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December 15, 2006

A glimpse at the ACC: Part II

Thursday, we ran through half of the ACC during an analysis of the conference as teams prepare for what could rightfully be called "the real season," the games that take place after the end of the first semester.

Today, we glance at the other half of the league, which features some teams likely headed for long seasons as well as one national title hopeful.

MIAMI

Record: 6-4 (1-0 ACC)
Best Win: Georgia Tech
Bad Losses: Buffalo, Cleveland State, Northwestern

What's gone right

Frank Haith's team scored a big upset with an ACC opening victory over Georgia Tech, a much needed win for the Hurricanes as they try to build some momentum in a building year. Losing guards Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite would be cause for concern for any team, but Siena transfer Jack McClinton has done his best to pick up the slack. The sharpshooter leads the league in scoring with more than 20 points per game and has done a good job of getting to the foul line, where he shoots better than 90 percent. The 'Canes have also played pretty solid defense, but maintaining their current defensive pace will be difficult as the schedule toughens. Discounting its win over Georgia Tech, Miami has no wins of real substance.

What's gone wrong

The injury bug has bitten Miami in a very bad way. Top interior presence Anthony King suffered a wrist injury in the win over Georgia Tech and is expected to miss a month. Without his nearly 10 rebounds a game, there is a big void in the paint. Even with a healthy King, Miami was not off to a good start, with losses already on the schedule to the likes of Buffalo, Cleveland State, and Northwestern. After posting a win against Lehigh following King's injury, Miami was easily handled by Mississippi State. Other than McClinton, the 'Canes have not developed much additional scoring. Brian Asbury is in double figures and has shot the three pointer pretty well, but in King's absence, the rest of the main contributors are combining for barely 30 points per night.

Top Scorer: McClinton (20.5)
Top Rebounder: King (9.3)

Early postseason projecion: None

NORTH CAROLINA

Record: 7-1 (0-0 ACC)
Best Wins: Tennessee, Ohio State, Kentucky
Bad Losses: None

What's gone right

All the talk in preseason about the hyped freshmen class has proved accurate. The Tar Heels are getting terrific play from Brandan Wright, Ty Lawson, and Wayne Ellington, the three headliners of that class. Wright in particular has made a smooth transition. His length and frontcourt athleticism have impacted the game in major fashion, and his 63 percent field goal shooting is pretty good as well. This is still a team that features Tyler Hansbrough though, and the bull of a center has been dominating. It was thought his production might fall a bit this year because of more help around him, but he is putting in nearly 20 points a game and more than eight rebounds. The combination of Hansbrough and Wright in the frontcourt is arguably the nation's most devastating duo, with Hansbrough supplying the power and Wright providing the extra explosiveness. If senior Reyshawn Terry up his scoring just slightly, the Tar Heels will have five players averaging double figures. The win-loss results speak for themselves so far. Even with a stumble in New York against Gonzaga, the Heels have quality wins over Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio State. They like to play fast, and more often than not opponents can't keep up for 40 minutes.

What's gone wrong

The loss to Gonzaga exposed what everyone knew would eventually be exposed, and that is that the Tar Heels are still looking for the right lineup combinations and right on court chemistry with so many new faces joining the veterans. Guard Bobby Frasor is currently fighting some injury problems with his hip and foot, which temporarily has taken one player away from the backcourt rotation, but don't look for anybody to feel sorry for Carolina. This team has no holes on paper, although its youth will probably lead to a couple of more setbacks as the schedule continues. There is still some room for improvement on the defensive end, but finding a major weakness on this team is tough.

Top Scorer: Hansbrough (19.4)
Top Rebounder: Hansbrough (8.3)

Early postseason projection: NCAA

NORTH CAROLINA STATE

Record: 6-2 (0-1 ACC)
Best Win: Michigan
Bad Losses: None

What's gone right

New coach Sidney Lowe has benefited from a soft early schedule, with his best win so far coming at home against Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Though not a deep team, the Wolfpack has so far succeeded at being balanced. All five members of their regular starting lineup are averaging double figures and the team as a whole is of only three squads in the ACC to be shooting above 50 percent so far. NC State has played hard on a nightly basis. Even with a shorthanded roster, the Wolfpack has played tough defense and so far is managing to lead the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio. Gavin Grant is playing exceptionally well and center Ben McCauley has been very productive in the paint. If the Pack can get a little more consistent outside shooting from guard Courtney Fells, then they will have a chance to be competitive in a lot of games. Forward Brandon Costner has been outstanding with 15.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

What's gone wrong

Guard Engin Atsur has been held out of action for the last three games with a hamstring injury, a tough blow for a backcourt that was already lacking in depth. He's expected back soon though, perhaps for a December 20th matchup with Alabama. The writing may be on the wall for this team though. Even though it has played well in spurts, it's 0-1 in league play after a loss to Virginia, and NC State's lack of depth is likely to catch up with the Pack later in the year. Only seven players have been playing significant minutes, and there is no significant bench scoring at all. NC State will likely be at or near the bottom of the league in rebounding throughout the year because it just doesn't have the bodies to handle the wave of talent the ACC will bring every game. The Wolfpack can't count on three point shooting to help them out either. NC State ranks 11th in the league in three point shooting. If Lowe wins as many as five league games this year, that will be a decent accomplishment.

Top Scorer: Grant (16.8)
Top Rebounder: Costner (7.4)

Early postseason projection: None

VIRGINIA

Record: 5-1 (1-0 ACC)
Best Win: Arizona
Bad Losses: None

What's gone right

The Cavaliers have a lot of momentum early in the season with the opening of a brand new arena to go along with a win over Arizona and a league opening victory over NC State. As ACC fans have grown accustomed to, the Cavaliers are being led by great backcourt play with Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds. The two are combining for more than 30 points per game and are the top two assist men on the roster by far. But maybe the best sign for Virginia has been the play of forward Mamadi Diane, who has been a strong third option and is shooting exceptionally well offensively. The Cavaliers have also been a dominating rebounding team despite not really having a dominating rebounder. Jason Cain is the closest thing to it with eight boards a game, but as a team Virginia leads the ACC in rebounding margin at + 13.7.

What's gone wrong

Virginia's biggest flaw so far has been the game's most fundamental skill: shooting. The Cavaliers are last in the league shooting less than 45 percent from the floor as a team. Over the last two games, a loss at Purdue and a win over NC State, the shooting has been horrendous, although it was good enough to beat the Wolfpack. Even though it's difficult for opponents to contain Singletary and Reynolds, Virginia can be beaten by teams with physical post players and good perimeter defenders, because the Cavaliers have few people to turn to if its guards aren't scoring the basketball. Virginia has had to play a lot without 6-11 big man Tunji Soroye, who is just starting to get back into playing shape after having a groin injury. His presence in the paint could help a team in need of some more interior options.

Top Scorer: Singletary (16.4)
Top Rebounder: Cain (8.0)

Early postseason projection: NCAA

VIRGINIA TECH

Record: 6-3 (0-0 ACC)
Best Wins: Iowa
Bad Losses: Western Michigan, George Washington

What's gone right

The Hokies have a little momentum going after a two game winning streak over Old Dominion and Appalachian State, with both wins keyed by some very good defense. Virginia Tech held those two opponents to a 46 point average in the wins, which helped atone for some heartbreaking losses earlier in the schedule. The Hokies have had a knack for generating steals as well. Three players had double digit steal totals in the season's first nine games, and Virginia Tech has a player in Deron Washington is one of the more versatile defenders in the league. Florida State star Al Thornton told me at ACC media day in October that Washington is the toughest ACC defender he's faced, and that's saying something. Offensively, Virginia Tech has been very good with the basketball, ranking third in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio behind the strong play of Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell, each of whom own 2-to-1 ratios in that category. Rebounding hasn't been a great strength so far, but Cheick Diakite's team leading 4.8 boards per game off the bench have been very valuable.

What's gone wrong

Last year, the Hokies were the country's most snake bitten team. Close losses piled up, as did off the court adversity. This year, close losses have again been a problem. All three of Virginia Tech's losses have come by five points or less. The solution to that trouble may lie at the foul line, where the Hokies are shooting a miserable 62 percent as a team so far. Standout post player Coleman Collins has dealt with some nagging injuries this season and has yet to find his offensive groove. He's averaging just 7.6 points per game in less than 20 minutes of action per contest. For the Hokies to get to the NCAA Tournament, Collins has to be a steady force inside.

Top Scorer: Dowdell (15.9)
Top Rebounder: Diakite (4.8)

Early postseason projection: NIT

WAKE FOREST

Record: 5-3 (0-0 ACC)
Best Wins: Bucknell, Vanderbilt
Bad Losses: Georgia

What's gone right

Not a whole lot has gone right for Wake Forest so far, although the Demon Deacons did race out to a 5-0 start, a stretch that included wins over Bucknell and Vanderbilt. Since then though, it's been three straight losses, two in blowout fashion and one a home heartbreaker to Georgia. Big man Kyle Visser has been the unquestionable biggest bright spot. Visser is scoring nearly 20 points per game with very near 10 rebounds to go along with the scoring. He and Boston College's Jared Dudley are the only two players in the league to rank in the top five in scoring, rebounding, and field goal percentage. Offense has not been a problem in coach Skip Prosser's fast paced attack. The Demon Deacons are averaging nearly 80 points per game, and the youth movement is in full effect with three freshmen in the starting lineup. The young guys have all been pretty good though, with guard Ishmael Smith leading the way along with forwards L.D. Williams and Jamie Skeen.

What's gone wrong

Even though the youth is talented, it's still youth, and that still means trouble in the ACC. In two out of three road games so far this season, Wake Forest has been really bad, a sure sign of inexperience on the roster. The Deacs have trouble with the ball in their hands as well, as they have piled up too many turnovers in eight games. The chief problem at Wake Forest though is what it usually seems to be under Prosser, and that's defense. The Deacs are allowing just less than 80 points per contest, a figure that doesn't bode well for ACC success. The defense has been especially bad at the three point line, where opponents have hit for 37.3 percent. Wake Forest should be interesting to watch the rest of the way, and the Deacs will probably spring an upset or two, but the youth and inability to get consistent stops will be a recipe for a rough ride through the conference slate.

Top Scorer: Visser (19.8)
Top Rebounder: Visser (8.8)

Early postseason projection: None


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