clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Previewing the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament

A look ahead to the Women’s Tourney which begins Wednesday in Greensboro. We’ll cover every game, from Virginia kicking off the tournament to the Championship on Sunday.

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The ACC women’s basketball season has concluded and Notre Dame has claimed the regular season title with a win over Louisville on the final weekend. Much of the luster has been lost for the Irish by the injury suffered by Olivia Miles, my pick to win ACC Player of the Year honors. She walked off the court under her own power, and later returned to the bench wearing an ice pack on her knee. But we won’t know til Friday how this will affect her game. Let’s hear it for the double-bye. Anything that increases the likelihood that Miles can play is worth it in my book.

The third season is about to begin.

#1 Seed — Notre Dame

Syndication: The Courier-Journal
Notre Dame’s Sonia Citron
Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Fighting Irish are ranked #10 nationally and are riding a six-game winning streak which includes a pair of wins against Pittsburgh as well as a pair of wins over Louisville. And that latter takes some doing. It was a bit of a down year for the Cardinals, finishing fourth in the ACC, but last year they made it to the Final Four and before that they won the regular season four years in a row.

Notre Dame has been led all year by the two-headed tandem of Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron, scoring 14.5 and 13.2 points per game respectively in ACC play. Miles may be the most electric performer in women’s hoops this side of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark. Last year she became the first freshman, male or female, to record a triple-double in an NCAA tournament game and she is the only ACC player in the top 10 in points, rebounds and assists. Citron is the gunner, connecting on 45% of her threes.

If there is a weakness to Notre Dame, it is that the rest of the team is trash from beyond the arc and they are one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the conference. But they play strong defense and they protect the glass, having the ACC’s best margins in both stats. If Miles was healthy, the Fighting Irish would be my choice to do the ACC double.

#2 Seed — Duke

Duke v Virginia
Duke’s Elizabeth Balogun
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Duke Blue Devils were picked to finish seventh, so leading the ACC for much of the season has to be considered a major success. Duke made “the leap” this year, but they have faltered a bit down the stretch. In their last four games, the Blue Devils eked out a win vs Virginia and were held to 45 points in a loss to Virginia Tech and then 41 points in a loss to UNC. In late-season wins at Virginia and against Pitt and Miami, they scored 56 and 50 and 53 points.

An explosive offense they are not. But Duke is extremely athletic and featured the #1 defense in the ACC, allowing 52 points per game. Celeste Taylor, maybe the most annoying Dookie since Grayson Allen, and Elizabeth Balogun, are effective, if low-volume scorers. Since Duke doesn’t surrender many points, all it takes is a relatively minor “explosion” from a Shayeann Day-Wilson (8.5 ppg) or Taya Corosdale (3.6 ppg) to turn the tide.

#3 Seed – Virginia Tech

Duke v Virginia Tech
Virgina Tech’s Georgia Amoore
Photo by Ryan Hunt/Getty Images

The eighth-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies were the pre-season darling, tabbed to finish second in the ACC behind the play of Preseason Player of the Year, Liz Kitley. Kitley stands at 6’6”, uses her size well, and she’s gonna get hers. She led the league in double-doubles and had more 20-point games than anyone not named Dyaisha Fair (Syracuse.)

Kitley is joined by arguably the best backcourt in the ACC, Georgia Amoore and Kayana Traylor. Amoore led the ACC in minutes played and made threes. Traylor does everything well and destroyed Virginia twice. Throw in Cayla King, fifth in the ACC in made threes, and there are gunners all around to benefit from the double teams Kitley draws. And last but not least, Taylor Soule, a fifth-year transfer from Boston College, does the dirty work down low and can erupt for 20 points at any time. The Hokies are the consensus pick of the ACC Network announcers and commentators.

Seed #4 – Louisville

Miami v Louisville
Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The unranked Louisville Cardinals have been in and out of the Top 25 all season largely, I think, due to their failure to live up to their preseason choice as ACC champion. They struggled early, losing four of their first nine games, but voters are idiots, and two of the losses were to Middle Tennessee State (23-4 and first in Conference USA) and South Dakota State (25-5 and undefeated in the Summit Conference). These are strong programs and Louisville had lost a ton from last season.

So it took them a while to get their sea legs. In the ACC, they only lost to Duke, Notre Dame (twice), Virginia Tech and NC State. Oh, wait, they lost to Wake Forest as Hailey Van Lith, my preseason pick for ACC Player of the Year, and Chryslin Carr, the best three-point shooter in the ACC, combined for 13 points on 6-18 shooting with nary a trip to the charity stripe. We get it. Upsets happen. This is the ACC. But, for the most part, the Cardinals have chewed up the middle and lower rungs of the ACC and I will expect them to be playing on Saturday.

