Mike Krzyzewski

CBT Weekly Roundtable: Figuring out the ACC

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In a new series here on College Basketball Talk, every Friday we’re going to have a discussion about some of the hot topics in college basketball. The inaugural installment focuses on the ACC, the now 15-team conference that some stated was the greatest conference ever assembled before a game had been played. Now that we’ve seen the teams in action, who’s the favorite to win the regular season crown? And who else can make a run at challenging for the title? 

Rob Dauster: The ACC, especially the teams at the top, started out the season in fairly ugly fashion, with Duke losing to Kansas, UNC losing to Belmont and Virginia losing at home to VCU. But over the last couple weeks, Duke bounced back with a win over Michigan, Syracuse won the Maui and UNC has proven they’re going to be Team Schizophrenia this year.

Who’s your pick for winning the league? Right now, I’m still riding with Duke, especially if Marshall Plumlee can find a way to be as effective over 15-20 minutes as he was on Tuesday in six minutes. I think Syracuse is right there with the Blue Devils as well, and I’d probably slot North Carolina 4th and Notre Dame, UVA and Florida State from 5-to-7 in some order. Here’s the sleeper though: Pitt. They’re the third best team best team in the league, period.

Raphielle Johnson: I like Duke, especially with Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker on the wings and an improved point guard in Quinn Cook running the show. But who are they going to defend? The Blue Devils have put forth better efforts in their last three games, and they won’t be as bad as they were against either ECU or Vermont as the season wears on. That being said, those who are thinking that a player who isn’t even averaging ten minutes per game could potentially be the “rim protector” the Blue Devils need may not be thinking clearly.

Enter Syracuse, who has no such issues on the defensive end of the floor. Their 2-3 zone has length on the wings, and what starting guards Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney lack in that department they’ve made up for with sheer activity. And offensively this is a group that will only get better, especially as Cooney improves after struggling last season. C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant are two high-level forwards, and I don’t think we’ve seen the best out of Michael Gbinije either. This should definitely be a fun race to watch, but I’m taking Syracuse to win it with Duke, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Virginia and North Carolina next in line.

RD: I don’t think Duke necessarily needs a rim protector to be good enough to win the ACC, especially if they are going to defend on the perimeter the way they did against Arizona and Michigan. The Blue Devils game-plan well to take away what their opponents want to do and have a long track of success executing those game plans. That’s not to discredit Syracuse, because I think they’re awesome this year, but writing Duke off is just dumb, especially if Marshall Plumlee can find a way to build on the game he just played.

Seriously, though, Pitt! I’m telling you, this team is legit. Outside of Casey Prather and Xavier Thames, I can’t think of another senior that is having a more pleasantly surprising season that Lamar Patterson. Frankly, if the season ended today, he’d be an all-american. He’s been that good.

RJ: Point taken regarding Duke, and I’m with you on Pittsburgh. Outside of the one hiccup in which they landed in the CBI (and ended up winning it), the Panthers have been a consistent factor under Jamie Dixon. I don’t think that changes in the ACC, with Patterson and Talib Zanna leading the way in the front court. But here’s another name for you: Cameron Wright. He may not be the most improved player in the ACC (Maryland’s Jake Layman and Syracuse’s Jerami Grant), but Wright’s name will come up in those discussions as the season wears on. He’s given Pitt the perimeter scorer they needed with Tray Woodall graduating, and that also relieves a little of the weight on James Robinson’s shoulders.

But here’s something else I want to touch on. Prior to the season Boston College and Georgia Tech were two teams expected to show signs of improvement this season, but it can be argued that their W/L records won’t be the greatest indicator based on the strength of the ACC. Now that we’ve played some games, it’s become evident that the Eagles would have trouble guarding stationary objects. Can they turn things around before the start of league play? I like the offensive pieces, but I’m not sure they can based upon how they defend.

RD: I’ve given up on BC. Eight games into the season. Awesome.

Olivier Hanlon and Ryan Anderson are still two of the best players in the ACC, but there just isn’t the kind of toughness up and down that roster that will allow them to compete in a league as strong as the ACC.

And while we’re here … look, you shouldn’t have listened to anyone who told you that this year’s ACC was going to be the best conference of all time. If you did, that’s your fault. Maybe one year, when Syracuse, Duke, Louisville and North Carolina all are having a top ten-caliber season, we can revisit this conversation. Until then, no.

