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ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week 18: RJ Barrett takes flight, De’Andre Hunter on both sides of the PNR, NC State spot-up inefficiency

The final week of the ACC regular season is upon us, which is kinda wild. The season flew by. Before the final week of action, check out our latest power rankings.

 

No. 1 Duke

Duke made it look easy back on its home floor with a blowout win over Miami. Once again, Zion Williamson sat out for, essentially, the fourth straight game. Outside of his on-floor absence, this performance checked a lot of boxes for Duke.

Tre Jones locked up Chris Lykes (more on that later). Jack White finally got off the snide, and drained three 3-pointers as the home crowd roared with approval. Marques Bolden moved well on both ends of the floor and went 5-of-5 at the rim. Even Cam Reddish found success finishing at the cup.

However, let’s take another second to highlight the play of RJ Barrett, who continues to bring the production without Williamson. Barrett missed all three of his attempts from deep and recorded three turnovers; however, he put forth a solid floor game, and finished with a variety of in-traffic buckets at the rim (4-of-6 FGA).

According to Synergy Sports, Barrett has shot 81.5 percent inside of four feet over the last four games. He continues to flash a Eurostep move that creates separation in the final third of the floor.

I get the concerns with Barrett’s on-and-off efficiency. Is he too reliant on bully-ball to get to his spots in the paint; will that well dry up in the NBA? There are no doubt questions to be answered, but I’m still bullish on his ability to separate and finish on the next level.

I also like how — as the season progresses — Duke has given Barrett more straight 1-5 pick-and-roll looks to attack and facilitate from. Barrett dished out seven assists on Saturday, including several out of these flat ball screen looks. (RJ: 6.6 assists per game over Duke’s last five games).

Similar to his finishing abilities, there are questions over Barrett’s vision and playmaking chops. Against Miami, he forced the issue on a few possessions. However, he also has moments like this — when Barrett draws a crowd but can still see over the top and throw a deft pass with touch.

For the season, Duke has scored 0.88 points per possession when Barrett has passed to a player out of the pick-and-roll and that player has used the possession. (That number isn’t amazing, but roll men are shooting 81.3 percent on said possessions, which is great).

Here’s another one to Reddish — this time for a weak-side catch-and-shoot 3-ball.

Outside of the pick-and-roll, Barrett also has moments when he plays downhill but with his head up. Here he dimes up Bolden for another spike.

Oh. This is a thing, too.

 

No. 2 Virginia

As we’ve discussed, Virginia’s continuity ball screen offense has been a big boon for the Cavaliers this season. Under Tony Bennett, UVA is running screen-roll more frequently than ever before — and with more efficiency. During Saturday’s win over Pittsburgh, it produced again.

However, normally when we talk about Virginia’s ball-screen offense, it centers on Ty Jerome and Kihei Clark initiating the action with Jay Huff or Mamadi Diakite diving to the hoop. In that scenario, De’Andre Hunter usually functions as a weak-side floor-spacer.

If Virginia can’t find any alleys to the hoop from the pick-and-roll, the offense can reverse sides and throw it to Hunter. From there, in the middle of the floor, he can get to his face-up isolation game — not a bad fallback, right?

Hunter continues to add more and more to his game, which has been a great deal of fun to watch. At this point, Hunter can basically do everything at least pretty well on offense. (And we know what he’s capable of on defense, too.) Pittsburgh’s screen-roll defense was a hot mess in Charlottesville, but watch on this possession as Hunter and Diakite go to work.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Hunter function as a pick-and-roll ball handler this season; on a limited sample, Dre has shot 58.3 percent (1.28 points per possession) out of the action. (In the win over Pittsburgh, Virginia shot 75 percent at the rim.)

It doesn’t stop there, though; this is another place where Hunter can flash his versatility. Dre can play both sides of the screen-roll/pop action. On this possession, he sets a ball screen for a Kyle Guy triple.

This level of versatility is simple yet special, too. Again, Hunter is such a skilled and efficient offensive talent.

 

No. 3 North Carolina

North Carolina navigated a tricky road environment at Clemson for a two-point win — without Roy Williams in the second half. As a team, this was far from UNC’s best shooting performance (51.6 eFG%), but the Tar Heels had no fear letting it fly from deep: 13-of-33 on 3-point attempts (39.4 3P%).

Most of that work from beyond the arc was put up by the two most likely candidates: Cameron Johnson and Coby White.

The Heels assisted on 73 percent of their field goals against the Tigers; four of the five starters recorded 3+ assists. North Carolina (No. 7 in adjusted offensive efficiency) now ranks seventh nationally in assist rate as well: 62.2 percent. If that rate keeps up, it will be North Carolina’s highest assist rate since the 2005-06 season.

 

No. 4 Florida State

In the Saturday afternoon win over NC State, Florida State got a big performance from MJ Walker — his best outing in over a month. The sophomore wing scored 15 points on six field goal attempts; he’s now shooting 87.8 percent from the free throw line in ACC play, good for second in the league.

Walker has relied a little too heavily on the midrange this season (23.1 FG% on 2-point attempts away from the rim), but he drained both of his attempts from that range against the Pack. It would give FSU another serious offensive dimension if Walker (53.8 eFG% on catch-and-shoots) could bring this level of efficiency to the table every game — or at least more frequently.

Also, another tip of the cap to Mfiondu Kabengele, who continues to pound the glass and get to the free throw line. After another offensive rebound against NC State, Kabengele has recorded at least one offensive board in every conference game this season. Kabengele ranks 121st nationally with an offensive rebound rate of 11.9 percent. He can step away and hit a shot, too, but this dude makes a killing in the paint.

The super-sub and frontrunner for ACC Sixth Man of the Year also went 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Kabengele avoids turnovers (9.7 percent turnover rate in ACC play) and draws contact: 6.4 fouls drawn per 40 minutes. According to Synergy, he’s drawn a shooting foul on 32.3 percent of his cut possessions this season.

 

No. 5 Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech will have a full week off to enjoy the upset home victory over Duke; however, things get pretty heavy this Tuesday. Tech goes on the road to face Florida State with a fourth place finish and a double-bye in the ACC Tournament on the line. KenPom projects FSU to win that game, 69-68.

Something to watch with this matchup: How FSU guards the 3-point line. As Virginia Tech plays more out of the post with both Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kerry Blackshear Jr., the Hokies (wisely) still target the 3-point line like crazy.

The Hokies rank 34th nationally in 3-point attempt rate: 45.1 percent of the team’s field goal attempts have come from beyond the arc (39.7 3P%). In ACC play, the rate has jumped slightly to 46.2 percent — just behind Notre Dame (46.4 percent) for tops in the conference (36 3P%).

On the season, over 39 percent of opponent field goal attempts against Florida State have come from beyond the arc — No. 213 in the nation, per KenPom. In league play, however, that’s dropped to 38 percent, which ranks fifth in the ACC. The difference in this game could come from deep.

 

No. 6 Louisville

In Sunday’s win over Notre Dame, Louisville struggled shooting the ball from range (9.1 3P%, 49.2 eFG%); despite that, the Cards still scored over 1.1 points per possession. It’s the first time since the Feb. 4 win at Virginia Tech that Louisville cleared that critical benchmark.

Louisville went 13-of-15 from the charity stripe and shot a sizzling 67.6 percent on field goal attempts around the basket, per Synergy. That included 3-of-4 shooting from VJ King.

As Louisville has hunted for shooting guard production this season, King has mostly underwhelmed: 92.6 offensive rating (38.8 eFG%). However, King played 24 minutes against the Notre Dame — his most since Dec. 5 against Central Arkansas. He also grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out two assists. That’s massive.

 

No. 7 Syracuse

Syracuse shook off two straight defeats, including a hard-fought loss at UNC earlier in the week, and put together one of its better games of the conference slate. Wake Forest truly is exactly what the doctor ordered for every struggling ACC team. (Sorry, Notre Dame.)

