There’s no way NC State should ever lose to UNC-Greensboro. The Wolfpack should always have a better coach and better players, and that should always be enough to win the game. But even though they did lose, NC State losing to UNC-G isn’t THAT bad of a loss in the context of the ACC. How, Swain? You ain’t got the answers!
ACC teams have 9 losses this season against teams ranked outside of the KenPom top 100. Of those losses, only Pitt has a lower differential between their KenPom ranking and the team they lost to than NC State and UNC-Greensboro. And before we go praising Pitt for “good losses”, Pitt is very bad (ranked 154th, the only ACC team outside of the top 100). While Georgia Tech’s home loss to Grambling is by far the worst loss in the ACC this year, and potentially the worst power conference loss of all-time, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame have turned in the most embarrassing results of the season so far. The ACC-contending Hokies lost to St. Louis while pre-season player of the year Bonzie Colson’s Irish lost at home to Ball State. So chin up, Wolfpack. Losing to UNC-Greensboro wasn’t that big of a shocker. If you want to be embarrassed by something, be embarrassed that it’s not a shocker.
On the other side of the Triangle, UNC beating Tennessee in Knoxville isn’t THAT good of a win. In the context of the race for a top seed in the South, it’s a huge result. But a good win? The game itself was 40 minutes of two teams begging the other one to win, which is pretty typical of holiday/exam season college basketball. The Heels and Vols combined to miss 80 shots from the floor (35% of those misses occurring in the paint), and we’re not going to join in the takeaway of one team playing tough defense while the other was the beneficiary of an off night. The compliment we’d rather give North Carolina is if they played Tennessee 10 times, that was likely the closest the Vols would get to a win. Both teams were “off”, but UNC’s “on” is much better than Tennessee’s could ever be.
The Tar Heels have much bigger fish to try than Tennessee, though, and perhaps the biggest positive towards those loftier objectives is that the big shot didn’t come from one of the big three. It came from Kenny Williams, who had a very nice game beyond hitting the big three to give UNC the lead for the good. With Theo Pinson settling into a playmaker role, Roy Williams’ offense has to develop a legitimate third scoring option behind Luke Maye and Joel Berry. While the hope has always been that Cam Johnson would provide that lift when he returns from injury, his impact remains a pretty significant unknown. Felton has shown flashes of being that answer, but Kenny Williams only has failed to score in double-figures once this season. Williams was on the court for 35 minutes yesterday, and when UNC had to score, they ran a set specifically designed for him to take the crucial shot.
Also lost in the talk of grit and determination, UNC’s young bigs combined for 19 points and 16 rebounds. There’s not a lot of next-level talent in Chapel Hill, but collectively, the Tar Heels are going to out-talent most of the teams they play. That’s the critical advantage in games like Sunday’s tilt with Tennessee when neither team is able to consistently make shots.
People doubted that Virginia Tech’s basketball program could ever reach the level that Hokie football has achieved in Blacksburg, but by actually showing up to fight against Kentucky in Lexington, perhaps they’ve already surpassed Virginia Tech football. The Hokies led by 6 at half after scoring 47 points in the first 20 minutes, but the hot shooting failed them in the 2nd half losing the 2nd 20 minutes 52-39. Kentucky only made 1 more field goal than the Hokies (a three pointer), but attempted 13 more shots than Virginia Tech because of forced turnovers and offensive rebounds. Buzz Williams is going to have to figure out how to get stops before ACC play because Kentucky would rank 6th in the ACC in offensive rebounding percentage and 6th in offensive efficiency.
In other Commonwealth news, Virginia might be a good offensive basketball team. Saturday’s 80-60 win over Davidson is Virginia’s most lopsided win when allowing 60 or more points over the past three seasons. Since the start of the 2015-16 season, the Cavaliers are 18-19 in games when allowing their opponent to break 60 points. The average margin of victory in those games is just 8.7 points. Tony Bennett’s offense still has a ways to go to match the output of the 2016 team that reached the Elite 8, but the Hoos have topped 70 points in 6 of their 10 games so far this year.
With Clemson’s 71-69 win over Florida, the ACC is now 8-3 against the SEC. Just like football.