Battle in the Bluegrass: Previewing Kentucky vs. Louisville

Posted by Lathan Wells & David Changas on December 27th, 2014

Kentucky, the undisputed No. 1 team in the country, faces perhaps its last truly tough test of the regular season when it enters Louisville’s Yum! Center today with both teams unbeaten and carrying designs on a second national title in the last four years (a notion that sounds crazy in December, but probably true). John Calipari has won six of seven match-ups against the Cardinals since taking over in Lexington, but Rick Pitino is on the other sideline with home court as well as the best player on the floor wearing red and white. SEC micrositer David Changas and ACC micrositer Lathan Wells got together to break down the biggest game of the college basketball weekend, and quite possibly, the entire regular season.

DC: One of Kentucky’s biggest strengths this season is its ability to grab offensive rebounds. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have struggled on the defensive glass. What can they do to neutralize this Kentucky advantage and keep the Wildcats from getting too many easy putback baskets?

Montrezl Harrell living up to his pre-season accolades is imperative for the Cardinals to have a chance (AP Photo)

Montrezl Harrell living up to his preseason accolades is imperative for the Cardinals to have a chance today. (AP Photo)

LW: This may seem perfunctory, but Louisville needs to do an incredible job of blocking out. No one in college basketball can match Kentucky’s size, so the Cards will need all of their big men to keep their assigned Wildcats on their backs. Montrezl Harrell also has to stay out of foul trouble, and Chinanu Onuaku and Mangok Mathiang have to avoid the tendency to be overaggressive in a big-time situation so that they can stay on the floor as well. Another key against Kentucky is finding some rebounding help from the backcourt, so players such as Chris Jones and Terry Rozier will need to contribute in that department as well. Kentucky’s top-rated defense is so incredibly stifling that the Wildcats have coasted to most of their wins this year, but Louisville is bound to be hyped from the opening tip in this one. How would John Calipari’s team handle an early deficit, and who do you think is the one player the Wildcats absolutely need a phenomenal performance from to ensure they stay undefeated?

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ACC Stock Watch: Holiday Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 26th, 2014

As the holiday break kicked in, some ACC teams and players were probably thrilled to review their last few weeks of action with family and friends. Others were undoubtedly just glad they had some time away from the hardwood to refresh and reset expectations. We’ve now had three weeks since we last evaluated the state of the conference’s players and coaches, so here’s the Holiday Edition of the ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Notre Dame. All the Fighting Irish have done since we last checked in is to reel off five straight wins, bringing their overall record to 12-1 (including an early ACC win over Florida State). Mike Brey’s team is one of the most dynamic offensive groups in the country, averaging 86.1 points per game and putting up 94 and 91 points, respectively, in blowout wins over Purdue and Northern Illinois. More impressive than the overall offensive output in those two games is that Jerian Grant scored a total of 21 points on just 5-of-22 shooting from the field. Once the All-American candidate returns to form, look out.
  • Virginia. Don’t look now, but the Cavaliers are finally getting their due as a serious national title contender. Tony Bennett’s team may be even better defensively this year than last, holding a talented Harvard team to eight first-half points en route to an impressive 76-27 win following a 17-point victory over rival VCU in Richmond two weeks prior. Duke and Louisville have gotten the majority of the attention so far, but the Cavaliers’ 11-0 start is something more pundits on the national scene are paying attention to.
Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia's throttling of Harvard proved they're a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia’s latest win, a throttling of Harvard, proved the Cavaliers are a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

  • North Carolina. For all of the talk about this team’s uneven play and noticeable deficiencies, the Tar Heels actually have put together a nice stretch since our last stock watch. Although they fell to Kentucky in Lexington, it took the Wildcats’ best shooting day of the year to knock off the Tar Heels by a mere 14 points (plus North Carolina actually outscored the Cats in the second half). In addition to blowout wins over East Carolina and UNC-Greensboro, the Heels won an important non-conference battle with a good Ohio State team last weekend. At 8-3, there are still some reasons for pessimism in Chapel Hill, but you can’t ignore that Roy Williams’ team has earned some solid wins while playing the ACC’s toughest non-conference schedule.

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VCU’s Win Over Northern Iowa Does Little to Mask Defensive Deficiencies

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 14th, 2014

Sometimes a team, if it has enough overall talent and a few breaks, can win a game in which its major flaws are exposed by an opponent. That’s exactly what happened in VCU’s thrilling double-overtime 93-87 win over an excellent Northern Iowa team on Saturday night in Richmond. Coming in, VCU’s detractors were wondering how the team dubbed Shaka Smart’s best since he took over the Rams program in 2009 could be a mere 5-3 and out of the national rankings already. The answer(s) to that question surfaced early and often against the Panthers; luckily the Rams’, buoyed by an always boisterous home crowd, overcame their nagging issues on the defensive end to win.

