Florida State: A Quiet Contender

Posted by Charlie Maikis on January 10th, 2017

Just a little over a week into the ACC schedule, the conference race has thus far been a jumbled mess. Every team has at least one win in conference play, and the only two unbeaten teams are a pair of unlikely candidates, Notre Dame and Florida State (both 3-0). While the talk of surprising teams nationally is predictably being dominated by #1 Baylor, Leonard Hamilton’s team assuredly falls into the next tier. Anchored by future first-round draft picks Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac, the Seminoles have won 11 straight games heading into tonight’s battle with Duke at the Tucker Center. We’re only one-sixth of the way through the conference regular season slate, but can Florida State continue its push and make a run at the school’s first regular-season ACC title?

Florida State (USA Today Images)

In their three ACC wins over Wake Forest, Virginia and Virginia Tech, the Seminoles have relied on their size, winning the rebounding battle each time. As the nation’s second-tallest team (featuring two seven-footers and five players 6’9″ or taller), Florida State will lean on that inherent advantage to control the boards and defend all over the floor. The Seminoles’ long-distance shooting has appeared to turn a corner in recent weeks as well. They’ve converted 42.1 percent of their attempts in ACC play, including a blistering 15-of-32 in the last two wins. Last month I wrote about how Bacon’s improved three-point stroke has opened things up for his team, and he came through on that point by draining six threes in their two-point win at Virginia. If Florida State can leverage its prolific size to gain extra possessions and then cash those in by shooting at a high percentage, they’ll be in great position for success no matter which ACC powerhouse is lined up across the Seminoles.

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ACC Stock Watch: January 10

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 10th, 2017

Each week during the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days to discuss the teams, players and anything else trending across the league.

STOCK UP

Syracuse. Has Jim Boeheim righted the ship in upstate New York? After an incredibly disappointing 8-6 start to the season, the Orange notched consecutive easy wins over Miami and Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome last week. In both victories, Boeheim used the same five players — John Gillon, Andrew White, Tyus Battle, Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon — for all but 17 minutes of game action, and White and Battle in particular played all 80 minutes. It appears that Boeheim’s shortened rotation has been effective, especially on the defensive end. In two losses to St. John’s and Boston College, the Orange allowed 93 and 96 points, respectively; last week they held Miami to 55 and a high-scoring Pittsburgh squad to just 66 points.

Has Jim Boeheim found the answer to what was ailing the Orange? (Nick Lisi/AP)

Joel Berry II, North Carolina. The North Carolina point guard was in our Stock Down section last week after he struggled in the Tar Heels’ surprising loss to Georgia Tech. He earned his way on to the Stock Up list this week after a tremendous performance in a win at Clemson. After shooting a miserable 3-of-13 in Atlanta, Berry responded with an impressive 12-of-19 performance at Clemson, including seven three-pointers and great leadership down the stretch. He followed that up with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists in Sunday’s blowout win over NC State. If North Carolina expects to get back to the National Championship game, it will need Berry to play like he did this week to get there.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.09.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 9th, 2017

After one of the craziest opening weekends in ACC history, things calmed down considerably in the second weekend of conference play. In fact, all seven ACC games were won by the favored squad, and only one of those contests was decided by fewer than 11 points. Even if the games weren’t all that scintillating this weekend, there were still a couple takeaways heading into this week. First, in an unanticipated surprise, the two remaining unbeaten schools in conference play are Florida State and Notre Dame — the Seminoles handled visiting Virginia Tech while the Irish rallied to defeat Clemson in South Bend. And then there’s the continued injury misfortunes for Duke — in the Blue Devils’ first game without head coach Mike Krzyzewski (back surgery), stalwart center Amile Jefferson suffered a first half foot injury and never returned. Early reports suggested that the team captain may miss substantial time, meaning even further interruption to a “dream season” that has been anything but smooth to this point. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

V.J. Beachem’s six three-pointers helped Notre Dame defeat Clemson and remain unbeaten in the ACC. (Photo: slapthesign.com)

  • Best Win I: Notre Dame trailed Clemson by seven points at halftime, but the Irish prevailed by five to move to 3-0 in league play. Senior forward V.J. Beachem led the way, making six threes en route to 22 points. Bonzie Colson pitched in with 13 points and 12 boards — his third straight double-double performance to open league action. Notre Dame now faces a very daunting part of its schedule — a stretch of five games in just 13 days, with the first three on the road — beginning with a trip to Miami (FL) this Thursday.

