ACC Basketball Review – 11/22/2006

I tell you what, it’s a LOT more fun to write about ACC basketball than football and it’s not just because I like hoops better. A couple of weeks into the basketball season and the ACC has already earned more significant non-conference wins than in the entire football season. This is just way more fun.
Thursday, Nov. 16
Duke 75, UNCG 48
Md 92, St. John’s 60
Now, I don’t know how good St. John’s is supposed to be this year (CBS picked them 9th in the 16-team Big East), but I do know this – Holy Crap that was an ass-whupping! Maryland was up 37 points(!!) at the half. That’s what you might expect against Johns Hopkins, not St. John’s, a power conference team.
A bit more about the Terps further down.

GT 103, Ga. State 74
It looks like Georgia Tech’s freshmen have come in more ready to play than the ACC’s other stud freshmen. I’ll talk a more about these guys further down.
Friday, Nov. 17
Clem. 79, App. State 49
Five games in the first eight days of the season! But this win made Tigers 5-0, so I guess it’s working.
Wake 73, Elon 48
N.C. State 63, Delaware State 43
Miami 74, Evansville 69
Md 62, Mich. State 60
This was my first time watching the Terps play. After their impressive win over St. John’s, I had to see this game. Michigan State was coming off of a close win against #19 Texas and you always know that Tom Izzo’s team is going to play good defense and pound the boards. But, keeping with their early play to this point, Maryland beat off the Spartans, leading the whole way and fending off a late charge.
Maryland returned several good players in Ekene Ibekwe, Mike Jones, DJ Strawberry and James Gist, but the real key this team is evident within seconds of watching them play. Ever since John Gilchrist lost his mind, Maryland has struggled at the point guard spot and it has killed their teams. Last year, Strawberry had to play the point and it was a disaster. That team had enough talent to be good, but if you don’t have good point guard play in college ball, you suffer. This year Maryland has two very promising freshmen points in Eric Hayes and Grievis Vasquez. Hayes looks and plays a lot like Steve Blake while Vasquez is a more bigger, more aggressive option. Both help the Terps immensely. With someone else handling the point, Strawberry can move to the wing where he is more dangerous on both ends of the court. Last year, he spent the whole season chasing smaller, quicker guys so now he can completely destroy the two-guards he’s facing. With Strawberry hunting down every pass and Ibekwe at the back to erase mistakes, the Terps are back to their pressing ways and it’s making all the difference.
Keep an eye on this Terp team, they might be very good.
Saturday, Nov. 18
Buffalo 60, Miami 57
Doh! Not what you want to see from an ACC team, but it happens and it’s just the second loss for the entire conference this season.
Sunday, Nov. 19
UNC 103, Gardner-Webb 50
Maybe that Carolina defense is coming around. Of course, it’s Gardner-Webb, but then Pfieffer put up 101 on the Heels in an exhibition, so clearly things have improved.
UVa 85, Morgan State 66
Cleveland State 78, Miami 67
I think I’ve written before that I don’t think Frank Haith is a very good coach. So far, nothing is changing that opinion.
FSU 69, New Orleans 50
Monday, Nov. 20
Ga. Tech 79, Purdue 61
You can almost take my paragraph about Maryland above and apply it to Georgia Tech. Last year that team had Jeremis Smith and Ra’Sean Dickey – two players with the physical gifts to be all-conference performers, along with Anthony Morrow and talented guard Lewis Clinch. The problem was, they had no real point guard so much of those various talents were wasted.
Well, that has changed. Javaris Crittenton has come in and been sensational right away. From what I’ve seen, he’s already the second best point guard in the league behind Sean Singletary. Crittenton just tore Purdue apart, particularly late in the game when the Boilermakers were trying to get back in the game. With Crittendon taking the attention and showing the way, Clinch is playing much better at both the 2 and 1. He could make a hell of a backup point guard.
Add to that all-everything freshman Thaddeus Young and this could be a really good team. Look at what they’ve already done this season and remember that Anthony Morrow isn’t even healthy yet and the freshmen are only going to get better. Add the Yellow Jackets to the ACC’s growing list of good teams.