Shaka Smart's Rams got a much-needed resume-builder, but defensive issues remain (

Shaka Smart’s Rams got a much-needed resume-builder, but defensive issues remain (

VCU’s HAVOC defense is now a nationwide buzzword, and their pressing style can be utterly infuriating for opponents. But what has caused this Rams team to struggle in the non-conference schedule is the fact that once that press is broken or has been rendered impossible to set up, they’re a subpar half-court defensive team. Coming into the Northern Iowa matchup, the Rams were allowing opponents to shoot nearly 41% from three-point range. For a team that loves to chuck from long-range themselves, that can negate any good three-point shooting night they have. They’re not a whole lot better inside the arc, either, mostly because they take chances with their guard-heavy lineup and don’t have any true rim-protectors on the roster.

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ACC Exam Week: Grading Out the 15 Schools

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 11th, 2014

It’s Exam Week in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so what better time than the present to analyze the basketball aptitude of the 15 member institutions? Below we present three groupings: the teams representing the head of the class; those with the potential to improve on their early season results; and the disappointments. There’s no sliding scale to our grading system, so the teams were evaluated on how they have performed no matter their preseason expectations (sorry, tough professor).

Top of the Class

  • Duke has earned nothing shy of an A+ thus far, playing like a team that’s clearly a national title contender. The freshmen and veteran holdovers have meshed beautifully, and the Blue Devils’ 8-0 record includes a quality win over Michigan State as well as a very impressive defeat of fellow contender Wisconsin on the road.
  • Louisville is having no problem representing its new conference in an 8-0 start, save for a head-scratching 45-33 win over Cleveland State. Knocking off Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge as well as wins over Minnesota and Indiana leave the Cardinals looking like a contender for the crown too. Montrezl Harrell has been as good as advertised, and the long-awaited emergence of Wayne Blackshear makes this a very dangerous team.
  • Notre Dame sure missed Jerian Grant down the stretch last season. Now that its leading man is back from suspension, the Irish have started off hot. They’re a one-point loss to Providence from being 10-0 and they can present a quality win by virtue of besting Michigan State. Four double-figure scorers contribute to the 10th highest-scoring offense in the country at 85.1 points per game.
Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

  • Could Virginia actually be better than last year’s conference championship-winning team? The Cavaliers have let Justin Anderson loose, and he has been nothing short of a star to pair along with Malcolm Brogdon. They’re still one of the best defensive teams in the country and have shown they can win playing multiple styles, counting road wins over Maryland and VCU already on the resume.
  • Miami is probably the pleasant surprise of the conference thus far, sporting a 9-1 record and earning a spot few saw coming in the national rankings. We’ll excuse the hiccup against Wisconsin-Green Bay (the same team that nipped Virginia early last year) since the Hurricanes have already beaten Florida and Illinois. Transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan have allowed the other players who were asked to do too much last season to return to more comfortable supporting roles.

Those With Potential

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London Perrantes Proves Again Why He’s Mr. Indispensable

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 7th, 2014

It’s easy to look at the team Tony Bennett has put together at Virginia and say that his players are interchangeable. After all, his defense-first philosophy and the offensive identity of continually working for the best available shot don’t seem individual-specific. One could point to the program’s rise and success under Bennett as further evidence of that theory, as Virginia looks every bit as good in starting 9-0 this season as last year’s ACC champion, despite some key personnel losses. Even when the Cavaliers were down two starters (including the team’s leading scorer, Justin Anderson) in a tough road game against Maryland on Wednesday night, Virginia still ran away to a 76-65 win.

London Perrantes proved once again why Virginia can't succeed without him (USAToday Sports)

London Perrantes proved once again why Virginia can’t succeed without him (USAToday Sports)

But the truth is that Virginia does have an indispensable player: London Perrantes. The sophomore point guard is the heady, sure-handed player that makes this team capable of playing a variety of styles and still have a chance to beat anyone. That was obvious in the Cavaliers’ emphatic 74-57 defeat of rival VCU in Richmond on Saturday. The Rams once again employed their HAVOC defense, and any team facing their relentless full-court gauntlet needs an efficient, smart ball-handler to navigate through it. On Saturday, Perrantes deftly kept the ball moving and expertly broke through the press time and time again, often leading to dunks or fouls in transition as a result.