The Orange didn’t exactly shoot the lights out (21.1 3P%), but managed to score nearly 1.2 points per possession against the Swiss cheese defense of the Demon Deacons. On the flip side, Syracuse held Wake to just 0.79 points per possession and bagged 15 steals — it’s second highest total this season.

Tyus Battle dropped his usage down slightly (21.5 percent) and got hot shooting ball. Battle went 3-of-4 on transition field goal attempts and 2-of-2 out of the pick-and-roll. He also accounted for five of the team’s 15 steals — one off tying a career high. (For the third time this season, though, Battle didn’t record an assist.)

 

No. 8 NC State

On the road, NC State pushed FSU; however, the Pack fell in Tallahassee, 78-73, which hit the brakes on a quick two-game win streak. This was a weird offensive game for Kevin Keatts and the Wolfpack; NC State shot 37.5 percent from inside the arc and assisted on just seven of its field goals (29.2 percent).

According to Synergy Sports, the Pack went 7-of-14 (5-of-10 3PA) on half-court spot-up attempts. That’s actually pretty good. This season, though, NC State has struggled on spot-ups: 0.85 points per possession (45.7 eFG%), which 299th in the nation (No. 11 in the ACC).

In the 2017-18 season, NC State scored 1.02 points per possession (54 eFG%) on spot-ups — No. 2 in the ACC, 58th nationally. Sam Hunt and Al Freeman were both excellent spot-up players for Keatts last season; that along with the departure of spread 5 Omer Yurtseven has made half-court offense more of a challenge this season.

Half-court efficiency, per Synergy:

  • 2017-18 season: 0.96 points per possession (52.3 eFG%)
  • 2018-19 season: 0.89 points per possession (49.4 eFG%)

 

No. 9 Clemson

Clemson fell just short of pulling off a major upset on Saturday against North Carolina — a win that could’ve solidified the program’s NCAA Tournament hopes. Regardless, Clemson is back to living that #BubbleLife, although Bracket Matrix currently has the Tigers in as a 12-seed.

Defensively against the Tar Heels, Clemson continued to flex its muscles; the Tigers rank No. 10 nationally in weighted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. Outside of Coby White and Cameron Johnson, two future NBA draft picks, Clemson made the other Heels rather uncomfortable.

Once again, though, Shelton Mitchell struggled offensively for the Tigers. Clemson’s point guard posted a high usage rate of 26 percent, turned the ball over five times (to three assists) and shot 2-of-8 on jump shots (1-of-4 3PA).

 

No. 10 Miami

Miami got pounded on the road at Duke on Saturday, which dropped the Canes to 4-12 in ACC play. As rough as this season has been — and Dewan Hernandez sitting behind the bench at every game is a constant reminder of his unfortunate ineligibility — the advanced numbers still kinda like the Canes.

For instance, KenPom ranks Miami 72nd nationally and 10th in the ACC in adjusted efficiency margin.

Back to Durham, though: This was a tough outing for Chris Lykes, and when Miami’s lead guard struggles the Canes have essentially no chance. Dogged for most of the game by Tre Jones, Lykes went 1-of-15 (0-of-7 3PA) from the floor with four turnovers. Lykes was 0-of-10 on half-court field goal attempts. According to Synergy, he went 0-of-7 with Jones as the primary defender.

His lone make was a wide-open transition layup that came after a Javin DeLaurier turnover.

 

No. 11 Boston College

On Sunday, Boston College traveled far, but lost in overtime at Georgia Tech, 81-78. The Eagles are now 0-4 in extra period games, including a loss at NC State two week ago, too.

In a losing effort, Nik Popovic was once again effective, though. A sturdy rebounder (11.2 percent offensive rebound rate in conference play), Pop grabbed five more offensive boards, scored 24 points, handed out three assists and snagged three steals.

