scandal came out in October, however, the cardinals have fought hard to show that they are still one of the top programs in major college basketball. Louisville’s one loss was a very close and well-played game against Michigan State, the number current number 1 team in the country. The Cardinals are led by 5th year senior guard Damion Lee who has looked like a superstar thus far, averaging 19 points a game. Louisville inched its way into the top 25 in week 5s AP poll, and should be expected to stay there for the long haul.

Miami

Miami has gone through a two year rough patch since the departure of Shane Larkin and company in 2013, but the beginning of this year has shown that Miami is moving in the right direction. Miami has already achieved big wins against Mississippi State, Utah, Butler, Nebraska, and Florida, and they looked very impressive doing it. The Canes’ possess a balanced scoring attack led by Sheldon McClelland and Angel Rodriguez, and have some of the best offensive numbers in the ACC. Miami was finally able to creep into the top 25 in week 5s AP poll, coming in at number 17, and have shown no signs of slowing down.

Pittsburgh

Pitt has always been known for having a tough, blue collared team, and this year is no different. They pose a three headed monster in Michael Young, Jamel Artis, and James Robinson, who can all score 20 on any given night. They have yet to post a signature win this season, but have looked impressive in all of their wins against smaller competition. However, had it not been for a weather cancellation, Pittsburgh very well could have one of the most impressive wins in the conference against Gonzaga.

Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech was quite honestly one of the worst teams the ACC has seen in a decade last year. The Hokies stumbled to 11 wins in Buzz Williams first season at the helm. But thus far, this year seems to be the start of progress for basketball in Blacksburg. This progression can be attributed to a complete revamp of their roster that consists of five transfer players, and three 4 star freshman recruits. The Hokies are led by Maryland transfer Seth Allen who shined in a nail biter loss in overtime to a very talented Northwestern team. It is
still a work in progress for this very young and inexperienced team, but expect them to begin to make some noise once ACC play comes along and all of the new pieces begin to gel.

 

 

Wake Forest

Wake Forest has played one of the toughest schedules in the ACC thus far, and has played it pretty well. They have earned big wins over Indiana, UCLA, Rutgers, and Arkansas on the way to a 6-2 record. This is another team that has consistently been at the bottom of the ACC for years now that is beginning to turn things around. Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas are big time players and lead this Wake Forest team.  The Deacons have been one of the biggest surprises this season, and look as though they may have the chance to compete with the big boys of the conference.

Teams I’m Unsure About

Florida State, Notre Dame Syracuse

Florida State

Florida State was a popular sleeper pick to make some noise in the ACC at the beginning of this season, but they haven’t been able to show enough yet to prove these people right. The Seminoles lost a tough one early to Hofstra as well as a hard fought loss to a talented Iowa team, but were able to bounce back with a good team win over VCU. Florida State is led by freshman sensation Malik Beasley who has played as well as just about any freshman in the country. With only one win over a team inside the top 150 RPI, I am going to need to see more from Florida State before I will believe that they can compete with the elite of the conference.

Notre Dame

After losing superstars Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant, no one knew exactly what to expect from Notre Dame this season. They began the season ranked number 24 in the nation, but dropped out following their loss at home to Monmouth. The Irish are led by a trio of Demetrius Jackson, Zach Auguste, and Steve Vasturia, and remain a top offensive team in the conference. It is easy to see that the talent is there when you watch them play, but with another loss to a subpar Alabama team, Notre Dame just isn’t quite there yet.

Syracuse

Syracuse got off to a blazing start in non-conference play and quickly established themselves in the top 25. Syracuse won the Battle for Atlantis by beating top 25 ranked Connecticut and Texas A&M. However, this hot start came to an end rather quickly as the Orange lost their next two games in a row to Wisconsin and Georgetown. As far as the eye test goes, Syracuse passes with flying colors. Michael Gbinije has been a force the entire season and has a supporting cast that looks fit for an NCAA tournament run. But with their recent struggles against power conference teams and the impending nine game suspension for head coach, Jim Boeheim, Syracuse hasn’t been able to convince me quite yet.

 

 

Here is where the ACC sits about one month into the season. Once again, the conference looks strong as ever, and fans of the conference should be excited for everything that is to come. We have learned a lot about all of these teams in a month of basketball, and we will gain an even clearer picture of the conference in another month of play. Contenders will shine and pretenders will be exposed. College basketball is alive and well, and primed for an exciting remainder of the season.

 

Jacob Eisner

Virginia Tech ‘18

 

Stats Courtesy of:

ESPN, Bleacher Report

Pictures courtesy of:

http://thecollegetailgate.com/2014/12/23/acc-basketball-over-the-last-decade/

http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/04/grayson-allen-duke-march-madness-hate-christian-laettner

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/ncaab/event/2015/903833/gallery/top25/

http://www.syracuse.com/orangebasketball/index.ssf/2015/01/syracuse_has_dramatically_improved_its_3-point_shooting_credit_michael_gbinije_a.html

 

 

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