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ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week 17: RJ Barrett in the zone, Nas Little gets up and De’Andre Hunter keys a comeback

Last week was a weird one for the ACC, to say the least. Let’s look back at a few of the highlights, though, starting with the outstanding performance of RJ Barrett at Syracuse. Plus: Nassir Little gets loose against Florida State, De’Andre Hunter’s big second half against Louisville and the outstanding guard play of Markell Johnson and Marcquise Reed.

 

No. 1 Duke

Last week was quite the roller coaster of emotion for Duke. The Zion Williamson injury shook the axis of the sports landscape as Duke fell to North Carolina. Then came the Saturday night showdown on the road against Syracuse.

Through all of that, RJ Barrett steadied the ship and reaffirmed why he’s such a coveted NBA prospect. Barrett’s performance at Syracuse was masterful and fearless; his stat line, which was ridiculous, only tells part of the story, too. The lefty played all 40 minutes and finished with 30 points (6-of-6 FGA at the rim) and seven assists (58 percent assist rate), and controlled the entire flow of the game for the Blue Devils.

Duke frequently stationed Barrett at the nail — the zone’s soft spot — and let him work. From there, Barrett attacked or looked for kick-outs. When he drove the ball, a crowd flocked and Barrett made several excellent reads.

Other than the two 3-pointers he hit, all 12 of Barrett’s 2-point field goals came from the middle third of the floor, often with two feet in the paint. According to Synergy Sports, Barrett went 7-of-8 on field goal attempts after a cut.

The middle of Syracuse’s zone wasn’t Barrett’s only point of attack, though. He controlled the offense from the wing as well. When a gap presented itself, he attacked: 4-of-6 spot-up field goal attempts (2-of-4 spot-up 3PA). And if Barrett forced a rotation from Syracuse, he quickly found the open man.

Alex O’Connell was an obvious revelation in this game for Duke; the Blue Devils don’t win without him. AOC shot 5-of-7 from the field in the half court — with all five makes coming from beyond the arc. In total, Barrett assisted on four of AOC’s five 3-pointers.

At times this season, Barrett’s passing and vision have been questioned. But there’s no doubt that he has serious ability as a playmaker.

 

Bonus Duke: Possession of the game

This is really high-level stuff from RJ Barrett and Tre Jones. Count the number of passes and watch how those two really force Syracuse’s zone to bend in multiple directions, which creates the 3-pointer for RJ.

 

No. 2 Virginia

After Louisville shot the lights out from beyond the arc in the first half (10-of-16 3PA), Virginia trailed on the road, 37-27. But in the second frame, as Louisville cooled off, De’Andre Hunter got hot. The future lottery pick went 6-of-6 from the field in the second half (2-of-2 3PA, 3-of-3 FGA at the rim).

Of course, Hunter got to his efficient face-up game, too. Hunter loves to use his jab step/rocker step combination to create space to lift or get a defender off balance and attack.

Hunter (69.4 FG% at the rim) also finished this outing with a block and two steals. This was Hunter’s sixth straight game with a block and his fourth straight game with at least one block and one steal.

Virginia also attacked the rim efficiently from its ball-screen offense. In the second half, UVA got some really good traction from this look: clear out one side of the floor for 1-5 pick-and-roll, and as the big slips/dives to the rim, Hunter lifts to the arc. Look at all of that space in the paint; the rim is wide open. As a result, Jay Huff gets his 23rd dunk of the season.

A few minutes later, it’s the same look; this time, though, it’s Mamadi Diakite and Ty Jerome, who throws a gorgeous pocket pass to a rolling Diakite. For the season, Virginia has scored 1.25 points per possession (62.7 FG%) when the roller has finished a pick-and-roll possession.

Huff and Diakite were huge off the bench for Virginia, and combined for 26 points (on 16 FGA) and six dunks. According to Synergy, those two bench bigs combined to go 11-of-11 on field goal attempts at the rim.

 

No. 3 North Carolina

North Carolina may be the hottest team in the country right now — just ask Nassir Little. After top-25 wins over Duke and Florida State, UNC is now 12-2 in ACC; over the last 10 games, the Heels are second nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency in that span of time (126.1), too.

UNC claimed both of those victories last week despite some sluggish offense from Coby White: 1-of-11 on 3-point attempts and nine turnovers in 55 minutes of action. Defense was truly the name of the game, too. Duke and Florida State were both held under 0.85 points per possession (sub-40 eFG%, too). According to KenPom, UNC now ranks 10th in weighted defensive efficiency.

