It would be neither fair nor accurate to portray the last seven weeks as a pre-season for the ACC, as if these 150 or so games didn’t matter. They matter in the polls, they matter in the RPI and they sure matter in the selection room come March.
Credit: Duke Sports Information
We’ve seen ACC teams in tournaments in exotic locations, we’ve seen the ACC split its dozen games in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, we’ve seen role players become stars, freshman get bumps and survive.
All wrapped around a stop-start schedule that includes holidays, exams and a semester break. Teams play three games in three days, then take nine days off.
That’s over now. After Wednesday, the ACC is through with non-conference play until the post-season. For the first time, ACC teams will play 18 conference games, a marathon with implications to be determined.
What have we learned since November 9th? Duke has made a clear case for supremacy, not just locally but nationally and they’ve done so against a brutal schedule. We’ve heard a lot about those wins over top-five-at-the-time Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State but those Bahamian wins over Minnesota and Virginia Commonwealth are looking better and better.
Senior center Mason Plumlee is the clear leader for ACC Player of the Year and point guard Quinn Cook might be the league’s most improved player. Seth Curry isn’t as good as his brother but he’s getting mighty close. Duke has struggled on the defensive glass but seems to be improving that sole ***** in their armor.
NC State wobbled early but seems to have found their stride. C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are playing at an All-ACC first-team level. After losing to State, UNC-Greensboro coach Wes Miller said that they might be the most talented team in the country, one through six. Miller played on North Carolina’s 2005 NCAA champions, so he has seen talent up close and personal.
The Wolfpack has depth concerns and doesn’t always seem to play defense with a lot of enthusiasm. Mark Gottfried suggested that his team was a little bored against UNC-G and was getting antsy for conference play.
State hosts Duke on January 12. Mark your calendar. Also your alarm clock. Tipoff is at noon.
After that, who knows? Question marks abound. Miami took a blow to the solar plexus when center Reggie Johnson broke his left thumb. He could be out until late February, that is, most of the ACC season. He’s a huge loss, metaphorically and literally.
Maryland has won 12 straight against less than stellar competition. Can Alex Len, Pe’Shon Howard and company keep it up? Maryland plays Florida State, Miami and NC State in three of their first four conference games, so we’ll know more pretty soon.
North Carolina may have bottomed out in a miserable road loss to Texas. Does their victory over nationally-ranked UNLV last Saturday presage a revival? Florida State seems to be rounding into form. Can Michael Snaer become the go-to guy the Seminoles so badly need?
These six teams seem NCAA-Tournament bound to me. Can anyone join them? Virginia Tech has a resume-building win over Oklahoma State but they’re in free-fall right now. Boston College and Wake Forest look overmatched. Clemson and Virginia can play defense but have trouble scoring against top-tier teams.
Gregory’s team could ba a sleeper in ACC play (Credit: Georgia Tech Athletics)
Georgia Tech could be a sleeper. They had a mid-season talent infusion when Kentucky transfer Stacey Poole became eligible and Marcus Georges-Hunt is the best freshman you’ve never heard of. But I suspect the NIT is their ceiling.
So, I’ll stick with Duke and NC State atop the ACC, with North Carolina, FSU, Miami and Maryland also dancing in March.
Mason Plumlee projects as ACC Player of the Year, with Leslie, Brown, Curry, VT’s Erick Green and FSU’s Michael Snaer joining him on the All-ACC team. James Michael McAdoo (UNC), Len and Boston College’s Ryan Anderson could easily crash the party. Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon and NC State’s T.J. Warren led the Rookie of the Year hunt.
As usual, this is for demonstration purposes only.
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