ACC Weekend Review: 01.14.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 14th, 2019

After a lackluster opening weekend, things were much crazier around the ACC this weekend. In the headline match-up in Tallahassee on Saturday, Duke survived Florida State, 80-78, on Cam Reddish’s last second three. Reddish (23 points) and fellow freshman RJ Barrett (32 points) picked up the slack when Zion Williamson missed the entire second half with an eye injury. The long Seminoles caused problems for the Blue Devils in the paint, blocking seven Blue Devils’ shots, winning the battle of the boards (+5) and out-dunking Duke by a 10-to-1 margin. League co-leader Virginia grabbed another impressive road win too, as the Cavaliers manhandled Clemson, 63-43. Two road underdogs also won with surprising ease as Louisville dominated North Carolina at the Smith Center, 83-62, and Georgia Tech pulled off a stunner at Syracuse, 73-59. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Steven Enoch outplayed Luke Maye as Louisville shocked North Carolina in the Smith Center on Saturday. (thecardinalconnect.com)
  • Best Win: Few gave Louisville a realistic chance to win in Chapel Hill on Saturday, much less blow the Tar Heels off their own floor. After all, the Cardinals had just lost to Pittsburgh while North Carolina was coming off an impressive road win over a ranked and fired-up NC State squad. However, Chris Mack’s unit came out smoking (seven first half 3-pointers) and North Carolina never put up much of a fight in the 21-point defeat. The most lopsided home loss of the Roy Williams era was also a huge boost to Louisville’s growing postseason resume. A major key to the victory was the Cardinals’ dominance in the paint. Connecticut transfer Steven Enoch finished with career highs in points (17) and rebounds (11), outplaying UNC star Luke Maye, who finished with just nine points on a cold (3-for-14) shooting day.
  • Worst Loss: Georgia Tech gave Syracuse a taste of its own medicine Saturday night in the Carrier Dome. Josh Pastner used a zone defense to befuddle the Orange’s offense and pull off a surprisingly easy upset. Syracuse was unable to penetrate the Yellow Jackets’ interior and struggled to make shots from deep (7-for-33), but Georgia Tech only launched 12 threes (hitting six) and shot 63.3 percent (19-of-30) on two-pointers. Jim Boeheim’s team now has three home defeats and is currently projected by KenPom to finish 9-9 in the league, well below its preseason expectations.
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Analysis: ACC Turnover Battle Drives Success

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 10th, 2019

It is common knowledge in basketball circles that winning the turnover battle is an important factor in determining the victor. However, we did not realize just how crucial it is until we reviewed every ACC league game from a year ago and found that the teams committing an equal or lesser number of turnovers than their opponents were victorious 76 percent of the time.

Duke Lost Two Games to North Carolina Last Season in Part Because of Turnovers

Among major statistical measures, only overall field goal shooting (81%) is a better predictor of the outcome of a game. Turnovers, in fact, were a better indicator than three-point shooting (74%), free throw shooting (61%) and rebounding (54%) in ACC play. Armed with that fact, we decided to examine several team characteristics that influence how well conference squads take care of the ball, with the caveat that overall skill and talent is the most likely driver. Over the last five years of play, offensive tempo, assist percentage and three-point attempt rate turned out to have no discernible impact on turnovers. The four team attributes that are listed below, however — years of experience, minutes continuity, average height and bench minutes — exhibit some connection to turnover rates. Here’s a look at how these traits are already fitting some league teams in 2018-19.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.07.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 7th, 2019

All the favorites held serve on the first weekend of conference play around the ACC. On Saturday, the league’s co-favorites each won handily at home, as Virginia took care of Florida State and Duke routed Clemson. Two other ranked ACC squads were also successful – North Carolina blitzed Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech bested Boston College. The weekend was incredibly devoid of close games, with no outcomes among the group decided by single digits. Here are the highlights from (the real) opening weekend around the ACC.

