Around the ACC: December 14, 2009

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We are just a little more than a month into college basketball season, and only
one ACC conference game has been played. However, we’re starting to get a better
feel for some ACC teams. Every team in the conference has lost at least one
game, and there doesn’t appear to be a legit National Championship contender for
the first time in awhile.

The ACC lost the Big Ten/ACC Challenge for the first time, 6-5. This
conference was expected to be a bit down this year because so many good players
from last year were lost, and that appears to be the case.


Boston College (6-4, 1-0)

Boston College is off to a slow start thanks to the loss of All-ACC guard
Tyrese Rice. Starting off-guard Rakin Sanders has also missed all but two games
because of an injury. The Eagles dropped early games to St. Joe’s and Northen
Iowa, two good teams. After beating Miami 61-60 in the first ACC game, BC has
dropped two straight home games to Harvard and Rhode Island.

Rhode Island has just one loss on the year, and Harvard is 7-2 and one of
just two teams who has beaten William & Mary. William & Mary is 6-2,
with a win at Wake Forest. So while BC’s losses might look bad on paper, the
teams they have lost to are very competent.

That said, the Eagles can’t afford to drop anymore non-conference games. Joe
Trapani, Corey Raji and Reggie Jackson are solid scorers for the Eagles, but
they need to get Rakim Sanders back and in shape if they want to contend for the
NCAA tournament.


Virginia Tech (8-1, 0-0)

Virginia Tech is off to their best start in the Seth Greenberg era with an
8-1 record. Malcolm Delaney is leading the ACC in scoring, averaging 21.6 points
per game. They allow just 61.2 points per game, the fourth-best mark in the ACC.
The team’s improvement has been dramatic since their return from Philadephia,
where they played in the Philly Hoop Group Classic.

In Philly, Tech lost to Temple 61-50 and then barely beat a bad Delaware team
in overtime. Since then, Tech has defeated Iowa, Georgia, VMI and Penn State.
None of those teams are particularly good, but it does show the type of
improvement the Hokies have made.

Tech still has a lot of work to do. They rank dead last in the ACC in field
goal percentage (41.8%), well behind 11th place Boston College (45.3%). They
rank dead last in three-point percentage (29.9%). They rank 9th in scoring
offense (70.1 ppg). They aren’t even in the top half in field goal percentage
defense, despite playing mostly bad offensive teams.

Still, the Hokies have improved as the season has progressed. With the ACC
down this year, Tech will their chances to make some noise.


Duke (7-1, 0-0)

Duke has breezed right through their non-conference competition, with the
excpeption of an upset at the hands of Wisconsin. The Blue Devils have solid
wins over St. John’s, UConn and Arizona State, and they currently rank #1 in the
RPI, which is pretty common for the Blue Devils early in the season.

Kyle Singler is averaging 17.1 points and seven rebounds per game, and he
will be a strong candidate for ACC Player of the Year before it’s all said and
done. Nolan Smith is averaging 17.2 points per game, and Jon Scheyer is chipping
in with 15.8.

The Blue Devils have added another serious three-point threat in Andre
Dawkins. The freshman guard from Chesapeake, VA is averaging 9.9 points per game
and is 20-of-39 (51.3%) from three-point range.

Right now, Duke is too much perimeter and not enough post. The Blue Devils
still don’t have a legit, consistent inside threat, and that will probably lower
their overall ceiling.


NC State (7-1, 0-0)

The Wolfpack have a solid road win against Marquette, but it’s still unknown
how good this NC State team is. Power forward Tracy Smith is averaging 18 points
per game, and Dennis Horner is chipping in with 14 per game. Smith is shooting
55.3% from the field, while the hot shooting Horner is hitting at a 58.8% clip.

Despite having a couple of players who convert a high percentage of their
shots, this is an offensively challenged team. NC State averages just 66.9
points per game. They did not reach the 70-point mark until their December 5th
win at Marquette. Their only loss was to a solid but not spectacular
Northwestern team, 65-53 in Raleigh.

NC State’s record and defense look good on paper, but they’ve got a ways to
go before they prove they can challenge for one of the top spots in the ACC.

Georgia Tech (6-1, 0-0)

Georgia Tech brought in one of the highest-rated recruiting classes in the
country, led by Derrick Favors. Favors is averaging 13.4 points per game, while
fellow post player Gani Lawal is leading the team with 14.7 per game. Another
freshman, Mfon Udofia, is a 6-2 combo guard who is averaging 12.9 points per
game.

Overall this is a balanced Georgia Tech team that can score. Former Virginia
Tech recruiting target Brian Oliver, a 6-6 freshman, is averaging 7.7 points per
game and shooting 50% from three-point range.

However, this is a team with just one Top 100 win, a 74-61 victory over
Sienna at home. The Yellow Jackets lost to Dayton, easily the best team they
have faced. Georgia Tech is solid, but like most other ACC teams, we really
aren’t sure how good they are yet.


