Man, a lot happened this weekend in ACC basketball. Let’s start with what Virginia beating Duke means for the Wahoos.
It’s January 29th and Virginia has the ACC regular season race locked up. It’s over. With the tiebreaker over Duke, the Blue Devils would need the Cavs to drop 4 of their last 9 games in a season when it would be shocking if Virginia dropped even 1 remaining game. And let’s be honest, no one else in the ACC is good enough to step up and challenge the Hoos. Really, all that Virginia is playing for at this point is a potential ACC Coach of the Year award for Tony Bennett.
The Coach of the Year award is always an interesting one in the ACC because it often doesn’t go to the best coach in the ACC. Mike Krzyzewski hasn’t won an ACC Coach of the Year award since 2000. He’s won 3 national championships since then, including 2001 when Coach K was named the national coach of the year. Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt won the ACC award that year for finishing 4th. Roy Williams has won ACC COY only twice, which means he’s tied with Seth Greenberg on the all-time list. A win for Bennett would be his 3rd win in 5 seasons, and would put him in the same company as Dean Smith, Krzyzewski, Everett Case, Vic Bubas, Norm Sloan, Dave Odom and Bobby Cremins as the only ACC coaches with 3+ coach of the year awards. That’s Mt. Rushmore … and Dave Odom.
Virginia was picked to finish 6th in the pre-season, and for an award that’s typically a measure of how wrong the media was about a team during pre-season voting, this would typically be a slam dunk. The biggest challenger at this point … NC State’s Kevin Keatts, who was picked to finish 12th in the ACC and currently boasts wins over Duke, North Carolina, Clemson and Arizona. Historically, the Coach of the Year vote was open to any dues-paying member of the ACC media, including everyone from beat writers to TV anchors to fan bloggers. The ACC put and end to that nonsense a year ago when a panel of hand-picked voters was selected to give more credibility to the process. Georgia Tech’s Josh Pastner won last season with a record of 8-10 in the ACC, good enough for 11th place. Way to overthink that one, guys.
So what does the loss mean for Duke? Not much, really. The general theme coming from the Duke camp on Saturday was “a play here or a play there and it’s a win instead of a loss”, and that couldn’t be more accurate. Grayson Allen (again) was not good as he shot a horrid 2-8 from the floor. Duke was 5-11 from the free throw line, including 3-8 down the stretch. 24% of their possessions ended with a turnover. Even with all of that, here’s what 2nd half Duke did against the best defense in the history of the Kenpom era:
- 33 possessions
- 19 scores (57.6%)
- 1.242 points per possession
To add some context, Villanova’s top-ranked offense has a raw efficiency of 1.239 points per possession. For 20 minutes, Duke outscored the best offense in the nation while facing the best defense in the nation. And they did it while leaving a possible 15 points on the table with turnovers and missed free throws. Krzyzewski continues to call this team a work in progress, saying that every possession is a learning opportunity for his freshmen. It’s safe to say that what Virginia did in the first half, which was one of the best statistical halves in Kenpom history by holding Duke to .667 points per possession, Duke’s freshmen figured it out in the second half.
Speaking of Duke freshmen, Marvin Bagley III wrapped up the ACC Player of the Year race on Saturday. It’s over. It’s about as solid as Virginia’s claim to the regular season title. Bagley has played in 9 career ACC games, and has scored 30 or more points in four of them. Overall, he’s had more 30 point games (6) than he’s had games where he didn’t record a double-double (4), and in one of those games he only played 10 minutes due to injury. Bagley will be the ACC’s 2nd ever freshman to win player of the year, the first being Duke’s Jahlil Okafor in 2015. Okafor averaged 17.6 points per game to go with his 9.2 rebounds. Wendell Carter, Jr. is averaging 14.3 points per game along with 9.4 rebounds, and because of Bagley, will not receive a single ACC rookie of the year vote. Carter has 5 double-doubles in 9 ACC games.
Respect to Florida State who probably had the most important win over the weekend, we’re in North Carolina so it’s time to dive into NC State’s huge road win over North Carolina. While the Wolfpack didn’t gain any ground in Brack8ology, it’s a massive confidence boost for first-year coach Kevin Keatts who now has wins over Duke, Wake Forest and UNC on his resume. Record aside, Keatts worked the Tar Heels down the stretch. After Luke Maye scored to give the Heels a 4 point lead with three minutes to play, Keatts repeatedly went to a high ball-screen action to get Maye switched onto Markell Johnson, who went 3 pointer-turnover-assist-layup-layup to take the game to overtime. I’m sure UNC message board posters were thrilled that Roy Williams still has timeouts in his pocket if he eventually wants to discuss whether or not to switch on those ball screens.
The Tar Heels were still almost good enough to win, and if Theo Pinson wants to score 22 points and grab 15 rebounds more often, that’s downright frightening. Cam Johnson has been serviceable, and Maye continues to put up 1st team All-ACC numbers. UNC has the firepower to be a 2nd weekend NCAA Tournament team and the experience to maybe even make it back to the Final Four, but their interior defense is a significant problem. They’ll face Omer Yurtseven again, two games against Bagley and Carter, and a road trip to Louisville to take on Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding. To overcome that stretch, the Heels are going to need pre-season first-team All-ACC Joel Berry to be post-season first-team All-ACC. And he’s not there.
The All-ACC team isn’t position-specific, but here’s a look at how Berry compares to other ACC guards based on their stats in ACC play
- Joel Berry (UNC) – 16.8 points, 2.6 assists, 4.3 rebounds
- Ky Bowman (Boston College) – 17.6 points, 2.4 assists, 8.1 rebounds
- Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech) – 18.0 points, 3.0 assists, 7.0 rebounds
- Tyus Battle (Syracuse) – 19.1 points, 1.5 assists, 2.6 rebounds
- Brian Angola-Rodas (FSU) – 18.8 points, 3.4 assists, 5.0 rebounds
- Gary Trent (Duke) – 17.6 points, 1.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds
- Bryant Crawford (Wake Forest) – 16.6 points, 4.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds
Based on that group alone, if the voting panel were to look at placing two guards on the All-ACC teams, Joel Berry is likely on the 3rd team with Duke freshman Gary Trent.
In other ACC play, Louisville continues to surprise (sort of) by leading Duke by a half-game in the ACC standings at 2nd place. Interim coach David Padgett is the lone surprise for the Cardinals as the roster was always good enough to make a run at the ACC crown. But losing a hall of fame coach AND their best freshman to NCAA scandal and still starting off 6-2 in ACC play? That’s wizardry by Padgett and would place him in the ACC Coach of the Year discussion with Bennett and Keatts. The downside for Louisville, two games left against UVA, a trip to Duke, a trip to Blacksburg and surging Virginia Tech, and a game against the Tar Heels. Oh, and they finish the season at NC State in what may be an NCAA play-in game for the Wolfpack. It’s hard to find a tougher closing stretch than that.
The other ACC team deserving mention … Clemson. Wednesday’s game against UNC will be the biggest game of the year for the Tigers. They follow with two softies against Wake Forest and Pitt, but then run the gauntlet of FSU (away), Duke (home), and Virginia Tech (away). If Brad Brownell can get four wins out of those six games, the Tigers will be a near lock for a double-bye in the ACC Tournament.