Math 9314: Conference Play Gets Underway

As we enter the new year, January brings us many things. It brings us hopes and dreams, resolutions both kept and unkept, and college basketball. Lots of college basketball. January marks the beginning of conference play, where the intensity ramps up and every game is a test for a team’s NCAA tournament resumè. The young Blue Devils seemed like they weren’t quite ready for this transition, enduring two difficult road games in the past week. As we know, Duke was upset by Temple in Philadelphia but rebounded in its ACC-opener with a hard-fought victory over Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Let’s take a quick look behind the numbers using our advanced metrics and see what that box scores from these games did not tell you:

Temple:
This game was all about the brothers Plumlee, but it was Miles, not Mason, who got it going early and often for Duke. Miles poured in 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting in just 19 minutes for his most productive game of the season. Miles’s GameScore of 16.6 was his season-high and was only outdone by younger brother Mason, who posted a GameScore of 18.2. Though he struggled early, Mason finally got it going down the stretch and finished with 16 points on 7-of-13 from the floor. But Mason’s biggest contribution was on the glass, posting an Oreb% of 30.17% and leading Duke with seven offensive rebounds. This means that when Mason was on the floor and Duke put up a shot, he would pull in an offensive rebound on 30.17% of these rebounding opportunities. Miles added three more offensive rebounds and recorded an Oreb% of 21.78% on the game. Unfortunately, other than the Plumlees’ performance, it was Terrible, Terrible, Terrible at Temple. Our advanced metrics actually reveal to us that Duke’s performance against Temple was even worse than it looked. The Blue Devils next highest GameScore came from freshman Michael Gbinije with 5.7- keep in mind that Gbinije only played eight minutes in the game. Gbinije was productive when he was on the floor, knocking down both of his shots for five points. After Mason Plumlee, the next highest GameScore from a Duke starter was Austin Rivers’ 3.5, thanks to his 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting. Rounding out Duke’s starting lineup was a 3.1 GameScore from Ryan Kelly, a 2.8 from Seth Curry, and a whopping 0.3 from Tyler Thornton. At risk of making myself (and I’m sure many readers) physically ill from these statistics, I’m going to slowly back away from the Temple game and pretend it never happened. But rest assured, when your team has three players with efficiency ratings over 3.5 and one of them played just eight minutes, yeah you’re in trouble. With this bad a performance, it’s surprising that Duke only lost by five points and actually had a chance to win this game.

Kelly's 21 points was his highest scoring effort this season (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Georgia Tech:
Duke’s hard-fought victory on the road against Georgia Tech served as a small step in the right direction. The Blue Devils were paced by Ryan Kelly, who scored 21 points on just four shots from the floor, posting an impressive GameScore of 20.9. Kelly’s GameScore was the highest posted by a Duke player since Quinn Cook’s21.8 against Western Michigan. Kelly’s Usage% of 20.94% was hardly indicative of his role in Duke’s half-court sets, however, as 14 of the 18 shots he took on the day came from the foul line. Mason Plumlee added another solid game, achieving a GameScore of 12.5 thanks to his nine points and eight rebounds. Curry added 15 points but was hardly efficient in doing so, taking 12 shots from the floor and posting a Usage% of 31.11%. His high usage reflected poorly in his GameScore of 8.7. In his first career start, Quinn Cook recorded a respectable GameScore of 7.5 thanks to his 10 points and five assists. Tyler Thornton, who was replaced by Cook in the starting lineup, had posted a GameScore above 7.5 on just one occasion in his six starts. Thornton’s GameScore was just 2.9 against Georgia Tech.

