Can Virginia Duplicate the Success of Its 2015-16 Squad?

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 23rd, 2017

It’s still early in the season, but the initial returns are all positive on Virginia this year. Certainly home wins over UNC-Greensboro, Austin Peay and Monmouth are nothing to boast about, but a road win at VCU is typically a nice resume booster. There are, however, some revealing similarities to a recent group of Cavaliers that should make the good people of Charlottesville smile. The 2015-16 Elite Eight team that featured Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill started in much the same way. Early comparisons between the two teams seem fair.

A lot to potentially smile about for Tony Bennett and Virginia this season. (Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)

We know that Tony Bennett teams live and die by their defense. In the first four games of this season, the Cavaliers are allowing their opponents to shoot just 37.5 percent from the field. Through four games of the 2015-16 season, Virginia held its opponents to 37.4 percent shooting. This year’s team relies more on steals (8.3 vs. 5.0 SPG) and blocks (3.8 vs 2.5 BPG) than those Cavaliers, thanks to a starting front line (Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt) that is a stronger defensive unit than Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey. Bennett has also been adamant that his team get to the line more often. The 2015-16 team attempted 67 free throws in the first four games of the year; this year’s group has notched 74 attempts. That team had a deep backcourt, so when London Perrantes or Brogdon went to the bench, Bennett could turn to Darius Thompson, Marial Shayok or a young Devon Hall. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part III Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 23rd, 2017

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Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings. All times are Eastern.

  1. PK80 – Victory: In a unique affair this Thanksgiving weekend, Portland is hosting the PK80–Phil Knight Invitational, a 16-team, two-bracket event in honor of the Nike co-founder’s 80th birthday (the actual milestone birthday is February 24, 2018). All of the participating schools have a business relationship with the footwear company, including North Carolina (#10), slotted into the Victory Bracket. The Tar Heels, fresh off an impressive 96-72 road thumping of Stanford on Monday night, will face co-host Portland (#302) today (ESPN – 2:30 PM) in the opening round. Assuming they win, Roy Williams‘ team would then take on the winner of Oklahoma (#22) and Arkansas (#38) in Friday’s semifinals (ESPN – 3:30 PM). The Victory Bracket championship will be decided on Sunday (ESPN – 8:30 PM). Lurking on the other side of the bracket are Michigan State (#12) and Oregon (#33), so the Tar Heels will have a chance to claim some impressive early season scalps this weekend in Portland.
  2. PK80 – Motion: Each Power Five conference + Big East has two schools in the PK80 event, with teams from the same league slotted in separate brackets to avoid meeting each other. Duke (#5) is the ACC’s other representative and will be part of the Motion Bracket. It appears that tournament officials along with ESPN have set the schedule to maximize the national drawing power of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. As long as both teams win, the Blue Devils’ games this weekend will always directly follow the Tar Heels’ contests in a wrinkle of savvy marketing. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad meets Portland State (#217) in today’s opener (ESPN – 4:30 PM) and will see either Texas (#31) or Butler (#49) on Friday. If it reaches the Motion Bracket title game on Sunday (ESPN – 10:30 PM), Duke would likely get either Florida (#9) or Gonzaga (#23) in what would be a compelling tournament finale.
  3. Hoophall Miami Invitational:  This is a non-traditional event in which the games are all pre-scheduled. Syracuse (#58) hosted and already won three games as part of the event, beating Texas Southern (#259), Oakland (#110) and Toledo (#156) in the last five days. To wrap up the event, the Orange will travel to Miami to face Kansas (#3) on Saturday, December 2 (ESPN – 5:30 PM). This is Jim Boeheim’s least experienced squad in years but it has performed well so far against some decent mid-major teams. The Jayhawks will obviously present a much different level of competition, but if Syracuse can keep it close, it may indicate that the Orange won’t have the very down year many have projected.
  4. Gotham ClassicLouisville (#27) is also not participating in a traditional winner-advance tournament this season, instead opting for four pre-scheduled games in December as part of the Gotham Classic. They will host Siena (#273) on December 6, Bryant (#321) on December 11, and Albany (#102) on December 20. The main event will take place in Madison Square Garden, where Louisville will meet Memphis (#138) on Saturday, December 16 (ESPN2 – Noon). Rookie head coach David Padgett’s team did not exactly storm out of the gate this season, struggling to beat George Mason and Nebraska-Omaha in its first two outings. But the Cardinals looked much better on Tuesday night in destroying Southern Illinois by 42 points at the KFC Yum! Center.
  5. Diamond Head ClassicMiami (#19) will be the last ACC school to see holiday tournament action this year with a late December trip to Hawaii. The Hurricanes will take on the host school, Hawaii (#205), in the wee hours on Saturday, December 23 (ESPNU – 1:00 AM), and later that night, that they will face either Davidson (#68) or New Mexico State (#103) in the second round of action. The favorite on the other side of the bracket will be USC (#15), which means we could get a heavyweight matchup in the championship game on Christmas Day (ESPN2 – 6:00 PM). A victory over the Trojans would propel Jim Larranaga’s squad into ACC play on a high note.
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On a Different Kind of Duke Team So Far…

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 22nd, 2017

Most of the Duke teams of recent vintage have been known for talented perimeter scorers and three-point shooters. With the exception of the 2015 National Championship squad anchored by freshman superstar Jahlil Okafor, the Blue Devils have often been relatively weak defensively and particularly soft on the interior, resulting in several early exits from the NCAA Tournament (e.g., South Carolina, Oregon, Mercer). So far this year, things are looking different in Durham. The strength of Mike Krzyzewski’s current #1 team appears to be in its overall balance — great options in the post to go along with a solid backcourt and a somewhat improved defense. However, there are still a few areas of concern that Coach K will need to address in order to feel good about making a run at his sixth national title next March.

Star big men Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter have given Duke a different look this year.
(Gerry Broome/AP Photo)

Over the past two decades, Krzyzewski has mostly utilized a four-around-one offensive scheme that was heavy on floor spacing and light on post touches. However, with the frontcourt size and talent at his disposal this year, he has adopted more of an inside-out approach. In most of the Blue Devils’ half-court sets, they first look to feed freshmen Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter on the blocks. Both Bagley (19.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 62.1% FG) and Carter (13.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 61.5% FG) are off to fast starts this season, and Bagley’s numbers would be even better if he hadn’t left last week’s game versus Michigan State with an eye injury. In that 88-81 win over the Spartans, Carter came up huge in Bagley’s absence, tallying second half marks of 10 points and 10 rebounds. Even more talent exists on the perimeter, and perhaps for the first time since the championship season, the pieces seem to fit well together. Grayson Allen (18.4 PPG, 50.0% 3FG) and Gary Trent, Jr. (11.6 PPG, 37.9% 3FG) have been very effective on the wings, and freshman Trevon Duval (13.6 PPG, 38 assists/7 turnovers) is running the point guard position like a seasoned veteran. But not everything with the new-look Blue Devils is rosy — after five games, Duke is shooting a measly 61.7 percent from the foul line, and Bagley (50.0%) in particular is leaving too many points at the charity stripe. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Taking Stock: Volume I

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on November 22nd, 2017

While it’s natural to focus on the upper echelon of a league when evaluating non-conference play, it’s instructive to keep a watchful eye on the under the radar squads as well. These are the units that ultimately could act as stumbling blocks for the heavyweights down the road while providing the depth and balance that generally makes the ACC the ACC. For this season’s initial iteration of our weekly stock report, we will ignore that Duke already looks unspeakably robust even by its lofty standards and that defending champion North Carolina looks far better than expected, in favor of reviewing a few teams projected to finish in the league’s bottom half.

Stock Rising

The talented Battle has been mighty impressive to start the year. (Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

Tyus Battle, Syracuse: It is no secret that for Syracuse to exceed expectations this season that the sophomore guard would have to carry the offensive load, and through four games, he has done just that. Efficiently tallying 92 points on 59 percent shooting from two-point range and 43 percent from three-point range, defensive attention on Battle is making the game easier for backcourt mate Frank Howard, who notched a career-high 18 points in Syracuse’s Monday night victory over Oakland. Maryland and Kansas loom after Wednesday’s home date with Toledo, so it will be interesting to track how better competition affects his production.

Stock Overperformance

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 20th, 2017

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Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings. All times are Eastern.

