Let’s be honest, from Syracuse to Charlottesville down to Tobacco Road, the real holiday season has little to do with Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas lights or menorahs. The true reason we celebrate in ACC country is the start of college basketball season. Each week in this space we’ll take a look at the most interesting and important happenings around the league that made college hoops a national phenomenon.
UNDERSTATED EXCELLENCE: In trying to explain the steady progress senior guard Devon Hall has made throughout his career, Virginia coach Tony Bennett came up with an impressively descriptive metaphor and perhaps gave Hall a great nickname in the process.
“He’s the Crock-Pot, the slow cooker,” Bennett said. “He’s a great example of getting better. He’s improved every year. A little better, a little better. He’s added to his offense. Added to his defense. His strength and conditioning. He’s added to his mental approach. He’s really a pro about his work ethic. He’s remained patient and his role has slowly increased each year.”
Yes, Devon “The Crock-Pot” Hall has slowly and quietly become one of the most important players in the ACC. It’s easy to forget that five years ago Bennett brought in a recruiting class that included Hall and point guard London Perrantes. Hall, a top-100 prospect according to 247Sports, was easily the more heralded recruit. But it was Perrantes who stepped into a starting roll almost immediately, earned All-ACC honors and recently made his NBA debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
While Perrantes was leading UVA to an ACC title and No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed, Hall redshirted. The next season he played 10 minutes a game and averaged 1.8 points.
But his scoring average went up three points as a sophomore, then four more as a junior. So far this season he’s improved by four points per game again, and is averaging 12.6. He’s also a main reason the Cavs have avoided the lengthy scoring droughts that plagued it last season.
Mostly a jump shooter a year ago, The Crock-Pot has the added ingredient of getting to the lane this season. As well as Kyle Guy can light it up from 3-point range, when Virginia really needs a bucket, Hall is the one who can take it to the defense, score while drawing contact and get the free throw line, where he’s shooting 92 percent.
Right now there are a handful of teams that could reasonably expect to be in the mix for the ACC championship, if Virginia is going to stay in that group the fifth-year senior is going to be a huge reason why.
UNLUCKY SEVENTH: North Carolina coach Roy Williams was hoping to see his sophomore point guard Seventh Woods emulate Virginia’s Hall with a nice jump in production after playing less than eight minutes per game and averaging 1.5 points per game.
But the development of the former prodigy Woods will almost certainly be hampered by multiple injuries, including a stress fracture in his left foot, and is expected to miss at least a month.
It’s an unfortunate development for the 6-1 Columbia, S.C., native, who seemingly had a prime opportunity to earn major minutes and take some pressure off reigning FInal Four Most Outstanding Player Joel Berry, who missed four weeks of preseason practice himself with a broken hand.
Woods has always been an intriguing prospect. A supreme athlete, he was considered one of the top players in his class after staring for his high school varsity team as a 14-year-old eighth grader.
But things have been slow to click at UNC, and with Woods likely looking at a much bigger role next season it has to be concerning for the Tar Heels how much the missed time will harm his development.
FLYING HIGH: Boston College is in first place in the ACC. Those are nine words you probably didn’t think you would see any time soon, but after one conference game it’s true.
It will surely change once more league games are played, and even if the upset victory against Duke is a complete aberration, the Golden Eagles deserve just a few minutes to discuss the progress Jim Christian has made in four seasons. BC is coming off back-to-back last place finishes in the ACC, and won just two conferences games total the past two seasons.
Now the Eagles are 8-3 and 1-0 in the conference. And though BC is a geographic outlier in the league, it’s worth noting that Christian went deep into Tobacco Road to land his two leading scorers. Junior Jerome Robinson (17.2 ppg) and sophomore Ky Bowman (16.8) are both from North Carolina.
Shane Mettlen is a veteran journalist who lives in Virginia and also writes for The ACC Sports Journal. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneMettlen