Semifinal Friday NCAA Outlook for ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 13th, 2015

ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

With Selection Sunday almost upon us, here’s a quick look at how things stand for ACC schools moving forward. The four teams still playing in Greensboro are battling for NCAA Tournament seeding at this point. Most bracket experts seem to think that if #2 Duke and #3 Virginia both make it to the ACC championship game on Saturday night, each would earn a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The other two ACC semifinalists — #11 Notre Dame and #19 North Carolina — have locked in protected NCAA seeds, but could still move up the seed lines with huge wins tonight. Among the schools no longer alive in Greensboro, two are regarded as either locks (Louisville) or very probable (N.C. State) to receive invitations to the Dance. Miami appears to be the only ACC bubble team that remains. Below is a look at where each school’s NCAA Tournament prospects are as of today with regard to seeding and potential advancement.

Jim Larranaga hopes to see Miami's name called out during Sunday's NCAA Selection show. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Jim Larranaga hopes to hear Miami’s name called out during Sunday’s NCAA Selection show.
(Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Each team is listed with its current overall record along with projected NCAA seed per ESPN‘s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports‘ Jerry Palm.

  • Virginia (29-2, ESPN: #1, CBS: #1)  The big story with the Cavaliers is the return of Justin Anderson and what that means going forward. With so little time left to get back into season form, Anderson needs immediate minutes and the Cavaliers need immediate production. The Cavaliers’ offense is not good enough to reach the Final Four without a healthy and productive Anderson in their lineup. Though unlikely, there’s a small chance that a semifinal loss to North Carolina tonight would knock Virginia off the #1 seed line, depending on how the other conference champions like Villanova, Wisconsin and Arizona play this weekend.
  • Duke (29-3, ESPN: #1, CBS: #1) The Blue Devils are playing as well as any team in the country right now, but they need to win at least one more game this week, and perhaps two, to assure themselves of hanging on to that #1 seed. Mike Krzyzewski’s new defensive scheme – a three-quarter court zone press and some half-court matchup zone – has been effective at cutting down guard penetration, a profound defensive weakness for the Blue Devils. With the nation’s top offense on the other end of the floor, that should be enough to avoid the early upset bug and make for a deep NCAA run.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 77, N.C. State 53

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 12th, 2015

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ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

Three Key Takeaways.

Marshall Plumlee provided a big lift off the bench in Duke's win.  (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

Marshall Plumlee provided a big lift off the bench in Duke’s win. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

  1. Duke came to Greensboro with a purpose. The Blue Devils haven’t won the ACC Tournament since 2011, a fairly long drought by Mike Krzyzewski’s standards. Based on the Blue Devils’ first game of this year’s tournament, though, it looks like they are focused on ending that streak. N.C. State was expected to be a tough matchup since the Wolfpack came in as a hot team that had beaten Duke handily in their only prior meeting. But that was a long time ago, and Duke is obviously a better team than it was back in early January. Even Duke’s weakness has been much improved lately, as the Devils have held four out of their last six opponent under 0.97 points per possession. Krzyzewski used a three-quarter court zone press that fell into a matchup zone against the Wolfpack to slow down and confuse their potent guards.
  2. N.C. State can play with anybody, just not always. The Wolfpack found out the hard way that you have to be ready from the tip against elite teams or you can get buried early. They have wins this year over Duke, Louisville, and North Carolina — two of those coming on the road — and they came very close to beating Virginia and Notre Dame. That means that N.C. State has either beaten or almost beaten all five of the ACC’s heavyweights this year. Combine that kind of tough-game performance with their explosive perimeter and you have a team that could cause problems in the NCAA Tournament. They won’t last long at the Dance, however, if they start games as passively as this one.
  3. Duke’s bench is really playing well. Much has been made about Duke’s relative lack of depth with only eight scholarship players, but while the quantity isn’t high, the quality certainly is. Freshman Grayson Allen in particular has given the team a huge boost lately. Allen had 11 points, three boards, three assists, two blocks and multiple floor burns in 21 minutes of action tonight. Marshall Plumlee has also improved to the point that Duke doesn’t suffer a dramatic dropoff when he replaces Jahlil Okafor on the floor. Plumlee successfully converted all six of his shot attempts against N.C. State and blocked three shots in 21 minutes.

