The beginning of conference play in college basketball is coming right on time. As college sports fans switch gears from the stadium grass to the hardwood, the basketball season heats right on up.
The ACC’s Clemson Tigers made a statement with their dominant victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide this past Monday night. I don’t think there is any question that Dabo Swinney and the coaches down in Death Valley are committed to excellence.
For ACC basketball, though, the bar has been set high for decades. Future hall of fame coaches Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski have kept their schools not only on top of the ACC but at the pinnacle of college basketball for nearly their entire careers.
Both teams continue to be recruiting giants and the coaching staff continually develops talent and a winning attitude in one student-athlete after another.
They aren’t the only teams in the ACC this year with national title hopes, though. Tony Bennett has the UVA Cavaliers undefeated and ranked #1 in the coaches poll.
The journey to the ACC regular season championship and tournament is a long one, although It doesn’t begin with a leisurely stroll.
ACC basketball is comparable to SEC football. There aren’t many night’s off. It’s imperative these 19-year-olds maintain laser focus for the next couple of months.
Yea, that’s not going to happen. We all lose our focus and these are kids we are talking about. That is the beauty of college sports. Anything can happen on a given night.
Which teams can minimize the variability of their play from night to night?
And which teams will prove to be pretenders as the local competition fires up?
There are five games on the ACC schedule this month that will help us in determining who’s who in the nation’s top basketball conference. I picked 4 big games on the ACC schedule in January. Let’s take a glimpse at each.
#2 Duke vs #13 Florida State (January 12th)
The #1 Blue Devils travel down to Tallahassee for their first big in-conference test. They have already beat top 20 teams Kentucky, Texas Tech, and Auburn with their only loss by 2 points to the Zags at the Maui Invitational.
Freshman Zion Williamson has the entire country abuzz! For hardcores like me, the buzz has been present for years. His high school highlights made him an internet sensation long before his invasion of your big screen.
He isn’t doing it all by himself, though. Duke is #1 for a reason as they arguably have the most complete team in the nation.
As well as the Blue Devils have played, it’s hard to call their season to this point a surprise. The Florida Seminoles are sitting at 13th right now and that’s around the position they held before the season began.
Leonard Hamilton always seems has a big physical squad of young men playing for him. They will need every bit of that physicality to deal with Williamson.
That’s just not how Florida State is built this year, though. They rank all the way down at 225th in defensive rebounding. A big part of that is allowing nearly 49% shooting from the field.
Duke averages around 49% from the field as a team, so their offense should stay on schedule Saturday.
Once you take a look at team statistics for college basketball this season, you begin to realize how dominant the Duke Blue Devils have been this year.
These stats are for the entire NCAA. I’m going to need bullets for this.
- 1st in average scoring margin (26.8)
- 1st in blocks/game (8.2)
- 1st in steals/game (11.3)
- 2nd in rebounds and offensive rebounds/game
- 2nd in opponents effective FG%
- Forces 17 turnovers/game
There’s more but we will both be here all day.
Zion is ridiculous, though. He’s scoring 20.9/game as a freshman. Cool story, right?
It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Take a closer look, though.
He’s shooting 68% from the field and is only playing 26 minutes a night!
The South Carolina-native has been good for 2 steals and 2 blocks a game while grabbing nearly 10 boards.
There isn’t another player in the country who stacks up on paper with Williamson and there isn’t another team in college basketball that holds a candle to what the Blue Devils have been able to do 14 games into the season.
This will be the first conference road game versus a ranked opponent for Duke, so don’t count out the Noles.
The entirety of the student body won’t be back in Tallahassee until classes kick back up, so the crowd shouldn’t be a factor.
#7 Virginia Tech at #1 Virginia (January 15th)
The Virginia Tech Hokies basketball squad pulled off a couple of major upsets last season. They beat Duke in Blacksburg and even more impressive, they defeated the then ranked-2nd UVA Hoos in Charlottesville with a game-winning put back in the waning seconds.
