ACC Notebook

Evaluating the ACC at the midpoint of the season

acarter@newsobserver.comJanuary 30, 2014 

We got one thing right, at least.

Media members who cover ACC basketball picked Syracuse senior forward C.J. Fair as the ACC’s preseason Player of the Year. Fair, who’s averaging 16.7 points and 6 rebounds per game for the undefeated Orange (20-0, 7-0 ACC), has been the best, most consistent player on the league’s best, most consistent team.

Aside from that, though, North Carolina coach Roy Williams was mostly right to pick up a copy of the media’s preseason ballot and mock it. He did that back in mid-October, during the ACC’s annual preseason media day.

“I only guarantee one thing,” Williams said, holding up predictions that had Duke winning the league, Syracuse finishing second, UNC finishing third and so on. “That crap ain’t happening. That’s the only thing I can guarantee.

“If anybody gets all those teams right, bring your ballot, they can have my beach house for a week. … Write that down.”

Williams’ beach house is safe, it seems. The first half of the conference season – most ACC teams will reach the midpoint of their league schedules this weekend – has brought some clarity. It has offered, as always, surprises, disappointments and oddities.

So here we have a redo of some of the preseason awards, and the introduction of some others.

Player of the year: Syracuse F C.J. Fair.

His numbers are strong but not completely overwhelming. He only ranks seventh in the ACC in scoring, after all. Still, Fair is likely a 20-points-per-game player in a more up-tempo offense. He’s also the perfect defensive fit for Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone.

All-ACC first team: Fair; Duke F Rodney Hood; Duke F Jabari Parker; Pittsburgh G Lamar Patterson; N.C. State F T.J. Warren.

All-ACC second team: Virginia G Malcolm Brogdon; Syracuse G Tyler Ennis; Clemson F K.J. McDaniels; UNC G Marcus Paige; Pitt F Talib Zanna.

All-ACC third team: Notre Dame G Eric Atkins; Boston College G Olivier Hanlan; Virginia G Joe Harris; UNC F James Michael McAdoo; Wake Forest F Devin Thomas.

All-ACC freshman team: N.C. State G Anthony Barber; Virginia Tech G Ben Emelogu; Syracuse G Tyler Ennis; UNC F Kennedy Meeks; Duke F Jabari Parker.

Coach of the year: Virginia’s Tony Bennett.

Bennett hasn’t yet replicated the success he had at Washington State, which he led to back-to-back top-10 finishes, but if this season is any indication then he’s turning the corner in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers, picked to finish fourth in the preseason, should be contenders for the regular season title in Bennett’s fifth season. Only two of Bennett’s previous four Virginia teams won more games than the Cavaliers already have (16).

Most outstanding performance (player): N.C. State F T.J. Warren.

There have been 10 30-point performances among ACC players this season. Warren has four of them, though only one came in conference play. He scored 30 points – on 13-for-21 shooting from the field – to lead the Wolfpack to a 74-70 victory against Florida State on Wednesday night. He goes for an encore Saturday against UNC at the Smith Center.

Most outstanding performance (team): Duke in its 95-60 victory against N.C. State.

Syracuse has been the ACC’s most outstanding team to this point, no question. But best performance in a single game? It’s difficult to top what Duke did to N.C. State at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 18. If you needed a reminder, Duke shot 50 percent, made 11 3-pointers and harassed the Wolfpack into 21 turnovers. It was a dominant, season-turning kind of game for the Blue Devils, who seemingly have played their way back into an NCAA tournament appearance.

Three things to appreciate about the first half of the ACC season:

1. Syracuse has lived up to its billing. It looks like Duke is starting to come alive – just in time for its anticipated game in the Carrier Dome this weekend – but the Orange needed no such warm-up. Where would the ACC be without Syracuse? Without a top-10 team, that’s where.

2. Great defense. The ACC is home to some of the best defensive teams in the nation – Clemson, Florida State, Virginia, Syracuse, and the list goes on. It doesn’t always make for pretty basketball but it usually does create competitive, unpredictable games, like Clemson’s victory against Duke at Littlejohn Coliseum on Jan. 11.

3. It’s (mostly) wide open from here. Yes, as Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton has been saying for at least seven years now, this is a new ACC. Parity reigns, again, though Syracuse, Virginia, Pitt and Duke are in a tier of their own at the midpoint. After those four teams, seven others will enter the weekend separated by two games in the loss column.

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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