Mason's consistency might be the most surprising of his improvements this year (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

What We Learned:
Mason Plumlee is a workhorse— This is something that most of us already knew, but his consistency has been a great surprise this year. Plumlee has posted GameScores above 10 in eight of his last nine games. He finds ways to be a productive contributor even when he is not scoring, averaging 10.1 rebounds per game over that stretch. The Plumlees have had a history of showing flashes of brilliance but being dreadfully inconsistent, but it appears they are finally beginning to break that mold. Mason’s GameScores of 12.5 and 18.2 in the Blue Devils two most recent games, games in which the team did not play particularly well, shows that he is becoming a player Duke can rely on to produce night in and night out.

Rivers has struggled in Duke's past three games and has forced some tough shots (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Austin Rivers is struggling once again– Scoring just 20 points on 6-of-21 shooting in his last two games combined, Rivers is just not feeling it out there. We are seeing glimpses of November’s Austin Riverswho would drive the lane and force tough shots. He also hasn’t had his usual shooting touch from beyond the arc as of late, shooting just 2-of-8 from deep in Duke’s past three games. Rivers’ GameScores have been 3.9, 3.5, and 3.3 in the Blue Devils last three contests against Pennsylvania, Temple, and Georgia Tech respectively. These are his lowest totals since Duke faced Kansas in the final of the Maui Invitational six weeks ago. This seems to be the latest in a series of ups and downs this season for Rivers, but there doesn’t seem to be a larger issue here. It simply appears he’s been a bit off his game. We hope he’s due for a breakout performance very soon, especially with a tough Virginia team coming to Cameron for Duke’s ACC home opener on January 12th.

Georgia Tech was a great test for Duke, who will have to grind out many more close games in tough environments as the conference schedule continues. Hopefully the Blue Devils continue to make the right adjustments moving forward. Stay Crazie, my friends.

Later this week, Crazie Talk will have its first-ever mailbag where our writers answer Duke basketball questions submitted by our readers. Have any thoughts or questions? Submit them to us by sending them to crazietalk@gmail.com or tweet them @crazietalker with hashtag #askCT.

Section 17: Almost Stung

Looking to rebound from a terrible, terrible, terrible loss to Temple in Philadelphia, Duke headed to Atlanta to open their ACC regular season schedule against Georgia Tech. We projected the Yellow Jackets, who were coming off of three consecutive losses to Mercer, Fordham, and Alabama, to finish 8th in the conference in our ACC preview. Despite Georgia Tech’s recent woes, there is no such thing as an easy road game in the ACC, and this game was the perfect example. The Blue Devils were able to come away with an 81-74 victory against the Yellow Jackets, but it appears Duke still hasn’t hit its stride after a hard-fought and competitive contest.

Mike Krzyzewski tends to make lineup changes after tough losses, so it was no surprise that Coach K shook up the starting lineup for Duke’s ACC opener. Miles Plumlee re-entered the starting lineup for the first time since November 15 against Michigan State after a very strong showing against Temple. He replaced Ryan Kelly, who was an absolute non-factor against the Owls, playing just 19 minutes and scoring five points. But the real story of the game was the long-awaited first career start for point guard Quinn Cook. Cook was chosen over Tyler Thornton, who had started Duke’s previous six games but whose production had diminished as of late.

If you were a little worried about Duke coming into this game, you weren’t after the first 12 minutes against Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils jumped out to a 31-14 lead thanks to a quick start from Cook, Mason Plumlee, and Ryan Kelly. This fast start from Duke simply seemed to rattle the hornet’s nest, if you will, and the Yellow Jackets came alive. With the Blue Devils facing foul trouble early on, Georgia Tech stormed back, ending the half on a 21-8 run to pull within five.

The second half was tight throughout, and with each passing minute that Duke failed to pull away, the pressure continued to mount. The Blue Devils struggled to hit shots from beyond the arc, knocking down just 6-of-22 for the game. Glen Rice Jr., who was relatively quiet in the first half, absolutely took over the last nine minutes of the game. It was as though he couldn’t miss a shot, shooting 6-for-7 down the stretch for 15 of his game-high 28 points. Georgia Tech was able to pull within two with 2:58 to go and had an opportunity to tie the game, but Mfon Udofia missed both of his shots from the foul line. After an Austin Rivers steal and layup pushed Duke’s lead back up to four, Rice had his own opportunity from the charity stripe, but he too missed both shots. Seth Curry added an exclamation point to the win, putting the game out of reach with a lob to Mason Plumlee for an emphatic finish. The Yellow Jackets’ failure to capitalize from the line combined with fantastic foul shooting from the Blue Devils sealed this tough road victory.

