A glimpse at the ACC

With college basketball teams across the ACC about a third of the way through the season, and with the annual mid-December slow period upon us, it's a good time to take a spin around the conference and size up what we have seen so far.
Some teams, like Duke, are off to good starts but are still looking for an extra element or two to really start peaking, while others have struggled to meet early expectations.
Today, we'll look at half of the league. Friday, we'll glance at the other six teams.
Record: 6-2 (1-0 ACC)
Best Wins: Michigan State, Maryland
Bad Losses: Vermont
What's gone right
Jared Dudley is picking up right where he left off last year. The ACC player of the year candidate has put up 17 straight games of 17 or more points, and he is within a whisker of averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds through eight games. Boston College is also getting increased production from forward Sean Marshall, who has become a double digit scorer this season after averaging less than four points per game last year. Guard Tyrese Rice has been very consistent as the team's overall floor leader. The Eagles are playing their usual big lineup, so Rice spends plenty of time handling the basketball and so far is scoring 14 points and dishing five assists per game.
What's gone wrong
The Eagles had a couple of slips early as they lost to Vermont and Providence in back to back games, but it appears they have succeeded in putting those setbacks in the rearview mirror. There are a couple of trouble spots on the team though. Boston College ranks last in the league in three point shooting by a pretty wide margin, and the team's 10th ranked + 1.2 rebounding margin is not as good as it should be with the size they have available. Perhaps that is a result of still trying to completely replace Craig Smith.
Top Scorer: Dudley (19.3)
Top Rebounder: Dudley (9.5)
Early postseason projection: NCAA
Record: 10-0 (0-0 ACC)
Best Wins: Old Dominion, Mississippi State
Bad Losses: None
What's gone right
For starters, the Tigers have won every game so far and have the ACC's top ranked scoring margin per game. Although they have put those numbers up against one of the league's weakest non-conference schedules, there are some quality wins in the bunch, including impressive victories over Mississippi State and South Carolina. Clemson's athletic lineup has been very successful with guards Vernon Hamilton, Cliff Hammonds, and K.C. Rivers leading the way. Rivers leads the team in scoring even though he is not a starter, while forward James Mays has been one of the league's most versatile players. Freshman forward Trevor Booker has been a major presence in the post, a big area of concern in preseason. Defensively, the Tigers have been statistically very strong, but it will be a major challenge to continue near that level of success in ACC play.
What's gone wrong
Clemson's biggest problem is the same one the Tigers had last year, and that is free throw shooting. Oliver Purnell's team is last in the league with a 60 percent mark. For Clemson to have any chance of sustaining success in league play, that number will likely have to improve. Even with the long athletes and ability to pressure on the perimeter with their guards, the Tigers lack a bruiser inside. Booker's contributions have been invaluable, but he stands only 6'7" and Mays is a versatile player that spends some time away from the goal. Even with the team's 10-0 start, there's not a real signature win on the schedule yet, and that may bite them in March similar to what happened to Florida State last year.
Top Scorer: Rivers (14.9)
Top Rebounder: Mays (7.5)
Early postseason projection: NIT
Record: 9-1 (0-0 ACC)
Best Wins: Air Force, Georgetown
Bad Losses: None
What's gone right
If defense does indeed win championships, then Duke has nothing to worry about. The Blue Devils have been a force on the defensive end, leading the league in scoring defense by nearly five points per game while ranking second in the ACC in field goal percentage defense. Duke has an improved defensive team this year even without Shelden Williams in the paint. The Blue Devils have been very disciplined in the half court and have sprinkled various type of traps to ratchet up the pressure. The result is a team that has allowed just two opponents to top 55 points in a game. Offensively, DeMarcus Nelson has developed into a consistent scorer, while Josh McRoberts leads the team in assists. Though Duke's heralded freshmen class still has a long way to go to reach its potential, all four players have contributed something so far, with Jon Scheyer leading the way with 10.2 points per game.
What's gone wrong
Duke's offensive struggles have put Blue Devil fans in a very strange situation. Mike Krzyzewski's team ranks last in the league in scoring offense, a good distance away from 11th ranked NC State. The finger of blame has been pointed at various places, but the biggest area of concern has to be at point guard, where sophomore Greg Paulus has yet to find a consistent groove. Although he's had two recent good outings against Georgetown and George Mason, his 34 turnovers on the year are definitely worrisome. Duke appears to be still be adjusting from the side effects of not having Paulus for nearly all of preseason practice when he was out with a foot injury. Individual roles have already been redefined a couple of times because of that preseason injury. Duke now has one less player than it had at the start of the season. Jamal Boykin decided to transfer after coming down with mononucleosis and returning home to California.
