ACC play is off and running and there has been much to take in on the season so far. From Grayson Allen’s suspension, to the unlikely demise of the Syracuse Orange, the season has been jam packed with plenty of surprises thus far. What can be expected out of the nation’s best basketball conference over the next few months?
Mike, Justin, and Jeff get together to share some of their impressions of the ACC basketball season thus far.
1) What should we make of how Duke handled the Grayson Allen situation, and should the ACC have handled the punishment instead of Coach K, in your opinion?
Mike: I firmly believe that if it was not Coach K handling the situation, then the ACC would have stepped in and handed down the punishment to Grayson Allen. Nobody agrees with what Grayson Allen is doing, except for a select few of the Duke apologists arguing with me on Twitter about his antics, and the only hope is that time off of the court has reached Allen enough that he will stop intentionally tripping the opposing players out of frustration. If he gets caught yet again after his latest suspension doing something similar, I would not be surprised one bit if the ACC brought the hammer down on Allen and Duke with an extensive suspension for a fourth incident.
Justin: I think Coach K decided to take the heat rather than pass it off to Jeff Capel who will have enough on his plate. I think now having only served a one-game suspension it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the conference to add a game. They won’t, but if something happens in the future the conference will now have to step in first and boot Grayson for many games.
Jeff: I think it’s been a lot of fun on Twitter and in the media to comment on this situation. However, ultimately, there are some real issues here at play with Grayson Allen. His meltdown on the bench disturbed me even more than the actual act of tripping. I think those issues are better dealt with in private in order to make any real progress. I don’t think the ACC should do anything other than have referees watch Allen like a hawk. Another incident may warrant conference action, but ultimately, I wouldn’t want the ACC dictating to my coach how discipline is handed out on his team.
2) Which team has been the biggest surprise thus far this season?
Mike: Notre Dame has been a huge surprise to me. They lost two of their best players from last year’s team in Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste, but they haven’t missed a beat. The Irish have stormed out to a 13-2 start, and are 2-0 in league play in the early going. If the Irish can keep it going and make the tournament, it will continue to play into the narrative of Mike Brey as one of the nation’s most underrated college coaches.
Justin: I’m impressed with just how good Florida State has been this season. They have nice wins over Florida and Virginia while running roughshod over their light non-conference slate. They’re as athletic as any team in the country and will be a force this season in the ACC.
Jeff: Honestly, Pitt has been surprising to me so far this season. I expected a down year from them and a particularly slow start with the coaching change. Their OT loss to Notre Dame could have gone either way. Their OT win against Virginia has my attention. Scoring 88 points on a Tony Bennett-coached defense was also impressive. So I’ll be watching Pitt the next week or two. NC State may not surprise people by having some big wins like their victory over Virginia Tech. However, I think people will be surprised how high they could finish in the ACC by the end of the season.
3) Which team has been the biggest disappointment this season?
Mike: Syracuse. You all know how I feel about the Orange by now. They lost to a rebuilding Boston College team….good luck making a run to get back on the bubble.
Justin: Syracuse hasn’t been very good to this point, though the Orange finally looked solid in a win against Miami on Wednesday. They’ve got a tough two-game stretch coming up with Pittsburgh at home and a road trip to No. 21 Virginia Tech.
Jeff: Syracuse by far. All their old Big East foes are beating them, and none of those teams are particularly good this season. They just had a big win over Miami. Will that change their trajectory or just be a decent win sprinkled amongst more losses?
4) Who has been the best freshman on the season to date?
Mike: Dennis Smith Jr. from NC State is my pick for best freshman. Smith Jr. captured NC State’s second triple-double in school history in a win over Virginia Tech, and has been fantastic all season long, averaging 19.6 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.1 rebounds per game this season for the Wolfpack. Before the season is done, Smith Jr. could ultimately be the difference between the Wolfpack making the NCAA field and playing in the NIT.
Justin: It’s a toss-up between Jonathan Issac of Florida State (12.2 PPG, 7.3 REB) and Dennis Smith Jr. (19.6 PPG, 6.5 APG, 4.1 REB) of North Carolina State. Both are big reasons for their team’s early-season success. Smith may get the nod from me here after his triple-double against the Hokies; 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists.
Jeff: NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr is the best rookie this reason and will contend to be the best player in the ACC. He’s playing on a different level and should only get better as the season progresses. Enjoy it now because he’s playing himself into a Top 5 draft pick.
5) Who is the best player in the ACC who nobody is talking about yet?
Mike: Chris Clarke of Virginia Tech. The Hokies have been a much-improved team on the season so far, and Clarke’s play has been a major reason why. He is averaging 11.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.4 steals per game, as he has done a bit of everything for Buzz Williams. Clarke could potentially play himself into All-ACC conversation by the end of the season if he continues his strong all-around play.
Justin: Jerome Robinson is a sophomore guard at Boston College averaging 20.6 points, five rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game.The Eagles are only 8-7, but that includes wins over Syracuse and Providence. Robinson is a talent to watch for.
Jeff: Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson is having himself a season for a better-than-expected Irish team. Top 10 in the ACC in scoring and the top rebounder in the conference deserves some more attention. Another to watch is Clemson’s Jared Blossomgame and Pitt’s Michael Young.
6) As of now, how many conference wins will it take to make the NCAA Tournament field?
Mike: Truthfully, I believe that nine wins (.500 record) could get a team into the NCAA Tournament this season. This will of course depends on the team, as well as the number of “bad” losses on a .500 team’s schedule, but road wins will be huge resume builders this season with the number of very good teams in the ACC.
Justin: I always shoot for 10. It all depends on the overall resume. Nine wins could work with a stout non-conference slate.
Jeff: That’s a tough call as it appears this conference is going to tear each apart. Just look at the opening weekend of conference play. I think a .500 record in the conference will get some teams in the Big Dance this season. That won’t be easy to do.
7) How many teams make the Big Dance if the season ends today?
Mike: I’m comfortable with eight teams getting in at this point, but there will be a couple of bubble teams that could push the number to nine before it is all said and done.
Justin: I lean toward eight right now with the emergence of teams like Pittsburgh and N.C. State.
Jeff: Ten, but I think by the end of the season, after they’ve beaten each up, the ACC will get about 8 teams into your March Madness brackets.
8) Who is your early pick to win the ACC?
Mike: Duke. They’re the best team in the country, but they aren’t playing consistently enough to win the conference right now. Before we know it though, especially now with Grayson Allen back, the Blue Devils should be back to looking like the team that everyone is expecting them to be, competing for a conference championship and becoming a strong team to win it all.
Justin: I like an underdog which means not Duke. I’ll pick Florida State. Their team is crazy talented and Leonard Hamilton always kind of just lets them play.
Jeff: It’s still Duke. Their upside is big in my opinion and they’re not even there yet.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the championship game! Follow us on Twitter @jeffgberg, @MikeMcDanielACC, and @BestCates and follow @InsideTheACC for more Atlantic Coast Conference coverage.