Conference play in the ACC has been interesting to say the least. With No. 4 Syracuse, No. 6 Duke and No. 19 North Carolina all being interesting teams to watch for varying reasons, those three teams received much of the attention nationally. But none of those three currently lead the ACC. The leader is No. 12 Virginia, which moved to 15-1 in conference play with a 65-40 win over Miami in Charlottesville.
The reigning ACC champions lost a lot of production from a season ago, and as a result the general strategy for Jim Larrañaga has been to slow games to a crawl. That did not work against the ACC’s best defensive team, as the Cavaliers limited the Hurricanes to 26% shooting from the field and 0-for-12 from beyond the arc with Erik Swoope and Rion Brown scoring 25 of Miami’s 40 points.
Tony Bennett’s pack line defense has done a good job throughout conference play of both cutting off driving lanes and challenging shots, with Virginia ranking first in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense (39.1%) and second in three-point percentage defense (32.3%) in conference play. With points per game (Virginia’s allowed just 54.0 ppg in league play) being as much a factor of pace as it is execution, those percentages do a better job of telling the story as to how effective the Cavaliers have been on that end of the floor.
Virginia’s also performed well offensively, and guards Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes are two reasons why. Joe Harris hasn’t scored at the level he did last season, earning first-team All-ACC honors as a result, but that hasn’t been a significant issue due in part to those two. Of all the players in the ACC just one, Brogdon (15 points against Miami), has reached double figures in every conference game this season. And Perrantes, who added a career-high 15 to go along with four assists on Wednesday night, is averaging less than one turnover per game and has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.2 in ACC play.
Is Virginia being overlooked nationally? A good case can be made that they are, and how the Cavaliers performed in losses to Wisconsin (48-38) and Tennessee (87-52) may have something to do with that. But at 15-1 and a victory away from claiming the ACC regular season title outright, it should be clear that Virginia’s a team to be taken seriously entering March.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.