ACC Roundup: Frosh enjoy big week, Coach K hits 1K and more
If you like top-10 — or even top-15 — matchups, then this is the week for you.
Of the ACC’s five top-13 teams, all play at least one game against each other this week (Duke gets road games at No. 8 Notre Dame and at No. 2 Virginia). So there will be three games pitting the nation’s top 13 teams this week in ACC action, and that figures to not only tell us a lot about each team but also be wildly entertaining. Still, the supposed doldrums of last week led to some unexpected excitement, suggesting that anything can — and will — happen this time of year.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State: The freshman point guard averaged 26 points in two games, including 35 in the Smith Center (second-most points ever scored there by a North Carolina opponent) on 21 of 41 shooting, adding 10 rebounds, 13 assists and six steals. Rathan-Mayes was so spectacular in the North Carolina game, he nearly won it — or sent it to overtime — on his own, and his progression bodes well for future FSU seasons.
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: Speaking of carrying their team, the senior guard had 25 of his 43 points this week in the overtime win at NC State, and he was utterly dominant. Over the course of two games, though, he averaged 21.5 points on 50 percent shooting, adding 10 rebounds and 10 assists in an ridiculous 81 minutes. His head coach pushed him for ACC Player of the Year consideration. This past week made it easy to see why.
Terry Rozier, Louisville: The senior guard played in just one game last week, but he finished the Pitt trip with 26 points on 10 of 16 shooting, adding five rebounds, six assists and a steal while playing all 40 minutes. Louisville absolutely, positively needs this version of Rozier all the time.
Tyus Jones, Duke: After hitting a bit of a freshman wall, Duke’s talented point guard came up huge the last two games (both Duke wins) last week, averaging 22 points (coolly sinking 14-of-15 free throws) to go with 10 assists in 77 of the 80 minutes Duke played. He was calm and poised, hitting big shots in big moments. This version of Jones makes a world of difference for the Blue Devils, and they have to hope it can carry over.
Brice Johnson, North Carolina: The junior big man hasn’t been as consistent as his head coach Roy Williams would like, but he put two very nice games together last week to average 18.5 points on 75 percent shooting in just 27 minutes per game, adding 10 rebounds, 1.5 assists and a steal as well. This version of Johnson — Brice, his given name, as opposed to Jonathan, his alter ego that doesn’t play as well — makes North Carolina a much more dangerous team.
Plenty of rookies were good enough to make mention of above, but North Carolina freshman Justin Jackson just missed the cut, averaging 15.5 points on just over 50 percent shooting in two games (though Williams would say he needs to rebound a bit better; he got just seven over the two games).
Right down the road, NC State’s Abdul Malik-Abu had a career-high 19 points in the loss at Miami and finished with 27 on the week on 12 of 19 shooting. The Wolfpack’s Martin twins combined to score 26 points in two games last week and give their team a great lift off the bench on the perimeter in both games (both close losses to now-ranked teams).
The Irish just narrowly missed being the win of the week by erasing an 18-point first-half deficit at NC State, and so now, they’re going to have to get this honor instead. The Irish are still at No. 8 in the polls, but they’re a veritable afterthought when it comes to the rest of the ACC. It’s Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisville — and, oh yeah, Notre Dame.
Well, Notre Dame pummeled Virginia Tech by 35 on the road, a place Virginia struggled to escape with a victory, in its first game this week before going to NC State and overcoming that impressive deficit. The Irish are a matchup nightmare on offense, and defend just well enough when they need to in order to get the job done. If you’re not paying attention, you should start. Good guard play gets you far in March, and the Irish have plenty of it.
For a while in the second half, it looked not only like Duke would fail to deliver Coach K’s 1,000th victory as a head coach, but that the Blue Devils would also get blown out in the process of trying. St. John’s was up by 10 more than once in the second half and looked quicker to loose balls, breaking down the Blue Devils off the dribble at every turn.
Something happened to spark Duke, though, they made the tough plays they had to in order to come back and got Coach K his milestone victory. A burden of sorts has been released, and it’s probably fitting it was in no way an easy win. This Duke team certainly needed a dose of toughness, and maybe this is just that.
