ACC Roundup: Top, middle tiers start to take shape

Syracuse senior Rakeem Christmas had 18 more points than anybody else did in two games last week, and he's been fantastic all season long.

It’s crazy how quickly fortunes can change.

No. 15 North Carolina was done after a loss to No. 8 Notre Dame; now the Tar Heels have won three in a row. No. 5 Duke lost two straight, including a thumping at home at the hands of Miami, and suddenly the Blue Devils were fraudulent — until they got a big road win at No. 10 Louisville.

In other words, there’s plenty of season left to go, and plenty can still happen in the ACC. Think about that before we all wring our hands about the results of a few games over a short period of time.


Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: The 6-foot-9 senior has been an absolute beast this year, and this past week was no different as he scored 56 points in two games on 23-of-34 shooting, adding 19 rebounds, two assists and two steals in a ridiculous 85 minutes. That’s right — he played every minute of Syracuse’s overtime win over Wake, and every minute of the loss to Clemson, when his attempts to carry his team weren’t enough as he got no help. He’s been spectacular all year.

Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: After a bit of a shaky spell — for him, anyway — Virginia’s 6-foot-5 all-everything wing scored 36 points on 11-of-19 shooting this past week, adding seven rebounds, five assists and no turnovers through two games. And he played just 58 minutes. Both he and Virginia are at their best when they play this way; coolly efficient and excellent in all areas of the stat sheet.

Konstantinos Mitoglou/Codi Miller-McIntyre, Wake Forest: Mitoglou, a 6-foot-10 freshman, had a rough week the week before, but man did he come through in a big way at Syracuse in the overtime loss, scoring 26 points (a career-high) on 10-of-13 shooting to go with six rebounds and two steals. Miller-McIntyre, Wake’s junior point guard, had 24 points on just 17 shots, which was big, and added six rebounds, six assists and two blocks in an insane 43 minutes.

Trevor Lacey/Ralston Turner, N.C. State: The Wolfpack’s excellent guard duo carried the team last week through a comeback attempt that fell just short against North Carolina, and staving off a loss at Florida State. Lacey averaged 18 points on 10-of-29 shooting, but had to play nearly every minute of both games and was exhausted; he still hit big shots and was 12 of 12 from the foul line. Turner fouled out of both games, but averaged 17.5 points and hit 8-of-22 three’s, many at key moments. There aren’t many better guard duos in the league.

Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: He broke out of his mini-slump last week in a big way, scoring 35 points in two games on 13-of-22 shooting to go with 14 assists. Grant was particularly brilliant in the home win over Miami, scoring 23 points (his second-most in ACC play) on 8-of-10 shooting to go with eight assists and three turnovers. While it’s great that he gets more help from his teammates, this version of Grant is what turns Notre Dame from really good into potentially great.


As usual, Duke’s Okafor has already been covered.

But some other freshmen had nice weeks, too — surely not enough to earn ACC Rookie of the Week honors, which is an award owned by Okafor, but still.

North Carolina’s Justin Jackson had 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting last week to go with seven rebounds, six assists, a steal and two blocks in just 50 minutes.

Florida State’s Phil Cofer averaged 12.5 points in two games, including 21 against Pittsburgh, to go with 7.5 rebounds. His teammate Xavier Rathan-Meyes averaged 11.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.5 steals.

Miami’s Ja’Quan Newton had 20 points and eight assists in just 38 minutes over two games last week. Virginia Tech’s Ahmed Hill averaged 10.5, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists.

Duke point guard Tyus Jones snapped out of a slump with 10 points at Louisville, his most since Dec. 29. Clemson’s Donte Grantham scored 16 of his 18 points last week in the win over Syracuse.

Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson came in for major center minutes in relief of Zach Auguste in spite of being just 6-foot-5. The freshman had 14 points in two games on 4-of-7 shooting (6 of 6 from the foul line), adding seven rebounds and two blocks in 34 minutes.


Miami. Yes, the Hurricanes went 1-1, dropping a close one at Notre Dame after the upset of Duke. But somehow, even with its two guards combining for just seven points and being largely ineffective, they were not only in that game, but had a chance to win it late.

The Hurricanes have some intriguing complementary pieces, any number of whom are capable of stepping up on a given night. Even if Miami doesn’t sneak into the top four of the league by the time it’s all said and done, the Hurricanes aren’t the team that got blown out by Eastern Kentucky at home anymore and they likely won’t be again.