  1. Maui Invitational: Notre Dame (#17) will be the ACC’s representative this season in the Maui Invitational, the traditional marquee event of Feast Week. The Fighting Irish will face host Chaminade in tonight’s opening round (ESPNU – 9:00 PM) and will follow that game by playing either Michigan (#43) or LSU (#76) in Tuesday’s semifinals. If they can get through that draw, Notre Dame would likely get a shot at Wichita State (#3) in Wednesday’s championship game (ESPN2 – 10:30 PM). This will be the third appearance in Lahaina for the Irish — Mike Brey‘s squad reached the championship game in 2008, falling to a North Carolina team that would go on to claim the National Championship later that season.
  2. Legends Classic: The Barclays Center in Brooklyn will once again be the site of this season’s ACC Tournament so it’s no coincidence that the facility is hosting two early season events that feature ACC schools. Pittsburgh (#142) finally picked up its first win of the year last Wednesday — rallying to beat UC Santa Barbara at the Petersen Events Center — but is likely to go 0-2 in this event.  The Panthers will meet Penn State (#46) tonight (ESPN3 – 9:30 PM), right after Texas A&M (#9) and Oklahoma State (#41) square off in the opener. The winners will play in Tuesday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 6:00 PM). Pittsburgh has won seven straight against its intrastate rival from the Big Ten, but expect the Nittany Lions to break that long-running streak this evening.
  3. Battle 4 Atlantis:  N.C. State (#97) has cruised so far under new head coach Kevin Keatts, easily handling four bottom-50 teams in the friendly confines of Raleigh. But Keatts’ guys will step right into the fire in the Bahamas with an opening game against mighty Arizona (#2) on Wednesday night (ESPN3 – 7:00 PM). On Thanksgiving Day, the Wolfpack will take on either SMU (#23) or Northern Iowa (#114). There are a couple of heavyweights on the other side of the bracket as well — either Villanova (#1) or Purdue (#11) is likely to be in Friday afternoon’s championship game (ESPN – Noon). But unless N.C. State pulls off an opening round stunner against the Wildcats, it is unlikely to face any teams that will do much to boost the Wolfpack’s weak strength of schedule.
  4. NIT Season Tip-Off: Another ACC team will be playing in Brooklyn this week too, as Virginia (#8) ventures to the Barclays Center for the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Cavaliers will battle Vanderbilt (#51) on Thanksgiving Day (ESPNU – 4:00 PM), and if they win that game, they will play in Friday evening’s championship game (ESPNU – 7:30 PM or ESPNews – 10:00 PM). Tony Bennett’s guys are guaranteed to get two games against quality opponents here, as Seton Hall (#26) and Rhode Island (#56) are the other schools involved. These two tilts will give Virginia a chance to test its new offensive prowess — the Cavs scored 93 last week against Austin Peay, the most points tallied by a team in the Bennett era.
  5. Ramblin’ Wreck Showcase: For the second consecutive season, Georgia Tech (#59) chose not to play in a traditional winners-advance holiday tournament. Instead, the Yellow Jackets’ exempt event — the Ramblin’ Wreck Showcase — consists of four separate home games against extremely weak competition. The first of those took place on Sunday with Georgia Tech barely beating Bethune-Cookman (#334), 65-62. Later this week, the Yellow Jackets will play Texas-Rio Grande Valley (#281) and North Texas (#296), with the last exempt game coming against Grambling State (#344) on December 1. Obviously, Josh Pastner’s team should have no problem in any of these four contests, even without suspended star Josh Okogie, scheduled to return after the Grambling game.

 

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ACC Weekend Preview: November 17-19

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 17th, 2017

While most of the big tests for ACC teams begin next week, there are still some intriguing match-ups on the schedule this weekend. Here are the key games that will act as your appetizers before the main course of Feast Week starting in earnest on Monday. (all ratings are via KenPom as of Thursday night):

Friday, November 17

Virginia Travels to Richmond for a Tough Intrastate Battle Today (USA Today Images)

  • Virginia at VCU (#89): Don’t forget about this Friday afternoon tip-off in Richmond. Expect the Siegel Center to be rocking. The raucous atmosphere mixed with VCU’s signature defense will be a nice test for a young Virginia team, especially point guard Ty Jerome. He holds a 23.5 percent turnover rate through two games and will need to be extra careful handling the ball against pressure. Isaiah Wilkins is one of the top defenders in the country, but he’ll need to be at his best to slow down VCU’s Justin Tillman. The 6’7” Tillman (20.5 PPG, 78.3% eFG) has been dominant in the Rams’ first two games of the season.

