There were 11 games in the ACC this past weekend, but only two carried any real weight. This of course with all due respect to the Clemson Tigers and the Auburn Pearls. Let’s start at the Aces, shall we kids?
North Carolina Tar Heels @ UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY WILDCATS ALL KNEEL (UK 84 UNC 70)
In the most “prolific” of the contests, North Carolina tried to hang with #1 Kentucky, but Kentucky finally let their horses out a little bit as they triumphed 84-70. To this point, Kentucky had been content to rely on their defense to choke opponents into a mere 47 points-per-game. This game was a showcase of how much talent the Wildcats possess, and should have the Bluegrass State in an absolute frenzy on Saturday, December 27th at the YUM when they realize that 10 men alone cannot handle Montrezl Harrell.
Coach Calipari didn’t have his full Blue squad-White squad complement going this weekend, but you could see the very tangible benefit of his endless pine. The final margin was 14, and the bench advantage was 12. For Carolina it has been a challenging year so far, with losses to unlikely teams (Iowa, *grumble* Butler) and a team that is simply better right now (KY).
With a neutral site game looming this weekend at United Center against Ohio State, the Tar Heels could be in danger of entering RPI purgatory. They may finish the pre-conference at 9-4, but the wins over Florida and UCLA are fool’s gold at this point. Both teams are severely undervalued, as the Pac-10 and SEC are viewed as being dominated by Kentucky and Arizona at this point. Yet for some reason the RPI loves the Atlantic-10. And so do I, if not just for this clip of the A-10 in it’s heyday (turn the volume down if you’re at work):
@Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs Florida State Seminoles (Notre Dame 83 Florida State 63)
Notre Dame at one point last week possessed a strength of schedule in the low 340s, now that’s about 10-15 slots from the bottom. Seriously, think of the worst teams you can think of….oh, NJIT or Eastern Michigan…..teams like that. And then, EVEN BELOW THAT, is the sludge and drudge Head Coach Mike Brey filled the Notre Dame dance card with. But this, THIS was the first ACC game. Something to break up the monotony of the directionals and the saint-whose-its that pock-marked their schedule.
Well Saturday proved that they are ready to play above the bottom half of the ACC. Jerian Grant and Zach Auguste were their usual efficient selves, with Auguste accounting for 26 pts, and dominating the tall, but frail Florida State front line. Who would have guessed that Dinner Bell Mel Turpin’s (RIP) son would be so easily manipulated on the block? As a sixth year senior, Kiel Turpin needs to assert himself in the post for the Seminoles.
What Notre Dame does on offense is amazing. They will shoot 50% at home in Purcell Pavilion, every game. That is just a given. For those amongst you who enjoy a wager, the Irish at home are an offensive machine. Grant finds the shooters, Auguste cleans up. This game saw Meech Nicholson drop in an uncharacteristic 18 points. It offset the off-night Pat Connaughton struggled through. The usually dead-eye marksman managed just 3-of-13. Though he contributed nine boards, almost two above average.
But while lauded for their nation’s leading shooting offense, the Irish got this win with D. Straight plexiglass D. They allowed the ‘Noles just eight free throws and held them to 39% shooting. Very interesting for a team that isn’t known for D as their calling card. Then I noticed the referee: Karl Hess. I draw my conclusions, and you draw yours my friends.
@Clemson Tigers vs Auburn Pearls (Clemson 72 Auburn 61)
So with wins over LSU, Arkansas, and now Auburn, if they can win a road game over South Carolina this Friday then a win over Kentucky or Florida (unfortunately neither is scheduled) gets Clemson the auto-bid from the SEC. Good work Tigers!
Now about those losses to Winthrop, Gardner-Webb, and Rutgers (26 pts vs UVA). Let’s hope for the ACC’s reputation that those losses were just a function of other factors, and that the Clemson we get from here on is competitive. Of course the game against USC-E is going to help build some momentum entering a tough early ACC schedule that includes UNC, @ Louisville, @ Pitt.
The interesting takeaway from this game is that Clemson won by making just 2-of-14 three-point shots. The two guards combined for 39 of the points. It’s clear where the Tigers bread is buttered. The guards take the shots and the bigs protect the rim. Its enough on most nights.
@Syracuse Orange vs Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (Syracuse 71 Louisiana Tech 69)
Syracuse misses Tyler Ennis. The 1st round NBA draft pick is so sorely missed that two of the three losses suffered by the Orange have been directly attributed to their inability to take care of the rock. The loss vs Michigan, case in point, the Wolverines (by all accounts the largest laughingstock in NCAA basketball right now) beat the Orange at home by a mere three points. Why? The 19-7 turnover differential. You hate to single out a freshman like Caleb Joseph,especially since he has big shoes to fill at a program where the Sweet 16 is a birthright. But 3.8 TOs per game is usually a quick seat on the bench. By contrast, the assist to turnover ratio that Ennis put up belied his youth.
