ACC Weekend Preview: December 29-31

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 29th, 2017

Finally, a full slate of ACC play has arrived! While we break down a few key match-ups heading into the last weekend of 2017, we can’t forget a huge non-conference game as well this afternoon. (All stats through games of December 28. All rankings via KenPom.)

Friday, December 29

David Padgett Gets His First Taste of Kentucky as a Head Coach (USA Today Images)

  • Louisville (#33) at Kentucky (#19). This game will always be big for both programs in the Bluegrass State, but what is on the line this year from a resume perspective also happens to matter. Kentucky’s home win over Virginia Tech is probably the best victory either team owns, and both could use another substantive non-conference win before the calendar flips to the new year. Keep an eye on how Kentucky chooses to attack Louisville’s defense today. The Cardinals allow opponents to shoot just 41.4 percent from two-point range (11th nationally), featuring two of the best shot-blockers (Anas Mahmoud, 15.5% block rate; Ray Spalding, 8.4% block rate) in college basketball. While most teams tend to lean on the three-point shot against David Padgett‘s group, that is not Kentucky’s strength. While the Wildcats shoot a solid 36.0 percent on the season from long range, they have only attempted 161 threes, or roughly 15 per game (348th nationally).

Saturday, December 30

  • Florida State (#27) at Duke (#4). The Blue Devils have played just one game — a rout of Evansville — since their surprising early December loss at Boston College. To avoid an 0-2 start in ACC play, Duke needs to once again avoid falling in love with the three-pointer. In that loss to the Eagles, Mike Krzyzewski’s team made just 8-of-30 three-point attempts. It spent long portions of the game ignoring its massive size advantage in the post in the forms of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, opting instead to fire away at will. If Florida State hopes to copy Boston College’s winning game plan, the Seminoles will need athletic guards Braian Angola-Rodas (42.4% 3FG) and M.J. Walker (46% 3FG) to shoot it well from distance against a defense that does a solid job defending it (34.9% 3FG).

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ACC Weekend Preview: December 22-23

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 22nd, 2017

As you get set for the holidays, don’t miss a few must-watch ACC games before Santa comes down the chimney. (All ratings are via KenPom and statistics are through the games of December 21)

Friday, December 22

Syracuse Needs Quality Wins (USA Today Images)

  • St. Bonaventure (#60) at Syracuse (#52). This is an important game as Syracuse works to put together its NCAA Tournament resume. Normally non-conference wins over former rivals Georgetown and Connecticut would sparkle, but the Hoyas and Huskies are both down this year. Currently all Syracuse has to its credit is a win over Maryland. The Bonnies feature a wonderful backcourt of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, but, as usual, Syracuse should have a significant advantage up front. Freshman power forward Oshae Brissett has put together a three-game stretch where he has averaged 23.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
  • Miami (#14) at Hawaii (#211). The Hurricanes are off to the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii this weekend, where they’ll play three games on a Friday/Saturday/Monday schedule. The original hope with this trip five time zones away was to gain a few more chances at quality wins to counterbalance a light non-conference schedule. Instead, Miami will get a true road game against a sub-200 team (Hawaii), followed by a match-up with either Davidson (#83) or New Mexico State (#92). A potential match-up with USC in Christmas Day’s title game has also lost its luster given the Trojans’ recent struggles. Scheduling woes aside, we continue to be impressed by the play of Hurricanes’ sophomore center Dewan Huell. The big man has started to figure it out, putting up a 123.3 Offensive Rating and 28.5 PER to this point in the season. His game is by no means a finished product (an 11.3% defensive rebounding rate and a 15.1% turnover rate are issues), but he has at least become the big man that Jim Larranaga desperately needed coming into this season.

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Christmas Wish List for ACC Head Coaches

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 21st, 2017

What’s on the Christmas wish list for each coach in the ACC this holiday season? Let’s take a look.

Jim Christian May Have Already Gotten His Gift With a Win Over Duke (USA Today Images)

  • Jim Christian (Boston College): A healthy Deontae Hawkins. The Eagles pulled off a surprising upset of Duke thanks to red-hot three-point shooting, but they won’t be able to sustain it without some help on the interior. Hawkins was averaging 12.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game before suffering a season-ending knee injury on November 29 at Nebraska. Sadly, Santa can’t fix knee tendons.
  • Brad Brownell (Clemson): Some luck in close ACC games. The Tigers appear poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Brownell’s first season, but they will need to avoid being snake-bitten like last year’s team that lost nine ACC games by six points or fewer.
  • Mike Krzyzewski (Duke): Trevon Duval’s jumper to improve. Teams like Boston College are leaving the freshman point guard open for jumpers in favor of helping on Marvin Bagley III, and Duval is falling into the trap, making just 5-of-33 three-pointers on the season.
  • Leonard Hamilton (Florida State): Somebody makes a free throw. The Seminoles shoot 65.8 percent from the line (295th nationally) and M.J. Walker (13-of-16) is the only regular making over 78 percent this season.

