ACC Recap: New Year, Same Chaos
Conference matchups and COVID highlight a busy week in the ACC
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With no ACC games for over a week, coaches and teams had plenty of time to prepare for conference play, and plenty of time to lose valuable players to COVID protocols. When I promised earlier in the year that conference games would get ugly, I was anticipating league depth providing exciting upsets rather than teams playing games with just seven players available.
Nevertheless, conference showdowns are here, and there have already been massive underdog wins and buzzer-beating finishes. Attempting to rank teams three through seven in the conference is still pure speculation, but with multiple ranked matchups coming up the picture might start to get a little clearer.
Duke - It was an interesting week to say the least for the Blue Devils. Coming off of a convincing win over Charleston Southern, Duke traveled to Virginia Tech for their first conference game of the year and promptly fell apart. Leading scorer Shayeann Day-Wilson entered health and safety protocols a day prior and thus missed the game, a common theme across the ACC.
Her absence combined with 16.7% three-point shooting and almost no defensive pressure allowed the Hokies to build an insurmountable 30-point lead late in the third quarter, led by Elizabeth Kitley who had 27 points and 13 boards. Elizabeth Balogun was the lone bright spot for Duke, with 22 points of her own.
How would the Blue Devils respond to their first mistake of the season? A nitty-gritty win over a very talented Notre Dame team. The No. 17 Fighting Irish came to Cameron Indoor and took a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter, but eight points in the final period from Balogun, including the game winner with 32 seconds remaining, earned Duke the top 25 win.
Balogun finished with 27 points and is finally rekindling the offensive magic that she showed in her freshman season at Georgia Tech three years ago. Maya Dodson had 26 points and 9 rebounds in the losing effort.
North Carolina - All season I have been skeptical of the Tar Heels as they beat up on non-power 6 opponents again and again. This week, Courtney Banghart’s squad proved me wrong with a pair of dominating conference performances. A 36-point win against Syracuse and a 19-point victory over Clemson shows that you are a team ready to compete with the top dogs of the ACC.
The Orange were missing two starters and had only seven players (all guards) due to COVID protocols, and UNC took advantage inside, outrebounding Syracuse 63-37 with 26 offensive boards. In the win over Clemson, Deja Kelly had a career-high 31 points. Now, the No. 19 Tar Heels get to travel to NC State Thursday night and put their undefeated record on the line for their biggest test of their 2021-22 campaign. It should be the matchup of the week for NCAA Women’s Basketball.
Louisville - The Cardinals played without a doubt some of their worst offensive basketball of the season on Sunday at Georgia Tech. Not taking away credit from the Yellow Jackets defense, but three total points in the first quarter for the No. 3 team in the country is unacceptable. That level of offense will quickly put a game out of reach. Unless you are Louisville, one of the best defensive teams in the ACC, and can hold an opponent under 50 points, doing so for the seventh time this season.
The Cardinals mounted a fourth quarter comeback to tie the game with one possession remaining, and a slick fake handoff by Emily Engstler allowed her to slip to the basket for the game-winning layup. Engstler led all players with 14 points on the night. It is another ranked win for Louisville, who have now won 12 consecutive games.
Notre Dame and Georgia Tech - This is the second consecutive week that I have talked about these teams together, as they continue to follow the same path in the ACC: beat everyone you’re supposed to and barely lose to the contenders. The Fighting Irish and Yellow Jackets are ranked 16th and 20th in this week’s AP poll (though our Her Hoop Stats rating has them lower at 33rd and 34th), but both teams will have opportunities to pick up a ranked win in the coming days.
If either squad wants to bolster their résumé enough to be a top 4 seed come March, they will need that big conference win rather than many big game close calls.
ACC Blunders of the Week:
Now that we have entered conference play, there will be fewer opportunities for an ACC team to lose against an inferior non-conference opponent. That being said, the blunder this week (and probably next week and the one after that) belongs to COVID. Four more ACC games were postponed: Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh, Notre Dame at Virginia, Florida St. at Syracuse, and Miami at Virginia. Miami and Virginia have been hit the hardest, with three straight postponements each meaning their last games were December 12th and 19th, respectively.
Assuming not all postponements will eventually be made up, it will be very interesting to see if the NCAA Tournament Committee lowers the required number of games to be eligible from 25. If not, we may see late season scenarios where teams are fielding only a handful of players in order to ensure the game counts.
Important Game Tracker:
No. 16 Georgia Tech @ No. 17 Duke, Thursday January 6th
HHS Winner Prediction: Duke (69.1%)
No. 19 North Carolina @ No. 5 NC State, Thursday January 6th
HHS Winner Prediction: NC State (81.9%)
No. 5 NC State @ No. 20 Notre Dame, Sunday January 9th
HHS Winner Prediction: NC State (79.5%)
Virginia Tech @ No. 19 North Carolina, Sunday January 9th
HHS Winner Prediction: North Carolina (64.2%)
James’ Weekly ACC Power Rankings:
NC State (12-2)
North Carolina (13-0) ⇧3
Duke (10-2) ⇩1
Georgia Tech (10-3)
Notre Dame (11-3) ⇩2
Virginia Tech (11-3) ⇧2
Wake Forest (11-3)
Syracuse (8-5) ⇩2
Boston College (9-4)
Florida State (6-6) ⇧1
Clemson (6-8) ⇩1