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ACC Stock Watch: January 3

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 3rd, 2017

Each week of the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days and discuss the teams, players and anything else that is trending up and down across the league.

STOCK UP

Clemson. For the Tigers, anything less than a trip back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 will be a major disappointment. Sporting a pair of respectable losses (Xavier and Oklahoma on a neutral court) and a handful of good-not-great wins (at South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Nebraska), the last week of 2016 looked like a critical point in the season for Brad Brownell’s club. Fast forward a week to wins over a very talented UNC-Wilmington team and a much-improved Wake Forest squad and Clemson now sits at 11-2 with a big home game to come against North Carolina tonight. The Tigers are undoubtedly feeling good about the direction of the program and it doesn’t hurt that the football team had a nice weekend too.

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Josh Okogie helped lead Georgia Tech to a surprising win over North Carolina in their ACC opener (Adam Hagy/USA Today Sports)

Georgia Tech. We wrote last week that the Yellow Jackets should already be pleasantly surprised with the list of accomplishments Josh Pastner’s team has checked off this season. We would guess that adding a huge home win over North Carolina to open the conference season might instantly jump to the top of that list. Pastner’s feisty bunch frustrated the Tar Heels all New Year’s Eve afternoon in Atlanta, slowing the pace and retreating into a suffocating zone defense to keep them from easy transition baskets. Josh Okogie was terrific, scoring 26 points that included a sterline 11-of-13 performance from the free throw line. The Yellow Jackets are not likely to be an NCAA Tournament threat this season, but in one home game they proved that anyone thinking a trip to Atlanta would be an easy “W” this year has another thing coming. Right, Jon Rothstein?

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.02.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 2nd, 2017

The opening weekend of ACC play was one of the wackiest we have ever seen. On Saturday afternoon two home underdogs pulled off massive upsets: Virginia Tech over Duke and Georgia Tech over North Carolina. Those games were followed by a trio of late afternoon contests in which the winner rallied from a late second half deficit to pull out a close victory on the road —Florida State nipped Virginia; Clemson beat Wake Forest; and Notre Dame edged Pittsburgh in overtime. It was certainly a wild way to close out 2016, but the fun didn’t stop with the calendar year. Boston College, a team that had not won an ACC game since March 2015, celebrated the New Year by blasting Syracuse to snap its 20-game ACC losing streak. Here are the highlights from opening weekend around the ACC.

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (Photo: hokiesports.com)

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (photo: hokiesports.com)

  • Best Win: In a normal situation, a 14-point win over the preseason pick to win the conference would warrant ‘Best Win’ accolades, but Virginia Tech’s rout of Duke comes in second this weekend. Instead the title goes to Leonard Hamilton‘s Florida State squad for handing Virginia only its second ACC defeat in Charlottesville since 2012. The Cavaliers came into the game ranked first in KenPom’s system, but the Seminoles rode Dwayne Bacon‘s hot hand in the second half to pull off the upset despite struggling to make shots from the field (41%) and foul line (50%). In addition to his great shooting performance (more on that below), Bacon exploited two rare Virginia breakdowns — scoring after an inbounds steal under the basket on one late possession, and converting an offensive rebound following his own missed free throw a few minutes later. Those are the kinds of plays that beat Virginia, a team that does not very often beat itself.

