This season in the ACC is shaping up to be as close to personifying the twilight zone as it can get without using the legendary theme for the bed music for every ACC broadcast. For the first time in my lifetime and probably most of yours, both Duke and North Carolina are under .500 in conference play through three games after Duke’s loss to Clemson and North Carolina’s stumbling effort in Syracuse.
This is the worst start in both Coach K and Roy William’s careers in terms of conference games. Last week I said that Roy Williams shouldn’t hit the panic button just yet, well it it’s probably time now. Not only is North Carolina in last place in the ACC to start the week, but they are also the only winless team in conference play. A loss at the number two ranked team in the country, Syracuse, isn’t the end of the world to any team usually, but this week it follows losses at home against Miami and at Wake Forest so it becomes a bad loss. North Carolina kept themselves in the game with their defense in the second half, but their offense was completely and utterly useless. This was the lowest point total in North Carolina history since the implementation of the shot-clock.
As for Duke’s loss to Clemson, Coach K said, “we are not a powerhouse, we need to get better.” When was the last time you ever heard coach Mike Krzyzewski say that? Something very remnant to Kansas coach Bill Self saying that his Kansas team last season was the worst that he ever coached. Clemson had three players turn in double-doubles; K.J. McDaniels (24 points, 10 reb), Jaron Blossomgame (14 points, 14 reb), and Landry Nnoko (10, 13). Duke shot just 34 percent from the field and 32 percent from behind the arc.
So are my big question is how in the world did Duke find a way to stay in the top 25? They are currently ranked number 23 after losing their fourth game of this early season and by 13 points to Clemson. Duke plays two consecutive home games against Virginia and NC State, a loss against one of those teams would for sure knock them out of the top 25. And it is also important to note that NC State lost Saturday to Virginia, making it the first time that the three triangle schools all lost on the same day, (per Patrick Stevens). And yes, just for the sake of throwing it in there, Wake Forest lost to Pitt on Saturday making it better than just the trifecta. So let’s move the ACC tournament out of Greensboro for a year right?
So with Duke and North Carolina sliding on thin ice, Syracuse and Pittsburgh are entering the ACC in a loud way. They both struggled in football in the mediocre football conference that is the ACC, but both have started 3-0 in ACC play. Pittsburgh put beat downs on both Maryland and Wake Forest this past week, granted both were at home with one of the best student sections in the country, the Zoo. If you haven’t watched a Pitt home game yet, you should. And Syracuse has been flawless in their first three games beating two of the Big East transfer schools and then North Carolina. They also beat a very good Villanova team a few weeks ago with ease, so ACC commissioner John Swofford can breathe after all the panicking he’s done with Duke and North Carolina because he brought in two winners to a conference that this season appears to have needed incredibly badly.
The other team in the ACC that deserves recognition is Virginia. They won by 21 at NC State to get them their third straight ACC win and they deserve credit for standing up with Syracuse and Pittsburgh as the third and only other undefeated team just three games into conference play. The Cavaliers have a very good defense but score only 65 points per game, ranking 306th in the country in that department. They have Joe Harris who is one of the best and still under-appreciated players in the country because he doesn’t play for Duke, North Carolina, or Syracuse. But he can guard almost anybody and score on almost anybody in the country. Forwards Akil Mitchell and Mike Tobey have also performed very well for Tony Bennett’s Wahoos.
And finally, I think it is fair to say not to sleep on either Florida State or Clemson, who coming into the ACC season were ranked 9th and 14th respectively. Clemson’s only loss came to the Seminoles and Florida State’s only loss came to Virginia. Florida State just set Mark Turgeon’s Terrapins back a long way after they shot 16-24 from behind the arc against Maryland with Ian Miller going 6-8 from behind the arc for 20 points.
So after the wildest weekend in recent memory for the ACC it was hard to come up with the biggest games of this upcoming week, though number one is obvious.
(22)Pittsburgh at (2)Syracuse, Saturday at 4pm (ESPN) – What else needs to be said about this game other then it is the two best teams in the conference playing at the Carrier Dome, which gives the advantage to Syracuse. Both teams do play before this game but Cuse plays at BC and Pitt plays at GT so I expect nothing to have changed when these two meet. The biggest matchup of the game will be C.J. Fair going up against Lamar Patterson, which should prove to be the matchup of the weekend. Both players are averaging over 17 points per game and both are extremely effective all over the court, but I like CJ Fair and Syracuse at home (Prediction: Cuse 78-72)
Virginia at Duke, Tonight, 7pm (ESPN) – If Duke is going to turn this season around it must start tonight against 3-0 Virginia. Joe Harris will have the task of slowing down Jabari Parker, who has struggled of late, all signs point to him being up for the challenge. For Duke this is a home game and a must-win. A loss would put them in the bottom third of the league and knock them out of the top 25. A win for Virginia and they will climb into the top two in the conference by week’s end because Pittsburgh or Syracuse has to lose the above game. (Prediction: Duke (72-61).
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