ACC Basketball notebook: Welcome to March, dishing out All-ACC honors as the regular season draws to a close
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to March.
The red buds have bloomed, the dogwoods are blooming, the mornings are warmer, the daylight lingers longer. The warmth of spring sits on the edge of the soft breeze. Somewhere, on a playground in Charlotte, a kid is pretending to hit this shot.
CALEB LOVE ARE YOU SERIOUS??????????
If #GoHeels can hang on to win, this will go down as one of the top 25 shots in the history of college basketball. #FinalFour pic.twitter.com/7S28MtrM5J
— WinGive (@WinGiveApp) April 3, 2022
Somewhere, on a farm in rural North Carolina, a kid whose Dad bought him Duke gear at six months old is practicing this shot.
30 years ago, Christian Laettner hit The Shot for @DukeMBB 👏
Still one of the greatest shots in #MarchMadness history pic.twitter.com/pZKf8iLhak
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 28, 2022
Somewhere in Atlanta, an office secretary is weeks away from picking a 13 seed to upset an offensively challenged Virginia team. Somewhere in Virginia, a teenager who sees a little of himself in Kihei Clark is hoping that office secretary is wrong.
March is upon us. Let the Madness commence.
All-ACC Regular Season Honors: Intro
Picking an All-ACC team is harder than those who storm the internet to shame any group of 5 players selected by someone other than themselves. The All-ACC ballot lacks any true guardrails, other than the suggestion that you pick no more than 3 players at guard or forward and center. Even if you pick 5, you might not include your ACC Freshman of the Year in that group, or your ACC 6th Man of the Year. There’s also the matter of picking a defensive player of the year, which begs bigger questions about whether you pick an elite defender who holds together a middling defense or a great defender on a defense that would be really good without him. Point being, it all sounds easy until you have to do it yourself. At which point, it suddenly becomes clear why it’s more fun to just throw stones from the safe glass house of the Twitterverse.
My ballot at Saturday Road won’t be official until Monday, and there are still 2 games (more below) that could change things, but here are the honors I’d dish out today, with just one weekend remaining before we head to the ACC Tournament.
Tyree Appleby, G, Wake Forest: The Wake Forest super senior has been a revelation after transferring in from Florida. He leads the ACC in scoring (18.7) and assists (6.2) per game, and is a big reason the Demon Deacons harbored NCAA at-large aspirations until Tuesday night, when Boston College won in Winston-Salem to all but vanquish those dreams. As long as Appleby maintains his grip on the scoring title- which is very likely barring a monster weekend from El Ellis — he’ll become the first player in the history of the ACC to lead the conference in scoring and assists in the same season. Heady stuff and why even if Appleby doesn’t give Wake Forest its second consecutive ACC Player of the Year (Alondes Williams won in 2021-22), he’ll clearly be a first team All-ACC selection.
Armando Bacot, C, North Carolina: Along with the rest of the college basketball watching universe, we’ve spent plenty of time digesting and diagnosing North Carolina’s fall from preseason No. 1 to bubble team over the past few months. The only reason the Tar Heels remain in the NCAA Tournament conversation is Bacot, who has averaged a double-double for the second consecutive season (16.5 points per game, 10.8 points per game) on his way to becoming the all-time leading rebounder in North Carolina basketball history. His production has waned in the past 2 weeks, but this Tar Heels team can’t reach — or win a game — in the Big Dance without him.
Kyle Filipowski, F, Duke: Duke’s No. 1 recruiting class has taken time to gel, but Filipowski has contributed from the beginning. Filipowski has averaged 14.8 points, 9 rebounds, and almost (.8) a block per game, leading the Blue Devils in the first two categories. Filipowski has given rookie coach Jon Scheyer a consistent stretch big, knocking down 30% of his 3-point attempts while also ranking in the top 100 in college hoops in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. The freshman grades out as the ACC’s top player from a KenPom efficiency standpoint and he’ll lead an improving Duke team into March Madness later this month.
Terquavion Smith, G, NC State: The Wolfpack are one of college basketball’s best turnaround stories, poised to return to the NCAA Tournament this season after finishing last in the ACC a season ago. At the center of it all is Smith, who is 3rd in the league in scoring (17.3 points per game), 5th in 3-point field goals made, 8th in assist-to-turnover ratio, 7th in assists, and 6th in steals. Smith isn’t the most efficient offensive player, but he’s the heartbeat of a Wolfpack team with 22 wins that will be dangerous in March.
