By Rob Clough
Parsing The First Three Weeks' Results: There aren't many huge surprises so far in the ACC season. Duke, Maryland and Notre Dame have proven to be worthy top ten teams. UNC is a little bit behind them but brimming with promise. Florida State and Georgia Tech have played tough schedules and are another step behind the heavyweights. Beyond that, the biggest pleasant surprise to date has been the play of Virginia Tech, the team I predicted to finish last place in the ACC. Their new players have significantly upgraded the team's offense and made everyone better. I'll discuss Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Clemson below, but let's start with the other two top ten squads.
Notre Dame hasn't missed a beat thus far, even as they're adjusting to the absence of Skylar Diggins. The Irish also had to deal with an early-season injury to center Natalie Achonwa. All that did was accelerate the development of versatile frosh forward Taya Reimer, who has proven to be a double-double machine. Lindsay Allen has stepped in for Diggins and has proven to be a steady court leader who can also score. Notre Dame has mowed down lesser opponents and taken care of business against ranked clubs like Michigan State and DePaul. The usual suspects (Jewel Loyd, Kayla McBride) are doing their usual good work; indeed, Loyd is one of the top five scorers in the ACC.
Maryland put up a solid battle against #1 UConn but wound up losing by 17 points. While Alyssa Thomas has been putting up double-doubles like mad, the rest of the team is still in an adjustment phase. Coach Brenda Frese is happy to have the problem of having a lot of players to fit into her lineup and create proper chemistry, but this process will take a while. That's especially true since players like Laurin Mincy and Brene Moseley are still working the rust off their games because of injury, The Terps are also missing the rebounding of Tianna Hawkins, and their team rebounding has dropped off a bit as a result. This has played out in close calls against lesser foes like USF and Drexel, both of whom played the Terps down to the wire. However, the Terps did win those games and those experiences will undoubtedly be crucial to the development of their younger players.
UNC looked out of control in their loss to Tennessee (our coverage), but their young players never gave up the fight. That was a weird, frenetic forty minutes of basketball as both teams tried to speed the other up and into mistakes, and both teams succeeded. The difference was that the Lady Vols had a handful of go-to plays that worked off of penetration and they took better shots from long range. The Heels were constantly in motion but not on the same page. Of course, that controlled chaos worked well against foes such as Air Force, Coppin State and Coastal Carolina. Against a decent but not great UCLA team, things were much tighter. However, frosh star Alisha Gray has been an early season standout, as well as fellow frosh forward Stephanie Mavunga. Mavunga is an absolute workhorse down low and despite being just 6-2 is already a better defender than the bigger posts UNC has had in recent years. A third frosh, Jessica Washington, is doing a solid job as a playmaker. (The highest-profile frosh in the ACC, Diamond DeShields, is discussed below). Other than Xylina McDaniel and Brittany Rountree, the Heels don't have a lot of other players giving consistent production. Still, this is a team that will only get better.
Florida State is marking time until they get some reinforcements in January, but this squad has come together rather quickly. The Noles had a 4 point lead with a minute left against #4 Louisville but mistakes and foul trouble led to a loss in overtime. Still, that game proved that they can go toe-to-toe with nearly anyone. They dispatched Cincinnati on the road and handled arch-rival Florida as Northwestern transfer Morgan Jones has stepped in to become the team's leading scorer. The heart and soul is of course Natasha Howard, who has been a steady scorer, rebounder and defender. Frosh guard Brittany Brown has been a fantastic utility player, capable of doing a little bit of everything. Point guard Cheetah Delgado has seriously upgraded her offense while still dishing out six assists a game. When they add some depth in January, this is a team that will make some noise in the ACC.
Georgia Tech has played a demanding schedule and dropped competitive games against Tennessee and Georgia. Kaela Davis has more than lived up to the hype as she's the #3 scorer in the ACC at 20 ppg. She's shooting an impressive 44% from long range. The rest of the team is a work in progress, as Ty Marshall is still working her way back into the lineup. Nariah Taylor has shown flashes of being a decent post scorer this season, but foul trouble has limited her in every game. There are a lot of parts on this team and I sense that coach MaChelle Joseph is still hoping that some young players start to make a leap. If that doesn't happen soon, the rotation will need to be shortened.
Under new coach Wes Moore, NC State has taken care of business. They don't have any signature wins as of yet, but they've avoided trap games like Tulane and Towson, putting every opponent away by double figures. The players are flourishing in this more fluid offensive setting, especially post Markeisha Gatling and forward Kody Burke. Both are averaging double figures in scoring, though I imagine Moore would like both of them to increase their rebounding output. What's interesting about this team is that there are six other players averaging between six and seven points per game, which speaks to the balance that Moore loves and the fact that everyone is getting an opportunity to shoot. Unheralded frosh Miah Spencer and Ashley Williams are a big part of this, and that duo has combined to shoot 42% from the three point line. The Wolfpack Women won't have a real test until they play LSU in late December, but they're steady right now. (Our coverage of NC State's 70-47 win over St. Bonaventure)
Syracuse is another young squad that's rolled through fairly weak competition. They did open on the road against Washington State and squeaked that one out thanks to defense and rebounding. As promised, guards Brittney Sykes and Brianna Butler have taken up the slack left by the departing senior class and are scoring at will. Sykes is averaging 21 ppg and Butler 13. As coach Quentin Hillsman promised, post Shakeya Leary has stepped up to become a productive paint scorer and rebounder. Something to watch, however, is that she's shooting just over 40% from the floor. That means a lot of missed chippies, which could be problematic down the line against bigger foes. The Orange have six other players averaging between five and eight points, which has been indicative of solid depth and balance. The upcoming Paradise Jam will be a great test for them as they face Texas, Memphis and Texas A&M.
