ACC Basketball Shootaround: Notes From An Exciting Weekend

Friday, January 2nd

Mississippi St 62  Florida St 55   

FSU dropped their final non-conference game of the year 62-55 to fall to 8-6 on the season. With an RPI that rates 2nd to last in the ACC (183), the ‘Noles are scuffling right now. With 2 home, 2 road, and 2 neutral site losses, FSU has proven they can get themselves into trouble anywhere. They have three bad losses, and nary a good win. The Seminoles have lost their only ACC game to date, a 20 point road loss at Notre Dame.

Let’s take a look at the game notes:

  • The starting guard trio for FSU logged all but 5 of 120 available minutes.  XRM (Xavier Rathan Mayes), Devon Bookert, and Montay Brandon will find that pace unsustainable if its a recurring theme.
  • To contrast, the two starting forwards, logged 31 of 80 minutes. Do you see a disconnect?
  • Turnover to shot ratio: FSU (19/43), MSU (12/52). Those extra cracks at the basket clearly made up the difference if you allow a point per possession.
  • FSU led this game at the half, and it was a slogfest at just 25-22. MSU though goes 10 deep, with no player getting more than 27 minutes. Perhaps it was some foul trouble, as MSU G IJ Ready had four fouls in just 19 minutes (to go along with 14 pts and 3 steals). The extra depth helped wear the Noles down in the 2nd half, as FSU used just seven players for more than three minutes.
  • Since it IS the ACC, most of you probably wonder if FT shooting was a factor. And it was, with FSU converting 11-of-19, and the Bulldogs comfortably making 12-of-13 in front of their crowd.
  • Sequence of the game: With FSU threatening and just one minute to play, MSU got a stop on a missed bunny by big man Boris Bojanovsky. Quickly called a TO and got an easy layup. FSU never got closer than three points the rest of the way.

FSU returns to action Tuesday night in a battle of RPI cellar-dwellers when they host VPI. One team MUST emerge victorious. Game sims predict FSU as a 69% probability to win. (Per RPI Forecast)

Saturday, January 3rd

The ACC conference schedule began in earnest with six matchups. And though I love ACC Hoops (call me a masochist if you want), six games was a lot to sit and look thru on 2x FF on my DVR (while real-timing the crunch times and plays of emphasis, in case you want to see the labor AND the baby).

Just know that I got your back readers, and while you were lamenting picked up laundry during the NFC Wild-Card yesterday, I was mowing through some film. As a side note to my boss here at SportsWar, what’s the word on the ITA party bus? Looks like the Cowboys and the referees enjoyed theirs. Oh, you’d like to see a little bit more of a revenue stream first? Maybe a used Winnebago then? One with “cruise control” and a scorpion terrarium? OK. Just get back to me, I’ll be waiting by the phone.

North Carolina State 68  Pitt 50

NC State handled their biz at home, winning handily 68-50 in front of a sleepy 12pm audience, oh how I loathe those. Usually the road team is at a disadvantage in these games, even though the crowds are still shaking off the previous night.

These teams both appear to be bound for the NIT, with NC St in better RPI shape than Pitt at present (58 to 85). NC State has a more difficult schedule in front of it though, and expects to stabilize, while Pitt will suffer the repercussions of a neutral site loss to Hawaii. None of Pitt’s other losses has come against a team ranked less than 59th though, so the magic of the RPI is still a mystery to me.

NC St has a 17% chance of getting to 21 wins (my line of demarcation for an ACC team to make the NCAAs this year, at least one who has a couple quality wins under its belt) and getting invited back to the dance where they were a bubble team last year, having to win a play-in game.

Let’s take a look at the game notes, shall we?

  • Bench depth was an issue here as well. Pitt played seven guys. NC St played eight. But NC St was into their bench with a big lead. I didn’t understand why Jamie Dixon decided to keep James Robinson and Jamel Artis in the game so long (37 and 35 minutes respectively) in a game that was pretty much over with eight minutes to play (NC St up 15  by then). Dixon has a young team, and a blowout road loss would have provided the team with some extra game experience.
  • Pace factor was NOT an issue. In one of the more evenly paced games I’ve seen, both teams had the ball 62x. The Pack even had three less shots than Pitt as the Panthers won the TO battle 10-to-7.
  • The refs put the whistles away, with only 21 total FTs shot. 12-9 in favor of Pitt.
  • You wanna know how NC St really won this game? The old-fashioned way: Two pointers. With a conversion rate of 21-for-36 the Pack absolutely demolished the Panther attack which saw it’s team convert a miserable 13-for-40. For good measure, the Pack had the advantage on the three balls too, making six to Pitt’s five.
  • Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner share the game ball, going a combined 13-of-21 for 35 points, more than half the NC State offensive output.

