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ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Vol. 2: It’s the little things with Dwayne Sutton, Duke switches up, UNC strains for offense

It’s hard to believe we’re already one month into the 2019-20 college basketball season. Most of the teams in the ACC have played two league games. After a busy stretch last week — which included the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and some conference action — let’s check in on this week’s ACC Basketball Power Rankings.

 

No. 1 Louisville

Jordan Nwora is the headline-grabber for this Louisville team, and deservingly so. Nwora is the efficient (61.2 TS%), high-usage engine (31.5 percent usage rate) that makes this team tick offensively. And while the Cards have let him try to create his own shot this season — albeit with mixed results (34.1 eFG% off-dribble jumpers) — Nwora has really excelled as an off-ball mover (50 eFG% off screens).

Nwora is up to nine dunks and 23 3-pointers (45 3P%) this season; he’s one of only two players nationally with at least seven dunks and 20 3-pointers, currently.

Again, though, what makes this team really go is Dwayne Sutton. (#SuttonHive, assemble!)

On the defensive side of the floor, Sutton is as rugged as they come — willing to guard all five positions and fill gaps as a help defender. Watch this one possession against NC Central: Sutton plays perfect weak-side defense, tagging the roller and closing out on a shooter. After that, he stays in front of his man and closes the possession with rebound.

Sutton is the only player in the country (minimum 15 3PA) with an offensive rebound rate above 12 percent (13.3 percent) and an effective shooting rate above 70 percent (75 eFG%). On the sneak, Sutton (a super-smart player who sees the floor like a guard) is one of the better grab-and-go talents in the country as well.

 

No. 2 Duke

After giving up 41 first-half points to Virginia Tech, Duke switched things up — almost literally — in the second half. The Blue Devils have two one-and-done NBA prospects in their frontcourt: Vernon Carey Jr., Duke’s main hub of half-court offense, and Matthew Hurt (44.1 3P%). However, up in Blacksburg, Duke pulled out a road win in the ACC by downsizing — playing Jack White at the 5, with four other guards.

With that speedy, defensive-minded group — which featured both Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire — Duke switched 1-5 and caused all sorts of chaos.

Virginia Tech scored 0.95 points per possession: 5-of-20 3PA, 21.2 percent turnover rate. For the game, nearly 36 percent of Virginia Tech’s field goals were of the 3-point variety; on the season the Hokies have a 3-point attempt rate of 47 percent, which ranks 19th nationally.

Duke also forced Virginia Tech into 14 turnovers — good for a turnover rate of 21.2 percent, easily a season high for the Hokies.

Through the first 10 games of the season, 10 different Duke players have already logged 130+ minutes. The Blue Devils are deep and versatile.

 

No. 3 Virginia

With the departures of De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, Virginia is going through some serious offensive regression (No. 124 in adjusted efficiency). After shooting above 38 percent on 3-pointers in each of the last four seasons, the Cavaliers have connected on just 24.9 percent (No. 344) of their 3-point looks this season.

According to Synergy, UVA has scored under 0.69 points per possession on both spot-ups and off-screen attempts. This has, of course, complicated matters for Virginia’s mover-blocker offense.

Virginia has found some success this season with its continuity ball-screen offense — or middle 1-5 pick-and-roll. During Sunday’s matchup with UNC, however, there was absolutely no flow to Virginia’s CBS offense, even as the Cavs looked to slip screens.

In the end, Tony Bennett had to rely on his tried-and-true mover-blocker approach. By my count, Virginia used mover-blocker on its first 15 half-court possessions of the second half. It was still tough sledding — UVA scored just 0.91 points per possession against UNC — but Virginia played through Mamadi Diaktie (31.5 percent usage rate) and gutted out a win.

Using Diakite in tandem (blocker) with another guard (mover), while lifting the defense, proved crucial on a few possessions. Here, Kihei Clark comes off a flare screen from Diakite set on Cole Anthony. Diakite immediately flips the screen, which Clark rejects and drives baseline. (This is one of Clark’s go-to maneuvers.)