Seed #5 – Florida State

Florida State v Notre Dame
FSU’s Ta’Niya Latson
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Florida State Seminoles are the biggest surprise of the season, tabbed preseason to finish ninth. And here they are having just missed out on the double-bye due largely to the arrival of Ta’Niya Latson who has already scored over 650 points in her young career. Most everyone around the ACC knew that Latson was going to be good, they just didn’t know that she would be this good: second in the league in scoring, tenth in assists, seventh in field goal percentage, and second in free throw percentage with an astounding 199 attempts on the year. She can score at will, with only four games scoring less than 11 points.

ACC coaches have learned to game plan for her, which is what you would expect from the best conference in basketball, but she is an elite playmaker. Makayla Timpson, who is second in the league in rebounding and field goal percentage behind Tech’s Kitley and who is thirteenth in the conference in scoring, handles the burdens down low. A player to watch out for is Sara Bejedi who is combative and usually in the right space at the right time.

Seed #6 — Miami

Destiny Harden
Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes stumbled late in the season, losing three of four games before righting themselves against a Virginia team that dressed just six players. The Hurricanes were picked to finish sixth, so they are where they were supposed to be, given that the team hit the NIL jackpot by bringing in the Cavinder twins, Haley and Hannah. Haley is the real deal, finishing in the top-10 in scoring and leading the ACC in free throw percentage. Seriously, you can count how many free throws she missed on one hand.

Hannah was pretty much a disappointment. Until she erupted for five treys against Virginia. Destiny Harden is a strong forward who has the handle of a guard and she may be the key to Miami’s post-season fortunes. Freshman Kayla Oldacre is huge at 6’6” and she had a career game against Virginia. If she gets an emotional bump from her success, Miami could make a deep run.

Seed #7 — UNC

North Carolina v Virginia
UNC’s Deja Kelly
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The #18 North Carolina Tar Heels staggered out of the gate with the beginning of the ACC slate, losing their first three games. They also lost the preceding game to Michigan in the ACC-BIG10 Challenge. UNC righted the ship and won eight in a row, the longest winning streak in the ACC this year. And they closed in a stagger, winning just three of their last eight games.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the Tar Heels as they returned 85% of their scoring in the form of juniors Deja Kelly, Kennedy Todd-Williams and Alyssa Utsby. Todd-Williams and Utsby have slipped a bit of late, but the supporting cast has cratered. UNC doesn’t do anything well offensively, and they are poor from both beyond the arc and at the free-throw line, and they don’t rebound very well. They are good defensively, but not at the elite level of Duke or Notre Dame.

Seed #8 — NC State

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 26 Div I Women’s Championship - Sweet Sixteen - NC State v Notre Dame
NC State’s Diamond Johnson
Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NC State Wolfpack may be the most disappointing team in the ACC. At least according to their lofty standards. The Wolfpack has won the last three ACC tournaments and they were picked to finish third preseason. But the loss of ACC first-teamer Elissa Cunane seems to have been too much. I’ve long thought that Camille Hobby, Cunane’s replacement in the post, was perhaps the most underrated player in the ACC, but at 8.8 points and 4.5 rebounds, she may not be that good.

Last year’s version of Diamond Johnson was a transcendent revelation. She provided instant offense coming off the bench and providing a change of pace from the efficient Raina Perez. Now, as lead guard, she’s still good, but she’s no longer transformative. I thought that River Baldwin, who transferred over from FSU this year, might find a new lease on life with the change of scenery. She did not. It was bad enough losing to Virginia, but State also lost to Boston College and Georgia Tech. It was once billed as a must-see matchup, Connecticut blew them out by 23 points. That might have been a harbinger of worse times to come for NC State.

Seed #9 — Syracuse

Syracuse v Virginia Tech
Syracuse’s Dyaisha Fair
Photo by Ryan Hunt/Getty Images

Syracuse is the last of the teams that sports a .500 record or better. This is a senior team featuring five seniors in their top six players headlined by Buffalo transfer Dyaisha Fair. If you’ll excuse the pun, Fair exchanged one frigid, snow-bound city for another and proceeded to heat it up indoors. She only got stronger as the season progressed and has now surpassed FSU’s Ta’Niya Latson for the ACC scoring lead.

Virginia fans got to see her at her very best, as she put in an ACC-season high 36 points as she rained holy fire on the Cavaliers. Her lowest point total was 12 points, and in the seven games following the outburst vs Virginia, she has reached 20 points in five of those. She’s the most likely to reach 30 in a game. Dariuana Lewis, now that Virginia’s Mir McLean is out, may be the league’s best rebounder, inch for inch.

