A Brief Glimpse Across the College Landscape
With a focus on the ACC
As we are at roughly the midway point of the conference season, things are starting to shake out. As predicted before the season, Kansas has established themselves as the class of the nation. They don’t distinguish themselves from the rest of the country like North Carolina did last year, but they are strong at all aspects of the game and are the only team that can be confidently counted on to win 6 straight in March. While Xavier Henry’s disappearance has made things slightly more challenging of late, Cole, Sherron and the boys are still the elite. As much as it pains me to say this, head coach Bill Self has established himself as a top tier coach (really, this hurts me to my core) who regularly sports teams that are dominant in both offensive and defensive efficiency (2/2 respectively, per KenPom).
Behind Kansas, Syracuse (again a lot of personal pain here), Kentucky and Villanova lead the way of Elite 8/Final Four contenders. These guys are very strong but you don’t want to hitch your cart to them. Jim Boeheim has found a nice mix of length and skill following the departures of Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf (good riddance) and Paul Harris. Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson has slid in beautifully and the Cuse is looking primed for a tourney run.
Kentucky’s fortunes were reversed in a big way with the arrival of Coach Cal and his lemmings-like recruit following. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are gangbusters and Patrick Patterson has evolved his game to match the hype he came in with. Oh, and Eric Bledsoe is not a bad guy to have backing up at PG. However, never trust Cal and his teams, so expect a flameout somewhere short of a title. As seen against S Car, Kentucky can be had, and when Wall isn’t clicking they are just a good team, not a great one. Their inability to put inferior foes away early could also come back to haunt them in March.
Villanova is, admittedly, a team I don’t know much about. As usual with Jay Wright’s squad, they are heavily guard-oriented led by 9th year senior Scottie Reynolds. This guy can hoop. Now that they are balanced inside by a man named Pena, Nova could make it back to back Final Fours.
Michigan State, Georgetown, West Virginia, Purdue and Texas have more holes to fill and can get hot to make a run but you just can’t trust them.
Noticeably absent from that list is Duke. This group of pretenders has, once again, sold the country that they’re back and ready to contend (this would make revival #6 since their last Final Four trip) only to flame out at the end of the year; more on them to come shortly. My list of credible teams is pretty short, because unlike Jim Boeheim, Billy Donovan and the money grubbers known as the NCAA/ESPN, I don’t think there are that many legitimate candidates to cut down the nets.
I’m an old timer. I wish the ACC was still 9 teams and there wasn’t that absurd blip on the logo known as Massachusetts to include BC. Maybe one day when I run the conference, I’ll take care of that but until then this 12-team league is just a giant cesspool of mediocrity.
At the top is Duke. As mentioned previously, I don’t think too highly of them but they’re still going to win the league, win the tournament, get a high seed and send me into a 5-minute internal debate on how to rationalize them losing in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Led by their 3 S’s [(Scheyer, Singler, and Smith) I am throwing up in my mouth] Duke is beating conference foes left and right. Save for a bout with a feisty bunch of athletic hoop-jumpers (@GT), they are rolling. In fact, they exacted revenge just last week in a very convincing way. However, a combination of team fatigue (do Scheyer and Singler ever actually come out of games?) and athletic teams they will face in the tournament will expose these guys, per usual.
Behind Duke is a group of teams that are missing one key ingredient from unseating them at the top. Despite what the standings may say Clemson, Ga Tech and Maryland are next in line. All of these teams suffer in the mental capacity department. Georgia Tech has the most physical and imposing front line in the conference but Derrick Favors Stud Freshman is a bit of an idiot at times.
Clemson has one of the best players in the league in Trevor Booker, but the rest of the team is known to skip out on large chunks of game action. Plus, we’ve all seen their song and dance routine before.
Maryland has quite possibly the biggest headcase in the league, Greivis Vasquez: always a threat for a triple double, and also for a clunker. Gary Williams’ squad has been hard-pressed to find talent (and wins) but this year they have surprisingly jumped up in the standings. But just as often as they are apt to pull off an emotional home win, they are just as likely to lay down and let one get away.
The next tier includes the likes of UVA, Wake, VT and FSU. An interesting group of teams, they have just a little bit more trouble putting it all together than the previous group and they go about it in vastly different ways. UVA is just an abomination of basketball. Slow-paced buffoons now that Tony Bennett has rolled into town, these guys will bleed you to death (or go on a game sealing 18-0 run against the Heels) and have fun doing it. I do not care for this junk brand of basketball, but JPJ can get rocking so I’ll leave them be (just wear a tie, Tony).
Wake was gutted by early defections but the best of the lot, Al-Farouq Aminu (which by the way means ‘the chief has arrived’—how badass is that) stuck around and is carrying the squad. With Ish Smith learning that 135 mph is not always the best pace to play and some sharp-shooting freshmen, Dino has got a competitive squad.
The Noles can be summed up much better by the author of the blog but I’ll give my brief two cents. Long up front and stingy on the defense, Leonard Hamilton has got something going. Inexperience in big time atmospheres is a major undoing, but Solomon Alabi is a hoss and he and Chris Singleton get it done.
Virginia Tech has an energetic coach in Seth Greenberg who specializes in complaining about the size of the NCAA tournament (because his teams aren’t good enough to make it) and who can take a dynamic wing scorer or 2 (Malcom Delaney in this installment) and surround them with some glue guys and post bangers. As is the case every year since they joined the ACC (and quite a surprisingly successful addition) they will be battling to avoid joining what could be the last year of the NIT as we know it (thanks again, ESPN and NCAA).
Next is the dregs of the ACC. Miami, NC State, BC and (oh God, say it aint so) the Heels. As you can imagine, this will be mostly about the Heels. Miami benefitted from some weak non-conference scheduling and has come hurtling back down to earth in ACC play.
BC is a plucky bunch under Al Skinner, who seems to always field a competitive team without much fanfare. Mr. October and the other 3-4 players they have that seemingly all play the same position will jump up and grab a win here and there, but are far too consistent to make major noise. Come to think of it, they should be up a tier.
State is just State. What a sad sack of fools. Constantly feeling inferior (and for good reason) they haven’t done anything of note except for getting hot in Tampa one March since Herb left.
That leaves the Heels. I’d like to think they can get hot and finish somewhere close to .500, but what have you seen this year to make you think that will happen? The absence of Tyler Zeller has been more crushing than expected as there is no pop off the bench. Ginyard has regressed to the skill level of a JV highschooler and nobody on the team seems to give a care. Pride and toughness are foreign concepts and outside shooting has roughly the same success rate as me running a marathon. But, they’re the Heels and Roy is still their coach so a run to the tournament is still likely (who am I kidding, NIT! NIT!).