Jordan Miller, Wing, Miami: Miller has been too good in ACC play to leave off this list, though Blake Hinson could replace him if Pitt wins in Coral Gables behind a strong Hinson performance this weekend and captures the ACC regular-season crown outright. If Miami wins, expect Miller to be a huge reason for the Hurricanes’ success. Miller’s offensive rating of 34th in KenPom reflects his brutal efficiency, a player who can drive, draws fouls, and is plenty capable of knocking down a jump shot. His effective field-goal percentage of 57.8% is best among the Canes’ perimeter options, and that group includes preseason All-ACC selection Isaiah Wong and flashy scorer Nijel Pack, who get more “pub” than Miller nationally. Miller averages 15.1 per contest, which ranks 2nd on the Hurricanes, but it’s all the other stuff he does that makes him so special. He’s 2nd on Miami not just in scoring, but rebounds (6 per game), assists (2.6 per game), steals (1.3 per game), and offensive rebounds (59), and leads the team in assist to turnover ratio. A complete player.
ACC Player of the Year: Tyree Appleby, G, Wake Forest
Would this Wake Forest team be postseason bound without Appleby? It could be, but it’s hard to replicate that level of production. I give him the edge over Bacot and Miller to grab this award, which feels warranted given that he’s about to accomplish something — leading the league in scoring and assists in one season — that’s never been done in ACC history.
ACC Sixth Man of the Year: Nike Sibande, G, Pittsburgh
The Panthers wouldn’t have a chance to share the ACC regular-season crown without Sibande, who has blossomed as a super senior in his second year under Jeff Capel II. Sibande has poured in 8 points and 4 rebounds a night off the bench for Pitt, shooting 33% from beyond the arc and grading out as “excellent” as an on-ball defender, per Hoops Lens. He’s been consistent throughout the year, but his signature game came in Pitt’s signature win, a manhandling of Virginia where Sibande scored 16 points, snagged 6 boards and dished out an assist. He edges out the likes of Dariq Whitehead (not enough games) and Virginia’s Ben Van der Plas (not consistent enough) for this honor.
ACC Defensive Player of the Year: Reece Beekman, Virginia
The UVA guard is 3rd in the ACC in steals, with 43, and grades out as an “Excellent” on-ball defender, per Synergy. He’s also a master at defending without fouling, as he’s charged just 2.1 fouls per 40 minutes, according to KenPom. Virginia’s defense ranks 26th in the country in KenPom Defensive Efficiency, which makes it the top unit in the ACC.
ACC Coach of the Year: Jeff Capel III, Pittsburgh
Capel went from hot seat to hero this season in Pittsburgh. The Panthers were a listless, dull outfit a season ago, and struggled in a Feast Week tournament early this season, losing by 31 to Michigan and 19 to Virginia Commonwealth. Things figured to get even worse when preseason All-ACC selection John Hugley IV stepped away from playing basketball to attend to his mental health. Capel never lost his resolve. Instead, he took a group of transfer portal afterthoughts and reclamation projects and molded them into a hard-nosed, tough basketball team reminiscent of the best teams Pitt used to field in its Big East days.
The result is a potential ACC regular-season crown, 2 bona fide All-ACC candidates in Blake Hinson and Jamarius Burton, and a team that will be a brutal out in March Madness. Pitt boasts the ACC’s 2nd-most efficient offense (29th in the country, per KenPom) and a top-100 defense that, despite a lack of interior girth without Hugley IV, knows what it is good and understands its weaknesses. That’s great coaching, and it’s why Capel has earned the ACC Coach of the Year honor usually reserved for coaching legends.
2 Games to Watch
(Saturday, March 4: YOU WILL NEED TWO SCREENS!)
Pitt at Miami, 6 PM (ACC Network): The No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament is on the line when the Panthers visit the Hurricanes. Pitt won the first meeting at the Oakland Zoo by 3 points. The Hurricanes have lost just once at home all year — last weekend to rival Florida State. Miami’s guard combination of Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack shot just 7-for-19 in the first meeting, scoring just 20 points between them. Meanwhile, Pitt’s Burton and Hinson combo poured in 40 points. Pitt might need to repeat that lopsided strength on strength performance to win.
Duke at North Carolina, 6:30 PM (ESPN): Senior night for Armando Bacot and Leaky Black, one a Carolina all-timer and another an all-time fan favorite and glue guy in Chapel Hill. As magnitude goes, it’s not “Coach K Farewell” night, but Jon Scheyer and his team would relish the chance to spoil a night Carolina would rather spend celebrating two program favorites. Duke is playing its best basketball as the calendar hits March. That was what North Carolina was doing last year. Are the roles entirely reversed? We’ll see Saturday night.