Off the bench, Little provided a big boost with one of his better game from this season: 18 points (6-of-8 FTA), eight rebounds and two slams — including this boom over Mfiondu Kabengele. Little now has 27 dunks on the year.

As usual, Cameron Johnson continued to do his thing; the ACC’s top 3-point sniper hit three more triples, which gives him 70 for the season (47.3 3P%). All three of Johnson’s hits from downtown came off the catch — two of which came off of screens.

With Luke Maye in at the 5, UNC goes to one of its pet half-court looks: a box set with Johnson and Little on one side of the floor. Johnson edges up toward Little like he may set a back screen for the lob. Johnson’s defender, Phil Cofer, fronts him on the play, too, and UNC has exactly what it wants. Quickly, Johnson sprints to the opposite wing as Maye and Kenny Williams shut the elevator doors. Terance Mann tries to help over the top, but it’s too late.

 

No. 4 Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech nearly pulled off the home upset over Virginia early in the week. The Hokies were able to shrug off that tough loss and win on the road at Notre Dame, though, thank to a massive effort on the offensive glass.

Tech’s work on the glass was led, of course, by Kerry Blackshear Jr., who continues to build an All-ACC resume in 2019. The Hokies aren’t known as a great team on the offensive glass (No. 87 in offense rebound rate), but on Saturday, they grabbed 18 offensive boards at Notre Dame — 50 percent of their misses.

In conference games, Blackshear leads the ACC in offensive rebound rate: 14.6 percent. Up in South Bend, he was one of four Tech players to grab at least three offensive rebounds. The veteran big finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds and three assists. Blackshear now has six double-doubles on the season — five of which have come in ACC play.

 

No. 5 Florida State

Winners of eight straight heading into Chapel Hill on Saturday, everything came crashing down for the Seminoles inside the Dean Dome. Florida State shot just 8-of-28 (28.6 2P%) from inside the arc; as a team, it was FSU’s second worst offensive performance of the season. The Seminoles score just 0.84 points per possession (39 eFG%) — only the loss at UVA to open conference play was worse in terms of efficiency.

Florida State isn’t a great defensive rebounding team, and UNC gladly exploited that, too, with 13 offensive boards. Mfiondu Kabengele and David Nichols provided a nice source of bench scoring (24 points on 15 FGA), but Florida State’s starters —outside of the electric Terance Mann — really struggled. Phil Cofer, Trent Forrest and MJ Walker combined for 10 points (0-of-9 3PA).

Leonard Hamilton’s club still has a nice opportunity to finish the season strong, though. Florida State closes regular season play at Wake Forest, but before that the Seminoles have three straight home games: Notre Dame, NC State and Virginia Tech.

 

No. 6 Louisville

It’d be hyperbole to say the wheels have fallen off the wagon with Louisville; this is still a very good team — No. 19 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin. However, the Cards have now lost five of seven games, going back to Feb. 2. Some of those defeats were ugly, too, for various reasons, like the meltdown against Duke and the 20-point defeat at Syracuse.

It’s probably safe to assume, too, that Louisville overachieved some earlier in the season — highlighted by the 21-point win at UNC. After that, though, the Cards really bulked up against weaker ACC competition. During a six-game win streak, Louisville won games over Boston College, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest.

Louisville did a better job avoiding turnovers against Virginia (7.8 percent turnover rate), but the offense continues to backslide: 0.91 points per possession vs. the Cavaliers.

 

No. 7 NC State

Predictably, as the schedule lightened, NC State has started to look a lot better. State has won four of its last five games, and in two of its three most-recent performances (Duke and Wake Forest) Markell Johnson has played great basketball.

When NC State lost at Wake Forest back in January, Johnson couldn’t play due to an injury; however, he made up for it with a big night on Sunday, including his usual handiwork out of the pick-and-roll. Johnson finished with 25 points (6-of-9 3PA), three assists and no turnovers.

After his return to the lineup, Johnson is now above 36 percent from downtown in ACC play (55.7 eFG%).

 

No. 8 Syracuse

After a tumultuous and tragic week for Syracuse (the basketball program and city), the Orange nearly pulled off the upset of then-No. 2 Duke on Saturday night. With RJ Barrett at the controls, though, the Blue Devils brought a little too much offense for Syracuse.

According to Synergy, 65 Division I teams have played at least 500 half-court possessions of zone defense so far this season. Of that group, Syracuse ranks second in efficiency: 0.78 points per possession (44.9 eFG%). (Washington, coached by Jim Boeheim disciple Mike Hopkins, is No. 1: 0.77 points per possession).

On Saturday, however, Duke scored over 1.13 points per possession. Duke has struggled against zones this season, but that wasn’t the case last weekend, which was bad news for the Orange. This season, opponents have scored above one point per possession just 10 times (27 games). Syracuse’s record in those 10 games: 2-8.

 

No. 9 Clemson

Over the weekend, Clemson rebounded from a home loss to Florida State with a home win over Boston College. In a matchup of two of the ACC’s highest-usage and highest-wattage guards, Marcquise Reed got the best of Ky Bowman. Both guards played all 40 minutes, but Reed finished with a career-best 31 points (5 3-pointers), nine rebounds, five steals and four assists.

As cool as it is to drop 30 points in a home ACC victory, what Reed did that next day was even cooler:

Bracket update: Clemson continues to cling to one of the last bids in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

 

No. 10 Miami

Hats off to Jim Larranaga and Miami; this team just continues to fight. We love to blab all the time about culture and intangibles and program-building, but this is exactly what that looks like. Undermanned, Miami has fallen well short of lofty preseason expectations. The Hurricanes started conference play with eight losses in nine games, including several defeats that saw second-half leads vanish.

Basically, this team had every reason to throw the towel in and punt on this season. However, that simply hasn’t been the case.

Miami has won three of its last five games, and against Georgia Tech on Saturday, the Canes had their best offensive performance of ACC play: 1.22 points per possession. Senior forward Anthony Lawrence led the way with a neat all-around game. Lawrence just missed a triple-double: 16 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

 

No. 11 Boston College

Boston College lost two tough games last week — both on the road: NC State (overtime) and Clemson, two possible NCAA Tournament teams. In both of those defeats, the Eagles scored over 1.1 points per possession. That type of efficient offense makes losing tough to stomach. The Eagles return home now for a Wednesday night matchup with Louisville, which is desperate for a victory, too.

For the season, BC has assisted on just 48.9 percent of its field goals — No. 268 in the nation. If that number sticks, it will be the lowest assist rate for both Boston College and Jim Christian during the KenPom era, which dates back to the 2000-01 season.

 

No. 12 Georgia Tech

Jose Alvarado led the way to a midweek victory over Pittsburgh: 40 minutes, 29 points and five assists. That win helped snap a seven-game losing slide for Georgia Tech. Back in action over the weekend, though, Tech got hammered by 15 points at Miami. In that outing, the Yellow Jackets again scored under one point per possession.

According to KenPom, Georgia Tech ranks dead last in adjusted offensive efficiency in ACC play (89).

 

No. 13 Notre Dame

Notre Dame hung tough against Virginia Tech, but the loss two the Hokies dropped the Irish to 3-11 in ACC action. It also compounded the frustration of last Tuesday’s head-scratching home loss to Wake Forest. That’s something that just doesn’t usually happen.

Four games remain on the regular season schedule for Notre Dame, three of which come against top-35 KenPom teams. Mike Brey’s young club still has opportunities to gain valuable reps. This can be a learning experience.

 

No. 14 Pittsburgh

After its 10th straight loss, Pittsburgh had an open weekend for the first time in a while. That had to be a good thing for Jeff Capel’s club; it can’t be much fun to go five full weeks without a win.

Pittsburgh is back in action on Wednesday — home to Clemson. That becomes an important game for both teams as Clemson looks to add to its tournament resume while Pittsburgh hopes to snap the losing streak before heading to No. 2 Virginia on Saturday.

 

No. 15 Wake Forest

Wake Forest got a rare road ACC win last week at Notre Dame, thanks to a big performance from Brandon Childress: 20 points (on 7 FGA, 5 3-pointers) and eight assists). Most importantly, the team’s defense showed up that night: 1.04 points per possession allowed.

On Sunday, however, Wake Forest was back to its old ways at NC State. The Demon Deacons allowed the Pack to score over 1.23 points per possession.

 

Contributor Rankings

 David GlennBrian GeisingerJosh GrahamConsensus
1DukeDukeDukeDuke
2VirginiaVirginiaVirginiaVirginia
3UNCUNCUNCUNC
4Florida StateVirginia TechFlorida StateFlorida State
5LouisvilleFlorida StateLouisvilleLouisville
6Virginia TechLouisvilleVirginia TechVirginia Tech
7NC StateNC StateNC StateNC State
8SyracuseSyracuseSyracuseSyracuse
9ClemsonClemsonClemsonClemson
10Boston CollegeMiamiBoston CollegeBoston College
11MiamiBoston CollegeMiamiMiami
12Notre DameGeorgia TechNotre DameNotre Dame
13Georgia TechNotre DameGeorgia TechGeorgia Tech
14PittPittWake ForestPitt
15Wake ForestWake ForestPittWake Forest