Florida State Finds Its “X” Factor in Xavier Rathan-Mayes

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 27th, 2015

For the most part, Florida State’s 2014-15 season has been a disappointment. Returning four starters from a 22-win NIT semifinalist, Leonard Hamilton had high hopes that this year’s Seminoles would return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three season, which at the time was the school’s fourth consecutive trip to the Big Dance. But early injuries and a big dismissal have hurt the team’s progress, and with a 10-10 record, meaningful postseason play does not look likely. However, there may now be a ray of light at the end of the tunnel for this Florida State squad. Despite Saturday’s 78-74 loss to North Carolina, a star appears to be emerging in Tallahassee.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes Exploded for 35 Points in the Smith Center on Saturday. (AP Photo / Ellen Ozier)

Xavier Rathan-Mayes Exploded for 35 Points in the Smith Center on Saturday.
(AP Photo / Ellen Ozier)

Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill, Florida State fell behind by double-figures in each half, but both times rallied to make the game close. The driving force behind each comeback was Seminoles’ guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who put on a performance for the ages, becoming only the fourth opponent to score 35 or more points in the Smith Center’s 29-year history. Rathan-Mayes joins a select group that includes a pair of two-time ACC Player of the Year award winners, Len Bias and J.J. Redick, who each tallied 35 in the Smith Center in their senior seasons. The all-time opponent scoring record belongs to LaSalle’s Lionel Simmons, who scored 38 points in the new building in January 1988. All Simmons did in college was score 3,217 points (third all-time) and win a NPOY Award in 1990. So, you get the point – not bad company to keep. The redshirt freshman’s 35 points is easily the most by an ACC rookie this year, and ties Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas for the league-high this season by any player. This performance by Rathan-Mayes did not totally come out of nowhere, as he came in to this contest ranked among the ACC’s top-15 scorers in conference games.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.27.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 27th, 2015

This was easily the most entertaining weekend of ACC hoops so far this season. Of course, the league’s most important result was probably Duke’s win over St. John’s in New York’s Madison Garden, giving Mike Krzyzewski his 1,000th career win. The Blue Devils’ win also gave the ACC an important midseason non-conference victory on the road against a decent Big East team. Comebacks and exciting finishes were the norm as six of the seven league games were decided by four points or fewer. Conference leader Virginia needed to stage a late comeback to win at pesky rival Virginia Tech, while Notre Dame rallied from a huge early deficit to force overtime and eventually outlast N.C. State in Raleigh. In other close games, Miami won at Syracuse, Boston College edged Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Clemson beat Wake Forest on a putback at the buzzer, and North Carolina held off a furious Florida State rally on Saturday before itself rallying against Syracuse on Big Monday. In the only game that wasn’t in doubt in the final minutes, Louisville picked up a road win against struggling Pittsburgh. Here are some other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC.

Florida State's Xavier Rathan-Mayes explode for 35 points in Chapel Hill on Saturday. (Photo: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes exploded for 35 points in Chapel Hill on Saturday.
(Photo: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Redshirt freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes single-handedly kept Florida State competitive in its 78-74 loss at North Carolina on Saturday, as his 35 points tied the second-highest total ever scored by a UNC opponent in the 29-year history of the Smith Center. The Seminole guard connected on 14-of-26 field goals, including five three-pointers, three of which came in the game’s last 35 seconds to make the Tar Heels sweat down the stretch. Rathan-Mayes was more than just a scorer, though, as he grabbed five rebounds, handed out four assists, and had two steals in the contest. He has a great chance to become Leonard Hamilton’s next special player in Tallahassee.
  • Best Win: While Duke’s win over St. John’s was important for the obvious historical reasons, we will instead honor the top performance in a conference game here — Notre Dame’s overtime win in Raleigh on Sunday night. It’s not just that the Irish won a hard-fought victory in a tough venue, but it’s the way that the Irish did so that makes this win the best of the weekend. With under four minutes remaining in the first half, N.C. State was ahead by 18 points and cruising. But Notre Dame closed the half with a mini-run that cut the lead to 12, giving the Irish some momentum to carry into the second half. After finally catching the Wolfpack with 13 minutes left, the Irish fell behind again before rallying to force overtime and win the game. Star guard Jerian Grant led the way with 25 points as the Irish won their seventh ACC game in eight tries. Notre Dame hosts Duke Wednesday in a huge game for both teams in the conference standings.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 22nd, 2015

