Handicapping the Early Race For At-Large ACC Bids

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 15th, 2016

The conversation about the ACC potentially placing a record number of teams in the NCAA Tournament has already started. There are currently 11 ACC teams among the RPI top 70, and that number excludes two more quality teams that have played weaker schedules to date in Syracuse and Miami (FL). Using an expected RPI calculation (per RPIforecast.com), 13 of the ACC’s 15 teams are projected to finish the season among the RPI top 100. With the possible exception of Boston College and its four albatross losses to Nicholls State, Richmond, Harvard and Hartford, the rest of the ACC has yet to remove themselves from at-large contention. North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Virginia and Notre Dame can feel pretty safe about inclusion barring an unprecedented collapse, a rash of injuries or some sort of unanticipated scandal. Georgia Tech is an interesting case with losses to Ohio, Penn State and Tennessee, but it doesn’t seem as if Josh Pastner’s group has enough talent to make a run in conference play. Let’s review the eight teams that fall somewhere in the middle.

The Resume Builders: Florida State, Clemson

Florida State Appears in Good Shape to This Point (USA Today Images)

Florida State Appears in Good Shape to This Point (USA Today Images)

The Seminoles are off to a nice 10-1 start with wins already over Illinois, Minnesota and Florida. On top of that, Florida State is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the ACC’s unbalanced schedule this season. Of the league’s presumptive top four teams, only Duke appears twice on the schedule. If Leonard Hamilton’s bunch can hold serve at home and do no worse than the middle of the pack in conference play, they should be in.

Clemson hit the ground running with early wins over Georgia and Davidson and the Tigers have avoided any ugly losses to date. As most schools drift through exams and the holidays without much of a test, Brad Brownell’s team will do the opposite with upcoming tough games against South Carolina, Alabama and a strong UNC-Wilmington squad. After that stretch, the Tigers will enjoy an even easier conference schedule than Florida State, catching all five of the ACC’s best teams only once this season.

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Where Did Boston College Go Wrong?

Posted by Charlie Maikis on December 14th, 2016

Despite earning a surprising win against Auburn on Monday night, Boston College sits at just 5-5 on the season with losses to Harvard, Hartford and Nicholls State already on its resume. It’s no stretch to note that the Eagles are off to another tough start for what seems like the 100th season in a row. Still, it wasn’t that long ago that the program was riding high. Despite finishing over .500 just once since 2010-11 and enduring a sustained funk over the last five years that few major conference programs have endured, the Eagles under former head coach Al Skinner notched seven NCAA Tournament appearances in nine seasons during the 2000s.

What Has Happened to Steve Donahue's Defense? (Boston College Athletics)

Steve Donahue couldn’t maintain Al Skinner’s standards at Boston College. (Boston College Athletics)

As the sixth year of disappointment quickly moves toward conference play, the overarching question is where did Boston College go wrong? Skinner’s final season ended with a record of 15-16 (6-10 ACC), but the hiatus of talent that left with him had an immediate effect. Former ESPN 100 recruit Rakim Sanders decided to transfer to Fairfield, and incoming recruit Brady Heslip, who went on to become a major contributor for several successful Baylor teams, was released from his letter of intent. After Skinner had brought in two ESPN 100 recruits in his first two classes of that recruiting service’s era, the combination of Steve Donahue from 2010-14 and current head coach Jim Christian (2014-present) have combined to bring in just one — Ryan Anderson, who also transferred out, incidentally — in the seven classes since.

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Specter of Harry Giles Still Looming Over Duke

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 7th, 2016

Mike Krzyzewski is accustomed to unexpected roster transformations. After all, when you spend over four decades on the college basketball sidelines, it is inevitable that injuries, suspensions and other roster-wreaking circumstances will occasionally arise. This season’s Blue Devils are still an early version of what they eventually will become, but Tuesday’s night’s 84-74 Jimmy V Classic win over Florida revealed a group steadily evolving into the team many expected before all the injuries began. Star freshman Jayson Tatum contributed 22 points and eight rebounds in his second career game, while fellow freshman blue-chipper Marques Bolden saw a couple minutes off the bench. The presence of each was important in dispatching a good Florida team, but even the added production of Tatum could not fully obscure the continued absence of the most decorated of Duke freshmen, Harry Giles. The Blue Devils may already have the pieces in place to win the 2017 NCAA Tournament — consider that they just beat a Top 25 team by double figures on a night where presumptive NPOY Grayson Allen went 2-of-10 — but the roster won’t feel complete, the upside not fully explored, until Giles makes his debut.

