The ACC slate is officially halfway over and as we approach the beginning of February, every team is making its final push toward the postseason.
As has become the norm, Virginia and Duke are the class of the league. The 65-63 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium gives the Wahoos a clear edge in the battle for conference supremacy. Tony Bennet’s club is just a seven-point loss on the road against a very strong West Virginia club from being undefeated.
For my money —and the money of many AP Poll voters— the ‘Hoos are the best team in the land. Yes the program has questions to answer come March, but they have the look and results of the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Duke certainly has nothing to worry about either. A 19-3 overall mark against the 11th toughest schedule in the nation is equally impressive.
Marvin Bagley III is going to be the ACC Player of the Year and it won’t be close. He leads the conference in scoring (21.5) and rebounding (11.4) and could very well find himself the top pick in this summer’s NBA Draft.
Grayson Allen is still more than capable, but he forced things against Virginia and it cost his team down the stretch. He is what he is at this point, antics included, but there’s no question he’ll be an enormous factor in how far this team can go.
If during the preseason you’d told first-year Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts that he’d win at North Carolina and beat Duke at home, he probably would have responded as follows:
He wasn’t kidding was he?
At 15-7 overall and 5-4 in conference play, State is currently in fifth place in the ACC standings. The Wolfpack has a definite chance to make the NCAA Tournament if they can get to 20 wins, but glaring losses to UNC-Greensboro and Northern Iowa could hold them back.
Sophomore big man Omer Yurtseven (13.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.8 blocks) is now living up to the hype of his recruitment and is a force in the paint. Senior Allerik Freeman (14.5 points, 4.4 rebounds) is the team’s leading scorer, but junior transfer Torin Dorn (13.4 points, 6.8 rebounds) is criminally underrated around the league. He provides energy and is a highly effective rebounder despite being only 6’5″.
This is not the kind of team you want to face if you’re in a must-win situation in the coming weeks.
Miami Guard Out With Foot Injury
Hurricanes’ starting guard Bruce Brown Jr. injured his left foot in practice Monday and will have surgery on Thursday to address the problem. He’s expected to be out six weeks, which means he could be back on the court when Miami heads to the ACC Tournament.
Brown is without question Miami’s most complete player. He’s second on the team in scoring and leads the Canes in rebounds, steals, and assists. His absence puts more pressure on leading scorer Dewan Huell (13.5 points, 6.9 rebounds) and freshman Lonnie Walker IV (10.8 points) to carry the load offensively.
Miami has a challenging, but manageable stretch run that includes two games with Virginia Tech, a home tangle with No. 2 Virginia, and a road trip to No. 19 North Carolina.
Speaking of Carolina…
After losses at Virginia Tech and at home to NC State, the Tar Heels are scuffling. That won’t be helped by the announcement Tuesday that backup point guard Jalek Felton has been suspended from the university. The nephew of Carolina great Raymond Felton has played in all 22 games for UNC this season but has struggled averaging just 2.9 points and 1.6 assists.
The biggest problem is his suspension leaves Roy Williams without a scholarship point guard to backup Joel Berry II. Berry is the unquestioned team leader, but he was already playing a career-high 31.7 minutes per game. Williams doesn’t have long to find a solution as the Tar Heels head to No. 20 Clemson Tuesday night in an important game for both squads.