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Rushed Reactions: #19 North Carolina 70, #14 Louisville 60

Posted by Matt Patton on March 12th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

The UNC Defense Shut Down Louisville in the Second Half (USA Today Images)

The UNC Defense Shut Down Louisville in the Second Half (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina struggled early against the Louisville zone. Roy Williams pointed to better movement in the second half by the North Carolina bigs as a reason for its game-winning 38-23 performance, but it also helped that the Tar Heels were shooting the ball much better. North Carolina isn’t known as a good jump-shooting team, but it has shot over 40 percent from deep in the last few games. In part that’s because they don’t take many threes (Williams noted that his team finished last in the ACC in three-point attempts this season), but even though they only converted two of five attempts in the second half, it felt like much more. That speaks to the Tar Heels’ patience. Even more important than that was that Williams’ team knocked down 15 of 17 free throw attempts. That’s how you close out games — something North Carolina struggled with this season. Stay patient and make free throws. The last time North Carolina beat a higher-seeded team in the ACC Tournament was way back in 2003, so don’t underestimate this win from a confidence standpoint.
  2. North Carolina needs better rebounding to feed into its offense. North Carolina never got any flow going in the first half, not only because it struggled against Louisville’s defense, but also because the Cardinals’ shooting and rebounding took the Tar Heels out of their secondary break. The Heels only ended the game with eight fast break points, but even the threat of the secondary break stops opponents from adequately setting up their defense. Brice Johnson runs the floor as well as any big man in the country, and Paige should be a shooting threat on the wing. If this team makes a run in this tournament or later in March, it will be because they do a better job of playing to their strengths over the next few weeks.
  3. Louisville is liable to take a loss during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament if they can’t solve these zones. Rick Pitino intimated that the Cardinals would try starting Mangok Mathiang at the five to get more offense, but that won’t help with simply making wide-open jump shots. The Cardinals were 4-of-22 from three and 1-of-14 if you remove Wayne Blackshear. That won’t beat anyone. Louisville played well in the first half with Terry Rozier carving up North Carolina’s defense, but Louisville never controlled the game. Some of that was due to the Tar Heels never getting too far behind, but there was also a sneaky suspicion that Louisville’s jumpers would eventually stop falling.

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A Rusty Justin Anderson Returns for Virginia

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 12th, 2015

ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

After 20 minutes of play in Thursday’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal game against Florida State, Virginia was on pace to accomplish exactly what it wanted. As the tournament’s top seed, the Cavaliers looked sharp in cruising to a commanding 17-point lead. It had the look of a game that the Cavaliers would control comfortably the rest of the way, enabling head coach Tony Bennett to use his bench to keep the starters fresh for the rest of the weekend. Bennett played his reserves a lot –nine different Cavaliers played double-figure minutes — but it wasn’t necessarily by choice. Taking advantage of foul trouble that forced several Virginia starters to the bench, Florida State threatened to come back in the first 10 minutes after the intermission before the Cavaliers finally pulled away to win, 58-44.

Virginia will need a healthy and productive Justin Anderson to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. (USA Today Images)

Virginia will need a healthy and productive Justin Anderson to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. (USA Today Images)

Junior wing Justin Anderson made his return to the lineup exactly one week after undergoing an appendectomy. It was also his first action since fracturing a finger in a Cavaliers’ home win over Louisville back on February 7. Coming off the bench, Anderson only attempted two shots and didn’t score in his 12 minutes of play. Late in the first half, the Virginia faithful got another scare as Anderson fell hard to the floor in a collision at the rim, but he wasn’t seriously hurt and later returned. After the game, Bennett was asked about Anderson’s performance:

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NC State’s Cat Barber Becoming an Elite Point Guard

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 12th, 2015

ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

A discussion of the top point guards in the ACC will mostly focus on Duke’s Tyus Jones, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan, but N.C. State’s Anthony “Cat” Barber may be playing better right now than any of his conference peers at the position. Last night the sophomore scored 34 points to lead his team past Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament’s second round, propelling N.C. State into Thursday night’s quarterfinals against Duke, a team that the Wolfpack beat by 12 back in January.