Seed #10 — Clemson

Clemson v Miami
Clemson’s Amari Robinson
Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

If you are the team that your record says you are, the Clemson Tigers are the team their stats say they are. They are ninth in scoring offense and tenth in scoring defense. They are eighth in field goal percentage and likewise eighth in defensive field goal percentage. They are eighth in three-point percentage, three-point field goals made, eighth in rebounding (both offensive and defensive,) and ninth in assists.

What makes things interesting is that the Tigers are fourth in steals and fourteenth in turnovers. There’s going to be much on-court mayhem in their games, which is fitting, because it was against Clemson that Virginia’s London Clarkson got tossed for her haymaker swing. (She missed.) Amari Robinson is the leading scorer, and she’s smooth. In any other non-Ta’Niya Latson year, Ruby Whitehorn would be freshman of the year.

Before we get to the bottom-dwellers, it is important to note that the ACC is stronger this year, top-to-bottom, than in recent years. This year, the bottom five teams combined to win 21 ACC games. In the previous four years, the bottom five averaged 14 total wins. Virginia beat NC State, Boston College beat FSU, Wake Forest beat Louisville, and Georgia Tech beat NC State. All of these remaining teams were harder outs than in years past and there were fewer true blowouts. One of these teams is going to collect a pelt on Thursday.

Seed #11 — Boston College

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 23 Women’s Holy Cross at Boston College
BC’s Taina Mair
Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Boston College Eagles are young and built for the future with only two upperclassmen in their top six. The team is unselfish and they spread the ball around. At one point this year, BC boasted six players who averaged in double figures led by point guard Taina Mair. Mair might have the best vision in the ACC this side of Olvia Miles, but she is a turnover machine.

It’s unfair to highlight her as the entire team can’t take care of the ball and they average three turnovers more than the fourteenth worst team in that regard. Which is Clemson, if you were wondering. Maria Gakdeng is a force on the offensive boards. This team should be a lot of fun to watch over the next couple of years.

Seed #12 — Wake Forest

Wake Forest v Virginia Tech
Wake Forest’s Jewel Spear
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons feature last year’s leading scorer, Jewel Spear, who is eighth in the ACC this year, and not much more. Virginia, when they were at full strength, destroyed Wake in a November ACC matchup, but Wake did collect wins over Louisville and Miami, both of which were clearly better teams. Those two wins were back-back, but they were over a month ago, so maybe the Deacons peaked too soon.

Seed #13 — Virginia

Virginia’s Walking Wounded: Sam Brunelle & Mir McLean
Virginia Media Relations

The Virginia Cavaliers are reeling. After winning their first thirteen games, including the aforementioned November ACC game, ACC play has hit the ‘Hoos hard. Losing two of their top two players to injury (Mir McLean and Sam Brunelle_ has hurt. And discipline seems to be a problem. Taylor Valladay and Carole Smith (who has since left the team) received one-game suspensions from Coach Agugua-Hamilton. Brunelle and London Clarkson both deservedly ejected from games for fighting and served post-game suspensions. McKenna Dale, Camryn Taylor and Clarkson are perpetually in foul trouble. But the pugnaciousness translates well on the floor as the Wahoos never give up and bring it every game. I am pretty sure that Florida State would rather face Wake Forest than Virginia on Thursday.

Seed #14 — Georgia Tech

Last year the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech was my favorite team to watch. Last year they were the Virginia of the ACC, at one point dressing only seven players. For the first time ever I was hoping for an injury so that 6’4” power forward Lorela Cubaj would take over point-forward duties. Cubaj is off to the WNBA and her former low-post battery mate, Nerea Hermosa, is a shell of her former self without Cubaj to find her in space. Cameron Schwartz may be heating up — she had 20 against Virginia Tech.

Seed #15 — Pittsburgh

Miami v Pittsburgh
Pitt’s Liatu King
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Panthers are at the bottom of the ACC for the second year in a row, which makes their victory against Virginia all that more galling. Everyone can have a bad night now and then, but Pitt put up a 4 for 26 night from three against FSU. Normally I would say that a team should stop shooting the trey long before that, except that Pitt shot 8 for 50 from inside the arc. I can’t really remember seeing a 12 for 76 night before. Unreal.

Streaking The Lawn will be covering the entire women’s tournament this year. I will be going down to Greensboro, North Carolina for the five-day extravaganza with daily reports from Virginia’s opening tip-off to the final whistle on Sunday. That’s 14 games. In five days. I’m pretty sure I won’t be paying attention to anything else. Please join me for the ride!