Welcome everyone! We have a full house today as I am joined by my co-host on the Hoos Cast, Seattle Hoo, as well as St Lou Hoo, Maize and Blue Wahoo, Robert, and Hoos Place newbie, Aaron Perryman. We wrapped up the regular season as, for the fourth time in the past six years, regular season champions. We’ve secured the 1st seed in the ACC tourney which begins today, and Hoos Place is ready to talk all things ACC!
So, we are the #1 seed. What would keep us from winning the ACC tournament? What is our Achilles Heel?
Seattle Hoo: This team was held by both heels when dipped in the invulnerability juice: One heel is the inconsistent free throw shooting. Jerome is shooting under 75%. Last year he shot 90%. Guy, Hunter, Diakite all have seen their percentages drop perceptibly in the last five-ten games. We have a history of missing late-game one-and-ones. Ty Jerome, in particular, needs to step up and stop missing fucking free throws.
The other heel is the perimeter depth. The Cavaliers have 1.5 subs for three perimeter positions. No, the half a sub is not Kihei Clark, you stinking sizists! The half a sub is Braxton Key, because he plays in the post rotation at least as much as in the perimeter rotation. The depth was severely challenged in two games: NC State and Miami. NC State plays 4 guards and that forces us into a quickness mismatch. With NC State being our potential quarterfinal opponent, that could be a pitfall.
Aaron: An injury to one of our key players or a Duke team with Zion. And Virginia could succumb to a hot team. We’ve seen Virginia be vulnerable this year by falling behind/having trouble with Virginia Tech, UNC, Louisville, Syracuse, and N.C. State.
I think our Achilles heel is still a team that can really spread us out and attack us with two or more athletic guards/long forward. We can contain one, but two or more can be an issue. And then that team also has to be able to knock down open 3s when we give them, because we usually do give a few open looks from beyond the arc.
Val: If you’ve listened to our Hoos Cast, you know I am in agreement with Seattle that our free throw shooting is suspect. Guy and Jerome were lights out from the charity stripe last year, and this year... they're not. One of Bennett's coaching moves this year that I was most impressed with was his selection of DeAndre Hunter to take the two Mack technicals. Hunter had become our best free throw shooter, yet Bennett is loathe to change these kind of roles. Hunter drained the pair, yet Hunter's free throw shooting has become more sporadic since. There's not a single person on this team that I consider to be automatic, nor is there anyone who could keep me from hyperventilating if a game comes down to free throws.
Maize: Aggressive, athletic defenses like FSU's and Louisville's give us some trouble. Tony Bennett's system is expressly designed to help less-athletic teams beat more-athletic ones, but athletic teams still cause problems. They get in passing lanes and they prevent our brainiacs from taking time to pick apart their defenses, and force them to play more on instinct (which they have no shortage of, fortunately.)
That said, our main Achilles heel is still just the capricious twists of fate that tournament play always throws in your way. This team is better than everyone they play, including Duke, but you don't get to play seven-game series in the NCAA.
Robert: I’m a big believer that having the best players makes all the difference come tournament basketball, so I’d say a superstar (or two) needs to have career-like games to beat this Virginia team. Presumably those superstars come from either Duke or UNC, both of which Virginia wouldn't face until the championship game. For Duke, it took a 30-point effort from RJ Barrett and another 27 points from Zion Williamson to beat UVa the first time and a 62% three-point shooting night to beat Virginia the second; that’s just the risk of playing really good teams. And while UNC struggled against the packline in their lone UVa-matchup this season, they have plenty of star power (from freshmen to seniors) to make Virginia sweat. Given Zion has yet to return and Virginia's recent history against UNC, I like Virginia in both match-ups right now, but both Duke and UNC have the individual talent to take down UVa.
St Lou: Every team has weaknesses, every year, even national title front-runners, so don't take this criticism as any necessary sign of doom. We've got a few spots that I'll be keeping my eye on as we move into single-elimination season. First is our 10th-in-the-ACC FT shooting percentage of just 72%... would hate for missed FT's to be the reason we can't put a close game away. Second is related, and that's our continued inability to get to the FT line, with a 12th-in-the-ACC FTA/FGA ratio of 27%, meaning when shots aren't falling, we're not good at making up the difference by getting into the lane and drawing whistles. Third, about those shots not falling, there's always the risk that we just have a night where our shooters go cold, like what happened at Duke... can this team win on a night when Dre/Kyle/Ty aren't knocking them down from range?
Last is the most painful one for me to write, and that's Tony playing Salt too much. The big man, the heart and soul of this defense and locker room, is just a liability right now. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and blame his back, but the bottom line is that of our Top 8 main rotation, he's playing like the 8th member of it right now. It's no coincidence that Louisville made its big mid-game run with Salt on the floor. It's even worse when he's paired with Clark, yet Tony has been starting them together anyways. I'm not saying Salt has no role on this team going forward, but if he's not healthy, it's only going to get worse trying to play as many as 3 games in 3 days.
What is your upset pick for the ACC tournament?
Robert: Virginia Tech. They have a top-five coach in the league in Buzz Williams, and even without Justin Robinson, they still have two really, really good players in Kerry Blackshear and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, not to mention Ty Outlaw who can really shoot it. It’d be difficult for the No. 5 seed to win the ACC tournament without the benefit of the double-bye, so maybe Florida State is the more logical choice – but I just don’t see it. If someone other than Virginia, North Carolina, or Duke is going to win the ACC tournament, it’s going to be Virginia Tech. They just have better players and a better coach than the other dark-horse contenders.
Seattle Hoo: Duke, because I’m going to be really fucking upset if they win it. But this year reminds me of 2016 when the 1-3 seeds were stronger than the 4 seed and Carolina had a relaxing beatdown of Notre Dame while we were embroiled in a war with Miami. Duke and Carolina are slated for a semifinal matchup while we get Florida State.
But my upset pick in the traditional sense would be Florida State. They go so deep they are equipped for a 3-games-in-3-days war.
Aaron: First answer: Virginia Tech. I think they are probably feeling pretty good with how they’ve come through without Justin Robinson. They played FSU tough recently and Virginia much tougher in the rematch, so I could see them winning those games. So if they got to the final, momentum would be on their side.
Second answer: Louisville if Zion doesn’t play for Duke. We’ve seen Louisville upset UNC once, and there’s a chance they’d get Duke without Zion in the semifinals.
Maize: I don't really have one. The bottom six teams, all playing on Tuesday, are not capable of beating anyone they'd face in the next round. Those six teams combined for eight wins against the top nine teams in the conference. There's an impressive bright line between #9 and #10.
I'm a little nervous about a potential FSU or VT game in the semis, because beating a team three times is damn hard. Otherwise, if we assume any of the top three teams beating each other is not an upset, the most likely upset is Louisville over UNC in the quarters. (Duke won't make the same Syracuse mistake twice.)
Val: I was going to pick Clemson, (matching up against NC State) even before they beat Syracuse, mostly because I think so little of the Wolfpack. Beating Syracuse was a better win heading into the tourney than NC State rolling over Boston College.
Bonus pick: if Syracuse successfully knocks off the winner of BC vs Pitt, Duke may be ripe for an upset. There is no timetable for Marques Bolden's return (MCL sprain) and while I am expecting Zion Williamson to return, he’s not going to be match fit. The rest of Duke's uber-hyped freshman class have all had to assert themselves in Zion's absence. Who knows how they'll adjust to taking a back seat to Zion, who may not be close to physically fit.
Seattle: Of course, Syracuse did just lose to the aforementioned Clemson...
St Lou: Florida State over UVA in the semis. They're a very good team with a lot of talent and athleticism. Not without their warts, mind you, as they still lack a true PG and their defense fails to show up some nights. But while we blew their doors off in January, this is a very similar team to the ones that took us to the wire in 2018 and beat us at JPJ in 2017. I could see their physicality and length bothering our shooters and keeping our offense out of rhythm, letting them steal a relatively low-scoring game.
Which Wahoo will have the best tournament?
Maize: DeAndre Hunter. People around the country sort of vaguely know he's good. They'll know more in a month.
Robert: Ty Jerome. Not to say I was necessarily concerned, but by his standards, he certainly had a couple subpar games in the middle of the ACC stretch. I know how tough back injuries can be, and I wasn’t sure how comfortable he’d feel the rest of the season. Well, the regular season finale against Louisville settled that. This team will run through Ty Jerome over the next several weeks, and he looks as healthy and as determined as ever. I think he knows this is his final ride, and he wants to make it count.
Seattle Hoo: Ty Jerome. He’s increasing his income this March.