Diakite has probably relied a little too heavily on his midrange game this season (32.5 2P% on long 2-point attempts this season), especially when he’s shooting 67 percent at the rim and 43 percent on 3-point attempts. However, a Diakite face-up — in his comfort zone — after some ball and player movement is a fine way to end a possession.

 

No. 4 Florida State

It’s been a whirlwind season so far for Florida State; three days after back-to-back wins over Tennessee and Purdue, the Seminoles hit the road to play Indiana. Florida State’s defense wasn’t itself in Bloomington — as the Hoosiers scored 1.15 points per possession.

With a few days to reset, however, Florida State returned home and dominated Clemson in its second ACC game of the season. FSU shook off a sluggish first half and blitzed Clemson over the final 20 minutes, thanks to a key halftime adjustment: going small. After halftime, Florida State tightened the rotation, leaving 7-footers Dominik Olejniczak and Balsa Koprivica on the bench. The frontcourt minutes were split between Raiquan Gray, Malik Osborne and super-sub Patrick Williams.

This change allowed Gray and Williams (9 points, 2 blocks) to attack gaps, which helped grease a rigid half-court offense. On the other end of the floor, FSU could dial up the defensive pressure — blitzing ball screens and switching 1-5. Clemson shot just 8-20 on attempts at the rim and scored under 0.85 points per possession.

Devin Vassell was strong for the Seminoles, too: 14 points (3-of-3 FGA from the midrange, 2-of-6 3PA) and three blocks.

Florida State has given Vassell (2.2 steals, 1.3 blocks per 40 minutes) the freedom to rove around and make plays away from the basketball on defense. This play, however, is just an amazing help recognition/effort to deny Aamir Simms after he slipped a screen.

 

No. 5 North Carolina

Obviously, last week’s losses to Ohio State and Virginia were ugly; UNC scored under 0.76 points per possession in those two games. Through the first month of the season, the Tar Heels — playing at a slower pace from a year ago — rank outside the top 300 in terms of effective shooting (44.4 eFG%) and 3-point shooting (28.4 3P%)

The half-court offense is stagnant, and UNC’s secondary break, which looks disjointed and cramped, has yet to take flight, too.

While shouldering an incredibly large amount of playmaking responsibilities, Cole Anthony has been a force — albeit with some difficulties, too. Anthony is playing over 33 minutes per game, while leading the roster in usage (32.1 percent) and assist rate (24 percent). The freshman guard is averaging 20.4 field goal attempts and 7.5 free throw attempts per 40 minutes.

As productive as Anthony has been on the floor, his efficiency (44 eFG%) has lagged. Anthony is averaging 4.6 turnovers per 40 minutes, too, while shooting under 30 percent at the rim in the half court, per Synergy Sports.

There’s still a helluva player here; Anthony has shot the ball well from off the catch, and he’s flashed some off-dribble shooting skills, too. Something, however, seems a little off with his drive game, though; the do-it-all guard just isn’t creating enough separation. He appears more plodding, prone to driving right into contact.

Random thought: of all the players UNC lost from last season’s top-10 offense, Cameron Johnson (who was amazing during the 2018-19 season) is missed the most. UNC doesn’t have anyone to run around screens and bend defenses, which opens gaps to the rim. Brandon Robinson is the closest facsimile on the current roster, but he (obviously) isn’t anywhere close to Johnson’s blend of precise off-ball movement and long-range rhythm shooting.

Perhaps with the additions of Jeremiah Francis and Anthony Harris to the rotation, UNC could look to work Cole Anthony off ball more. That, however, feels like a stretch and not necessarily a real solution.

 

No. 6 NC State

NC State has one of the better center platoons in the ACC: Manny Bates and DJ Funderburk. It’s a quiet strength of this NC State team — one known more for its small-ball, 4-around-1 approach: center depth. Kevin Keatts can essentially take the 40 minutes per game that would be allotted to the center position and divvy them up between two impactful players — Bates, the starter, and Funderburk.

