ACC M5: 01.13.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 13th, 2015

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  1. Syracuse.com: The Orange received crushing news yesterday that freshman Chris McCullough will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. While his season had been inconsistent to this point, there’s no denying that this is a huge loss for Jim Boeheim’s team. His potential has been well-documented and he’s shown flashes of what he’s capable of at times this season. Perhaps the biggest development from this news, however, is how much his loss further depletes Syracuse’s depth. Syracuse may be the rare ACC team with an easier start to the conference slate, but its overall chance of a promising season took a big blow with this injury.
  2. ESPN.com: North Carolina’s thrilling victory over Louisville on Saturday had to do wonders for the team’s confidence, and more importantly, may have finally given the Tar Heels the early signature win they needed. One of the more interesting items from this article, though, is that Marcus Paige has been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot for several weeks. This could help shed some light on the reason for his inauspicious start to the season, and also lend some credence to how impressive his heroic second half against the Cardinals really was.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: NC State’s pummeling of Duke on Sunday is one of the biggest headlines of the young ACC season to date, but what the Wolfpack accomplished in the paint may be the real storyline here. While it has been Mark Gottfried’s perimeter players who have gotten most of the corresponding attention, Kyle Washington and BeeJay Anya were the keys to the big upset win. NC State’s post players’ abilities to hold their own against Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow bode very well for the Wolfpack as the season progresses. This is a team that has been on a roll since conference play started, and it looks to continue its hot start in another rivalry match-up with North Carolina on Wednesday.
  4. Streaking The Lawn: A suddenly vulnerable-looking Kentucky team is no longer a unanimous No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, as Virginia wrested two votes from the Wildcats in this week’s rankings following its big win at Notre Dame over the weekend. The Cavaliers appear to be a legitimate title contender and threat to capture the ACC crown despite all the preseason hype about Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville. According to KenPom, Virginia is the only team in the country ranked among the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (sixth-best offense; fourth-best defense).
  5. ESPN.com: Duke’s loss to NC State could be attributed to a number of different things — namely defensive lapses and poor three-point shooting — but C.L. Brown keeps it simple: They’re led by freshmen. Despite Okafor’s big game, there were many signs that the youngsters leading this Blue Devils’ team still have much to learn about life in the ACC. Point guard Tyus Jones has not contributed nearly the gaudy numbers he posted prior to conference play, and Okafor and Winslow did little to slow the Wolfpack’s frontcourt (with Winslow eventually fouling out). It’s probably a good time for everyone to remind themselves that they’re watching a Duke team that hasn’t started three freshmen since 1983 for a reason.
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ACC M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 9th, 2015

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  1. Hampton Roads Daily Press: How good is Virginia‘s defense? Consider that the Cavaliers have held 39 straight conference opponents to under 50 percent shooting. That’s unreal. The only two teams I see with a chance at ending that streak this year are Duke and Notre Dame. But it’s a testament to the pack-line defense, which has been brutally effective since Tony Bennett got to Charlottesville. Relatedly, WatchESPN did a pretty good halftime piece on Bennett’s defense with Darian Atkins and Malcolm Brogdon showing Jay Williams and Shane Battier how it works.
  2. Miami Herald: Miami basketball alumnus Darius Rice is still working towards his dream of playing in the NBA. He graduated from Miami way back in 2004, but still hasn’t found his way onto an NBA roster despite size with three-point range, and he is getting to the point where his big break needs to come soon. His professional career reads like a traveler’s fantasy, but what’s most irritating about Rice’s story is how he has excelled in the D-League (including a 52-point game in the championship), almost proving that the NBA doesn’t take it seriously. Here’s to hoping his status as an ACC legend (despite only playing in the Big East) gets him that one last shot.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: Wake Forest’s Devin Thomas made Duke’s Jahlil Okafor look like a freshman on Wednesday night. Thomas outhustled the Duke phenom all night, using his veteran strength and confidence to gain the upper hand. What was striking was how poorly Okafor passed out of the double-team. To be fair, Thomas also got the best of fellow All-American candidate Montrezl Harrell earlier in the week. Everyone has bad games, and it looks like Okafor recognizes that (he still ended up with a double-double), but Duke’s season will ultimately depend on how he responds to this sort of adversity. Any possession he doesn’t get a touch is a mistake, but Okafor has to fight for position to earn that touch too.
  4. Durham Herald Sun: Theo Pinson may be the answer to some of North Carolina’s struggles, at least against below-average defensive teams. The sample size is small and bear with me here through some Bzdelik-ian logic. If you remove Ohio State and Clemson (the two top-100 defensive teams Pinson has played against) and Pinson is shooting nearly 80 percent from the field (and most of his misses were threes). Obviously you can’t just ignore good defenses in the statistical profile, but Pinson’s aggressive play could be the answer to North Carolina’s offensive struggles. However, his three-point shooting will not plug the most gaping hole for the Tar Heels.
  5. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Rakeem Christmas‘ improvement has been astounding. Brian Tahmosh takes care of the per-game statistics (along with some comparisons to other Syracuse stars), but think about this: Christmas has nearly doubled his usage with only a small decrease in efficiency. He’s essentially the exact same player he was last year except that he’s taking more than twice as many shots. Oh, and he’s a better rebounder and distributor. That’s just insane.
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ACC M5: 01.08.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 8th, 2015

