ACC Basketball Recap

February 11, 2013

We are roughly halfway through the ACC basketball season. That means its time to step back and try and make some sense of the first half of the season.  This is the perfect opportunity to look back at what we have learned and also make some predictions for the second half.

(I actually have no idea how far into the season we are. The new, unbalanced schedule has thrown things off but traditionally the first Duke-UNC game has been exactly halfway through the conference season.  That game is Wednesday so as far as Raw Thoughts is concerned we are halfway through the season.)

1.  Miami is really good

This isn’t exactly breaking news any more, but Miami is nasty.  They are the only team ever to have beaten Duke and UNC by more than 20 points in the same season, and they have a really good chance to win the ACC regular season.  Yet despite all of this Miami is still ranked below Duke in the polls.  I realize that College Basketball polls do not matter at all but it still is pretty absurd.  Duke had some injury issues but that was an ass-kicking of epic proportions

2.  Mason Plumlee is the best player in the conference, and possibly the nation

Everybody for Duke has had to step up and take on an increased burden since Ryan Kelly went down with a foot injury against Clemson.  Pretty much everybody but Plumlee has struggled with the extra pressure.  Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, and even Seth Curry have all looked a little out of sorts without the floor spacing that Kelly provides.  Kelly’s replacements, Hairston and Jefferson mostly, have tried hard and had their moments but are very limited players. (Hairston by his crippling lack of talent, Jefferson by inexperience and the fact that his 6-8 195 pound frame is better suited to a Kenyan distance runner than an American power forward.)

The only reason the wheels haven’t fallen completely off for Duke has been the play of Mason Plumlee.  Since Kelly went down he has two 30+ point games and has averaged 10 rebounds a game.  Mason has also played an astounding number of minutes recently, logging three 40 minute games since the injury to Kelly.  Plumlee’s recent game against State was his finest work to date.  He completely dominated a good front court for the Wolfpack to the tune of 30 points and 9 rebounds on 82% shooting from the field and 75% from the line.

Duke’s ceiling will still be determined by when/if Kelly returns and how close to his pre-injury form he can reach, but Plumlee can go a long way to raising the team’s floor.  If he plays like this all year Duke will compete for the conference title and be a tough out in March

3.  NC State is who I thought they were

State was constantly hyped throughout the off-season.  They were the pre-season pick by both the coaches and the media to win the ACC and were ranked 6th in the AP poll to start the season.  Raw Thoughts wasn’t fooled, and hopefully neither were you.  State has played to type this year by combining maddening inconsistency with a fine choker’s instinct.  They can look spectacular one second and miserable the next.  My predictions for the year in sports are already in shambles so allow me to bask in this one for a while.  From a post in November:

“Picking State to win the conference is like picking France to win a war.  They might have a bigger army but they are still fucking France.”

Not only will State not sniff an ACC championship but they may have to scrape to make it into the tournament.  As always, bet on NC State to be average and thank me later

4.  Expansion is coming at the right time for the ACC

Outside of Duke and Miami, the rest of the ACC really sucks.  The internet says that the ACC managed to snag a tie in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, but for the life of me I don’t understand how this could have happened.  State, Carolina, Virginia and Maryland are average at best, and no one else in the lower tier of the conference can even claim mediocrity.  I would like to write this off as an aberration but the ACC hasn’t been truly deep in a really long time.  The ACC maintains its reputation as a top conference through the sustained excellence of Duke and UNC, and through fond memories of the early 2000’s when the conference was stellar from top to bottom.  Those memories, and Carolina’s run of excellence, are starting to fade and the ACC is fast becoming a second tier league.  Fortunately, reinforcements are on the way.  Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame and Louisville are all joining in the next few years.  With these additions (plus addition by subtraction with Maryland’s move to the Big 10) the ACC should be securely among the top conferences for years to come. (Except during football season)

4.  UNC will get another shot at that elusive NIT championship

UNC has unfinished business with the NIT.  Back in 2010 a young Heels team made a spirited run to the NIT finals where they were defeated by the powerhouse Dayton Flyers.  While I am sure that was a crushing blow, the Heels should have a chance to avenge that defeat this year.  The most recent bracketology predictions have the Tar Heels as a bubble team and a 10 seed.  That was before the beat down they received in Miami Saturday, and obviously it didn’t take into account the two losses against Duke that UNC will pile up this year.  Looking at the schedule, Carolina will probably have to either upset Duke or State, or make a run in the ACC tournament.  While not impossible, I don’t see this year’s UNC team being able to pull it off.

Raw Thoughts is officially endorsing the Heels as the favorite for the 2013 National Invitational Tournament Champion.  I can see it now.  Reggie Bullock and Macadoo embracing triumphantly at mid court after the victory and then cutting down the nets of Madison Square Garden.  Winning meaningless games should also help prepare them for their future careers in the D-League.