But even in a tough win, were Pack fans happy? Probably not yet, as that one-point loss to Wofford at home is still stinging. But with intensity in the building like this, the Pack know they have their backers.

Pitt stays on the road, playing Tuesday in the dimly lit Conte Forum, while NC St will head to Charlottesville to face the Wahoos on Wednesday.

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Syracuse 68  Virginia Tech 66

News out of Blacksburg on Friday that key big man Joey Van Zegeren had been suspended indefinitely did not bode well for Hokies fans coming out to the Cassell for another 12pm start. After all, the Orange boast All-American candidate Rakeem Christmas in the paint.

I was firmly expecting the stifling Syracuse zone to hold the Hokies to sub-30 scoring until relenting when Jim Boeheim cleared their bench late allowing the Hokies to get north of 40. And early on, it was apparent that Syracuse was in control, leading 42-23 at the half. But that’s why they play two halves, so haunted old buildings can come to life. As of late, Cassell Coliseum has been snarkily referred to as Cassell Mausoleum, but there was once a time when Dick Vitale ranked the Cassell the 3rd toughest environment behind Cameron Indoor and New Mexico’s Pit. Don’t believe me? Go look up a Bimbo Coles era Dickie V Annual Magazine from the late ’80s. I used to memorize those before girls took an interest in me. And now that they are no longer interested in me, I do this!!!!

The second half saw the Hokies outplay a team that is an 66% projection to get to 20 wins this season. Many of the same Hokies that lost 19 of their final 20 games last season (which might be close to happening again). VT came out of the locker room with nothing to lose and held the Orange to just seven points over the first 12+ minutes of the final stanza.

VT Freshman Justin Bibbs was effervescent and unshaken by the moment. The Montverde HS (FLA) alum, and two time Dick’s Sporting Goods Mythical HS National Champion just went to work and put up a 22/11 performance that will rank as one of the best performances by a VT newcomer in many a moon. Bibbs is a bonafide talent, something in short supply in SW VA. The Hokies just wouldn’t go away, even after a late Syracuse spurt threatened to break them. You hate to do anything but call an L an L, but in VT’s case a moral victory might suffice for now, especially coming off the humbling 30 pt matinee defeat to WVU in Morgantown last week.

Losing by just two at home (68-66) to an NCAA tournament bound team (health allowing), might be the best their fans can ask for right now.  OK just a few game notes:

  • Play of the game: With 6:09 left, and trailing 51-49, Hokie JUCO transfer Shane Henry missed a tip-in. Syracuse gained control, got a made bucket, and things never got closer than the final margin the rest of the way.
  • Syracuse converted just 16-of-28 FTs, with numerous misses in the bonus late, allowing the Hokies to storm back from another double-digit deficit at 61-51.
  • The Hokies had a chance to win at the buzzer, but the ball wound up in the wrong shooter’s hands in backup PG Malik Mueller. VT needed Bibbs or Ahmed Hill (another FR) to get that look. Credit Syracuse.
  • The Hokie starting backcourt of Adam Smith and Devin Wilson went 6-of-23 from the floor and just 1-of-9 from three. Toss in Mueller for good measure and those numbers “improve” to 7-of-26, and 2-of-12. You can’t win in the ACC without elite guards, and while Smith has proven to get hot from time to time, these guys can’t shoot consistently.
  • Has a player ever missed his partner more than Trevor Cooney misses early NBA entrant Tyler Ennis? Cooney has such poor shot selection at this point playing alongside the disappointing Kaleb Joseph, that he is shooting Syracuse out of won ballgames. His 6-of-21 (4-of-13 display from the arc) was against everything I personally stand for. On teams like their last two, he could get away with it, and he had space. Now he’s just an indiscriminate chucker.
  • Rakeem Christmas offered just enough rim protection to help buttress the slight TO advantage the Orange had.

A road W in the ACC is always a good W, but today the Orange are running a few extra suicides in practice to remind them what discipline feels like.

Tech has FSU on the road on Tuesday, while Syracuse goes back out on the road, this time to Atlanta to face a Yellow Jacket team coming off of a double-OT road loss in which they simply refused to die….until they finally did.

