Georgia Tech Still Struggling to Finish Close Games

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

With just under six minutes to go in the Smith Center on Saturday afternoon, Georgia Tech was in great position to snag a precious ACC road win in Chapel Hill. The Yellow Jackets had started strong, leading by three at the half. North Carolina was playing its third game in six days, and with a Big Monday road trip to Florida State looming, it seemed as if the Tar Heels were looking ahead. Roy Williams’ team was uncharacteristically sloppy on offense early, committing seven first half turnovers, and was forced to battle Georgia Tech’s beefy frontline without injured starting center Kennedy Meeks. However, just as it did so many times in ACC play last season, Brian Gregory’s squad just couldn’t close the deal, falling by a final score of 86-78.

 Adam Smith's three point shooting has brought balance to Georgia Tech's offense. (Photo by Chris Rodier/Icon Sportswire).

Adam Smith’s three point shooting has brought balance to Georgia Tech’s offense. (Photo by Chris Rodier/Icon Sportswire).

The pivotal moment in the game came when Adam Smith missed a wide open three with 5:41 to play and the Yellow Jackets on top 67-66. That miss kicked off an 8-0 Tar Heel run to take control of the contest, leaving Gregory wondering if his team will ever get over the hump in finishing winnable games. Not all hope is lost, however; this season’s group has shown potential that it may have what it takes to turn that trend around in 2016. That faith rests largely in a much improved offense, led by three seniors: center Charles Mitchell, wing Marcus Georges-Hunt, and the sharp shooting Smith. After Saturday’s game, Roy Williams talked about facing this year’s Yellow Jacket offense:

“I told Brian [Gregory] — this was before the game — that I liked his club. It’s so, so much better than they were last year, and he’s done a great job with them, got some new guys that look like they’ve been there the whole time the way they’ve bought into what he wants for them to do. But when you’ve got a three-point shooter like [Adam] Smith, you’ve got a guy that drives it to the basket and gets to shoot 15 free throws like Marcus and you’ve got [Charles] Mitchell and those guys doing everything inside, it’s tough to guard that kind of team.”

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Playing ACC Secret Santa: Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 25th, 2015

In offices all across the nation this week, people are playing the Secret Santa game. So let’s pretend that our company is made up of the ACC’s 15 men’s basketball teams, and we drew every head coach’s name out of the hat. As tempting as it may be to hand out traditional gifts like cheese logs and fruitcakes (yuck!), we instead will look at the specific needs for each squad right now and try and make each team better with our gifts. Part I, which published on Christmas Eve, can be found here.

Here are our gifts of choice for each of the ACC’s seven remaining schools (in alphabetical order):

  • Duke (Mike Krzyzewski) – We can’t do anything about Amile Jefferson’s injury except hope that the senior can recovery in time to re-acclimate himself into the Blue Devil lineup before the stretch run. So instead, we will give Coach K something very useful in the short term. We will turn on the light bulb for freshman big man Chase Jeter. We know that not all McDonald’s High School All-Americans are made alike, and some need more time to adjust to the college game. But it was very telling to see Jeter only get on the floor for six minutes in Duke’s recent loss to Utah – a game where help was certainly needed due to illness and foul trouble.
  • Louisville (Rick Pitino) – To date, the Cardinals have played a terribly weak non-conference schedule, which ranks 60th out of 65 power-five conference schools according to KenPom. So it’s really hard to analyze the needs of Pitino’s squad right now. With no real on-the-court need for this team that has been exposed so far, we will give them the gift of focus going forward. Louisville has basically been able to concentrate on basketball since the regular season games began, after a tumultuous preseason due to the stripper scandal. But eventually, the scrutiny of possible NCAA sanctions will begin again, and the players will have to handle that distraction.

