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ACC Roundup: Wake Forest And UNC Lose On The Road

Steve Forbes had some rather sharp comments for his team and we got a day ahead of ourselves

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Clemson
Feb 2, 2021; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson junior forward Hunter Tyson (5) scores with the second of two dunks in the last minute of the game against North Carolina during the second half at Littlejohn Coliseum. 
Andersen Independent Mail-USA TODAY NETWORK

Well you don’t see this every Wednesday: in the last two days, all four Big Four teams lost. Duke lost to Miami on Monday, NC State lost to Syracuse on Tuesday and on Wednesday, Wake Forest lost to Notre Dame and UNC fell at Clemson.

All four losses were on the road.

UNC had been playing much better recently until this game. You can imagine a Roy Williams team shooting 38 percent and you can imagine a Roy Williams team getting 17 turnovers.

It’s harder to imagine a Roy Williams team scoring just 50 points and even harder to imagine winning a game with all three underachieving stats.

We assumed that UNC’s inside game would be dominant but not so much: Armando Bacot had one point, three boards and four fouls. Garrison Brooks had nine boards and eight points but shot just 4-10. Day’Ron Sharpe came off the bench for 16 points and eight boards and shot 6-8.

Caleb Love struggled also hitting 2-10 and just 1-6 from behind the line.

What’s a bit surprising is that these two teams seemed to be going in opposite directions. UNC had won six of seven while Clemson had not just lost but been blown out in four of its last five games.

And this is also funny, although not for UNC fans: granted it’s just two, but Clemson has a win streak against the Heels. That hasn’t happened very often.

As for Wake Forest, Steve Forbes has been working hard to build a new culture at Wake Forest and clearly he wasn’t happy with his team’s 79-58 loss to Notre Dame. Check out his post-game comments:

“I think the root of the evil, the root of the problem with our team is that we just have a team that’s infected with the disease of me. We have way too many players on this team that are more concerned about scoring, and when they don’t score they bring nothing else to the table.

“And that’s a problem. And when I walk into the locker room and the losing doesn’t really hurt that bad, that’s why I’m here. I’m here to fix that problem, and fix it I will.”

“The most disappointing thing for me is we don’t play to our identity, And it’s not like something I had just made up since I got here, like last week. Hard, smart, together — didn’t do that. Share the ball — didn’t do that. Gritty, Grimy tough — are you kidding me?”

That’s a pretty neat turn: he called out his team and, while we’re sure he didn’t mean it in these terms, also called out Danny Manning’s program. How else could you take it when he says “that’s why I’m here. I’m here to fix that problem, and fix it I will.”

But pretty clearly he means it and has made a lot of progress. His team took some steps backwards at Notre Dame but things are still moving in the right direction overall. He just needs time and more talent.

The Tyrece Radford case was apparently resolved Wednesday: his attorney, Jimmy Turk, said that there wasn't any point in challenging the charges (DUI and a weapons charge) so he would be pleading guilty: “We’re going to go ahead and take care of everything [Wednesday],” Turk told The Roanoke Times. “There’s not a lot to argue about here, … so I think a speedy resolution and a disposition for him sooner rather than later is going to be best for him.”

Virginia Tech coach Mike Young says that there’s a path back but he won’t discuss it now.

ACC fans - and by that we mean fans of the ACC before the Big East football schools joined - were and in a lot of cases still are ambivalent about expansion. But whatever you think about it from the ACC’s side, it was clear to us for years that the Big East was really two conferences in one: mostly Catholic urban schools on the one hand that had long basketball histories and mostly public schools that also wanted to play football and had to make a move to stay relevant.

That’s not precise obviously. BC is a Catholic school with a great football history. Notre Dame is a Catholic school but never played football in the Big East and only did so in the ACC this season because it wasn’t sure it could schedule opponents otherwise.

Otherwise though, it’s Virginia Tech, Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse and Miami and like Notre Dame and BC, they have strong football identities. And remember that UConn also wanted to join the conference but wasn’t invited, partly because it’s football program has never amounted to much and so it didn’t offer much to the ACC which expanded primarily to improve football.

This New York Post article suggests that for Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pitt it’s been “a disaster.”