Notre Dame 83  Georgia Tech 76  (2OT)

GT coach Brian Gregory can build on this effort. Losing in 2OT to a Notre Dame squad that ranks near the top of the nation in offense, and forcing them to go to 2OT to reach their averages is an accomplishment. But he’ll likely not take solace in that.

The Jackets are likely poised for another NIT bid, while the 14-1 Irish keep playing UP to the competition. ND has played one of the weakest schedules of any team in the country that wants to be taken seriously. With a lone 1 pt loss to Providence at a neutral site, the Irish are 90% likely to finish at 22 wins or above. But their goals are likely higher than that. With 16 games left to play, winning just eight more seems less than ambitious. But ultimately, I believe it will be the LUCK of the Irish that determines how deep they go. It will depend on an NCAA draw that pits them against guard-heavy teams. If their opponent is above-average in the middle, it could lead to more close calls like Saturday’s 83-76 nail-biter.  Let’s review the keys to the game:

  • Why was this game so close? Rebounding, good peeps, rebounding. The Jackets are way burlier than ND right now. The Irish’s Zach Auguste can only do so much with four other guards joining him on the floor. The 46-31 margin (19-to-5 on the offensive glass!) mitigated much of the good the Irish guards were doing.
  • The Irish were 28-of-41 from two. They shoot the three well, but GT was intent on taking that away from them, and did well holding ND to just 4-of-19 from distance.
  • And for as well as GT’s bigs played, they allowed the ND guards too high a conversion rate at the cup. 15-of-24 for ND guards from two? Countermanded by GT’s woefully inefficient guard play, that number was an oasis in the desert of rebounding deficiency that ND Coach Mike Brey would face all afternoon.
  • Try leading by more than five guys. GT eliminated a five point deficit at the end of regulation, AND at the end of the first OT, stunning the Irish crowd, though no play was more stunning than ACC Player of the Year frontrunner Jerian Grant’s. Observe:

  • Yeah I know. Should be a T for hanging on the rim! Get off my lawn! *shakes fist*

This game provided some unexpected early day (and season) drama, just as the Syracuse/VT game did. Most folks were looking past this one. This game just goes to show that in the ACC you can never take an opponent lightly, even at home.

Notre Dame continues it’s pursuit of an ACC regular season crown with a stiff test at UNC tonight, while GT will host Syracuse on Wednesday.

Duke 85  Boston College 62

I presume everyone learned a lesson from this one? Don’t get Jahlil Okafor angry. He’ll just make every single FT and get you deeper and deeper into foul trouble. 14-of-17 from the line, are you kidding me? Poor Dennis Clifford on BC got so frustrated they had to go to the scene of the crime video late and award Okafor some flagrant FTs. Not Clifford’s best moment to be sure.

Duke is cruising along, looking like a one-seed, once again led by three FR, while BC looks like a superstar (Olivier Hanlan) and a collection from the island of misfit toys at this point. Not a lot has changed in Chestnut Hill in terms of the way they play or the results. Put it this way, BC has a 12% projection at finishing .500, and they are 7-5 right now. At this rate they may stay above water for a week maybe two, but from there it is going to be time for the program to re-assess its goals and how to go about accomplishing them.

Don’t worry there’ll be plenty of Duke genuflection going on in this space this season, but Saturday was just business. So in honor of that, let’s get to the game notes:

  • Okafor’s ACC debut was only 28/8/4, while completely controlling the painted area. But he wasn’t the only Duke FR to perform well as Justise Winslow had an efficient 5-for-7 day while adding 13 of his own points. Tyus Jones controlled the pace, and didn’t even really look for his own shot (going 0-for-5).
  • Veteran guard Quin Cook needs to realize that him shooting 14 times in an arms race with Olivier Hanlan (22 pts on 8-of-16) and Aaron Brown (16 pts on 5-of-13) is not the game plan Coach K is looking to implement. The Devils are well-balanced, and only need to find the open man. His 3-of-9 performance from three was about average, but the volume would be a concern against a better opponent.
  • Statistical anomaly: BC actually grabbed more offensive rebounds than defensive (18-16).
  • This game was over by halftime, as the Blue Devils contested every shot en route to a 38-22 lead. Marshall Plumlee joined Okafor’s block party with four of his own in 11 valuable bench minutes.