Anthony Barber  (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Anthony “Cat” Barber has improved dramatically over the ACC season. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

With a solid win in its first ACC Tournament game, N.C. State should feel comfortable about receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. And as their quality wins will attest (Louisville and North Carolina in recent weeks), the Wolfpack could prove a tough out for the rest of the postseason. A big reason for the team’s overall improvement has been the dramatic midseason turnaround made by Barber. After an inconsistent freshman year, the wiry guard from Newport News, Virginia, showed flashes of brilliance during the non-conference portion of this season before regressing over the first half of ACC play. During that stretch of early 2015, he was a shaky ball-handler, a hesitant shooter, and he even lost his starting spot for a couple games in late January. That’s when the proverbial light came on. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wednesday ACC Tournament Roundup

Posted by Matt Patton on March 12th, 2015

ACC Tournament Wednesday is in the books. Brad has you covered on North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and NC State’s Cat Barber. In other games, Clemson and Florida State played a compelling final few minutes as Leonard Hamilton’s team held off a furious onslaught (see below) from a Tigers team that had been down 20. Despite the near-comeback, the story of that game was the Seminoles’ Xavier Rathan-Mayes (30 points on 11-of-19 shooting). I mistakenly left him off my players to watch this week even though he boasts the most impressive performance of the year. He’s fearless (sometimes to a point of fault), but he’s capable of putting up huge numbers when his shots are falling. The freshman has his work cut out to score against the pack-line defense of Virginia (12:00 PM, ESPN), but if he’s making his threes, Rathan-Mayes should be just fine. Still, to beat Virginia, the Seminoles as a whole need to play a great game. Their biggest problem will be limiting the Cavaliers’ possessions, so Florida State’s tendency toward turnovers (21.9%) must be addressed. The bottom line is that the Seminoles will need everything they can get from Rathan-Mayes and still need the relatively inefficient Virginia offense of late to show up in Greensboro. It’s still undecided whether Justin Anderson will play today, but don’t expect him to immediately return at the level he was at the time of his injury.

The other games today also feature plenty of intrigue. Lots of eyes will also be on North Carolina‘s rubber match with Louisville (2:00 PM, ESPN), as the Cardinals are still looking to prove they can consistently compete without Chris Jones, and North Carolina will again be without Kennedy Meeks. Personally, I’m still interested to see if Louisville’s win against Virginia was a fluke or if Rick Pitino has found the answer for his team’s late-season swoon.

The most compelling game of the day will be the rematch between NC State and Duke (7:00 PM, ESPN). Trust me, a lot of teams invited to the NCAA Tournament will be watching this tape if the Wolfpack win. On paper, NC State has the primary pieces that give Duke’s defense fits: dynamic guards and inside length. Both teams look to be playing better than when they first met and the crowd will be heavily for NC State. Can Barber, Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner carve up the porous Duke defense a second time this season? Or will the more talented Blue Devils run away with things?

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UNC’s Marcus Paige Getting Healthy at the Right Time

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 12th, 2015

ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

This season has been one of ups and downs for North Carolina, and much of that volatility can be attributed to the rash of injuries and illnesses that have beset the Tar Heels. Roy Williams’ team was without starting center Kennedy Meeks (illness) and guard Theo Pinson (still injured) in its opening round ACC Tournament game against Boston College, but it still handled its business in easily winning by a score of 81-63. A big reason for the comfortable margin was the all-around performance of junior point guard Marcus Paige, who appears healthier than he has been all season.