In the win over Wake Forest, those two combined for five dunks — 8-of-10 FGA at the rim — and four offensive rebounds. While his pick-and-roll defense is a bit of a mixed bag, Bates (7.3 blocks per 40 minutes) is an elite rim protector; he leads the nation in block rate (18.9 percent).

Funderburk doesn’t offer the same level of rim protection, but he’s a disruptor defensively, too: 3.6 percent block rate and 3.0 percent steal rate. Funderburk is also an industrious offensive rebounder — 12.2 offensive rebound rate — which adds muscle to NC State’s screen-roll offense.

It’s early, but NC State’s defense has cut opponent 3-point attempt rate (down to 32.1 percent) this season. Opponents are also shooting under 49 percent on 2-point attempts; Bates and Funderburk deserve some credit here.

 

No. 7 Virginia Tech

Despite the offensive struggles against Duke, Virginia Tech continues to run some of the most aesthetically-pleasing half-court sets in the country. Over 45 percent of Virginia Tech’s points this season have come from beyond the arc. That’s not by accident; it’s by design.

Under Buzz Williams, the Hokies were masters of floor spacing. But things have gone to another level in Blacksburg with Mike Young pulling the strings.

How many other teams in the country run their centers off of pindowns for 3-point looks?

This is just a simple motion down screen curl set. However, look how wide Isaiah Wilkins and P.J. Horne set these pindowns — both out near the 3-point arc, with no defender in the paint. This is how offenses squeeze value out of every precious inch of space in the half court while also creating gaps to attack.

From the frontcourt, Horne (51.5 3P%) has the ability to both screen and run off screens. Laners Nolley (49.1 3P%) is a playmaker that can create his own shot or set others up: 17.2 percent assist rate. (VT runs a lot of offense through Nolley in the high post.)

With those two stretching defenses, Virginia Tech’s guards have room to roam. According to Synergy Sports, 6-foot-1 freshman guard Tyrece Radford (82.4 2P%) is shooting 79.2 percent at the rim in the half court.

 

No. 8 Pittsburgh

After shooting just 3-of-12 on 3-point attempts in a loss at Louisville, Pittsburgh now ranks No. 336 nationally in 3-point percentage (26 3P%). That defeate doubles as Pitt’s worst offensive game of the season, so far: 0.78 points per possession (40.6 eFG%).

Xavier Johnson is one of the most entertaining players in the ACC — an absolute blur with the basketball, who can get to the rim at will. He’s also shooting above 41 percent on 3-point looks this season, too, which is nice.

Unfortunately, though, he continues to turn the ball over way too much (5 turnovers per 40 minutes) and struggle in Pitt’s screen-roll game. According to Synergy, Johnson has scored 0.49 points per possession — 33.8 eFG%, 31.1% TOV — out of the pick-and-roll this season.

 

No. 9 Syracuse

Going up against one of the better defenses in the ACC, Syracuse had an offensive explosion in its blowout win over Georgia Tech: 1.25 points per possession. For the second time this season, Syracuse hit 14 3-pointers in a game, with Elijah Hughes (58 eFG% on spot-ups attempts this season) and Buddy Boeheim each hitting six triples.

Syracuse also assisted on 23 of its 29 field goals against Georgia Tech — an assist rate of 79.3 percent. For the season now, the Orange rank No. 4 in the nation with an assist rate of 70.4 percent, according to KenPom.

 

No. 10 Notre Dame

After winning six straight games, Notre Dame stumbled last week — a blowout loss at Maryland, followed by a surprising home defeat to Boston College. In the loss to BC, Notre Dame was uncharacteristically sloppy and turned the ball over 15 times (21.1 percent turnover rate).

It’s early in the season, but All-ACC big man John Mooney is in a bit of a slump shooting the basketball: 45.8 percent effective shooting (30 3P%). Mooney has continued to do work on the glass, though: 32.8 percent defensive rebound rate.

