BOZICH | ACC Basketball underachievement? Late season awards, predictions
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – We are three weeks from the start of the major conference college basketball tournaments, four weeks from the opening block/charge call of the tournament that makes you forget the rest of the season.
In other words, it's a perfect time for a snapshot look at the final third of the regular season in the Atlantic Coast, Southeastern and Big Ten conferences. I'll begin with the league that has not been as overpowering as it was billed in October and November – the ACC.
Don't believe me?
Check the most respected bracket projections for the NCAA Tournament. The ACC is expected to earn six bids – same as the SEC and Big East. I'm guessing that is not what commissioner John Swofford envisioned when the league outgrew Tobacco Road.
On to the categories:
1. ORDER THE RINGS: Hold that call for another week, please.
Virginia, the leader, sits in a great spot. The Cavaliers have a two-game cushion in the loss column over Notre Dame and Duke, the only teams with a reasonable chance to catch them.
But considering Justin Anderson figures to miss the rest of the regular season with a broken finger and that UVA has won its last four league games by an average of 5.5 points, more drama can percolate.
But it's Duke, not Notre Dame, that could overtake Virginia. Why? The Blue Devils beat Virginia – and there's no rematch. The Fighting Irish did not. All Duke needs is two UVA losses.
Yes, the Blue Devils have an extra game to play. Their schedule is user friendly – four home games and the only NCAA Tournament team left for the Krzyzewskis to beat is North Carolina (twice).
2. OVERACHIEVER: I checked the ballots from ACC Media Day. Mike Brey and Notre Dame were predicted to finish seventh, behind Syracuse and Pittsburgh. I'd be surprised if the Irish finish worse than third. And I give extra credit because the Irish are fun to watch. They can score. Some concept, scoring.
3. UNDERACHIEVER: Sorry, Jamie Dixon, but unless your Panthers finish with gusto, Pittsburgh has the most explaining to do. Pitt was picked to finish sixth. The Panthers are currently locked in a three-way tie for ninth and still have not explained how they lost to Virginia Tech.
4. BIG DOG: I almost did something silly. In fact, I wrote two sentences and deleted them about how I was going to pick somebody other than Jahlil Okafor of Duke.
There's no reason to be different – or stupid: The best player in the ACC is Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor. He's first in scoring, tied for third in rebounding and making better than 66 percent of his shots. He's got hands like Rob Gronkowski.
I'd listen to arguments for others, but there's a spot for those guys in the next item.
5. FAB FIVE: 1. Okafor, Duke; 2. Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse; 3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame; 4. Terry Rozier, Louisville; 5. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia.
6. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO … Marcus Paige, North Carolina.
Nobody got more votes than Paige for ACC pre-season player of the year. Heck, he was named national player of the year by voters in the Associated Press poll.
For Paige, this season has become more about hard times than hardware. Paige has not always been healthy, and it has showed.
He's 13th in the ACC in scoring, averaging 13.9 per game. That's down nearly four points from last season. His field goal percentage has also slipped from 44 to 40. And you won't find the name Marcus Paige on the first-round predictions for the 2015 NBA Draft.
7. FAB FIVE (FRESHMEN): 1. Okafor, Duke; 2. Justise Winslow, Duke; 3. Tyus Jones, Duke; 4. Justin Jackson, North Carolina; 5. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State.
8. COACHING KING: Tony Bennett, Virginia. He's going to win the league without a McDonald's all-American or a Top 20 recruiting class.
His best player will miss the last four weeks. He gets his guys to bend their knees, raise their arms and slide their feet for the entire 35 seconds on the defensive end. He's got a system that is against the grain.
9. BROKEN CLIPBOARD: Roy Williams, North Carolina. Some wonder if this is the farewell lap for the Hall of Fame coach. Academic fraud has stained the Carolina Way. The Tar Heels have lost three of their last four and will have to scramble to earn a double bye in the ACC Tournament.
Dad-gummit, that's not much return from a roster with six McDonald's all-Americans.
10. DANCE PARTNERS: Virginia (one-seed), Duke (two), Notre Dame (four), Louisville (four) and North Carolina (four) will make the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina State cannot exhale until Selection Sunday.
Everybody else needs a remarkable week in Greensboro.
That's likely five teams and possibly six. Joe Lunardi says that the SEC and Big East will send six teams into March – and the Big 12 and Big Ten will advance seven.
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