Harry Giles' Return Could Be An Early Christmas Present For Duke (Photo: Getty)

Harry Giles’ Return Could Be An Early Christmas Present For Duke (Photo: Getty)

Ten days ago, moments after Duke had dispatched Appalachian State in a post-Thanksgiving tilt at Cameron Indoor, Krzyzewski identified just how different this season had been than expected. “We had this unbelievably deep team, supposedly,” Coach K said. “And really the past month, we’ve been back to what we’ve done the last two years, where there’s no practice, you are in therapy…it’s frustrating, but you do what you need to do.” In the days since, of course, the Blue Devils have regained some degree of health. Tatum and Bolden are back in action, although Giles, who has been going through pregame warmups since a November 23 game against William & Mary, remains on the shelf. After last night’s win, Krzyzewski added, “We’re hoping before Christmas, those two games,” when asked about Giles’ potential debut. Those two referenced games are December 19 and December 21 match-ups with Tennessee State and Elon, respectively. Some have suggested that Giles’ best course of action may be to sit out the entire season, but it appears Duke expects him to be on the court sooner than later. Given Giles’ prodigious prep reputation, that development has large potential ramifications for the Blue Devils. But no matter how significant his ultimate impact becomes, Krzyzewski will also find solace in a playable and complete roster.

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Dwayne Bacon is Florida State’s Difference Maker

Posted by Charlie Maikis on December 6th, 2016

Over the last five years Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton has coaxed a number of highly-rated recruits to Tallahassee, but the Seminoles have struggled to translate those recruiting victories to on-court ones. Sitting at 7-1 so far this season with solid but not spectacular wins over Illinois and Minnesota, Hamilton’s group appears ready to return to prominence. Florida State has long been known for its elite defense, but the difference this season has come on offense where the Seminoles currently rank among the nation’s top 25 units. Per Synergy Sports, they rank 20th nationally in two-point field goal percentage and are producing nearly 0.2 more points per possession on shots around the rim this season. This short-range improvement has come in large part thanks to the offensive improvement of Florida State’s best wing, Dwayne Bacon.

Has Bacon's improved shooting spurred an offensive revolution at FSU? (Geoff Burke- USA Today Sports)

Has Bacon’s improved shooting spurred an offensive revolution at FSU? (Geoff Burke- USA Today Sports)

Bacon’s decision to return to Florida State for his sophomore season was a recruiting victory in itself. His size and athleticism make him a top prospect regardless of class, but he has also significantly improved his three-point jump shot — from 28.1 to 43.2 percent — to become one of the better marksmen in college basketball. The sophomore wing’s astonishing rise in shooting from distance has correspondingly opened things up for his Seminoles’ teammates inside. For example, 83 percent of Bacon’s assists in the half-court have been to big men for dunks or layups as a result of defenders respecting his shooting ability. Those are the easy looks that allow a team like Florida State, which generally doesn’t shoot very well, to run an efficient half-court offense. Even Xavier Rathan-Mayes, the team’s assist leader the last two years, has gotten in on the act by dishing eight percent more of his assists on two-pointers than last year.