Duke returns to action Wednesday at the Joel in Winston Salem to face a pesky Wake squad that threw a scare into ACC newcomer Louisville last night. BC hosts Pitt on Tuesday. Sadly they aren’t talking their way out of it. #pulpfiction

Here’s a little tune to play you out, it’s entitled Jah Works by The Gladiators, totally SFW, and totally appropriate for the occasion:

 

Virginia 89  Miami(FL) 80  (2OT)

The Syracuse/VT wasn’t the only game featuring the erasure of a gigantic half-time deficit. UVA led Miami by 18 at the half with their Passive Strangulation Defensive scheme choking the life out of an undisciplined, cold-shooting Miami team that has had a little difficulty at home recently.

In the 2nd half that all changed. Outscored 38-20 in the first, Miami turned the tables and won the second half 43-25 to force OT. Then they matched UVA in the first OT. UVA finally pulled away in the 2nd OT to win 89-80, extending their unbeaten start to 13 games. Miami in the meantime is simply reeling, having lost four of their last six, with three of those games at home.

At this point, Miami looks like they are an NIT team, and though the Wisconsin-Green Bay loss looks bad to those not in the know, it is actually not the worst. That Eastern Kentucky loss though? Brutal.

It’s time for Coach L to get the U to bounce back before the damage becomes more serious. I’m not sure he can pull them out of this spin and get them back to being ranked and off of the bubble.
Let’s examine this game a little deeper:

  • UVA got to the line an amazing 39 times, led by London Perrantes 12 attempts. Their inability to convert the clutch FTs was troubling, as it allowed Miami their sliver of a window to mount the comeback. Miami itself shot just 24 FTs at home. Perhaps Coach L needs to be a better sideline advocate. His mild-mannered style, valued in almost every other instance, might be of some detriment here. UVA coach Tony Bennett worked the refs all day.
  • The ‘Hoos were fantastic from three, particularly in the first half. They shot 10-for-21 on the day. Miami, just trying to keep up, shot 9-for-28, but had bench contributors make 6-of-14, helping Angel Rodriguez along until he found his stride. The PG had seven assists and made 10-of-12 FTs in spite of 1-for-7 three point shooting.
  • London Perrantes is not known for being the high scorer, but he wore a different hat Saturday, as Miami limited All-ACC candidates Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon to just 17 total shots. Coach L clearly laid out a mandate for the ‘Canes to make someone else beat them. Well, he got his wish, Perrantes got 26 and the final laugh.
  • UM’s Tonye Jekiri and UVA’s Darion Atkins put up dueling 8 and 12s…cue the dueling banjos music.
  • UVA got 31 valuable bench minutes from Mariel Shayok, who stuffed the stat sheet in every category. He was all over the place.

Here are some highlights of Saturday’s third best game in the ACC (Amazing right? That the ACC could have a 2OT game be it’s 3rd best game? Well it was)

Miami has off until Saturday when they host BC. UVA meanwhile goes home to Monticello, and will face NC St this Wednesday.

 

North Carolina 74  Clemson 50

Many in the #TarHeelFamily went to bed Saturday night celebrating UNC’s 74-50 blowout road win at Clemson. They awoke to the sobering news that one of their own (and one of the ACC’s own) had fallen on Sunday morning. I couldn’t help but wonder if former ESPN anchor and UNC alum Stuart Scott got to catch a few minutes of the win. My best friend’s father passed away at 6pm on Derby Day. Nobody loved the ponies as much as my friend’s old man. And there are likely few who loved UNC and it’s basketball program more than Mr. Scott.

Inside the ACC and its members hurts for your family today, Stu. Your daughters in particular. But we don’t hurt for you sir, we celebrate your accomplishments, and the magnitude of your impact on pop culture at-large. We also celebrate your tremendous will and determination in your W over cancer. You set an example for us all.

OK, onto the action, where UNC had Clemson saying, “See, wut hat happent wuz….”