With approximately three weeks of conference play now in the books, it’s time to take a closer look at the ACC season. This is the first edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and team performances, focusing on which teams are playing better or worse than their records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, January 20th.

Current Standings

Jan21ACCPPP

It’s no revelation that Tony Bennett’s Virginia team has been the best team in the league to date, holding a larger points per possession (PPP) margin over second place North Carolina than the Tar Heels have over the sixth-best team, Louisville. And the Cavaliers are doing it at both ends of the floor, leading the league in offensive and defensive efficiency. It’s hard to understand why many of the experts only seem to talk about Virginia’s defense — which is great by the way — seemingly blinded by the fact the this is an equally outstanding offensive team as well. Not just “also pretty good,” but… “Outstanding!” Syracuse fans should probably be hesitant based on the discrepancy between the Orange’s gaudy 5-1 ACC record and their possession-based performance. Note that they have benefited from playing the least challenging conference schedule thus far, facing six teams that populate the bottom of the standings. Eventually the ACC heavyweights will show up on the docket, and that record is likely to backslide. Georgia Tech’s situation — dead last in the standings, but eighth in PPP — is what happens when the Jackets lose games by margins of one, three, five, seven and seven points. Pittsburgh may be in a similar spot as its former Big East rival from upstate New York, sporting a fortunate .500 record given their easy schedule.

Advanced Stat of the Week: North Carolina’s Rebounding (Both)

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 19th, 2015

In the headline match-up of the weekend, Duke ended its two-game losing streak with a surprisingly comfortable win at Louisville on Saturday. But the bigger surprise was how the Blue Devils did it, going almost exclusively with a 2-3 zone defense that was incredibly effective against the cold-shooting Cardinals. Notre Dame rallied from a 12-point second half deficit to beat Miami in South Bend on Saturday, keeping the Irish in second place in the league standings behind undefeated Virginia. The Cavaliers also had to mount a second half comeback to overtake Boston College Saturday afternoon in Conte Forum. In other games over the weekend, Syracuse dropped its first league game of the year at Clemson; N.C. State picked up a road win versus Florida State; and North Carolina and Pittsburgh each won home games against a pair of conference winless clubs, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Here are some other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC.

Notre Dame's Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday's win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday’s win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Jerian Grant had scored a total of only 26 points in his previous three games, but the senior guard broke out of his mini-slump with a huge effort against Miami on Saturday. The ACC Player of the Year candidate finished with an efficient 25 points that came on 8-of-10 field goal shooting. He also passed out eight assists and was part of a perimeter defense that held Hurricanes’ guard Angel Rodriguez in check. Rodriguez had torched Duke in his previous game with 24 points, but only managed four points on 1-of-10 shooting Saturday. Grant was also the difference down the stretch as his three broke a tie with 6:19 left and he also scored a layup and blocked a shot in the last minute to seal the win.
  • Best Win: After looking nothing like a championship contender in its two prior outings, Duke got back on track with a mild upset at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center on Saturday. After an all-night coaches’ meeting following Duke’s home debacle versus Miami, Mike Krzyzewski abandoned the Blue Devils’ trademark pressure man-to-man defense to instead play a 2-3 zone against the Cardinals. While it was a big surprise to most of us, the zone was not totally unexpected by Louisville’s Rick Pitino, who said afterwards, “Duke is a team that never plays zone… and that’s what I would have done if I were in [Mike Krzyzewski’s] shoes.” Pitino is no doubt referring to his team’s lack of perimeter shooting, which finished a chilly 4-of-25 on three-pointers against the Devils. Ironically, Duke looked a lot more like a recent-vintage Syracuse team, with the Blue Devils playing deliberately on the offensive end to go along with the newly-installed zone defense.