Ryan Kelly didn't shoot much from the floor, but made his living from the line (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Kelly was undoubtedly the man of the afternoon for Duke, with one of the most interesting stat lines we’ve seen in quite some time. Kelly, who got off to a hot start early in the game, shot just 3-of-4 from the field, but thanks to a perfect 14-for-14 from the free throw line led the Blue Devils with 21 points. He did not attempt a field goal for the last 16:12 of the game. Kelly’s free-throw shooting was stellar, to say the least, and it led an excellent all-around performance by the Blue Devils at the line. Duke, who has struggled with foul shooting all season, shot 29-of-36 from the free throw line on the afternoon. Although Kelly’s foul shooting preserved the win for the Blue Devils, he was not much of a factor other than the beginning and the end of this game. His first nine points came within the first 10 minutes of the game, and he scored just two points between the 10:29 mark of the first half and the 4:09 mark of the second half. Clearly this is a picky analysis of Kelly’s play, as he took advantage of his opportunities down the stretch and made sure Duke would not drop a second consecutive game, but you’d like to see him recognize when he’s the hot hand on the floor and continue taking shots. But overall it was nice to see Ryan bounce back after his worst showing of the season against Temple.

Cook took control of the offense in his first career start for Duke (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Cook played quite well in his first start for Duke, adding 10 points and five assists in 27 minutes. He commanded the floor with confidence in his first ACC contest, slashing to the bucket in the game’s early minutes and setting up teammates with crisp passes. One of the highlights of the game was his phenomenal behind-the-head dishto Austin Rivers, which placed third on DukeBluePlanet’s top plays of the game. It was a strong all-around effort, though he did take a few ill-advised shots from beyond the arc. He shot 1-for-4 from 3-point range on the afternoon and has shot just 30% from deep on the year. With five assists in the game, Cook’s assist-to-turnover ratio now sits at 4.43:1, which is the best in all of college basketball. Quinn will continue to grow into his role as this team’s starting point guard throughout Duke’s ACC schedule, but in the past few games we’ve already caught glimpses of the type of playmaker he can be.

Rivers has not had his typical shooting touch in Duke's past three games (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Rivers struggled yet again, scoring just eight points on 3-of-10 from the floor. This continues to be a season of ups and downs for Rivers, but you hope he is due for a breakout game relatively soon. It just wasn’t working for Austin against Georgia Tech- his shots weren’t falling and he was torched by Glenn Rice Jr. on the defensive end. He even missed two crucial free throws down the stretch that could have come back to haunt the Blue Devils. Luckily the Yellow Jackets had much larger issues from the free throw line on their hands.

Although it is great to get a first ACC victory on the road, we need to address the elephant in the room here- this team is having trouble closing out games. We saw similar issues against Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan, and Washington, where Duke allowed double digit leads to evaporate late in the game. The Blue Devils had Georgia Tech on the ropes early, jumping out to a quick 17-point lead. That should have been it right there. They should have been able to coast into halftime with a 20-point lead and let the second half play out for an easy blowout win, but they let the Yellow Jackets back in the game and suddenly had a tight second half on their hands. Luckily Duke was able to hold on, but heading into their ACC schedule the Blue Devils need to learn how to put teams away.

A statistical analysis of the Temple and Georgia Tech games is coming later today. Stay Crazie, my friends.

Later this week, Crazie Talk will have its first-ever mailbag where our writers answer Duke basketball questions submitted by our readers. Have any thoughts or questions? Submit them to us by sending them to crazietalk@gmail.com or tweet them @crazietalker with hashtag #askCT.

