The ACC in the NCAA: Can Pacific Beat Miami?

Posted by KCarpenter on March 22nd, 2013

There are, theoretically, lots of ways that a team can get upset.  In practice, the formula for a big upset tends to have a few common recurring elements that appear with a sort of frequency that would make James Frazer proud. Upset-minded teams typically play at a slow tempo, make a lot of threes, rarely commit turnovers, and have a veteran coach and players. The good news for Pacific University is that it looks a lot like a team capable of an upset.

Will Miami Survive the Upset-Minded Tigers? (photo: Getty Images)

Will Miami Survive the Upset-Minded Tigers? (photo: Getty Images)

Pacific plays at the 285th fastest speed in Division I and as a team makes 39.1% of three-pointers (12th best nationally!).  A turnover percentage of 17.7% ranks in the top 50 in the country and veteran Bob Thomason coaches a team loaded with juniors and seniors. Thomason has coached at Pacific since 1988 and has previously led his teams to NCAA Tournament wins over Pittsburgh and Providence. Even more important (at least for the narrative-minded), Thomason has announced that this will be his final year coaching, and that after 25 years, he will be hanging up his whistle after this tournament. It sounds like a perfect storm of circumstances for a team to overachieve and give their coach one last hurrah. So does Pacific have what it takes to beat Miami?

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The ACC in the NCAA: Can Albany Beat Duke?

Posted by KCarpenter on March 22nd, 2013

After the shocking loss to Lehigh last tournament, it seems unlikely that Duke will ever overlook a no. 15 seed again. Yet, looking at Albany‘s body of work; no one would blame the Blue Devils for looking a little bit ahead. Albany is not Lehigh. Lehigh was ridiculously underseeded at 15 and featured two top caliber players, one of whom, C.J. McCollum will probably play in the NBA. Duke was missing Ryan Kelly, and, in general seemed to be faltering at the end of this season. Meanwhile, this season, there is little to indicate that Albany is mis-seeded and Duke finished the regular season healthy and on a strong note. Still, for the sake of argument, if Albany were to somehow beat Duke, how would they do it?

Duke and Kelly Are Unlikely to Drop Another NCAA Opener (Lance King)

Duke and Kelly Are Unlikely to Drop Another NCAA Opener (Lance King)

Duke’s one big weakness all season has been rebounding and the Great Danes have actually been pretty good on that front, particularly in terms of defensive rebounding, though Albany easily outpaces Duke’s offensive rebounding mark as well. The big caveat here is the caliber of competition that Albany has been beating on the glass: dominating the America East Conference on the boards is a little simpler than doing the same in the ACC. Yet, it bears mentioning that tempo-free rebounding measures tend to be remarkably stable even when the level of competition changes. As strange as it is to say, it’s quite possible that the Great Danes could own the boards against Duke.

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ACC Snubs Fill Up the NIT

Posted by KCarpenter on March 19th, 2013

The cases for Virginia and Maryland were always tough to make. Both teams were able to hang their hats on seriously good wins, yet both also had some of the ugliest losses on the bubble. That these two teams found themselves on the wrong side looking in Sunday evening isn’t all too surprising. Yet, they move on. Along with Florida State, these ACC teams are set to play in that other national tournament, starting this evening. So if the First Four match-ups aren’t to your taste, there is some fine basketball scheduled for the NIT involving ACC teams tonight.

Virginia and Maryland Have a Shot at Another Tussle in the NIT

Virginia and Maryland Have a Shot at Another Tussle in the NIT

Niagara at Maryland at 7:00 PM

Maryland got a # 2 seed in the NIT and drew a team that won its conference regular season but flopped in the conference tournament. The MAAC’s Niagara is a run-and-gun team that makes up for it’s relatively pedestrian team three-point shooting with skilled ball-handlers who rarely turn the ball over. T.J. Cline is usually the biggest man on the court for Niagara, and he measures out at only 6’8″. However, like the rest of the team, he is a gleeful participant in the perimeter-based attack and has attempted 112 threes this season (leading his team with a 33.9% mark). On the defensive end, the team is effective at forcing turnovers, critical considering Maryland’s difficulty in hanging on to the ball. Of course where Niagara has a fast, agile attack, Maryland has size. No one on the roster can match up with 7’1″ Alex Len, and the trouble that Niagara has in terms of rebounding is a serious problem against an elite offensive rebounding team like Maryland. If the Purple Eagles can scramble and keep forcing turnovers on the defensive end while getting open perimeter looks (Maryland has done a good job contesting threes all season), Niagara has a shot at the upset. Without this, however, Alex Len is well-equipped to dominate this game on both ends.