Duke 71, Air Force 56
This game really impressed me. To understand why, first take a look at what Air Force had already done this year. In the two games before losing the Blue Devils, Air Force beat Stanford on the road by 34 points and then Colorado (also on the road) by 38 points. Read that sentence again. Air Force beat two major conference teams by a total of 72 points. And this is a team that plays a patient offense! Air Force is good.
For Duke, this game was a great test. The Blue Devils are incredibly young, playing pretty much all freshmen and sophomores. The only junior, DeMarcus Nelson missed chunks of his first two years with injuries. They are an inexperienced squad and were facing a very experienced, very well-coached, very good Air Force team that plays that maddening Princeton offense as well as a funky matchup zone. The Blue Devils passed the test with flying colors. They took the game to the Falcons from the get go, making very few poor decisions or letting cutters go. They lapsed a bit in the second half, but got it back together again behind Nelson in the last 7 minutes.
This was a nice win.
One quick aside – the announcers went on and on about how versatile and unselfish Josh McRoberts was. To me, while it’s true that he’s doing lots of things, I didn’t like what I saw. McRoberts can certainly dribble and pass but this team needs someone who can put the ball in the hole. If he’s going to be the leader, he’s going to have to develop a bit more of a nasty streak. Past versatile Duke big men Christian Laettner and Danny Ferry could do it all too, but they never shied away from shooting. They knew that the offense went through them and that their versatility complimented their scoring, not the other way around. McRoberts could learn from that.
Md 71, Winthrop 60
I mentioned before how impressed I was with this Winthrop team. Well, between losses to UNC and Maryland, they went on the road and beat Mississippi State. This was a good win for Maryland. Maybe Miami should think about hiring Gregg Marshall.
Tuesday, Nov. 21
Clemson 69, Miss. State 66
Speaking of Mississippi State … For Clemson, not only was this their 20th win of the season, but their first good one.
N.C. State 78, Valpo 64
NC State is taking baby steps this year as they figure out just what they have, but at least they’ve all been forward steps. Valpo is a solid mid-major to get a win over.
Ga. Tech 92, Memphis 85
And the beat goes on for the Yellow Jackets, knocking off the #12 Memphis Tigers. Say what you will about John Calipari, and I have, but his teams are usually quite good.
This time, the two talented big men Smith and Dickey stepped up and made the plays necessary to take this game. Tech has already won in several different ways behind several different players. Again, this team might be really good.
Wake 88, Vandy 78
Just like Georgia Tech and Maryland, Wake should have been better than they were last year. They didn’t return quite as much talent as those teams, but like them they have a freshman point guard, Ishmael Smith who’s making a huge difference. I haven’t seen enough of this team to say just how good they are, but this was a nice non-conference win over an SEC squad.
Marquette 73, Duke 62
I didn’t get to see this game last night. With the holidays coming up, I probably won’t get a chance to pull it off the TiVo, but from what I read, Duke’s recent bugaboo bit them again – defending athletic wing players. This team is decidedly more athletic than their previous two squads were, but defense can take time, especially when the philosophy has to change so much. No longer can Duke’s guards pressure the ball and assume Shelden Williams will bail them out when they inevitably get beat. There’s no eraser back there this year. The guards, Paulus in particular, need to keep their man in front of them and let the pressure come from the wings Nelson and Lance Thomas.
Even with Duke’s loss to Marquette of the Big East, the ACC has a had a very nice start against the other power conferences. Last year was clearly a down year, but the ACC looks to be back with a vengeance. The ACC against the power conferences so far:
Big East 1-1
Big 10 2-0
Conference USA 2-0
Pac 10 1-0
SEC 2-0

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