ACC Power Rankings, Feb. 7: AJ Griffin exploits the matchup, Armaan Franklin shows up for UVA

What a weekend, huh? Before things quickly fire up with another slate of ACC hoops, including Virginia at Duke on Monday, let’s go through this week’s ACC Power Rankings.

 

1 Duke

Ahead of the Duke-North Carolina game, the question loomed as to how Hubert Davis would deploy Leaky Black, UNC’s top defender. Given North Carolina’s limited personnel, if Davis placed Black on Paolo Banchero, that almost certainly meant that Brady Manek or Armando Bacot would have to check AJ Griffin.

Davis committed to going this route: Black on Banchero. It was worth a shot; however, North Carolina paid the price. As Duke won in convincing fashion, Griffin scored a career-high 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting from the floor. (Initially, Davis started the game with Bacot on Banchero, but he scrambled the matchups after Bacot picked up his second foul.)

It’s important to remember: AJ Griffin is more than just a good offensive wing. This dude is one of the top 3-7 prospects for the 2022 NBA Draft. Like, there really aren’t many 6-foot-6 guys (with 7-foot wingspans) on the planet who can shoot and move like Griffin.

UNC cut Duke’s initial surge down to 11 points at halftime. Duke, however, opened the second half with the plan to feature Griffin. The star wing didn’t disappoint.

The Blue Devils ran Griffin off baseline pindowns from Banchero, which forced Manek to chase Griffin around screens. From there, Griffin could operate in space vs. an overmatched defender and a bent defense.

Paired with Mark Williams, Duke could also put Griffin — with the ball — in two-man screening actions, defended by Bacot. This, too, lit North Carolina’s defense on fire.

Bacot is near the level of the screen here, but he’s still too low; when the switch happens, Griffin (50 3P%) comes off the pick with more than enough space.

As the season progresses, Griffin continues to use his body more and more to get downhill. With his step-back jumper and loopy hesitation crossover dribble, Griffin has the ability to create advantage — plus the strength and shooting touch to capitalize.

In less than three minutes of game time, what was an 11-point lead balloons out to 21 — with Griffin going on a one-man 10-0 run. Yikes!

Later in the second half, UNC flipped the matchups; Bacot grabbed Griffin, while Manek defended Williams. Unsurprisingly, Griffin continued to feast.

This little empty-side elbow pindown is a staple of Duke’s half-court offense; however, Bacot isn’t accustomed to chasing elite wing prospects around off-ball screens. Griffin curls hard, gets to the rim and draws a foul.

At times, North Carolina’s defense lost its discipline, which is what happens here with a freelancing Caleb Love. Black switches the Banchero screen and takes Wendell Moore Jr., while Love elects to stay with Moore in what looks like some type of de facto trap. Kerwin Walton rotates over on Banchero, but he eventually retreats back to his man: Jeremy Roach. Manek ends up taking Banchero, but with Love still chasing the ball, no one is guarding Williams.

Once Williams screens for Griffin, there’s no help defender in the vicinity. (Folks, not good!) Bacot has no shot navigating this screen; Griffin races to the rim and rips it down with his left hand.

 

2. Wake Forest

It wasn’t the cleanest of games: Wake Forest committed 26 turnovers at Florida State, which translates to a season-high turnover rate of 34.4 percent. However, the Demon Deacons still gutted out an eight-point victory in Tallahassee vs. a banged-up FSU squad.

Jake LaRavia followed up a strong performance during the midweek win over Pittsburgh with another quality two-way outing on the road.

An All-ACC lock, LaRavia pumped in 18 points (6-of-9 2PA), 13 rebounds, nine assists, one steal and one block. He does so many different things that help Wake Forest win ball games.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a duo more dynamic, more synchronized than LaRavia and Alondes Williams.

Currently, LaRavia is one of only three Division I players with 20 percent usage, 15 percent assist rate, 60 percent effective shooting, 2.0 percent block rate and 2.0 percent steal rate. (The two others are both excellent players, too: Virginia Tech’s Justyn Mutts and David Roddy of Colorado State.)

 

3. Notre Dame

With a three-game slate last week, Notre Dame shook off a blowout loss on Monday to Duke and won back-to-back road games: Miami and NC State.

After a rough start to the season, veteran point guard Prentiss Hubb continues to come on for the Irish, which has been crucial amidst a rough patch of games for star rookie Blake Wesley.

During the win at Miami, Hubb was excellent making plays out of Notre Dame’s continuity ball screen offense. Hubb finished with 15 points (3-of-8 3PA), six assists, two steals and only one turnover.

