ACC Offseason Storylines: FBI Brings the Hammer to Louisville and Miami

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 17th, 2017

We are now a little over three weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next several weeks we will preview the fortunes of all 15 ACC schools by projecting how each squad will maximize its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses, and we will also be reporting from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte later this month. But first, let’s catch up on a few of the most important storylines in the ACC since North Carolina captured its sixth NCAA Championship in Glendale last April.

FBI Case Rocks the College Basketball World

Louisville’s Rick Pitino became the first major casualty of the FBI Investigation into College Hoops Recruiting. (Getty Images)

On September 26, we learned in a dramatic morning announcement that even the NCAA was not aware of that the FBI has been investigating the college basketball recruiting scene. Four NCAA assistant coaches were charged with accepting bribes to steer players to pro agents and/or financial advisors, while six other individuals were also arrested, including several Adidas employees who were accused of arranging cash payouts for recruits and their families as incentives to join their sponsored college programs. Two of the schools involved are ACC members Louisville and Miami.

As soon as the FBI news broke and the Louisville program was implicated in the report, pressure immediately began mounting on head coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich. By the next morning, we knew that neither luminary would survive this scandal, the latest in a string of sordid revelations involving the program. Pitino was officially fired yesterday. Understandably, the university could not tolerate further violations and embarrassments in the midst of a probation currently being served for 2015’s stripper scandal. Even more damning for Pitino is news that his voice is allegedly on an FBI tape as a direct participant in the pay-for-play scheme. Two Cardinals’ assistants have also been placed on administrative leave, leaving former Louisville player David Padgett to pick up the pieces this season as the school’s interim head coach. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see the school try to get out in front of the NCAA’s inevitable return to campus with another round of self-imposed penalties that includes a postseason ban.

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ACC Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 28th, 2017

Now that we are back in the midst of the long offseason, it’s time to look at some key ACC storylines to keep an eye on in coming months.

NCAA Punishments (Maybe): Rinse – Recycle – Repeat! This has become an annual bullet point on the ACC offseason storyline list, but maybe it will be the last time we have to include it pertaining to North Carolina and Louisville. The North Carolina academic scandal investigation — which has now dragged on for nearly half a decade — may finally be moving toward a conclusion. Despite the best efforts of UNC’s Four Corners stalling strategy, a recent letter from NCAA infractions committee chairman Greg Sankey indicated that a hearing has been scheduled for mid-August. Still, as we are all aware given the prolonged nature of this case, nothing has proceeded at more than a snail’s pace to this point.

Rick Pitino and Louisville are still waiting on the NCAA to rule on the school’s 2015 stripper scandal. (Jamie Rhodes – USA TODAY Sports)

Louisville’s stripper scandal is a much less complicated case so it seems to be closer to a resolution. The school recently held its own hearing with the NCAA infractions committee and a commonly held belief is that the NCAA will have its final answer on penalties in about two months. The school’s argument that Rick Pitino should not be charged with failure to monitor his assistant coach has already been rejected by the NCAA, so barring a late reprieve, expect the Cardinals’ head coach to serve a suspension at some point next season.

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2016-17 ACC Year In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 21st, 2017

As with any college basketball season, the ACC experienced its ups and downs during the 2016-17 campaign. The obvious highlight was North Carolina capturing its sixth National Championship — the 14th time an ACC school has won the grand prize. Despite Duke’s late push in the ACC Tournament, the Tar Heels were the league’s best and most consistent team for nearly the entire season, winning the regular season conference race by two games in a historically competitive year. The league as a whole put a conference-record nine teams in the NCAA Tournament this season, but spoiled that accomplishment by laying a giant first weekend egg in the Big Dance. After placing 11 teams in the Sweet Sixteen over the previous two years, the Tar Heels were the only ACC representative this time around. Here’s a final look at some of the highs and lows of ACC basketball this season.

Roy Williams became the sixth head coach in NCAA history with three or more National Championships.
(Getty Images)

Best Performance: By capturing this year’s National Championship, North Carolina earned some redemption after losing one year ago on a Villanova buzzer-beater for the ages. The Heels did so with a potent combination of talent and experience, featuring three seniors and three juniors among their top six players. On the talent side, consider that five of the 15 remaining McDonald’s All-Americans from the 2013 and 2014 classes were in North Carolina’s starting lineup this season. This North Carolina team is not one of the greatest teams in school history, but its NCAA Tournament run proved Roy Williams’ club will be regarded as one of the toughest. The Tar Heels twice came back from late five-point deficits during the first two weekends (Arkansas and Kentucky), and both Final Four games against Oregon and Gonzaga were tight until the last few possessions. In keeping with its core strengths, North Carolina used its abilities in offensive rebounding and ball security to to beat the Ducks and Zags. John Gasaway calls the concept shot volume, as the Tar Heels were able to get 10 more shot attempts than Oregon and 14 more than Gonzaga. Williams, with his ninth Final Four appearance (fourth-best ever) and third National Championship, must now be considered one of greatest college coaches of all-time. His critics can no longer claim that he’s just been fortunate to have so much talent on his rosters. If talent is all that is required, then why aren’t Arizona and Kansas making more Final Fours? Why doesn’t John Calipari have three titles? It’s just not that easy.

