It’s ACC Tournament week! To kick off the start of the postseason, we agreed to participate in a roundtable of other ACC bloggers led by The ACC & SEC Blog discussing a few pressing issues around the league. Other blogs participating include: Turtle Droppings (Maryland), Gobbler Country (Va Tech), Blogger So Dear (Wake Forest), and Tar Heel Fan (UNC). Our answers are as follows:
1. The national perception is that the ACC is down this year. Duke has been in the top 10 all year, but no one else has come close. Does the conference deserve this reputation? Why or Why not?
Zeke: I admittedly haven’t watched a great deal of basketball beyond ACC competition, but I think it’s safe to say the ACC is having a down year. Conference homers argue that the league is as strong as ever based on the parity within, but it’s the ACC’s performance out of conference that shows just how weak seemingly everyone but Duke has been this year. We probably got a clue when the league lost the ACC/Big Ten challenge for the first time ever, when even the ACC’s most marquee team, Duke, got beaten by Wisconsin. The case for ACC legitimacy wasn’t helped by the Devils getting destroyed by Georgetown on national TV in front of the President, either, and I think that may have hurt the worst - when the best team in your conference doesn’t even appear to be a that strong, it affects the overall perception of the league. UNC beat Michigan State in what was perhaps a fluke game, but Maryland has no marquee OOC win, Clemson only beat Butler (a top ten squad, but still kind of “meh”), and Wake beat Gonzaga (double “meh”) but that’s about it. Personally, I really don’t think the conference is as strong and I don’t think the ACC deserves to get more than 5 teams in the tourney this year at most.
Alex: Living in Big East country I have see a few of the marquee match ups in that league, but like Zeke I haven’t watched a lot of non-ACC games this season. I agree that taken as a whole the ACC seems down this season, and I would submit that that perception is largely due to a couple of teams we thought would be at or near the top of the standings who have not matched those expectations: specifically Georgia Tech and UNC. Tech was expected by many people to challenge for the ACC title and they responded with typical inconsistency with a flat-lining finish. And no one who saw UNC beat Michigan State and hang tough with Kentucky and Texas could have predicted their meltdown. Without some top flight teams to carry the mantle, the perception of the league beyond Duke (and finally Maryland) is that you have only mediocrity and underachievement. And NC State. But you could also make an argument that college basketball in general seems kinda down this year: three of the longest streaks of consecutive NCAA bids are likely coming to an end (Arizona, UConn, and UNC), the Pac 10 is a punching bag, and every ‘contender’ has shown some real weaknesses. For the first time in a while it feels to me like NCAA hoops has taken a step back this season due to the cumulative effect of early departures - and the ACC has suffered its fair share because of that.
2. Does Duke have what it takes to make a run to a National Championship? Why or Why not?
Zeke: Personally, I don’t think they’ve got it in them. Going 17-0 at home was incredibly impressive but the Dookies’ spotty performance on the road doesn’t bode well for their tournament lifespan. They’ve got elements of a contender to be sure - great team defense, dynamic guard play, experience - but the Big Three still carry a bit too much of the scoring load for my liking and they’ve proved one or more of them can get cold simultaneously. Coupled with the same problems they’ve had in years past of key guys playing perhaps too many minutes, it’s hard for me to see them even making it to Indy, much less taking home the trophy.
Alex: In order to win this team has to make jump shots. I think it’s that simple. Can they do that for 6 games in a row? (or 5 in a row since they should likely sleepwalk though whatever lamb they get in the opening round) That is kind of a tall order. I would be shocked if this team wins a title - they just kind of seem to be missing that IT factor that championship teams have. That being said, I would give them a puncher’s chance against any team because they play great defense and they have great guard play.
3. We know Duke and Maryland are in, but who else gets in from the ACC? Will we see any surprises on Selection Sunday?
Zeke: I think a lot of this hinges on ACC Tourney performance. I don’t think the committee likes teams that suffer through a bad end-of-season stretch, so Georgia Tech and Wake may both be out unless they play well in Greensboro. FSU and Clemson both look like teams that should be in to me, as up-and-down as they both are, and Virginia Tech has played some good games and may get the nod as well if only to spare us from Seth Greenberg’s continual whining about having been left out of the NCAAs despite being in that situation by their own devices. Honestly though I feel like I could name a handful of bubble teams that are playing better than the aforementioned three ACC squads, so if it were up to me I’d probably only invite 3 or 4 squads from the ACC. Did I mention I thought it was a down year for the league?