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  1. Miami Herald: Miami is off to the greener pastures of apparel company Adidas. While that means more money for the school, it’s no secret that Nike is considered more hip and arguably more structurally sound with their basketball shoes. There’s also the corollary fact that AAU basketball is run by the shoe companies. While recruits are in the habit of regularly switching allegiances, the move could affect who Miami recruits in the future. The Hurricanes will join NC State and Louisville under the Adidas brand — the other ACC non-Nike schools are Notre Dame and Boston College, which are with Under Armour, and Georgia Tech, with Russell).
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: Syracuse guard Ron Patterson has been told to “keep shooting” despite his early struggles. He definitely wasn’t alone in that struggle against Georgia Tech last night (the two teams combined to go 33-of-109 from the field), but Jim Boeheim needs Patterson to contribute this year because Kaleb Joseph isn’t an instant standout like Tyler Ennis last season. If the Orange’s shooting woes continue, Syracuse will be looking at a very uncomfortable Selection Sunday.
  3. Louisville Courier-Journal:. Their playing styles couldn’t be more different, but Louisville, Virginia and Duke have a lot in common in that all three are top-five teams nationally that have recently put up questionable performances. While the bottom of the ACC isn’t very good, there aren’t any free games where you can mess around for 30 minutes before hitting the gas and winning easily. Wake Forest just missed pulling off a couple of upsets over the Cardinals and Blue Devils, and Virginia has gotten a bit too cute against Miami and NC State. All three teams are assuredly works in progress, but the coach who can get the most consistent effort from his team will likely wind up on top of the league this season.
  4. Duke Basketball Report: Six ACC teams currently have more turnovers than assists on the season. That’s… not good. The better news is that four of those six teams have an assist/turnover ratio above 90 percent and could still improve (because your stats usually get better in conference play?). Unsurprisingly, Clemson clocks in with the worst such ratio (0.85) and Florida State – a team that has struggled with turnovers the last few years — brings up the rear (0.87). But Louisville (0.94) and NC State (0.94) both need to improve if they want to make something of the postseason.
  5. Deadspin: Ken Pomeroy took a look at the odds that Virginia or Duke will finish as the last unbeaten team in college basketball (instead of Kentucky). Kentucky is the favorite to turn the trick by far, but the results were closer than I expected (although Kentucky’s chance at an undefeated regular season is currently at 18 percent, which is much higher than Virginia or Duke’s). Through the lens of efficiency margin, Duke and Virginia offer pretty similar profiles, so the Cavaliers’ advantage is likely from getting to play Duke at home and avoiding Louisville until the last game of the season.
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ACC M5: 01.07.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 7th, 2015

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  1. The ACC: Well folks, I’m happy to announce that the ACC Tournament is finally big time. Yes, contractual obligations and some inexplicable nostalgia mean the conference tournament won’t be moving to New York until next year, but even then, the center of the universe NYC will only be one of the cities in the rotation. Will it be a big deal since the even will not be at the Garden? Clearly this question was plaguing the league offices, along with ESPN. Thankfully, they found a solution: New York Life will now sponsor the ACC Tournament. So the next time some national media member gives you attitude about the ACC, feel free to use this exchange:

    National Media Member: [lazy narrative about the ACC Tournament being small time because it’s often played in Greensboro]
    You: That’s the New York Life ACC Tournament to you, pal.

