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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Up and Down the ACC: Terps Remain Perfect in Face of Two Close Calls Last Week

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Photo Caption: Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas made her case for ACC Player of the Year honors last week, twice saving the undefeated and No. 5-ranked Terrapins from upsets that would have capped their 16-0 winning streak, Maryland’s best season start since 2006. Thomas, a sophomore who ranks second in the league in scoring at 17.6 points per game, posted a game-high 24 points, plus 11 boards, in Maryland’s come-from-behind 77-74 squeaker over Georgia Tech, then repeated the feat two days later with another 24 points, again a game-high, (including the game-tying layup that sent the game to extra minutes), plus eight rebounds, in leading the Terps to a 78-72 overtime victory over No. 22/21 North Carolina.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Maryland Athletics

By Rob Clough

The undefeated Maryland Terrapins survived a pair of “near-loss experiences” this week, coming back from the brink of defeat to barely edge out Georgia Tech (77-74) and North Carolina (78-72, OT) teams that seemingly had them put away.

Parsing The Week’s Results

The Terps were down by 20 at home against the physical Jackets, who spent the first half bullying the vaunted Maryland frontline. Alyssa Thomas came to the rescue, scoring 18 of her 24 points when Maryland went down 20, including a brilliant three-point play that put the Terps over the top when Maryland trailed by one in the final seconds of the game. Tech led by four with roughly two minutes left, but Lauren Mincy cut the gap, sandwiching a free throw between a pair of jumpers. Georgia Tech had the opportunity to put the game on ice when Sasha Goodlett picked Alicia DeVaughn’s pocket, but Metra Walthour missed the front end of a crucial one-and-one to leave themselves vulnerable to Thomas’s conventional three-point play. Suddenly it was the Jackets who were forced to foul, and Mincy was perfect from the line in the final seconds to seal a first-class nail-biter of a win.

Two days later, it was the Terps and the Heels trading runs in a game Maryland almost literally threw away, as North Carolina gleaned 28 points off Maryland’s 22 turnovers. (The Heels did a better job hanging onto the rock, coughing the ball up 17 times, which Maryland turned into just 10 points.) Maryland held its largest lead (nine points) late in the first half, and took a six-point lead in to the break. But Carolina battled back, and with a minute-and-a-half remaining in regulation, held a six-point lead (66-60).

But Lauren MIncy drained a huge three and forced a quick (and ill-advised) shot from North Carolina’s Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who only returned to the lineup for the first time this season after rehabbing a surgically repaired shoulder.  Mincy grabbed the rebound and Terp point guard Anjale Barrett scored in transition.

That still left the Terps down one (65-66) with under a minute to go. The scoreboard stood frozen as the clock ticked down to the final 12 seconds of regulation, and Maryland was forced to foul to keep its hopes alive. North Carolina star frosh Brittany Roundtree only hit one of her two penalty shots, and UNC had some fouls to give and used them.

With 3.7 seconds to go, Thomas went baseline and scored on a gorgeous reverse layup as time expired.  That sent the game into overtime, where the Heels led by three points with two minutes remaining.  Thomas, once again the hero for Maryland, hit a jumper and was fouled, but missed the free throw.  However, Terp Tianna Hawkins alertly got a rebound basket and scored, putting Maryland up for good.

The Terps weren’t all that tested by most of their non-conference schedule, but now, facing a brutal league schedule, they are proving that this is a team that deserves its No. 5 ranking in both major national polls. It’s also obvious that Alyssa Thomas is a leading contender for ACC Player of the Year at this point.

With Ruffin-Pratt back from shoulder surgery, joining center Waltiea Rolle, who returned to the line-up a week previously for the first time since delivering her daughter in November, the Tar Heels were finally approaching full strength last week. Coach Sylvia Hatchell, sensing that her team really needed help and needed it sooner rather than later, opted not to redshirt either Ruffin-Pratt or center Waltiea Rolle. 

Last week proved the wisdom of that decision, as two days after their narrow defeat by Maryland, North Carolina faced another dramatic game, this time one that went their way, as they defeated Virginia in double-overtime, 78-73. 

UNC is hosting the first round of the NCAA tournament this year, and one senses that there’s no way Hatchell is going to allow her squad to miss the tourney.

Virginia, coming off a tough loss to Duke, had their chances to win but just ran out of gas. Two Hoos played all fifty minutes!  They weren’t too gassed to defeat a horrible Clemson team, 54-47, a few days later, though that game was quite close at the half.

Duke had a relatively easy week as they defeated Wake Forest, 76-58, in a sloppy game. Superfrosh Elizabeth Williams notched a triple-double with 18 points, 16 rebounds and 12 blocks. 

The Devils then defeated NC State, 83-59, behind balanced scoring.  The final margin was 24 points, but State was within six with about six minutes to play before Duke knocked them out with a huge run down the stretch. 

