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ACC basketball performed remarkably well during non-conference play, compiling a 146-42 record (.777), but which teams did the best? Jacob Dennis takes a look at how ACC teams did prior to conference play. (Note: rankings are from the time the game was played)
Boston College Eagles (Non-Conference Record: 7-6)
Best win: Harvard (69-56)
Worst loss: UMass-Lowell (66-68)
Breakdown: The Eagles have faced a pair of top-quality opponents in Michigan State and Providence, but the team simply hasn’t performed well in the season’s first month-plus. Boston College has already dropped a game to 4-10 Santa Clara in addition to the UMass-Lowell loss, but there are still some positives to be gained from Eagles’ performance in non-conference play.
Jim Christian’s team battled back to cut its deficit to single digits late in the second half on the road against Providence, and the team won four consecutive games to close non-conference play. Additionally, Florida transfer Eli Carter has been outstanding for the Eagles to date, as his 16-plus points per game easily leads the team.
Unfortunately, Boston College has just two players averaging double-figure scoring, and early conference dates with Duke and Notre Dame don’t bode well for the Eagles’ chances to start ACC play off in the win column.
Clemson Tigers (Non-Conference Record: 7-5)
Best win: None
Worst loss: Massachusetts (65-82)
Breakdown: Clemson made it out of non-conference play with a record above .500, but the Tigers simply weren’t that impressive. Brad Brownell’s team lost games to Minnesota, Alabama, Georgia and unbeaten South Carolina, while failing to register a signature résumé-building win. Clemson did look solid in its 65-59 home loss to the in-state rival Gamecocks, however, as the Tigers shrugged off a 16-point halftime deficit to make things close down the stretch.
As expected, Jaron Blossomgame leads the team in scoring with over 15 points per game, but he will need help from the likes of Avry Holmes, Landry Nnoko and Jordan Roper if the team wants to stay competitive in ACC play. Donte Grantham has also been a top performer for the Tigers, as the 6-foot-8 forward is the only player besides Blossomgame to average more than 10 points per game.
Clemson faces a brutal stretch of play from Jan. 10-Jan. 19, when the Tigers face Louisville, Duke, Miami and Virginia consecutively, all teams that are ranked nationally.
Duke Blue Devils (Non-Conference Record: 11-2)
Best wins: Georgetown (86-84), Indiana (94-74)
Worst loss: None
Breakdown: The Blue Devils losing two non-conference games was a bit of a surprise, as it is generally expected that Coach K and company will roll into ACC play with an unblemished record. The team’s two losses, however, were to then #2 Kentucky and a talented Utah squad, so there is no reason for panic in Durham. After nearly completing a furious rally in a 77-75 OT loss to the Utes, the Blue Devils hung 70 points on Elon in just one half on Dec. 28.
Grayson Allen is averaging over 20 points per game, but freshman sensation Brandon Ingram has stolen the show by creating a season’s worth of highlight reel dunks in a span of just a few games. With that duo leading the way, and three other players averaging double-figure scoring, the perennial power is poised to start a long winning streak. After all, the team’s first four ACC games will come against the likes of Boston College, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Clemson.
While non-conference play didn’t go quite as well as Duke fans hoped, the defending national champions will again be in contention for not only an ACC crown, but also a repeat run to the Final Four.
Florida State Seminoles (Non-Conference Record: 10-2)
Best wins: Florida (73-71), VCU (76-71)
Worst loss: Hofstra (77-82)
Breakdown: The Noles have arguably the youngest talent of any ACC team, but that talent will be forced to grow up quickly due to a brutal early conference slate. FSU has compiled wins over archrival Florida and VCU and the team nearly defeated Iowa in the Big Ten-ACC challenge (overtime loss), but a loss to Hofstra is what currently mars the team’s record.