  2. Roanoke Times: Don’t look now, but Tony Bennett has another excellent defensive team with great offensive balance and several legitimate all-ACC level players (I’m looking at you, Justin Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill). Actually those three guys aren’t just all-ACC level guys, they’re all among the top 10 of Ken Pomeroy’s Player of the Year race. The trio is a big reason why Virginia’s offense is so much scarier than normal this season.
  3. Macon Telegraph: Time for a small dose of crow for yours truly. Before the season I noted that Georgia Tech was one of the few ACC teams that I didn’t think was moving in the right direction as a program. I may have been wrong. The Jackets are certainly not world-beaters, but this year’s team looked solid in last week’s double-overtime loss in South Bend (we’ll also ignore my preseason skepticism of Mike Brey and Jerian Grant). Georgia Tech still can’t shoot, but man do they ever crash the glass. Let’s give Charles Mitchell his due. He’s becoming the player we all thought he could be at Maryland: an efficient big man (ignoring the turnovers) and a machine on the glass.
  4. Boston Herald: Jim Christian wants Conte Forum to become a tougher place for opponents to visit. He certainly has his work cut out for him, as a mostly apathetic basketball culture has settled in around Chestnut Hill (a small group of students excluded). But Boston College students like sports (see: hockey), and Conte is warm in the winter, so that gives Christian a fighting chance to turn things around. In the long run he needs significantly more community and alumni support. Those groups tend to be more fair-weather than students and will likely show up when the team starts winning. However, Boston College’s loss last night to Pittsburgh is exactly the kind of game the program needs to start winning to get that crowd out in force.
  5. Charlotte Observer: Welp. NC State basketball player Terry Henderson was arrested for allegedly shooting an air gun at a vehicle on Monday night. Henderson is a transfer from West Virginia who is sitting out but should be expected to play a big role next season. That said, a surefire way to screw up your college career is to do something dumb during a redshirt season. The main reason I bring up this article is to point out how very young NC State is this year. While Ralston Turner is a senior and Trevor Lacey is a junior, everyone else on the team is either a freshman or a sophomore. That means a couple of things: first, this team could be very scary if it keeps improving over the next couple of years, and second, there are limited roster spots available.
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Notre Dame’s Supporting Cast Provides Staying Power

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 6th, 2015

Most of the accolades associated with Notre Dame’s 14-1 start have been bestowed on star senior Jerian Grant, the ACC’s second-leading scorer and top assist man. Skepticism over the Irish’s relatively unimposing non-conference slate were correlated questions about how the team would operate when Grant was held in check. After a thrilling one-point win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill last night, the Notre Dame trio of Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton have silenced those questions and put the rest of the conference on notice that the Irish are a team capable of contending with the ACC’s elite.

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

It was apparent early in Monday’s game that North Carolina’s top defender, J.P. Tokoto, was tasked with slowing Grant. He and the other Tar Heels who took turns defending the explosive wing were extremely successful, as Grant contributed a season-low eight points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field and eventually fouling out. With as much as Grant has produced this year — he uses a quarter of the Irish’s offensive possessions — such a performance would have appeared to doom the Irish in a tough road environment. Instead, Mike Brey’s team showed that its supporting cast is strong enough to overcome his occasional lack of production by contributing a combined 49 points and 16 rebounds.

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ACC M5: 01.06.15 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 6th, 2015

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  1. Tar Heel Blog: As you certainly know by now, ESPN legend Stuart Scott passed away Sunday after a very public fight with cancer. He was one of the most recognizable voices at the Worldwide Leader for his catchphrases and hip-hop references, but also for his unabashed Tar Heel fandom. Scott often made his way back to Chapel Hill for Late Night with Roy until very recently. If you’ve got fifteen minutes, ESPN also put together a great tribute to Scott.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Barry Jacobs, as per usual, is a must-read on Coach K making changes to his career following the infamous 1995 season. Other Triangle fans often sneer when the season is brought up (not at the injury but the attribution of the team’s 4-15 record following Krzyzewski’s departure to Pete Gaudett), but that time off may have been more important than many previously thought. It’s impossible to get through a Duke game without an announcer talking about how important family is to Mike Krzyzewski; and it took an ultimatum from his wife Mickie–along with weeks of chronic pain–to get Krzyzewski to finally go to a doctor and eventually take time off.
  3. Backing the Pack: NC State looked really, really impressive against Pittsburgh. This breakdown also looks forward to the mini-murderer’s row facing the Wolfpack (at Virginia, against Duke and against North Carolina). Mark Gottfried turned his team around after an ugly loss to Cincinnati, but he really needs to keep them sharp in Charlottesville and against Duke. Getting those two teams back to back is a recipe to kill a team’s confidence, but it also is a great chance at a marquee win to hang your hat on come Selection Sunday. I like the Wolfpack’s chances to keep the games close if they keep their wits about them (and play defense). Regardless of the outcome, Gottfried has a team in decent shape. Jamie Dixon should start sweating though.
  4. Blogger So Dear: If you missed Wake Forest‘s game against  Louisville, you missed one of the guttiest performances of the season–especially from Devin Thomas who made the vaunted Cardinal front line look outmatched. Danny Manning has his team believing, and it’s getting him some national credit. The Demon Deacons won’t be a frontrunner in the ACC this season. However, this game shows why the Manning hire may be exactly what the doctor ordered. As long as this team continues to play hard, they’ll stick around games they have no business in and Manning may bring some big-time recruits into town.
  5. Raleigh News & Observer: King Karl Hess is in the news! A former Wake Forest trustee Mit Shah tweeted that Hess yelled, “When I’m older, I want to sit in your seat and watch your Egyptian ass referee a game.” Beyond that we don’t have much information, but this could spell trouble for Hess. Refs can’t ever engage with fans (even if Shah was being obnoxious). There are three ways this could go: (1) Hess apologizes and is likely suspended by the league; (2) Hess apologizes for engaging with a fan but claims he didn’t say anything racial; (3) Hess and/or the league deny he said anything and go about their business. It’s hard to believe the ACC would let Hess continue working if evidence comes out (even with an unspoken agreement like they had with NC State), but it’s also possible that Shah and Ron Wellman have better things to do than pursue an internal investigation.