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North Carolina Readies Itself For ACC Play

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 30th, 2016

North Carolina wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule on Wednesday night by dispatching Monmouth, 102-74, at the Dean Smith Center. Now it is on to conference play, as Roy Williams’ squad visits Georgia Tech tomorrow (Noon ET – ACC Network) in the first of two ACC road trips. It has been an interesting season for the Tar Heels to this point. They started off by winning their first eight games, including a dominant performance in the Maui Invitational, that led ESPN’s Jay Bilas, among others, to proclaim North Carolina as the best team in college basketball. Williams’ team has taken a hit since with a road loss at Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge followed by a neutral court defeat to Kentucky in the Game of the Season. Now, on the eve of ACC play, let’s examine the Tar Heels’ prospects going forward.

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

The obvious strength of this squad is in the frontcourt. With seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks backed by solid freshman Tony Bradley, North Carolina may have a post trio as good as any in college basketball. Despite losing some of his efficiency with greater usage, Meeks has been outstanding in taking on a primary offensive role as well as on the boards at both ends of the floor. Hicks was expected to make a big splash as a first-time starter and he has delivered on that promise. The concern with him is that he has not performed nearly as well against tough competition — sporting a 101.5 Offensive Rating against the Tar Heels’ best four opponents — versus 118.4 in all games. Junior forward Justin Jackson looks like a potential All-ACC first-teamer right now. He converted 6-of-9 attempts from deep en route to a 28-point night against Monmouth, and unlike Hicks, Jackson has come through in big games — averaging 23.2 PPG against the Tar Heels’ five highest rated foes. Bradley, an important substitute off the bench, may have the most professional potential of the bunch. He currently leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and has displayed great hands and advanced footwork for a youngster.

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John Collins Leading Wake Forest’s Resurgence

Posted by Charlie Maikis on December 22nd, 2016

Wake Forest appears to be in the midst of an astounding turnaround. After winning just 11 total games last season, the Demon Deacons are off to an 8-3 start with all three losses coming to teams ranked among KenPom‘s top 50. And for the first time since Dino Gaudio was still the head coach in 2010, Wake is itself ranked among the KenPom top 50. Danny Manning‘s offense this season has been especially improved, moving up over 100 spots in adjusted offensive efficiency (from 132nd last year to 25th). So how has the third-year ACC coach managed to bring out the best of his team this season?

John Collins has put Wake Forest on college basketball's radar. (Photo Credit: Bob Hebert)

John Collins has put Wake Forest on college basketball’s radar. (Photo Credit: Bob Hebert)

The resurgence starts with sophomore center John Collins. In a modern era of shooters and slashers, Manning has gone old school in centering his offense around the 6’10” big man. The Deacs play an inside-out game focused on getting Collins touches near the basket. Per Synergy Sports, Wake posts up on 15 percent of its possessions, the eighth-highest figure in the nation. But dumping the ball into the paint only works if you have an effective scorer there, and Collins is among the very best in the nation at doing just that. He ranks seventh in the ACC at 17.5 points per game, shoots a scorching 60 percent on twos and uses over 30 percent of the Deacs’ possessions.

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ACC Trends: The Rise of Three-Point Shooting, Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 22nd, 2016

In Part I of this series published earlier this week, we examined the latest stylistic change in college basketball: a substantial surge in three-point shooting. Players in both the NBA and college basketball are hoisting and making more long-range shots than ever before, a trend we expect to continue growing into the future. With that in mind, we decided to gauge how the 15 current ACC head coaches may be willing to adapt to such a shift in style of play. To make that assessment, we must first look at recent history.Coaches3s-ImportanceThe graph above shows the relative importance of three-point shooting for ACC coaches over the past five seasons, both offensively and defensively. This rating is simply an average of how a coach’s team has ranked nationally in three areas concerning three-point shooting: three-point accuracy; three-point attempt percentage; and the percentage of points derived from three-point baskets. With only one exception — Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning has only four years under his belt — we used data from the last five seasons for each coach, including seasons at other schools (i.e., Josh Pastner at Memphis and Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt). Read the rest of this entry »

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Should Georgia Tech Be Buzzing About Its Start?

