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First Quarter Review: ACC

1450_atlantic_coast__conference-primary-2014With a little more than a month down in the college basketball season, we have seen the ACC’s stock continue to rise. With three very impressive and dangerous teams leaving opponents gasping for air after 40 minutes of play against them, Duke, Louisville, and Virginia mean business. The powerful trio are a combined 26-0 and give the ACC three of the top seven teams in the country. But there are some other gems, some out in the open and some hiding that will help the conference reign supreme throughout the country this season.

Everyone is talking about the Blue Devils and why wouldn’t they be. Duke (8-0) has one of the best quality wins in the country with their ten point win at #2 Wisconsin. With the transfer announcement of Semi Ojeleye, the Blue Devils join this year’s Kentucky team as the only teams in NCAA history to have all scholarship athletes be McDonalds All-Americans. Last season all eyes were on freshman Jabari Parker, but this season’s Duke squad has a group of three freshman making waves throughout the country with Jalil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones. Okafor is already in talks for player of the year, just as Parker was a year ago. He is averaging 17.6 points per game and 7.6 rebounds and he is shooting 65 percent. Tyus Jones has the third best assist to turnover ratio in the country at 5-to-1, let that sink in, he’s a freshman. Winslow has been just a solid player overall scoring 12 and grabbing four rebounds per game.

With the big three freshman playing well and gathering so much attention, Quinn Cook has been able to shine brightly through the first month. The senior is the leader of the Blue Devils in an era where top-tier teams rarely hold onto talented players into their senior seasons. Cook has done it all for the Blue Devils scoring 15.3 points on 51.8 percent shooting from the floor. He is second only to Tyus Jones’s 5.8 assists with 3.6 and is shooting 44 percent from deep. Amile Jefferson would probably be the best player on 95 percent of teams in the country, but on Duke his 8.9 points and 8.3 rebounds seem to go relatively unnoticed with the insane amount of talent that Coach K has this year.

The Blue Devils may have the best team in the ACC in terms of sheer talent, but Virginia (9-0) has the most experience. The Wahoos top four leading scorers are all juniors led by Justin Anderson. Anderson is ninth in the country and first in the ACC shooting 58.8 percent from deep. In Virginia’s two toughest games of the season, consecutive wins at Maryland and VCU, Anderson scored 16 and 21 while grabbing 6 and 8 rebounds. He is one of the purest scorers in the country and is dangerous from anywhere on the floor. But the reason Anderson has been able to be this successful in the early going is because of the play of guard Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon is one the best floor generals in the country and can control the pace of games by himself. Brogdon creates a plethora of opportunities for Anderson along with forwards Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey to score wide-open baskets.

The Cavaliers are the best defensive team in the country allowing a staggering 47.4 points per game. They are always in your face and don’t let up until the final buzzer sounds. Also with Brogdon and London Perrantes handling the ball, Virginia is the best team i’ve ever seen at using the entire shot clock and scoring extremely effectively (see Perrantes’s floater against VCU below). Virginia is for real again.PerrantesGif

The final undefeated team is Louisville (9-0). The Montrezl Harrell led Cardinals have yet to play a road game through the first nine games of the season, although they do have a nice neutral site victory over Indiana and a home win against Ohio State. Louisville has the toughest remaining non-conference game when they host Kentucky on December 27th (A MUST WATCH). Harrell has been as good as advertised as he leads the Cardinals with 17 points and 10 rebounds per game. He is just one of 16 players to average a double-double and recently became Louisville’s all-time leader in dunks (yes that is apparently a stat that is kept). The Cardinals don’t just depend on Harrell, sophomore guard Terry Rozier has held his own with Virginia’s Brogdon and Duke’s Cook-Jones combo. He is probably more explosive to the rack than those just mentioned, but is a slightly worse shooter. Either way with Harrell, Rozier, and the senior leadership of Chris Jones and Wayne Blackshear, this Louisville team belongs right at the height of mentioning with Duke and UVA. These three teams will be extremely fun to watch all season. Well Virginia, isn’t exactly the most fun team to watch, but they are equally as impressive.