The Truth About ACC Schedules

Here we sit, just days away from the beginning of the ACC’s regular season schedule. At Crazie-Talk we’ve done quite a bit of pondering about the ACC over the course of the last three weeks, going team by team around the conference and projecting the regular season standings come March. During this process something intriguing has jumped out at me, something I haven’t given much thought to until now- just because everyone is playing their ACC conference schedule doesn’t mean their schedules are all the same.

Allow me to elaborate. Unfortunately, not all ACC schedules are created equal. There once was a time when this was a case. The ACC expanded to nine teams in 1991. With the addition of Florid astate, the ACC was comprised of Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, and Wake Forest. These teams still played a 16 game regular season, a grueling round-robin that would pit every team against one another on two occasions, once at home and once on the road. These days are long gone. They ended in 2004, when Miami and Virginia Tech joined the conference from the Big East. The following year Boston College made the same jump.

There are currently 12 teams in the ACC, and the ACC conference schedule is still 16 games. Now I’m no math major, but there is no way to have 12 teams play a 16 game schedule where every team plays every other team in the conference the same amount of times. The way it is divided up, out of the 11 possible opponents in the conference (last time I checked a team cannot play itself), an ACC team will play five of them twice in a home and home format and six of them just once during the year (the ability to play a basketball game in two places at once has not been figured out yet, either). This will all change with the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse into the ACC in either 2013 or 2014, depending on the negotiation of their buyouts with the Big East. Following their entrance into the conference, the 14 teams in the ACC will all play 18 regular season games, further diluting the scheduling scenarios within the conference.

Some of these mascots will have a much harder time than others when conference schedules begin. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Now if each team plays roughly half of its opponents just once and the other half twice, wouldn’t that make some teams’ schedules harder than others? The answer is yes, but it’s something that often gets overlooked when breaking down the conference. Using our ACC preview as a roadmap, we were able to break down every team in the conference’s schedule and figure out who has the toughest test this year, and we thought we’d share the results with you. By taking the rankings we assessed to the 12 ACC schools and giving additional weight to the schools a team plays twice, we were able to figure out the difficulty of each team’s schedule. For good measure, because a team cannot play itself, we weighed it against a team’s toughest possible schedule (lowly Boston College would theoretically be at a disadvantage because it cannot play itself twice like other schools can). Each team is linked to its respective preview, so feel free to take a look at those if you haven’t already (spoiler alert: we’ve already done 11 previews so by process of elimination and common sense, North Carolina, whose preview will be published tomorrow, is our projected #1 team). The teams are listed in reverse order, from least difficult schedule to most difficult schedule.

12. Georgia Tech
Projected ACC finish: 8th
Who they play once: Duke, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Who they play twice: Boston College, Clemson, Maryland, North Carolina State, Wake Forest

11. Boston College
Projected ACC finish: 12th
Who they play once: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia
Who they play twice: Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

10. Wake Forest
Projected ACC finish: 10th
Who they play once: Florida State, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Who they play twice: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State

9. North Carolina State
Projected ACC finish: 6th
Who they play once: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Who they play twice: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Wake Forest

8. Clemson
Projected ACC finish: 10th
Who they play once: Boston College, Duke, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State
Who they play twice: Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

7. Miami
Projected ACC finish: 9th
Who they play once: Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Who they play twice: Boston College, Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State

6. Virginia Tech
Projected ACC finish: 5th
Who they play once: Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest
Who they play twice: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Virginia

5. Florida State
Projected ACC finish: 4th
Who they play once: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest
Who they play twice: Clemson, Duke, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech

4. Duke
Projected ACC finish: 2nd
Who they play once: Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina State, Virginia
Who they play twice: Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

3. North Carolina
Projected ACC finish: 1st
Who they play once: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Who they play twice: Duke, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina State, Virginia

2. Virginia
Projected ACC finish: 3rd
Who they play once: Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina State, Wake Forest
Who they play twice: Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia Tech

1. Maryland
Projected ACC finish: 7th
Who they play once: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Who they play twice: Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia

Disagree with the order? Don’t think it’s a big deal? Have a better idea for a way to set up conference schedules? Let us know. Stay Crazie, my friends.