North Carolina's Marcus Paige is getting healthier and more productive with each passing game. (AP/Bob Leverone)

North Carolina’s Marcus Paige is getting healthier and more productive with each passing game. (AP/Bob Leverone)

Back in October, Paige was selected as the preseason ACC Player of the Year and a member of the preseason All-America First Team. While he has played well for most of the year, his performance has not been to that level. There’s no question that part of the reason he has not lived up to expectations is that his plantar fasciitis has caused continuing pain and has hampered his quickness. By his own admission, Paige’s last three outings have been his first pain-free games of the season, and the results are striking. While his scoring is only up marginally — 15.7 PPG over that stretch — his efficiency and all-around play have been especially impressive. When asked after yesterday’s game about what was benefiting most from his healthy foot, Paige cited an ability to finish two-point shots and be more active defensively. The stats clearly back up that notion — Paige has made all eight two-pointers he has attempted and has recorded 11 total steals in those three games, not  to mention six rebounds and nine assists in his latest outing. This increase in his production really bodes well for the Tar Heels as postseason play continues, assuming Paige’s foot ailments are behind him for good. Read the rest of this entry »

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Reviewing ACC Tournament Tuesday

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 11th, 2015

ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

It was a surprisingly exciting pair of games that we witnessed on the first day of the 2015 ACC Tournament. In the opener, 12th-seeded Boston College and All-ACC first teamer Olivier Hanlan rallied late to edge 13th-seeded Georgia Tech, 66-65. After that, 14th-seeded Virginia Tech held off a late charge by Wake Forest to slip past the 11th-seeded Deacons by a score of 81-80. All four teams competed hard, and while there were plenty of airballs, silly fouls, and missed defensive assignments — these squads entered Tuesday at least five games south of .500 on the year — for most of the afternoon, the sparse opening-day crowd certainly left the Greensboro Coliseum entertained. Here are some takeaways on each team:

Virginia Tech freshman Jalen Hudson set a school ACC Tournament scoring record in the Hokies win over Wake Forest. (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech freshman Jalen Hudson set a school ACC Tournament scoring record in the Hokies win over Wake Forest. (USA Today Images)

Georgia Tech (12-19): Attention in Atlanta will now turn to the coaching status of Brian Gregory with the season now complete. When you look at his four-year win totals (11-16-16-12), it’s tough to make a compelling case for keeping Gregory in charge of the program. While it’s true that Georgia Tech was incredibly unlucky this year — the Jackets were 0-11 in ACC games decided by five points or less, or in overtime — many will view that failure as the head coach’s responsibility. Offense has been bad for his entire tenure, with the team ranking outside the top-200 in adjusted offensive efficiency three out of four years. In fact, it’s fair to say that the only thing Georgia Tech has done well under his direction is to rebound the ball. Per the recent norm for ACC schools when a coach misses the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four years at the helm, look for a change to be made this spring. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 03.11.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Atlanta Journal Constitution: Whew… Mark Bradley is not impressed by Brian Gregory. Georgia Tech continued its floundering play in close conference games, losing to Boston College by one with an admittedly ugly last possession. Bradley pulls no punches here — my favorite jab was “I’m not sure Tech has designed plays.” I don’t think it’s totally Gregory’s fault that Georgia Tech went 0-11 in close ACC games this year, but I do think it’s time for change in Atlanta. It’s never a good sign when you hire a coach away from a mid-major and a majority of its fan base seems relieved or even jubilant. That said, if the Yellow Jackets can steal another coach away from Flyer Nation, Archie Miller would be a great hire.
  2. Washington Post: Why did Buzz Williams leave Marquette? I mean, he was just one more underperforming Rick Barnes season away from being the media favorite for Texas! This is a terrific profile of Williams and all of his peculiarities. Williams is a character and a bit of a control freak (most elite coaches are), but he’s also got the motor and patience to build Virginia Tech into a much better program over time.
  3. The ACC: Moving back to Georgia Tech, Max Skinner talked to Bobby Cremins, who will join the group of ACC Legends this year. It’s a fun conversation talking about everything from conference expansion to one-and-dones to his nickname (Cake, which apparently came from South Carolinians not being able to understand his New York City accent). Best line? “Anybody that thinks Virginia basketball is boring is either not a fan of Virginia or is an idiot.” Well said, sir.
  4. Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer: Let’s start with the first article. North Carolina needs more from its bigs — Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks — especially when the going gets tough. Let’s move to the second article. Kennedy Meeks will likely miss the ACC Tournament due to an undiagnosed illness. That spells bad news for the Tar Heels, which already have an uphill battle to fight thanks to a Wednesday start (though Ken Pomeroy gave UNC the third-best odds to win the tournament). With Meeks out of the lineup that means a lot more Joel James, who probably deserved consideration for the Most Improved Player award, and a lot more scoring weight on Marcus Paige and Johnson’s collective shoulders.
  5. Hampton Roads Daily Press: David Teel talked with John Swofford about a not-so-new idea to move college basketball forward to avoid so much of an overlap with college football. Swofford wasn’t terribly into the idea but said that he thought basketball should work harder to come out of the gates with some momentum. I disagree. College basketball should accept its place as a niche sport and work on more important problems. Pushing the season ahead would only make an athlete’s decision whether to declare for the NBA Draft more stressful. It also would mean more overlap with the NBA season, possibly including the playoffs. Leave things the way they are! Although I’m totally on board with the idea of moving the NCAA Tournament to ESPN.

