Shane Larkin

Can Miami really be the second best team in the ACC?

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We all know who the best team in the ACC is.

They just so happen to be the best team — well, at least the No. 1 team — in the country.

That’s Duke.

The title of the second best team in the ACC has been up for grabs, however.

Entering the season, the trendy pick to win the league was NC State, and based on the way that they’ve played of late, that’s still a possibility. Lorenzo Brown has played better of late, Scott Wood finally looked like a dangerous shooter against Stanford, TJ Warren has been a beast and Richard Howell is a double-double machine. But the bad news? Brown has been anything but consistent, CJ Leslie — the Wolfpack’s most talented player — has been their third best front court player, Tyler Lewis doesn’t appear ready to play at the ACC level and the team only goes seven deep.

North Carolina looks like they could end up being even more of a stretch. If the beatdown they took at the hands of Indiana wasn’t enough to convince, the fact that they’ve given up 55 points in a half to UAB and 61 points in a half to East Carolina should be a major cause for concern. (For comparison’s sake, UNC gave up a combined 116 points in those two halves while Georgetown gave up a total of 113 points in three straight wins over Tennessee, Texas and Towson.)

Florida State hasn’t been all that impressive. Maryland’s Alex Len has been sensational and Dez Wells has had a couple of really impressive performances, but until Maryland’s back court play gets more consistent, it will be tough to take the Terps seriously as much more than a tournament team.

That leaves us with Miami, who has won five straight games since they have gotten Durand Scott back into the lineup. Those five wins? At home against Detroit, at home against Michigan State, at UMass, at home against previously undefeated Charlotte (by 31) and, on Tuesday night, by 22 points at Conference USA contender UCF.

Could Miami be the second best team in the ACC?

Well, they have a front line big enough to compete with anyone in the league. Reggie Johnson is a double-double machine that happens to double as a rhino on the block with three-point range. Kenny Kadji is the perfect kind of stretch four that can provide some space for Johnson inside. Shane Larkin might be the most underrated point guard in the country, as he’s averaging 15.9 points, 3.9 assists and shooting 51.9% from three this season. Throw in Durand Scott (who is playing the best basketball of his career), Trey McKinney Jones, Rion Brown and Julian Gamble, and Miami has a balanced attack that features five players averaging double figures.

Miami picked the right season to peak. With the rest of the ACC down, Jim Laranaga has enough talent to make a push to be the second best team in the league.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

Lehigh Virginia Basketball
AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

Follow Hank on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org