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Clemson Looks to Reverse Its Bad Fortune

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 19th, 2017

This article was supposed to be written a year ago. With the non-conference season winding to a close and the usual suspects proving themselves to be heavyweights, Clemson had the look of a squad ready to pose a viable threat to the conference elite. Except things did not go according to plan. Even with a preseason all-conference selection in Jaron Blossomgame and an 11-2 start heading into the new year, the Tigers proceeded to lose their next six games en route to a 6-12 ACC finish. As RTC’s Brad Jenkins has explained, many of those defeats came in excruciatingly close fashion — 12 of Clemson’s 16 losses a year ago came by fewer than six points. The biggest problem with that team was that there really wasn’t a big problem — Clemson was just exceedingly unlucky in close games, finishing 315th in KenPom’s luck metric.

Is Clemson Finally For Real This Season? (USA Today Images)

While bad luck certainly is attributable to last year’s failings, it’s not unprecedented for the head coach to take the fall in a season where expectations were elevated in both the preseason and heading into conference play. However, much to the surprise of many, Clemson opted to retain Brad Brownell for an eighth and presumably final chance to drag the program into fringe Top 25 and consistent NCAA participant territory. To this point in the season, things looks promising, but the Tigers have certainly been here before.

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ACC Weekend Preview: December 16-17

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 15th, 2017

There wasn’t much ACC action this week but the weekend promises a double-header in the Sunshine State, an ancient Big East rivalry renewed, and a pair of huge road tests (all ratings are via KenPom and statistics are through the games of December 14).

Saturday, December 16

Syracuse and Georgetown Pick Up Their Ancient Rivalry This Weekend (USA Today Images)

  • Syracuse (#56) at Georgetown (#95). An old Big East rivalry will be renewed as Georgetown has now finished the MEAC portion of its schedule. This is the toughest test of the season to date for the Hoyas, as their 8-0 start has come against a schedule that ranks dead last nationally. Syracuse star Tyus Battle has scored 20 or more points in three straight games, as the sophomore appears to have taken the leap that many expected — his PER (15.2 to 23.6) and Offensive Rating (116.4 to 123.1) have both significantly improved from last season.
  • Virginia Tech (#28) at Kentucky (#14). In what feels like a major statement game for Buzz Williams, the Hokies will travel to Lexington to take on a young and mostly untested Kentucky team. This Virginia Tech squad plays a very similar style to Kansas, which beat the Wildcats at the Champions Classic earlier this season. The Jayhawks won that game despite shooting just 8-of-28 from distance. The Hokies (96.2 PPG), on the other hand, are the highest scoring team in college basketball and rely heavily on three-point shooting (46.8% 3FG, second nationally) while mostly playing away from the basket. If Virginia Tech wishes to pull the upset at Rupp Arena tomorrow, it will need to convert double-figure three-pointers while shooting a high percentage.

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On Florida State: It May Not Be A Down Year After All

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 14th, 2017

Last season was one of the best in Florida State basketball history — the Seminoles won 26 games, finished tied for second place in the ACC, and earned a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Given the losses of his three best players from that squad (Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Isaac, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes), however, head coach Leonard Hamilton was not expected to keep Florida State among the league’s elite. Yet here we are in mid-December and the Seminoles are 9-0 and ranked 19th in the latest AP poll. Their schedule has not been very challenging to date (ranked 283rd nationally, according to KenPom), but Florida State has been pounding the teams it is supposed to beat and also owns a big road win at Florida. So are the Seminoles for real?

Terance Mann leads a balanced Florida State attack this year. (Getty Images)

Hamilton prefers to spread out his playing time more than most coaches, and last season was a great example of that. Eleven Seminoles averaged double-figure minutes with the top three seeing over 25 minutes per game. This year’s squad is not quite as deep but it has a more balanced scoring attack. Four Florida State players averaged more than 5.5 points per game last year but this version has seven scoring over 7.0 points per outing. Hamilton likes his team’s balance and unselfishness, saying recently, “They’ve bought into the idea that we need each other in order to be successful. We don’t have anybody that feels like they have to carry us. Everybody feels like they have to carry their part.”

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ACC Taking Stock: Volume III

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 12th, 2017

Far be it from me to rain on the parade taking place in Chestnut Hill after Boston College’s stunning upset over the nation’s #1 team over the weekend, but buying high and selling low is no way to make a living. Make of it what you will, but the smart money is on the Eagles’ takedown being a result we are not likely to remember a few months from now. That, however, doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it today.