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ACC Tournament: Previewing the Quarterfinals

Posted by KCarpenter on March 15th, 2013

If you love everything going totally to plan, then you loved the first day of the ACC Tournament. Will chalk continue to reign as the conference’s top teams join the fray? Well, it’s at least possible. Let’s go over the match-ups:

Miami vs. Boston College at 12:00 PM

Olivier Hanlan, Boston College

What Does Hanlan Have in Store For Today? (Photo via Boston Globe)

Remember that time that an early season Miami team came within one point to losing to Boston College? I’m sure the Hurricanes have tried to forget it too, but it did happen. When the Eagles went to Coral Gables, Miami totally destroyed its overmatched foe, dominating nearly every aspect of the game. That’s what happened to nearly everyone who went down to Coral Gables this season, though. Yet, Boston College comes into this game hotter than a two-dollar pistol, having swept its last three regular season games (including a win over Virginia) and then dominating Georgia Tech in the first round on the wings of a  legendary and record-setting 41-point performance by Freshmen of the Year, Olivier Hanlan. This game may very well come down to the match-up at shooting guard with scoring sensation Hanlan trying to best the savvy veteran and newly-minted Defensive Player of the Year, Durand Scott.

Virgina vs. North Carolina State at 2:00 PM

In their first game of the tournament, North Carolina State showed something new — an ability to shut down a big time scorer. Though the Wolfpack has struggled on defense all year, the team held Virginia Tech’s Erick Green to 15 points on 19 shots and also forced him into four turnovers. NC State will need to maintain that concentration if this team is going to have any chance at stopping the equally deadly Joe Harris. The Wolfpack has the right personnel to stop the Cavaliers on the defensive end, but it will take some serious focus. Virginia won the team’s only match-up in Charlottesville by a mere 3 points, but in Greensboro, NC State will effectively hold the home court advantage. This figures to be the closest game of the day, but even so, counting on the Wolfpack to give consistent effort on the defensive end is an easy way to be disappointed.

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ACC Tournament: Previewing the First Round

Posted by KCarpenter on March 14th, 2013

After a season in Atlanta, we return to Greensboro, a city known for the ACC tournament and an abundance of space for business and trade conferences. It’s clearly good to be home. The first day of the tournament has recently been a concern for the conference, with attendance slumping on the day when all of the top teams stay in their hotels. The story of the attendance of the first day is an interesting subplot for a conference that is looking at an expanded and perhaps even more lackluster first day with the new teams coming in. Of course, as gripping as attendance figures and conference expansion are as topics, there will also be some basketball played today, so let’s look at what we can expect.

acc tournament greensboro

Georgia Tech vs. Boston College at 12:00 ET

If you are feeling an eerie sense of déjà vu that’s understandable: these two teams just played on Saturday with Boston College eking out a narrow win over Georgia Tech in the pair’s only scheduled meeting of the season. The two teams are strange mirror images of each other: BC is the 6th best offense in the conference with the 11th best defense while GT is the 6th best defense with the 11th best offense. The result is that we can expect a simultaneously lopsided and symetrical game, with Boston College’s competent offense meeting the strong defense of Georgia Tech on one end, while both teams look somewhat hopeless on the other.  Considering the Boston College only narrowly won at home while shooting 55.1%, it seems likely that Georgia Tech will have the edge on the rematch on a neutral court.

Virginia Tech vs. NC State at 2:00 ET

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Lessons Learned: ACC Weekend Wrap-Up

Posted by KCarpenter on March 11th, 2013

The end of the regular season has arrived. After the six final games, we have a body of work for each team and, we can with some degree of confidence begin to look to the postseason. Many questions linger, but we were given no shortage of answers. It was an instructive final weekend for teams in the conference, and the ACC Tournament will offer a final test for at least six of these teams. What lessons will they carry through next weekend?

  1. Duke Is Beginning To Peak At The Right Time. Too often, the Blue Devils have looked dominant in the early part of the season only to wilt at the end of the regular season or far too early in tournament play. This year, the dip came early, with the loss of Ryan Kelly for a big chunk of the conference slate and a disappearing act by Mason Plumlee who seemed to vanish when his team needed him. Yet the early dip may have worked to Duke’s advantage. The team has rallied and on Saturday, against a solid North Carolina team playing at home,  demonstrated the terrifyingly potent form that the Blue Devils have started to slip into. Duke has had the misfortune of playing their best basketball too early in the past couple of seasons, but right now, everything looks like it is coming together at just the right time.

    Plumlee and Friends Eviscerated the Heels Saturday Night

    Plumlee and Friends Eviscerated the Heels Saturday Night

  2. Clemson Looks Terrible. Virginia Tech may have clinched the bottom seed for the ACC Tournament, but make no mistake: Clemson looks like the worst team in the conference. After going 4-4 over the first eight conference games, the Tigers would only win one more the rest of the way. While the team’s defense would remain somewhat effective, the offense fell off a cliff. Sure, the Tigers managed to tie Miami at the half, but that speaks more to Miami’s penchant for offensive droughts than anything about Clemson. It’s possible that Brad Brownell’s squad might round into form this week, but it honestly looks like this team gave up on trying to do much of anything more than a month ago.
  3. Boston College Finished Strong. The Eagles eked out a narrow win over Georgia Tech that capped off a three-game winning streak to close out the season. As a team that spent most of the season competing for the worst record in the league, that makes these wins feel like a sign of momentum. In terms of teams that almost certainly won’t make the NCAA Tournament, Boston College is at the top of the ACC losers’ heap. The team will get to celebrate its accomplishments and its Saturday victory over Georgia Tech on Thursday when BC gets to face… Georgia Tech.  Despite the hard-earned higher seed, the Eagles’ two-point home victory against the Yellow Jackets doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence for the rematch. Read the rest of this entry »
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Duke Reminds Everybody That It Might Be The Favorite In March

Posted by KCarpenter on March 10th, 2013

It was over at the half. Coaches sometimes hate when others say that, but in Duke’s 69-53 victory over North Carolina, both Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski largely agreed–it was over at the half. Seth Curry was unstoppable, going 8-for-10 in the first stanza. He was closely guarded by Reggie Bullock and others, but in the end, nothing seemed to matter. “He toyed with us,” said Williams, and he wasn’t wrong. Curry led the Blue Devils to a 42 point first half (on 69.2% shooting) while a miserable looking North Carolina offense only managed 24 points (on 27.3% shooting).

Coach K Is Working His Magic Again

Duke scored at will, jumping out to a 14-0 run to start the game and one that ultimately decided it. North Carolina had nice spurts as the game went on, and the margin fluctuated, but ultimately the 14 points held up all the way to the final buzzer. Curry cooled off in the second half, and North Carolina did a better job getting close shots at the basket, but ultimately, a strong game plan and Mason Plumlee did wonders for keeping the Tar Heels at a distance. Plumlee looked more comfortable than he has in a long time, racking up 23 points on 15 shots as well as 13 rebounds. Mason’s board work can stand on its own, but it was all the more impressive for the number it did against James Michael McAdoo. While McAdoo had occasional success scoring on Plumlee, he was simply dominated on the boards. Usually playing as Carolina’s only big, McAdoo managed only 3 rebounds in 34 minutes. For reference, Plumlee had three times as many boards on the offensive end as McAdoo had on the defensive end. The Duke big man’s dominance on the boards kept Carolina at bay throughout the second half.

The Tar Heels did make a second half run, technically slightly winning the half 29-27 while shooting 41.4% to the Blue Devils’ 39.1%. Still, after spotting Duke 14 points to start the game and with Plumlee controlling the boards, the greatly improved play in the second half simply didn’t matter. Krzyzewski put it very simply in his post-game comments: “Obviously, we played really well tonight.” With Miami’s recent stumbles, Duke looks like the hottest and most talented team in the conference.

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Duke-UNC: Can the Devils Break the Season Finale Streak in Chapel Hill?

