As we get ready for ACC play, we will be looking at the whole conference and how Maryland stacks up against it. Later in the week look out for our conference predictions along with Player of the Year candidates. For the first part, lets just look at the conference in terms of tiers.
Tier 1: ACC Title Contenders
This year the ACC is tough to judge, some of the teams that looked like contenders in the preseason have faded, and others have come on strong. Also, the two additional games added to how tough it is to know what a team needs to do to be in contention down the stretch. Either way, many things stay true no matter what. To win the conference you need to be good at home, have experience, and be deep. Teams that win the conference typically have three players scoring at a high rate, while getting consistent contributions from the bench. You do also need some luck with how your schedule breaks.
1) Duke: Right now it looks like this is Duke’s conference to lose. Quinn Cook has improved and emerged as a legitimate starting ACC point guard, which was a question mark preseason. As for the seniors, Mason Plumlee (19.5 ppg and 11.6 rpg) looks like the ACC Player of the Year front runner. Seth Curry (17.1 ppg) is shooting an impressive 41.9% from three, and Ryan Kelly (12.4 ppg) is shooting the three at 42.9%. This team has the experience, not just this year but in past seasons, and with these three players it is tough for other teams in the league to match up with them.
Where can Duke struggle, you ask? As I mentioned the point guard position was uncertain for them. Quinn Cook is playing better then expected, but at 2.5 turnovers per game, he is not as steady as Duke would want. They also do not have a true back-up for him, in case of foul trouble or poor play. Duke travels to North Carolina St, Miami, Maryland, and North Carolina, all those are tough stadiums with veteran guards.
2) Maryland: I know that we are a Maryland blog, but don’t sleep on Maryland as a title contender in conference. Maryland hasn’t played anyone of note except for the three point loss to Kentucky to open the season. However, they have avoided any ugly loses, and aside from Stony Brook and George Mason (neutral site) took care of everyone easily. They lack experience, which can hurt them especially on the road. James Padgett, Nick Faust, and Alex Len are the most experienced players from last season, but none of them were truly dominating players. However, Maryland ranks 8th nationally in rebounding, 5th in assist per game, and 10th in FG percentage. They only have two players averaging double figures in scoring, but at 76.5 ppg and one player over 25 minutes per game, that is more of product of Coach Turgeon looking to spread the scoring. Alex Len and Dez Wells do most of the scoring, and Maryland gets solid point guard play from Junior Pe’Shon Howard and Freshman Seth Allen.
The schedule for the Terps breaks nicely. They start at home with games against ice cold Virginia Tech and an out of sorts Florida State. They travel to Miami, but with Reggie Johnson out, that doesn’t look as bad as before. They end the season at Georgia Tech, at Wake Forest, vs North Carolina, and at Virginia, not very daunting looking at how Wake, UNC, and UVa have started the year.
3) North Carolina State: It’s been an up and down start to the season for the Wolfpack, but that is too be expected with a young team learning to handle big expectations. Since the stretch of games that included a blowout loss to Oklahoma State, a narrow 2-point escape of UNC-Ashville, and loss at Michigan, the Pack has strung together seven wins in a row including UConn at the Garden and Stanford at home. North Carolina State ranks 10th in points per game and 1st in FG percentage. Freshman Ty Warren has been a huge boost lately, scoring in double figures in the past three games, but doing so at 73% from the field. Preseason Player of the Year, C.J. Leslie is still the player the watch on this team. Currently averaging 15.8 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game, and shooting at 59.2%, the Junior forward is leading this team.
North Carolina State still has holes to fill. First off is their defense, North Carolina State gives up the third most points per game in conference at 69.5 points per game. But from watching them, you can see that they take plays off sometimes. Michigan built up a huge lead against them, and once they brought the score back, they still couldn’t get the stops to tie the game or take the lead. After starting at Boston College, the Wolfpack play a sneaky good Georgia Tech team, Duke, and then goto Maryland. That stretch along with at Virginia, home vs Miami, and at Duke could be the pivotal points of the year for them.
Tier 2: Outside Shot at Contending
I promise these wont be as long! But these are the teams that could push for a top 4 finish and get a bye in the ACC Tournament.
1) North Carolina: Just like their in state rival, North Carolina State, they have been up and down to start the year. North Carolina has looked uncompetitive at Indiana and for most of the game against Butler, came apart at Texas, and allowed East Carolina to put 60 in the second half in Chapel Hill while escaping by 6. Of course, in typical ACC fashion, the put together a complete team effort and beat #20 UNLV at home. So who are the Tar Heels, I’m not sure Roy Williams knows at this point. They are top 5 nationally in points per game (4th), rebounds per game (3rd), and assists per game (1st). However, the also turn the ball over 14 times per game, and shoot dead last in conference from the free throw line, while giving up the second most points in conference.
