Around the ACC: Questions for February

There are still six games left in the ACC slate for January.  However, with this weekend’s action in the books, now is a good time to look forward to February and see what questions must be answered before all-important March rolls around.

Can Miami keep it going? Miami’s win Sunday night against Florida State may have been more impressive than their blowout victory over Duke. Yes, Duke is a stronger opponent than the Seminoles, but there was both the threat of Miami looking down on Florida State and the threat of the Seminoles gunning for Miami with their new target on their back.

So, with all the intangible storylines waiting for a Hurricanes’ let-down … they beat Florida State 71-47, outscoring the Seminoles 34-19 in the second half.  If there was any question about Miami’s legitimacy, that should clear things up.

Now, the question becomes whether or not Miami can maintain their newfound heights.  Unfortunately, most college basketball teams are remembered for what they do in March, not January.  Miami could run into any number of obstacles between now and then, capable of derailing their season. An injury, a demoralizing loss, or a sudden drop in performance could be just around the corner.

They’ll also be getting every team’s “best shot” moving forward.  Not only could this lead to a couple of losses along the way, but it could have a toll on the Hurricanes’ players.

Can NC State just pretend every game is against Duke? I’d love to believe that last paragraph isn’t true. I’d love to think that players play hard for every game, and the notion of “getting up for a big game” is simply how fans of good teams excuse bad losses.

But then you have moments like Saturday night, where NC State managed to not only prove they play like a completely different team against Duke and North Carolina, but that they can play like a completely different team in the second half of a game simply because the first-half was too lopsided to maintain their interest.  In the second half Saturday night, the Tar Heels made 60.5% of their shots, scoring 57 points during the period to put a scare into the Wolfpack.

Furthermore, Richard Howell was asked Saturday about the loss to Wake Forest, and said, “Going to Wake Forest is tough, playing there and getting up for a game, especially against Wake Forest.”  That may upset some Wake Forest fans who remember the days of the Demon Deacons’ past glory, when there would be no issue “getting up for a game … against Wake Forest.”

I’d be much more concerned as an NC State fan, though.  After all, if the Wolfpack continue to play well enough to finish in the top three of the ACC, they’ll probably be playing someone like Valparaiso (as Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology predictions suggest).  Who do you think NC State would be more stoked to play, Wake Forest or Valparaiso?

The Wolfpack can be really, really, really good, as they showed for 40 minutes against Duke and 20 minutes against North Carolina.  But if they can’t do it consistently, it’s not really going to matter.

Who will rise from the middle of the conference?  Miami, Duke, and NC State are the three ranked teams in the ACC.  In reality, everything from second to ninth in the ACC standings is a logjam, begging for someone to escape the mire.  Can it be Virginia, riding a hot streak?  Perhaps North Carolina’s freshmen are turning the corner?  What if Maryland stop turning over the ball and turn up the offense?

The chances for statements will begin this week.  Virginia will host NC State Tuesday.  If the Cavaliers can extend their win streak against the Wolfpack, they could enter the discussion of top-tier teams in the conference.  Florida State and Maryland meet Wednesday, a rematch of the ‘Noles 65-62 road win during the opening week of conference action. .

In all likelihood, these teams will just beat each other up, as so often happens in college basketball.  Virginia may beat NC State, but then lose to Georgia Tech Sunday, leaving us just as perplexed as before.  However, if one of these teams can string together some success in February, it could be the catalyst for a surprise March run.

This week’s ACC power rankings

1) Miami – I said last week I almost felt guilty for not putting Miami first.  My near-guilt turned into actual guilt pretty quickly Wednesday. This week they’ll take the show on the road against Virginia Tech and NC State.

2) Duke – Speaking of road trips, Duke will look for their first road win of the season when they face Wake Forest and Florida State this week.

3) Virginia – Virginia has won three straight and will host NC State on Tuesday evening.  Their turnovers concern me against the Wolfpack, but in the past week or two the Cavaliers have been the better team.

4) NC State – No, but really, which NC State am I putting fourth? This is too low for the NC State that beat Duke, and too high for the NC State that lost to Wake Forest.  Sure, you could make a case like this for basically every team in the ACC, but NC State’s instance is particularly maddening.

5) North Carolina – It’s not all about knocking NC State, though: The Tar Heels showed some incredible fight to make a show out of Saturday night.  UNC got key production from some bench players in that game, such as P.J. Hairston and J.P. Tokoto.  That could be a trend to watch in Chapel Hill.

6) Florida State – Speaking of fighting, Florida State rallied for a buzzer-beating win against Clemson last week.  That said, they have lost three of their last four, and two of those were by a combined 44 points.

7) Maryland – The Terrapins ran into a buzzsaw Saturday night, but with this offense, would it have mattered that Duke lost to Miami before hosting Maryland?  Alex Len’s impact has been considerably less in several recent games, as teams are doing a better job of game-planning against him.

8) Clemson – Speaking of game-planning, the Tigers snapped a losing streak with a win against Virginia Tech.  Clemson held the nation’s leading scorer, Erick Green, to 7-of-17 shooting.  He still got 25 points thanks to 14 free throw attempts, but you can bet there are some assistant coaches that will be taking a peek at that tape today to see whether Green had an off night or Clemson found a trick (I’m betting the former).

9) Wake Forest – Wake Forest is perfect at home in ACC play, and winless on the road.  Somehow, I feel like at least the first half of that statement will no longer be true after Wednesday’s game in Winston-Salem against Duke.

10) Virginia Tech – The Hokies lost two games in three days this week.  Virginia Tech did welcome back Marshall Wood, giving the Hokies some needed depth.

11) Boston College – BC’s losing streak now stands at four games, but the Virginia loss was the first by more than five points.

12) Georgia Tech – Alright! Georgia Tech has erased the zero in the win column of ACC play, getting a huge game from freshmen Robert Carter, Marcus Georges-Hunt, and Chris Bolden against Wake.  Hopefully, for the Yellow Jackets, that will be a trend.


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