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ACC Basketball Preview: The Road to Charlotte

acc basketballThere are six ACC teams in the national polls as we begin the new year, but after those six, you may see a steep drop-off.

Duke and UVA look like Final Four teams, with Duke’s freshmen and UVA’s old guys each getting due buzz.

Florida State and Virginia Tech, meanwhile, look like real deals.

North Carolina is, well, North Carolina.

And then there’s N.C. State. Everybody Likes Kevin Keatts should be on Netflix soon.

Tournament Watch

  • The Big Dancers Right Now: Duke (11-1, #1, UVA (12-0, #2), Virginia Tech (12-1, #7), North Carolina (9-3, #8), Florida State (12-1, #17), and N.C. State (12-1, #21).
  • The Maybes: Syracuse (9-4, #30), Clemson (10-3, #33), Louisville (9-4, #43), Miami (8-4, #56), Notre Dame (10-4, #70), and Pitt (10-3, #84).
  • The Outside Looking Ins: Georgia Tech (7-5, #94), Boston College (9-3, #106), and Wake Forest (6-5, #159).

Top Storylines

Duke can play D being our friend here, Duke is ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (.870 points per possession).

I’m not supposed to admit this, being a UVA guy, but that’s actually a tick better than the ‘Hoos (fifth nationally, .877 points per possession).

The key is that the best players on this team – 6’7” RJ Barrett, 6’7” Zion Williamson and 6’8” Cam Reddish – can defend any of the five positions on the floor.

All three, plus reserve Jack White, are ranked in the Top 20 in the ACC in defensive rating, and 6’10” center Javin DeLaurier would be if he’d played enough minutes (which he’s getting now, as a starter).

The focus on defense, which was missing with last year’s group, which coach Mike Krzyzewski had to correct for by going zone, isn’t taking away from the offense, which is ranked second nationally, scoring 1.196 points per possession.

Which is to say, yikes.

Virginia is better than it was a year ago

Lost in the aftermath of UMBC was that UVA finished 31-3, went 20-1 in the ACC, and that the one loss was in OT on a bucket with six seconds to go.

Which is to say, that was a pretty good team, no matter how it ended.

This year’s team is better.

The 2017-2018 ‘Hoos were ranked first in defensive efficiency nationally, but were just 30th on offense. Ans yes, I realize, just 30th is 30th out of 353 teams, which is still pretty good, but consider that teams who are anywhere basically out of the Top 10 in offensive efficiency aren’t historically Final Four material.

So, this year’s ‘Hoos are, as mentioned above, fifth in the nation in defensive efficiency.

On offense, they’re eighth.

For all the attention on Duke’s three freshmen, Virginia’s three juniors – Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter (technically a redshirt sophomore) – are pretty good themselves, and also two years older, and thus two years more physically and basketball mature.

The surprise has been the emergence of 5’9” freshman point guard Kihei Clark, a three-star recruit who is averaging 27.8 minutes per game, ball-hawking on defense, and freeing Jerome up to play more wing on the offensive end.

Throw in 6’8” Alabama transfer Braxton Key, who leads the ACC in defensive rating in 21 minutes a game off the bench, and the only question is, Can Virginia Ever Win The Big One?

Who gets the other two double-byes?

It would be hard to bet against North Carolina (#7 offense, #16 defense).

So, what about the other one, then?

I’m leaning toward Florida State (#24 offense, #24 defense), though I have to concede that I’m doing so because the ‘Noles are just now getting back 6’8” senior Phil Cofer, who has only played three games this season after going down with a right foot injury in preseason practice in October.

Cofer led FSU in scoring last season, and shot 48.6 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three.

Cofer adds size and experience to a Florida State team that is already big (19th nationally) but lacking a bit on the experience side (113th nationally).

Virginia Tech is intriguing – ranking fourth nationally in offensive efficiency and 33rd on defense, a big improvement from last year (when the Hokies ranked 70th on D).

I think you’ll see Tech and FSU battling all season long for a double-bye. They meet just once, on March 5 in Tallahassee, which could be for a lot of marbles.

Column by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press