The word is in Blacksburg that the Cavs weren’t the same team after that game and consequently disappointed in the big dance. I’m not buying it, but either way, the Cavaliers are out for revenge!
Coming in as one of two undefeated teams in college basketball along with the Michigan Wolverines, UVA will, of course, be the favorite at home.
This game will be the biggest test for each squad so far this season. It’s obviously a rival game, so we know it has the potential to be a close contest regardless of a team’s skill level.
How do these two teams stack up on paper, though?
- UVA and VT are ranked 3rd and 4th, respectively, in average scoring margin
- UVA is #1 in scoring defense but Tech not far behind at 4th
- Tech is 327th in total rebounds/game while UVA is 2nd in rebounds allowed
- VT is 8th in 3 pointers/game and UVA is 3rd in 3’s given up
- UVA #1 in turnovers/game with less than 9/game
Virginia Tech matches up very well with the Cavs. UVA is an elite defense, yes, but the Hokies are good there too. If the Hokies can be efficient from beyond the arc while grabbing a few more rebounds than usual, they can definitely win in C’ville for the second straight year.
UVA doesn’t look like the team that is going to beat themselves, but at least offensively speaking, they aren’t likely to blow anyone out of the water either.
I predict another close battle with UVA pulling off the victory at home but I like the Hokies if they are getting 3 or more points from the sportsbooks.
#7 Virginia Tech at #12 North Carolina (January 21st)
So, #12 has 2.5 times the odds to win the national championship as the #7 team. The 12th-ranked Heels have already dropped 3 games too.
Maybe they are experiencing some name recognition love from the pollers.
The Hokies have only lost once, a one-point road defeat to the Nittany Lions in late November. They have not been tested, though, nearly as much as the Heels who have played Michigan, Gonzaga, Kentucky, and most recently defeated the NC State Wolfpack in Raleigh.
- VT is the #4 scoring defense in the country
- Heels are 3rd in the nation in scoring
- UNC is quite undisciplined ranking around 200th in personal fouls and turnovers/game
- The biggest stat is…
- UNC #1 in rebounding/VT #237th in rebounding
The Heels are almost always a better team in the second half of the season as you can see the leadership of Roy Williams doing whatever he does to increase the level their play as the year goes on.
With a tremendous rebounding advantage and a pace that could wilt a marathoner, Carolina matches up well against the Hokies.
The game is still a couple weeks away, but I like UNC at home.
#1 Virginia at #2 Duke (January 19th)
I was going in chronological order, but I had to save the best for last.
We’ve already talked about each squad. Picking a winner here won’t be easy as we have the best defense versus probably the best offense in the country who also has the best player.
If the Cameron Crazies don’t make the difference for the Devils, Zion will have to do so himself.
His 2 blocks and 2 steals/game are comparable to the entire UVA team who are only averaging 6 steals and an abysmal 3 blocks/game. A big part of this is their style of keeping the ball out of the paint.
I’ve got news for them, they aren’t keeping Zion out of that royal blue lane.
- #2 in scoring
- #2 in rebounding
- #1 in blocks
- #1 in steals
That should be enough against the Cavs in Durham, especially considering the fact that Duke is not relying on the three-ball like in year’s past.
Give me Duke or give me death!
The ACC looks pretty dominant this season. Not only do they have the #1 and #2 teams in the coaches poll, but there are also 3 more in the top 15.
Conference play has been underway for about a week and the games are just getting more and more interesting.
Duke is very dominant and doesn’t rely mostly on their ability to make the long ball every night this season.
Carolina has already played some of the best teams in the country and while they have already dropped three games, those 5-star recruits are growing at a puberty pace.
UVA looks like the same team as they’ve been the last few years. Expectations are now in place so they will need to finish the year stronger in 2019.
The Hokies and Noles both look like sweet 16 teams at this point.
These 4 games will tell us a lot about the ACC this year.