All-ACC star, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, has yet to perform up to his abilities so far this season, as his near 11 points per game average is just third on the team. With freshmen Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon both averaging around 17 points per game, FSU has the capability to beat any team on any given night. XRM’s current slump, which has seen him shoot a paltry 28-percent from 3-point range, isn’t likely to continue. When he wakes up, Leonard Hamilton and company will be a nightmare to contend with.
Florida State will play North Carolina, Miami, Virginia and Louisville within its first six conference games, meaning the team will have ample opportunity to pad its tournament resume in the next few weeks by grabbing a signature win.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (Non-Conference Record: 10-3)
Best win: VCU (77-64)
Worst loss: East Tennessee State (68-69)
Breakdown: The Yellow Jackets have four solid wins over Arkansas, Tennessee, VCU and Duquesne, but Brian Gregory’s team had a legitimate opportunity to enter ACC play with a 12-1 record and failed to do so. An upset loss at home to East Tennessee State, followed by the first loss to bitter rival UGA under Brian Gregory’s watch, means that Tech could be in for a rough time in ACC play, but there is no question that the Jackets are far more dynamic than a season ago.
A trio of players could propel Tech toward the middle of the pack in the ACC this year: Marcus Georges-Hunt leads the team with over 14 points per game, Charles Mitchell has been a double-double machine, and Virginia Tech transfer Adam Smith has given the Jackets a much-needed threat from the outside. Last season, Georgia Tech started 8-2 before finishing 12-19, but the team is simply more talented this year. A repeat of such a drastic dip in conference play isn’t likely.
Louisville Cardinals (Non-Conference Record: 11-2)
Best win: None
Worst loss: None
Breakdown: Grading Louisville’s non-conference performance is difficult: the Cards lost to two of the country’s best teams in Michigan State and Kentucky, but went 11-0 against weaker competition. The team’s two defeats came by an average of three points against the #3 and #12 teams, meaning that the Cardinals were a mere six points away from being one of the most impressive teams in the nation during non-conference play.
Transfer, Damion Lee, is averaging over 18 points per game and Louisville looks capable of going on a run once ACC play begins. 6-foot-10 sophomore center, Chinanu Onuaku, has been solid inside for U of L, averaging nearly 10 points and eight rebounds in over 20 minutes per game. Onuaku got in foul trouble against Michigan State, but posted nine points and 10 boards, including six on the offensive end, in the two-point loss to Kentucky.
Trey Lewis (44% from three-point range) has also been a viable threat for the Cards, who will likely finish near the top of the ACC yet again this season.
Miami Hurricanes (Non-Conference Record: 11-1)
Best wins: No. 16 Utah (90-66), No. 22 Butler (85-75)
Worst loss: Northeastern (77-78)
Breakdown: The Hurricanes were one shot away, a mid-range jumper at the buzzer by Northeastern’s Quincy Ford, from having arguably the best non-conference run of any team in the country. Despite the loss, Jim Larrañaga and company compiled two résumé-building wins, positioning themselves well for a high seed when March rolls around. The Canes are the only blemish on Butler’s record so far, and with nine players averaging north of 14 minutes per game, the team has the type of balance necessary to keep its impressive early-season run going. As expected, Sheldon McClellan leads Miami with over 16 points per game, but five Canes average more than nine points each contest.
The loss to Northeastern kept the ‘Canes from receiving an A+, but that loss shouldn’t bother Miami too much as the season rolls on. Miami is immensely talented and has a chance to play deep into the NCAA Tournament.
North Carolina Tar Heels (Non-Conference Record: 11-2)
Best wins: No. 2 Maryland (89-81), No. 22 UCLA (89-76)
Worst loss: Northern Iowa (67-71)
Breakdown: The Heels did an admirable job of surviving without star point guard, Marcus Paige, who was out for the early part of the season with an injury. Unfortunately for UNC, Kennedy Meeks is also expected to miss time as ACC play begins, but the Tar Heels shouldn’t worry. In fact, Carolina could have a relatively easy time in its first eight conference games, as the team won’t play a ranked ACC foe until February.