Boston College has been struggling with injuries to two players who were supposed to help out in the post in Karima Gabriel and Amber Cooper. Still the Eagles gave Stanford a tremendous battle despite being badly outrebounded, and they lost a heartbreaker to BYU on the road. The Eagles need wins and will face a couple of good squads in Cancun in Iowa and USC; going 3-0 over Thanksgiving would give this team a huge boost.
Miami is a squad that's undergoing some growing pains while trying to figure out roles. All nine players on the roster but one has had at least one start in just five games. The one player who hasn't, frosh guard Jessica Thomas, has proven to be one of the team's best scorers at 12 ppg and 44% from three. Jassany Williams has shown that she's a solid post scorer, rebounder and defender. However, the kind of take-over leader that Miami tends to have has not yet emerged, as likely candidate Suriya McGuire has had mixed results in terms of production. The two solid mid-major opponents that Miami has faced, Richmond and Middle Tennessee, edged out the Canes both times. The Canes can't afford many more of those sorts of losses if they hope to achieve their goal of postseason play.
Pitt is also struggling a bit under new coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, as they've dropped games to Lafayette and Michigan. They were badly outrebounded by the Leopards and shot just 30% from the floor in a game that showed how badly the Pirates can founder when no one other than guard Brianna Kiesel plays well; she had a third of the team's 45 points. In the loss to Michigan, Pitt was simply overwhelmed at the defensive end. This is a low-expectations year for the Panthers, so the team simply needs to continue trying to gel in its new style of play.
Finally, Wake Forest has proven to be a two-woman team in Chelsea Douglas (the ACC's leading scorer) and Dearica Hamby (#4 in scoring, #3 in rebounding). Frosh wing Kelila Atkinson finally became healthy enough to play, which boosted Wake to an easy win over Radford and a road victory over Arizona. There have been signs of life from fellow frosh Jill Brunori (working hard in the paint) and Ataijah Taylor (a potential third or fourth option on the perimeter), but the other veterans have simply not shown that they can be competitive at this level.
Best Win: Duke 70, Cal 58. Duke opened up with a road win against a top ten opponent and controlled the game nearly from beginning to end. At 5-0, Duke is pretty much playing as expected, though the loss of Haley Peters to a minor injury has forced them to accelerate the development of their young bench post players. Chelsea Gray is healthy again, Tricia Liston is shooting 53% from three, and Elizabeth Williams took a major step by dominating Marquette's big post players on the road. The Devils also picked up quality wins against Marquette and Vanderbilt, both of whom are top thirty teams. Duke still has flaws, but they have a lot of pop. They are hoping that the day-to-day injury of versatile forward Haley Peters winds up being minor, because she's a key part of the offense and their leading rebounder. You can follow our DWHoops coverage of Duke here.
Worst Loss: James Madison 63, Virginia 46.. JMU is a fine mid-major program thanks to coach Kenny Brooks, but a 17 point loss to start the season was not a great omen for a Virginia team aiming at an NCAA berth. What was most distressing is that this game showed that returning players like Lexie Gerson and Kelsey Wolfe still have a way to go to being in top form, as well the fact that none of Virginia's frosh had an immediate impact. The Hoos bounced back to win three in a row before being stopped by West Virginia. In a league dominated by high-scoring stars, Virginia is looking like they're at a major disadvantage. That can be overcome by depth and balance, but they have to start getting better production out of every player. The fact that their defense isn't at peak level either certainly didn't help their cause.
Trending Up: Virginia Tech. The best story in the ACC so far is the emergence of the Hokies. Adding a number of young players who can pass and shoot the ball, as well as team-wide health and better resulting chemistry, have made all the difference in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech could already defend, but they're averaging an incredible 78 points per game in their first five wins. For a team that didn't even make it to 50 ppg last season, it's an incredible turnaround. They've been doing it against solid (if unranked) opponents, as well, defeating Richmond, Florida, and Old Dominion. They made a comeback against Hofstra and Monet Tellier's jumper sent it into overtime, where she sealed the win with a couple of free throws.
Trending Down: Clemson. The Tigers have had a rough time of it, losing leading scorer Nikki Dixon to injury and top rebounder Quinyotta Pettaway to a four-game suspension. That led to ugly losses to Davidson, South Carolina and Charleston Southern, games in which the Tigers didn't look the least bit competitive. However, going to Tampa and beating a top-thirty club in South Florida without those two players gives Clemson some hope, especially since younger players like Charmaine Tay (21 points, 12 rebounds) stepped up to lead Clemson. Still, the Tigers have a long way to go.
Surprise Player Of The Week: . Vanessa Panousis, Virginia Tech. The Hokies struggled last year without a reliable point guard. The frosh Canadian is averaging 13 ppg, 4 apg and is shooting 39% from three point range. She's made both Monet Tellier and Uju Ugoka better players. She's also playing 31 mpg and doing so with ease. She's has to be considered a near-lock for the All-Frosh team at this point.
Three Games To Watch (11/27 - 12/3/2013):
If you enjoy our weekly Digest, please consider supporting our work by purchasing our 2014 ACC Annual for just $6.95. It includes a free site membership good through November 17, 2014! The Digest will return on Wednesday, December 4th as we resume our weekly updates.
The ACC Women's Basketball Digest and ACCWBBDigest.com are published by DWHoops. Website Contents are Copyright ©
2012-2015 DWHOOPS.COM (Orin A. Day, Durham, NC, USA.),
All Rights Reserved.
Website Contents are Copyright ©
2012-2015 DWHOOPS.COM (Orin A. Day, Durham, NC, USA.),
All Rights Reserved.