I wanted to do another mailbag this Sunday, but it was pretty darn difficult, because Syracuse didn’t play a game last week. Buffalo’s positive COVID-19 test, which was reported on December 20th, sent the Orange into a 14-day quarantine, forcing the ACC to postpone SU’s games against Notre Dame, Wake Forest, and North Carolina. Unfortunately, due to the small window of time that contains conference play, there’s a chance that those contests aren’t going to occur.
However, there are 14 other schools in the ACC, and they’ve all been in action. Here are some quick synopses of how non-conference play went for the ACC.
Boston College (2-5, 0-1 ACC)
BC limped through an extremely difficult non-conference schedule, losing to Villanova, St. John’s, Florida and Minnesota. Jim Christian’s team had one chance to get an in-conference win, and we all saw how that went! Life isn’t getting any easier for the Eagles, as they start the new year with Louisville, Duke, and Virginia in the span of a week. Christian’s seat could get warmer and warmer as the year goes on.
Clemson (6-1, 0-1 ACC)
The Tigers began the season on a tear, beating quality Power Five teams by large margins. Clemson took down Maryland 67-51, topped Purdue 81-70, and handed Nate Oats and his Alabama team a 64-56 loss. However, the Tigers lost their one conference game to Virginia Tech. There’s no obvious number one scoring option on this team just yet, but they play extremely good defense and move the ball well.
Duke (3-2, 1-0 ACC)
This is not the Duke team that most basketball fans are accustomed to seeing. There’s no dominant force like a Zion or a Vernon Carey, they struggle at times to find a rhythm on offense, and there’s a lack of communication and general understanding of what’s going on. These struggles occur in Durham (and in Lexington, KY) because the program is once again relying on freshmen to shoulder a lot of the burden. Coach K’s players haven’t had enough time to gel on the court (four of their first nine games have been cancelled) and have looked flat against top competition. Blue Devil forward and potential lottery pick Jalen Johnson is out indefinitely as well. Duke is still very good, don’t get me wrong, but are they the best team in the ACC? Probably not.
Florida State (5-1, 1-0 ACC)
Speaking of the best team in the ACC, I’d pick Florida State right now if I had to choose one. Leonard Hamilton has reloaded after losing two of his players were lottery picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. FSU stole a close one from Indiana in OT, cruised past Georgia Tech in its ACC opener, then out of nowhere lost to UCF (yeah, the annoying mid-major football school). Huh? That loss doesn’t make much sense, but I’d look right past it to the Seminoles roster. It’s the usual nine-to-ten man rotation, and this year it’s headed up by 6-foot-9 point forward Scottie Barnes, who can switch anything and score in any way he wants. Florida State plays Pitt on Tuesday, and is SU’s next matchup on January 6th.
Georgia Tech (4-3, 0-1 ACC)
Would you believe me if I told you Georgia Tech would lose to Georgia Southern in quadruple overtime, then beat Kentucky two games later? Probably not. The Yellow Jackets had a rollercoaster of an early season, but now seem locked in after easily dispatching Florida A&M and Delaware St. Josh Pastner’s squad has five players averaging double figures, including Moses Wright (20 points, 7.5 rebounds). Look for GT to play at a fast pace, and score a lot.
Louisville (6-1, 1-0 ACC)
Other than Chris Mack calling out John Calipari, it’s been a pretty quiet beginning of the year for the Cardinals. A couple of easy wins and two nail biters against Seton Hall and Kentucky. There’s that 37-point loss to Wisconsin, but the Badgers are far better than most of the ACC. Louisville was in no way the favorite in that contest. Mack’s group is relying on guards David Johnson and Carlik Jones to do the majority of the scoring and set the tempo. Louisville’s first couple of ACC games aren’t difficult matchups, but it’ll get hairy after the first two weeks of 2021.
Miami (4-2, 0-1 ACC)
It’s hard to get a read on Miami, given that its diminutive bucket-getter Chris Lykes has only played two games. However, sophomore Isaiah Wong has stepped up in Lykes’ absence, scoring 19 points per game. Once Lykes and top-50 recruit Earl Timberlake join the Hurricanes for good, then the measuring stick can be brought out.
North Carolina State (5-1, 1-0 ACC)
It’s also hard to get a read on North Carolina State. COVID caused three of NC State’s early games to get cancelled, and a fourth against Louisville to be postponed. The Wolfpack beat four cupcakes, lost to St. Louis (while the A-10 is good this year, that’s not a game that an ACC team should drop), then out of nowhere topped North Carolina 79-76. NC State had a lead as large as 17 early in the first half and held off the surging Tar Heels late. ACC play should reveal a lot about the Wolfpack’s ceiling.
North Carolina (5-3, 0-1 ACC)
North Carolina played a really difficult non-conference slate, out of which came some good and some bad. They played close contests with Stanford, Kentucky and Texas (two wins and a loss, respectively), but were ran out of the gym by Iowa and lost to NC State. UNC is going to go as far as its freshmen can take them. Guards Caleb Love and R.J. Davis and forward Day’Ron Sharpe are by far the best players on the Tar Heel squad. Just like Duke, at times this team has been out of sync. However, having Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot is a wonderful insurance policy. UNC is the second-best team in the ACC.
Notre Dame (3-4, 0-0 ACC)
The Fighting Irish had a rocky start to a tough schedule. Losses to Michigan State, Duke, Purdue and Ohio State put Notre Dame below .500, and Mike Brey’s team had its second ACC game against Syracuse postponed. There’s no more John Mooney in South Bend. Multiple guards combine to fill his scoring void, but ND really doesn’t have any sort of an inside presence. Back-to-back games against Virginia Tech and Virginia await the Irish.
Pitt (5-2, 1-1 ACC)
Pitt might be in for a rough stretch. After winning five of their first six games, the Panthers took two gut punches in the span of three days. Head coach Jeff Capel tested positive for COVID-19, and leading scorer Justin Champagnie picked up a knee injury in practice that sidelines him for 6-8 weeks. Pitt wasn’t expected to compete for much this year, but now the Panthers are trying to stay out of the bottom of the ACC.
Virginia (4-2, 0-0 ACC)
Virginia is as suspect as a Top-25 team can be. On the one hand, Tony Bennet’s teams are renowned for the pack-line defense and team play. But the Cavaliers lost to San Francisco! Virginia was also trounced by Gonzaga, but that wasn’t a surprise. Scoring is going to be difficult for UVA, especially in crunch time. New additions Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy III are good, but neither of them are ball-dominant. Expect the Wahoos to struggle against teams like Georgia Tech, who play with pace, but out-execute an inexperienced Duke team. That’s just the way conference play works.
Virginia Tech (7-1, 1-0 ACC)
The Hokies have been the early-season surprise of the ACC. VT lost leading scorer Landers Nolley II in the transfer portal but hasn’t skipped a beat. The Hokies beat Villanova, Clemson and five other mid-majors, with their only loss coming to Penn State. Forward Keve Aluma has stepped up in a big way, increasing his points per game average from 7 as a sophomore to 14 as a junior. Aluma has notched double figures in all seven of VT’s wins.
Wake Forest (2-0, 0-0 ACC)
Wake gets an incomplete, as the Demon Deacons have only beaten Delaware State and Longwood this year. The Deacs have not played a game in the month of December.