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 20th, 2016

The expectations for the first year of the Josh Pastner era at Georgia Tech were about as low as they can get, as the Yellow Jackets were picked to finish 14th of 15 teams — ahead of only lowly Boston College — by the media in October. One national hoops writer even went as far to predict that Georgia Tech would go winless in the ACC this season. While Pastner’s team certainly won’t be an NCAA Tournament contender and will still most likely finish within the bottom tier of the conference standings, it is also clear that the Jackets are better than expected. That feeling was somewhat reinforced when Tech defeated a solid VCU team in Richmond last week, but keep in mind that it has also lost at home to Ohio (a top 100 team) and was demolished on the road by a mediocre Tennessee squad. However, there are several bright spots on this team that should have the fans in Atlanta excited for the future.

Yellow Jackets freshman Josh Okogie has been one of this biggest surprises in the country. (Adam Hagy/USA Today)

Yellow Jackets freshman Josh Okogie has been one of this biggest surprises in the country. (Adam Hagy/USA Today)

The obvious place to start is with junior center Ben Lammers. A three-star recruit, Lammers did not show much more than potential in his initial two years under Brian Gregory. Whether Pastner is simply getting more out of him this season or he is finally showing a progression of skills, he is clearly a different player. Lammers leads the Yellow Jackets in scoring (15.8 PPG), rebounding (10.8 PPG) and blocks (4.6 BPG), and he is currently the second-leading rebounder in the ACC and the nation’s leader in blocks per game. Fellow junior Tadric Jackson is shooting 56.3 percent from three-point range, giving Pastner a much-needed outside threat and a terrific complement for when the defense collapses on Lammers. Senior Quinton Stephens has not shot the ball very well but he has taken on the versatile forward role that was expected of him, averaging 11.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. But it is the rise of an unheralded freshmen who has been the biggest bright spot so far for the Yellow Jackets. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Trends: The Rise of Three-Point Shooting, Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 20th, 2016

*Ed. Note: This is a repost of an article that first appeared on the site November 8, 2016. 

Throughout its long and illustrious history, the sport of basketball has gone through numerous stylistic changes. For many years, the focus was on dominant post players with names like Russell, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and Walton. In the 1980s a shift to the era of great all-around players began. With apologies to Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson led the charge and Michael Jordan took it to the highest level. This trend of the two-way superstar continued to present day, with Kobe Bryant giving way in the last decade to LeBron James. Now, in the mid-2010s, we may be entering the dawn of a new era — the age of the three-point bomber. And if this trend is here for awhile, how will it affect the short-term future for ACC schools? In this first of a two-part look at the issue, we will examine some recent conference trends on three-point shooting.

Stephen Curry's long range bombing represents the new stlye of basketball that's already changing the college game. (Credit: www.sportingnews.com)

Stephen Curry’s long range bombing represents a new style of basketball that’s already changing the college game. (Getty)

To a great extent nowadays, college coaches borrow ideas from both the NBA and international basketball. High-major programs with a number of future pros like to use pick-and-roll or isolation sets. Coaches with less talented squads often mirror European offenses that feature a drive and kick approach with multiple long-range shooters available. Of late we have seen a dramatic stylistic shift in the NBA that incorporates much of the European model. Despite coming up short to James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in last June’s NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors are the hottest thing in basketball right now. Led by two-time MVP Stephen Curry, the Warriors set an NBA record by averaging 13.1 made threes per game last season. But Golden State isn’t the only professional team prospering from the deep shot. Clearly seeing the value of good three-point shooting, the average NBA team attempted 24.1 three-pointers last season, compared with an average of only 18.0 just five years prior. And in terms of overall success, the five NBA teams that made the most shots from behind the arc all finished with winning records – including both championship round finalists (the Cavaliers finished second in made threes). Read the rest of this entry »

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