Kyle Guy was on fire Saturday as Virginia dominated Florida State. (John Markon)
  • Best Win: By dominating Florida State from start to finish, defending league champion Virginia served notice that the ACC regular season title race still runs through Charlottesville. A final score of 65-52 was not indicative of the complete beatdown that the Cavaliers administered on Saturday afternoon – the Seminoles scored the last 16 points of the game to make it look better than it actually was. Up until that point, Tony Bennett’s defense had held high-scoring Florida State to just 36 points over 38 minutes of play. Junior sharp-shooter Kyle Guy was red hot (5-of-6 from deep), leading the Cavaliers with 21 points, including 18 in the opening half.
  • Worst Loss: With no upsets occurring over the weekend, we’re going with Notre Dame’s home loss to Syracuse, 72-62. The Irish looked good early, leading by 10 points at one point, but Syracuse rallied behind sophomore transfer Elijah Hughes, who posted a career high 22 points on 6-of-13 three-point shooting. Mike Brey’s two freshman guards had a tough time in their first look at the Orange’s lengthy zone defense, as Prentiss Hubb and Dane Goodwin combined for just four points on 1-for-10 shooting. With its thin roster, Notre Dame can’t afford to drop too many home games if the Irish hope to have a chance at postseason play.
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ACC Conversation: Pre-Conference Edition – Part 2

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), Mick Mcdonald (@themickmcdonald) on January 4th, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald recently got together to chat about the ACC heading in to conference play. Here’s Part 2 of that conversation.

Justin Robinson has guided Virginia Tech into contender status in the ACC. (accsports.com)

Brad Jenkins: Can Florida State or Virginia Tech crack the top three in the ACC? They both look like solid clubs, but are they being overlooked?

Matt Auerbach: I like both teams, and they deserve to be ranked inside the top 10 nationally. But I don’t believe that either will elevate above the aforementioned three squads when the league plays out.

Mick McDonald: Both definitely could, although I like Buzz Williams’ club a bit more. They are lethal offensively with so many guys who can light it up, and they play really hard on the defensive end. Their schedule has been light so far, so I’m very much looking forward to some bigger opportunities coming up shortly. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Justin Robinson can make an argument for best backcourt in the country and Kerry Blackshear is a match-up nightmare.

Matt Auerbach: Truthfully, there’s no denying both belong inside the top 10 based on merit, but I don’t view either as a legitimate threat to make a Final Four without some unusual breaks falling their way.

Mick McDonald: Agree with Matt. These two are rightful top 10 teams, but the ACC is just so loaded that could mean finishing fourth or fifth.

Matt Auerbach: If forced to choose one team over the other, I’d definitely lean towards the Hokies because of the backcourt. With a guy like Robinson surrounded by elite shooters, they can be impossible to stop if they get rolling.

Brad Jenkins: My only concern with the Hokies is that they are so reliant on great shooting. I’m just not sure how they can beat good teams on off shooting nights. I actually think Florida State may be better now that Phil Cofer is back in the lineup, but the Seminoles tend to not always progress very well through league play. Let’s move on to some surprise teams. Are NC State and Louisville legit?

Mick McDonald: I think NC State is legit in terms of a lock NCAA Tourney and potential second weekend team. Kevin Keatts is proving himself as one of the best young coaches in the country — that team looks like a nightmare to prepare for.

Matt Auerbach: Well, you saw the Pack in person, Brad, and your bird’s eye view confirmed what we had been seeing from afar. NC State is the real deal. Balanced, explosive, efficient and great chemistry makes for beautiful offensive basketball and that’s what Keatts’ team has going right now.

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ACC Conversation: Pre-Conference Edition – Part 1

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), Mick Mcdonald (@themickmcdonald) on January 3rd, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald recently got together to chat about the ACC heading into conference play. Here’s Part 1 of that conversation.

Tony Bennett and Mike Krzyzewski looked primed to battle it out for ACC supremacy. (pinterest.com)

Brad Jenkins: Happy New Year fellas! Now that we’re starting conference action, it’s a good time to access the ACC again. The national perception right now seems to be that this is going to be a DukeVirginia battle for league supremacy. Is that how you guys see it?