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On Improving the NCAA Tourney: Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 31st, 2017

This is the second edition of our two-part look at ways to improve the overall structure of the NCAA Tournament. In our Part I piece published earlier this week, we made several recommendations concerning the selection and seeding of the 68 teams in the annual field. Today we will focus on improving the bracketing process. Over the years, the Selection Committee has endeavored to better balance the bracket while easing travel burdens on participating schools’ players and fans. Examples of these modifications include the current “pod” system for the first two rounds; ranking the four top overall seeds so that the top two teams are on opposite sides of the bracket; and, easing the restrictions on where schools from the same conference can be placed in the bracket. Since the last change was implemented, the committee claims that it has not needed to swap any teams off their true seed line. We think there is also an opportunity for further adjustments to that process, including one that is relatively simple and involves future tournament sites.

Black Stars – First/Second Round Sites (2015-17)
Blue Stars – Regional Sites (2015-17)

Go West Young Men — Just Not So Often

Our top suggestion deals with the issue of geographic balance. NCAA member schools’ presidents and chancellors have mandated that the Selection Committee consider traveling distance a priority when placing teams into each season’s bracket. But the committee is somewhat handicapped by the previously established locations that they have available for those placements. In the image above, we can see all of the regional sites for the last three NCAA Tournaments. In almost every year since the NCAA Tournament expanded to a full six-round event in 1985, the western region of the country has hosted two First/Second round sites plus a regional championship. To put it in mathematical terms, 25 percent of the NCAA Tournament prior to the Final Four is typically played in the Pacific and Mountain time zones. Yet, only 19 percent (six of 32) of the nation’s conferences are primarily located in those two zones — and that’s giving full western credit to the WAC even though three of its eight schools are actually in the Central time zone.

Similarly, only about 17 percent of all Division I schools reside in those two time zones. By moving one of those western sites to another part of the country each year, the NCAA Tournament would become much more representative of its membership in a geographic sense. The recommendation here is to only move one of the First/Second round locations out of the west — keeping the regional round located there for the sake of broader balance. As for where to relocate that site, the mid- to deep south needs more representation. Most of the major basketball conferences — the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and Big 12 — have plenty of viable nearby options in most years, but that’s not always the case for SEC schools. It’s not just about the big boys, though — there are a lot more mid-to-lower tier Division I schools that would have improved travel situations as well. There are plenty of options available in this region — cities with NBA arenas like New Orleans, Memphis, Atlanta, Nashville, Orlando and Miami.

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On Improving the NCAA Tourney: Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 28th, 2017

Last June the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) empaneled an ad hoc committee whose stated purpose was to provide the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Selection Committee a perspective from men’s basketball coaches and their teams regarding selection, seeding and bracketing for the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA has in recent years become increasingly receptive to considering and making changes, and as this year’s event reaches its climax, we decided to offer some specific recommendations to bolster the best three weeks in sports. Let’s focus today on improvements to the selection and seeding process.

John Calipari is one of the members of the recently created NABC ad hoc committee formed to make recommendations to the NCAA Selection Committee. (Kevin Jairaj / USA TODAY Sports)

John Calipari is one of the members of the recently created NABC ad hoc committee formed to make recommendations to the NCAA Selection Committee. (Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports)

Bye Bye, RPI

Whenever the subject arises of improving the primary metric that the Selection Committee uses, there is one recurring response: Either dump the RPI altogether, or dramatically limit its influence. The good news is that we may finally be headed in that direction. A month after the NABC formed its committee and began communicating with the NCAA, the following statement was made as part of an update on the current NCAA Selection Committee:

The basketball committee supported in concept revising the current ranking system utilized in the selection and seeding process, and will work collaboratively with select members of the NABC ad hoc group to study a potentially more effective composite ranking system for possible implementation no earlier than the 2017-18 season.

