ACC Roundup: UNC’s yo-yo season; disappointing losses
Well, the ACC tied with the Big Ten in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge last week, a result that I think the league will take considering it came down to North Carolina needing to knock off No. 1 Michigan State — on the road — just to stay even. The up-and-down Tar Heels did just that.
But Day 2 of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge was … not good. The ACC went 2-4, all four losses coming by double digits. What’s worse is that three of the teams many thought could do pretty well in the ACC this year — Virginia (which started the season ranked), Maryland and Boston College — were each dominated in their respective games. That wasn’t the only place the ACC stubbed its proverbial toe this week in the non-conference, either.
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Things were so shaky that a team many pegged as a dark horse top-four ACC team and an NCAA Tournament possibility (Boston College) dropped to 3-6, going 0-2 this week, and wasn’t even the #goacc Team of the Week.
Still, there were some good moments, too. Some teams are starting to see production from unexpected sources and this week’s All-ACC team includes four first-timers.
All-ACC Team (Dec. 2-Dec. 8)
T.J. Warren, N.C. State: At this point, it might be more surprising if Warren doesn’t lead the ACC in scoring. In two wins last week, he averaged 22.5 points on nearly 55 percent shooting in 33 minutes a game. He’s had to carry this team more than once this season, and that may not work against ACC competition, but it has been enough to beat some of the out-of-conference competition that N.C. State has faced so far. Warren has been up to the challenge.
Jarell Eddie, Virginia Tech: The Hokies went 2-0 last week, and the play of Eddie was a huge reason why. He’s been inconsistent throughout his Virginia Tech career, but he knows he’s going to have to play a big role on this year’s team. And he’s stepping up, averaging 29 points on 54 percent shooting last week (including 12-of-22 from 3-point range), adding eight steals and four rebounds.
Quinn Cook, Duke: In the Blue Devils’ only game last week, a win over No. 22 Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Cook was spectacular, scoring all 24 of his points in the second half and finishing with nine assists, two steals and two turnovers in 37 minutes. When Cook plays like that, Duke is darned near impossible to beat, particularly when he initiates the defense as well as he did.
Garrick Sherman, Notre Dame: The fifth-year senior center had a rough start to the season for the Irish, and he wouldn’t have even made the list this week (since his team went 1-1, losing at Iowa and inching by Delaware) were it not for his impressive turnaround. He averaged just 7.3 points in Notre Dame’s first three games. But he’s hit double figures in five straight games, scoring 29 in the loss at Iowa and 19 against Delaware on 19-of-30 shooting. He didn’t have any blocks, but no one from Notre Dame seems all that interested in playing defense at the moment, so hard to fault the (almost) 7-footer.
Trevor Cooney, Syracuse: If Cooney can keep this pace going, the redshirt sophomore will be one of the premier breakout players in the league this season. He averaged 3.4 points a game last year in just over 11 minutes. He’s already averaging 15.3 points per game this year in nearly 30 minutes a game, but last week alone he averaged 19 points and drained 10-of-18 3-pointers, adding four rebounds, three assists and eight steals. Syracuse already has plenty of talent, but Cooney’s emergence is a nice bonus.
Honorable Mentions: There are two duos that should be highlighted here, because neither did quite enough to make the team on their own, but together, they were huge for their respective teams. For Georgia Tech, it was Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter, Jr. The sophomores have had disappointing seasons so far overall, but the Yellow Jackets went 2-0 last week and they averaged 35 points per game collectively (Carter added 8.5 rebounds, while Georges-Hunt added eight assists to one turnover). Oh, and they made 6-of-13 three’s. Before that, they’d combined to make just 8-of-27 outside shots. They are Georgia Tech’s two best players, and the Yellow Jackets need them to take the next step this year if the team is going to do the same.
For UNC, it was Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks. Johnson, a sophomore, isn’t a starter but he is perhaps UNC’s most efficient scorer in the post. Meeks is just a freshman, but he’s a rebounding machine and as good an outlet passer as you’ll see in college. The two combined for 55 points in 78 minutes in UNC’s two games last week, adding 27 rebounds, four assists and four blocks between them. UNC is better when both can score, but particularly so with Meeks, who has averaged 14 points, 9.5 rebounds and four assists in UNC’s two wins over top-five teams this year. UNC needs more production from its bigs than it got a year ago, and early indicators are that it will get it.
The “I See You Working” Team of the Week
Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have gotten plenty of criticism in this space in past weeks, but they quietly put together a very nice week. Wins over Illinois and East Tennessee State aren’t going to get them into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large or anything, but it’s a nice start to turning things around this season after dropping non-conferences games to Dayton, Ole Miss and St. John’s. The Yellow Jackets have some tough games remaining outside of league play (Vanderbilt, Charlotte), and it would be big for this young team’s confidence if it could pick up one or both of those.
ACC Win of the Week
North Carolina 79 at No. 1 Michigan State 65. Lose to Belmont, beat No. 3 Louisville. Lose at UAB, beat No. 1 Michigan State on the road. Like you do. The Tar Heels’ roller-coaster ride has been well-documented, but it’s hard to argue that any other ACC team has a win remotely this good all year, much less this week. And it was a true team win — five Tar Heels hit double figures and UNC beat the Spartans at their own game (rebounding and physicality). What’s better is that UNC knocked off an inferior opponent in its next game on Saturday (UNCG), controlling the game mostly throughout. Perhaps a sign that things are stabilizing.
#goacc Team of the Week: Virginia
Virginia started this season ranked, and its only loss going into last week was a close one at home to VCU. No big deal.
Then last week happened.
Virginia lost at home to a still-undefeated Wisconsin team that’s now ranked fourth nationally. But Badgers shot just 28.8 percent from the field and won by 10 points. That’s because Virginia hit just 11 field goals for the game and shot 23.4 percent overall, ending with just 38 points. That’s … I mean, there are no words for how ghastly that is.
On Saturday, the Cavaliers traveled to Wisconsin-Green Bay for a not-so-pleasant homecoming game for head coach Tony Bennett. The Cavaliers fell to Green Bay, 75-72. And this game was almost worse, because it was Virginia’s trademark defense that let it down this time, allowing 51 percent shooting (50 percent from 3-point range).
The biggest concern remaining is that if Virginia wants to continue to play a slower tempo — its two losses last week were two of its slower-paced games all year — it can’t keep turning the ball over. Every possession is valuable. Virginia turned it over 14 times.
Regardless, something isn’t right for this team, which returns plenty of young talent but has been pretty average so far. Maybe the Cavaliers can get it together some time in the next two weeks when they host a pretty good Northern Iowa team. They still have a chance for one more good non-conference win (at Tennessee), but other than that, UVa had better have a great ACC season or it will find itself on the outside looking in come NCAA Tournament time again.
Honorable mentions: Boston College (0-2 versus Purdue, USC); Maryland (0-2 versus Ohio State, George Washington).
#goacc Player of the Week: Madison Jones, Wake Forest
This was a tough choice, because he didn’t play very much (34 minutes in two games) and Wake won both games. But Jones, a sophomore guard, didn’t do anything very well in that span. He scored one point in 34 total minutes, adding two rebounds, four assists, five fouls and EIGHT turnovers.
BC’s Olivier Hanlan was a close second here. He didn’t start at USC for what was termed “undisclosed disciplinary reasons”, and in two games last week (both losses) he had a total of 21 points on 8-of-20 shooting and added three assists, five fouls and six turnovers. Obviously, BC won’t win many games that he plays that poorly. Not that BC has won that many games this year anyway.