EXTRA: So… Jerian Grant‘s dunk from last weekend was awesome. And after nearly looking past Georgia Tech, the Fighting Irish got a very good win at North Carolina.

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Boston College’s Lack of Depth Limits Its Potential This Season

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 5th, 2015

Saturday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Boston College showed that while its first unit is capable of competing with the best teams in the ACC, the lack of productivity from its reserves may be too big of an issue to overcome. After a ho-hum first half where the Eagles entered the locker room down 16 points, Jim Christian’s team came storming out to trail Duke by just 10 seven minutes into the second stanza. The Eagles used all five starters to cut the lead to a manageable figure, but then fatigue and foul trouble forced Boston College to go to the bench. The outcome: Within four minutes, the Blue Devils had spurted to an insurmountable 24-point lead and ended up coasting the rest of the way to an 85-62 victory.

Olivier Hanlan played well against Duke but needs more help. (Lance King/Getty Images)

Olivier Hanlan played well against Duke but needs more help.
(Lance King/Getty Images)

In his postgame press conference, Christian commented that his team “needed to get energy from our bench in this game. I don’t think we did that.” He made a point to say that he wasn’t worried as much about bench points (a 17-point deficit), but more about getting effort and energy from the bench in areas such as rebounding and defense. Perhaps the player most affected by the Eagles’ lack of quality depth is star guard Olivier Hanlan, who led the way against Duke with 22 points and four assists in 37 minutes of action. As Christian said of his best player, “I wish we could get him a rest but unfortunately we don’t have another point guard.” Hanlan, described by Mike Krzyzewski as “a load to defend,” was effective in getting to the basket despite facing multiple fresh Blue Devil defenders throughout the game. But according to his coach, fatigue is hurting the junior All-ACC player’s contributions at the defensive end, and his challenge is to learn to “play through it.” Tired legs is also a major reason that Hanlan’s shooting percentages are down across the board this year.

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Non-Conference Scheduling: How Does the ACC Stack Up?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 2nd, 2015

While watching a Virginia Tech football game this year — or at least as much of it as I could stomach — I was reminded of head coach Frank Beamer’s reputation as a special teams guru. As the Hokies’ head coach back in the 1990s, Beamer’s approach to emphasizing special teams play was quite effective — he coached the kicking units himself and used his best athletes to cover, return and block kicks. After a few years of using this innovation, the media caught on and his teams’ reputation as great on special teams was established. About five to seven years ago, however, and despite announcers’ best efforts to remind us, it became apparent that Virginia Tech no longer had that same advantage. Crossing over to basketball this winter, any time Michigan State plays a November or December game, an announcer will inevitably say something like, “Tom Izzo ALWAYS plays a brutal non-conference schedule.” But is it actually true? As the Beamer example shows, once a public narrative is established, it’s very difficult to break.