EXTRA: Thank Martin Rickman for reminding me that this happened 20 years ago this week.

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ACC Tournament Preview

Posted by Matt Patton on March 10th, 2015

The ACC Tournament gets started in Greensboro today and the microsite will be there throughout the week to provide coverage all the way through Saturday night’s championship game. Let’s tease the next five days with some storylines, players to watch and a not-so-wild prediction.

Three Important Narratives

  • #1 Seed Drama (and the Battle for a True ACC Champion): Duke and Virginia both look like #1 seeds if the season ended today. But there’s one problem — the season isn’t over. Wisconsin and Arizona are both nipping at their heels and if both win their conference tournaments, chances are that the Selection Committee thinks pretty hard about dropping one of those ACC teams to the second line. If either Duke or Virginia wins the ACC Tournament, that team is a lock for the top line. If the Cavaliers and Blue Devils meet in the finals, the loser still has a really good chance. Lose before then, though, and all bets are off. The more important storyline from a conference perspective is the crowning of the true champion. One issue with the unbalanced ACC schedule is that regular season wins and losses aren’t directly comparable anymore. Virginia had the easiest conference strength of schedule of any ACC team (in part because it can’t play itself), but the Cavaliers only played Duke once (at home), North Carolina once (away), Louisville twice, and Notre Dame once (away). Duke, on the other hand, got Virginia once (away), North Carolina twice, Louisville once (away), and Notre Dame twice. The Blue Devils only played one extra game against the top five teams, but that extra game was on the road. What I’m trying to say here is that if we want to crown a true ACC champion with no regrets, Duke and Virginia need to meet on Saturday evening for a neutral-court rematch.
Don't forget about the Wolfpack. (AP Photo | Jason DeCrow)

Don’t forget about the Wolfpack. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • Bubble Bath: Heading into Greensboro, the ACC bubble situation is pretty straightforward this year. Pittsburgh needs to walk away with the trophy. NC State is mostly safe (not that the Wolfpack should think about losing to Pittsburgh on Wednesday). Miami is on the outside of the bubble but can definitely play itself into the Big Dance. The Hurricanes need a splashy win (alas, the winner of Wake Forest and Virginia Tech won’t cut it). A win over Notre Dame on Thursday might just tip the scales. Beating Duke a second time would make it a sure thing, and beating any other opponent to make the championship game would probably be enough as well.