It was a tough week for the Wolfpack Women, who three days earlier, fell behind by 20 points to Miami, rallied to within two points, and then ran out of steam in the final three minutes to lose, 68-78.  That’s a disturbing trend for a team trying to get a big-league win for their postseason resume. 

The ‘Canes are showing that they are still to be taken seriously with their first big road win of the year, defeating ultra-physical Georgia Tech, 77-65, in Atlanta on Monday.  Shenise Johnson’s 24 points showed that she’s still very much in the conversation to repeat as ACC Player of the Year.  Things will get easier soon for the Jackets, who should be able to rack up 10 league wins without too much difficulty.

In other ACC action, Florida State picked up easy wins over league doormats Clemson (59-47) and Virginia Tech (75-40), in the process getting some good minutes for the Seminoles’ bench and some much-needed confidence for their embattled guards.

Wake Forest made sure to take care of business in its easily winnable games by pounding hapless Boston College, 72-58. 

Finally, Virginia Tech defeated Boston College, 38-35, in a game that was close but about as pleasant to watch as a car wreck.

Trending Up: North Carolina

The Tar Heels took the best team in the league to overtime before losing, then outlasted a plucky Virginia team in two overtimes.  With the return of Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, the Heels are close to full strength.  They will still need time to get everyone in proper shape and clicking together, but it’s obvious that this year’s team has a lot more mental strength than last year’s squad.

Trending Down:  Boston College

The Eagles wrested away the “Worst Team in the ACC” title away from Virginia Tech and Clemson. Clemson is terrible but at least gave Virginia a tough game.  The Eagles lost at home, 35-38, to the Hokies in a game that featured scoreless stretches that threatened to poke into double-digit territory.  For the most part, BC’s upperclassmen have been a huge disappointment to this point of the season.

Current Standings

ACC Women’s Basketball Standings
(As of January 10, 2012)
Rank School Conf. Pct. Overall Pct.
1 Maryland 3-0 1.000 16-0 1.000
2 Duke 3-0 1.000 12-2 .857
3 Miami 2-1 .667 13-3 .812
4 North Carolina 2-1 .667 12-3 .800
5 Florida State 2-1 .667 10-7 .588
6 Virginia Tech 2-1 .667 6-10 .375
7 Wake Forest 1-1 .500 11-4 .733
8 Virginia 1-2 .333 13-4 .765
9 Georgia Tech 1-2 .333 11-5 .688
10 Boston College 0-2 .000 5-10 .333
11 NC State 0-3 .000 10-6 .625
12 Clemson 0-3 .000 4-10 .286
Source: TheACC.com

Full Court Surprise Player of the Week: Pepper Wilson, Miami

Photo Caption: Shawnice (“Pepper”) Wilson, Miami’s 6-6 junior center who transferred to Miami after two years at Pitt where she was named to the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team, has been averaging 6.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game off the bench in her first season as a Miami Hurricane. Wilson had a breakout game last week, more than doubling her rebounding average to 11 boards to go with seven points and three blocks, to help the ‘Canes to a 78-68 victory over North Carolina State in their ACC home opener.
Photo Credit: Courtesy HurricaneSports.com

Pepper Wilson, Miami’s big 6-6 back-up center, helped the ‘Canes fend off NC State down the stretch in her best performance (seven points, 11 rebounds, three blocks) to date as a Hurricane. Consistent contributions from Wilson would go a long way in helping Miami defend its regular-season ACC title of a year ago.

Stat of the Week

This is a new feature will highlight a statistical category, or a list of players with regard to a particular stat.  This week, it’s a discussion of potential ACC players of the year by statistical ranking. 

What goes into determining a POY candidate is a matter of some debate, but it’s obvious that stats play a huge role. And while some players may excel in one particular statistical category, such as scoring or rebounding, all-around statistical excellence is a better predictor of selection as Player of the Year.

That’s why Miami’s Shenise Johnson beat out Duke’s Jasmine Thomas last year; Thomas had fine numbers but was best known for her clutch performances in any number of games. For better or worse, however, the timing of key contributions does not show up in the stat sheet. Moreover, Johnson’s Miami team tied Duke for first place and her overall numbers in several different categories were outstanding. 

Based on that rubric of all-around excellence in multiple statistical categories, who are the league’s overall leaders at the moment?

The categories I considered were points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage, three-point field-goal percentage and assist/turnover ratio.  Obviously, some stats favor certain positions over others. For that reason, formulas like the Player Efficiency Rating are a better measure of actual performance. However, postseason award voters tend to look at unadjusted stats, so that’s what we’ll do here. 