UNC has already recorded two signature wins over Maryland and UCLA, and the Heels have made things look easy since a Dec. 12 loss at Texas. The Tar Heels have arguably the most talented starting five in the conference (if not the country) led by Brice Johnson, who averages nearly 17 points per game. Paige is also lighting it up from the outside right now, as his 46-percent clip from deep is tops on the team.
Roy Williams and company have gotten unlucky with some early injuries, but Tar Heel nation shouldn’t worry: UNC will again play deep into March.
North Carolina State Wolfpack (Non-Conference Record: 10-3)
Best win: No. 22 LSU (83-72 OT)
Worst loss: William & Mary (68-85)
Breakdown: Much like Virginia Tech, NC State started the season on a rough note, dropping a home contest to William & Mary. The difference in the two teams, however, is that the Wolfpack has a quality win. Mark Gottfried’s squad defeated Ben Simmons and LSU in overtime, while also beating SEC foe Missouri and a talented Northeastern team that shocked Miami in Coral Gables.
Two of State’s three losses came versus Arizona State and Michigan, two talented teams that will likely participate in March Madness at season’s end.
Cat Barber has been arguably the most impressive player in the ACC to date, as his 23 points per game average is easily the best mark on the team. Barber is shooting 43-percent from the floor and 85-percent from the line, while also averaging over five assists per game. The talented guard has already rescued NC State once this season, as his buzzer-beating three helped the Pack escape an upset bid from High Point on Dec. 16.
Expect the Wolfpack to pull a few upsets and make some noise in conference play this season.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Non-Conference Record: 9-3)
Best win: Iowa (68-62)
Worst loss: Monmouth (68-70)
Breakdown: Non-conference play was a bit of a disappointment for defending ACC Tournament Champion Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish struggled to three losses when many experts pegged the team to have one or even no defeats heading into ACC play.
Still, Mike Brey’s team managed to knock off Iowa at home on Nov. 27, a loss that looks really impressive now that the Hawkeyes handed previously top-ranked Michigan State its first loss. The team’s three losses came by just 3.3 points per game, hinting that Notre Dame might be ready to flip a switch and start a winning streak once conference play begins.
The Fighting Irish have one of the best point guards in the country in Demetrius Jackson, who introduced himself to the nation last March during his stellar run in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. Jackson currently leads the team with an average of over 16 points per game, followed by Zach Auguste, V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia and Bonzie Colson, who are each averaging double figures.
Notre Dame is one of the most talented teams in the conference, but the team lost some winnable games, leading to their “B” grade.
Pittsburgh Panthers (Non-Conference Record: 11-1)
Best win: Davidson (94-69)
Worst loss: None
Breakdown: While the Panthers didn’t exactly play a juggernaut of a non-conference schedule, there is something to be said for simply taking care of business. Pitt has avoided earning a “worst loss,” as the team staved off a Dec. 23 upset bid by Western Carolina, something that could prove greatly beneficial come tournament-seeding time. The Panthers only loss was a 13-point defeat at the hands of Purdue, and Jamie Dixon’s team has a win over a talented Duquesne team in addition to its win over Davidson.
Michael Young and Jamel Artis have carried Pitt thus far, but the fact that the team shoots over 80-percent from the charity stripe and nearly 40-percent from distance will make the Panthers a difficult out on any given night.
This could be a year that we see Pitt make a run in March.
Syracuse Orange (Non-Conference Record: 10-3)
Best wins: No. 18 Connecticut (79-76), No. 25 Texas A&M (74-67)
Worst loss: St. John’s (72-84)
Breakdown: Syracuse played several quality opponents during non-conference play, as the Orange faced the likes of UConn, Texas A&M, Wisconsin and Georgetown. Cuse managed to go 2-2 in those four games, beating the two ranked teams in impressive fashion. The Wisconsin loss doesn’t look particularly great right now, though, as the Badgers have already lost six times this season. Still, the Orange managed to grab a couple wins that will look nice in March and, if it weren’t for a loss to St. John’s, the team’s non-conference grade would be a notch higher.