Top Scorer: Nelson (14.9)
Top Rebounder: McRoberts (6.8)
Early postseason projection: NCAA
Record: 8-2 (0-0 ACC)
Best Win: Florida
Bad Losses: None
What's gone right
The Seminoles shouldn't have any issues with their non-conference schedule when the NCAA Selection Committee meets in March. FSU has a major win over Florida and a pair of other road losses against top tier competition, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin. Player of the Year candidate Al Thornton has been just as good as expected, excelling on both ends of the court, and guard transfer Toney Douglas has added a major perimeter offensive threat. The Seminoles are a hard team to guard because of their explosiveness at multiple positions, in addition to their league leading 75 percent free throw shooting clip. Defensively, the Seminoles force opponents into a lot of mistakes. FSU leads the league in steals and its opponents have turned the ball over nearly 20 times per game.
What's gone wrong
Even with the addition of Douglas, Florida State could use some better perimeter shooting. The team ranks 10th in three point field goal percentage and needs to get some more offensive production from Jason Rich, who so far this season has seen his scoring average go down from a year ago. Part of that is probably due to the team adjusting to Douglas being in the backcourt, but if Rich can start putting in 13-15 points per night instead of 9.7, the Seminoles are going to be tough to beat. Interior play could use a shot in the arm. Thornton can play around the goal, but he is best utilized in several spots. FSU needs a key rebounding presence and right now it doesn't have one. The team ranks last in the league in rebounding margin.
Top Scorer: Thornton (15.8)
Top Rebounder: Thornton (6.1)
Early postseason projection: NCAA
Record: (6-3, 0-1 ACC)
Best Win: Memphis
Bad Losses: Miami, Vanderbilt
What's gone right
The Yellow Jackets had a very nice run at the Maui Invitational, putting up wins over Purdue and Memphis before dropping the championship game to UCLA. For the most part, Georgia Tech has been getting offensive production where it needs it. Sophomore Lewis Clinch has raised his game up significantly. Clinch has scored in double figures all nine games this year and has been deadly from the three point line. Although both freshmen Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton have already experienced some growing pains, their impact has been substantial. The scoring punch of Clinch, Young, Crittenten, and forward Jeremis Smith has made the Jackets one of the league's top offensive teams.
What's gone wrong
Georgia Tech is a near opposite of Duke. For all of their offensive output this year, the Jackets have struggled defensively. They are surrendering nearly 75 points per game and are coming off a five game stretch where they gave up 85 or more points three times. Coach Paul Hewitt called his team out for its lack of defensive intensity following a nine point defeat at Vanderbilt last Saturday. Hewitt said his players were not giving up their bodies on the defensive end. Georgia Tech's offense, even though it has been scoring very well, is still not quite at machine status. The Jackets have relied a lot on individual playmaking and have sometimes struggled to protect the ball. Against Vanderbilt, they turned the ball over 25 times, and for the season have more turnovers than assists. Some of Georgia Tech's inconsistencies should improve when Anthony Morrow returns to full strength. He has played limited minutes so far this season after having back surgery.
Top Scorer: Clinch (17.4)
Top Rebounder: Smith (6.4)
Early postseason projection: NCAA
Record: 10-2 (0-1 ACC)
Best Wins: Michigan State, Illinois
Bad Losses: None
What's gone right
Before an ACC opening loss at Boston College, a great deal had gone right for the Terrapins. They have been one of the more balanced teams in the league, with eight players averaging double figure minutes and five players averaging double figure points. D.J. Strawberry has stepped up his game on the offensive end to go with his always sound defense, while fellow veterans Mike Jones, Ekene Ibekwe, and James Gist are also off to solid starts. The real good news though has been the play of freshmen Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez. Hayes is flourishing as the starting point guard and had already tallied 50 assists in the team's first 10 games. Vasquez has been a key contributor off the bench. Even though his shooting hasn't quite caught fire yet, he's played very heady basketball and added some more fire to this team. You have to be a good team to win at Illinois, which is what the Terrapins did in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. One of the best things about Maryland is that it both shoots and defends the three point line very well. The Terrapins rank second in the ACC in three point percentage and defensive three point percentage.
What's gone wrong
After an 8-0 start, Maryland lost two out of three before hammering UMKC Wednesday night. The loss to Boston College was largely due to some uncharacteristic ball handling errors and an off night from Strawberry. The one area that could really elevate Maryland another notch would be improving offensive efficiency just a bit. The Terrapins have been one of the worst teams in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, yet they still rank fifth in the conference with nearly 80 points per game. If they can cut down a little on the turnovers (18 per game), then this team could be really dangerous.
Top Scorer: Strawberry (14.3)
Top Rebounder: Ebekwe (6.5)
Early postseason projection: NCAA