ACC Recap: Louisville is on Fire
Can anyone slow down the Cardinals in conference play?
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With non-conference play almost completed, the ACC has again established itself as the conference to beat in college basketball. Six teams are ranked in the AP Poll, three in the NET top five, and three in the Her Hoops Stats Top Ten. It’s quite possible the biggest problem for the ACC will be itself.
Once member schools are competing against each other night in and night out, there will inevitably be upsets due to the depth of talent the conference has to offer. Will the powerhouses of Louisville and NC State survive to see themselves as one seeds come March? Who will be the first team to take down North Carolina? I’ve got plenty of questions, and through what promises to be a very competitive slate of basketball over the next couple of weeks, we will begin to get more definitive answers.
NC State - Sometimes all it takes is one bad quarter. After 10 consecutive wins, eight coming by more than 20 points, the Wolfpack finally hit a wall in the second quarter against Georgia, losing the period 20-8. The No. 17 Lady Bulldogs were led by Jenna Staiti (21 points) and Que Morrison (20 points), who played all 45 minutes of the overtime contest.
Despite their first half struggles, Elissa Cunane and company fought back from a 12-point halftime deficit to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. With less than a second left in regulation, Georgia’s Sarah Ashlee Barker hit a deep three to force OT, where Georgia would hold on to win one of the biggest games in program history.
Surprisingly, NC State fell to 0-9 all-time against the Lady Bulldogs.
Louisville - This entire article could be dedicated to Louisville, as Jeff Walz’s squad continues to take on top-10 opponents and emerge victorious. First up was No. 14 Kentucky in the Bluegrass rivalry game. Neither team shot the ball well, but the Cardinals had 10 steals to the Wildcats’ zero, and those extra possessions allowed for a narrow six-point victory.
A rout of Eastern Kentucky preceded a showdown with No. 6 UConn, which has struggled without Paige Bueckers, but is still a very formidable opponent. Down three points entering the fourth quarter, Hailey Van Lith made back-to-back three-pointers to put Louisville ahead for good. The Cardinals have now won two of the last three meetings with the Huskies, an impressive feat considering they had lost the previous 17.
Louisville deservedly moved up to No. 3 in the AP poll after their resumé-defining victories.
Duke - The Blue Devils had the toughest matchup of the week, as No. 1 South Carolina came to town. For the first eight minutes it appeared as though Duke forgot they were a ranked, undefeated basketball team as they fell into a 17-3 deficit. Despite their own offensive struggles, they were able to play excellent perimeter defense against one of the quickest backcourts in the country, holding Zia Cooke to 7 points on 3 of 17 shooting from the field.
It is clear that this Duke squad is still getting used to being successful, and the lights were a little too bright against the nation’s top team. Shayeann Day-Wilson led the Blue Devils with 17 points off the bench.
Duke did pick up a conference win this week, as Miami was forced to forfeit their game due to being in COVID protocols.
North Carolina - The Tar Heels also had a canceled game, this one against Jacksonville. However, it does not count as a win since it was not a conference matchup. UNC did get in a game with Boston College, which looked like it would be their first loss of the year until the last minute.
The Eagles controlled the tempo all game, building a 13-point lead entering the fourth quarter. That’s when North Carolina decided to erupt for 29 points, 11 contributed by guard Carlie Littlefield. While it may seem like the offense finally figured things out, it was actually five fourth-quarter steals that turned the tide and propelled UNC to a 76-73 victory to stay undefeated.
Notre Dame and Georgia Tech - Both these teams have slowly moved into the rankings as they continue to beat who they are supposed to beat, each picking up a conference win this week. Sonia Citron added a fourth ACC Freshman of the Week award to her name for the Fighting Irish, and each of these squads will have an opportunity in the first few days of the new year to knock off the ACC powerhouses of Louisville and NC State. Don’t be surprised if they manage to do it.
Syracuse - The Orange are playing their best basketball of the year right now, dismantling Clemson, 86-46, followed by a 30-point win against UMBC. The game against the Tigers was one of the most complete offensive and defensive performances I have seen in the ACC this season.
Syracuse held Clemson to just 25.4% shooting from the field and 15.8% from three. Only five Clemson buckets were assisted, a testament to the relentless Orange defense forcing bad shots all night long.
ACC Blunders of the Week:
Florida State continues to fall apart, with the Seminoles accounting for almost half of all ACC losses this week. In their defense, Florida, Houston, and Virginia Tech are not bad teams, but for a team projected to finish top-5 at the start of the year, second-to-last is quite the drop-off. Whatever changes need to be made better happen soon if Florida State wants to salvage their season before conference play.
Important Game Tracker:
No. 20 Notre Dame @ DePaul, Wednesday December 22nd
HHS Winner Prediction: Notre Dame (53.3%)
(After tonight, there are no ACC games until Thursday, December 30th)
James’ Weekly ACC Power Rankings:
Louisville (10-1) ⇧1
NC State (11-2) ⇩1
Notre Dame (10-2)
Georgia Tech (10-2)
North Carolina (11-0)
Syracuse (8-4) ⇧1
Wake Forest (10-2) ⇩1
Virginia Tech (9-3) ⇧1
Pittsburgh (8-4) ⇧1
Boston College (8-3) ⇧2
Florida State (6-5) ⇩3