2011-2012 ACC Preview: #2 Duke

The 2011-2012 ACC season is about to begin. Over the next three weeks, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order that we think they’ll finish this season – from the bottom up.

Let’s take a look at our projected ACC runner-up, the Duke Blue Devils.

The high-flying Blue Devils are greatly improved from the beginning of the season, and look to silence their critics. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2011-2012 Record: 12-2

Key Wins:
November 22- Duke 82, Michigan 75
November 23- Duke 68, Kansas 61

Tough Losses:
November 29- Ohio State 85, Duke 63
January 4- Temple 78, Duke 73

Starting Lineup:[table id=27 /]The Good: This team is full of offensive weapons. Duke boasts the seventh-best scoring offense in the country at 82.8 points per game. They can hit shots from all over the floor and are shooting 50.5% from the floor on the year, good for fifth in the nation. The Blue Devils have arguably the best backcourt in the country, and their guards account for one of the best shooting trios in recent Duke history. Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, and Andre Dawkins are shooting a combined 42.3% from beyond the arc this year. Their frontcourt is also significantly improved and has been dominant in recent games, headlined by junior Mason Plumlee, who has averaged 11.5 points and 9.7 rebounds on the year thanks to a new array of post moves. The Blue Devils have also played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country. They’ve faced three opponents that are ranked in the top 16 of the AP Top 25, defeating two of them. This was a great test for this young team, and will serve them well as they head into conference play.

The Bad: Though they are much improved on the offensive end, Duke has struggled at times with interior defense this season. This was most evident against Kansas and Ohio State, when they allowed Kansas’s Thomas Robinson to go for 16 points and 15 rebounds and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger went for 21 and eight boards. To make matters worse, the Blue Devils have had lapses inside against some of their weaker opponents. Even when the game is out of reach, this is not something you like to see a talented team make a habit. The Blue Devils have also struggled from the free throw line this season, something they cannot afford to continue as they enter their ACC schedule. Duke has shot 67.9% from the foul line this season, which is significantly below their typical standards. The Blue Devils have been one of the better free throw shooting teams in the country in years past, and haven’t shot below 68% from the line on a season since 1997-1998. Duke’s woes from the lines this year have been headlined by Mason Plumlee, who despite making significant improvements in the post this season, is shooting an abysmal 38.5%. Austin Rivers didn’t seem to get the memo that Duke guards don’t miss free throws, shooting just 69.6% from the stripe. He has vowed that he will be shooting 80% from the line by the end of the year.

The Crazie: The craziest thing about this year’s Duke team is that it is continuing to come together before our very eyes. The Blue Devils lost three huge pieces of last year’s team, and has had to rebuild on the go thus far. This team was able to win at the beginning of the year based on talent alone, but in the last few games you’ve been able to see them really getting into a rhythm. It appears this team is not done making adjustments, either. When they were struggling earlier in the season, they opted for Tyler Thornton to start over sharp shooter Andre Dawkins, and now it appears that relatively soon freshman Quinn Cook will take over for Thornton as the team’s starting point guard. This is a team that is still building its image and getting comfortable playing together, but it’s remarkable how quickly they’ve gotten to this point.

Player We Love To Hate: This is a Duke blog…we’re going to skip this one.

The Bottom Line: Everyone knew the ACC was going to come down to Duke and North Carolina this year. Overall, the Tar Heels are a more experienced team and will ultimately take the regular season crown, but it should be much closer than many people expect. Duke will give North Carolina a significant challenge, and they should split their games this year, with each team winning on its home floor. The Blue Devils shouldn’t have much trouble handling the rest of the ACC competition, though they might drop a tough road game or two. They drew one of the more difficult road schedules in the conference this year, playing away at Florida State, Maryland, and Virginia Tech, which are likely the three toughest road games in the ACC outside the state of North Carolina. Although they seem to be written off by many of the “experts” for this year, this young and inexperienced team should surprise some people and contend as with Cook at point guard they continue to gel.

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Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:

Boston College | Wake Forest | Clemson | Miami | Georgia Tech | Maryland

North Carolina State | Virginia Tech | Florida State | Virginia | Duke | North Carolina

2011-2012 ACC Preview: #3 Virginia

The 2011-2012 ACC season is about to begin. Over the next three weeks, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order that we think they’ll finish this season – from the bottom up.

Let’s take a look at our projected 3rd-place finishers, the Virginia Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers are off to a hot start this year, but will their success carry into ACC season? (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2011-2012 Record: 13-1

Key Wins:
November 29- Virginia 70, Michigan 58
December 18- Virginia 67, Oregon 54

Tough Losses:
November 18- TCU 57, Virginia 55

Starting Lineup:[table id=26 /]Last Year Against Duke:
January 15, 2011 at Duke- Duke 76, Virginia 60
February 16, 2011 in Charlottesville- Duke 56, Virginia 41

This Year Against Duke:
January 12, 2012 at Duke

The Good: The Cavaliers are the toughest defensive team in the ACC. Opponents are scoring just 50.3 points per game against them this season. They have allowed more than 58 points on just one occasion, and have held opponents to less than 50 points six times this year. Virginia is also one of the better free throw shooting teams in the conference, converting on 73.3% of its opportunities from the charity stripe. They are not afraid to grind out games and win ugly, but have not played many particularly close games this year. Virginia’s smallest margin of victory this season is six points, and the Cavaliers are winning by an average of 17.1 points per game.

The Bad: This team is not very tested, facing just one ranked opponent thus far. Although they are off to a 12-1 start, the Cavaliers’ record is a bit deceiving on the surface, considering some of their wins have come against teams like South Carolina State, Green Bay, Longwood, Seattle, and Maryland-Eastern Shore. This is also not a team built to play in a shootout. They convert efficiently from the inside, but are not an outside shooting team by any means- senior guard Sammy Zeglinski is the only threat on the entire roster to hit from deep. This could become an issue when playing against the top teams in the conference.

The Crazie: Virginia has one of the tougher ACC schedules. They only play Boston College, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Miami, four of the bottom five teams in our ACC preview, one time each. Meanwhile, they’re faced with two matchups against Maryland, Virginia Tech, Florida State, and North Carolina teams placed 7th, 5th, 4th, and 1st in our preview. This should provide for some difficult road tests for the Cavaliers while other teams will get the luxury of playing an extra game against conference bottom-feeders. Luckily for the Cavaliers, they have a fairly experienced team. Only one freshman plays in the top eight of Virginia’s rotation. This experience should mean plenty during ACC season but won’t mean much come tournament time. The Cavaliers haven’t made any sort of postseason appearance since 2007-2008.

Player We Love To Hate: Mike Scott. The Blue Devils did not see Scott in either matchup with Virginia last year as he battled injuries, but he has reasserted himself as one of the top big men in the ACC this season. Scott currently ranks fifth in the conference in scoring with 16.3 points per game and fourth in rebounding with 9.0 per game. He leads the conference in field goal shooting, shooting 62.4% from the floor. Scott is also no liability from the foul line, shooting an 80% clip on the season. Although he is only 6-foot-8, Scott plays a bigger game than his actual size, so he can cause trouble for opposing big men with his ability to get up and down the floor.