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part I Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 16th, 2017

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Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings. All times are Eastern.

  1. Charleston Classic: Clemson (#49) tips off the ACC’s early season tournament action later this afternoon, taking on Ohio (#153) in the first round of the Charleston Classic (ESPN2 – 5:00 PM). On Friday night, the Tigers will play either Dayton (#106) or Hofstra (#120) and the championship game will be played on Sunday night (ESPN2 – 9:30 PM). This event has a solid and balanced field this season — the eight teams playing are a combined 10-0 so far, and are all rated between #48 (Auburn) and #163 (Indiana State, which won at Indiana in its opener). Clemson has a decent shot at its first title in an exempt tournament since they won this event way back in 2008. Brad Brownell’s team should enjoy a slight home crowd advantage if the Tigers’ fans aren’t too consumed with Saturday’s football game against The Citadel earlier that afternoon in Death Valley.
  2. 2K Classic: Virginia Tech (#45) heads to Madison Square Garden tonight for the 2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project. The Hokies face Saint Louis (#163) in tonight’s opener (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM) with Providence (#32) and Washington (#130) squaring off in the nightcap. The two winners will meet in Friday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 7:30 PM). The Hokies are off to a nice 2-0 start this year and currently rank second in the nation in scoring per game (121.5 PPG). If they meet a solid Providence squad in tomorrow’s title game (ESPN2 – 7:30 PM), it would be a great opportunity for Buzz Williams to make an early statement.
  3. Paradise Jam: Normally this event takes place in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but because of major damage to those islands from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, will serve as the tournament host this year. Wake Forest (#69) won’t get the Caribbean experience but Danny Manning probably isn’t in much of a vacation mood anyway after dropping the season’s first two games at home —  including Tuesday night’s 13-point loss to none other than Liberty. The Demon Deacons will face Drake (#221) in their opening tilt on Friday night (8:30 PM), and if Wake Forest advances as expected (no sure thing at this point), it would likely get Colorado (#81) in Saturday’s semifinals (8:30 PM) and perhaps Houston (#58) in Sunday evening’s title game (8:30 PM). It appears that none of the tournament will be televised but live streaming will be available for all the games on FLOHOOPS.COM.
  4. Jamaica Classic: Unlike most of its fellow Caribbean island resorts, Montego Bay was mostly unaffected by this season’s major hurricanes so it can host this event as planned. Instead of using the traditional winner-advance tournament format, all of the match-ups here have been predetermined. Florida State (#52) will play two games against teams with the same nickname (Rams). On Friday (CBSSports – 6:00 PM), the Seminoles will take on Fordham (#200) with another game against Colorado State (#121) coming on Sunday afternoon (CBSSports – 5:00 PM). It’s too bad that Rhode Island — the best of the “Rams” schools — was unavailable for this event, but regardless of that, Florida State isn’t likely to get much of a schedule strength bump from these two games.
  5. Hall of Fame Tip-Off: Boston College (#91) is off to one of its best starts in recent memory, trouncing three bottom-50 schools by an average of 26.3 points per contest. The competition will be at a much higher level this weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena, however, as the Eagles will meet Texas Tech (#31) on Saturday (ESPN3 – Noon) followed by either Northwestern (#33) or La Salle (#109) on Sunday afternoon. ESPN2 will air both of the games on Sunday — beginning with the consolation game at 3:00 PM, followed by the championship game at around 5:30 PM. After this event we will have a better gauge on just how improved Jim Christian’s team really is this year.
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ACC Weekly 5: 11.15.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on November 15th, 2017