The Yellow Jackets entered ACC play at 9-3 and had some nice wins, going 3-2 against current KenPom top-100 teams. Well, they’re 0-7 against everyone in ACC play so far. And after scoring a mere 28 points in the course of a 40-minute college basketball game against Virginia on Thursday — a feat that seemed impossible on paper — they had a legit shot at their first ACC win. They had Boston College coming to town, a team also without an ACC win and without their starting center, Dennis Clifford.
Georgia Tech lost that one, too. At home.
But their exploits against Virginia won’t soon be forgotten. They scored 18 points over the final 30 minutes of the game and shot a horrendous 12 of 49 from the field, including 0 of 12 from 3-point range. They scored just over a half-point per possession. Oh, and the 28 total points? Yeah, Georgia Tech’s Orange Bowl-winning football team outscored them (or tied them) in 12 of 14 games this season; the two exceptions were a 31-25 loss to Duke and a 27-24 win over Virginia Tech.
Travis Jorgenson, Georgia Tech. You try to give a break to a freshman, but he’s Georgia Tech’s main point guard and he played 38 minutes over the course of two games but contributed the following stat line: 1 of 8 shooting, two points, one assist, two steals, one block, no fouls and two turnovers. He’s on the court too much for his only contribution to basically be missing shots. Although considering the team he plays for, he’s hardly alone in that department.
Syracuse (14-6, 5-2) at No. 13 North Carolina (16-4, 6-1), Monday, 7 p.m.
North Carolina has been a little sloppy in its last two home games against Virginia Tech and Florida State. Part of that has been due to their depth issues, but Syracuse — down to, essentially, a six-man rotation — laughs at any talk of depth issues. The Syracuse zone is still challenging for opponents, and the Orange are still playing hard.
Wake Forest (9-11, 1-6) at Florida State (10-10, 2-5), Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Well, Wake Forest has to win an ACC road game at some point, right? Well, I suppose they don’t have to. But if they’re going to, this is certainly a winnable one. Still, Florida State has to be feeling pretty good about itself at the moment, or at least about its freshman point guard Rathan-Mayes. Should be interesting to watch he and Miller-McIntyre go at it, and we’ll see if the Deacs can pick themselves up off the mat.
No. 4 Duke (17-2, 4-2) at No. 8 Notre Dame (19-2, 7-1), Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
Duke’s back on track, right? Everything’s totally fine, right? Well, with both teams off a short turnaround, Duke’s going to have to figure out some kind of a way to guard the hottest-shooting team they have faced all season from 3-point range (40 percent) and to slow down Jerian Grant, who eviscerates everyone he faces off the dribble. Notre Dame has forced almost every opponent so far to go small and adapt; will Duke keep Okafor on the floor and exploit its mismatch on that end? The answer is probably yes, but the chess match between teacher (Krzyzewski) and student (Brey) will be fascinating to watch.
No. 13 North Carolina (16-4, 6-1) at No. 10 Louisville (16-3, 4-2), Saturday, 4 p.m.
This was a fun game the first time around, and it probably should be again. North Carolina has played very well on the road this year, and Louisville has been not quite as good at home in ACC play as they’ve been on the road, oddly enough. The Tar Heels’ recent depth issues have forced them into some zone, but Louisville appears to be figuring out how to attack those lately.
Can Louisville’s guards, Jones and Rozier, repeat the performance they had against the Tar Heels in a losing effort? Will Paige be able to have a better game than just the final five minutes, even though it was enough the first go-round?
No. 4 Duke (17-2, 4-2) at No. 2 Virginia (19-0, 7-0), Saturday, 7 p.m.
This is the game that, if you were an ACC fan, you’ve circled since the beginning of the year. If you’re a Virginia doubter — and, believe it or not, there are plenty left out there — this is somehow the benchmark game to prove that Virginia is not legit. Virginia has given Duke all kinds of problems over the past few years anyway on both ends of the court, but this matchup of an elite offense in Duke’s (when it’s clicking) and a dominant defense in Virginia’s is going to be fascinating to watch.