The Bottom Line: A team that plays defense this well shouldn’t have much trouble putting away most of the weaker competition in the ACC this year. They’re a threat to win just about any game, but could suffer from a fairly difficult conference schedule. Their toughness should prevail, and as long as they play their brand of basketball the Cavaliers should see a successful season. There’s very little doubt that this year’s Virginia team will be the first to receive a bid to the NCAA tournament since 2006-2007, and with the Cavs already breaking into the top-25 at this point in the year, there’s a good chance their seed won’t be too shabby either.

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Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:

Boston College | Wake Forest | Clemson | Miami | Georgia Tech | Maryland

North Carolina State | Virginia Tech | Florida State | Virginia | Duke | North Carolina

2011-2012 ACC Preview: #4 Florida State

The 2011-2012 ACC season is about to begin. Over the next three weeks, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order that we think they’ll finish this season – from the bottom up.

Let’s take a look at our projected 4th-place finishers, the Florida State Seminoles.

This picture of Florida State's team last season should look awfully similar to this year's squad. Why? Because they're all back. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2011-2012 Record: 9-5

Key Wins:
November 24- Florida State 73, UMass 53
December 11- Florida State 75, UNC-Greensboro 60

Tough Losses:
November 25- Harvard 46, Florida State 41
November 26- Connecticut 78, Florida State 76 (OT)
December 30- Princeton 75, Florida State 73 (3OT)

Starting Lineup:[table id=25 /]Last Year Against Duke:
January 12, 2011 in Tallahassee- Florida State 66, Duke 61

This Year Against Duke:
January 21, 2012 at Duke
February 23, 2012 in Tallahassee

The Good: This is a big and physical team, and they will punish you on the glass and wreak havoc on opposing offenses. The Seminoles are tops in the ACC in defensive field goal percentage, as opponents are shooting just 35.4% from the floor against them. Florida State also allows only 26.7% shooting from beyond the arc. They also lead the ACC in both blocked shots and steals. Senior Bernard James ranks third in the conference averaging 2.5 blocks per game. On the glass, the Seminoles pull down 40.2 rebounds per game, good for 12th in the nation.

The Bad: Florida State struggles to hit from deep, shooting just 31.6% from beyond the arc this season. In fact, they don’t have a single player shooting more than 35.6% on their roster. This shooting weakness allows opposing defenses to shift its attention to Florida State’s major strength, its big front line. Florida State’s strength of non-conference schedule is also a bit unsettling. Although it has played several ranked teams in close contests, it is yet to defeat a quality opponent.

The Crazie: This is also easily the most experienced team in the ACC, as Florida State has six seniors and five juniors on its roster. In closely-contested conference games, experience can be a deciding factor. Florida State has done a very nice job replacing the production of the two key contributors it lost from last year’s team. Though Chris Singleton decided to leave school a year early to be selected by the Washington Wizards in the 1st round of the NBA draft and Derwin Kitchen graduated, their front line has rotated new starters in seamlessly to pick up their lost production. The Seminoles not only have the experience of enduring the difficulties of an ACC schedule but also the intensity of NCAA Tournament basketball. The 11 players that Florida State returned from last year’s team remember what it took for a successful postseason run, as the Seminoles went to the Sweet 16 before falling to eventual Final Four team VCU.

Player We Love To Hate: Bernard James. James is one of the top rebounders in the ACC, pulling down 8.9 boards per game, and has a post game that continues to improve. James is extremely difficult to match up with and could pose issues for the Blue Devils, who have struggled with interior defense at times throughout the season. He is the type of player that can wear down a defense in the paint and makes opponents work hard on both ends of the floor.

The Bottom Line: This is a team that can compete with anyone in the ACC. They won’t finish in the top couple of spots, but they will give the elite ACC teams tough games, especially when they play in Tallahassee. Despite no real non-conference resume to speak of, this team shouldn’t have much trouble making the NCAA Tournament come March. This is by no means the most talented team Duke will see this year, but the way it rebounds and defends, Florida State can pose a difficult matchup for any team. If they can continue to could shut teams down come tournament time and their offense gets hot the Seminoles could win a game or two.