Mick McDonald: I do. I think you can make a pretty decent argument that those are the two best teams in the country, not just the ACC.

Matt Auerbach: I agree that there is a clear separation between those two and the rest of the league as well, but despite their relative struggles, I wouldn’t rule out North Carolina being a factor when all is said and done.

Mick McDonald: Virginia’s schedule leaves something to be desired to date, although a road win at Maryland and neutral win over Wisconsin are nice. But three of the Cavaliers’ next five games are against top 10 teams, so we’ll know for sure soon.

Brad Jenkins: What has impressed you most so far about Duke, Mick?

Mick McDonald: Is it weird to say Duke’s Zion Williamson, even with all his hype? He’s better than I considered and is truly a must-watch player. While RJ Barrett hasn’t been quite as efficient, his talent is undeniable. And Tre Jones is exactly the type of point guard Duke has needed the past few years. He really controls the game well.

Brad Jenkins: Yeah, this is the best defensive team Coach K has had in quite a while, led by Jones’ ball pressure. To rank among the top two in the nation in both blocks and steals is quite a thing.

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NC State is Legit — and So is Markell Johnson

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 20th, 2018

N.C. State got its biggest win of the season on Wednesday night at PNC Arena, taking out #7 Auburn, 78-71. As our colleague Matt Auerbach pointed out yesterday, there has been a lot of early-season skepticism about the Wolfpack because of their weak overall schedule to date. Now, after handling the Tigers, look for Kevin Keatts‘ surprising young squad to crack the Top 25 rankings next week (assuming it handles USC-Upstate over the weekend).

Markell Johnson led NC State to its biggest win of the year over #7 Auburn (wralsportsfan.com)

NC State’s rise is in large part because Markell Johnson has quietly emerged as one of the nation’s best guards. Against Auburn, the 6’1″ junior exploded for 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting and was at his best when his team really needed him. A personal 10-2 run in the second half exhibited the value Johnson is giving his team at a regular occurrence. Against the four Power Six schools that NC State has faced, he is averaging 20.0 points and posting an outstanding effective field goal percentage of 71.4 percent. On the season, Johnson is making 50.0 percent of his threes and 72.7 percent of his two-point attempts. Additionally, he’s posting a superb assist to turnover ratio of 2.5-to-1. As Kevin Keatts said Wednesday night, “He [Johnson] is one of the best guards in the country when he stays aggressive.” Johnson’s game is blending nicely with his backcourt mate Braxton Beverly — the duo thoroughly outplayed Auburn’s highly regarded pair of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. The side-by-side comparison shows that Johnson/Beverly combined for 42 points, 9-of-13 shooting from deep, and four turnovers; Harper and Brown, on the other hand, totaled just 14 points, made only 1-of-9 shots from distance, and committed 10 turnovers.

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North Carolina Bounces Back With Big Win Over Gonzaga

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 17th, 2018

After getting blown out at Michigan as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Roy Williams made some terse comments about the current state of his team — basically saying that North Carolina “stinks,” and that he was doing a poor job coaching his squad. In the Tar Heels’ first real test since that evening, his team laid the wood on Gonzaga, 103-90, Saturday night in the Smith Center. Senior forwards Luke Maye and Cam Johnson led the way as Williams’ team once again looked the part of a legitimate national contender.

Luke Maye won his individual battle with Rui Hachimura in North Carolina’s weekend victory over Gonzaga. (photo credit: goheels.com)

After a very successful junior campaign, Maye has to date had a disappointing senior year. His key offensive numbers are down – both in terms of scoring (14.3 versus 16.9 PPG) and shooting (45.0% versus 48.6% FG) — but he got the better of Gonzaga All-America candidate Rui Hachimura on Saturday night. Maye finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds in the winning effort while Hachimura contributed 17 points and six rebounds. One area where Maye has improved this season is at the free throw stripe. After making all seven of his tries against Gonzaga, he is now shooting 79.5 percent on the season (after converting only 62.4 percent of his freebies a year ago).

North Carolina also made a season high 13 three-pointers against the Zags with Johnson chiefly responsible (6-of-8 3FG). Williams has been waiting for a break-out shooting performance, saying after the game, “I’ve been telling Cam [Johnson], Kenny [Williams] and Luke [Maye] that you guys are our best shooters — how ’bout trying to be our best makers?” A regular strength of the North Carolina program is its work on the boards and that was hugely evident on Saturday as well. Gonzaga entered the contest ranked among the 50 best offensive rebounding teams in college basketball, but the Zags managed to only grab five of its 33 misses against the Tar Heels. Meanwhile, North Carolina converted 14 offensive boards into 27 points. As Mark Few said afterward, “They just pounded us on the glass, too. […] The shots we did get them to miss, they usually got the rebound and put it back in.”

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Finals Week Analysis: Addressing Duke’s Preseason Questions

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 12th, 2018

Heading into the 2018-19 season, we knew that Duke’s talent would be at a very high level, but there were a handful of legitimate questions surrounding Mike Krzyzewski’s youthful club. With 10 games now in the books and students in the midst of finals, it seems like a good time to assess how the Blue Devils are addressing those preseason concerns. Duke’s 9-1 record has been achieved with superstar freshmen Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett grabbing most of the headlines, but two of their classmates may hold the key to a truly spectacular season.

Trey Jones has been the catalyst behind Duke’s improved man-to-man defense. (Lance King/Getty Images)

Question #1: Would the Blue Devils be able to play effective man-to-man defense?

In the preseason, Krzyzewski praised the defensive potential of his team, citing its quickness and length on the perimeter. In recent years, however, Duke has not been very successful in executing Coach K’s favored pressure man-to-man defense. Youth cannot entirely be blamed for those struggles — those teams frequently had effort issues as well. For example, halfway through last season, the Blue Devils’ defense was so bad that Krzyzewski gave up on it and began exclusively playing zone. Based on Duke’s current defensive numbers, that will not be a problem this year. The Blue Devils currently rank fifth in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings, while holding opponents to very good shooting rates — 42.4 percent shooting on two-pointers, and 28.2 percent from behind the three-point line.

According to Krzyzewski, freshman point guard Tre Jones deserves most of the credit for the defensive resurgence. Jones’ pressure on the ball is something we haven’t seen from a Blue Devils guard in many years — maybe since Chris Duhon 15 years ago. This allows Duke’s rangy wings to get in passing lanes, generating live-ball turnovers that often lead to showtime dunks at the other end. Duke leads the nation in steal percentage (14.5%) and is forcing turnovers on 21.8 percent of opponents’ possessions (50th nationally). In the previous four seasons, the Blue Devils have not been among the nation’s top 200 teams in forcing miscues. Gonzaga last month achieved some success in attacking Duke’s ball-screen defense when Marquise Bolden was on the floor, but Krzyzewski’s counter to that strategy may be to give more minutes to the more mobile Javin DeLaurier. DeLaurier, who allows the Duke defense to switch at all five spots, made his first start of the year against Yale last Saturday.

Question #2: How good (or bad) will the perimeter shooting be?

Duke has finished among KenPom’s top 10 offensive efficiency rankings in every year of the past decade. A big component of that success has been the Blue Devils’ sustained ability to knock down perimeter shots, year after year. Over the past nine campaigns, Duke has converted at least 37 percent of its shots from long-range, finishing well above the national average each year. While immensely talented, none of this season’s four ballyhooed freshmen came to college known for their expertise in shooting the ball. And with no returning players of note, outside shooting acumen was a huge question for this team heading into the Champions Classic. After 10 games, this is still a concern – Duke is currently making just 33.2 percent of its three-point efforts.

A deeper dive into the numbers, however, reveals that Duke’s perimeter shooting woes may not be as bad as its season mark suggests. The Blue Devils were ice cold in their last two outings, making just 10-of-47 from distance, but prior to those two games, they sank a respectable 36.0 percent of their three-point attempts. And perhaps surprisingly, Duke is shooting better when it faces tougher competition – making 37.6 percent from beyond the arc versus the five best defenses they have faced. One potential caveat here is that Krzyzewski’s club is too dependent on Cam Reddish’s game-to-game accuracy. As Duke’s highest-volume deep shooter, Reddish’s propensity for streakiness is concerning. After starting the year on fire – 10-of-21 from three-point range in his first two games – he has struggled lately. Reddish was largely responsible (1-of-14) for Duke’s poor three-point shooting in its last two contests, and a cold night from him could be problematic when Duke begins to tackle the better defensive teams in the ACC.

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ACC M5: 12.10.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 10th, 2018

  1. Syracuse.com. It was just like old times at the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon as Syracuse edged Georgetown, 72-71, on Tyus Battle’s jumper with three seconds remaining. These original Big East schools have now met four years in a row after an initial two-year hiatus. Since the Orange joined the ACC prior to the 2013-14 season, they have played 14 non-conference games against original Big East schools, winning six of those contests. But with the ACC moving to a 20-game conference schedule beginning in 2019-20, Jim Boeheim isn’t sure those marquee match-ups can continue. Boeheim commented on the matter after Saturday’s contest, saying, “We’ve got so many games we have to play. It’s difficult to play these games.” That would be an unfortunate consequence of the new ACC schedule plan – it’s safe to say that most of us would rather see Syracuse play Georgetown (or Villanova) than an extra meeting with, say, Georgia Tech.
  2. Onefootdown.com. Speaking of historic non-conference rivalries from the past, Notre Dame lost to UCLA at the buzzer, 65-62, on Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion. As this article points out, the Irish’s problems are, for once, coming on the offensive end. Against the Bruins, Mike Brey’s club made only 33.3 percent of its twos and 8-of-15 from the foul line. On the season, Notre Dame has logged an effective field goal percentage of just 47.7 percent, making it to date the worst shooting team of the Brey era. Not coincidentally, this is also the youngest team Brey has ever suited up. Maybe the offense will begin to click as the season progresses, but if it doesn’t, Notre Dame should expect to have a lot of long nights in ACC play.
  3. Mississippi Clarion Ledger. Two southern ACC schools participated in Saturday’s Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. In the first game, Clemson fell to Mississippi State, 82-71, as the Bulldogs set a program record with 19 three-pointers. This is becoming a troubling pattern for Brad Brownell’s defense this year. Not only are the Tigers allowing opponents to shoot very well from deep – 39.1 percent (322nd nationally) – but they are also giving them a ton of opportunities. Opponents are attempting a robust 43.5 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. As Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said, “You take what the defense gives you. And basically what their defense was giving us today were threes.” For the season, Clemson is giving up 2.5 more made threes per game than they are making. That is not a long-term recipe for success.
  4. Hartford Courant. In the second game at the Prudential Center, Florida State beat Connecticut, 79-71, in a ragged type of affair in which the Seminoles seem to thrive. The game featured a total of 41 turnovers and 55 fouls that resulted in 58 free throw attempts. Leonard Hamilton’s teams have often struggled with ball-handling and this year is no exception – the Seminoles rank 320th in the country with a turnover rate of 22.4 percent. But that’s offset by a defense that forces miscues on 24.3 percent of opponent’s possessions, good for 12th in the nation. With Florida State’s depth, Hamilton doesn’t mind a foul-fest type of game either – the Seminoles also beat Purdue in a similar manner in the recent ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  Expect a lot more “ugly” games involving Florida State, and a lot more Seminoles’ victories.
  5. Yahoo Sports. One scheduled ACC game this weekend did not take place as Boston College was either unable or unwilling – depending on which school you listen to – to travel to Texas A&M. This piece goes through the timeline of relevant events, beginning with the Eagles’ original flight that was delayed because of problems with their chartered plane. It sounds like several alternatives were presented for the game to continue, even if it was moved to a later tip-time on Saturday, but apparently Jim Christian was not willing to play a big non-conference game just five or six hours after a long plane flight. The sad part for Boston College is that it has missed an opportunity to notch a solid road win, something they would likely need to have any shot at an NCAA at-large bid this season.
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ACC M5: 12.03.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 3rd, 2018

morning5_ACC

  1. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: After coming up just a little short at Iowa in last week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Pittsburgh struggled early in Friday’s annual City Game with cross-town rival Duquesne. But the Panthers eventually got it going and won going away, 74-53, in front of a crowd of 12,246. We mention the game’s attendance because it represents a 21 percent increase over last year’s meeting in the same event, furthering the notion that first-year head coach Jeff Capel is rebuilding the excitement level for his program in the Steel City. Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot noticed a difference with Capel in charge, saying, “[Former Pitt] Coach [Kevin] Stallings is a finesse guy who is a little more offensively oriented. This team is more like Duke [where Capel played and was an assistant coach].”
  2. Louisvile Courier-Journal: Louisville took another positive step in its own rebuilding process by winning at Seton Hall, 70-65, on Saturday afternoon. The Cardinals showed during Feast Week that they were ready to compete with the big boys — dropping close games against Tennessee and Marquette in the NIT Season Tip-Off — before edging top-10 Michigan State in overtime last week. In adding a significant road win over a Big East club, Chris Mack‘s balanced attack — only Dwayne Sutton (12 points) reached double figures — has become the norm this year. Sophomore breakout player Jordan Nwora (17.7 PPG) leads the squad in scoring, but eight other Cardinals are averaging between 6.3 and 10.0 points per contest. Keep an eye on this team over the next month.
  3. USA Today: Three ACC schools took part in Saturday’s Miami Hoophall Invitational at AmericanAirlines Arena, although the sparse crowds suggest that the four games would have fit better in a local high school gym. Georgia Tech was the first squad to see action, ultimately blowing a 16-point second half lead in falling to St. John’s, 76-73. We are now in year three of the Josh Pastner era, and some clear patterns have emerged:  First, the Yellow Jackets will defend hard (they are currently 16th in national defensive efficiency); next, they will struggle to make shots from deep (30.7% 3FG this season). If their shooting holds, Georgia Tech will fail to make at least 33 percent of its three-pointers for the third straight season. Until Pastner can recruit some shooters into the program — and shouldn’t he have by now (?) — the Yellow Jackets’ limited offense will hold them back.
  4. Miami Sun-Sentinel: Georgia Tech wasn’t the only ACC team to blow a huge lead in the Hoophall Invitational. Home team Miami squandered a 15-point second half advantage in losing to Yale, 77-73, its third consecutive defeat. Head coach Jim Larranaga has noticed a fatal flaw in the Hurricanes’ defense this year — after Yale’s Miye Oni (29 points) torched his club, the Hurricanes’ coach noted, “We just don’t have a guy that can stop a guy like that.” Previously, Bethune-Cookman’s Malik Maitland (29 points) and Fresno State’s Braxton Huggins (28 points) found similar success against the Hurricanes’ defense. This raises the obvious question — if mid-major players are slicing up Miami, what will happen when the stars of the ACC get a crack at the Hurricanes?
  5. WRAL Sportsfan: The only victorious ACC school in Miami on Saturday was NC State, which pulled away late to top Vanderbilt, 80-65. Much like the Wolfpack’s game at Wisconsin earlier in the week — when the Badgers rallied to overtake them — NC State was in control for most of the way before being challenged in the second half. This time, Kevin Keatts’ team responded positively in what was only their second match-up with a team ranked in KenPom’s top 175. NC State forward Torin Dorn is quietly putting up impressive numbers in many areas. The 6’5″ senior is leading the team in scoring (16.6 PPG) and on the boards (7.6 RPG), while making 55.7 percent of his two-point tries and 50.0 percent of his three-point attempts. Additionally, Dorn has collected 14 steals and only committed nine turnovers in eight games this year.
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