Here’s a list of league players who currently rank in the top ten in three or more categories:

ACC Top Players’ Statistical Rankings
(As of January 10, 2012)
Player School Top-10 Categories Points Rebounds Assists ATO Blocks Steals FG% 3PT-FG% FT%
Shenise JohnsonMiami7#3 (16.4)#9 (7.3)#3 (5.4)#2 (2.2)#1 (4.1)#10 (.340)#6 (.841)
Chay ShegogNorth Carolina4#1 (17.9)#4 (8.5)#2 (2.9)#4 (.540)
Chelsea GrayDuke4#1 (6.3)#3 (2.1)#5 (2.6)#1 (.906)
Cierra BravardFlorida State4#6 (15.3)#8 (7.3)#10 (1.1)#6 (.523)
Riquna WilliamsMiami3#5 (16.0)#4 (2.7)#5 (.860)
Alyssa ThomasMaryland3#2 (17.4)#7 (7.6)#4 (.866)
Elizabeth WilliamsDuke3#2 (9.1) #1 (4.0)#10 (.490)
Lauren MincyMaryland3#7 (14.6)#4 (.407)#7 (.803)
Alexa DeluzioFlorida State3#8 (14.2)#9 (.347)#9 (.797)
Sasha GoodlettGeorgia Tech3#9 (14.0)#5 (1.7)#3 (.551)

Throw in Ty Marshall of Georgia Tech, who ranks No. 4 in scoring at 16.1 points per game and just outside the top 10 in several categories; Maryland’s Tiana Hawkins, who leads the league in both rebounding (9.6) and field-goal percentage (.625) and just missed the top 10 in blocks (No. 12 with 0.9 per game); and maybe North Carolina State’s Marissa Kastanek or Duke’s Tricia Liston, both of whom rank high in both three-point and free-throw percentage;  Florida State’s Natasha Howard, one of the league’s top rebounders and shot-blockers; and North Carolina super-frosh Brittany Rountree, who leads the league in three-point percentage, ranks among the league’s top 10 in steals, and just missed the list in several other categories, and you have a solid first shot at determining the ACC first and second all-conference teams.

Five ACC Games To Watch, 1/10/2012 - 1/16/2012

1. Maryland @ Miami, 1/12/12.  This is the game of the week, as the undefeated Terps will try to break Miami’s 33-game home-winning streak.  The Terps have been masters of the close win (“Overtime is our time,” anyone?), while Miami found a way to lose down the stretch against North Carolina and nearly coughed up a big lead against North Carolina State. 

They really are a different team at home, however, and Pepper Wilson finally came alive against NC State after struggling to find her way throughout much of the year.  If she rebounds well, that will anchor the ‘Canes. Expect Miami to win a close one and pull the ACC race a little tighter.

2. Florida State @ Duke, 1/13/12. Florida State continues to struggle, though they did gain some confidence by knocking off weak Clemson and Virginia Tech squads last week. Conversely, Duke has shown it can put points on the board and turn other teams over, and FSU is struggling with both turnovers and defense. 

If Alexa Deluzio gets hot, this could be a close game, because the Blue Devils have not proved themselves able to stop torrid
shooters.  Watch the foul battle closely as well: Both teams have somewhat thin rosters.  Duke, at least, has three solid veterans to throw into the game off the bench, a luxury FSU does not possess.  Look for a close first half and then for Duke to make a second run to take control of the game.

3. Miami @ Florida State, 1/15/12.  Miami is not a great road team, but their problems have come against teams that play great defense and have a lot of athletes.  Florida State lacks either of those qualities—only Chasity Clayton is an elite athlete, and FSU lacks quickness at the guard spot.  Look for Miami to win with ease.

4. North Carolina @ UConn, 1/16/12. While obviously not a conference game, this match-up has become an annual ritual of humiliation for the Heels regardless of venue. This year, however, they just might have a shot against the Huskies.  If She’la White is healthy, the Heels will have a fully stocked roster for the first time this season.  That depth could be key against a depleted UConn roster, which generally plays seven or eight at most.  The Heels’ chaotic style will see them committing a lot of turnovers, but this year’s UConn team is also vulnerable to pressure and might be harrassed into 20+ turnovers themselves. Carolina must control the boards and get multiple cracks at the basket if they want to win. Still, home-court advantage will help the Huskies, while the combination of a recent return to full strength and the road trip will likely flummox the Heels in the end.

5. Virginia @ Maryland, 1/16/12.  This is game could prove to be a trap for the Terps, if they underestimate the opponent in front of them while thinking ahead to their upcoming showdown with Duke.  Virginia is much improved under Joanne Boyle, and they certainly gave Maryland all sorts of headaches last year. Ultimately, Maryland should have too many weapons to lose to the Hoos at home, but Virginia will not go down quietly.

Originally published Wed, January 11, 2012

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
Rank remains unchanged since last week
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.