Alex: I would disagree with Zeke here. Given the relative ‘weakness’ of a lot of bubble teams this season I think all 6 of the teams with winning ACC records are in the tournament. Wake and Clemson could put themselves in danger if they loose their play-in games, but I don’t see either of those happening. So the only real question is can Georgia Tech play themselves in. Talent-wise they have to be in the top 45 at large qualifiers, but the committee rarely is gentle on borderline teams who finish the season 3-7. If they can somehow make it to the championship game then they are in the NCAA discussion. Otherwise I think we have the 6 bids we already should have locked down.
4. What is the biggest surprise of the season (good or bad)?
Zeke: Hahahaha surely this question is a joke, right? (*Ahem*) Yeah, I think we all know the biggest surprise was the epic suckitude of the Tar Heels this year. Probably moreso that they really weren’t able to right the ship at any point - I know they’ve improved these last two weeks but I think we all expected to see something before that. If we want to get into specifics, I’ve been totally surprised that a Roy Williams team could have an offense this bad - to not score over 80 in a single ACC game is mind-bottling. There have been a lot of questions asked about Ol Roy’s coaching ability this year and I think while he is far, far, far away from the hot seat, there are more than a few people eager to see what he can do with the Heels next year because of the way this year became so debacled.
Alex: Agreed that UNC’s face-plant that began as soon as the ACC season began was the biggest shocker. I mean can anyone believe they beat MSU and took Kentucky to the wire??? A tie for second would be Maryland’s unexpected success and Ga Tech’s second half free fall (At the end of January Tech had already beaten Duke, UNC, Clemson, and Wake and was nationally ranked. Wha Happen???)
5. A couple of teams have had disappointing seasons. Whose seat is the hottest?
Zeke: I’m pretty sure that honor has to go to Paul Hewitt at Georgia Tech. Pretend for a second he doesn’t have a ridiculously pricey buyout and we’d have to say he’s going to get fired this offseason. To have a start as strong as they did, including some not-bad out-of-conference wins against Siena and USC, followed by a big win against Duke in their 2nd ACC game, and then close out league play by losing six of their last nine, well, that’s… that’s as bad as UNC has been this year, and that’s saying something! Except Hewitt doesn’t have two National Titles in the last five years to fall back on, of course. The man should probably be gone.
6. Who is your player and coach of the year? Why?
Zeke: As per our previously discussed agreement on Blue vs. Blue, I gotta give Player of the Year to Greivis Vasquez. I usually define an MVP (or POY, or whatever) by a value-added (or subtracted) proposition: as in, how much that particular guy means to his team winning. There’s no question General Greivis is the engine that has morphed the Terps into a legit top-25 team. I also love giving POY votes to someone who is versatile, giving his coach matchup options and a type of flexibility other guys wouldn’t allow. I love Greivis’ height and his ability to guard multiple positions, as well as beat defenders in a variety of ways and help his team go bigger or smaller as the situation dictates. That’s the reason the Terps have become a better team - other guys have figured out how to fit into their specific matchup roles around Greivis, but I don’t think that would be possible if he weren’t present. And appropriately, Coach of the Year has to be Gary Williams, right? You could go with the “no one has done more with less” argument and while I always think it’s pretty underrated to keep a team right at where the expectations were already so high, a la Coach K this year (who’s also done a damn good job getting production out of pieces that the fans and media gave up on, a la Zoubek), I actually am more inclined to pick Gary because he’s a nice mix of both of those worlds. His talent is better than most ACC squads, but he’s helped them collectively perform better as a whole than the sum of their parts should equal up to. Love a coach that convinces his players to fit into specific roles, and I think Williams’ team looks like one that’s done that really well during ACC play.
Alex: Already asked and answered on Blue vs Blue. Grudging Vasquez gets the nod and Gary should be the runaway for coach of the year.