No. 5 Duke at No. 10 Louisville, 63-52. To say that Duke needed this win badly would be an understatement after losing two straight. But the Blue Devils knew it wasn’t going to be easy. And in the beginning, it wasn’t — Duke didn’t shoot all that well, and it was a close, relatively sloppy game.

Duke debuted its zone against the Cardinals, and kept Louisville’s guard tandem under control that way. Louisville missed plenty of shots it has made in the past, and its offensive execution left a lot to be desired. But ultimately, once Duke started hitting shots, you could visibly see this team gaining confidence, and that in itself was big on both ends of the court.

Duke hit shots, took care of the basketball (against a defense designed to force turnovers) and just made plays, even late as Louisville attempted to mount a frantic comeback at home. This could be one to build on.


Syracuse. The start of the ACC slate for the Orange had been especially easy, which is good for a team trying to find out who it wants to be and who it can be this year. The loss of freshman Chris McCullough, though, hampers the rotation even more. Syracuse managed to squeak by a lame Wake Forest team before getting absolutely pummeled at Clemson. It’s not that Syracuse lost. It’s HOW the Orange lost.

They didn’t play well on offense, but they also let a usually-inept Clemson offense post the best offensive efficiency (111.7) the Orange had allowed all season. That’s inexcusable, and things are going to get hard soon — all seven of Syracuse’s final ACC games are against top-100 Ken Pom teams, and they’ve played one team in Ken Pom’s top 100 since Dec. 21 (and will play just three in the next six games).


Quentin Snider, Louisville. A lot of competition this week, but for a freshman trying to crack his way into the rotation, going 0 of 12 from the field (0 of 6 from three) in 26 minutes and adding three fouls is probably not the best way to do that.

It was tough to pick on a freshmen, though it was close between he and Virginia Tech’s Malik Mueller, who was 1-of-13 shooting in 39 minutes and had five points (he did have eight rebounds to just four for Snider).


No. 15 North Carolina (14-4, 4-1 ACC) at Wake Forest (9-9, 1-4 ACC), Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Ask Duke and Louisville how tricky a place Wake Forest is to play. Heck, ask North Carolina LAST year, since the Tar Heels lost there.

Wake has had eight days off since the overtime loss at Syracuse, and the young Deacs continue to show a lot of moxie to go with their (albeit young) talent. North Carolina looked great in a hostile environment at NC State, then failed to generate any energy of its own against an awful Virginia Tech team and allowed the Hokies to out-fight them all night. The Tar Heels can’t play like that — or even close to that — on Wednesday.

NC State (13-6, -2 ACC) at Miami (12-5, 2-2 ACC), Thursday, 8 p.m.

This is a battle for the top of the middle tier of the league. And that’s not an insult — maybe top-middle would be a better way of describing it.

Right now, it would seem that Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Notre Dame are probably the best teams in the league. But that next tier of teams is wide open, and Miami and N.C. State — the only two teams to beat Duke this year — certainly seem like the best of that bunch. It will be fascinating to watch as two of the best guard tandems in the ACC go up against each other and we’ll all get a better sense of just how good these two teams are.

No. 5 Duke (15-2, 3-2 ACC) at St. John’s (12-5, 1-4 Big East), Sunday, 2 p.m.

Not to go out on a limb and assume that Duke will beat Pittsburgh tonight, but just say Duke does that — it will be going for head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th career win at Madison Square Garden.

It wasn’t the way it was supposed to shake out, but it seems oddly perfect. This game looked a lot more challenging for Duke, not only because Duke was struggling, but also because St. John’s was 11-2 going into the 2015 calendar year.

They’ve dropped four of their last five in Big East play, though, including a stinker to DePaul. Still, they have plenty of talent and they’ll no doubt be excited to face off against the Blue Devils.

No. 8 Notre Dame (17-2, 5-1 ACC) at NC State (13-6, 4-2 ACC), Sunday, 6:30 p.m.

If NC State is going to stay firmly on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, a win like this, at home against a team that it might match up pretty well with considering the size advantage, would be nice.

Certainly NC State wouldn’t be punished for losing to the Irish, who are playing as well as anyone in the league right now. But it would be a nice security blanket in case the Wolfpack struggles against some of the lower-tier teams on the road again (trips to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest loom especially large).