ACC Basketball: Biggest Surprises & Disappointments of the Season

David Aldridge@davidmaldridgeFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2012

ACC Basketball: Biggest Surprises & Disappointments of the Season

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    As we begin another season of ACC Basketball, there are some teams and players who have really stood out with their performances. For some, this has been good because of their unexpected success. For others, it hasn't been the attention they were hoping to receive before the season started.

    Not many expected to see North Carolina get blown out by two different teams from Indiana. Even fewer thought Mason Plumlee would become a 70 percent free-throw shooter. However, are those big enough to fall in the category of biggest surprises or disappointments?

    This slideshow looks at the ACC's biggest surprises and disappointments through the first part of the season.

Surprise Team: Georgia Tech

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    There is a buzz surrounding the Georgia Tech basketball program as head coach Brian Gregory appears to have the Yellow Jackets headed in the right direction.

    After finishing last season with an 11-20 record, the Jackets needed to begin this season on a different note to generate some positive momentum. With an 8-2 record in their first 10 games, there is excitement about ACC Basketball in Atlanta for the first time in a while.

    Due to arena renovations during last season, Georgia Tech played the year without really having a home court. Now, the renovations are complete and the team is able to play in the gorgeous, new McCamish Pavilion, which is providing the school the home court advantage it was so well known for in the '90s.

    In his second year at the helm, Brian Gregory has his players buying into his physical style of play. Gregory is also taking advantage of his team's depth, with eight different players averaging double-digit minutes per game.

    Once conference play begins, we'll find out quickly whether or not Georgia Tech is a contender or pretender. Games against N.C. State, Duke and North Carolina during the month of January will provide Yellow Jacket fans the opportunity to see how their team measures up against the league's best.

Disappointing Team: Florida State

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    When you win the previous year's ACC Tournament and spend the offseason talking about how you should be viewed as one of the upper echelon teams in the league, it's a good idea to not start the following season with a loss to South Alabama. Florida State did it anyway.

    A few weeks later, the Seminoles lost to Mercer, a school Florida State players had probably never heard of. They followed up that performance with a blowout loss at home to Florida, their hated in-state rival.

    Florida State has a reputation for slow starts, but many thought there would be a new mindset in Tallahassee this year from Leonard Hamilton's squad. It looked like the Seminoles were ready to make the leap to being one of the ACC's best, but now they look more like a middle -of-the-pack team.

    It will be interesting to see if the Seminoles are able to put things together as we get closer to conference play. If they can't, they might need to repeat as ACC Tournament Champions in order to make the NCAA Tournament.

Surprise Coach: James Johnson

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    Virginia Tech is only one possession away from being undefeated so far this season. Had Erick Green knocked down his shot at the end of the game on the road against West Virginia, the Hokies would be 8-0 and possibly ranked in the Top 25.

    To say James Johnson is exceeding expectations with this team is an understatement.

    Johnson has installed an up-tempo offense that is much more exciting than anything the Hokies ever did under Seth Greenberg, and Johnson has the Hokies playing with intensity and energy in every game. One of the major criticisms of Greenberg was his inability to get Virginia Tech ready to play against lesser opponents. The same cannot be said of Johnson.

    This new style of play has the Hokies ranked in the Top 10 in the nation in scoring, and it has allowed Erick Green to flourish. The senior guard from Winchester, VA is averaging over 24 points per game while shooting over 51 percent from the field.

    If the Hokies can continue this level of play, James Johnson will be the Virginia Tech coach that finally gets his team off the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Disappointing Coach: Jeff Bzdelik

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    It's the third year in the Jeff Bzdelik experiment at Wake Forest, and it's been nothing short of a disaster. Now that he's had a couple years to recruit his own players and implement his own system, this was the year Bzdelik was expected to start producing results.

    Instead, it's more of the same for the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest is 4-5 through its first nine games, including losses to Iona, Nebraska and Richmond. On the bright side, the Demon Deacons can claim a victory over Mercer, which is more than Florida State can say.

    What appears to be most troubling is Bzdelik's inability to figure out what exactly is causing so many problems for his team, as evidenced in his recent postgame comments after the team's loss to Seton Hall.

    Considering Wake Forest is a program that has produced Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, Randolph Childress and many more NBA stars over the years, this fanbase has a great sense of pride in their team and will not continue to put up with the quality of teams Jeff Bzdelik is producing as the head coach.

Surprise Player: Quinn Cook

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    Hindered by a knee injury he suffered during his senior year of high school, Quinn Cook struggled in his freshman season at Duke. He showed flashes of being a playmaker but lacked the quickness of being able to break down defenders and consistently create for his teammates.

    This year, Cook is showing what he can do when fully healthy. Cook has assumed the role of being Mike Krzyzewski's point guard and has flourished through the early part of the season.

    Through Duke's first nine games, Cook is averaging nearly 11 points and six assists per game. The sophomore from Bowie, MD has also shown tremendous improvement in his defensive ability, which was on display when he shut down Aaron Craft of Ohio State.

    What has been most impressive with Quinn Cook is the way he has played in Duke's biggest games. He was able to handle the pressure defenses of Minnesota, Ohio State, Kentucky, VCU and Louisville and has developed a knack for making tough plays in clutch moments.

    Quinn Cook is one of the biggest reasons for Duke's early success and will be a major factor in how much success they have in March.

Disappointing Player: Michael Snaer

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    Labeled by some as a preseason All-American, this was thought to be a breakout season for Michael Snaer. He already has a reputation for being an elite defender, but many were expecting to see Snaer feature an improved offensive game, particularly with his perimeter shooting.

    His offensive opportunities have increased, but his efficiency has gone down. Snaer is leading the team in scoring with 14 points per game, but he is only shooting 37 percent from the field. He has struggled in FSU's losses, including the loss to Mercer, a game in which he scored seven points.

    As a senior leader for the Seminoles, his early season struggles appear to be a microcosm of the team's struggles. The preseason talk of Snaer being a potential ACC Player of the Year candidate has quickly died down, much like the talk of Florida State being one of the elite teams in the conference.

    Leonard Hamilton will need Michael Snaer to elevate his game and lead this team to get them going in the right direction.