Recently we looked at the ACC’s non-conference schedules and declared North Carolina the clear winner of the ACC’s competition for the toughest slate this season. Today we will examine how the Tar Heels and the other traditional ACC powers stack up in non-conference scheduling when compared with several of the other national programs. For this analysis we chose the 15 winningest college basketball programs of the last 10 years from the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and Big East. The underlying assumption is that top programs from each of these conferences should be fairly comparable in terms of scheduling opportunities to play whichever teams they want, including various made-for-TV contests and routine invitations to the major early-season tournaments. Teams like Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference were removed from the data set because their non-conference scheduling agendas are far different than those of the power conference schools. The full table, including five ACC schools — Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh — is below.

NonConf 10YrsWe ranked schools based on the average ranking between two metrics — KenPom strength of schedule (SOS) and Top 25 opponents. For overall SOS, we averaged the last 10 years using Pomeroy’s end-of-season non-conference schedule strength rating (which does not include postseason or non-Division I opponents). We also counted the number of Top 25 opponents (using KenPom’s final season ratings) each school played in the 10-year span, showing it as a per-year average. As you can see above, both Duke and North Carolina perform very well in both metrics, while recent ACC additions Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh struggle. Among non-ACC schools, Kentucky, Arizona and Kansas are clearly the other national programs willing to play the best non-conference opponents on an annual basis, and surprisingly, Michigan State ranks more in the middle of the pack despite what we are led to believe from most media members. How do things look when we feature the same ratings categories over the last five years instead?

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ACC Stock Watch – New Year’s Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 2nd, 2015

As we welcome 2015, the ACC’s 15 teams have all concluded their non-conference seasons. In the New Year’s edition of this week’s ACC Stock Watch, we’ll examine the league’s trending players and teams based on how they were predicted to finish in conference play (you can view the preseason ACC media projections here) and how they’re playing now.

Trending Up

  • Duke. The Blue Devils are on fire to start the season. Their veterans have ceded major roles to the star freshmen without complaint or drop-off in production. Their 12-0 start includes good wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Temple and Stanford.
  • Tyus Jones, Duke. Taking over the reins of a national championship contender is difficult enough, but unseating a senior in Quinn Cook and maintaining harmony on the floor is really something else. Jones has emerged as a true revelation and has made the Duke offense (the most efficient in college basketball) hum. Even his high school coach didn’t think he’d be this good so fast.
Tyus Jones may fly under the radar on a team with Jahlil Okafor, but he's been a revelation for Duke (Lance King)

Tyus Jones may fly under the radar on a team with Jahlil Okafor, but he’s been a revelation for Duke (credit: Lance King)

  • Virginia. Everyone knew the Cavaliers would be good again, but possibly better than last year? They’ve already held two teams to single-digit points in a half, and Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris have been capably replaced. Hopefully the recent defensive showing against Davidson was an aberration (72 points allowed by a Virginia team that had holds opponents under 50 per game on the year).
  • Notre Dame. A 13-1 start is great and this team is rolling on the offensive end. The Fighting Irish currently rank third in the country at 86.0 points per game and are shooting an otherworldly 55.4 percent from the field (best in the country). However, questions exist about the strength of Notre Dame’s non-conference schedule.

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Battle in the Bluegrass: Previewing Kentucky vs. Louisville

Posted by Lathan Wells & David Changas on December 27th, 2014

Kentucky, the undisputed No. 1 team in the country, faces perhaps its last truly tough test of the regular season when it enters Louisville’s Yum! Center today with both teams unbeaten and carrying designs on a second national title in the last four years (a notion that sounds crazy in December, but probably true). John Calipari has won six of seven match-ups against the Cardinals since taking over in Lexington, but Rick Pitino is on the other sideline with home court as well as the best player on the floor wearing red and white. SEC micrositer David Changas and ACC micrositer Lathan Wells got together to break down the biggest game of the college basketball weekend, and quite possibly, the entire regular season.

DC: One of Kentucky’s biggest strengths this season is its ability to grab offensive rebounds. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have struggled on the defensive glass. What can they do to neutralize this Kentucky advantage and keep the Wildcats from getting too many easy putback baskets?

Montrezl Harrell living up to his pre-season accolades is imperative for the Cardinals to have a chance (AP Photo)

Montrezl Harrell living up to his preseason accolades is imperative for the Cardinals to have a chance today. (AP Photo)

LW: This may seem perfunctory, but Louisville needs to do an incredible job of blocking out. No one in college basketball can match Kentucky’s size, so the Cards will need all of their big men to keep their assigned Wildcats on their backs. Montrezl Harrell also has to stay out of foul trouble, and Chinanu Onuaku and Mangok Mathiang have to avoid the tendency to be overaggressive in a big-time situation so that they can stay on the floor as well. Another key against Kentucky is finding some rebounding help from the backcourt, so players such as Chris Jones and Terry Rozier will need to contribute in that department as well. Kentucky’s top-rated defense is so incredibly stifling that the Wildcats have coasted to most of their wins this year, but Louisville is bound to be hyped from the opening tip in this one. How would John Calipari’s team handle an early deficit, and who do you think is the one player the Wildcats absolutely need a phenomenal performance from to ensure they stay undefeated?