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ACC M5: 12.05.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 5th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. For Duke this season, the injury bug giveth and the injury bug taketh away. After missing the first eight games of their freshmen campaigns, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden made their season debuts in Saturday’s blowout win over Maine. Given the new additions to his lineup, head coach Mike Krzyzewski decided it was a good time to rest two other ailing Blue Devils: guards Grayson Allen (toe) and Frank Jackson (foot). Afterward Krzyzewski also mentioned that Harry Giles is also close to full health, perhaps as soon as exams are over in two weeks. Luke Kennard took full advantage of the extra possessions, posting a career-high 35 points in the easy win. If the Blue Devils get healthy, it may not be wise to reduce the role of a player sporting an offensive rating of 130.9 on the season.
  2. Speaking of injuries, North Carolina suffered one of its own in Sunday’s rout of Radford in the Smith Center. Star point guard Joel Berry sprained his ankle early in the second half and did not return to the game. In the press conference afterward, Roy Williams said he hopes Berry can return to practice soon: “We’ll have to see what they say tomorrow, but I’m encouraged about it right now.” The next two games for the Tar Heels are at home against Davidson (Wednesday) and Tennessee (Sunday), both of which are winnable games even without their junior point guard. That will be followed by a six-day break, so hopefully Berry can return to full strength when North Carolina clashes with Kentucky in Las Vegas on December 17. In other injury news, Theo Pinson may be getting close to returning from his preseason foot injury.
  3. After bursting out of the gate with six impressive victories, Virginia quickly climbed all the way to the top of KenPom’s national ratings. Following a lackluster week that included squeaking by Ohio State and losing to West Virginia at home, however, the Cavaliers have slipped back to sixth. The Mountaineers came into Charlottesville on Saturday and handed Tony Bennett‘s team its first loss of the season — perhaps a sign of things to come when the competition gets consistently tough once ACC play begins. Great defense alone will not be enough to beat talented squads.
  4. At the other side of the spectrum we find North Carolina State. Mark Gottfried‘s team can score but are not very good on the other end of the floor. The Wolfpack are 6-2 on the year, with the two losses coming to the only two KenPom top-100 teams on the schedule to this point. Even more disturbing is the margin of victory against those inferior foes — three of their six wins came by four points or fewer. This is shaping up to be a very similar NC State team to last year’s version. Freshman guard Dennis Smith looks just as dynamic as Cat Barber was a year ago, but the Wolfpack’s defense looks just as porous as well.
  5. At first glance, Pittsburgh‘s loss to crosstown rival Duquesne on Friday night looks like a classic letdown game against a highly motivated opponent. The Panthers were coming off their most impressive win of the year — easily handling Maryland on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge — and the Dukes hadn’t beaten Pittsburgh since 2000, a streak of 15 consecutive losses. It also didn’t help that senior star Jamel Artis was serving a one-game suspension for what Kevin Stallings said was a failure to “meet our high standards.” The Panthers’ offense struggled mightily without Artis in the lineup, posting a miserable 0.80 points per possession. Even ACC leading scorer Michael Young was off his game — he finished with 19 points on 8-for-21 shooting. So much for an easy transition for new head coach Kevin Stallings.
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Do-Everything Seniors Supporting Transition Year at Pittsburgh

Posted by Charlie Maikis on December 2nd, 2016

When Pittsburgh hired Kevin Stallings away from Vanderbilt last March, some were skeptical of how it would work out. Stepping into a new program in a much tougher conference, Stallings faces numerous long-term challenges. The one area where he found an immediate advantage is that he inherited the 22nd-most experienced roster in college basketball (per KenPom), led by two of the ACC’s best players: seniors Michael Young and Jamel Artis. On the backs of their leadership and talent, the Panthers have begun the Stallings era with a 6-1 record against a good schedule, including a decisive win at Maryland in this week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Seniors Jamel Artis and Michael Young have lifted coach Kevin Stallings to a hot start to his Pittsburgh career. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Seniors Jamel Artis and Michael Young have lifted Kevin Stallings to a hot start to his Pittsburgh career. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Almost everything Stallings’ team does begins and ends with the senior duo. The pair uses a combined 58.3 percent of the team’s possessions while playing over 80 percent of the available minutes. At 6’9″, Young anchors the team down low while the 6’7″ Artis acts as a point forward. The two highest ACC scorers thus far, Artis and Young combine to average 43.3 points per game while converting at high rates from the field (51%), three-point line (37%) and foul line (83%). Stopping just one of these two scorers is difficult enough, but teams are finding that limiting both is a near impossibility. The pair have gone for 20+ points in five of Pitt’s seven games this season and have made or assisted an astonishing 77 percent of Pitt’s field goals this season. Young also ranks among the top 500 players nationally in offensive (8.0%) and defensive rebounding (18.6%) rates as well as block percentage (4.2%); whereas Artis ranks among the top 300 nationally in turnover rate (10.7%).
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Has Notre Dame’s Mike Brey Done It Again?

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 1st, 2016

We are now just a few weeks into the season and only two ACC teams remain undefeated. Virginia has been as good as expected, with the Cavaliers handling the unexpected loss of Austin Nichols by using a committee-like approach we laid out when the news broke. The other unbeaten team, Notre Dame, may surprise many who haven’t paid attention to teams outside the Top 25. The Irish have played seven games to this point, four against low-major competition (Bryant, Seattle, Loyola (MD) and Chicago State) — which they have won by an average of 33.5 points per game — and three against middling high-majors. There are a pair of neutral court victories over KenPom top 60 teams Colorado and Northwestern, and an ACC/Big Ten Challenge home win over Iowa. All three of those wins figure to be solid top 100 wins for head coach Mike Brey‘s team come Selection Sunday.

