The new year is here, technically, but if you live ACC Country your calendar likely centers around college basketball meaning January isn’t the beginning, it’s simply when the season really starts to get interesting. 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.
HOOS LOOKING GOOD: Here’s some breaking news: Virginia basketball is extremely fun to watch.
If you simply want to see scores in the 90s, you might not believe it. If you happen to own an Embrace The Pace T-shirt, you are probably saying that’s not news. Tony Bennett’s program has earned a reputation for slow play. His teams are unusually patient on offense and grind you down on defense, often resulting in low scores. Last season, Virginia lacked consistent shooters and some of its games were downright ugly.
But here’s the thing about the 2017-18 Cavaliers, if you like basketball at all, this team is incredibly entertaining. The defense is still stifling and that limits the number of possessions. That leaves UVa in the middle of the pack in the ACC, averaging 70 points per game. But these Cavs do everything that makes basketball fun.
They swat shots out of mid-air. Isaiah Wilkins, who recently entered the Top 10 on Virginia’s all-time shot blocking list is 6-7 on the roster, but probably even shorter in reality. Yet he has a knack for coming out of nowhere to reject seemingly open looks.
Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome can light up the scoreboard with range that extends roughly to the West Portico at Monticello. Guy is particularly deadly from the corners, but he and Jerome can both hit 3-pointers from all over the court.
And they’ll dunk in your face: Just ask North Carolina’s Joel Berry.
The entertainment value at John Paul Jones Arena is high and that’s good, because you’re going to be seeing more of this Virginia team than you might have expected. UVa began the year outside the Top 25 and is now No. 3 in the current AP Poll. The Cavs are 15-1 and 4-0 in the ACC. Right now they have to be the favorites to win the league and this might be a team built for a deep NCAA Tournament run because. It can win in so many different ways.
Do yourself a favor and check Virginia out.
IRISH ARE ALRIGHT: We were among the many who wondered just how good Notre Dame could be without star forward Bonzie Colson who was lost to injury for eight weeks.
It turns out the Fighting Irish are doing just fine, so far anyway. Notre Dame is on a five-game winning streak and sit just a half game back of Virginia in the ACC standings at 3-0. Sophomore guard T.J. Gibbs has stepped up for the Irish, scoring double figures in six of his past seven games. That included 18 to lead Notre Dame to a two-point victory at Syracuse.
It will get tougher for the Irish, who opened ACC play against Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and the Orange. But Mike Brey has to be pleased with the fact his team hasn’t collapsed without its unquestioned leader.
TALENTED TIGERS: Clemson is the only other team in the conference without an ACC loss, and much like Notre Dame, it will be interesting to see where the Tigers end up.
Clemson is riding a 10-game win streak and boast a Top 20 ranking. Victories against Boston College, NC State and Louisville have added some legitimacy to the Tigers lofty record. Five players are averaging at least 11.6 points per game, led by potential All-ACC pick Marcquise Reed at 15.9. There are certainly some good players on the roster.
But three of their next five games are against ranked opponents. That will be the true gauge for just how good this team is.
Shane Mettlen is a veteran journalist who lives in Virginia and also writes for The ACC Sports Journal. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneMettlen