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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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part I Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 17th, 2016

morning5_ACC

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

  1. Tire Pros Invitational: Clemson (#25) tips off the ACC’s early season tournament action a bit later this morning, taking on Davidson (#74) in the first round of the Tire Pros Invitational (ESPNU – 11:00 AM). This may look like a brand new event, but it’s actually a relocation, as the tournament previously known as the Puerto Rico Tip-off moved to Orlando because of concerns with the Zika virus. Clemson has a chance to pick up some impressive wins here, especially if the Tigers draw Xavier (#12) in the second round. Three more top-100 schools are on the opposite side of the bracket so, no matter what happens, the Tigers’ non-conference strength of schedule should get a healthy boost.
  2. Charleston Classic: A key for Wake Forest (#69) this year will be the development of its young post players, and sophomore John Collins has already answered the bell by averaging 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the Deacons’ first two outings. Danny Manning hopes his young frontcourt holds up well as his team opens with UTEP (#217) this afternoon (ESPN3 – 1:30 PM) in the Charleston Classic. A win today would likely set up a meeting with mighty Villanova (#2) in one of Friday’s semifinals. The rest of the field in this event is not very strong, with host Charleston (#76) the favorite to come out of the other side of the bracket. The tournament finals will be played on Sunday night (ESPN2 – 9:30 PM).
  3. 2K Classic: Pittsburgh (#53) heads to Madison Square Garden tonight for the 2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project. The field is extremely balanced, with all four schools rated within 22 spots (KenPom) of one another. The Panthers face SMU (#34) in tonight’s opener (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM) with Marquette (#31) and Michigan (#37) squaring off in the nightcap. The two winners will meet in Friday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM). Pitt is guaranteed to play two high-caliber teams here, but it needs to register at least one win to make this trip a true resume-builder.
  4. Paradise Jam: Unfortunately for Mark Gottfried, N.C. State (#46) will not be taking freshman forward Ted Kapita with it to the U.S. Virgin Islands. This makes the Wolfpack very thin up front heading into their Paradise Jam opener versus Montana (#172) on Friday night (CBSSN – 6:00 PM). If the Wolfpack can get past the Grizzlies, N.C. State would likely get Creighton (#33) on Sunday evening. Two other top-100 squads — St. Joseph’s (#88) and Mississippi (#84)  — are on the other side of the bracket, so this is a decent all-around field. The event’s championship will be contested on Monday night (CBSSN – 8:30 PM)
  5. Hall of Fame Tip-Off: Duke (#1) will try to shake off its first loss of the year — Tuesday’s buzzer-beater versus Kansas in the Champions Classic — by heading to Connecticut for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off event. The Blue Devils are likely to still be without their three injured star freshmen forwards, but they will meet Penn State (#103) on Saturday regardless (ESPN3 – 12:30 PM) followed by either Cincinnati (#22) or Rhode Island (#35) on Sunday afternoon (ESPN – 1:00 PM). In its current form, Duke could be vulnerable to tough-minded teams like the Bearcats and the Rams, so don’t be shocked if Sunday’s game is another nail-biter for Mike Krzyzewski‘s squad.
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North Carolina Bench Showing Great Promise Already

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 15th, 2016

With six upperclassmen returning from last year’s National Runner-up, North Carolina entered the year with plenty of known commodities. As the 2016-17 campaign got under way, however, it was the Tar Heels’ young bench that represented the team’s biggest question mark. That group, comprised of three freshmen and two sophomores, has so far performed well. Roy Williams‘ preferred method of substitution is a one-for-one swap at each of the five positions. Ideally that means that Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley split time at the center position; Justin Jackson and Brandon Robinson do likewise on the wing; and so on. This strategy is tailor-made for North Carolina’s run-and-gun system — which requires quick attacks in transition and plenty of motion in the half-court. It correspondingly takes a deep bench to play this way, and Williams has always counted on using that depth to wear down his opponents.

Freshman big man Tony Bradley has been impressive in his first two games for North Carolina. (Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

Freshman big man Tony Bradley has been impressive in his first two games for North Carolina. (Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

As expected, North Carolina is getting great production from its top four returnees. Meeks and fellow senior Isaiah Hicks have been dominant around the basket and juniors Justin Jackson and Joel Berry are off to hot starts as well — Jackson tallied a career-high 27 points in the opener against Tulane, and Berry was so impressive that he was named co-ACC Player of the Week as a result. That veteran group is also getting good support from the youthful Tar Heels’ bench. Bradley has scored in double figures in both games and has already snagged a total of nine offensive rebounds. When asked about his young center’s exceptional play after Sunday’s win, Williams said, “He doesn’t try to do things that he can’t do.” The head coach also commended Bradley for his ability to run the floor.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Duke Successfully Coping With Early Injuries… For Now

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 14th, 2016

Duke’s lofty preseason #1 ranking was largely based on the outstanding freshman class set to join Mike Krzyzewski’s squad this fall. But two games into the young season, three of those newcomers — Marques Bolden, Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum — are sidelined with various lower body ailments, with no scheduled return in sight. The short-handed Blue Devils managed to dominate two inferior teams over the weekend (94-49 over Marist; 96-61 versus Grand Canyon), but things won’t be nearly as easy in Tuesday night’s Champions Classic meeting with Kansas at Madison Square Garden or the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off later this week. A Saturday matchup with Penn State will be followed by a Sunday meeting with either Rhode Island or Cincinnati — two Top 25 squads.

Three Potential NBA Lottery Picks are not currently on the court for Duke. (Juan Bermudez / The Chronicle)

Three Potential NBA Lottery Picks are currently unavailable for Duke. (Juan Bermudez / The Chronicle)

In Saturday’s postgame press conference, Mike Krzyzewski said about his roster: “Right now, we have to be this team and we can’t think about who we could be. And our complete focus has to be how to win, right now, with this team. I can’t give you a time. I don’t anticipate [Bolden, Giles and Tatum] to play on Tuesday. They may not play the whole week. So we have to prepare the way we have our team right now with nine guys.” The remaining roster still has plenty of firepower, but it is not nearly as balanced with a clear focus on the perimeter. Preseason All-American Grayson Allen was going to be a major focus of the attack anyway, so logging big minutes and high possession numbers won’t be foreign to him. Likewise, Luke Kennard and Matt Jones are comfortable in their supporting roles — Kennard has a complete offensive game, while Jones gives the Blue Devils great versatility on defense. Coming off the bench is Frank Jackson — Duke’s remaining five-star freshman. Jackson had an impressive outing on Saturday (21 points in 25 minutes) and already looks more mature than his age. That’s a solid four-man rotation in the backcourt, but what about up front? Read the rest of this entry »

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Opening Weekend in the ACC: Early Goals For All 15 Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 11th, 2016

As we welcome back college basketball this weekend, all 15 ACC schools will be in action, with several suiting up more than once. While teams like Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville have Final Four aspirations as their ultimate objective, others like Boston College and Georgia Tech would probably be content with a winning record. Whatever the preseason expectation level of each team, there are some specific things each would like to accomplish right out of the gate. Here’s our best guess of what each ACC school’s coaching staff will be focused on this weekend.

ACC schools are presented in alphabetical order. (opponent’s preseason KenPom ranking in parenthesis)

Boston College: Find out who can play.

  • Friday Nov. 11, 7:00 ET vs. Nicholls State (#321): The Eagles have a plethora of new players, including three transfers and four freshmen. Jim Christian has watched all of them perform in the preseason, but he will be anxious to see which newcomers can emerge as dependable options when the real games begin.

Clemson: Start building the resume.

Clemson's Brad Brownell has an improved offense and a surprisingly big home court edge in ACC play. (Bart Boatwright/greenvilleonline.com)

Clemson’s Brad Brownell needs a much better performance in non-conference play this year than the 7-5 mark posted by the Tigers a year ago. (Bart Boatwright/greenvilleonline.com)

  • Friday Nov. 11, 7:00 ET vs. Georgia (#58): A horrible performance in the non-conference portion of the Tigers’ schedule cost them dearly last year. One of those resume scars was a blowout loss to Georgia in Athens. The Bulldogs are the highest rated opponent on the ACC docket this weekend, so a revenge win by Clemson would represent a great start for Brad Brownell.

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ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Cavaliers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 11th, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Where will the points come from this year?

It’s been a historic three-year run at Virginia, with 89 overall wins, a 45-9 ACC record, an Elite Eight and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. A stingy pack-line defense has been the cornerstone of Tony Bennett‘s program during this run, but his offensive attack has been better than most realize. Virginia’s point totals never look impressive because of its extremely slow pace of play, but from an efficiency standpoint they have actually finished among the best in the land (i.e., a top-22 finish in KenPom‘s offensive efficiency rankings all three years). The main cog in that attack — Malcolm Brogdon — led the Cavaliers in scoring for those three years, including a career best 18.2 PPG as a senior. According to Bennett, some of his veteran returnees will have to shoulder more of the scoring load. Senior point guard London Perrantes, one of those upperclassmen, is still around. He led the ACC in three-point accuracy last year, making a blistering 48.8 percent of his shots from deep, and he has obviously earned the confidence of his coach. At ACC Operation Basketball last month, Bennett said, “He’s smart enough to figure out where he has to look and be assertive, but he’s also smart enough to say what does the team need, who needs to touch the ball.”

Senior London Perrantes may have to look to score more for Virginia without Malcolm Brogdon around anymore. (wahingtonpost.com)

Senior London Perrantes will look to score more for Virginia, without Malcolm Brogdon around. (washingtonpost.com)

While Perrantes is a known quantity, the rest of the returnees have mostly been role players to this point in their careers. Only one of those returnees other than Perrantes managed to top 11 points in any game versus a conference foe last year. Four juniors will get a first crack at increased roles in the Virginia attack — forward Isaiah Wilkins and guards Devon Hall, Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson. The undersized Wilkins spent a lot of time in the post last season, but Bennett encouraged him to work on his outside shot to make him more of a scoring threat. All three junior guards have good size and versatility, but none has ever been offensively aggressive. Shayok is the player who probably has the most potential, though, as he has connected on 40 percent of his threes in his first two years. The Cavaliers also return a couple of bangers in the paint — sophomores Jack Salt and Jarred Reuter. Neither showed much offensive flash in their first season, but each could earn time as rebounders and screeners. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Trends: The Rise of Three-Point Shooting, Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 8th, 2016

Throughout its long and illustrious history, the sport of basketball has gone through numerous stylistic changes. For many years, the focus was on dominant post players with names like Russell, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and Walton. In the 1980s a shift to the era of great all-around players began. With apologies to Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson led the charge and Michael Jordan took it to the highest level. This trend of the two-way superstar continued to present day, with Kobe Bryant giving way in the last decade to LeBron James. Now, in the mid 2010s, we may be entering the dawn of a new era — the age of the three-point bomber. And if this trend is here for awhile, how will it affect the short-term future for ACC schools? In this first of a two-part look at the issue, we will examine some recent conference trends on three-point shooting.

Stephen Curry's long range bombing represents the new stlye of basketball that's already changing the college game. (Credit: www.sportingnews.com)

Stephen Curry’s long range bombing represents a new style of basketball that’s already changing the college game. (Getty)

To a great extent nowadays, college coaches borrow ideas from both the NBA and international basketball. High-major programs with a number of future pros like to use pick-and-roll or isolation sets. Coaches with less talented squads often mirror European offenses that feature a drive and kick approach with multiple long-range shooters available. Of late we have seen a dramatic stylistic shift in the NBA that incorporates much of the European model. Despite coming up short to James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in last June’s NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors are the hottest thing in basketball right now. Led by two-time MVP Stephen Curry, the Warriors set an NBA record by averaging 13.1 made threes per game last season. But Golden State isn’t the only professional team prospering from the deep shot. Clearly seeing the value of good three-point shooting, the average NBA team attempted 24.1 three-pointers last season, compared with an average of only 18.0 just five years prior. And in terms of overall success, the five NBA teams that made the most shots from behind the arc all finished with winning records – including both championship round finalists (the Cavaliers finished second in made threes). Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Burning Questions: Louisville Cardinals

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 4th, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will members of Louisville’s talented sophomore class make the leap to stardom?

Outside of some of the recent Kentucky and Duke squads that featured freshman superstars, most preseason top-20 teams return at least one double-figure scorer. That is not the case with this year’s Louisville squad — ranked #13 in the preseason AP poll and #14 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll — with Quentin Snider at 9.4 PPG representing the highest returning scoring average. The expectation underlying the Cardinals’ lofty rankings is that head coach Rick Pitino will see a leap in production from a sophomore class that oozes NBA potential. The player Pitino expects to reach stardom soonest is shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, whose high-flying style of play produced some of the best dunks seen anywhere in college basketball a season ago. If the sophomore wants to become a complete player, he must improve a three-point stroke that connected on only 25 percent of his 72 three-point attempts last year.

Donovan Mitchell hopes to show he can be more than just a dunking machine as a sophomore.

Donovan Mitchell hopes to show he can be more than just a dunking machine as a sophomore.

Mitchell can look to former Louisville backcourt stars Russ Smith and Terry Rozier as examples of shooting guards who blossomed under Pitino. Despite an injury-plagued first campaign, wing Deng Adel is another sophomore who has the attention of NBA scouts. He showed flashes of his vast potential late in the year, starting the last five games. The third member of the class is lanky forward Raymond Spalding, who, according to Pitino, “probably has the most pro potential on the team.” Blessed with a 7’4″ wingspan, Spalding is one of the longest and most versatile defenders in college basketball. But it’s not just the youngsters in the program that have Louisville fans excited. Senior Mangok Mathiang broke a bone in his foot last December and never returned, but he should be fully healthy now. With Chinanu Onuaku gone to the NBA, it’s Mathiang’s turn to man the post by blocking shots, snagging boards, and finishing at the rim. Others available in the Cardinals’ deep frontcourt are juniors Jaylen Johnson, Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman. After an offseason of hard work, Pitino is calling Johnson “the most improved player on this team.” Mahmoud and Stockman give Louisville a pair of experienced seven-footers to back up Mathiang. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Burning Questions: Clemson Tigers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 1st, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Is this the year that Clemson returns to the NCAA Tournament?

Clemson head coach Brad Brownell has a swanky remodeled home arena, a returning All-America candidate and three talented transfers ready to join a group that finished last season at 10-8 in ACC play. After five consecutive seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance, the Tigers may finally be poised to crash the Big Dance once again. Brownell’s job security may or may not depend on an invitation to the NCAA Tournament this year, but history shows that it is an extremely rare situation for an ACC coach to remain in his post after six straight years of missing the games premier event.

Brad Brownell hopes this is the year that Clemson makes it back to the NCAA Tournament. (sportstalksc.com)

Brad Brownell hopes that Clemson makes it back to the NCAA Tournament after a five-year hiatus. (sportstalksc.com)

In his six seasons at the helm, Brownell has developed a deserving reputation as a coach who maximizes his available talent. With a six-year 50-54 conference record, the Tigers have become a consistent middle-of-the-pack ACC program. Early in Brownell’s tenure, road wins were scarce — he logged only five such victories during his first three years at the school. But lately, the Tigers have improved in that regard by claiming 10 road wins over the past three seasons. Last year Clemson was very competitive in most of its away losses, dropping three games by three points or fewer and winning three others. Speaking of playing on the road, the Tigers also return to a remodeled Littlejohn Coliseum this season after spending 2015-16 at Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena — a 45-minute trip from campus. Capacity at the new Littlejohn is slightly lower now, but 9,000 wild fans should be plenty to recreate the electric home court atmosphere that students at Clemson have historically provided. Read the rest of this entry »

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