Posted by KCarpenter on March 8th, 2013

It doesn’t matter that Miami has already clinched the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament and that Duke is already locked into the #2 seed. It doesn’t matter that the Tar Heels have already clinched a first round conference tournament bye and a likely mid-line entry into the big one. Sure, Duke could improve its shot at a top seed for the big one and clinch a share of the regular season conference title (if Miami loses). Sure, North Carolina could try to boost its stock for the selection committee. It’s Duke vs. North Carolina at the end of the season, and the value of resumes and seeding is a paltry concern next to the best rivalry in sports. When these teams play, external concerns go out the window: It’s the rivalry and that’s it. This time, when the two teams match up, there’s nothing on the line but pride in the jerseys, but that’s more than enough.

A.J Zanyk Photography 2012

Forget the records, it’s always fun when these two guys get together on the court.

Duke won the previous match-up in Cameron Indoor, although the final gap between the two teams was closer than most anticipated. Duke has spent most of the season hovering around the top five teams in the country while North Carolina hasn’t been ranked in 2013. Yet when the buzzer sounded, the five-point win felt more like relief than a colossal triumph for a Duke team that was still trying to find its way during Ryan Kelly’s injury. Now that Kelly is back in action, there is no mistaking the disparity between the two teams: The Blue Devils are fielding the superior team by a clear margin.

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Georgia Tech Delivers Miami’s First Home Loss

Posted by KCarpenter on March 7th, 2013

Before Wednesday night, Miami had yet to lose a single game at home. Granted, they hadn’t lost many games period, but the BankUnited Center has witnessed nothing but triumphs during this breakthrough season for Jim Larranaga’s squad. In Coral Gables, Michigan State, Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina had all fallen to the Hurricanes. So, naturally, Georgia Tech, a team trying to avoid the worst record in the conference, was the team that finally bested the Hurricanes at home. It doesn’t make much sense on the face of things, but there does seem to be something about these Yellow Jackets.

Brian-Gregory

Brian Gregory May Have A Long Way To Go At Georgia Tech, But They Have Shown Signs Of Progress

After last night, Georgia Tech had three conference victories on the road. That might not seem like much, but it’s only one fewer win than Duke and North Carolina, the same as NC State, and one more than Virginia. For as poorly as Georgia Tech has played (and given that they only have three conference victories at home, let me stress that they have played poorly), the Yellow Jackets have honestly been one of the better teams in the conference on the road. Sure, three wins isn’t much to hang your hat on, but these victories do stand as true accomplishments in an otherwise disappointing season.  Defeating Miami at home is a singular achievement that no one else in the conference or out of it can match, unless a slumping Clemson team surprises us all over the weekend. Sure, defeating Virginia Tech at home isn’t all that special, but beating Wake Forest at Joel Coliseum has been challenging this year. Miami, Virginia, and NC State couldn’t do it, and Duke came within five points of falling short as well. Why has such an otherwise disappointing team been so (relatively) effective on the road?

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Lessons Learned: ACC Weekend Wrap-Up

Posted by KCarpenter on March 5th, 2013

It was a boring penultimate weekend of Atlantic Coast Conference play where everything went according to plan and nothing exciting happened. Just kidding: It was a in fact a sensational weekend of games with some big time performances and massive upsets. There were also a couple of dull games where teams with “North Carolina” in their name easily defeated overmatched foes, but let’s try our best to ignore that as we examine some late lessons of the season.

  1. Boston College Really Likes Playing Teams That Just Beat Duke. In fact, the Eagles have proven themselves as the masters of the hangover game. A win over Virginia is more impressive than a win over Maryland, but what remains far more interesting is BC’s penchant for killing other team’s vibes. All but one conference victory (an early season tilt against Virginia Tech) has come after an opponent has won its previous game. Does this mean anything? Probably not, but if I was going to face Boston College after I had just won a game, I would do my best not to overlook the Eagles.
  2. Duke’s Win Over Miami Was Surprising For The Wrong Reasons. Let’s be totally clear: Ryan Kelly’s 36 points on 14 shots was one of the most sensational individual performances in all of college basketball this year. It also probably feels good for Duke fans to get revenge after Miami’s victory early in the season. Still, if I’m a Duke fan, I’m a little concerned. The Blue Devils were supposed to win this game, with most betting lines putting the team as a 5.5 point favorite. Kelly puts in one of the single most impressive and surprising performances of the year… and Duke only wins by 3 points at home? It was a big victory, no doubt, but shouldn’t it have been a lot bigger?