The Notre Dame faithful is trusting that Mike Brey's system will prevail this season. (AP)

The Notre Dame faithful is trusting that Mike Brey’s system will prevail this season. (AP)

Most pundits figured that, after an outstanding two-year run punctuated by back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, Notre Dame was due for a fall thanks to the losses of star guard Demetrius Jackson and dependable forward Zach Auguste. It’s no easy task to replace a tandem that produced nearly 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists per game, but it’s not like Brey’s teams haven’t done this before. Just last year, Notre Dame entered the season having lost stars Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. The lesson is to never underestimate Brey’s ability to develop the next man up, and it appears that many observers may have made that same mistake again this season. Junior Bonzie Colson has led the way for this year’s version, averaging 17.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. He has become Brey’s go-to offensive player, using nearly 27 percent of the team’s possessions as he has blossomed into a terrific scorer.
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Syracuse’s Shooting Makes These Orange Especially Dangerous

Posted by Charlie Maikis on November 29th, 2016

Syracuse basketball has long built its identity on defense, as head coach Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone has flummoxed opponents with its length, athleticism and schemes for several decades now. Five games into this season, the Orange again own an exceptional defense (sixth nationally, per KenPom) that is predicated on holding opponents to the lowest effective field goal percentage in college basketball (36.5% eFG) and the lowest three-point percentage in the nation (20.3% 3FG). Where this year’s team is different, however, is on the offensive end of the court. So far Boeheim’s club is taking over a third of its shots from behind the arc and scoring over a third of its points from there, something just one other Syracuse team of the last five years has done — his Final Four darlings from a season ago.

Jim Boeheim's team looks to be set for a postseason run. (Getty)

Jim Boeheim’s team looks to be set for a postseason run. (Getty)

Boeheim recruits players that fit well into his defensive scheme — guys that are rangy and athletic enough to rotate quickly into gaps while running shooters off the three-point line, clog passing lanes and protect the paint. In many but not all cases, those players are not well-suited to become long-distance offensive threats. That is why versatile players such as Tyler Lydon can make all the difference for Boeheim’s teams. On the way to last year’s Final Four, Lydon averaged 1.8 blocks and 1.1 steals per game while spacing the floor on the other end to the tune of 41 percent shooting from three-point range. This season the sensational sophomore is at it again (1.4 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 50% 3FG) as the Orange have gotten off to a solid 4-1 start with the only loss coming at #20 South Carolina. Being able to defend at a very high level in the 2-3 zone while also providing a legitimate offensive threat is an invaluable asset for Boeheim’s team as the Orange run their system in the rugged ACC.

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part III Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 23rd, 2016

morning5_ACC

Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.

  1. AdvoCare Invitational: Miami (#17) will travel a few hours north to participate in Orlando’s AdvoCare Invitational. This event has a sneaky good field this year — one of the best of Feast Week. The Hurricanes open play against Stanford (#64) on Thanksgiving Day (ESPN2 – 2:30 PM) and then hopefully will take on the winner of Iowa State (#30) and Indiana State (#163) on Friday. Three powerful teams are lurking on the other side of the bracket, with Gonzaga (#20), Florida (#13) and Seton Hall (#36) all vying to make it to Sunday afternoon’s championship game (ESPN – 1:30 PM). Jim Larranaga’s team burst onto the national scene last year by winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in convincing fashion. Miami’s head coach would love to repeat that performance in Orlando this week.
  2. Wooden Legacy: After three easy home wins to start the season, Virginia Tech (#45) will head out west for the Wooden Legacy in Orange County. There are two other top-80 clubs in the Hokies’ half of the draw, so getting to Sunday night’s finals (ESPN – 8:30 PM) will be a challenge. Virginia Tech will take on New Mexico (#80) in Thursday’s opening round (ESPN – 4:30 PM) and then will meet either Texas A&M (#33) or Cal State Northridge (#184) on Friday. The top schools in the opposite side of the bracket are UCLA (#23) and Dayton (#38). With only two other non-conference opponents rated in the top 275 remaining on their schedule, it is very important that Buzz Williams’ club performs well in California this week.
  3. Barclays Center Classic: The ACC will be back in Brooklyn later this week as Boston College (#191) plays in the Barclays Center Classic beginning with a match-up against Kansas State (#41) on Friday (RSN – 7:00 PM). The other semifinal game will feature former ACC member Maryland (#54) taking on Richmond (#97). The Eagles will be heavy underdogs in this event but they can still take some positives from it even if they drop both games. This weekend’s pair of games will be Boston College’s only non-league action against good competition, which should serve to help prepare a young team for what it will face once ACC play begins in January.
  4. Emerald Coast Classic: Virginia (#4) travels south to Niceville, Florida, for the Emerald Coast Classic, a four-team tournament. The Cavaliers will square off with Iowa (#59) in one of Friday’s semifinals (CBSSN – 7:00 PM) and hope to advance to the championship game on Saturday (CBSSN – 7:00 PM) against the winner of Providence (#63) and Memphis (#98). It’s safe to say that the team that draws Tony Bennett’s group will have its hands full with the Cavaliers’ incredibly stingy defense. Virginia is allowing opponents to score a measly 38.7 points per game through its first four contests.
  5. Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational: This is a non-traditional event in which the games are pre-scheduled. Syracuse (#8) hosts three games as part of the event and then heads to Brooklyn for the finale of the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational on Saturday afternoon (ESPN3 – 2:30 PM). There, the Orange will take on South Carolina (#58) in a Power-5 matchup. For those keeping score, that game will be one of seven played by ACC squads in the Barclays Center in a six-day period. In less than two weeks, Jim Boeheim will bring his squad back to the Big Apple as Syracuse hooks up with former Big East foe Connecticut in Madison Square Garden on December 5.
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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 21st, 2016