Boeheim either doesn’t have the requisite replacement or he is just hoping his young PG will grow out of it. It almost cost him this past Saturday against Tech, as Joseph committed eight turnovers. Narrowly defeating this team at home after such ugly losses to Cal, @Michigan, St John’s is not resonating much with the selection committee. They have a huge game against top-seven ranked Villanova this Saturday. This is their last chance to gain any kind of out-of-conference credibility before beginning ACC play. On a bright note, big man Rakeem Christmas sank a game-winning hook shot with three seconds to play. So the end was joyous at least.
Wofford Terriers @ NC State Wolfpack (Wofford 55 NC State 54)
Wofford hit a shot with 1.9 seconds remaining to take the lead. NC State star Trevor Lacey hit a shot just .1 second too late to negate an NC State victory. Lacey showed real grit returning from his ankle injury to score 18. This is the third embarrassing loss to the Big South (VT to Radford) Southern (Wofford over NC State) Atlantic Sun (USC-Upstate over GT) that the ACC has suffered in consecutive weekends. For lack of a better term this is pretty shameful. Mark Gottfried’s team had perceptibly progressed beyond this point. The program moving light years beyond Sidney Lowe and his red-coated ineptitude. Everyone gets one here or there, but this one is a big black eye for the RPI. Let it be noted that NC State played Friday night and absolutely destroyed Charleston Southern, 86-50, so a slight head-scratcher at such close scheduling. Perhaps a Wolfpack diehhard could let me know waddup with that.
@Louisville Cardinals vs UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (Louisville 68 UNC-W 57)
Louisville can shoot 1-for-13 from 3 point range with regularity and still dominate you with their transition game. It’s funny watching guards trying to get past Terry Rozier and Chris Jones. Those guys can play the middle 2/3 of the floor and litter the passing lanes. After all they have a highly athletic swingman for a free safety in Wayne Blackshear, and a rangy back line in Montrezl Harrell and Chinanu Onuaku (not to mention skinny arms Rob Lowe, in the Egyptian Anas Mahmoud). Disappointing note of the night, only one dunk from Harrell. He had six vs Indiana. I guess he only turns it on for the bright lights.
@Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs Samford Bulldogs (Wake Forest 86 Samford 68)
Wake improved to 5-5 under first year head coach Danny Manning, while also enduring news of a transfer this week. This snaps a three-game losing streak for the Deacs, included among them a loss to Delaware State. I would have bet it all Alex on Delaware not having enough of a population to support two universities, and Wake doesn’t even lose to the prominent one, the home to the ELITE QB Joe Flacco (He likes McDonalds!) But just to remind Deac fans, your coach is THIRSTAY!!!
@Virginia Tech Hokies vs Alabama A&M Bulldogs (Virginia Tech 65 Alabama A&M 55)
Christian Beyer, a seldom used forward, had 13 and 9. This led the team. A sleepy affair from start to finish, the Hokies jumped out to a 36-20 half-time lead, and then kind of fumbled their way through the final stanza. Freshman phenom Justin Bibbs got big minutes and added 11 points. The Hokies capitalized on 18 Bulldog turnovers. The Hokies once again struggled from the charity stripe, making just 10-of-20. The Hokies were bullied inside by LaDarius Tabb who had 20 and 16. Amusingly, he shot 9-for-23, and a lot of his rebounds were his own misses. A page out of the old Moses Malone book. Had he made a couple more, the Hokies might be looking at a 4-5 record as opposed to 5-4.
@Boston College Eagles vs Binghamton Bearcats (BC 63 Binghamton 49)
The Eagles won their 4th straight, behind All-ACC performer Olivier Hanlan, Dimitri Batten, and Aaron Brown. The starters logged 144 of 200 minutes in a throwaway game. This is instructive. Very similar to Notre Dame in that they rely heavily on their starters at this point. BC isn’t as downtrodden as recent years and could push for .500 but it depends on what kind of legs they have left come late February. The bench took just eight shots. Say what you will about their starters logging heavy minutes, the defensive effort didn’t let up, as the Bearcats were held to just 30% shooting.
@Pittsburgh Panthers vs St Bonaventure Bonnies (Pitt 58 St. Bonaventure 54)
Tight D from Jamie Dixon and his team will get it done most nights, but not having established an offensive identity to this point in the season is a concern. This team looks out of sync, lots of guys in love with their own jumpers. Lamar Patterson could correct a lot of wrongs last year for the Panthers, but this year, it doesn’t look like there is that singular answer. St Bonventure was a glorified scrimmage, and Pitt just passed the test. The rest of the out of conference doesn’t look too tough, though there is a sneaky landmine in Florida Gulf Coast to finish up non-conference play. The same FGCA that advanced from a 15 seed a couple years ago.
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Have a great week everybody. And if I haven’t hit your school yet with a 1st quarter grade, those are coming post-haste!