St Lou: Dre. March is made for dynamic scoring wings. On Thursday we'll face one of NC State or Clemson, and he's a matchup nightmare for both those teams. If we get VT in the semis, he usually plays well against them (recall his original breakout in January of 2018) occurred in Cassell. Against FSU, in a game where the FSU defense will challenge UVA to make plays, Dre is the playmaker we'd need.
Val: This is Ty Jerome's team, and just like last year in Cameron, he's going to decide whether he wants to be the guy taking the final shot or he wants to hold the ball and get fouled should a game come down to intentional fouls.
But.... the greatest potential on the team for getting easier points relative to how we've scored them thus far, would be if Braxton Key could possibly convert even 50% of his shots inside the restricted arc. If we could count on him for 8-10 points, we're going to win out. He's a fine rebounder and he can get to the rim. Decent finishing would be a deadly addition to the rest of the firepower Bennett's fielding.
Aaron: I’ll break the Jerome v Hunter tie and go with Ty Jerome. His play in the Louisville rematch was eye-opening -- he looked possessed at times -- and I think he’s on a mission because he knows it is his last year. And he’s the healthiest he has been in a long time.
Looking back for a moment, what was the best win of the regular season?
Aaron: The Big Monday bounceback after the Duke loss at UNC is the answer, but I’ll be a little different and say Virginia Tech at home, because it was UVa’s second top-10 win in as many games, further cemented Virginia nationally in the top 5 and atop the ACC once again, and exorcised some demons from the "College GameDay" 1-point OT loss to the Hokies at JPJ last season.
Seattle Hoo: I’m going to cheat and say the first half of the Virginia Tech home game and the second half at Syracuse. There really isn’t a win that I look at and say, “Wow, we beat a really great team!” Had we won one of the two Duke games, yes, but we didn’t. Zion 2, UVA 0. I was tempted to go with the win at UNC, which was a tremendously impressive accomplishment, but I don’t think the Heels are as good as Virginia, and we played very well in the two halves I picked out - some of the best ball I’ve seen a team play for a half. Both were against good teams.
Playing by the rules, the Carolina win was the best.
Maize: The best team we beat was North Carolina, and that was on the road, so.
That said, UNC's home environment has never felt all that intimidating, even with the house packed. I'll take the VT game at Cassell. First off, it was a rematch - always damn hard to win, just ask last year's team after their VT rematch. And this rematch was on the road in a flat-out nasty, hostile environment. Carolina fans don't hate UVA like VT fans do.
Seattle: Val’s been making this point on the Hoos Cast, especially in the Lost Episode. We’ll revisit the issue of “rivalry: and what it means” soon.
St Lou: I'm going with the Louisville win at Yum! We were down 12 points early in the second half to a good team, one that's likely a 6 seed this time next week, split with UNC, and should've secured a win over a full-strength Duke. But the Hoos found a 5th gear for the last 18 minutes that just flipped the game on its head, putting on a clinic on both ends to leave the Blueglass state with a double-digit win.
Robert: UNC, easy. I agree with Seattle that there were better single halves played, but the context of the UNC win was huge. On the road, just 48 hours after a somewhat disheartening loss to Duke, the game had all the makings of a UNC win. Yet Virginia won the old fashioned way – with its defense – holding UNC to a season-low 61 points. For context, UNC has won seven in a row since, and in total they've won 14 of their last 15 games with that lone loss being to Virginia. It felt almost like a relief-win at the time, but now it’s the signature win of the season.
Val: From a purely emotional standpoint, beating Maryland. This was the ACC v B1G Challenge game I have wanted since the Terps fled to the Big 10.
From a strategic sense, Florida State. We always have trouble with long, athletic and deep teams and starting out the ACC slate with a 43-22 first half vs this bogeyman set the stage for both us and FSU. We went on to win the regular season title while the Seminoles went on to open ACC play with a 1-4 start.
Aaron: If I may… I’ve been having this conversation on twitter so I wanted to bring it up now. Does anyone think there is any benefit or drawback to any specific ACC tournament result, meaning, does another ACC championship mean much after having won two (not to mention the regular-season titles), does it give momentum, does it take a lot of energy, or something else? Would, say, a surprising ACC semifinal loss make you worried or could it give Virginia just what it needs to refocus?
