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The Courtmaster Is Packed

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is back in session, and this column is packed with information and insight. In face, packed pretty well describes the middle of the ACC standings. Once you get past Duke (5-0 in the conference) at the top and Virginia Tech (0-5, but they try hard) at the bottom, the other ten teams are piled together jockeying for position. My goal with this column is to assist the reader in sorting them out.

The first tool to use is one I have found very helpful over the years, my plus/minus indicator. Long time readers of my witty banter may remember this, but for the uninitiated allow me to explain. It is actually brilliant in its simplicity. This measure is based on the premise that an 8-8 conference record is the baseline for obtaining a bid to the NCAA tournament in March. That has not proven to be an absolute over the year, but close enough to make this a useful tool.

Simply put, a team is assigned a -1 for every home loss and a +1 for every road win. Even though the conference schedule is unbalanced these days, every team still plays eight home games and eight on the road. If a team won every home game and lost every road game, they would wind up 8-8 in the conference. If they win one road game and all of their home games, they get a +1, which moves them up to 9-7. Simple, isn’t it?

So how does this shake out through Sunday’s games? Let’s see.

  • Duke +2, 2 road wins (Clemson, Wake Forest), 0 home losses
  • North Carolina +1, 2 road wins (Va. Tech, FSU), 1 home loss (Miami)
  • NC State +1, 1 road wins (BC), 0 home losses
  • Miami +1, 1 road win (NC), 0 home losses
  • Florida State 0, 1 road win (Virginia), 1 home loss (NC)
  • Maryland 0, 0 road wins, 0 home losses
  • Virginia 0, 1 road win (Va. Tech), 1 home loss (Fl. State)
  • Clemson 0, 1 road win (Ga. Tech), 1 home loss (Duke)
  • Boston College -1, 0 road wins, 1 home loss (NC State)
  • Georgia Tech -1, 0 road wins, 1 home loss (Clemson)
  • Wake Forest -1, 0 road wins, 1 home loss (Duke)
  • Virginia Tech -2, 0 road wins, 2 home losses (Virginia, NC)

There have been 31 ACC games played so far this season, and the road team has only won 9 of them. 71%. The ability of a team to win its home games will be critical to its chances of earning an NCAA bid, and any success on the road will give it the opportunity to enter the upper echelon of the ACC.

NC State and Miami have posted the most impressive road wins so far this season, giving them the upper hand in staying at the top of the conference. Wake Forest, despite being 1-4 in league play, is not in that bad

Another factor to look at here is who doesn’t have to play Duke twice. Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Clemson have the biggest edge here, not having to visit Cameron Indoor Stadium. NC State, Virginia, and Miami catch a break by not having to play the Blue Devils on their own home courts, giving them a better chance of avoiding a home loss.

I’ll give you two teams out of the pack to watch out for—NC State and Miami. I have reservations about both teams, but less so than the others.

I love NC State’s balance. They have seven players scoring between 8.0 and 12.9 points per game. Their leading scorer is Cedric Simmons, and I doubt anyone saw that coming. He had averaged nearly 20 points per game in his previous three outings before being limited with foul trouble against Wake Forest Saturday. His performance vs. Duke, (28 points, 9 rebounds, 7 blocks) served notice to the rest of the ACC that the Wolfpack have a legitimate inside presence on both ends of the court.

State is more athletic than they have ever been under Coach Herb Sendek. Players like Simmons, Cameron Bennerman, Tony Bethel, and Gavin Grant make the Wolfpack much more than a team that can pass and shoot. It troubles me that they have had serious problems down the stretch in their losses at North Carolina and Duke, however. A veteran team like that should be at their best in those situations and is something they need to correct of they plan at staying near the top of the ACC.

I’ve also been very impressed with Miami. Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite give the Hurricanes a one-two punch few teams in the nation can match. When fellow guard Anthony Harris is healthy and hitting his shots, Miami is extremely difficult to defend. After all, a defense can’t effective key on three different players, especially ones that can spread over the court like these three can.

The ‘Canes also showed against North Carolina and Boston College that they have an excellent interior defense. Although the Eagles did win down at Miami, their inside combination of Craig Smith and Jared Dudley did not dominate as they have been recently. The ‘Canes don’t have any interior attack, however, so when the guards are not making their shots they have great difficulty scoring points.

The CourtMaster’s Briefs

Georgetown showed just how easy it is to beat Duke. All a team has to do is shoot 61% for the game and hold Shelden Williams to 2-8 shooting. Coach K has to be concerned with his team’s lack of energy on defense and lack of offense beyond yet another outstanding effort by J. J. Redick (41 points). Even when DeMarcus Nelson comes back, there doesn’t seem to be much firepower on the Blue Devil bench this season.

During the television coverage of the Virginia Tech-Maryland game, I heard analyst Cliff Ellis (the former Clemson and Auburn coach) utter a statement I thought was bizarre. He said, “Virginia Tech is trying to take advantage of Wil Bowers being out of the game.” Most of the time this season, teams have worked to take advantage of the Terps WHEN Bowers was in the lineup, but he played like a serious big man Saturday night and helped shut down the Hokies’ Coleman Collins after a torrid start. A steady contribution from Bowers will give Gary Williams some unexpected depth in his front line and better matchup options against big centers.

Speaking of big men providing a lift, Wake Forest’s Chris Ellis is establishing himself as a force on the boards. He pulled down 10 rebounds at Maryland and 11 at NC State, but he needs to stay on the court. Foul trouble limited him to 14 minutes vs. Georgia Tech and 21 minutes at State.

The most surprising thing about Virginia’s win over North Carolina Thursday night was the way the Cavaliers’ big men beat the Tar Heels up inside. Forwards Jason Cain and Laurynas Mikalauskas (say that name five times fast) did not put up big numbers, but they were both strong and physical and wore down Carolina’s super freshman Tyler Hansbrough.

It will be interesting to see if Virginia can continue their strong inside play. If so, the combination of their inside game and the explosiveness of guard Sean Singletary will keep them competitive in conference play.

Clemson showed me something by bouncing back from their dismal 62-38 loss at Miami to win at Georgia Tech on Saturday. The Tigers only made 25.4% of their shots vs. the ‘Canes, including 4-28 from three-point range. Clemson Coach Oliver Purnell got his team refocused on their inside game vs. the Yellow Jackets, and it paid off. Forward Akin Akingbala matched his season high with 19 points, and the Tigers took only 14 threes (making 6).

North Carolina pulled out an exciting win at Florida State Sunday night, surviving a first-half outburst from the Seminoles. The Tar Heels made 13-22 three-pointers (59%) and needed every one of them. Once again, FSU put itself in position to win a big game and managed to lose. Until they reverse that trend, the best Coach Leonard Hamilton’s team can hope for is the NIT.

That’s what I think, let me know what you think at
. You can keep up with my commentary on the national college hoops scene along with ACC football on my blog at .

Until next week, court is adjourned!