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Bonner: Duke is the clear team to beat in the ACC

Spots 2-9 ‘wide open’ with UNC, Virginia Tech, Miami in the mix

Story by Chris Graham

Dan Bonner was sure the ACC media had gotten it wrong when it put Duke at the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference with defending national champion North Carolina back in the fall.

“I didn’t think Duke was this good,” said Bonner, who will be broadcasting a pair of ACC games this weekend, the Boston College-Clemson game on Saturday and the ACC Sunday Night Hoops game pitting Florida State and Maryland.

And Duke’s hot 12-1 start, including a 75-53 win in the Blue Devils’ ACC opener over Clemson Sunday night, isn’t the only surprise to Bonner, a long-time Staunton resident who calls college-basketball games for Raycom, Fox Sports and CBS Sports. That North Carolina has fallen back to the pack has been a surprise. A key, to Bonner, is lack of outside shooting on the ’09-’10 Heels.

“If you look at every North Carolina team that’s been a great team, they’ve had a great wingman, a great three. Who is that on this team? The answer is, They don’t have it,” said Bonner, who also points to issues at point guard, where sophomore Larry Drew has taken over for Ty Lawson with mixed results. Bonner said Drew is a serviceable point guard, but he rarely forces the issue in the paint on the fast break. The attacking point guard, Raymond Felton on the 2005 national-championship team, Ty Lawson on the ’09 title team, is the key to the UNC offensive engine.

“The vast majority of times, when he takes the ball downcourt, he pulls it back. And that’s not the way you’re used to North Carolina point guards playing,” Bonner said.

“They don’t have the attacking point guard, they don’t have the wingman, and they don’t have a consistent outside shooter. And as a result, they’re going to have struggles,” said Bonner, who feels nonetheless that UNC is still a top-of-the-conference-type team, but Bonner doesn’t see the Heels “being an elite national team in the sense that everybody is used to them being.”

Duke, on the other hand, is head and shoulders above everybody else in the conference as conference play begins in earnest this week. The reason, to Bonner: “Duke is the only team that really has any outside shooting threats to speak of,” said Bonner, who thinks Duke’s outside threats gives the Devils “a tremendous advantage given the way college basketball is played today.”
“If you can’t score consistently from the outside, then you can’t throw the ball inside, because people can collapse in there and guard you. I think that’s a problem Clemson is going to face all year, as we saw last night. And they’re like a lot of teams. Unless they can take the ball from you and get easy baskets, they’re going to have a hard time scoring,” Bonner said.

Outside of the Duke-UNC power center, much is still unknown about how the ACC season will shake out. Bonner lists 14-1 Miami at the top of his list of intriguing teams, primarily for the one on the record, the bad road loss at Boston College. “Virginia Tech is another,” said Bonner. “They’ve only lost one game, and when they lost to Temple, you’re thinking, Oh, that’s a bad loss, but now that Temple has beaten Villanova, Temple’s pretty good.”

Wake Forest doesn’t have consistent outside shooting, but the Demon Deacons demonstrated Sunday night in a 96-92 double-overtime win over Xavier that if “they can get a little outside shooting, they can be pretty good,” Bonner said.

“I think the league, after Duke, because to my mind I think Duke has demonstrated that they are a cut above everybody else in the ACC, but after Duke, I think the league is completely wide open,” said Bonner, who thinks everybody outside of Virginia, North Carolina State and Boston College is in the mix really for spots 2-9.


augusta free press
augusta free press