This is probably the most ridiculous time of year in college basketball, as stakeholders try to act like they know what to expect from 2018-2019. There are a million cliches out there about the beginnings of a season, and all of them are essentially on a loop from the mouths and keyboards of pundits and prognosticators.
To wit: Team X “hasn’t played anybody yet, just wait until conference play starts.” Player X is “adjusting to her new role in the offense” or (if it’s a freshman) “adjusting to the game at this level,” “learning to see the floor,” etc. Whether it’s the squishy and undefined (“establishing team chemistry”) or the hard-line statistical approach (“SMALL SAMPLE SIZE”), week one reveals so little.
But one significant aspect of the first week of a season is that a baseline is established, from which all else will launch. Teams and players that look dominant, even if they haven’t actually proven it, get the early-season buzz and rankings boosts that set the table for the rest of the year. Wins and losses count now, and a dramatic showing of either in the early going can set a team up for how opponents might approach them, how they’ll fit into the national picture, and whether or not they’ll be chosen for the NCAA Tournament in March. After week one we know everything, and we know nothing.
So, thus far, here is what we know about the ACC:
Sue Semrau’s Florida State Seminoles began their campaign with a pair of home victories in Tallahassee – a 103-67 drubbing of Troy, and a 74-53 rout of North Florida. They capped the week with a solid win over rival Florida, 63-56. This year’s ‘Noles are mostly a young team, but they have a few very talented veteran leaders and some bright new stars. Freshman forward Valencia Myers is putting up 13.3 points and 8.7 rebounds a game so far, while sophomore Savannah Wilkinson is contributing a solid eight and six off the bench. The junior duo of Nicki Ekhomu and Kiah Gillespie are averaging a whopping 36.3 points combined. If the team can continue to produce these kinds of numbers, they will be dangerous.
No. 24 Miami routed Florida International, 94-43, dispatched Stephen F. Austin, 81-60, and pulled out a closer-than-expected 75-62 win over Hartford on the strength of a balanced scoring attack. The Hurricanes have two starters averaging double digits in Mykea Gray (13.3 points per game) and Beatrice Mompremier (15.7 points, along with 10.7 rebounds per game). Sarah Mortenson and Emese Hoff contributed 12 and 11.3 points per game off the bench, respectively. Coach Katie Meier has mostly sophomores and juniors, which is an ideal mix of experience and potential for further growth. If everything clicks, Miami could be dialed in and scary come March.
Wake Forest has thee solid, but by no means dominant, victories. Beating Towson, Mercer and Richmond by a combined 191-155 at home is good for the win-loss column but is less beneficial for the season’s overall outlook. The Demon Deacons’ trio of dynamic scorers (Ivana Raca, Elisa Penna, and Ona Udoh) are filling it up as expected, but coach Jen Hoover will need to find better contributions from the rest of her roster moving forward.
No. 5 Louisville started the year on the road, where they beat Western Kentucky 102-80 in their debut and then handled Chattanooga, 75-49. Coach Jeff Walz’s squad has predictably been led by the electric play of senior Asia Durr, whose 28.5 points per game are coming via truly insane shooting splits: 54.3 percent from the floor, 48 percent behind the arc, and a perfect 100 percent at the stripe. Arica Carter is the team’s only other double-digit scorer so far, averaging 11 off the bench. But this is a deep squad, with five other players averaging between six and nine points in various capacities. The Cardinals will need to step up their rebounding (no player is averaging double-digit boards; senior guard Yacine Diop has the team high at 7.0), but Durr by herself is enough to keep them competitive with just about any opponent.
Sylvia Hatchell’s Tar Heels routed Elon in their opener, but put up a less-than-ideal performance in their first home game, against Kent State. A 73-60 final is still a win, but a team with North Carolina’s aspirations shouldn’t allow runs like the one the Golden Flashes had going into halftime. On the bright side, the Tar Heel’s primary weapons are performing as advertised thus far, with Paris Kea averaging 21 points per outing and Janelle Bailey, 13 points and 8.5 boards. Shayla Bennett, a transfer from Gulf Coast State College, has been a revelation. The junior guard is averaging 12.5 points, 6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game and has stolen the ball a team-high seven times. North Carolina is still finding their groove, but the signs are there for good things to come.
Clemson started off with two victories at home: 85-77 over Wofford, and a 68-26 thrashing of Lipscomb. Their dynamic trio of Danielle Edwards, Simone Westbrook, and Kobi Thornton is averaging a preposterous 44 points and 18.5 boards combined, and that’s including a lot of down time during the Lipscomb game. Coach Amanda Butler’s squad looks promising, but will need more contributions from the bench as they move towards tougher tests on the schedule.
Boston College is 2-0 after beating up on Rhode Island, 88-64, and Saint Peter’s University, 89-57. The Eagles have four players averaging 10+ points, and a whole team full of glass-cleaning rebound hounds. So far the team is snagging 58.5 boards a game, while opponents are managing just 34.5. If they can maintain anything like that superiority against ACC competition, they should be able to give anyone a fight simply by keeping the ball out of the opposition’s hands.
Virginia Tech logged two convincing home wins over South Carolina Upstate (96-45) and Georgia Southern (78-49), as both starters and bench players poured in points. Seniors Regan Magarity and Taylor Emery, sophomores Trinity Baptiste and Aisha Sheppard, and freshman Dara Mabrey (younger sister to Notre Dame standouts Michaela and Marina) are all averaging double figures so far. With that kind of firepower at coach Kenny Brooks’ disposal, there’s a chance Tech might make a little more noise this year than anticipated.
Wes Moore’s North Carolina State squad has put away two double-digit wins against Belmont (77-62) and Kent State (78-61). Strong contributions from starters Grace Hunter (15.5 points per game) Aislinn Konig (13), and Kiara Leslie (11), are being bolstered by bench scoring from Kai Crutchfield (11.5) and Elissa Cunane (10.5). That uptick is coming partly from efficient shooting behind the arc. The Pack are 20-44 (.455) from deep, compared to opponents going just 22-73 (.301.) Tack on 20 more total assists than their competition so far, and that’s a great recipe to move forward with in Raleigh.
No. 1 Notre Dame has played just one game so far, but it was a doozy: a 103-58 thrashing of Harvard. The Irish opened their title defense with the same terrifying attack that allowed them to cut down the nets last year. Arike Ogunbowale and Jessica Shepard equaled their opponent’s point total by themselves. Brianna Turner, back as a graduate player after missing last year injured, looked looked back to form with an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double. Throw in the returning production of Jackie Young and a coming-out game for sophomore Mikayla Vaughn (12 points, six boards), and it was a demolition of a game. What’s even more scary is that Marina Mabrey didn’t even play; the senior guard is out with a quad injury to start the year, but is scheduled to return to the court soon. A fully- healthy team, with coach Muffet McGraw in charge of this level of talent is, in a word, terrifying for the rest of the conference, and the country.
No. 18 Syracuse, meanwhile, played the game of the year so far over the weekend. After opening with a typical 85-49 win over North Dakota, the Orange went to Oregon to face the No. 3 Ducks, and gave them everything they could handle. Behind impressive performances from Tiana Mangakahia (15 points, eight assists, four rebounds), Gabrielle Cooper, and Amaya Finklea-Guity (11 points each and nine combined boards), ‘Cuse very nearly took Oregon down in their own gym. The 75-73 barn burner may have ended in a loss, but coach Quentin Hillsman’s team proved they can hang with the best in a hostile road environment, and that should put their expectations, already substantial coming into the year, at the highest level.
Georgia Tech and Pitt are both 1-1, and both teams will likely be erratic all year and play the part of spoiler rather than making any serious charge at conference bragging rights.
Virginia is 0-1. But in fairness, losing to No. 6 Mississippi State, even by a 44-72 margin, isn’t horrible on its own. The problem was that outside of a well-played third quarter, the Cavaliers just aren’t yet a coherent team.
Last but not least: the now-unranked Duke. The Blue Devils, who were No. 21 going into the season, opened with a blowout win over Evanston, and were, in turn, blown out by Northwestern. Leaonna Odom put up a nice 14-14 (points/rebounds), Haley Gorecki scored 10 points, and Rayah Craig kicked in 13 off the bench. But despite some good showings from other players, there were two problems: 1. Duke shot the ball poorly and turned it over 24 times. Coach Joanne P. McCallie is too experienced and the squad, too talented to think of this as much more than an opening-game fluke from a team that is still adjusting to losses from graduation and injury.