The Heels play one of the tougher schedules in conference. The road game at FSU, followed by Maryland and Georgia Tech at home, then at North Carolina state could trip them up. Also ending the season at Maryland and home vs Duke might keep them on the bubble heading into the ACC tournament.
2) Miami: The Hurricanes get bumped down a tier with the injury of Reggie Johnson. He is out 4-6 weeks, which takes him out games at Georgia Tech, at UNC, vs Maryland, and vs Duke. He might also be out for the game at North Carolina State, as long with BC and FSU. This stretch is important to Miami, since it is the only time they face Maryland and North Carolina State. Aside from the injury to Johnson, Shane Larkin and Durant Scott are putting together solid seasons from the guard positions.
Miami does struggle to score the ball, ranking 8th in the conference. While their guards can score, they are getting everyone involved in the game, the Canes are 281st in the country at 11.3 assist per game. For them to have a shot, they need Reggie Johnson back sooner rather than later.
3) Georgia Tech: Ok, even I’ll admit that it is crazy putting them in this status, but hear me out. The Jackets don’t have a single bad loss, they also don’t have a good win. They played Illinois much closer than the 13 point loss looks and hold opponents to 53.1 points per game. They are getting well balanced production from recent Kentucky transfer, Stacey Poole Jr. Could be a nice asset once he gets into the swing of playing.
What has me sold on Georgia Tech pushing for a top 6 finish in conference is their schedule. It starts rough, although getting Miami at home without Reggie Johnson helps. But between their games against North Carolina, they get seven winnable games. It seems crazy to think, but they could enter the second Carolina game at 9-3.
Tier 3: The Awkward Middle Teams
These are the teams caught in the middle, finishing around 500. They aren’t having a terrible year, but their fans aren’t particularly thrilled either. Hence, they are awkwardly in the middle.
1) Virginia: The Cavaliers are as confusing as North Carolina and North Carolina State. The major difference, is the slow pace basketball, which is sure to put you to sleep at once this year (January 9 at Wake Forest 9:00 pm, don’t take any nighttime meds or you’ll be gone at the first under 12 timeout). Virginia is last in scoring and one a game scoring 46 points, Mike D’antoni just threw up after hearing that. Seriously thoug, I know Coach Bennett’s style is to slow the game down on offense and defense. Maintain possession and allow no easy baskets. However, they are missing the ultra efficient player in Mike Scott who was able to lead them to 12 wins last season in conference.
2) Florida State: The offense has been inconsistent, and the defense has been spotty. Coach Hamilton builds his teams on defense, and Florida State typically ranks in the top 5 nationally in defense. According to Kenpom, their adjusted defense is ranked 85th. Loses to Minnesota and Florida look bad only because of how much they were outplayed by. Loses to South Alabama and Mercer raise questions about their consistency. Mid season games at Miami, Maryland and Duke at home, and at Georgia Tech might stick them in a tough hole to climb out of.
3 Virginia Tech: I wonder if first year coach Johnson asked Santa to bring him back to December 2 for Christmas. The Hokies were on a seven game win streak, and looked like the hottest team in the country after beating #15 Oklahoma State at home. Fast forward to January 2nd and Virginia Tech has dropped 4 out of 6 including at home to Georgia Southern and a 26 point loss to BYU, which is triumphed by the 36 point loss to Colorado State. Erick Green is having a great year, leading the ACC scoring, but Virginia Tech allows the most point per game in conference at 73.1. No one else allows over 70 (UNC is close at 69.9 and NCST is 69.5), and they are scoring 77.1, which is only a 4 point difference, edging out Wake Forest and Boston College for smallest point differential.
Tier 4: The Basement
There is no such thing as a sure thing in the ACC, especially on the road. However, this is about as close as you’ll come to teams you should beat if you expect to be dancing in March.
1) Clemson: The Tigers are struggling in Coach Brownell’s second year in charge. They don’t score much (203rd nationally), they don’t rebound well (229th), they don’t set each other up well (213th in assist), and they shoot below 50% from the field (45.9%). When you aren’t doing any of those things correctly, you really hate to see Florida State, at Duke, and Virginia as your first three games.
2) Boston College: I’ll admit that in the preseason I saw Boston College as a team could grab about 6-7 wins and finish 8th or 9th. I don’t think that’s the case anymore, but a sophomore heavy team will continue to gain experience in Coach Donahue’s system and against tough competition. While you never want to finish near the bottom of your league, Boston College has to most to gain compared to other two teams in this tier.
3) Wake Forest: As I type this, Wake Forest leads late in the second half against Xavier. Any win for them is a good win, and would be a good way to honor their former coach, the late Skip Prosser. C.J. Harris and Travis McKie continue to put up points for the Demon Deacons, but their isn’t much else going on with them. The stretch of NCST, at Georgia Tech, Duke, at Maryland, and at UNC, will put a nail in not only their season but most likely Coach Bzdelik’s career at Wake Forest.
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