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Duke Heads to Louisville Looking for Confidence

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 17th, 2015

One week ago, the storyline surrounding Duke‘s visit to Louisville was that Mike Krzyzewski would most likely be going for win #1,000 in his illustrious coaching career. How quickly things change in the world of college basketball! Today, after two discouraging beatings by unranked teams, the Blue Devils head into a Noon ET (ESPN) showdown wondering if they can beat just about anybody right now. So what’s going on with the team that won each game handily on its way to a 14-0 start, including that huge early December win at Wisconsin that seems like ages ago?

Mike Kzyzewski Had No Answers in Tuesday's Loss to Miami. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Mike Kzyzewski Had No Answers in Tuesday’s Loss to Miami.
(Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Whenever a team goes through a bad stretch, there are invariably multiple reasons for the slump. In Duke’s case, much has been made of the team’s poor defensive play and with good reason — both N.C. State and Miami torched the Blue Devils with over 1.2 points per possession. Duke’s defense struggled in almost every area in both games: off the dribble; perimeter shooters; poor rotation; transition; at the rim. That’s too many areas to fix with strategic adjustments alone. On offense, the team that has ranked first nationally in offensive efficiency for most of the season has suddenly gone ice cold. Senior Quinn Cook is the only perimeter player who can make a jump shot right now, which allows defenses to concentrate on surrounding Jahlil Okafor without paying the price. Consider this: Cook has made 8-of-14 shots from three-point range in the two losses, but the rest of the team is 6-of-35. Perhaps all of that cold shooting is a big reason for the defensive meltdowns that took place in the second half of each loss (see tables below).

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ACC M5: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 14th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Seminoles.comFlorida State has posted a list of current alumni playing professionally. After going down the page, looking at all the different places around the globe with ex-Seminoles on pro rosters, one notices that there is a fairly prominent league that currently features no former players from Florida State. In a bit of a surprise, despite having put together a solid ACC program over the last decade, Leonard Hamilton has no former Seminoles on NBA rosters right now. I thought for sure Al Thornton, just 32 years old now, would still be in the league and when he wasn’t on this list, I figured it was a mistake. After a quick search it was found that the former 1st Team All-ACC performer recently signed with a club in Puerto Rico. Perhaps this shows that the difference between having a solid college program and one that is a national title contender is having future NBA talent on your roster. Interestingly, the only other current ACC member with no current NBA players is Notre Dame, a similar program success-wise. Like Florida State, the Irish have been pretty consistent winners, but never have had enough star power to make a deep NCAA postseason run. At least in Notre Dame’s case, the Irish have a likely future NBA-baller this year in Jerian Grant.
  2. Clemsontigers.com: While Mike Krzyzewski is getting plenty of attention on his approach to 1000 wins, Clemson’s Brad Brownell just recently reached a coaching milestone of his own. Saturday’s 71-62 Tiger road win over Pittsburgh was Brownell’s 250th career victory. That brings his record at Clemson to 83-64, and while he is well regarded by the media and fellow coaches, eventually Brownell needs to get Clemson back to the NCAA Tournament, where they haven’t been since 2011, Brownell’s first year at the school. Despite’s Saturday’s upset win over the Panthers, making the Big Dance this year may be a reach for this Tiger team, which would be four straight seasons with no NCAA bid. Just ask Steve Donahue and Jeff Bzdelik how that same streak worked out for them.
  3. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: This article looks at a surprising weakness of this year’s Pittsburgh squad: rebounding. Toughness on defense and on the boards have been the cornerstones of Jaime Dixon’s program for years, but that has certainly not been the case this season. In Clemson’s aforementioned win Saturday, the Panthers were thoroughly whipped on the glass by a margin of 17, the most of Dixon’s tenure at Pitt. On the season, the Panthers now rank #236 in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage. Undoubtedly, that has a lot to do with Pittsburgh’s current #162 ranking in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is eerily similar to the performance of Pitt’s 2012 defense, which ended up #149, the only season that Pitt’s defense was not ranked in KenPom’s top 65. Not coincidentally, that was the only year Dixon’s team missed out on the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Louisville Courier-Journal: In this piece, the consequences of Rick Pitino’s short bench are examined, namely in the form of late game fatigue. Against North Carolina, three Louisville starters played almost 40 minutes and possibly wilted down the stretch in the Tar Heels’ 72-71 comeback win. It’s certainly not Pitino’s preferred way to play, but at this point in the season he obviously just doesn’t trust his young reserves enough to give them meaningful minutes. One wonders if this means the Cardinals will have to dial back some of their famous pressure defense just to keep their core guys fresh. Pitino certainly isn’t coddling his young players and perhaps is trying to send them a message with his public comments, saying, “This is a very unusual group because they’re weak physically, they’re weak emotionally and they’re weak basketball-wise.” Coaches know that the players hear every public word spoken by their coach, but it remains to be seen if they are capable of earning Pitino’s trust anytime soon.
  5. Ramblinwreck.com: Georgia Tech is trying what they call an innovative pricing program for their final two home games this season. They call it the Ramblin’ Rates program, and describe it as a descending-price auction that makes sure that fans pay the lowest market price for the games. The two games in question just happen to be versus Louisville and North Carolina, obviously the two biggest drawing events of the season to be held at McCamish Pavilion. While the plan tries to paint itself as a great benefit to the fans, it’s pretty obvious that the school thinks the demand for tickets for those attractive opponents will drive the “lowest market price” above normal game pricing and bring in extra cash by getting their patrons to bid-up the cost. I don’t think it’s a scam and if the tickets all sell, then the market will have been responsible and that’s OK. But one could legitimately ask, why doesn’t the market get to decide things when Alabama A&M comes to town?
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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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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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ACC M5: 12.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on December 12th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Raleigh News & Observer: In this piece, Andrew Carter talks about North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, who’s trying to regain the shooting form that made him a preseason All-American. With his accuracy numbers (35.5% FG) significantly down compared to last year, you have to wonder if Paige is feeling the pressure of being North Carolina’s only viable perimeter threat this season. He probably needs to regain that touch soon if the Tar Heels want to hang with top-ranked Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday (12 ET – CBS). While Kentucky is a bad match-up for most any team, they are a really bad match-up for teams that score almost exclusively from two-point baskets in the paint. Currently, North Carolina ranks 14th in the country in percentage of its points derived from two-pointers, while Kentucky leads the nation in defending two-point attempts, allowing only 30 percent. It would help the Tar Heels’ cause if forward Brice Johnson played well, but don’t count on it. A look at Johnson’s game-by-game statistics so far this year reveals a disturbing trend. In contests against the team’s four worst opponents, Johnson has solid numbers (16.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 61% FG); but against the team’s four top-40 opponents, his production has basically been cut in half (7.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 32% FG).