But that doesn’t mean the ACC isn’t good this year. I mean, this is still the ACC. Florida State beat the brakes off VCU. North Carolina, a team that I think will struggle to finish in the top four of the conference, has beaten Louisville on a neutral court and won at Michigan State. This is still a tough league.

RJ: I agree with your point on the “best of all time” talk. I know people were excited about the programs the ACC was adding, but that’s crazy talk based upon the fact that the league had yet to play a season in its new form. And while I get your point about the high-level programs needing to have top-ten caliber seasons, I’m not sure they’re the ones who will ultimately determine how great this league is. I know March and national polls are what most people use to determine strength in college basketball but hear me out. We know (mostly) what we’re going to get from a Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina or Louisville, and programs such as Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are solid as well. But if this league is to be the “best ever” it’ll take the improvement of the programs in the middle and lower portions of the league pecking order.

Yes they’re going to take losses in conference play, but the number of “bad” losses outside of the ACC can’t be what they’ve been in recent years. For example Georgia Tech, with the amount of talent in the Atlanta area, needs to take steps in the right direction and Wake Forest needs to do enough to get its fans to stop buying billboard space calling for the jobs of their head coach and AD. That all takes time, and that’s why there shouldn’t have been so much chatter about this being the best league ever during the preseason. But is also means that the folks who immediately jumped to bury the league last month need to exercise restraint as well. Let’s allow it all to play out, and it’ll definitely be fun to watch.

RD: Agreed.

And when North Carolina ends up winning the ACC title over Notre Dame and Virginia, we’ll just pretend this conversation never happened.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: No. 15 Texas A&M, No. 20 Providence continue losing ways; No. 16 SMU falls at home

Texas A&M guard Anthony Collins (11) walks up the court during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Alabama, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Alabama won 63-62. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Alabama 63, No. 15 Texas A&M 62

This one was tight until the final seconds and the Aggies had a chance to tie or take the lead with one of the nation’s best free-throw shooters at the line. Anthony Collins, a 92 percent free-throw shooter, missed both and Texas A&M continued its recent freefall. So what happens next for the Aggies?

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

Marquette 96, No. 20 Providence 91, 2 OT: Marquette picked up a crucial season sweep over Providence in the Big East as freshman Henry Ellenson had 26 points and 16 rebounds and Haanif Cheatham tallied 21 points. The Friars saw Ben Bentil go for 41 points, but they still lost because he didn’t have enough help in the end.

Tulsa 82, No. 16 SMU 77: Nice road win for the Golden Hurricane in the American as Shaquille Harrison and James Woodard combined for 41 points. Tulsa shot a ridiculous 58 percent from the field to give the Mustangs their first home loss of the season.

Butler 81, Seton Hall 75: An important Big East road win for the Bulldogs as Roosevelt Jones made a late runner in traffic to ice the win. Kelan Martin tallied 23 points for Butler while Kellan Dunham added 18. After Isaiah Whitehead went 8-for-8 for 23 points in the first half, the Bulldogs defense held the sophomore to only three points in the second half. 

South Carolina 94, LSU 83: The Gamecocks continue to stockpile wins as they’re up to 21-3 on the season while gaining a share of first place in the SEC. Sindarius Thornwell finished with 24 points while Michael Carrera had 14 of his 16 points in the second half to lead South Carolina. Ben Simmons finished with 20 points while Antonio Blakeney had 22 points.

BUBBLE BANTER: Butler, Wisconsin among early winners

STARRED

Devonta Pollard, Houston: The former McDonald’s All-American certainly lived up to that billing in a win over Memphis as he went for 34 points on 14-for-24 shooting from the field. Pollard also added four rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Louis Dabney, Tulane: It only took three overtimes, but the Green Wave outlasted East Carolina as Dabney hit huge shots and pumped in 32 points. Dabney hit a game-tying jumper with under a minute left to end regulation and the first overtime as he went 11-for-20 from the floor.

Anthony Beane, Southern Illinois: The senior guard went for 31 points and six rebounds as the Salukis earned a Missouri Valley road win at Indiana State. Beane was 10-for-17 from the field and 5-for-10 from 3-point range.

Tra-Deon Hollins, Omaha: In a matchup of two of the top teams in the Summit League, Hollins had a stat-sheet-stuffing effort in a win over South Dakota State, as the junior guard had 28 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals. Hollins was 9-for-12 from the field and 8-for-11 from the free-throw line.

STRUGGLED

Tim Quarterman, LSU: The guard finished with seven points on 2-for-7 shooting (0-for-5 from 3-point range) and fouled out in a loss to South Carolina. Quarterman also had three turnovers and was mostly a non-factor.

OTHER TOP 25 RESULTS

  • Playing without Rico Gathers, No. 21 Baylor earned a road win at Kansas State in the Big 12 as Al Freeman had 21 points on 6-for-7 shooting from the field.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • Wisconsin has won six consecutive games as Nigel Hayes had 20 points and Vitto Brown added 18 points in a Big Ten home win over Nebraska.
  • Vanderbilt cruised past Missouri as five players finished in double-figures. Wade Baldwin led with 17 points while Luke Kornet had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
  • Utah picked up a solid Pac-12 home win over Washington as Jakob Poeltl had 23 points and six rebounds. Poeltl was 11-for-12 from the field.
  • It wasn’t pretty, but Michigan won on the road in the Big Ten at Minnesota. Point guard Derrick Walton Jr. had 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists to pace the Wolverines.
  • Georgia Tech topped Wake Forest in the ACC as Marcus Georges-Hunt went for 30 points and Charles Mitchell had 14 points and 15 rebounds.
  • Davidson beat La Salle in the Atlantic 10 as Brian Sullivan had 20 points and seven assists.
  • St. Bonaventure was able to outlast Fordham in overtime as Dion Wright and Marcus Posley both had 21 points.
  • Saint Joseph’s earned a great road win in the Atlantic 10 at George Washington as Isaiah Miles had 21 points.
  • T.J. Cline finished with 18 points as Richmond defeated Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10.
  • Northern Iowa ran away from Missouri State as Jeremy Morgan had 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
  • Belmont earned a win over Jacksonville State in the Ohio Valley as Evan Bradds had 18 points and nine rebounds.

Marquette upsets No. 20 Providence in double overtime to earn season sweep

Marquette's Duane Wilson grabs a loose ball in front of Providence's Ryan Fazekas (35) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
(AP Photo/Morry Gash)
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Marquette earned an important Big East season sweep for its postseason aspirations as they held on in double overtime to upset No. 20 Providence 96-91 on Wednesday night.

The Golden Eagles (16-9, 5-7) overcame rallies from the Friars in both regulation and the first overtime to finally put away the home victory. Freshmen led the way for Marquette as Henry Ellenson had 26 points and 16 rebounds while Haanif Cheatham added 21 points.

Providence was led by Ben Bentil, as he poured in 41 points by hitting numerous tough looks to keep the Friars in the game. Player of the Year candidate Kris Dunn finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists for Providence but he committed a key turnover on an errant pass when the game was tied on the final possession in regulation. Dunn fouled out in the first overtime and Bentil did his best to knock in tough 3-pointers (6-for-13) to keep Providence in the game.

Marquette did just about everything they could to give this game away but still came away with a critical win. The Golden Eagles blew a nine-point lead in the second half and showed their youthful inexperience by fouling Bentil on a key 3-point attempt in extra time. With a chance to make it a two-possession game at the end of the first overtime, Cheatham corralled an offensive rebound — on a bad shot attempt in the first place — and put up a wild putback attempt when the Golden Eagles could have run clock and forced Providence to foul.

Despite those mistakes, the Golden Eagles have to be pleased to pick up a season sweep over the Friars as they beat a good team twice in very tight games. Playing without center Luke Fischer in overtime, Marquette still managed to pick up the victory. Coming off of consecutive losses, Marquette needed this win badly as they now get Creighton twice with a road game at DePaul sandwiched in between.

As for Providence (18-7, 6-6), Bentil showed that he’s recovering just fine from that ankle injury but this team still needs more help outside of the dynamic duo of Dunn and Bentil. It was encouraging that Providence rallied in the first overtime without Dunn in the game to force more time, but Bentil ran out of gas in the second overtime and didn’t have much help to keep the Friars in the game. The Friars have now dropped four of their last five games, including a three-game losing streak that includes road losses at DePaul and Marquette. Providence is back to .500 in the Big East and needs a solid showing its next three games against solid competition.