This week’s ACC Bracketology, One Number to Know is back! Currently, eight ACC teams are projected to make the NCAA Tournament, via Bracket Matrix. Let’s take a look a variety of topics as we head to Saturday’s Duke-Virginia matchup: Cam Reddish gets hot, Mamadi Diakite provides two-way stability, Luke Maye hits the glass and Mfiondu Kabengele continues to excel off the bench.
Duke — 1
Three game don’t make a season, but in wins over Notre Dame, St. John’s and Boston College, Cam Reddish looked right. In that stretch, Reddish bagged five steals, eight assists (to four turnovers) and shot a combined 11-of-29 on 3-point attempts (38 3P%) — including 8-of-22 (36.3 3P%) on spot-up looks from deep, per Synergy.
The home win over St. John’s marked another insightful performance into Reddish’s build as a prospect. He was excellent defensively, which is the norm, but all 10 of his field goal attempts came from beyond the arc. Reddish is a monster 3-and-D wing with some passing/playmaking chops; his movement away from the ball, looking for early-shot clock threes, is ideal.
Even when Reddish can’t hit from deep, he still helps Duke’s offense, in a sense. Reddish draws gravity; teams must closeout and contest his looks. That matters when you have Zion Williamson dominating in the middle of the floor. And when teams closeout hard, he can turn into a second-side weapon offense and attack off the bounce. (Reddish really loves going left on the baseline.)
Speaking of away from the ball, his activity level against Jordan Chatman in the BC game was excellent. Chatman isn’t J.J. Redick — or Kyle Guy, for that matter — but he’s a darn good off-ball shooter and mover. Reddish glided around screens, denying easy access to catch-and-shoot looks. It’s heresy to compare any wing defender to Paul George, but that’s what he looked like.
In terms of disruption, Reddish has — perhaps quietly — been rather good this season. After two more steals against BC, Reddish now averages three steals per 40 minutes — the same number as Zion. Just look at his length and closing speed on this rip of Ky Bowman.
Back on offense: At times this season, Reddish has really struggled with his handle — 21.9 percent turnover rate, 4.1 turnovers per 40 minutes — and finishing at the rim (50 FG%); however, he had it going against the Eagles.
Reddish’s stock as a top draft pick is ironclad; he fits perfectly in the NBA as a two-way wing with some nice serious upside — a guy that can help an offense without needing the ball. However, it’s nice to see him drive and score against a set defense with some confidence.
When he plays like this, the odds of upsetting Duke go way, way down.
Virginia — 1
After the win over Miami (without Ty Jerome), Virginia gets a full week to prepare for No. 2 Duke. One thing I’ll keep an eye on in this weekend’s rematch, which I mentioned when I joined The Devil’s Den podcast: Jack Salt’s playing time.
There’s no doubt that Salt is super important to Virginia; he provides valuable leadership, screen setting and defense. Let’s not downplay that. In the first game between these two teams, Salt played 28 minutes and was solid. However, you’ll remember Duke switched 1-5 in this game — an attempt to cutdown looks for Jerome and Kyle Guy out of Virginia’s floppy/motion sets.
Defensively, it’s easier to extend and switch aggressively like this when one of the opponent offensive options is less threatening. In his 28 minutes, Salt attempted just two field goals and grabbed one offensive rebound.
Salt will always get his minutes; Virginia needs him. But with the strong two-way play of Mamadi Diakite and the stretch game of Jay Huff, I’ll be curious to see how Tony Bennett divides up his center minutes.
At the rim, Diakite has really excelled. He’s blocked at least one shot in 14 straight games, including all nine of Virginia’s ACC contests. The junior big has blocked 11 shots over the last three games, too. For the season, Diakite is averaging 2.7 blocks per 40 minutes; that’s jumped to an insane 3.7 per 40 in conference action. During ACC play, he’s blocked over 12 percent of opponent two-point field goal attempts while on the floor, per KenPom.
On offense, Diakite has 15 dunks and is shooting 71.7 percent at the rim in the half court, per Synergy. When Diakite uses a possession as pick-and-roll dive man, he’s shooting 81.3 percent and scoring 1.5 points per possession.
While battling foul trouble in Durham, Diakite played just 17 minutes in the first matchup. Can UVA avoid that this time around? The answer to that could significant.
North Carolina — 2
In this week’s blowout home win over NC State, North Carolina flexed its muscles on offense — nearly 1.4 points per possession (1.56 PPP in the first half).
After scoring 1.38 PPP against NC State, Carolina's adjusted offensive efficiency moved from No. 11 to No. 7 in the country. Its adjusted defensive efficiency held steady at No. 14.
— Adrian Atkinson (@FreeportKid) February 6, 2019
As he always does against the Wolfpack, Luke Maye ran wild. During his 27 minutes, Maye scored 32 points (10-of-10 FTA) and grabbed 12 offensive rebounds. It’s his third game of 30+ points against Kevin Keatts and NC State, too.
And back on Saturday in the win over Louisville, Maye landed 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive end. This comes after he recorded zero offensive boards against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
After only 21% of Maye's made FGs were unassisted in the first 20 games, 41% (7 of 17) have been in the past 2 games. Looking more like the Maye from last season by creating his own offense off the bounce and on the offensive glass.
— Adrian Atkinson (@FreeportKid) February 6, 2019
Against Louisville and NC State, Maye was a combined 6-of-9 on field goal attempts at the rim after a put-back, cut or post-up. He’s also averaged 11.5 free throw attempts per 40 minutes over the last two games, too. Maye has drawn 4.4 per 40 minutes in conference action, per KenPom, No. 16 in the ACC.
Louisville — 4
This is a really good Louisville team, which managed to avenge Saturday’s home loss to UNC with a quality road win over Virginia Tech — sans Justin Robinson.
There’s a lot to like with Jordan Nwora (1.15 points per possession on spot-ups), Dwayne Sutton (64.6 eFG% in transition), Christen Cunningham (38.2 3P%, 6.2 assists per 40 minutes) and Malik Williams (9.1 percent block rate). That top four is about as good as any in the country.
However, can Louisville get more production from its other wings and backcourt contributors?
VJ King is shooting under 13 percent from deep and has a turnover rate above 19 percent. Khwan Fore and Darius Perry both shoot around 34 percent from deep, but have turnover rates north of 21 percent. According to KenPom, King and Fore both have offensive ratings south of 95.
Perry has, for the most part, been solid; perhaps Chris Mack can go to even more dual point guard lineups with he and Cunningham. Veteran 3-point sniper Ryan McMahon — over 18 minutes per game in ACC play — has taken on an elevated role recently, too.
McMahon is above 41 percent from deep in ACC play (46 3PA); for the season, he’s scored 1.09 points per possession on no-dribble spot-ups, per Synergy.
Virginia Tech — 4
Back on Tuesday, I detailed some of the ways Virginia Tech looks to run its offense without Justin Robinson. The approach relies heavily on Nickeil Alexander-Walker, of course, and Kerry Blachshear Jr. With that in mind, let’s have another quick moment of appreciation for Blackshear.
While operating as Virginia Tech’s one true post player (with PJ Horne out), Blackshear has excelled. He’s a beast on the offensive glass (14.7 percent offensive rebound rate in ACC play) and offers some pick-and-roll potential (1.25 points per possession) as well. Outside of the Miami win, when he dealt with foul trouble and played just 17 minutes, Blackshear has been a stalwart for the Hokies.
According to Synergy, Blackshear has scored 1.03 points per possession (56.1 FG%) on post-ups this season, which ranks inside the top 25 nationally (minimum 75 possessions). And when Blackshear passes out of the post to someone who uses the possession, Tech has scored a blistering 1.33 points per possession. This is why he makes for such a nice offensive hub with Robinson on the mend.
Florida State — 7
Mfiondu Kabengele continues to build a case for ACC Sixth Man of the Year. In ACC action, the sophomore center — who is yet to start a game — ranks inside the top 10 in offensive rating (124), usage rate (27.4 percent), offensive rebound rate (13.1 percent), turnover rate (9.7 percent), block rate (8.1 percent) and fouls drawn per 40 minutes (6.7).
Oh, he’s also shooting 56.2 percent from distance since the start of conference play, too (9-of-16 3PA) and over 42 percent for the season.
Over the course of 22 games this season (434 minutes), Kabengele has drawn 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes — a top-10 number nationally — and shot 76.3 percent from the line. According to Synergy he’s drawn a shooting foul on 34 percent of his cut possessions and 32.3 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions.
Syracuse — 8
Man, how important has Elijah Hughes been to Syracuse’s offense this season? This is a bad range shooting team; the Orange rank 257th nationally in 3-point percentage (32.6 3P%). However, without Hughes (36.3 3P% overall, 37.8 3P% in ACC play), the East Carolina transfer and air guitar aficionado, that number would look a lot worse.
Brissett kicks to Hughes for a right wing 3 after Elijah had misses his first moments ago. 3-3 in #SUvsFSU
— Billy Heyen (@Wheyen3) February 6, 2019
In fact, the rest of the team — excluding Hughes — is shooting under 31 percent from deep on 556 attempts.
According to Synergy Sports, Hughes — who leads the team with 149 spot-up possessions — is the only player on Syracuse’s roster scoring above one point per possession on spot-ups (minimum 20 possessions).
Syracuse guard Elijah Hughes has continued to blossom into SU's most reliable shooter. Last night he channeled his inner-Lydon and delivered a Lance Stephenson knock-off celebration. https://t.co/RgpZItrejs
— Syracuse Basketball (@syrbasketball) January 10, 2019
NC State — 10
As NC State has tried to navigate the rough waters of the ACC with a hampered Markell Johnson, things have gone a little sideways. The Pack is now 4-6 in conference play. Recently, the home loss to Virginia Tech was historic for all of the wrong reasons; then three days later, State was blitzed on the road against UNC — giving up nearly 1.4 points per possession.
State needs to turn it around, desperately; can this team string together a complete game — with sound play on both ends of the floor?
Pittsburgh and Syracuse — both outside the top 40 of KenPom — are next up for State, starting Saturday. After that, it’s Duke — followed by Boston College and Wake Forest. There are opportunities for wins. These next two games are critical. Three weeks from now, State could be 8-7 in the league. To do so won’t be easy, though.
The loss to the Hokies muddies these waters, but State is seventh in the ACC during league play in adjusted offensive efficiency and 11th in effective shooting (46.5 eFG%). Shot selection is an obvious issue; Johnson is the one guy that can reliably create good looks for himself and others. And if State can’t defense (51.6 eFG% for opponents), than the transition attack is moot.