For the season, Popovic has shot 68.2 percent on put-back attempts after an offensive rebound (1.28 points per possession) and scored 0.99 points per possession (54 FG%) on post-ups. There are 30 players in the ACC with 20+ post-up possessions this season; Popvich ranks 8th in field goal percentage — just behind De’Andre Hunter. (Zion Williamson tops the list: 77 FG%)

 

No. 12 Georgia Tech

In terms of offensive rating, Georgia Tech’s win over Boston College — 1.2 points per possession — was the team’s second best performance all season. The early-January home win over Wake Forest (1.21 points per possession) is the only outing that outpaced (slightly) what the Yellow Jackets accomplished on Sunday.

As we’ve documented this season, Georgia Tech isn’t a very good shooting team, which puts things mildly. Nationally, the Yellow Jackets rank 333rd in 3-point percentage and 277th in effective shooting. Georgia Tech has scored just 0.79 points per possession (42.8 eFG%) on spot-ups this season.

Against the Eagles, however, the Jackets posted an effective shooting clip of 57.4 percent. According to Synergy, Jose Alvarado and Michael Devoe combined to go 9-of-17 (6-of-12 3PA) on spot-up attempts.

 

No. 13 Notre Dame

Sunday’s 14-point loss at Louisville marked Notre Dame’s fifth straight defeat — two of which came on the road last week. This is far from the biggest issue at Notre Dame; however, the weekend loss featured a weird statistical note. At Louisville, Notre Dame went just 4-of-14 (28.6 FT%) from the free throw line.

Under Mike Brey, Notre Dame has been a reliably good free throw shooting team. For the fifth straight season, the Irish are on pace to shoot above 74 percent from the stripe and rank inside the top 50 nationally in free throw percentage. Back in 2017, Notre Dame led the nation in free throw, too.

 

No. 14 Pittsburgh

So, yeah. It’s been a while since Pittsburgh won a basketball game. The last time Pitt tasted victory was way back on Jan. 14 — an upset over FSU. At the time, it made the Panthers 2-2 in ACC play with the other win coming over a good Louisville team. Since then, though, Pitt has dropped 12 straight conference games. Ouch.

Despite the hits, there’s still positivity to take from this season. Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowen have struggled recently, but feature plenty of talent and upside. There’s stuff from Jeff Capel to build on.

However, I’d like to take a second to praise a player that definitely won’t be back for the Panthers next season: Jared Wilson-Frame. Miscast last season as a high-usage gunner, Wilson-Frame has seen his usage dip (18.3 percent) and his efficiency skyrocket. (112.8 offensive rating, up from 92.2 last season)

It’s never fun facing Virginia’s vaunted defense, but Wilson-Frame scored 15 points and handed out four assists. At JPJ, Wilson-Frame went 3-of-6 on spot-up 3-point attempts. For the season, he has an effective shooting clip north of 50 percent on spot-up looks, per Synergy.

 

No. 15 Wake Forest

Winning two out of three games was a nice, short run for Wake Forest. Back at home against Syracuse, and it was more of the same for the Demon Deacons, though.

In the words of Liz Lemon: “Blerg.” To close out the ACC regular season, Wake Forest has Duke and Florida State, which spells trouble.

One must wonder, too, what Wake Forest’s change at athletics director could mean for Danny Manning.

 

Contributor Rankings

 David GlennBrian GeisingerJosh GrahamConsensus
1DukeDukeVirginiaDuke
2VirginiaVirginiaUNCVirginia
3UNCUNCDukeUNC
4Florida StateVirginia TechFlorida StateFlorida State
5LouisvilleFlorida StateVirginia TechVirginia Tech
6Virginia TechLouisvilleSyracuseLouisville
7NC StateNC StateLouisvilleSyracuse
8SyracuseSyracuseNC StateNC State
9ClemsonClemsonClemsonClemson
10MiamiMiamiBoston CollegeMiami
11Georgia TechBoston CollegeGeorgia TechBoston College
12Notre DameGeorgia TechMiamiGeorgia Tech
13Boston CollegeNotre DameWake ForestNotre Dame
14PittPittNotre DamePitt
15Wake ForestWake ForestPittWake Forest

 

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