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  1. Sports Illustrated: For the most part, Duke’s battle with second-ranked Michigan State last night lived up to the hype. The game was borderline unwatchable because of frequent whistles for stretches of the second half, but the rest of the evening showcased two very talented teams squaring off in an electric environment. The top story from Duke’s victory will be Grayson Allen‘s scorching three-point shooting (7-of-11 3FG), but Trevon Duval’s superb point guard play may do more in the long run to shore up the narrative that the Blue Devils are this year’s favorite to cut down the nets. In sadder news, associate head coach Jeff Capel’s father, Jeff Capel, Jr., succumbed to ALS yesterday. Capel had coached everywhere from high school to the NBA, including a particularly successful stint at Old Dominion from 1994-2001.
  2. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Everyone knew Pittsburgh would be bad this season, but back-to-back losses to open the season against Navy and Montana just hammer the Panthers’ struggles home. Only a little over 3,000 fans showed up to watch Kevin Stallings‘ team lose its second game of the season, which bodes poorly for the second-year coach’s future at the helm. Very rarely is firing a coach at midseason a good idea, but it doesn’t take very long to drift into irrelevance so the program should consider drastic measures. The long shadow of Jamie Dixon’s unceremonious departure (along with Stallings’ buyout) will make hiring the Panthers’ next coach even more challenging.
  3. Durham Herald-Sun: All aboard the Kevin Keatts train! The new NC State coach got a bevy of good news this week as incoming freshman Braxton Beverly was deemed eligible to play right away (following a somewhat controversial NCAA ruling that meant he had to sit out). That good news was followed up by top-rated junior college recruit Kevin Funderbunk announcing his decision to play for the Wolfpack next season. Oh, and don’t forget that NC State is undefeated (3-0) and has not been tested yet this young season. Alas, the wins came against three teams that are an insult to cupcakes, and it’s still a transition season in Raleigh, but things are already looking up.
  4. Winston-Salem Journal: Conversely, things are not looking up in Winston-Salem. After a brutal 0-2 start with losses to Georgia Southern and Liberty at home, Danny Manning’s team looks like it belongs in the Jeff Bzdelik era. Bryant Crawford attributed the team’s struggles to a lack of effort on defense, but some of those are likely growing pains following the drastic change in composition of the team between last year and now. Luckily for the Demon Deacons, their non-conference schedule mostly remains manageable, so they have a little time to figure things out. Still, barring a miraculous run in conference play, it’s safe to already count Wake Forest out of the Big Dance.
  5. Collegiate Times: Virginia Tech hasn’t played anyone yet, which should add a grain of salt to the Hokies’ fast-paced domination in their first two games (against The Citadel, there were a staggering 95 possessions as Virginia Tech scored over 130 points). Negativity aside, Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been phenomenal to start the season. If he can continue his robust production into conference play, Buzz Williams is set.
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Five Surprises from Opening Weekend in the ACC

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 14th, 2017

Although the competition was mostly uninspiring over the last several days, it was a very busy weekend of basketball around the ACC. This week will bring an improvement in competition for the league, beginning with Duke taking on Michigan State in the first game of the Champions Classic in Chicago tonight. Just because the opposition wasn’t great, though, doesn’t mean we should ignore opening weekend. Here are the five biggest surprises from the first weekend-plus of the brand new ACC season.

Wake Forest Fell Hard to Georgia Southern on Friday Night (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  1. Wake Forest loses to Georgia Southern. This was a mild surprise but certainly not shocking to anyone who follows the mid-majors. Georgia Southern features two excellent guards in Ike Smith and Tookie Brown, both of whom played well on Friday night. Wake Forest, in its first game without all-ACC star John Collins, showed just how much they will miss the big man this season. In a game with ample opportunity to show their value, junior center Doral Moore battled foul trouble and finished with just two points, while sophomore center Sam Japhet-Mathias played just seven minutes without a point. Danny Manning’s small-ball, backcourt-heavy lineup is workable with Bryant Crawford leading the way, but not if they don’t even have the best backcourt on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Preseason Predictions and Superlatives

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 14th, 2017

While it’s true that the season is already several days old, it is not yet too late for the ACC microsite to present you with our humble preseason predictions and superlatives. Before season tip-off, the four microsite writers ranked all 15 ACC squads by predicted order of finish, made some all-league selections and projected the player and coach of the year. Should you choose to not take my word for it, none of the panelists — Brad Jenkins, Matt Patton, Mick McDonald or myself — picked Duke’s Marvin Bagley III as our ACC Player of the Year. After his first two collegiate contests, I would already like a mulligan on that.

Bonzie Colson is the ACC Microsite’s Preseason Player of the Year (USA Today Images)

That honor instead went to Notre Dame senior forward Bonzie Colson in unanimous fashion. Diminutive for his position, the 6’5” Colson is coming off an all-ACC first team selection in which he averaged a double-double, and finished 10th in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings.

Preseason All-ACC First Team

  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame (40)
  • Joel Berry, North Carolina (30)
  • Grayson Allen, Duke (29)
  • Marvin Bagley III, Duke (28)
  • Bruce Brown, Miami (FL) (24)

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