Around the ACC: What we learned this weekend

It was an entertaining weekend of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball.  We had overtime in Atlanta, an undefeated go down in Raleigh, a buzzer-beater go begging in Winston-Salem, and … free custard in Coral Gables?  Here’s what we learned from the weekend.

People really weren’t going to trust NC State if they didn’t win Saturday: This befuddles me, frankly.  Yes, it was a big game against their primary competitor in the ACC.  But would it make, say, a win this week on the road at Maryland less impressive if the Wolfpack hadn’t beaten Duke? Apparently so.

Just look at the headlines from the game’s recaps.  ‘N.C. State Announces Its Relevance.’ ‘N.C. State solidifies itself as ACC contender.’ ‘Pack’s Howell turns into beast.’  And my personal favorite, ‘Wolfpack refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer in validating upset of top-ranked Duke.’

N.C. State arguably announced its relevance by making the Sweet Sixteen last season, or by being voted preseason ACC favorites, or by simply not being as bad as some of the other teams in the ACC.  The Wolfpack would still be a solid ACC contender with a loss, because there just aren’t many (any?) others after them and Duke.  Richard Howell didn’t turn into a beast, he is one.  Yes, this was his best game of the season, but he averages a double-double and is known for his relentless play on both ends of the floor. And if the win was so validating, was it truly an upset?

I don’t want to sound like the NC State win wasn’t impressive. If anything, this makes it even more impressive.  With the pressure of (apparently) the validation of an entire team’s season on its shoulder in January, the Wolfpack battled with a very good Duke team that got key contributions from players such as Amile Jefferson in the absence of Ryan Kelly, took every punch, and won the fight.  There’s still lots of basketball left, though.

Miami is full of mercy and grace: As is often the case in college athletics, Miami had a promo before Sunday night’s Miami-Maryland game tied to the outcome of the game.

Hey Students, if the Canes score 70 points in a W tonight, everyone in the arena will get a free cup of custard from Shake Shack.

— HurricaneSports (@hurricanesports) January 13, 2013

Little did they know what would unfold following that tweet. At halftime, the ‘Canes led Maryland 19-14.  Miami did not make a free throw until there was 8:08 on the clock in the second half.  However, they were able to contain strong games from Dez Wells (18 points on 7-for-11 shooting) and Alex Len (16 points, nine rebounds) and take a 54-47 win.

Either Miami appreciated the fans sticking around after the first half (the second half was much stronger, both offensively and defensively). Or maybe they just really liked the Hurricanes fans chanting “A-C-C!” and “Big Ten Sucks!” as the game neared its conclusion, a shot at Maryland’s upcoming conference change. Whatever it was, the folks in the athletic department decided that a win was reason enough for free custard.

With the Canes win, all students in attendance can receive a free cup of custard at Shake Shack tonight. Head across US-1 now…

— HurricaneSports (@hurricanesports) January 14, 2013

Personally, as someone who has been at games where the crowd embarrassingly got louder when the score neared a magic giveaway number than at any other point during the game, I think more schools should follow Miami’s lead here. Just win, baby.

Wake Forest does not believe in making things easy: With 10:03 remaining against Virginia Wednesday, Wake Forest led 46-32. With 5:33 remaining against Boston College Saturday, Wake Forest led 67-57.  In both of those games, the opponent had a chance to force overtime on the final possession.

As if this lovely knack for losing sizable leads wasn’t fun enough, Travis McKie added a degree of difficulty on Saturday.  Boston College opted to attempt to bring back Doug Flutie’s hail mary on their final possession, and McKie had no trouble intercepting the pass and began celebrating. While carrying the ball. With the clock still running.

After the traveling call (much to the surprise and chagrin of McKie), Boston College got one more chance at the win.  Olivier Hanlan’s three-pointer missed, and Wake held on. Again.

Power Rankings

1) NC State (3-0): To quote the philosopher Flair, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” The Wolfpack did that this week.

2) Duke (2-1): With that said, it wasn’t like Duke folded against NC State. They played a strong game despite Ryan Kelly’s injury. We’ll have to keep an eye on Seth Curry’s ankle, though.

3) Miami (3-0): I honestly didn’t think Miami could beat North Carolina and Maryland without Reggie Johnson.  They have gotten key contributions from Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble in his absence, though.

4) Florida State (2-1): Florida State only lost by five points to North Carolina with Michael Snaer having an off-day and the Tar Heels getting key contributions from P.J. Hairston and Jackson Simmons.  Don’t fret it too much, ‘Noles fans.

5) Maryland (1-2): The Terps really got a tough draw to start ACC play. After losses to Florida State and Miami, they’ll host NC State next.

6) North Carolina (1-2): When the Tar Heels are hitting threes like they did Saturday, they are dangerous.  I’m just not convinced that will become a consistent threat.

7) Wake Forest (2-1): Really, I could put seven through eleven in any order, as early as it is. I’ll give Wake Forest the edge, for now, simply on having two wins.  That’s the beauty of power rankings, the blunt admittance of “What have you done for me lately?”

8) Clemson (1-2): Speaking of “What have you done for me lately?” … Clemson and Wake meet at Littlejohn Tuesday.  Milton Jennings stepped up Saturday against Virginia after a sluggish start to the conference slate.

9) Virginia (1-2): Virginia is last in the conference in two-point field goal percentage, at 47.5%.  In three conference games, that number is down to 39.1%.  Their defense is still really good, but someone has to score on that team, especially on Joe Harris’s off days. (For more on the UVA offense, see Brendan Cotter’s most recent UVA Beat.)

10) Boston College (1-2): Remember when people talk about the ACC’s “soft underbelly,” they’re talking about teams like BC that took NC State to the final buzzer and rallied on the road against Wake Forest. Yeah, a real pushover.

11) Virginia Tech (1-2): The depleted Hokies grinded out an overtime win against Georgia Tech on the road Saturday.  This isn’t news or analysis, but the Hokies also have the nation’s leading scorer in Erick Green. Remember, this is your soft underbelly.

12) Georgia Tech (0-3): Georgia Tech’s next game? At Duke. I’m sorry, Yellow Jackets. There are so many freshmen playing key minutes on this team.  It’ll get better, but right now their offense is raw, to put it kindly.

 

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