Behind the top three teams lie another group of three teams that can beat mostly any team in the country with Miami, North Carolina, and Notre Dame. This gives the ACC six teams ranked in the AP top 25 poll as of this week. Miami (9-1) had the earliest eye-opening win of the season when they upset then #8 Florida at the O’Connell Center in their second game of the season. Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez and junior Sheldon McClellan are a very talented backcourt that has given the Canes nearly 30 points per game, but Miami needs to utilize their seven-footer Tonye Jekiri more. The junior giant averages 7.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, but doesn’t get enough touches in the paint. He plays 30 minutes per game but is averaging just 5.8 shots per game. Get the big fella the ball Miami!

North Carolina (6-3) started the season as the number six team in the country. After losses to three tough teams in Butler, Iowa, and most recently Kentucky, the Tar Heels have fallen down towards the bottom of the top 25 and are probably only still ranked for two reasons: 1) They have the 5th toughest Strength of Schedule and 2) They are North Carolina. But Tar Heel fans shouldn’t panic just yet, even though it is taking preseason All-American Marcus Paige a little longer to get going than fans expected. If he turns things around and if Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson can continue to play well, this Roy Williams team will be fine.

The Biggest Surprise so far for the ACC is now 25th ranked Notre Dame (10-1). The Irish have also not yet played a road game and actually won’t until they visit Chapel Hill on January 5th. Notre Dame needs the strong play of senior Jerian Grant to continue for the Irish’s luck to continue. He has scored at least 13 points in every game, highlighted by his 27 point, six assist effort in an overtime win against Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. More on Grant at the bottom of the article. Notre Dame has also been fortunate to have an excellent start from junior forward Zach Auguste who just dominated Florida State in the team’s ACC opener. He had several highlight reel dunks while scoring 26 points on 11-15 shooting. Here’s his first half buzzer beating dunk.AugusteDunkGIF

The Biggest Disappointment has to be Syracuse (6-3). The Orange needed a buzzer beater to beat Louisiana Tech at home the other night and have lost all three games to their only tough opponents (one to Michigan). Despite senior Rakeem Christmas playing his best basketball of his career and good, not great, play from highly recruited freshman Chris McCullough, Syracuse has been just ‘meh’ to be blunt about it. They’ll need more from Trevor Cooney, who hasn’t taken a step back from last season but also hasn’t taken any steps forward. Freshman guard Kaleb Joseph has also been okay, but his 3.8 turnovers per game are not going to cut it in ACC play.

The Best of the Rest belongs to quite honestly, nobody.  For the sake of naming a team, i’ll give it to Boston College (6-3). BC’s three losses have all come to legitimate programs in Dayton, UMass, and West Virginia and have also beaten New Mexico and Providence. Olivier Hanlan has been great for the Eagles but needs to shoot better than just 27 percent from three. Had this article been written two days ago, NC State (8-2) would have gotten the nod, but they just lost a home game to Wofford, who isn’t bad, but you just can’t do that.

Best Win: Easy, Duke beating #2 Wisconsin at Wisconsin. Nothing else needs to be said.

Worst Loss: This one is a tie Georgia Tech’s home loss to USC Upstate, the previously mentioned NC State loss to Wofford and Wake Forest’s home loss to now 4-6 Delaware State. Just a lot of nothing from those teams in those efforts.

Most Valuable Player: The easy choice is Jalil Okafor, but call me crazy i am not giving it to him. Without Okafor, Duke would still be Duke even though they may have lost to Wisconsin. Mine goes to Jerian Grant (how about that foreshadowing I had earlier). Without this talented senior, Notre Dame would not be 10-1 and would not be ranked. I judge this award on value to a team over overall talent. If the award was for most talented player, it would be given Okafor.

Scott Zolotorow