  2. South Bend Tribune & Seminoles.com: Notre Dame visits Florida State on Saturday (8pm ET – ESPN2) in an early conference match-up between two teams that appear to be moving in opposite directions. The Irish (9-1) are off to nice start and entered the AP Top 25 earlier this week. The Notre Dame offense has been on a tear, averaging 85.1 points per contest while leading the country in field goal shooting (56.2%). On the other hand, the Seminoles (4-4) have been one of the more disappointing teams in the ACC. But in fairness to Leonard Hamilton’s squad, it has been beset by injuries to their two primary guards. After missing two-and-a-half games, Aaron Thomas returned to action last week and looked back in top form, with 22 points in Florida State’s 96-73 victory over Central Florida. Hamilton hopes to get starting point guard Devon Bookert back for the Notre Dame game, after he missed the previous five games due to a foot injury.
  3. Fox Sports: In a game that didn’t get a lot of attention, Clemson rallied for a big overtime home win over #18 Arkansas this past Sunday evening. With all the hoopla surrounding the new NCAA football playoff selection coupled with a normal NFL Sunday, many didn’t notice that the Tigers gained their second win this season over an SEC squad (the other was LSU). Ironically, Clemson’s next two games are also against SEC members, Auburn and South Carolina. In Sunday’s win, Brad Brownell’s guys showed flashes of the defense we have come to expect from Clemson, holding the potent Razorbacks to a season low in points and points per possession (1.04 PPP). In each of Brownell’s first four years at the helm, the Tigers have ranked among the nation’s top-60 in adjusted defensive efficiency, but even after Sunday’s strong performance, Clemson only ranks 121st this year.
  4. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Jamie Dixon was happy to welcome Cameron Wright back to action last Friday in the Panthers’ 76-62 win over crosstown rival Duquesne. Wright only played a token minute, but after a week of practice the senior wing should be ready for more minutes this weekend when the Panthers host St. Bonaventure on Saturday. Dixon hopes that Wright’s return will have a positive impact on the Pitt defense, normally a program strength but an inconsistent liability so far this year. In each of the Panthers’ three losses, opponents torched the Pitt defense by scoring over 1.2 points per possession, a mark only bested by three Panther opponents during all of last season.
  5. Winston-Salem Journal: In a bit of a surprise on Tuesday, sophomore guard Miles Overton informed Danny Manning that he would be leaving the Wake Forest program, effective immediately. It wouldn’t have been as big of a shock if the announcement had come about a week earlier, as Overton had only logged 49 minutes of playing time in the Deacons’ first six games. But last week, he saw a lot more action, scoring 22 points in 40 minutes combined in his last two games. In any case, by leaving now, Overton can transfer to another school for the spring semester, and be eligible to play again next December.
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ACC M5: 12.08.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 8th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. WralSportsFan: The first conference game of the year took place in Raleigh on Saturday night with N.C. State defeating Wake Forest by a score of 78-65. Mark Gottfried continues to get good production from his two SEC transfers — former LSU player Ralston Turner led the way with 21 points, while former Alabama player Trevor Lacey scored 15 points and dished out six assists. It’s clear that Gottfried’s SEC roots as a player and former head coach at Alabama have helped him establish ties with his old league, giving him good name recognition with potential transfers there. This game was also the ACC debut for Danny Manning, who watched his Deacons struggle offensively, scoring only 65 points in a fairly high-tempo, 72-possession game. A big key to the Wolfpack’s win was keeping Wake off of the offensive boards, really the only thing it has done well this year (35 percent offensive rebounding rate). The Demon Deacons grabbed only 21.4 percent of their misses on this night, easily their worst performance of the year.
  2. New York Post: In a meeting of two traditional Big East rivals, St. John’s beat Syracuse, 69-57, for its first win in the Carrier Dome since 1999. This game came down to shooting, with the Red Storm outscoring the Orange by 18 points on three-pointers and by 10 from the foul line. As Jim Boeheim said after the game, “We’re either going to make shots against good teams or we’re gonna lose. It’s not that complicated.” As usual, the Syracuse defense will keep most opponents’ scoring under control, but it’s really hard to win games while shooting just 20.8 percent from deep, Syracuse’s season average. The most obvious player who can turn that number around is junior guard Trevor Cooney, who was 0-of-4 from behind the arc on Saturday. Perhaps he is feeling pressure as the focus of every defense, so others like Michael Gbinije (3-of-21 on the year) need to step up and knock down some jumpers.
  3. CBS Sports: Miami suffered a surprising 68-55 home loss to Green Bay on Saturday afternoon in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes got off to a terrible start and turned to a zone defense after falling behind by 11 points in the game’s first 13 minutes. After the game, head coach Jim Larranaga said that was the first time this season that he had felt forced to use the zone. Ironically, it was right about this point in the season last year that Larranaga, a traditional man-to-man defensive coach, installed a match-up zone that turned around Miami’s struggling season. This weekend, though, it was the Hurricanes’ offense that failed to produce, with Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan combining to go 9-of-31 from the field. It’s also possible that Miami took the Phoenix too lightly, which was a big mistake against a team that ranks #23 nationally in defensive efficiency.
  4. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia Tech continued Saturday’s trend of ACC schools getting upset at home due to offensive struggles, falling to USC-Upstate by five points. Although the Yellow Jackets still have a decent 6-2 record, their offensive deficiencies may not be fixable. Against the Spartans, Georgia Tech struggled from the foul line (11-of-20) and three-point line (3-of-21), while also committing 17 turnovers. A look at their season stats shows that this particular performance wasn’t too far from the team’s norm. The Yellow Jackets currently rank outside of the nation’s top-300 in both free throw (62%) and three-point shooting (27%), and they aren’t much better at ball handling either, ranking #223 in turnover percentage.
  5. Syracuse.com: In this piece from Patrick Stevens, he discusses the difference in effort at Boston College this year under new coach Jim Christian. It appears that the program’s culture now includes tougher mental fortitude, enabling the Eagles to handle game adversity much better than in previous years. On Friday night, the Eagles bested a pretty good Providence squad by nine at Conte Forum, holding off a second half charge from the Friars. Providence, already claiming wins over Florida State and Notre Dame this year, became the second KenPom top-85 team (along with New Mexico) Boston College has beaten this season. By comparison, the Eagles had a dismal 0-6 record against top-85 non-conference opponents last year.
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Duke’s Defense: Much Better This Year, But Good Enough?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 1st, 2014

