There are some teams in this conference who operate at a high level regardless of whether or not they are at full strength. Case in point, Duke was able to hold off the #2 team in the nation despite losing the 2018 number 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. UNC is 3-0 despite playing without both Joel Berry and Cam Johnson at points in this season, including destroying Stanford in Palo Alto last night. Louisville has been, OK I guess, despite the loss of incoming freshman Brian Bowen. Miami has also been able to overcome a slow start by potential ACC POTY Bruce Brown.
There are some teams however, whose success arguably depends on a single player and his capabilities. Some coaches are often forced to construct their entire game plan around the strengths of single talented individual and I think this year that is glaring in several of the top/mid tier teams in the league.
Battle has fulfilled just about every flattering preseason projection that was thrown out there, leading the Orange to a 4-0 start. Battle is averaging 23 points per game while shooting 43% from deep, and owning an impressive .608 eFG%. The Orange have needed every bit of it too, as grad transfer Geno Thorpe has been hindered by a lingering ankle injury, only managing 15 minutes per game thus far. While Marek Dolezaj and Franklin Howard have been better than expected, Matthew Moyer and Oshae Brissett have been pretty underwhelming. I expect Syracuse’s success to taper quite drastically when their competition picks up, but they did look very good blowing out a really good mid major team in Oakland yesterday evening. Freshman big man Pascal Chukwu looked really impressive, but once again, it was Battle leading the charge. If he has an off night Syracuse will almost definitey be collecting an L.
Ben Lammers-Georgia Tech
This one is the most obvious on the list. The Jackets would have lost by double digits to Bethune-Cookman on Sunday if not for Vanilla Godzilla, who fooled around and nearly put up a triple double with 19 and 13 to go along with 8 blocks. Lammers also contributed two assists but that doesn’t do him justice. If this were hockey, he would have had half a dozen. Pastner relies on the senior big man to continually make good decisions out of the high post location. He is basically the quarterback in GT’s basketball triple option. On every offensive set he is either shooting the foul line jumper, handing off to the guard going over the top of him or throwing the back door to the cut man. The Jackets have one more game before the return of Tadric Jackson and a couple more weeks before Josh Okogie returns, which will alleviate some of what is required of Big Ben, but the offense will still run through him almost exclusively all season.
Bonzie Colson-Notre Dame
You would think a team with the expectations as high as Notre Dames would be a bit more versatile, but nearly every possession is predicated on Bonzie touching the ball at least once (usage rate is currently a career high 27%), and rightfully so, he’s a beast. I am a huge fan of Farrell and my thoughts on Temple Gibbs are well known, but this team probably wouldn’t experience a postseason without the senior post man. He is currently averaging 20/10/2 with an eFG% of a crazy 66%. Notre Dame has been playing cupcake city up to this point, but the schedule gets a whole lot tougher with LSU up next and Michigan State on deck.
I have been thoroughly impressed with Virginia so far this season, and when my ACC power rankings come out Friday, a lot of people outside of Charlottesville are going to think I’m kind of mentally inept, but it’s just what I see. Before the season the biggest question mark was whether or not Guy could play adequate defense as well as handle being “the man” after losing London Perrantes to graduation. Well, early on, Mr. Guy has done that and more. His numbers have improved across the board. Guys steal % has nearly quadrupled, his turnover rate has decreased, while his effective field goal percentage has increased and he has seen his usage rate increase by 6%. His points produced total is already around 30% of last years season total. Now, before people start making fun of me for getting too geeked up about these numbers after four games, Virginia has played some people. They have played UNCG, at VCU and vs Monmouth on a neutral floor. Those are not cupcakes.
I have not been overly impressed by Ty Jerome so far, though he was pretty clutch in the UNCG game, and until Sunday, I thought DeAndre Hunter looked pretty lost. Jay Huff showed a little something something in one game, but has not been effective in the last two. If Bennett can get something out of those three and they remain consistent it will certainly go a long way to taking some of that pressure off of Guy and making UVA much more successful. Based on what I have seen, this is a Sweet 16 team with a lot of potential.