St Lou: I think the two are less related than people want to make it. Single elimination tournaments, whether the conference championship or the NCAA's, are fluky affairs, even moreso when teams are operating on less than 24-hours turnaround. The exhaustion aspect of making it to the championship game is definitely overrated, as plenty of teams have made Final Four runs, even championship runs, after playing in / winning their conference title games... Villanova last year, Carolina in 2016. And at the same time Carolina won it all in 2017 after losing to Duke in the ACCT semis. The only thing that can't happen is injury, as we learned last year
Seattle Hoo: I don’t think it matters. The data on ACC championship vs. NCAA tournament success is mixed, with a sample size too small to allow for any real conclusive analysis. I don’t think it will have any impact on this team. They won’t get a confidence boost - they don’t need one. They won’t take a confidence hit - nothing hurts their confidence. Exhaustion is not an issue - they will get a minimum of four days off. That’s plenty of time to recover. Really, an injury is the only thing that could impact the NCAA chances - as we saw last year. But don’t get spooked and turn away from the ACCT for that reason, because practice for the NCAA Tournament can lead to an injury, too - as we saw last year. It is what it is.
A surprising ACC quarterfinal loss might make me worried, but probably not. I don’t see any worry. The team is going to play its hearts out each game in the NCAA, and what happens, happens.
Maize: As far as bearing on the NCAA tournament - no. I don't think winning or losing the ACC has any effect on the Dance result.
I'm going to isolate the second part of the question, though, because even if this isn't the intent of the question, it gives me a chance to rant on another pet peeve. Does another ACC championship mean much? @%$&ing A right it does. I can't count how many times, in basketball or baseball or lacrosse discussions, I've seen people say something like "just win the big tournament, the conference one doesn't matter." Usually they say that after we lose the conference tournament. We compete in the ACC, therefore we should be trying to win it. I don't care how many we've won, we should try and pack as many of them in the rafters as we can. We have three. Duke has 20 and didn't get sick of winning them after three and neither should we.
And after what happened in the NCAA tourney last year, for me it is awfully damn nice to have the ACC championship to fall back on.
I don't think it has anything to do with how we do in the big dance, but it still means the world.
Robert: I’m not as familiar with what the data says here, and I’m not sure I’d put a ton of stock in it either way. The ACC tournament is fun and a fantastic way to end the regular season, but it still feels more like that – the regular season. The same people who watch ACC regular season basketball are also the same people who watch the ACC Tournament. Meanwhile, the NCAA tourney is a whole different animal with unfamiliar teams and a national spotlight like no other in the game (sometimes we forget that for so much of America, March Madness is their only college hoops consumption). So I’m not sure if there is a correlation between ACC and NCAA tournament results, but I don’t think there’s any causation. They’re just too different. All of that to say that I want the trophy cabinet to be as full as possible, and it really wasn't that long ago that Virginia fans were just as worried about making the tournament as they are now about their No. 1 seed / ranking. ACC Tournaments matter, and winning should always be the goal. You can't predict what happens next.
Aaron: I don’t think there is a drawback to fighting through some tough ACC tourney games to win the title. Virginia is going to have multiple rest days either way until the NCAA tournament. Plus, having the final on Saturday now and not Sunday helps. More games does open up to more injury possibilities, though, as we saw last year. The ACC tournament championship does still mean a lot, just not as much as it did the first time. An ACC tournament loss would not bother me as long as no one got hurt and we just got beat by a good effort from a solid team. But I DO think a loss would give the team extra motivation to refocus, some stuff for Tony Bennett to pick on in practice, and begin to kind of rally the troops and begin the final surge in the Big Dance. I think we saw a team that was feeling a little too good against UMBC last year, and a loss right before the NCAA tournament would be a reminder that that just cannot be an option.
Val: Like Maize, I want to fill a second banner with ACC regular season titles. We've got a young coach, I want a 20-30 year era of ACC dominance. I want to do the regular season and tournament double. Again.
I've never really cared much about where we've assigned in the NCAA tournament, or who we're playing for that matter. You've got to play the team in front of you. Set 'em up and knock 'em down. But Seattle convinced me on the Hoos Cast: we want the DC regional. We want a home atmosphere and we want minimal travel. Duke and Kentucky have for years gotten favorable selection seedings. We're the most dominant team in the country right now. We've earned the right to have preferential seeding. Winning the ACC Tournament will go a long way towards offsetting Duke and UNC bias.
And that's a wrap. Thank you everyone. We'll be back next week to recap the ACC tourney and to preview March Madness. See you then!