Thursday, January 29, 2009

ACC Roundup

Close games were all over the place, although none were close throughout. The five conference games were decided by a total of 21 points, but in each, one team held a double digit lead at one point in the second half. Three of those teams were winners - Carolina (which led by 13 with 15:02 to play), Wake (which led by 13 with 8:50 to play), and NC State (which led by 19 with 19:44 remaining). Of course, each of those three needed the breaks to fall just right to hold on for the win - UNC got the Edney-esque buzzer beater from Lawson, Wake got the travel on the rebound followed by a well-drawn inbounds play for the winning layup, and State got a whole host of good action - the tying layup by Costner, the steal and two freebies from Fells, and the game winning three in OT by Julius Mays. As for the other two, Maryland and Virginia Tech got destroyed in the second half by BC and Clemson, respectively. Maryland led by 13 with 19:02 to go, and then got outscored 47-25 down the stretch. For the Hokies, it was even worse. They led by 15 with 16:40 to play, and then got outscored 38-19 down the stretch, including a 21-1 run that completely turned the game around. So for those of you scoring at home, that's 5 games, 5 double-digit second half leads, all 5 of which were completely surrendered (even the teams that won tied with less than 5 seconds to play, and all won on last minute shots).

The games also featured some notable oddities, perhaps none greater than Tyler Hansbrough not shooting a single free throw in 26 minutes of playing time and scoring just 8 points. It was his first game without an FTA and the first under 10 points in what feels like forever. In tonight's game, KC Rivers and Malcolm Delaney got themselves on fire - Rivers went for 29 with 7-10 shooting on 3s, and Delaney topped him in the box score (though not in the W/L column) with 39 on 5-7 from 2, 6-9 from 3, and 9-10 at the line.

Several games this week were, shall we say, defensively challenged. Miami and NC State put up an 84-81 final in a game that went just 70 possessions (in 45 minutes no less). Clemson and the Hokies went 86-82 in a 68 possession game. Duke and Wake, by contrast, played outstanding defense, each holding the other to a season-low shooting performance and churning out a 70-68 final in a 77 possession game.

One of the reasons the games were so tight (and one thing we learned from this set of contests) is that teams were largely playing their peers. Duke, UNC, Wake, Clemson, FSU, and Virginia Tech are statistically the top 6 teams in conference play (in that order) and they all played each other. Miami, much hyped at the beginning of the year, is a lower division team right now (thanks to a conference-worst 112.09 defensive rating). Maryland, NC State, and BC are as well.

This weekend is essentially a complete flip. Again there are five games, but this time, four are upper division teams taking on lower division ones (only Miami-Maryland pits bottom feeders against each other; Clemson and FSU have Super Bowl weekend off). For Wake and Virginia Tech, their road games at poorer opponents (Georgia Tech and BC, respectively) are critical to further cementing their status as upper echelon teams. Wake really struggled in ACC road games last year, and had particular issues with the Yellow Jackets. To stay in contention for an ACC title and a 1-seed, these are absolutely the games they must win. For the Hokies, they need to collect wins in the soft part of their schedule to build as much cushion as possible for a brutal stretch run.

Finally, an interesting scheduling side note I noticed tonight - Duke plays three games in a row against teams coming off their "bye" week. Wake didn't play last weekend, Virginia (Sunday's opponent) didn't play this week, and Clemson (next Wednesday's foe) will sit this weekend. They've also already played FSU coming off of a week off. It's obviously just an odd quirk of the schedule, but Duke's is almost certainly more filled with bye-week opponents than any other team in the league. Not sure if it makes any difference (for Virginia, it certainly shouldn't), but it was interesting to see nonetheless.

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