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ACC Roundup - Already A Compelling Season

Saturday was really interesting.

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Jan 9, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets forward Charles Mitchell (0) shows emotion against the Virginia Cavaliers in the second half at McCamish Pavilion. Georgia Tech defeated Virginia 68-64.
Jan 9, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets forward Charles Mitchell (0) shows emotion against the Virginia Cavaliers in the second half at McCamish Pavilion. Georgia Tech defeated Virginia 68-64.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

To us, ACC basketball has always been characterized by a few main things: one, an intensely competitive nature, two, a refusal to accept falling behind, and three, a glee in kicking a program when its down.

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Thus we saw State hire Everett Case, which led to UNC hiring Frank McGuire which led to Duke hiring Vic Bubas. In a later round of hirings, former ACC members South Carolina and Maryland hired McGuire and Lefty Driesell respectively, while State brought in Stormin' Noman Sloan and Clemson Tates Locke. Soon Virginia hired Terry Holland, who transformed that program, and Duke got Bill Foster, who revived the Blue Devils.

In the 80s, we saw Bobby Cremins to Georgia Tech, Jim Valvano to State and of course Coach K to Duke.

Everyone tries to find someone who can keep up.

But the ACC is best and most exciting when things don't go the way they're supposed to. That's when things get really good, and we may be heading into a major stretch of that now.

Look at the standings: Syracuse is at the very bottom. Virginia is Top Ten for a few more days but is currently tied for eighth place. Despite immense talent, Florida State is near the cellar.  Notre Dame is a surprising 0-2.

Meanwhle, Clemson and Georgia Tech are early surprises in seventh and ninth place. Yes it's just a few games in to conference play, but things are already a bit crazy.

Not too crazy though: Duke and UNC are still undefeated, along with Pitt, Miami and Louisville.

We thought that Virginia would respond to the Virginia Tech loss by just throttling Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets controlled that game throughout and sent #4 UVA to its second straight loss to a lightly regarded opponent.

Tech hit 53.3% from three point range - this against Virginia, home of the suffocating pack line defense. This is a team that, while certainly improved, has almost never shot well under Brian Gregory.

It's worth mentioning that Tech did this DESPITE perhaps the worst game of the year from double-double machine Charles Mitchell, who was limited to six points and six boards.

Even without his usual production, Tech outrebounded Virginia 41-29. So is it fair to ask: what's wrong with Virginia?

In Syracuse, Jim Boeheim returned from suspension, sarcastic and grumbly as ever, complaining under his breath about the unfairness of it all even while he said he wasn't going to talk about it.

Syracuse really turned it up against UNC and was nearly good enough to win. But the Heels pulled away late.

Bizarro land: Trevor Cooney got 27 while UNC's Marcus Paige was limited to three.

Transfer watch: point guard Kaleb Joseph, who was handed the keys last year, isn't driving much at all now: he got just two minutes yesterday and so far has played 13 minutes in conference competition.

Three point watch: UNC continues to struggle there, hitting just 3-16 (18.8%).

No one looked better Saturday than Miami. There's no other way to put it: the 'Canes just punked young Florida State. It got to the point where Tonye Jekiri, the 7-0 Nigerian center, went coast-to-coast for a dunk.

Later, perhaps bored, he launched his second career three point attempt.

It was that kind of game for Miami, which looked like a team that could be a Final Four contender. No one is going to enjoy playing them.  And who would be a clear, unquestion favorite? This team can step on the court with anyone - at least the team we saw Saturday.

We really don't like the way Pitt organizes its season by gorging on lesser opponents, but Pitt has won 10 straight and is now 14-1 and that's not bad, obivously.

We thought that Notre Dame would wake up, but the Irish lost to Pitt 86-82, at home no less. Last year's magic has apparently dissipated.

Pitt is 3-0 now although the wins come against last place Syracuse, a still uncertain Georgia Tech (both at home) and Notre Dame.

That Georgia Tech is the best of the three says a lot.

Pitt's scheduling philosophy was somehow extended by the ACC. At Louisville will be tough (that's Thursday), but after that, Pitt gets BC and State at home, Florida State and Clemson away and Virginia Tech at home.

In other words, Pitt has a good shot at being 9-0 before they welcome Virginia to campus.

We usually don't cover Duke in this section of DBR, but Duke's doing something pretty interesting.

Since Amile Jefferson went out, Duke has switched to a plan which features lots of driving and kick-outs for threes. This has worked out pretty well: since Jefferson went out, Duke has scored 75, 105, 103, 81, 91 and 82 points. Duke has averaged just under 90 ppg since Jefferson's injury and Duke has outscored opponents 539 to 421. Duke has outscored opponents by nearly 20 ppg.

Depth and size are still problems, but so far, Duke has compensated brilliantly for Jefferson.

Part of that is the improved play of Luke Kennard, who is averaging 12.1 ppg off the bench. Since Jefferson went out, he's averaged 17.

The other guy who has markedly improved is Marshall Plumlee.

Early in the season, Plumlee had a great game against Kentucky, with 12 points and 10 boards and six blocks.

Since Jefferson went out, Plumlee has really upped his game: Utah and BC were low scoring games with three and one, but othweise, he's hit for 10, eight, 18 and 21.

He's getting nearly eight boards a game as well.

In his last two games, Plumlee has shot 13-14 and 13-14 from the line.

And you can't overlook the rapid evolution of Ingram's game either. Earlier he looked a bit confused on the court and at times timid.

No more: Ingram is another Kinston warrior. He can shoot it deep, drive it and more and more, pass it as well.

And he's becoming an outstanding defender. He still makes freshmen mistakes, but Ingram had six blocks against Virginia Tech and wasn't all that far off of a triple double the hard way.

We weren't at all sure he could play power forward, or at least take on those responsibilities, but it's worked out well.

Duke is doing some very interesting things. Reports of a Blue Devil demise appear to have been premature.

On Sunday, Rick Pitino gets his first ever trip to Clemson. He can call Boeheim for restaurant reviews. The Cards won't see Littlejohn, which is being renovated, and Clemson eyes are all on football still, but ACC teams know how dangerous Clemson is at home. Louisville should are wary. This is not a trip to Rutgers.

And in a classic ACC rivalry, State and Wake tangle.

State has mastered the art of bobbing just high enough to make the NCAA, although this season is looking a bit grim for that. Wake meanwhile has become a competent team looking to hit the next level. So what wins out? Wake's urgency to advance? Or State's desire not to fall any further back?

We'd expect Louisville and Wake to win, but so far, this season hasn't gone according to expectations very often.