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Playing ACC Secret Santa: Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 24th, 2015

In offices all across the nation this week, people are playing the Secret Santa game. So let’s pretend that our company is made up of the ACC’s 15 men’s basketball teams, and we drew every head coach’s name out of the hat. As tempting as it may be to hand out traditional gifts like cheese logs and fruitcakes (yuck!), we instead will look at the specific needs for each squad right now and try and make each team better with our gifts. In the first of two installments of this piece (check back on Christmas Day for Part II), let’s look at the eight ACC teams that need Santa’s help the most.

presents

It’s Secret Santa Time in the ACC!

Here are our gifts of choice for the eight ACC schools that need them most (in alphabetical order):

  • Boston College (Jim Christian) – This is the easiest coach of all to shop for. When you already don’t have anything, there is no such thing as a bad present. The Eagles desperately need quality players. Among the 65 power-five conference programs, only hapless Rutgers is lower in the current KenPom rankings than the Eagles are. So we would give Christian what he needs the most – a recruiting budget that is comparable with the upper level schools in the ACC. The only way this program is going to improve is for his staff to evaluate and talk with as many high school players as possible, all over the country. That takes money.
  • Clemson (Brad Brownell) – What Brownell needs more than anything right now is a quality win. Actually, just a halfway respectable win would do right now. So far, the Tigers’ best victory this season is over Wofford (KenPom #234). Against teams rated higher than that, Clemson is 0-5 after being blown out by Georgia on Tuesday night. The next opportunity will come next Wednesday at North Carolina, but asking Santa Claus to help Brownell and company break their famous winless streak in Chapel Hill feels very greedy.

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Virginia’s Offense Fueled By Most Underrated Backcourt in America

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

Since Tony Bennett turned around Virginia’s program during his third season in Charlottesville, the program’s staple has been a suffocating pack-line defense annually among the nation’s stingiest units. But times may be changing for the two-time defending ACC regular season champs, as the Cavaliers have been downright offensive this season. In fact, after Saturday’s impressive 86-75 victory over Big East power Villanova (which included a 53-point Cavalier second half), Virginia ranks not only first in KenPom’s overall ratings, but the Cavaliers are also first in adjusted offensive efficiency. It’s not like there’s been a huge dropoff on the defensive end — Virginia currently  ranks 14th in adjusted defensive efficiency — but the Cavaliers are now scoring at a rate of efficiency we haven’t seen in the Bennett era, making them even a greater threat to get over the Sweet Sixteen hump this season.

Anthony Gill has been dominant in the paint recently for Virginia. (Brad Penner - USA TODAY Sports)

Anthony Gill has been dominant in the paint recently for Virginia. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

Virginia’s offensive improvement — 77.3 PPG compared with 68.8 PPG in the team’s first 10 games a year ago — can be attributed to a combination of tempo and efficiency. Always one of the nation’s slowest teams, the Cavaliers once again rank near the bottom of college basketball in pace (#348). Still, Virginia could act as the poster child for the NCAA’s new rules and enforcement strategy, as its adjusted tempo of 63.5 possessions per game would have ranked about 100 places higher a season ago. That difference in tempo is almost completely due to Bennett’s squad playing a little more quickly on the offensive end. Opponents still take a long time to find a good shot against the Cavaliers (19.2 seconds per possession compared with 19.5 last season), but on the other hand, Virginia has cut its length of offensive possession by over two seconds (from 21.1 to 18.9). The main reason that Virginia’s scoring is up, however, is its increase in efficiency (particularly with respect to its shooting). The shot selection table below shows that the Cavaliers are more accurate shooters this season from all areas of the floor. Additionally, the Cavaliers have lowered the percentage of two-point jumpers taken (easily the least efficient way to score) and are getting to the rim much more often. Read the rest of this entry »

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Florida State Newcomers Making Huge Impact

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 13th, 2015

In the 2014-15 season, Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State squad was severely hampered by a lack of depth on the perimeter. But, what was a weakness last year is now a strength of this year’s Seminoles. Led by a pair of explosive freshmen, Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley, Florida State (5-2) not only is more talented this season, but it may be one of the most balanced teams of Hamilton’s 14 years at the helm in Tallahassee.

Florida State's Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley are the nation's leading freshmen scoring duo. (youtube/Nation Hoops)

Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley are the nation’s leading freshmen scoring duo.
(youtube/Nation Hoops)

With no real quality depth last season, Florida State’s three primary perimeter players all averaged about 35 minutes per contest. Certainly that made it almost impossible for the Seminoles to play the way Hamilton usually likes his teams to play — using waves of athletes to pressure opponents. So far this year, only sophomore Xavier Rathan-Mayes is logging over 28 minutes per game and his time on the floor (30.4) is almost five minutes less than it was a season ago. Bacon and Beasley are each playing around 27.5 minutes per contest as starters and fellow frosh Terance Mann is coming off the bench for about 15 minutes of action each game. It’s fair to say that Florida State’s freshmen class has performed above expectations so far. Compared to the consensus top two rookie classes in the country (see table below), the Seminoles newcomers are outperforming Duke’s rookies and are statistically close to Kentucky’s.

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North Carolina Looks Complete With Marcus Paige Back

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 8th, 2015

Coming into this season, North Carolina was considered one of the best bets to make it to Houston for the Final Four. Those expectations for Roy Williams’ squad were in large part due to the return of senior guard Marcus Paige. Unfortunately, Paige suffered a broken hand before the season began and the Tar Heels dropped an early game against Northern Iowa in his absence. But Paige made an impressive return to the lineup last week in convincing wins over Maryland and Davidson, helping North Carolina look like the team that many expect to challenge for a spot in the season’s final weekend.

As expected, Marcus Paige has helped North Carolina's perimeter on both ends of the floor. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

As expected, Marcus Paige has helped North Carolina’s perimeter on both ends of the floor. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Although North Carolina performed reasonably well without Paige, the Heels are clearly a better team with their senior leader back on the court. A solid two-way player throughout his career, Paige has already had a positive impact on both ends of the floor. Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Nate Britt admirably filled in as long-range threats without Paige in the lineup for the team’s first four games against top-100 competition, but eventually that trio cooled from three-point range (see below table). In the two games since his return, Paige has directly contributed (6-of-10 on threes) to UNC’s improved shooting, but he has also helped his teammates get better looks. The rest of the team has made 42.3 percent of its long-range attempts since he returned, for a total of 47.2 percent.

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Drawing Battle Lines, Day Two: Making a Case For Tuesday’s Games

Posted by Brad Jenkins and Patrick Engel on December 1st, 2015

After one day of competition, the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge is tied at one game a piece, with 12 more matchups to come tonight and tomorrow (schedule below). Wake Forest tipped things off Monday night by using a furious late rally to top Rutgers, 69-68, while Minnesota held off Clemson, 89-83, in the evening’s nightcap behind a strong performance by freshman Jordan Murphy. Both of those games were played at Big Ten venues, but the ACC will have the home court edge tonight by hosting four games. To prepare for this evening’s action, the ACC and Big Ten microsites are once again here to defend the schools they cover. Patrick Engel (Big Ten) and Brad Jenkins (ACC) make the case for each team in their respective leagues for all six contests that will take place tonight on the ESPN family of networks.

acc big ten schedule

Michigan at N.C. State (7:00 PM ET, ESPN2)

  • Patrick: We’ve seen Michigan at both its best and its worst so far this season. As I detailed on Monday, it’s becoming clear that the Wolverines have plenty of shooters but are going to once again struggle in the paint. NC State isn’t great at either defending the three (35.7%) or shooting it (32.4%), but the Wolfpack are one of the biggest teams in the country (ninth in height). Michigan has to find space against NC State on the perimeter without getting beat in the paint or on the glass to earn a win here.
  • Brad: The obvious advantage here for the Wolfpack is in the paint. N.C. State should control the boards, and it will need to because Michigan is bound to hit more threes than Mark Gottfried’s team. As long as he can stay relatively fresh, Anthony Barber (39.2 MPG) should win the point guard matchup with Derrick Walton. The Wolfpack aren’t deep and must avoid foul trouble, but they can’t shy away from being physical in defending the offensively-potent Michigan wings.

Northwestern at Virginia Tech (7:00 PM ET, ESPNU)

  • Brad: There’s no way to sugarcoat Virginia Tech’s opening home loss to a SWAC team (Alabama State), but Buzz Williams’ guys have shown some recent signs of improvement. Iowa State beat them handily in the semifinals of the Emerald Coast Classic last week, but the Hokies bounced back to beat a decent UAB squad in overtime the next night. If Virginia Tech is to win this game, it probably will have to do so by living at the foul line.
  • Patrick: The Wildcats have survived without Vic Law so far. They’re not elite in any one area, but they also don’t have a singular glaring weakness. They’ve been a perimeter-oriented team to this point, but Alex Olah’s ability to get to the free throw line will challenge a Virginia Tech team that rarely lets its opponents get there. Northwestern has a good chance of winning this game on the road if it can earn charity stripe opportunities while keeping the free throw-minded Hokies (nation-leading 60.9% free throw rate, per KenPom) away from the line.

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ACC Feast Week In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 1st, 2015

Thirteen ACC schools saw action in early season tournaments over the last week-plus, and the results of all of those games were mixed. There were a number of championships won by league representatives (a total of five), but also a handful of puzzling losses. Overall, the ACC probably missed an opportunity to stake an early claim as the best conference in the land, but it certainly did enough during Feast Week to remain in that conversation. Below we will look at some comparison numbers with the other five major basketball conferences (Power Five plus the Big East), as well as some of the best and worst team performances from Feast Week.

ACCFeastTot

As you can see, the ACC was the busiest conference in early season tournament play, with both the most schools participating and the most overall wins. We are only counting games played in tournaments at neutral sites in a winners-advance format. This condition means that Duke’s wins in the 2k Classic semifinals (VCU) and finals (Georgetown) count towards these totals, but the Blue Devils’ home wins over Siena and Bryant (labeled as 2K Classic exempt games) do not. Also, non-Division I competition doesn’t count (if the NCAA Selection Committee won’t count ’em, neither will we), so wins over Chaminade in Maui by Kansas and St. John’s are not included. Finally, we also shouldn’t overlook the fact that the perceptions of some leagues have been influenced by teams that were not a part of any Feast Week events (see: Kentucky, Oregon, Louisville).

The ACC had the most tournament champions. They are listed below.

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part III Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 25th, 2015

morning5_ACC

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

  1. Preseason NIT: Three ACC schools will begin play in a tournament on Thanksgiving Day, with the first being Georgia Tech (#87) as the Yellow Jackets look to bounce back from Sunday’s terrible buzzer-beating home loss to East Tennessee State. Brian Gregory’s already-warm seat is surely hotter now, so he desperately needs a good performance from his squad in Brooklyn this week. The best way to make up for a bad loss is to pull off a huge win. That possibility exists for Georgia Tech if it can get by Arkansas (#102) on Thursday (ESPNU – 2:00 ET), and if highly regarded Villanova (#2) takes care of Stanford (#119) as expected in the other semifinal. The championship game will be on Friday afternoon (ESPN2/U – 3:00 ET).
  2. Advocare Invitational: Defending ACC Champion Notre Dame (#20) also begins tournament action Thursday (ESPNU – 6:30 ET), taking on Monmouth (#134). At first glance this looks like a mismatch, but keep in mind that the Hawks pulled off one of the season’s first upsets, stunning UCLA on opening night in Pauley Pavilion. On Friday, Mike Brey’s guys will get a solid second round opponent in either Iowa (#19) or Dayton (#44). This Orlando event has one of the strongest fields of Feast Week, with seven of the eight schools in the top 100. On the opposite side of the bracket are Wichita State (#23), Xavier (#25), USC (#45) and Alabama (#94). If everything goes as planned for the Fighting Irish, they can pick up a couple of wins that will probably look great on their resume all year long.
  3. Wooden Legacy: Boston College (#118) faces a stiff challenge in Anaheim, as the Eagles meet Michigan State (#13) in an opening round game on Thursday (ESPN2 – 6:30 ET). Jim Christian’s team may not be as bad as we thought in the preseason – the Eagles are 3-0 for the first time in seven years. That includes Sunday’s win over crosstown rival Harvard, Christian’s second in a row over the Crimson after Boston College had lost the previous six meetings. The Spartans are heavy favorites to meet Arizona (#8) in the finals on Sunday (ESPN2 – 10:00 ET). Looking to play spoiler will be Boise State (#60), Providence (#62) and Evansville (#66).
  4. Emerald Coast Classic: Another ACC team that will be a heavy underdog in its opening tournament game is Virginia Tech (#148), who goes against Iowa State (#16) on Friday (CBSSN – 7:00 ET). Things should be somewhat easier for Buzz Williams and company on Saturday, as the Hokies will get either UAB (#93) or Illinois (#101) in the two-day event. But based on their shaky 2-1 start versus weak competition, Virginia Tech has not looked like a squad that’s ready to compete with top-100 teams on a neutral court. So far, Maryland transfer Seth Allen (sat out last year) has been unable to shake off the rust, shooting a frigid 31.0% from the field and committing a total of 13 turnovers in the three games.
  5. Gotham Classic: Like Louisville, Pittsburgh is not participating in a traditional tournament. Beginning in mid-December, the Panthers will play four straight exempt games as part of the Gotham Classic. The only time that Jamie Dixon’s squad will face an opponent away from home is when they take on Davidson (#64) on December 20 (ESPNU – Noon ET) in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The other three games will be in the Petersen Events Center over a two week period; December 11 – Eastern Washington (#200); December 13 – Morehead State (#179); and December 23 – Western Carolina (#203). Those all look a lot like the schools that tend to show up on Pittsburgh’s non-conference schedule during the Dixon era. Of course, Dixon was counting on an opening day meeting with Gonzaga to boost this season’s schedule rating. And with that game cancelled, Pitt will have one of the poorer non-conference slates among power league schools.
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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 23rd, 2015

morning5_ACC

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

  1. Maui Invitational: It just wouldn’t be Feast Week without the Maui Invitational, which has been around in some form since 1984. Wake Forest (#80) will be this year’s ACC representative in the Hawaii tournament, as the Demon Deacons are slated to meet Indiana (#15) in today’s first round (ESPN2 – 5:00 ET). Danny Manning‘s team has been shorthanded in its first three games — including wins over UMBC and Bucknell along with a home loss to Richmond — but there is a chance that some players will return soon. Manning announced after Wednesday’s defeat to the Spiders that Codi Miller-McIntyre (foot) and Cornelius Hudson (suspension) will make the trip to Maui, but he said that he considered it doubtful that Miller-McIntyre would play this week. As usual, there are a number of highly rated teams in the Maui field — in addition to the Hoosiers, some other participants include Kansas (#5), Vanderbilt (#19) and UCLA (#47)
  2. CBE Classic: Roy Williams hopes the rest of his team’s three-game trip through the Midwest goes better than it started on Saturday. North Carolina‘s homecoming game for Marcus Paige did not work out as planned; not only did the injured star have to watch the game from the bench in street clothes, but the Tar Heels lost to a pumped up Northern Iowa team, 71-67. Look for Williams’ squad (#7) to bounce back tonight (ESPN2 – 9:30 ET) when it takes on Northwestern (#69), coached by a familiar rival — former Duke player and assistant coach Chris Collins. Next, the Tar Heels will take on either Kansas State (#94) or Missouri (#148) — the co-hosts of this Kansas City tournament — on Tuesday night. The championship game will be played at 10:00 ET (ESPN2).
  3. Legends Classic: Another team headed by a former Duke guard will be N.C. State’s (#56) opponent in Brooklyn tonight (ESPN3 – 9:30 ET) with Bobby Hurley in his first year at the helm at Arizona State (#68). Both teams suffered upset losses in their opening games — Mark Gottfried‘s Wolfpack to William & Mary and the Sun Devils to Sacramento State — but since then each team has won two games at home. In the other semifinal, LSU (#54) takes on Marquette (#100), a team coached by yet another former Blue Devil player and assistant coach, Steve Wojciechowski. Although the games should be fairly entertaining with several evenly matched teams, the big story of this tournament has to be the New York City debut of the nation’s #1 freshman (maybe even #1 player) in LSU’s Ben Simmons.
  4. MGM Grand Main Event: So far this year, Clemson (#40) has beaten up on three teams rated in the 200s nationally, all in nearby Greenville, the Tigers’ current home. Brad Brownell‘s squad will face a slightly stiffer challenge in playing Massachusetts (#157) in Las Vegas tonight. The other schools in this four-team tournament are Creighton (#83) and Rutgers (#210), so it’s not exactly a power-packed field. Still, if Clemson plans on getting to postseason play next March, neutral court wins over mid-level competition are a must. As usual, Clemson appear to be quite capable on the defensive end, holding opponents to 47.0 points per game and 32.4 percent field goal shooting. The question will be one of offense.
  5. Battle 4 Atlantis: In only its fifth year of existence, this event has quickly become one of the best Feast Week tournaments. In just a short period of time, the Bahamas event has become a desired destination for many of the sport’s power schools. Compared to the Maui Invitational — the longtime top draw of the week — the Battle 4 Atlantis offers a similar resort experience for fans without the long travel there and back for schools located outside the west coast. This year Syracuse (#38) joins six other top-100 teams in the Atlantis field. Jim Boeheim‘s Orange start with a break by facing the only lowly regarded team, Charlotte (#275) in Wednesday’s opening round game (ESPN2 – 2:30 ET). After that, Syracuse is guaranteed a worthy opponent on Thanksgiving Day, going up against either Connecticut (#26) or Michigan (#37). And with big dog Gonzaga (#6) sitting on the other side of the bracket, the Orange could have a great opportunity to log some huge non-conference wins on their resume.
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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part I Edition