Moving away from the RPI as the primary method for sorting teams into composite tiers would be a huge step toward improving the balance of the field. We have heard committee members for years make the point that a school’s RPI ranking is just one factor of many on its resume. But then the same committee members turn right around and cite that team’s record against the top-50 or top-100 — or its strength of schedule rating — all of which, of course, are derivative of the RPI. That means that the outdated metric is still, even now in an environment of Big Data, a highly significant influence on how teams are judged. The real harm occurs when the RPI results in entire conferences being overrated, which leads to those member institutions likewise being over-seeded. Placing five to seven teams well above their proper seed lines can have a substantial negative impact on the overall balance and corresponding fairness of the entire NCAA Tournament. Here are three recent examples.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 South Carolina 88, #2 Duke 81

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 19th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Celebrate Rakym Felder, you and your teammates just made school history. (Getty)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. After a terrible offensive performance in the first half, South Carolina had another second half explosion. It was a repeat of Friday’s win over Marquette when it scored 54 second half points. Despite holding Duke to 30 points in 33 first half possessions, the Gamecocks were still down seven at the break because they shot 20 percent from the floor. But the change of baskets after intermission did wonders for the South Carolina aim. They connected on 20 of their 28 shots in the second stanza for 71.4 percent shooting. Additionally, the Gamecocks were great at the foul line–icing the game away by making 21-of-23 from the stripe in the second half. South Carolina put up 65 points after intermission in a complete turnaround that propelled the Gamecocks to victory.
  2. Overall, South Carolina did a great job containing Duke’s explosive offense. The Blue Devils looked rattled for much of the first half, committing 13 turnovers. About midway through the opening stanza Frank Martin went to a zone, which stood up the Duke offense and forced many of those miscues. It was more of the same after the break. For the game, South Carolina forced Duke into 18 turnovers and 41.5 percent field goal shooting. The result: South Carolina held one of the nation’s best offenses to 1.07 points per possession and the preseason #1 ranked Blue Devils end the year in disappointing fashion.
  3. Sindarius Thornwell is a bona fide stud. Earlier in the week, Mike Krzyzewski called him one of the nation’s least known great players. Maybe America will know who he is now as the senior forward displayed his versatility on both ends of the floor. He finished with a game-high 24 points, six rebounds and five assists. Thornwell, a member of the SEC All-Defensive Team, also deserves praise for his work against Duke’s star Luke Kennard. He was a primary reason that Kennard finished with just 11 points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field. And there’s no question that his play raises the level of his teammates’ confidence as well.

Player of the Game. Sindarius Thornwell. See Above! Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 72, #8 Arkansas 65

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 19th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Roy Williams leads North Carolina back to the Sweet 16 for the ninth time in his 14 years at the helm. (Lance King/wralsportsfan.com)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. What a turnaround we had. After the first 16 minutes of action North Carolina was in complete control of the game or so it seemed. The Tar Heels built a 17-point lead by dominating Arkansas on the defensive end of the floor as the Razorbacks committed 10 turnovers and were shooting close to 25 percent from the floor with four minutes before intermission. Suddenly things changed dramatically and Arkansas closed the half on a 16-6 run. That momentum carried over into the second half as Arkansas surged past the Tar Heels before North Carolina rallied to win a game that it appeared to have in the bag long before. With the game in the balance the Tar Heel defense came up big again as Arkansas failed to score on its last five possessions.
  2. For some reason, this North Carolina team doesn’t finish games very well away from home. For most of the year the Tar Heels have struggled to beat good teams when they aren’t playing in the Smith Center, which is surprising for such a veteran team. Fortunately for Roy Williams, they managed to make enough plays to win a tight game tonight, but the way they almost melted down is still concerning. As Arkansas made its comeback, the Hogs were greatly aided by the Tar Heels’ sloppy play – 10 second half turnovers that became 17 Arkansas points. Perhaps this year’s North Carolina team misses the steadying influence of departed guard Marcus Paige. As the competition improves, the Tar Heels must be a better 40-minute team to make it to Phoenix.
  3. Arkansas shot well enough to win after a slow start. To have a chance to upset the Tar Heels, Arkansas needed to have an effective shooting night from the perimeter. That was certainly not the case early as the Razorbacks clanked their first five shots from deep. But after that cold beginning, they heated up considerably – making eight of their next 13 from behind the arc and ended the night at 38.1 percent on three-pointers. JUCO transfer Daryl Macon led the Arkansas shooting comeback, coming off the bench to make 3-of-5 from behind the arc.

Player of the Game. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ senior center led his team with 16 points and collected a game-high 11 boards. His putback basket in the last minute gave his team a three-point lead and basically clinched the game. Meeks was also instrumental to North Carolina’s defensive effort, blocking three shots and helping to hold Moses Kingsley to 4-of-12 shooting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #7 South Carolina 93, #10 Marquette 73

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Frank Martin leads South Carolina to its first NCAA Tourney win since 1973.
(thestate.com)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. In the match-up of great offense (Marquette) and great defense (South Carolina), something had to give. Sparked by a decided home crowd advantage — unusual for a #7 seed — the Gamecocks’ defense was more than up to the challenge tonight. Although the Marquette shooters were able to shake free for numerous threes, South Carolina got the job done in other areas, harassing the Golden Eagles into 18 turnovers and limiting them to only six offensive rebounds. In the end, Marquette scored nine points below its season average, while South Carolina scored an incredible 54 points after intermission.
  2. Marquette showed why it’s one of the most dangerous three-pointing shooting teams in the country. The Golden Eagles controlled most of the first half by hurting South Carolina from behind the arc. The nation’s best three-point shooting team made 8-of-16 in the first half and 11 of their first 22 for the game. But the Gamecocks’ relentless pressure eventually wore down their shooters, causing the Golden Eagles to misfire on their last five long-range attempts.
  3. South Carolina kept Marquette off the free throw line. Throughout his coaching career, Frank Martin’s teams have been known for their aggressive defense. Unfortunately that often results in a lot of trips to the free throw line for the opposition. Tonight the Gamecocks were able to play hard defensively without fouling, an especially important factor considering Marquette shoots 78 percent from the stripe. For the game, South Carolina only committed 13 fouls (eight under its season average) and Marquette as a result went 12-of-14 from the line.

Player of the Game. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina. The 6’5″ senior forward was easily the best player on the floor tonight, scoring a game-high 29 points in a superb all-around effort. Thornwell also led all players with 11 rebounds, blocked two shots and collected three steals. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 87, #15 Troy 65

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Jayson Tatum was excellent on both ends of the floor in his first NCAA Tourney game.
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. When they are hitting their threes this Duke team is almost impossible to guard. The Blue Devils came out on fire from deep – hitting 10-of-17 threes in the first half. And it wasn’t just one guy going off. Grayson Allen hit all three of his attempts from distance before half time, but four others connected as well. For the game, Duke went 13-for-28 from behind the arc and that was the difference in the game. That enabled the Blue Devils to overcome an off night by Luke Kennard  —  eight points on 3-of-12 shooting — and a deficit (-2) in points-in-the-paint.
  2. Troy is a good offensive basketball team. On the season, the Trojans are among KenPom’s top-75 in adjusted offensive efficiency and they showed us why tonight. After showing initial jitters–five turnovers in its first eight possessions–Troy settled down about halfway through the first half. After trailing by 15 early, the Trojans calmed down and ran their offense well–hitting five straight shots during one stretch–to close to within seven before Duke spurted again. In the end, Troy couldn’t get enough of its threes to fall as they ended the game shooting 5-for-23 from deep.
  3. Defensive consistency is still a concern for the Blue Devils. There were several stretches in the game where the Trojans scoring rather easily, particularly on the interior. That remains the biggest question for Duke going forward. Good offensive teams often have their way with Duke in the paint. Harry Giles did not build upon his impressive performance last week at the ACC Tournament as he was scoreless and committed two fouls in four first half minutes. For Duke to survive off-shooting nights in the future, they will need more from him.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 103, #16 Texas Southern 64

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Justin Jackson busted out of his recent shooting slump with a huge first half.
(newsobserver.com)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. There was never a possibility of a historical upset today in Greenville. Thursday top seeds Villanova and Gonzaga let their #16 opponents hang around for a full half before pulling away, but #1 North Carolina cruised to a 25-point halftime lead today and rolled from there. The Tar Heels played to their size advantage in dispatching the Tigers, piling up a huge advantage on the boards (+27) and in points in the paint (+24). As expected, North Carolina was particularly effective on the offensive glass, turning 20 offensive boards into 29 second chance points.
  2. Texas Southern was not equipped to pull off a March upset. Not only did North Carolina hold a significant edge in size and talent, it was not facing the kind of team that we typically see spring the big NCAA First Round surprise. Usually that kind of underdog is a dangerous three-point shooting squad that gets hot in a timely way from deep. The only thing dangerous about the Tigers’ outside shooting, however, was the potential harm it could do to the rim. Texas Southern shoots below 30 percent from deep on the year and only connected on 7-of-27 from distance today.
  3. Justin Jackson has found his shooting touch again. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Justin Jackson was mired in a recent shooting slump. In his last four outings, the ACC Player of the Year was a combined 20-of-60 from the floor for a chilly 33 percent. Jackson turned that situation around fast, nailing 5-of-6 from three-point land in the first half alone. Of course, he was not up against a stout defense today and most of his attempts were wide open looks — still, Roy Williams has to feel better about his star forward’s confidence level going forward.

Player of the Game. Justin Jackson, North Carolina. In addition to his first half outburst, Jackson had a fine all-around game. He finished with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and also chipped in with seven rebounds and three assists. Read the rest of this entry »

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