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ACC Stock Watch: Holiday Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 26th, 2014

As the holiday break kicked in, some ACC teams and players were probably thrilled to review their last few weeks of action with family and friends. Others were undoubtedly just glad they had some time away from the hardwood to refresh and reset expectations. We’ve now had three weeks since we last evaluated the state of the conference’s players and coaches, so here’s the Holiday Edition of the ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Notre Dame. All the Fighting Irish have done since we last checked in is to reel off five straight wins, bringing their overall record to 12-1 (including an early ACC win over Florida State). Mike Brey’s team is one of the most dynamic offensive groups in the country, averaging 86.1 points per game and putting up 94 and 91 points, respectively, in blowout wins over Purdue and Northern Illinois. More impressive than the overall offensive output in those two games is that Jerian Grant scored a total of 21 points on just 5-of-22 shooting from the field. Once the All-American candidate returns to form, look out.
  • Virginia. Don’t look now, but the Cavaliers are finally getting their due as a serious national title contender. Tony Bennett’s team may be even better defensively this year than last, holding a talented Harvard team to eight first-half points en route to an impressive 76-27 win following a 17-point victory over rival VCU in Richmond two weeks prior. Duke and Louisville have gotten the majority of the attention so far, but the Cavaliers’ 11-0 start is something more pundits on the national scene are paying attention to.
Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia's throttling of Harvard proved they're a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia’s latest win, a throttling of Harvard, proved the Cavaliers are a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

  • North Carolina. For all of the talk about this team’s uneven play and noticeable deficiencies, the Tar Heels actually have put together a nice stretch since our last stock watch. Although they fell to Kentucky in Lexington, it took the Wildcats’ best shooting day of the year to knock off the Tar Heels by a mere 14 points (plus North Carolina actually outscored the Cats in the second half). In addition to blowout wins over East Carolina and UNC-Greensboro, the Heels won an important non-conference battle with a good Ohio State team last weekend. At 8-3, there are still some reasons for pessimism in Chapel Hill, but you can’t ignore that Roy Williams’ team has earned some solid wins while playing the ACC’s toughest non-conference schedule.

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Evaluating ACC Non-Conference Schedules: UNC Has the Toughest

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 24th, 2014

Back in late August when the ACC released complete team-by-team schedules for this season, North Carolina‘s non-conference slate prompted Roy Williams at the time to say, “This one may be a little off the charts.” As we will see below, perhaps his quote should be rephrased: “top of the charts” might be more appropriate. Now that we’ve reached the Christmas break for every ACC school, let’s evaluate this year’s non-conference schedules for all 15, considering different ways to judge the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. Keep in mind that each program must schedule according to its own needs that season, so some disparity in schedule strength is expected. But some of following numbers are still disappointing, to say the least.

ACC NonConf

In the chart above, we used current KenPom rankings and included all past and future opponents (most ACC teams have one or two non-conference contests remaining). As usual, the two most blue-blooded ACC programs top the list in most areas of evaluation. North Carolina has a clear edge in nearly every measurable factor, including average opponent rating, fewest home games, and most Top 25 opponents. The Tar Heels own the best average opponent rating by such a wide margin that even if #1 Kentucky is removed from the schedule, it would still lead the conference in that metric. Triangle neighbors Duke and N.C. State are in a tight race for the second-toughest non-conference schedule, with the Blue Devils earning the nod here due to the Wolfpack’s lack of a Top 25 opponent and their tendency to play so many home games. Mark Gottfried has always scheduled with the infamous RPI strength of schedule rating in mind, and who can blame him? The RPI rewards a win over a team ranked #150 much more than it does versus a team ranked #300, even though good teams should beat both squads relatively easily. Therefore, many of N.C. State’s opponents are chosen because they are expected to fall in that upper middle tier of the RPI: nine of N.C. State’s 13 non-ACC opponents currently have KenPom ratings between #59 and #114. Virginia has upgraded its schedule this season in accordance with the newly-elite status of the Cavalier program. Tony Bennett’s group only plays two games against bottom-150 teams and Virginia has already played (and won) three true road games in non-conference play.

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