The ACC is wide open this year with North Carolina, Duke and Virginia leading the way.
Historically, the Atlantic Coast Conference is one of the best conferences in college basketball. Duke and North Carolina alone combine for 10 NCAA championships. With that in mind, it’s no wonder the conference featured five teams in the preseason AP poll. Duke came into the season occupying the top spot, while North Carolina and Virginia started sixth and eighth, respectively. Louisville was ranked 13th and Syracuse started at the 19th spot. With a third of the conference’s teams ranked, it makes for more competitive conference play. Let’s break it down by the numbers:
123.3: North Carolina’s adjusted offensive efficiency based on the number of points scored per 100 possessions. The Tar Heels ranked first in the country in this category a season ago. The team won the ACC tournament title and outscored its opponents 2,953-2,616 during the season, led by former Heels Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson.
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Despite those two graduating, junior Joel Berry is capable of carrying (at least some of) the load. Last year, Berry averaged more points per game than Paige (12.8-12.6) as well as rebounds (3.4-2.5) and had the same amount of assists per game with a 19.4 assist rate. With both Paige and Johnson gone, Berry will see more touches and take on a larger role for the team.
If Joel Berry can start knocking down 3’s like Paige could no one in the country can guard him— #9UNC🏀(17-3)(5-1) (@HeelsSportsFan) November 22, 2016
Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson will also be in the mix to keep the Tar Heels going this season. Meeks, a 6-foot-10 senior, had a rebounding average of 5.9 per contest with a 13.5 offensive rebounding percentage, second to Johnson’s 10.4 rebounds per game. Meeks also was a bright spot for the Tar Heels during last year’s tournament. The senior averaged 13.3 points and 6.7 rebounds as the Tar Heels made it all the way to the championship game. Meanwhile, Jackson had 12.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.8 assists, contributing on 20.4% of the team’s possessions per game during the 2015-16 season.
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So far this season, the Tar Heels have plenty of offensive options with five players averaging at least 11 points a game. Berry, for one, is proving to be the Tar Heels’ go-to guy with 98 points, 27 assists and 12 steals in the first six games, while Meeks is averaging 13.5 points on 49.3% shooting and 9.8 rebounds. Jackson is shooting .500 from the field with 16 points and 1.17 assists per contest. Isaiah Hicks is also a reliable option for North Carolina. The senior forward has made 66% of his shots this year to average 14.7 points. Tony Bradly is the fifth double-digit scoring Tar Heel with 11.5 points per contest.
On Tuesday, North Carolina faced its toughest opponent yet, though the score would indicate otherwise. Berry and the Tar Heels took down Jawun Evans and Oklahoma State, 107-75, during the Maui Jim Maui Invitational in Lahaina, Hawaii. Berry poured in 24 points, five rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Jackson added 22 points, eight rebounds, and six assists.
26.1: Percentage of possessions Duke used Grayson Allen for during the 2015-16 season. During his sophomore year, Allen led the Blue Devils with an average of 21.6 points with a 55.4 effective field goal percentage, 3.5 assists, and 1.3 steals, along with 4.6 rebounds. The first-team All-ACC honoree and coaches’ ACC Co-Most Improved Player started in 35 of the season’s 36 games, scoring double digits in 34. Allen led the Blue Devils throughout the NCAA Tournament before falling to Oregon, 82-68, in the Sweet 16.
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This season, the majority of Duke’s team is underclassmen, so Allen, who was named to the Naismith Watchlist, will be expected to play a bigger role for the team. Allen had an injury scare during the first half of Duke’s game against Kansas on Nov. 15, but returned in the second half. Duke fell to the Jayhawks, 77-75, but has a 4-1 record in its first five games.
Overall, Duke has struggled with keeping its team healthy to start the season. The Blue Devils’ highly-anticipated freshmen, Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, are both out with injuries, which limits the team. Tatum injured his foot during a preseason scrimmage and Giles underwent knee surgery last month and is currently rehabbing. Fortunately, sophomore Luke Kennard has emerged as a key role player for the Blue Devils. The 6-6 guard has a team-best 18.2 points, shooting 55.2% from the field, and 3.6 assists per contest over the first five games.
Luke Kennard was supposed to be a rotation piece for Duke. Instead, he’s turned into their most indispensable player https://t.co/FJJpOwKln0— SB Nation CBB (@SBNationCBB) November 21, 2016
Duke has now moved down to the No. 7 spot nationally. But once it gets and keeps everyone healthy further in the season, the team will have no problems getting back in the top 3-5.
2: The number of returning role players for Virginia. Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey were the three biggest contributors for UVA. Brogdon led the team in scoring (18.2), Gill boasted a team-high 6.1 rebounds per game, and Tobey finished with a second-best 22 blocks on the season.
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The good news is that the Cavaliers return players like London Perrantes and Isaiah Wilkins, who saw a good amount of playing time last season. Wilkins blocked five percent of his opponents’ shots, accumulating 31 blocks last year and shot 51.8% from the floor to average 4.6 points. He also crashed the boards and pocketed 15.7% of the team’s defensive rebounds while on defense for 4.1 total rebounds a game. Wilkins has proven to be a consistent player and, as a junior, has already shown growth in his numbers. He’s started in all four of the Cavaliers’ games and is averaging 5.8 points (10 for 18 from the field) and 5.8 rebounds.
Perrantes was the team’s highest scorer after Brogdon and Gill with 11 points per game while shooting 48.8% from behind the three-point arc, sixth-best in the country. The 6-2 senior guard additionally led the team in assists (153) at a rate of 24.2. So far this season, Perrantes has improved his assist rate (29.9) with 17 assists along with 32 points as the No. 7-ranked Cavaliers mark a 4-0 record.
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Memphis transfer Austin Nichols was projected to be a major component for Virginia as well. He managed 11 points in one game, but was dismissed from the team on Friday after having been suspended from two team scrimmages and the season opener. Nichols was suspended for the three games due to violation of team rules, but the reason for dismissal was not given.
15: Boston College’s finish in last year’s ACC standings. With a highly competitive conference, the Eagles found themselves on the lower end with a 7-25 record. The team went winless in the conference with all but four of the losses being by a double-digit margin. The Eagles struggled on both sides of the ball against opponents, marking a 20% turnover rate on offense. Boston College’s struggles could also be attributed to its strength of schedule, which was the 32nd-most challenging in the nation.
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Unfortunately for the Eagles, this season may be even tougher than the last, though KenPom.com predicts the team will slightly improve their record to 9-21. Boston College already has three wins and only one loss so far this season.
Despite Duke starting out as the highest-ranked ACC team during the preseason, the conference is wide open for the taking. North Carolina is now the ACC’s top team, placing fourth in the latest AP poll with a 6-0 record. Duke is one spot ahead of Virginia at sixth in the poll. Although Virginia is undefeated (4-0) and Duke is a one-loss team (4-1), the loss was to Kansas, which is No. 5.
ACC teams have about one more month until conference play starts, and that’s when things will start heating up. Out of the current top 25-ranked conference teams, Virginia and Louisville go head-to-head first to open ACC action on Dec. 28 in Louisville.
Edited by Emily Berman.
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