Certainly it’s a change in many ways and all three programs are struggling to greater or lesser extents, but that’s way oversimplifying things.

Let’s start with having basketball during a pandemic. It has caused havoc for everyone. BC was supposed to play Wednesday night despite having just four healthy scholarship players. What can you do?

Each of those three schools has distinct issues. Let’s look.

Syracuse has seen recruiting trail off for several years and more so after Mike Hopkins, who was coach-in-waiting until Boeheim decided to keep going, took the Washington job (after a great start, winning 21 games in Year One and 27 in Year Two, fell to 15-17 in Year Three and so far in this bizarre season is 3-12).

The one-and-done trend saw brilliant point guard Tyler Ennis leave early which had to hurt. That guy was amazing but not necessarily a sure-fire NBA star. He would have had a tremendous career at Syracuse for however long he stayed.

Boeheim has struggled but Syracuse is still dangerous. The 2-3 zone he uses gives the Orange a puncher’s chance in every game.

As for Notre Dame, the Irish had a losing season when they joined the ACC, but as we recall, Jerian Grant was suspended for the season. When he came back, the Irish finished 32-6 and nearly upset undefeated Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame had injuries in 2018-19 but last year were 20-12 when the season was canceled. This year, as we’ve said, everyone deserves an asterisk.

And Pitt...well, Pitt’s a slightly different story. Jamie Dixon spent three seasons in the ACC and finished 26-10, 19-15 and 21-12. Partly that was because he always had pathetic schedules but he still bobbed around .500 in the ACC.

He took off for his alma mater, TCU, but people were more or less ready for him to go and when he did, Pitt made one of the worst, most inexplicable hires we can recall, hiring Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings.

Stallings was a complete and utter disaster. He was unpopular from the beginning and finished his first season 16-17 and his second just 8-24.

It’s possible that Pitt might have hired, say, Archie Miller and struggled, but Stalling showed a unique ability to run the program into a ditch.

Jeff Capel has been rebuilding it and it’s a long-term project. He’s put together a solid group of athletes, found a star in Justin Champagnie and has begun to compete with the conference powers.

He finished his first season 14-19, his second barely under .500 at 16-17 and this year is currently 8-5. Pitt is still having ups and downs, but like Forbes at Wake Forest, Capel is instilling a culture and getting young players to buy in. There are going to be ups and downs, but a disaster?

Hardly.

Then look at Virginia Tech, Louisville, Miami and BC.

BC, we can all agree, is a disaster, but to an extent it’s self-inflicted. The school fired Al Skinner, who had a solid career for the Eagles, and hired Steve Donahue from Cornell.

He’s a good coach but was in over his head.

Jim Christian is not a bad coach either but he has struggled mightily. He’s never finished higher than 10th in the conference and has won 4, 0, 2, 7, 5 and 7 conference games. This year he’s 1-6.

Like Miami’s Jim Larranaga and Notre Dame to an extent, he’s seen his program really set back by injuries and now Covid.

Aside from that, BC has also fallen well behind on facilities (they’ve finally decided to put some money into upgrades this year).

And give Christian credit: he’s got a great eye for talent, having discovered several under the radar talents.

BC is going to have to make a commitment to basketball to succeed in the ACC, but the same thing is true for Pitt as for any other school: if you find the right guy, the right fit, he’ll succeed.

Jim Larranaga has been a solid coach for Miami but, like Christian, has seen his team plagued by injuries.

Virginia Tech has actually improved tremendously. Hiring Buzz Williams made them an legitimate ACC team and Mike Young appears fully capable of maintaining if not improving that level of play.

And while Louisville is coming off of some truly awful scandals, the Cardinals are not getting the credit they should for still being a rankable program. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. Most programs would be gutted.

There are reasons why programs struggle, but having the right guy can make all the difference and Chris Mack is making a big difference for the Cardinals.

Correction - we looked a day ahead of time for the ACC schedule. Here’s the actual Wednesday schedule.

Wednesday’s ACC Action

  • Virginia Tech at Pitt || 7:00 || ACCNX
  • Virginia at NC State || 9:00 || ACCN
  • Louisville at Syracuse

ACC Standings