The ACC regular season has come to an end and the schools will congregate in Greensboro, North Carolina for the ACC Tournament this week to play for the postseason trophy.
The ACC had a very strong regular season that saw five teams finish in the top 25, tied with the Big 12, but the strength of #2 Duke and #3 Virginia push the Atlantic Coast Conference over the top.
Tony Bennett of Virginia was named ACC Coach of the Year for the second straight season and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor was awarded ACC Player of the Year, an impressive accolade for a freshman. We previewed the conference with six burning questions before the regular season started. Let’s see how those story lines played out.
1. How will Louisville Adjust to the Daily Grind of the ACC?
In our preview article, we talked about how Louisville had to make the jump from the American Athletic Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference. They were ready for the test as they went 12-6 in the conference and finished fourth in the standings. Their most impressive win may have been their most recent one, a home win over Virginia 59-57, handing the Cavaliers only their second loss on the season.
They finished the last fourth of their conference schedule without senior point guard Chris Jones as he was dismissed from the program amid rape charges. Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell carried the load the last few weeks and Louisville will have to win without Jones in the ACC and NCAA Tournament.
It will be interesting to see Coach Pitino’s roster for 2015-2016 though. Obviously he will lose the aforementioned Jones and he could lose junior Montrezl Harrell and sophomore Terry Rozier to early entry as both blossomed this year.
2. Can North Carolina Overcome the Academic Fraud Investigation?
Wow, did the Tar Heels underachieve this season. They went 11-7 in conference and 21-10 overall. They did not live up to their preseason top 10 ranking and barely finished in the top 20 at number 19 overall. They were swept by their rival Duke Blue Devils and were embarrassed at home by their other rival North Carolina State. They blew an 18 point halftime lead at Louisville and looked like they didn’t belong on the floor in their home contest against Virginia.
All in all this has to be a disappointing season for Roy Williams’ Tar Heels. Marcus Paige, a preseason All-American, took a big step back in his junior campaign as he fought a plethora of nagging injuries from sprained ankles to plantar fasciitis. Williams got inconsistent interior performances from Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson, while guard J.P. Tokoto was non-existent at times during the year.
Roy, if he’s honest, will tell you North Carolina was affected by the academic scandal that rocked the university in 2014. He has one recruit committed for 2015 and his team lacked passion and fight throughout different times of the season. The good thing for coach is that he may not be losing any players of significance to graduation or the draft. Hopefully Roy can have a bounce back in 2015, because the North Carolina faithful is growing uneasy in Chapel Hill.
3. How Successful will Buzz Williams be in His 1st Season at Virginia Tech?
Record-wise it will look like Buzz failed in his first season as the Hokies basketball coach. The Hokies went 2-16 in the ACC and 10-21 overall. But if you take a deeper look at the schedule and results of Virginia Tech men’s basketball team you’ll see that they played better than their record indicates.
A few results worth noting:
January 3 at Syracuse – Loss 68-66
January 25 vs. Virginia – Loss 50-47
January 31 at Wake – Loss 73-70
February 3 at Syracuse – Loss 72-70
February 25 vs. Duke – Loss 91-86 OT
Five games decided by two possessions or less didn’t fall the Hokies way. Two of them came down to the last possession against the #2 and #3 ranked teams in the country as they couldn’t get the job done against Duke and Virginia.
It’s safe to say Buzz Williams has put his fingerprints on Virginia Tech’s basketball program and it looks like he has them headed in the right direction.
4. Can Jahlil Okafor Give Duke the Inside Presence the Blue Devils Have Been Missing?
Uh … Yes. Yes. And Yes. Jahlil Okafor was more than the inside presence Duke needed. He was their most valuable player and Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year he was that good. He showcased his skills against Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas and Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell. Okafor was more than advertised, he was dominant.
Depending on how Duke does in the ACC tournament they will more than likely have a 1 seed come NCAA tournament time. Will they flame out and be upset like they did in year’s past against Lehigh and Mercer? Absolutely not. Okafor gives something Duke hasn’t had in a while. A presence. A figure that commands attention and commands a double team, opening up good looks for shooters like Quinn Cook, Matt Jones, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. Duke looks poised for a deep March run and it all starts with the big man.
Enjoy him Duke fans, he won’t be around for long.
5. Is Syracuse in Rebuilding Mode?
It was obvious that Syracuse wasn’t going to contend for an ACC title this year and that was BEFORE the program was crippled last week by NCAA sanctions from an investigation spurring the last decade.
The Orange went 9-9 in the conference and 18-13 overall. They struggled offensively at times as their best player Rakeem Christmas was forced to carry the load too often. He was rightfully awarded First Team All-ACC for his efforts and surprise improvement from his previous three years at the school. But it wasn’t enough as Trevor Cooney and the rest of the Orange scholarship players struggled to help the senior.
Before the season, we asked if Syracuse was in rebuilding mode. With the sanctions and loss of scholarships, the Orange may be rebuilding for a long time.
6. Can Virginia Prove 2013-14 was no Fluke?
Well it looks like they showed us. Virginia followed up a successful 2013-2014 season with an even more successful 2014-2015 campaign. They went 16-2 in the conference and 28-2 overall, losing both games by a combined eight points to Duke and Louisville. They won the regular season conference title and their young, up and coming coach, Tony Bennett, won the conference’s Coach of the year award for the second straight season.
It may not be pretty when you watch Virginia, but they compete. They struggle to score, but they’ll lock you down defensively. They don’t care if you are a 5-star High School McDonald’s prospect on the low block or a 3-star walk on, they will double the post and rotate from there. They get you to take the shot they want you to take and they never stray away from their game plan. They have two studs in Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson, the latter who was hurt for most of the season with a thumb injury, but his team kept on winning.
The Cavaliers are for real. They are poised for a deep tournament run after they were knocked out in the Sweet 16 last year. We can stop posing the question if Virginia is for real. Coach Bennett answered that question for us this year and going forward.