Clemson (8-2, 0-0)

Clemson has solid non-conference wins against South Carolina and Butler, but
their home court loss to Illinois in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge was a tough one.
The Tigers led by 23 points early in the second half, but went on to lose the
game 76-74 in the biggest comeback in Illinois basketball history.

That loss left a bitter taste in the mouths of Clemson players, but they have
come back to win their last two games against South Carolina and Furman. Trevor
Booker is averaging 14.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, and despite being a
bit undersized, is arguably the best big man in the ACC.

The Tigers are one of the deepest teams in the ACC, regularly going with a
10-man rotation. Oliver Purnell might trim that down when conference play
begins, but he has a lot more options than most of the other coaches around the
league. Clemson looks like a good bet to go to their third straight NCAA
tournament.


North Carolina (8-2, 0-0)

UNC is a very young, but very talented basketball team. The Tar Heels are 8-2
on the season, with their only losses coming at Kentucky and in Madison Square
Garden against Syracuse. They have beaten Ohio State and Michigan State, and
those will be quality wins for their NCAA tournament resume in March.

Carolina has a lot of length on the inside, led by Deon Thompson and Ed
Davis. Those two players are combining to average 31.1 points per game. Marcus
Ginyard, returning from an injury that kept him out all of last season, is
stepping up his scoring, averaging 10.4 points per game. Ginyard is shooting the
ball better this year. His shot selection has improved as he’s been asked to
shoulder more of the scoring load.

The Tar Heels have one more big non-conference challenge, at Texas on
December 19. Win or lose in that game, UNC still appears to be one of the ACC’s
best teams, as usual.


Florida State (7-2)

Solomon Alabi, Chris Singleton and Derwin Kitchen all average between 11.4
and 11 points per game. With the loss of Toney Douglass, the Noles don’t have a
go-to scorer, but they’ve managed to get it done by committee against most of
the teams they have faced.

However, their lack of a go-to guy on offense was apparent in losses to
Florida (68-52) and Ohio State (77-64). They are very limited when they play a
team that plays good defensive basketball. The Seminoles are a very good
defensive team in their own right because of their length, but they’ll need to
develop an offensive identity to be successful.

Florida State opens up ACC play at Georgia Tech on Sunday.


Wake Forest (6-2, 0-0)

Wake Forest has been an up and down team thus far. The Demon Deacons have a
home loss to William & Mary, and they were also beaten by Purdue 69-58 in
the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. However, they responded to those back-to-back losses
with a couple of wins, including a 77-75 victory at Gonzaga.

Wake is led by Al-Farouq Aminu, who averages a double-double with 15.8 points
and 10.1 rebounds per game. Aminu is one of the top players in the ACC, and his
sophomore season could be his last in Winston-Salem.

The Demon Deacons are a very talented basketball team, but they never quite
seem to play up to their potential. With a home loss to William & Mary
already on their resume, they don’t seem to be doing anything to change that
perception this year.

Maryland (6-3, 0-0)

Maryland is 6-3, with no impressive wins thus far. All three of their quality
opponents (Cincinnati, Wisconsin and Villanova) have beaten the Terps by at
least nine points. Maryland has three players averaging in double figures, but
they haven’t been able to get over the hump against decent competition.

Other than that, there’s not much to say about the Terps right now. They have
beaten teams they should have beaten, and lost to the teams they should have
lost to, with the possible exception of Cincinnati.

They only have one more non-conference test, against surprising William &
Mary, who is #19 nationally in the RPI.


Virginia (4-4, 0-0)

Virginia is struggling under first-year head coach Tony Bennett. They are the
only team in the ACC ranked outside the Top 100 in the RPI. Their best win came
over Rider, who is ranked #199 in the RPI. Virginia will probably get better as
the year goes on, but this is not a good basketball team right now.

The Hoos have lost to South Florida, Stanford, Penn State and Auburn. Only
one of those teams are ranked in the Top 100, and Penn State doesn’t even crack
the Top 200.

Sylven Landesberg and Mike Scott are very good players for Virginia, and
Sammy Zeglinski has improved, but they need more help from their supporting
cast. Team defense has not been impressive so far, especially considering the
slow-down style of play that Virginia uses. Defense should be Tony Bennett’s
primary focus the rest of the season.


Miami (9-1, 0-1)

Miami is at the bottom of the standings as a result of their 61-60 loss to
Boston College. The Canes have won their other nine games this season, and have
solid wins against South Carolina and Minnesota.

Jack McClinton doesn’t play for Miami anymore, but they have found a way to
be successful without him thus far. James Dews has stepped up his game,
averaging 12.6 points, while Dwayne Collins remains one of the toughest inside
players in the ACC. Malcolm Grant, a transfer from Villanova, and freshman
Durand Scott have also played well for Miami so far.

The Canes are solid, but they’ve failed their only ACC test so far. The rest
of their non-conference schedule is easy, and they likely won’t be significantly
challenged until they play Wake Forest on January 9.

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