1. Chris Bolden may be on the verge of becoming a consistent contributor. Bolden has shown moments and played games that have hinted at a level he’s capable of reaching. He had 20 points on 4-for-8 shooting from 3-point range in his first career start, at Duke as a freshman. He hit his career high, 21 points, in the upset at Miami the same season. In the ACC opener this season, he scored 14 with four rebounds in the double overtime loss to Notre Dame.
But on the whole, his career has been marked mostly by inconsistency, game to game and even half to half. He shot 30.4 percent from 3-point range as a freshman and 30.5 percent as a sophomore. To put that in perspective, the Division I averages for all players in those seasons were 33.9 and 34.4 percent, according to statsheet.com.
However, Bolden’s game, and not only from a 3-point shooting perspective, appears to be ticking upwards. His on-ball defense is better, as evidenced by Wake Forest guard Codi Miller McIntyre, who came into the game averaging 14.8 points per game, not scoring until midway through the second half. He’s more efficient driving to the basket. I haven’t seen all his games, but he came tearing off a screen early in the first half to take a pass from Josh Heath and hit a 3-pointer, and I don’t remember seeing him move that way before.
“You can just see there’s a difference pace to his game,” coach Brian Gregory said. “He’s moving better without the ball. He’s sprinting off of screens. He’s making good decisions with the ball. All those things. It’s one of those things that I think, too, he’s been much better defensively, as well. There’s a greater awareness, a greater sense of urgency, I think, your whole game gets better because of (better defense) and shooting is one of those aspects. Having him knock down those shots makes us a different team offensively, obviously.”
He has scored in double digits in three of the past four games, a career first. He had 14 Saturday on 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point range. Even in this sample, he’s a little more streaky than you’d like – he was 1-for-4 against Miami, 1-for-5 against N.C. State, 4-for-6 against Duke and 4-for-7 against Wake Forest – but I recognize you can’t be 3-for-7 every night.
Regardless, his season average is up to 33.7 percent, hardly stunning, but better. He is a critical piece of any success Tech will have the rest of the way.
2. Wake Forest played a pretty miserable game. The Demon Deacons shot 20 percent from the field in the first half and 29.7 percent for the game. Miller McIntyre told Dan Collins of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal that the team was flat in the two practices prior to the Tech game. Forward Devin Thomas, Wake’s top player, was benched for the final 17:41. Forward Greg McClinton, who had started the past 11 games, was suspended for violating team rules.
Further, Wake Forest has a pretty solid history of playing badly at Tech. The Demon Deacons have lost 10 in a row at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, Philips Arena and now at McCamish Pavilion.
“We didn’t answer the bell,” coach Danny Manning said. “It doesn’t matter what we say, the bottom line is we didn’t come out and answer the bell. When you don’t answer the bell, this is what you get.”
3. Towards the end of the game, I saw a most interesting tweet.
Ken Pomeroy, you may or may not know, is something of a celebrated guru in the field of advanced metric. On his website, he rates teams by offensive and defensive efficiency over gross averages, i.e. points per possession over points per game, which removes tempo from the equation. I imagine a lot of Tech fans would appreciate his background. He is a civil engineer by degree and was a meteorologist before becoming a full-time basketball analyst.
Anyway, I don’t know him, but I suspect he isn’t one to toss out observations willy nilly. And his numbers would suggest that perhaps his opinion isn’t as loopy as those who watch this team on a regular basis would think. (He did say “might.”)
In his ratings, Tech is the No. 8 ACC team, ranked No. 71 overall. (I suppose being the No. 71 team in the country by anyone’s standards isn’t exactly something you put on a t-shirt, but I’d venture to guess it’s higher than where most Tech fans would assign them at this point.). At No. 8, they’re just behind Miami at 66 and ahead of Syracuse at 78. In what might spell out what is happening in the conference this season, five ACC teams (Virginia, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame) are in the top 17 as of Sunday morning. N.C. State is next at 56.
The top five are a combined 40-13 and of the 13 losses, 10 are to each other.
So it’s a far different thing than saying Tech might be the fifth best team in the ACC. But, of the 10 teams in bottom two thirds of the league, the Jackets beat Miami decisively on the road and lost painfully close games to Syracuse, Pittsburgh, N.C. State and Boston College. Had Tech won three of those games – which it could have done with seven more points – the Jackets would be 4-6 and Pomeroy’s stance wouldn’t seem, on its face, so far-fetched.
The counterpoint, of course, is that Tech did lose those games and that defines who the Jackets are –a team that can’t win close games. The trouble for the Jackets, though, is that they are close to running out of time to make any sort of similar claim to Pomeroy’s in the actual standings. The Jackets have seven games and three of them are against North Carolina and Louisville. (Tech plays at Virginia Tech Monday night.)
I think about the best Tech could reasonably hope for is a 5-2 record over the final seven games. (Some would call that aggressively far-fetched.) But it would leave the Jackets with a 7-11 ACC record, 16-14 overall. It would be an improvement over last season, and against a very tough schedule, and to some degree would validate assertions of progress, but would hardly be an indication that the Jackets were the sixth best team in the ACC.