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

morning5_ACC

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

  1. Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Miami (#23) tips off the ACC’s early season tournament action later today, taking on Ben Howland’s rebuilding Mississippi State (#133) squad in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (ESPN2 – 5:00). With an otherwise less than challenging non-conference schedule, Jim Larranaga’s team could pick up some quality wins here, with potential meetings against Utah (#20) in the second round and Butler (#31) in Sunday’s finals (ESPN2 – 7:30). This trip was arranged in no small part to give senior guard Angel Rodriquez a homecoming. A native of Cupey, Puerto Rico, the senior will be highly motivated to lead the Hurricanes to the tournament title on his home island.
  2. Charleston Classic: Tony Bennett will try to get Virginia (#4) back on track after Monday’s upset loss at George Washington. The 73 points that the Cavaliers gave up were the most they have allowed in regulation since an 87-52 blowout loss to Tennessee in December 2013. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of problems ahead for Bennett’s vaunted defense, which was whistled for 24 fouls against the Colonials. The competition at the Charleston Classic this weekend is not of the highest caliber, however, as the Cavs open with Bradley (#272) tonight (ESPN2 – 9:30) and could face a couple of the three non-top 50 major conference schools also in the event — Oklahoma State (#56), Mississippi (#64) and Seton Hall (#73). This tournament’s championship game will be played on Sunday night (ESPN2 – 9:30).
  3. Paradise Jam: If the first two games of the year for Florida State (#35) are any indication, Leonard Hamilton will have his highest scoring team in years. The Seminoles are averaging 103.5 points per game after registering two beatdowns over weak competition and freshman Dwayne Bacon has been a star, scoring 23 and 27 points in back-to-back games. Florida State is the co-favorite in the Paradise Jam along with a Tulsa (#41) squad which upset Wichita State earlier this week. If the two favorites meet in the finals, it will be on Monday night (Nov. 23 – CBSSN – 10:00). The Seminoles will face Hofstra (#95) in Friday’s opening day of play (CBSSN – 4:30) and could meet up with an interesting South Carolina (#47) team in the next round.
  4. 2K Sports Classic: Another team looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss earlier this week is Duke, which travels to Madison Square Garden for the 2K Sports Classic this weekend. Mike Krzyzewski’s perimeter corps had a difficult time finding good looks against the quicker Kentucky backcourt in Tuesday’s loss at the Champions Classic, and the Blue Devils’ transition defense was carved up to the tune of 14-point deficit in fast break points. Individually, sophomore Grayson Allen will look to bounce back after a miserable 2-of-11 shooting performance and just six points against Kentucky. The opponents in New York will not be of Kentucky’s ilk, but they will still be a challenge for this young Duke squad. Friday’s (ESPN2 – 7:30) opponent will be VCU (#51) and Sunday will bring either Georgetown (#44) or last year’s NCAA title game opponent, Wisconsin (#24).
  5. Brooklyn Hoops Holiday InvitationalLouisville (#22) has already begun play in this event, which is not a traditional tournament in any form. Every game has predetermined matchups and Louisville gets to host the first three games, including Tuesday’s 87-52 win over Hartford (#312). Also visiting the KFC Yum! Center as an exempted game will be North Florida (#100) on Saturday (November 21) and St. Francis (NY) (#239) next Tuesday (November 24). In the Cardinals’ only game of the event away from home, they will meet St. Louis (#152) in Brooklyn on Saturday, November 28. Collectively, these games will not be much of a boost to an already weak non-conference schedule that Rick Pitino has lined up for his inexperienced squad this season.
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North Carolina’s Other Guards Looking Strong Thus Far

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 18th, 2015

When Marcus Paige broke his hand on November 4 and it was announced that North Carolina’s star guard would miss the first several games of the season, the obvious positive spin on the situation was easy to anticipate. The Tar Heels would still win its first several games comfortably while the other guards on the roster would be gifted a great opportunity to improve. Upon Paige’s return, the narrative went, his backcourt mates would have greater in-game experience to support the ACC’s Co-Preseason Player of the Year in their quest for a National Championship. Sometimes spin turns out to be reality: After the Tar Heels’ first two games of the season, that plan seems to working out beautifully.

Theo Pinson has shown good playmaking skills with Marcus Paige out. (Will Bratton/WRAL)

Theo Pinson has shown good playmaking skills with Marcus Paige out. (Will Bratton/WRAL)

Last Friday night North Carolina tipped off the season with an impressive 91-67 neutral court win over Temple in Annapolis. The Heels followed that up with a lackluster performance in its Sunday home opener against Fairfield, a game in which the final score of 92-65 was not indicative of how close the game was. In both games, the Tar Heels have received great offensive production from its current backcourt rotation — sophomores Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson along with junior Nate Britt. This trio has combined to average 39.5 points per game thus far, complementing the strong production from the Tar Heels’ frontcourt. In a bit of a surprise, Pinson has been the most effective playmaker on the floor, twice leading the team in assists, including a super performance on Sunday: eight assists and zero turnovers. Meanwhile, Berry and Britt have been lighting it up from deep, combining to make 12-of-20 threes. Perhaps Paige’s absence has helped to answer one of the biggest questions about perimeter shooting going into this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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