    While Ryan Kelly's outstanding performance was great in the Duke win, the narrow victory might be a cause of some concern (Lance King)

    While Ryan Kelly’s outstanding performance was great in the Duke win, the narrow victory might be cause for some concern. (Lance King)

  3. Wake Forest Has Become Ridiculously Good At Drawing Fouls. Technically, Boston College and NC State have been better than the Demon Deacons in conference play, but you wouldn’t know that by watching the game against Maryland. In the first half, Wake was in the bonus with 9:47 to go in the period. In the second half, they were in the bonus with 16:13 left. That’s right. They reached the bonus before the first official timeout of the second half. James Padgett fouled out after 17 minutes, and in 10 minutes of play, Shaquille Cleare tallied four fouls. The Deacons ultimately lost this game, but this kind of foul-drawing performance suggests that this team might be particularly well-positioned to exploit the teams that foul the most in the conference — namely Virginia Tech, Virginia and Duke. Read the rest of this entry »
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Even Without Kendall Marshall, UNC is a Better Passing Team This Year

Posted by KCarpenter on March 4th, 2013

Quick gut check: Is this year’s North Carolina team better at moving the ball than last year’s team? My gut told me there was no chance, especially when that team had Kendall Marshall, the all-time ACC single season leader in assists. My gut was wrong. Well it’s possible that this team doesn’t quite have the passing flair of Marshall, but as a team, this group knows how to move the ball better than last year’s squad. The 2011-12 North Carolina team assisted on 58.1% of its made field goals as opposed to this year’s mark of 61.0%. It’s the best mark in the conference, and against Florida State on Sunday, the Tar Heels’ passing acumen was on full display.

A Better Passing Team Without This Guy? Blasphemy! But True.

A Better Passing Team Without This Guy? Blasphemy! But True.

North Carolina assisted on 20 out of 31 made field goals against the Seminoles, a 64.5% mark for the game.  While the Roy Williams era North Carolina teams have always racked up assists at a pretty quick rate, the way that this team does it is fairly unusual. The norm for UNC has been a dominant point guard in the mold of Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson, and Kendall Marshall — floor generals who exert a tight control over the game. Yet young Marcus Paige hardly fits that description. Granted, Paige has been playing with increased confidence and better passing during the Tar Heels’ five-game winning streak, amassing an easy nine assists during the course of the game. But, for the most part, this year, UNC’s assists have come from a three-headed monster.

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What Happened to C.J. Leslie?

Posted by KCarpenter on February 27th, 2013

Before the season started, North Carolina State’s C.J. Leslie was picked as the probable conference Player of the Year while leading his team to a predicted first place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Wolfpack currently sits at fifth in the conference standings and Leslie seems like he is now well outside of the all-ACC First Team, much less anywhere near the Player of the Year Award. He’s likely not even a serious contender for the best player on his team, let alone the conference. What happened to the Wolfpack star and how did he manage to fall so short of expectations this season?

Has C.J. Leslie underachieved this season? Or is he just a product of optimistic expectations? (USA Today)

Has C.J. Leslie underachieved this season? Or is he just a product of inflated expectations? (USA Today)

The answer, like the question, is two part. First, nothing happened to Leslie: He is fairly close to the same player he has always been. This season, the ultra-athletic forward is averaging 15.4 PPG and 7.6 RPG, marginal improvements over last year’s marks of 14.7 PPG and 7.3 RPG. In terms of tempo-free measures, Leslie has been a bit better at shooting, slightly worse at offensive rebounding, and a good bit worse in terms of turnovers while using about the same number of possessions as last year. The net result? An offensive efficiency of 100.1 this year as opposed to a mark of 102.1 last year. Outside of a little variation, Leslie has been what he was last year — a nearly average offensive player using the eighth largest proportion of possessions in the conference. Why then, was Leslie picked as potentially the best player in the conference?

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