  • UNC held Clemson to 9-of-27 from the arc on in. That’s patently unacceptable for a D1 program like Clemson. Though only a pedestrian 23-for-50 themselves, the Heels built a 28 point advantage on that criteria alone.
  • Tar Heels need to stop falling in love with their own jumpers, shooting 6-for-26 on the day, and ranked just 296th in the nation in makes per game, the Heels actually exceeded their usual volume of output and still failed miserably. Know which side of the pillow is coolest, Coach Williams and eliminate the bad habits.
  • UNC’s Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson combined for 20 boards, and Clemson as a team had just 30. Big advantage to UNC there, and potentially the main reason I have them holding their ground at home tonight vs Notre Dame. Zach Auguste can’t handle both those guys by his lonesome.
  • UNC led at the half 39-17, almost matching to the number what both UVA and Duke did against BC and Miami in the first halves of those games.
  • Point guard play was solid if unspectacular, only 14 total turnovers in the game. UNC standout Marcus Paige only had to play 26 minutes and was steady, getting 11 points to go with his three assists.
  • Only two Clemson players in double-figures once again. This trend is going to see the Tigers and Coach Brownell squarely on the outside looking in at the NIT with basement mates VT and BC if this continues. RPI Forecast has the Tigers projected to go 13-17 in the end. At the end of the day, Clemson basketball is still reeling from having lost Rick Barnes to Texas oh so many years ago. Even if you consider the brief renaissance under Oliver Purnell, which broke up some of the futility.

Finally a few words from the man himself, Stu Scott’s first time on SportsCenter, where we all came to know him:

 

Sunday, January 4th

Louisville 85  Wake Forest 76  

So please tell me all Sunday night ACC games will be this good. I enjoyed almost every minute of Louisville’s first conference game as an ACC member. It had Coach Pitino (legend); Danny Manning (playing legend); Montrezl Harrell (for dunks); Devin Thomas (career-ing); and head official Karl Hess (The Equalizah).

Wake came in as heavy home dogs at the Joel. To this point, Louisville has steamrolled all the competition beyond #1 Kentucky, who they dropped a home tilt to last week at the Yum Center. PF Montrezl Harrell is going to try to dunk 100 times this season, and has already set the unofficial school record. He is flanked by guards Terry Rozier and Charles Jones, and do-it-all swingman Wayne Blackshear. This team lacks a truly defined bench, and has had a gaping hole in the middle for a while. Playing against all those Kentucky bigs did nothing to boost the confidence of Chinanu Onuaku, Anas Mahmoud, or Mangok Mathiang. But again, how often do you play Kentucky?

Wake Forest hasn’t been very good this year, but Danny Manning has them believing they can play with anyone and he has two STRONG pieces at his disposal in G Codi Miller-McIntyre (AKA The Scantron Nightmare) and F Devin Thomas who was unstoppable in the paint last night, scoring 31 and grabbing 11 rebounds while stealing a lot of shine from Harrell in the process. It’s not often that such a performance trumps a first-half 20 and 6 which is what Ben Wallace 3.0 put on the Deacs.  Let’s talk some numbers, shall we?

  • Thomas’s 31 points were a career-high. He is a smooth lefty on the interior, often obfuscating block attempts by shielding his body. At one point Wake was 17-24 from two-points. It made you wonder why Harrell was shading his defender way outside. They should have let the Wake big man Konstantinos Mitoglou roam out there at the arc with Mahmoud on him. Manning’s game plan, and Pitino’s acquiescence to it, allowed for Thomas to have a lot of less-contested attempts at the hoop. And that sparked the Deacons comeback.
  • Louisville led 46-33 at the break. It should have been, “NO MERCY SENSEI!” from that point. But Wake scored the first 11 points out of the break during the Food-Lion sponsored ACC Scoring Drought we’ve all come to recognize. Coach Pitino used timeouts like tissues, taking three before his seat could even get warmed back up.
  • Where was Wayne Blackshear? Completely passive offensively, played just 20 minutes. I wondered if this was what “The Flu Game” truly looks like. His backups did OK picking up some slack, but there were moments where WB was playing like the WB frog in the old Looney Tunes: In private, an opera singer, open the box, and only: “Ribbit”.

  • Key to the game: Dare I say FTs? Wake was just 1-of-9 in the first half, and Thomas who could hit anywhere from two was the key culprit. He finished just 9-of-17 on the night. A few more of those going down at strategic moments, and Wake might have pulled even much sooner.
  • 2nd Key to the Game: Charles Jones, who at one point had 14 of Louisville’s 24 (to that point) 2nd half points. The barrel-chested guard hit several high degree of difficulty shots and battled on the bench with Pitino throughout. It’s clearly a give and take relationship, but its entertaining to watch nonetheless.

Well that about does it for us. Did I cover EVERYTHING? Not even close. But that’s why we’ll be back with more as the season progresses. Make sure to tune in tonight for UNC-Notre Dame and stay with me here for more of these weekend roundups. I hope you had as much fun reading as I did writing! Have a great week and stay warm folks.

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