Sunday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski won the 990th game of his career, 93-73 over Army. This game was a matchup of the only two schools that Krzyzewski has coached, and he was proud of both of them afterwards. In the postgame press conference, the veteran coach heaped praise on the Black Knights, and talked about how impressed he is with the job Army’s coach Zach Spiker is doing at West Point, where Krzyzewski played in the 1960’s and coached for five years before coming to Duke in ’80. Army came in to the game undefeated (5-0) and hung with the Blue Devils well into the second half before freshmen Jahlil Okafor (21 points) and Tyus Jones (16 points, 10 assists, 0 turnovers) helped push the game out of reach. Duke has now won its first seven contests, all by 10 or more points, and along with the highly touted freshmen class, the improved Blue Devil defense has been the story so far.

Matt Jones (#13) and Amile Jefferson (#21) are part of an improved Blue Devil Defense. (Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Matt Jones (#13) and Amile Jefferson (#21) are part of an improved Blue Devil Defense.
(Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Krzyzewski has long been lauded as a great defensive coach, and he has won many conference and national championships with stellar play on the defensive end, but that was not the case at all in 2013-14. Last year the Blue Devils ranked #116 in adjusted defensive efficiency, easily their worst finish since Ken Pomeroy started tracking the metric in 2002. There were many reasons cited for that weak performance: youth; not enough interior size; and a general lack of team toughness. Although they are still relatively young, Duke seems to have solved the size and toughness issue, at least so far. Last season, the problems surfaced early, giving us an indication that something was amiss with Duke on the defensive end. First there was the 94 points scored by Kansas in an 11-point Champions Classic Jayhawk win, and then even more troubling, Vermont hung 90 on the Blue Devils in a narrow one-point loss to Duke in Cameron. Duke went on to a fine 26-9 season but was plagued all year by having such an unreliable defense. Now after seven games in 2014-15 let’s look at how some of Duke’s defensive numbers compare to the first seven games from 2013-14 and with last season’s final stats:

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