 

No. 11 Miami

Miami is in the midst of an extended break; the Hurricanes haven’t played since their ACC/Big Ten Challenge win over Illinois. With Chris Lykes — 1.13 points per possession (59.7 eFG%) out of the pick-and-roll — leading the way, Miami’s offense is backcourt-heavy once again this season.

It’s worth mentioning, though, that after dropping 40 pounds this offseason, 7-foot center Rodney Miller is having a nice impact for Miami, too. Miller is shooting over 77 percent at the rim this season — with six dunks — while posting an offensive rebound rate above 10 percent.

 

No. 12 Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech is playing a lot faster this season — 15.7 seconds per offensive possession, down from 17.8 seconds a season ago. However, that hasn’t done much to actually fire up the offense. After the loss to Syracuse, Georgia Tech ranks 312th nationally in turnover rate (22.7% TOV) and 186th in effective shooting (48.7 eFG%).

The Yellow Jackets are currently without Jose Alvarado, and it’s clear: if Michael Devoe isn’t hitting (1-of-5 3PA against Syracuse), Georgia Tech will struggle to find efficient offense, especially against a zone.

 

No. 13 Boston College

Led by Jared Hamilton, Jay Heath and Derryck Thornton (8-of-11 2PA, 4 assists), Boston College picked up a major road win in the ACC at Notre Dame this season. The Eagles (2-0 ACC) attempted just four throws — Notre Dame never fouls — but splashed 11-of-23 3-point attempts (47.8 3P%)

 

No. 14 Clemson

Clemson’s offense, outside of the first few minutes, never quite got off the ground at Florida State. The Tigers shot 38.5 percent on 2-point attempts and turned the ball over at far too high of a clip: 28.2 percent turnover rate. As a result, the Tigers scored under 0.85 points per possession for the third time this season.

 

No. 15 Wake Forest

Wake Forest has made some improvements on the defensive side of the floor, which is encouraging. So far this season, opponents are shooting fewer 3-pointers — 33.1 percent of opponent field goal attempts. (That number was over 40 percent in each of the two previous seasons.)

While holding opponents to an effective shooting rate of 49.3 percent (53.3 eFG% last season), Wake Forest has fouled less frequently, while also closing possessions at a better rate, too. Led by Olivier Sarr (15.1 rebounds per 40 minutes), Wake Forest ranks 27th nationally in defensive rebound rate, according to KenPom: 76.8 percent.

On Saturday, however, Wake Forest had no answers for NC State; the Wolfpack scored 1.18 points per possession (61.5 eFG%) while shooting 17-of-26 (65.4 FG%) at the rim, including seven dunks.

Danny Manning has Sarr guarding ball screens in drop coverage here. That’s likely a better tactic for Sarr, as opposed to a hard hedge. Sarr at least has a chance to corral the ball handler. Effective pick-and-roll defense requires a collective effort, though.

Markell Johnson is a good pick-and-roll passer, but some of these reads are just too easy — Manny Bates and DJ Funderburk roll right to the rim without being touched.

If Wake Forest is to turn things around defensively, the Demon Deacons need to display a better, more connected energy.

 

Contributor Rankings

 David GlennBrian GeisingerJosh GrahamConsensus
1LouisvilleLouisvilleLouisvilleLouisville
2DukeDukeDukeDuke
3VirginiaVirginiaVirginiaVirginia
4Florida StateFlorida StateUNCFlorida State
5UNCUNCFlorida StateUNC
6NC StateNC StateNC StateNC State
7Virginia TechVirginia TechPittVirginia Tech
8PittSyracuseNotre DamePitt
9SyracusePittVirginia TechSyracuse
10Georgia TechMiamiSyracuseNotre Dame
11Boston CollegeNotre DameGeorgia TechGeorgia Tech
12Notre DameGeorgia TechMiamiMiami
13MiamiBoston CollegeBoston CollegeBoston College
14ClemsonClemsonClemsonClemson
15Wake ForestWake ForestWake ForestWake Forest