ACC Breakdown: Pitt, Syracuse cruising past middling teams

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Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 12:13 am | Updated: 12:20 am, Wed Jan 15, 2014.

So much for the Atlantic Coast Conference being the best in college basketball.

Excluding Pitt and Syracuse, ACC teams have plummeted from high conference standings into mediocrity.

In the past two weeks, several of these teams have collected convincing wins, building up short-lived teases for their fans, only to be put back into place by another bottom-of-the-barrel team.

Notre Dame, for example, took this path.

After beating Duke in a flawless game Jan. 4, the Irish looked to be top contenders for the conference title. They then turned around and lost by seven at home to North Carolina State and traveled to Atlanta, bowing to Georgia Tech in a game where they did not lead for the first 36 minutes.

In this week’s edition of the ACC Breakdown, not one team deserves third place. Twelve teams are tied for 14th place — not third — while Boston College stands alone in last place.

Syracuse (17-0, 4-0 ACC)

Another week, another couple of wins for the Orange. They knocked off North Carolina on Saturday and Boston College on Monday. The trio of C.J. Fair, Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis is shaping up to become the country’s most dangerous backcourt. The Orange have collected four double-digit wins in their last five games, an impressive feat considering starting center DaJuan Coleman missed them all with a left leg contusion. Coleman was the centerpiece of head coach Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. Coleman is overcoming “soreness” and has been labeled “day-to-day” by Boeheim.

Pitt (15-1, 3-0 ACC)

As the season has progressed, Lamar Patterson has racked up better nightly averages in scoring. Patterson isn’t just firing away every time the ball touches his hands either. He currently owns the highest raw offensive efficiency among players who are used in at least 24 percent of possessions, according to KenPom.com. Patterson holds a 127.6 rating on the scale, which measures points scored per 100 offensive possessions. The loss of teammate and guard Durand Johnson to season-ending ACL and meniscus tears will hurt the Panthers, but head coach Jamie Dixon will continue a rotation of nine capable players, including center Joseph Uchebo, who might see increased minutes in the second half of the season as he recovers from a lingering knee injury.

Clemson (12-5, 3-1 ACC)

Clemson is the epitome of an ACC tease. The Tigers lost by 15 to Florida State at home Thursday, then turned around and put together an unprecedented second-half performance to beat Duke 72-59 on Saturday. In the game, K.J. McDaniels scored 24 points with 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound player has evolved into one of the ACC’s most durable forwards and is leading the conference in blocks per game at 2.9.

Florida State (11-4, 2-1 ACC)

Florida State has exceeded expectations, but is far from the likes of Pitt and Syracuse. The Seminoles play 10 consecutive 14th-place teams before they face Pitt in late February, so the defensive-minded squad will have to hold strong until then.

Duke (13-4, 2-2 ACC)

The Blue Devils beat No. 25 UCLA in December to grab their first noteworthy win, but have lost to two bad teams in as many weeks. Yet they sit just one spot behind No. 22 Pitt in the Associated Press Poll. One more loss to a 14th-place team in addition to a poor ACC Tournament run and the Devils’ hopes for their 17th consecutive NCAA Tournament bid might be in severe jeopardy.

Virginia (12-5, 3-1 ACC)

The sophomore-filled Cavaliers do not have a bad loss, but after dropping a game to Duke on Monday, they’ll have to beat Pitt or Syracuse or have a strong ACC Tournament to get a postseason bid.

Georgia Tech (10-6, 1-2 ACC)

Few teams have a bread-and-butter bruiser like 6-foot-11, 275-pound Daniel Miller, who leads the ACC in field-goal percentage at 60 percent. Miller plays with his back to the basket and has a drop step that can create two-handed dunks. The Yellow Jackets got blown out by Duke and never led in their recent loss to Maryland.

North Carolina (10-6, 0-3 ACC)

North Carolina hasn’t seen a worse start to conference play since 1997. The Tar Heels’ recent performance couldn’t be more of a mystery,  considering the fact that they beat the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 11 teams in the nation (Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, respectively) early on. After the Heels’ double-digit loss at Syracuse on Saturday, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said his team is in the midst of a confidence famine, and players are experiencing many of the ill-effects that come with it.

“When things are going well, the ball is an energy pill,” Williams told reporters. “When things are going poorly, you don’t have that energy pill out there.”

Maryland (10-7, 2-2 ACC)

It’s a wonder how the Terrapins picked up a convincing win against Georgia Tech, but lost their next two games at Pitt and Florida State by a combined total of 44 points.

NC State (11-5, 1-2 ACC)

The Wolfpack lost 45-76 at home to Virginia on Saturday. Forward T.J. Warren was held to four points. 

Wake Forest (11-5, 1-2 ACC)

Wake Forest will take on NC State on Wednesday and Clemson on Saturday, two even matchups. Sophomore forward Devin Thomas, who attended Central Dauphin High School in Harrisburg, Pa., is second in the conference with 8.9 rebounds per game.

Notre Dame (10-6, 1-2 ACC)

The Irish could use suspended Jerian Grant’s hands, speed and perimeter defense to keep opponents from scoring 77.3 points per game over the past four games, the most recent losses to 14th-place teams NC State and Georgia Tech. Freshman Demetrius Jackson has scored 6.8 points per game in Grant’s place.

Miami (9-6, 1-2 ACC)

The Hurricanes will have to show the resilience that nearly brought them to victory at Syracuse last week more often to make a late push for conference legitimacy. They play Florida State on Wednesday.

Virginia Tech (8-7, 1-2 ACC)

This season, good teams can’t lose to Boston College, and that’s just what the Hokies did last week. They do, however, have an excuse: They’ve had more players miss games because of injury than any other ACC team this season. Montour High School graduate and freshman point guard Devin Wilson is fourth in the ACC in assists with 4.9 per game.

Boston College (5-12, 1-3 ACC)

The Eagles are hands-down the worst team in the ACC, allowing opponents to score 75 points per game, but they do have one of the nation’s most prolific scorers in Olivier Hanlan. The Canadian is averaging 19.5 ppg, a nice combination with teammate Ryan Anderson’s 15.4.

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