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Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:

Boston College | Wake Forest | Clemson | Miami | Georgia Tech | Maryland

North Carolina State | Virginia Tech | Florida State | Virginia | Duke | North Carolina

2011-2012 ACC Preview: #5 Virginia Tech

The 2011-2012 ACC season is about to begin. Over the next three weeks, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order that we think they’ll finish this season – from the bottom up.

Let’s take a look at our projected 5th-place finishers, the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Hokie Nation should have something to cheer about this season (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2011-2012 Record: 11-3

Key Wins:
November 25- Virginia Tech 59, Oklahoma State 57

Tough losses:
November 23- Syracuse 69, Virginia Tech 58
November 30- Minnesota 58, Virginia Tech 55
December 4- Kansas State 69, Virginia Tech 61

Starting Lineup:[table id=24 /]Last Year Against Duke:
February 26, 2011 in Blacksburg- Virginia Tech 64, Duke 60
March 12, 2011 at ACC Tournament in Greensboro, NC- Duke 77, Virginia Tech 63

This Year Against Duke:
February 2, 2012 in Blacksburg
February 25, 2012 at Duke

The Good: This is one of the best defensive teams in the ACC, allowing just 59.3 points per game. They pose matchup problems with their size, especially in the backcourt. The Hokies’ entire starting lineup is between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-8. Their length helps them to defend against teams that shoot from deep- opponents are shooting a staggering 22.8% from beyond the arc against Virginia Tech this season. This team has also endured a few tests in its non-conference schedule, playing competitively against top-ranked Syracuse while suffering close losses to power-conference teams Minnesota and Kansas State. They’ve handled the rest of their lesser competition quite easily, winning each game by an average of 12.2 points per game this year.

The Bad: Although their starters have size in the backcourt, this is not a very big team and could get hurt inside. The presence of a player who isn’t even on the Hokies roster could hurt them the most. 6-foot-9 power forward Allan Chaney had transfered from Florida and was slated to start this season for Virginia Tech, but was not cleared to play by team doctors due to a heart condition. Virginia Tech only has one player in its normal rotation larger than 6-foot-8 in 6-foot-9 sophomore Cadarian Raines, and Raines only averages 15.2 minutes per game. This could pose a problem against some of the larger teams in the ACC, who will look to dominate them inside, especially because the Hokies play tight perimeter defense.

The Crazie: This is a team built to play with a lead, not only thanks to their ability to play tight defense and lock down the perimeter, but due to their ability to convert from the line. Virginia Tech is shooting an ACC-best 74.0% from the line this season, so it will be difficult to claw your way back into a game late if your team is forced to foul. Their starting five is shooting 76.4% from the charity stripe on the year, or two Mason Plumlees, depending on which way you think of it.

Player We Love To Hate: Look out for Jarell Eddie this year, this guy is a walking matchup problem. He has the length at 6-foot-7 to play inside and crash the boards, averaging 5.0 rebounds for game, good for second on the team. But that will be the least of your worries- hope you keep this guy inside because he will shoot the lights out. When he steps outside, Eddie is shooting a 52.6% clip from beyond the arc on the year. He is also shooting a lights-out 90% from the line, so he is definitely not the person to foul with the game on the line. His athleticism alone makes this guy one dangerous player.

The Bottom Line: Virginia Tech will be fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament this year, so conference play is a crucial stage. Although this is a team with only a few experienced players, my guess is that they will be one of the last few teams to get a bid this year. People are talking about it being a down year in the ACC, but I don’t think five teams is too many. They will play the ACC tough this year, and playing North Carolina only once while playing Boston College and Clemson twice can’t hurt either. Plus, playing in Blacksburg in front of Hokie Nation is one of the ACC’s toughest road tests.

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Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:

Boston College | Wake Forest | Clemson | Miami | Georgia Tech | Maryland

North Carolina State | Virginia Tech | Florida State | Virginia | Duke | North Carolina