Saturday Will Probably Be The Highlight of BC’s Season, But There Are Other Signs For Optimism (Anthony Nesmith/CSM)

While the national media spun Saturday’s result into a narrative of “what’s wrong with Duke?”, allow us to view it through the prism of a Boston College fan. It’s been a decade since the Eagles were relevant in the college hoops landscape — mostly spent in complete obscurity, to be honest — but the brilliance of their backcourt over the weekend was no fluke. Ky Bowman’s near-triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in carving up the Duke defense, along with Jerome Robinson‘s perfect 5-of-5 day from three-point range, ensured that Duke was going to have a difficult time keeping up. It is more likely than not that Saturday’s result will be the highlight of the year in Chestnut Hill, but, if even for a day, some level of excitement returned to the once proud program. And with a dynamic duo populating Jim Christian‘s backcourt for the remainder of this year and presumably next, the trajectory could finally be pointing up for college basketball in Beantown.

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ACC Opener Analysis: Boston College Stuns Duke

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 11th, 2017

We witnessed a number of surprising results in college basketball last week — Ball State winning at Notre Dame; Washington and Arizona State beating Kansas; Florida dropping a home game to Loyola-Chicago — but the biggest shocker might have occurred at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, on Saturday afternoon. Led by its dynamic backcourt of Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson, Boston College knocked off top-ranked Duke, 89-84, in the teams’ ACC season opener. Here are a handful of takeaways for the Eagles and Blue Devils going forward.

Boston College fans rush the court after the Eagles upset Duke in Saturday’s ACC opener.
(Anthony Nesmith/CSM)

Getting behind in games this season is nothing new for Duke — the Blue Devils’ 11-0 start included several second-half rallies, most notably against Texas and Florida in the PK80 Thanksgiving weekend event. It looked like Duke was going to the well yet again on Saturday, trailing Boston College by 10 after halftime before making a late run to take a four-point lead. Jim Christian’s team had other ideas, however, failing to wilt down the stretch like the others and instead making all the winning plays in the game’s final moments. Duke’s starting backcourt of Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval were dominated by the Eagles’ underrated pair of Bowman and Robinson. The former was outstanding throughout the game — logging 30 points, 10 boards and nine assists — while the latter was deadly from deep (5-of-5 from three-point range), including two late dagger threes. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Preview: December 8-10 Edition

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 8th, 2017

It is expected to be a relatively quiet weekend in the ACC, but don’t miss the first conference game of the season and a couple more sneaky good matchups (all ratings are via KenPom and statistics are through the games of December 7).

Saturday, December 9

Duke is All Smiles Entering ACC Play at #1 (USA Today Images)

  • Duke (#5) at Boston College (#95). Look, a real live ACC game in early December! Boston College figures to finish near the bottom of the ACC once again this season, but that should not take away from the fact that the Eagles are much improved. A big part of the reason for that improvement was Illinois State graduate transfer Deontae Hawkins, who had gotten off to a terrific start prior to an untimely right knee injury that ended his season. That, once again, leaves the Eagles dangerously thin in the frontcourt and therefore exceptionally vulnerable against all the size of Duke. Speaking of which, Marvin Bagley III has been sensational but not enough has been said about his fellow freshman Wendell Carter. Carter has been nearly as efficient in scoring as Bagley (63.5% eFG to Bagley’s 63.8%) and is a slightly better rebounder (23.6% to 23.5% DRB; 14.4% to 13.9% ORB) to this point. Having two big men playing at such a high level of productivity gives Mike Krzyzewski several options and helps protect Duke if either gets into foul trouble. Without Hawkins available, Jim Christian’s team simply may not have enough bodies up front to pull off what would be a season-defining upset.

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Improved Junior Class Keeping North Carolina in the Hunt

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 7th, 2017

After losing four key pieces from its 2016-17 National Championship team, many observers expected North Carolina to take a significant step backward this year. And with no proven frontcourt players returning to Chapel Hill, it was widely expected that head coach Roy Williams would need to make some major adjustments to his traditional style of inside-out offense. Through 10 games so far this season, neither of those assumptions have proven true. The nation’s eighth-best team, per KenPom, suffered its only defeat against a powerful Michigan State squad in the finals of the PK80 event — a game in which the Tar Heels logged their worst shooting night (24.6%) in school history.

Juniors Luke Maye and Kenny Williams have given North Carolina fans much to cheer about in the early season. (Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina)

Joel Berry and Theo Pinson — the Tar Heels’ returning starters — were expected as seniors to shoulder the burden of carrying the team. And while each has made slight increases to his usage and production, they are getting far more help than was originaally anticipated. Berry scores (16.5 PPG) and takes good care of the basketball (10.1% TO Rate) while Pinson anchors the defense and leads the team with 4.1 assists per game. But the main reason these Tar Heels appear to once again be national contenders is because of the improved play of juniors Luke Maye and Kenny Williams. After missing the final 14 games of last season with an injury, Williams was a forgotten man coming into this campaign. He has responded to his new role by becoming the team’s third leading scorer (13.4 PPG) and scoring in double-figures in all but one outing this season. As for his classmate Maye, the numbers speak for themselves. In the below table, we compare Maye’s production with the eight forwards in college basketball who received votes on the AP Preseason All-American First Team. Read the rest of this entry »

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