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Battle for the Commonwealth: Previewing VCU vs. Virginia

Posted by Lathan Wells & Tommy Lemoine on December 6th, 2014

Last year, VCU went into John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville and shocked Virginia on a Treveon Graham buzzer-beater. This year, both teams entered the season ranked in the top 15 nationally with the rematch set to take place on VCU’s home turf in Richmond. Some may think that the luster of this game wore off with VCU’s two early-season losses and subsequent plummet from the rankings, but that’s far from the case in Virginia’s capital city (need evidence? see here). The Cavaliers will be the highest-ranked team ever to play at VCU’s Siegel Center.  RTC’s Tommy Lemoine and Lathan Wells preview one of the biggest games in recent Virginia collegiate basketball history here.

Tommy Lemoine: Joe Harris scored almost a third of Virginia’s points against VCU last year, but he’s since graduated. Justin Anderson has done a nice job of filling that void (alongside Malcolm Brogdon), but the reigning ACC Sixth Man of the Year appeared to injure his ankle against Maryland on Wednesday. If he is limited – or worse, can’t play – who steps up as an additional offensive creator in his absence?

Last year in Charlottesville, Treveon Graham broke UVA's heart with a last-second shot (AssociatedPress)

Last year in Charlottesville, Treveon Graham broke UVA’s heart with a last-second shot (AssociatedPress)

Lathan Wells: The logical choice is Brogdon himself, who some may forget was a preseason All-ACC selection before Anderson overshadowed him in the team’s early slate. Brogdon is still the player who can make the most plays for this team in crunch time, and he rivals Anderson’s ability to get to the basket off the drive. If he is contained, however, it becomes much dicier for the Cavaliers. Either Mike Tobey or London Perrantes may need a career night if points are at a premium. While Virginia has largely lived up to its billing, VCU has underwhelmed to this point after being lauded as Shaka Smart’s best team yet at VCU. There are numerous issues that need to be cleaned up from the Rams’ 5-2 start, but what do you think is the biggest area that needs to be addressed to knock off the unbeaten Cavaliers?

TL: There are problems on both ends of the court, but against a team like Virginia that limits its own mistakes, the Rams have to be more patient on offense. Too often, their half-court ‘sets’ amount to launching threes (and not all of them the result of dribble-penetration) or isolated attempts to attack the basket. They combined for a staggeringly low four assists in the loss to Villanova and just 10 against Old Dominion. VCU would be wise to shore up its offensive rotations and ramp up its off-the-ball movement against the Cavaliers, whose pack line defense is virtually impenetrable without sharp execution. Speaking of defense, it’s all about forcing turnovers with VCU, but Virginia has done a really nice job taking care of the ball so far this year. Still, the Cavaliers coughed it up 19 times in last season’s match-up – a big reason why they lost. Any cause for concern as they head to Richmond, or is London Perrantes ready to handle the HAVOC?

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ACC Stock Watch: Week Three

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 5th, 2014

After two weeks of some mediocre non-conference competition along with some enlightening Feast Week match-ups, the conference found itself in familiar territory battling its peers in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The games featured there, along with the few that preceded it, continue to shine a light on the teams and players in the conference who are rising, falling, or simply standing still. Here’s the third weekly edition of our ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Tyus Jones, Duke. No one had a better week than the Blue Devils’ freshman point guard. After a sizzling 16 points and 10 assists in a win over Army earlier this week, Jones put the team on his back to help Duke defeat the nation’s fourth-ranked team on the road. His 22 points helped to offset an average game from the more-ballyhooed Jahlil Okafor, who posted 13 points while battling underneath with the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky all night. More impressive than his numbers was his poise down the stretch and how efficiently he ran the Duke offense all night long. The first true road test was little test at all for this standout freshman.
  • Wayne Blackshear, Louisville. Terry Rozier hit the big shots at the end of the game in the Cardinals’ win over Ohio State on Tuesday night, but it was Blackshear’s breakout performance that made the biggest impact. Long a player with high upside but inconsistent production, Blackshear’s all-around game against the Buckeyes (22 points, 4-of-8 from three, six rebounds) was the kind of contribution that Rick Pitino and Louisville has been waiting for from the senior.
Wayne Blackshear's big night is hopefully a sign of more good things to come for Louisville (USAToday Sports)

Wayne Blackshear’s big night is hopefully a sign of more good things to come for Louisville fans (USAToday Sports)

  • Duke. What can really be said about the scariest team in the country not located in Lexington? Duke went into a very difficult road environment in Madison, Wisconsin, and merely shot 65 percent from the field and used its talented freshmen trio to overcome the veteran stars of the Badgers. They’re as efficient an offensive team as there is in college basketball right now.
  • Miami. While the buzzer-beater win over Florida has now lost some of its luster, the Hurricanes just keep on winning. After dispatching an overmatched South Alabama team, Miami held Illinois (a team averaging 90 points per game coming in) to only 61 in its win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The transfers are everything Jim Larranaga could have hoped they’d be, and holders Manu Lecomte and Tonye Jekiri are flourishing in complementary roles.