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ACC M5: 03.10.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 10th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. uproxx: Martin Rickman writing about the ACC? Sign me up. Rickman, one of the best bloggers in its truest form, does a great job chronicling his recent trip to watch Duke beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He teleports you to the world as a normal person experiences it. Not a media member with a parking pass ready to complain about baseline seating, but a normal person milling around Franklin Street from pregame revelry to postgame letdown. It’s refreshing.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: The Post-Standard’s coverage of the Syracuse scandal has been phenomenal. This article really stuck out, though, because it gets into the nitty gritty of the athletic department’s subversion of the rules. For the record, most NCAA rules are ridiculous, but requiring student-athletes to remain in good academic standing is generally pretty important if you’re selling the system on education. Syracuse went to great lengths to keep Fab Melo eligible. What’s got to be terrifying for the NCAA is there’s absolutely no way Syracuse’s situation is unique… and there’s still North Carolina’s academic scandal to deal with.
  3. Pittsburgh Tribune Review: John Harris thinks Pittsburgh‘s recent swoon is because of fatigue and that’s a reason to not trust Duke going forward. The key difference is that Duke’s two players logging ridiculous minutes are guards who have a wealth of other options. Jamel Artis and Michael Young, on the other hand, have to carry a lot of the burden on their own. Part of the Panthers’ recent letdown may have also had to do with a growing realization that they were on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament. A team like Pittsburgh expects to get there just about every year, so when they don’t, it’s bound to be a letdown.
  4. BC Interruption: How do the final conference standings look compared to the preseason media poll? Not all that similar, actually. Notre Dame, Miami, Clemson and Virginia all overachieved. Pittsburgh and North Carolina didn’t fare as well.
  5. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Marcus Georges-Hunt‘s season ended with a broken foot, but he’s not going to let it get him down. It may let head coach Brian Gregory down, though, as he likely needs a miraculous performance in the ACC Tournament to keep his job, and Georges-Hunt was the team’s most important offensive player.
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ACC Regular Season Superlatives

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 9th, 2015

The ACC regular season has come to a close, which means it’s time for conference tournament play and postseason dreams that stretch deep into March. For now, though, it’s a great time to look back at the standout performers and performances of the regular season that was. Here are your 2014-15 ACC superlatives:

RTC All-ACC Team

  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Okafor lived up his immense preseason billing and single-handedly turned a dangerous Duke team into a dominant one. Okafor was the conference’s second-leading scorer (17.6 PPG), third-leading rebounder (9.2 RPG) and top shooter by field goal percentage (66.8%). His ability to make the team a dual threat instead of the perimeter-reliant teams of yore means these Blue Devils have a very high ceiling come NCAA Tourney time.
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. The remarkable year that the Fighting Irish enjoyed can be traced to the return of Grant from a suspension related to academic improprieties. In addition to his highlight-reel dunks and numerous clutch baskets, Grant was a stat-sheet stuffer for a vastly improved Notre Dame team, logging 16.8 PPG, 6.7 APG and 1.8 SPG on the season. He also shot an outstanding 49.4 percent from the field.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse. The Orange ultimately had little to play for because of their self-imposed postseason ban, but they may have produced the best on-court individual success story of the year. Christmas’ amazing improvement from his junior to senior season (17.5 PPG, +11.7; 9.1 RPG, +4.0) proved he could flourish as the team’s primary option. He served as the lone bright spot in an otherwise disastrous season for Syracuse hoops and has positioned himself for a bright future in the professional ranks.
Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia. Brogdon’s inclusion on this list speaks to his ability to play whatever role Tony Bennett asks of him. With Justin Anderson stealing the early headlines, Brogdon was content to act as the team’s best on-ball defender and late game shot-maker. When Anderson fell to injury, Brogdon resumed his role as a primary offensive weapon. He averaged nearly 14 points per game while shooting 34 percent from three and 86 percent from the line. Traditional statistics never do Virginia players much justice, though, but Brogdon’s intangible ability to meet the demands made of him showed his true value to the ACC regular season champs.
  • Olivier Hanlan, Boston College. Hanlan played on a mediocre Boston College team but his offensive prowess was rivaled by none in this year’s ACC. The conference’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, he remained a deadly offensive weapon despite playing the point guard position for the first time in his career. He scored 30 or more points four times, including a stellar 39 points on just 20 shots against Pittsburgh.

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