With conference play beginning in earnest next week, let’s look at how the ACC shapes up as the calendar turns to 2014. Will a newcomer take control of the conference or will it be one of the legendary Blue Bloods? Will someone unexpected try to crash the party?
Syracuse is in its first year in the conference and find themselves currently as the #2 team in the country with the ACC’s pre-season Player of the Year in senior C.J. Fair. Fair leads the team in scoring at over 17 per game and 2nd on the team in rebounding at 5.3. The Orange are led in the back court by freshman Tyler Ennis and his 5.1 assists and 2.7 steals per game. The 6-2 guard finds himself 2nd in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.54. Playing the role of typical Syracuse sharpshooter is sophomore Trevor Cooney who averages nearly 15 points a game and is shooting over 50% from behind the arc. Syracuse went to Maui and won the invitational by beating #18 Baylor with Fair being named MVP. Their next biggest win came yesterday as they stormed back from 18 down to defeat former Big East foe #8 Villanova by 18. Coming from the Big East, Syracuse will be prepared for life in the ACC but it remains to be seen how they react to a trip down tobacco road.
Pittsburgh also joins Syracuse in the ACC and is off to an unexpected 11-1 start. Yes the numbers are relatively eye-popping, 11-1, top-75 in the country in points, rebounds, assists and field goal percentage. But the Panthers’ best win is a 21-point win over Stanford in Brooklyn. Lamar Patterson leads the team in points (17.1) and assists (4.6) and fellow senior Talib Zanna averages 12 points per game and grabs over seven rebounds a game. Pitt really hasn’t been tested in the non-conference but will be tested early as three of their first five conference games are on the road.
Duke has the most heralded freshman in the conference and perhaps in the country in Jabari Parker. Parker has yet to disappoint leading the Blue Devils to a 10-2 record and a nine ranking. He averages over 22 points and nearly eight (7.8) rebounds per game. Statistically the Blue Devils are good, real good, top 15 in the country in points (85.2), assists (16.9) and field goal percentage (50.4%), but the one flaw they have is rebounding, grabbing just 34 a game ranking them 221st in the country. Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood is 2nd on the team in scoring at over 17 points per game and 5.3 rebounds a game. The fate of Duke may be in the hands of their other guards; Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Andre Dawkins. How consistently those three perform could be telling in how well Duke performs in the ACC.
North Carolina began the year with some off-the-court issues as P. J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald were suspended while they were being looked into by the NCAA. While Hairston will never play for the Tar Heels again but McDonald returned three games ago and has made an immediate impact putting in nearly 12 points per game. UNC currently sits 19th and the country at 9-3. The losses make you say “what?” UAB, Texas and Belmont but they also have wins over #11 Kentucky,#3 Louisville and #1 Michigan State. While the guys that needed to step up have in Marcus Paige and James Michael McAddoo have averaged nearly 33 points, 10 rebounds and 5.8 assists, but what the Tar Heels have really benefitted from the contributions of a pair of sophomores Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto and freshman big man Kennedy Meeks. Johnson and Tokoto have contributed 21.8 points and 12 rebounds per contest, while Meeks is 2nd on the team in rebounding at 6.1 and adding 7.9 points. The Tar Heels will get tested early as they travel to Syracuse on January 11th.
There are a couple of teams that could turn ACC contention into a mosh pit. Virginia is 9-3 with losses to nationally-ranked VCU and Wisconsin and a 3-point loss at Green Bay. The Cavaliers struggle offensively averaging just over 65 points a game currently 306th in the country, but as much as they struggle offensively they excel defensively holding teams to just 54 points per game, 2nd in the country. With an All-League guard Joe Harris and defense that doesn’t slump Virginia will very rarely be out of a game. Florida State is 8-3, grab 39 rebounds a game and shoot nearly 49%. The Seminoles have wins over VCU and Massachusetts while they were ranked and two of the losses were by a combined three points (82-80 in OT to #14 Michigan and 67-66 to #15 Florida). Florida State has a chance to build some conference confidence as they don’t play a Duke, North Carolina or Syracuse until Jan. 25 when Duke hosts the Seminoles.
With some new blood in the ACC, the basketball hotbed is likely to get even hotter the closer we get to March, and that is good news for college basketball fans.