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ACC Stock Watch – Week Two

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 28th, 2014

We here at RTC hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday. Of course, we kept on our eye on ACC hoops for you while you were eating and possibly dabbling in the football-viewing arena. It’s only week two in the season, but there continue to be teams and players who are continuing to excel or providing disappointing early returns. Below is this week’s ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Duke. Sure, they’re obliterating lesser competition, but their win over Stanford in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic was a great sign because Jahlil Okafor was not dominant and yet the team was composed and beat a good Cardinal team. Tyus Jones (roughly five-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio through six games) and Justise Winslow (14 points per game on 45% shooting thus far) continue to show that they are beyond their years as freshmen and can help cover for a game where Okafor doesn’t play up to his standards.
Trevor Lacey had a sensational second week to keep the Wolfpack undefeated on the year (APPhoto)

Trevor Lacey had a sensational second week to keep the Wolfpack undefeated on the year (APPhoto)

  • Trevor Lacey, NC State. Lacey was billed as an impact freshman, and he certainly had an impactful week for the Wolfpack. Lacey averaged 23.5 points per game in NC State’s two wins over South Florida and Richmond this week, and even spent a large portion of the time handling the ball in lieu of Cat Barber. Lacey has hit the ground running, and has presented a great second option for Mark Gottfried at the point if Barber is playing erratically.
  • Justin Anderson, Virginia. As discussed here after last Friday’s win over George Washington, Anderson has tied for or been the lead man in scoring for this team in every game this season. Last year’s Sixth Man of the Year followed up a solid start to the season last week with a perfect shooting night against Tennessee State (7-7 from the field, 5-5 from three) to notch 20 points. Anderson might be the hottest player in the conference right now not playing in Durham.

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Is Justin Anderson This Year’s Malcolm Brogdon?

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 22nd, 2014

Prior to the beginning of last season, any preseason accolades that were heaped on a Virginia player were going to Joe Harris. He was a senior who had put up prodigious numbers over his career, and the media rightly thought he was in for a superb final season in Charlottesville. Although Harris notched his second all-ACC performance in 2013-14, it was a little-known sophomore named Malcolm Brogdon who became the team’s offensive leader on its way to the program’s best season in over three decades. With Harris now gone and Brogdon returning as a hyped junior, history at Virginia may just be repeating itself. Brogdon was the star who received preseason All-ACC honors, but through the first four games it has instead been a newcomer to the starting lineup who has become Virginia’s star.

Coach Bennett has to like what he's seen from new starter Justin Anderson so far (

Coach Bennett has to like what he’s seen from new starter Justin Anderson (forefront) so far (

Justin Anderson was not quite the unknown quantity that Brogdon was last year, having been the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year a season ago. However, given the perception that this would be Brogdon’s team as well as uncertainty as to how Anderson’s energy and consistency would be affected by becoming a starter, few saw this breakout coming. The Cavaliers’ swingman has led or tied for the team scoring lead in all four contests in this young season, including a team-high 18 last night in a victory over a tough George Washington squad. Right now, he’s averaging 16.0 points and nearly six rebounds a game for one of the top teams in the nation, and shooting an astonishing 59 percent from three-point range.

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ACC Stock Watch – Week One

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 21st, 2014

Each week here at the microsite we’ll take a look at which ACC teams and players are trending up, down, or remaining flat. It’s still very early in the season, but there are some trends to be gleaned from the first week of opening games. Let’s take a look below:

Trending Up

  • Duke. Despite all of the preseason hype placed on Duke’s freshmen (Jahlil Okafor in particular) and speculative questions about overall team chemistry, the Blue Devils have looked the part of a title contender thus far. Their blowouts over Presbyterian and Fairfield may not have convinced anyone, but their wire-to-wire victory over Michigan State showed that Duke is already in top form.
  • Miami. The Hurricanes’ early returns on their big-name transfers have been outstanding. Sheldon McClellan (from Texas) is putting up 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game through two contests, and former Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez is not only averaging a team-high 18.3 points per contest, but he also hit the game-winning three over rival Florida that ended the Gators’ 33-game home winning streak. Pretty solid start for Jim Larranaga’s newcomers.
Angel Rodriguez has brought pleasant early returns for Miami (USA Today Sports)

Angel Rodriguez has produced pleasant early returns for Miami (USA Today Sports)

  • Virginia Tech. Why are the Hokies trending up when they only have wins over Maryland-Eastern Shore and Liberty? Well, go back in time one year ago and Virginia Tech had just lost its season opener to South Carolina Upstate. At a minimum, Buzz Williams has his team beating the teams it should beat, something last year’s group couldn’t boast. Freshman Justin Bibbs’ solid start to the season has been a pleasant surprise as well.

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