Michael Gbinije has been a force so far this season, as his over 18 points per game average is nearly five points higher than his closest teammate. Gbinije is shooting 44-percent from deep and nearly 50-percent from the field, numbers that could have him in the All-ACC discussions at season’s end should they continue. The Orange’s senior forward also leads the team with 4.8 assists per game.
Trevor Cooney is averaging nearly 14 points per game, but Syracuse will need him to shoot higher than his current 36.4-percent mark from 3-point range during conference play in order to finish in the top third of the conference.
Virginia Cavaliers (Non-Conference Record: 11-1)
Best wins: No. 14 West Virginia (70-54), No. 12 Villanova (86-75)
Worst loss: George Washington (68-73)
Breakdown: Virginia looks capable of winning the ACC again, as Tony Bennett’s ‘Hoos turned in a near-flawless effort during non-conference play. Even the Cavaliers lone loss wasn’t that bad, as it came on the road to an NCAA tournament-caliber George Washington team.
UVA flashed a sign of just how dangerous it can be on Dec. 8 in the second half of the team’s game against West Virginia, when London Perrantes and company outscored the Mountaineers 40-18 to storm back and earn a win in Madison Square Garden. One of the best true point guards in the country, Perrantes has been special so far this season, as he’s shooting 87-percent from the charity stripe and an impressive 58-percent from distance. Add his great play to that of Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill and there is little doubt that Virginia is one of the best teams in the country.
UVA made a disappointing early exit in the tournament last March, but don’t expect that to happen again this year.
Virginia Tech Hokies (Non-Conference Record: 8-5)
Best win: UAB (82-77 OT)
Worst loss: Alabama State (82-85)
Breakdown: Aside from a season-opening debacle at home versus Alabama State, Virginia Tech beat the teams that they were supposed to beat. The problem is that the Hokies’ recorded zero quality wins, and the team lost to all of the top competition it faced. VT lost by 22 to #4 Iowa State back in late November and followed that effort up a few days later with a home loss in overtime to Northwestern. To conclude non-conference play, the Hokies were drubbed by 25 at home by #19 West Virginia. Virginia Tech’s best win came over 11-3 UAB, but Buzz Williams’ team will have two early opportunities to record a signature win in ACC play versus Virginia and Duke.
The Hokies have four players averaging double-figure scoring, led by Zach LeDay and Seth Allen. Justin Bibbs was lights out from 3-point range during non-conference play, shooting an incredible but unsustainable 60-percent. The aforementioned LeDay has been one of the ACC’s pleasant surprises so far this season, as he is just 0.5 rebounds away from averaging a double-double.
8-5 is a solid mark for Virginia Tech entering ACC play, but the team’s record could quickly dip below .500 in the coming weeks.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (Non-Conference Record: 9-3)
Best wins: No. 13 Indiana (82-78), UCLA (80-77), LSU (77-71)
Worst loss: Richmond (82-91)
Breakdown: Danny Manning and company have been one of the pleasant surprises in the ACC this season, as the team has compiled three quality non-conference wins, including a Nov. 23 upset of Indiana. The Demon Deacons also escaped non-conference play without a loss that could hurt the team’s tournament resume, as the Nov. 18 blunder at home versus Richmond doesn’t look as bad now that the Spiders are 8-5.
Wake’s most impressive performance of the season might have been in a loss, however, as the team took a talented Xavier squad to the wire before losing 78-70. The Deacs actually held a 15-point halftime lead that night, proving capable of playing with any team in the country despite blowing the late lead.
Wake will be a difficult out for ACC foes because of one thing: balance. While Devin Thomas leads the team with over 16 points per game, six different Demon Deacons average nine points or more. Danny Manning’s bunch is also a matchup nightmare, as 6-foot-10 forward Konstantinos Mitoglou is capable of stretching the floor due to his outside shooting ability. Wake could finish in the middle of the pack this year in the ACC.