morning5_ACCNote: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.

  1. Maui Invitational: North Carolina (#5) will be the favorite in the Maui Invitational, the marquee event of this season’s Feast Week. The Tar Heels will face host Chaminade in tonight’s opening round (ESPN2 – 11:30 PM) and followed by either Oklahoma State (#61) or Connecticut (#67) in Tuesday’s semifinals. With that draw, North Carolina should easily advance into Wednesday’s championship game (ESPN2 – 9:30 PM). Oregon (#9) and Wisconsin (#10) — two other top 10 teams — are on the other half of the bracket. North Carolina will look to add to its past success in this event, having won three previous titles in Lahaina in 1999, 2004 and 2008. Roy Williams’ team started its trip to the Hawaiian Islands late last week with an 83-68 win at Hawaii on Friday night.
  2. Legends Classic: The Barclays Center in Brooklyn will be the site of the next two ACC Tournaments so it is no coincidence that the facility is hosting four early season events that feature ACC schools this season. The Legends Classic is the first of those events, with Notre Dame (#33) joining a competitive four-team field. The Irish will meet Colorado (#51) tonight (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM), followed by Texas (#47) taking on Northwestern (#60). The winners will play in Tuesday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 6:00 PM). With these four teams so evenly matched, expect Notre Dame to compete in two close games with a chance to pick up a pair of quality wins.
  3. Global Sports Shootout: Georgia Tech (#106) is one of two ACC schools that chose not to play in a traditional winners-advance tournament. Instead, the Yellow Jackets’ exempt event — the Global Sports Shootout — consists of four separate home games against mid-level competition. The last of those games will take place on Tuesday night (ACCN – 7:30 PM) when Georgia Tech hosts Sam Houston State (#148). Josh Pastner‘s team is 2-1 in these games after dropping Friday night’s contest to Ohio (#84), but the Jackets handily defeated Tennessee Tech (#268) and Southern (#271). Junior center Ben Lammers has been a standout so far, averaging 16.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and an impressive 6.0 blocks per game.
  4. Battle 4 Atlantis: This will be Louisville‘s (#7) second appearance in the Battle 4 Atlantis event. In November 2012 the Cardinals lost to Duke in the finals of this event, although Rick Pitino‘s squad got its revenge in the Elite Eight by beating the Blue Devils handily on its way to the National Championship. As usual the Bahamas will host a highly competitive field, with all eight teams ranked among the top third of college basketball (per KenPom). Louisville faces the lowest-rated team in its opener against Old Dominion (#108) on Wednesday night (AXS – 9:30 PM). On Thanksgiving Day, the Cardinals will take on the winner of Wichita State (#23) and LSU (#87). On the other side of the bracket, Michigan State (#21), Baylor (#22) and VCU (#34) are all capable of making it to Friday afternoon’s championship game (ESPN/ESPN2 – 3:30 PM).
  5. NIT Season Tip-Off: Another ACC team will be playing in Brooklyn this week, as Florida State (#36) also ventures to the Barclays Center for the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Seminoles will battle Temple (#115) on Thanksgiving Day (ESPNU – 12:30 PM), and if they win that game, they will probably get a shot at West Virginia (#18) in Friday’s championship (ESPN2 – 3:00 PM). Two wins in Brooklyn would be huge for Leonard Hamilton‘s squad, as Florida State needs some impressive victories to put on its pre-conference resume. The Seminoles have not done so well in the non-conference phase of its schedule the last few years, so this represents a great opportunity to change that trend.
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