Repeatedly, Hubb made good decisions with the ball vs. Miami’s screen-roll trap.

 

Hubb followed that with 13 points (3-of-6 3PA), four assists and zero turnovers vs. NC State in Raleigh. The southpaw is shooting 37.7 percent on 3-point attempts in league play — along with 22.4 percent assist rate and 6.7 percent turnover rate.

 

4. Miami

Over the last few weeks, Miami’s sparkling 5-out, pick-and-roll-oriented offense has experienced a few subpar nights. That’s costly for the Hurricanes; Miami is now 1-4 in games with an offensive rating under 100 points per 100 possessions. The lone win came back on Nov. 16 vs. Florida Atlantic.

As Jim Larranaga returned to Charlottesville, his team didn’t quite have its normal juice: 0.98 points per possession (4-of-17 3PA) and a season-high 22.0 percent turnover rate.

By this point, Isaiah Wong has established himself as one of the premier bucket-getters in college hoops. He’s really, really good. Wong has a knack for making tough shots look routine. That’s just what he does.

However, Wong had a tough outing against Virginia. The All-ACC guard recorded a season-low six points (0-3 3PA) and posted a usage rate of only 15.8 percent — also a low for the season. (Wong has a 23.6 percent usage rate this season.)

Unsurprisingly, ace defender Reece Beekman drew the primary assignment vs. Wong.

As a team, Miami attempted zero free throws in this game, which is wild.

Going back to last season, Beekman has given Wong issues. In many ways, Beekman is the ideal defensive matchup piece to throw at Wong: a long, laterally-quick athlete that doesn’t foul, hunts for steals and stays on balance to contest every shot.

 

5. North Carolina

By a variety of metrics, Caleb Love is an improved player as a sophomore. Love’s 3-point shot (41 3P%), which features deep step-back range, is the foundation for the rest of his offense. At times this season, Love has looked determined to get downhill, too. In fact, Love throw a couple nice pocket passes vs. Duke.

North Carolina’s new offense has schemed ways to compensate for Love’s lack of burst, which has helped him touch the paint.

When Love tries to do too much 1-on-1 handling, though, it can lead to trouble, especially when the step-back jumper isn’t clicking.

Love turned the ball over four times vs. Duke, including some self-inflected miscues.

For the season now, Love is shooting just 36.4 percent on 2-point attempts — up slightly from 34.8 percent a year ago. Currently, Love is the only high-major player in the country shooting under 40 percent from inside the arc — with a minimum of 150 attempts.

During ACC play, that number has dropped to 28.4 percent on 2-point attempts, including 15-of-67 on 2-point shots (22.4 2P%) over the last eight games. This is disconcerting.

On the other side of the floor, Love has the ability — with his size and length — to clamp up on defense. There are some good on-ball flashes, but it’s not there on a possession-by-possession basis.

Trevor Keels touches the paint with ease, forces Bacot to help over and Theo John is wide open at the rim for a lay-down pass. Far too often, Love leaves his teammates out to dry.

There may not be a perimeter player in the ACC that’s more susceptible than Love to these types of quick crossovers/downhill drives.

 

6. Virginia

Armaan Franklin picked a good time to have one of his best games in a Virginia uniform. The Indiana transfer dropped in 22 points and swiped four steals as Virginia defeated Miami.

This team is a different beast when Franklin can loosen the edges of opposing defenses with his 3-point shooting. Franklin’s been ice from the midrange this season (50 2P%); however, the 3-ball (27 3P%) is less friendly. Last week, though, Franklin went a combined 5-of-12 from beyond the arc in wins over Boston College and Miami.

When Franklin forces defenses to honor his jumper, secondary options open up in the Blocker-Mover system. During the Miami win, Franklin dished out a season-high four assists.

Kadin Shedrick is turning into a nice target on those empty-side looks from the “Sides” offense. Shedrick leads Virginia with 29 dunks. Beekman is No. 2 with 11.

 

7. Tie: Virginia Tech and Florida State

Virginia Tech

Don’t look now: Virginia Tech has three straight wins — Florida State, Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. The Hokies also have four straight games of scoring at least 1.18 points per possession, going back to the loss vs. Miami.

Led by Storm Murphy and Nahiem Alleyne, Virginia Tech splashed 14-of-26 3-point attempts in the win over Pitt.

Now, the Hokies return home for a rematch with the Panthers. Virginia Tech enters that game as a heavy favorite.

 

Florida State

Injuries are an issue for Florida State.

Leonard Hamilton was without veteran leaders Anthony Polite and Malik Osborne — both strong two-way contributors — for the home loss to Wake Forest. 7-foot-4 center Naheem McLeod underwent surgery on his right hand last week, too.

After winning six straight games (Jan. 8-22), FSU has lost four consecutive games.

 

9. Syracuse

After shooting a combined 11-of-60 from beyond the arc (18.3 3P%) in consecutive losses to Duke and Pittsburgh, Syracuse has roared back. During a subsequent three-game win streak, the Orange have launched 61 3-pointers — draining 33 (54.1 3P%).

In each of those games — Wake Forest, NC State and Louisville — Syracuse scored above 1.25 points per possession.

This team is extremely reliant on its offense. Moreover, that offense needs the catch-and-shoot game clicking for it to work effectively. When it does, though, look out.

Syracuse now ranks No. 9 nationally in adjusted efficiency efficiency, per Bart Torvik.

 

10. Clemson

PJ Hall keeps on humming. First, Hall scored 15 points, including three dunks, during the win over Florida State. As Clemson’s offense struggled vs. Georgia Tech, Hall grooved in 18 points (9-of-13 2PA) and dished out four assists.

Hall continues to be one of the more dominant low-block scorers in the country. The sophomore big has shot 54.4 percent and scored 1.08 points per possession on post-ups, according to Synergy Sports.

 

11. Louisville

Louisville has lost eight of its last nine games, including five straight. Unfortunately, a challenging season became even more difficult last week.

First, fifth-year senior center Malik Williams — a three-time captain — was suspended by interim head coach Mike Pegues. According to Pegues, Williams didn’t meet the standards of the Louisville program. One day later, Louisville fell at home to UNC — an overtime loss that doubled as a disastrous piece of officiating.

Playing again without Williams, Louisville was blasted by Syracuse — losing 92-69 on the road.

Louisville ranks 177th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. This would easily be the program’s worst offensive rating (in terms of national ranking) of the KenPom era, which dates back to the 1996-97 season.

 

12. NC State

Things are a little too wobbly right now with the Wolfpack. Obviously, injuries have completely crushed the team’s frontcourt depth; however, after allowing 100 points (1.33 points per possession) at UNC, NC State allowed Syracuse to score 89 points (1.33 points per possession) in Raleigh.

With Ebenezer Dowuona back in the rotation for the Notre Dame game, NC State got off to an awful start vs. Notre Dame, falling behind 21-4. The Wolfpack battled, however, and briefly took the lead in the second half.

Over the final 10 minutes of the game, though, Notre Dame’s offense took it up a notch, outscoring NC State 23-15 and winning by 12 points, 69-57.

NC State ranks 240th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. This is a problem.

 

13. Georgia Tech

Despite an off night for Michael Devoe — three points (1-of-5 3PA) — Georgia Tech took down a tough-minded Clemson team over the weekend, 69-63. Once again, Jordan Usher had his fingerprints all over this game: 14 points, three steals and two assists.

The Yellow Jackets received another (potentially) breakout performance from Deivon Smith in the win: 16 points (4-of-4 FGA at the rim), which tied a season high, and six assists.

 

14. Boston College

During the 2021-22 season, Boston College has received nice contributions from several different big men, including transfers TJ Bickerstaff and James Karnik. Another transfer — Quinten Post, via Ole Miss — has also helped power one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the country. Post also provides a much-needed source of rim protection: 2.1 blocks per 40 minutes.

Currently, there are only 10 ACC players with 10 percent offensive rebound rate and 18 percent defensive rebound rate. Three of those guys play for Boston College: Post, Karnik and Bickerstaff.

 

15. Pittsburgh

The Panthers had their best shooting performance of the season in the loss to Virginia Tech: 67 percent effective shooting. That, however, wasn’t enough; Pittsburgh fell at home, 76-71.

Jeff Capel’s team doesn’t have to wait long to get some revenge, though. Pitt travels south to Blacksburg for a rematch with Virginia Tech on Monday (Feb. 7).

 

Contributor Rankings

As usual, Josh Graham contributed to this week’s ACC Power Rankings

 BGJGConsensus
1DukeDukeDuke
2Wake ForestWake ForestWake Forest
3Notre DameNotre DameNotre Dame
4MiamiMiamiMiami
5UNCUNCUNC
6UVAFSUUVA
7VTUVAVT
8SyracuseVTFSU
9FSUSyracuseSyracuse
10ClemsonClemsonClemson
11NC StateLouisvilleLouisville
12LouisvilleGTNC State
13GTNC StateGT
14BCBCBC
15PittPittPitt