ACC Stock Report: Volume I

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on November 14th, 2019

While Duke’s victory over Kansas in the Champions Classic and Cole Anthony’s historic start have garnered much of the ACC attention, there are some stories under the surface that are also worth noting. Here’s this season’s initial stock report.

Stock Rising

A Happy Derryck Thornton Has Landed at Boston College (Boston Herald)

Derryck Thornton Four years after starting his career at one of the ACC’s flagship programs, Thornton has started his final collegiate campaign at a perennial cellar dweller, looking to take advantage of a last chance to alter the narrative of a disappointing career. After reclassifying and getting to Duke a year ahead of schedule, Thornton logged an uninspiring season in Durham before ultimately opting for USC rather than compete for point guard minutes with future one-and-doner Frank Jackson. Things never really materialized as anticipated for him in Los Angeles, and now, as he watches contemporaries like De’Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball about to sign their second NBA contracts, Thornton is looking to turn it all around in Chestnut Hill. His early returns have been dynamite. Perhaps now maturing into that five-star prospect, Thornton has piloted the Eagles to a trio of early wins, scoring a career-high 23 in the conference-opening win against Wake Forest, following that up with another 22 in a win over a talented South Florida team and handing out five assists in short minutes against High Point. Popular opinion was that this was a make or break year for Jim Christian at the school, and preseason expectations were portending an inevitable break. But a strong start by Thornton has the Eagles feeling a little bit more optimistic.

Stock Holding

Pittsburgh. It’s tough to make sense of an inconsistent 2-1 start by Pittsburgh, but maybe it should be expected given such a youthful roster. After a gritty opening win against a Florida State team that has since authored a dismantling of top-10 Florida in Gainesville, the Panthers dropped a home game to #256 Nicholls State before going back on the road to pull away late from Robert Morris. The central reason for concern regarding a potential leap for Jeff Capel’s club in year two was an inability to stretch the defense. However, in junior college transfer Ryan Murphy, Pittsburgh may have found a perfect fit to complement attack-first guards Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens. Murphy’s energy and marksmanship shot the Panthers back into the opener against the Seminoles, and his 28 points against Nicholls State nearly singlehandedly avoided the upset. The 6’2” junior has now accounted for half of the Panthers’ 18 triples through the team’s first three contests, and after drawing his first start Tuesday night, he looks to be a fixture for Capel’s squad going forward.

Stock Falling

Jim Boeheim is Already Cranky (USA Today Images)

Jim Boeheim’s Act. After his team’s dreadful opening night performance against Virginia — 34 points on 24 percent shooting — Boeheim lashed out at the ACC, which had the gall in his eyes to “grab the money” and start the season with an intra-league slate to promote the rollout of its newly launched television network. Boeheim has been at this long enough, is certainly smart enough, and is undeniably rich enough, to know that this whole thing is a television show, and that’s why his salary has risen presumably about 40 times to $2.5 million dollars a year over the span of his illustrious 44-year career. Typically, Boeheim doesn’t reach his maximum level of ornery until mid-March when he is defending a weak non-conference schedule, but the combination of opening with the reigning National Champion, and then getting spanked in front of his home crowd, really had him in mid-season form. Fortunately, the Orange will once again play a whole bunch of non-league games (all of them) inside the New York State border before really attacking the teeth of the league docket. His team won’t be any worse, because it won’t face a better defensive unit than Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers, and as Boeheim rightly alluded to, the offenses generally trail the defenses in the early part of the season. And as for Bennett, shouldn’t he have been the coach feeling slighted? His team was forced to open the season on the road at Syracuse? Not a word — just another dominant win, with no whining about it.

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ACC Burning Questions, Part IV: Syracuse, Florida State & Louisville

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 30th, 2019

Syracuse Burning Question: Can Elijah Hughes and the Orange make enough shots to spend a March off of the bubble?

It’s No Coincidence the Orange Man Resembles a Bubble (USA Today Images)

For a school with pedigree and a track record of sustained basketball excellence, the last half-decade has been somewhat of a slog for Syracuse. Almost perennially the power school at the heart of the bubble conversation, the Orange have lost 13 or more games in each of the last five campaigns. And with four starters gone from a 20-14 squad, Jim Boeheim‘s roster would suggest another March where his disposition is wrought with anxiety.

To avoid that fate, Syracuse will need to make more shots from all over the court. The Orange rated 229th nationally in effective field goal percentage a season ago, and were objectively poor from beyond the arc (229th), in two-point range (213th) and from the charity stripe (260th). The loss of its most accomplished scorer and offensive initiator, Tyus Battle, isn’t a great start on improving that ineptitude, but perhaps a more featured role for Elijah Hughes would pay dividends. Hughes led the team with 87 threes a year ago, and was the most efficient scorer the Orange had by a comfortable margin. However, he often times deferrred to Battle, Oshae Brissett and even Frank Howard, relegated to a catch-and-shoot man. This year, Hughes will undeniably be the alpha dog, and how he handles that elevation will likely tell the story of Syracuse’s season.

Florida State Burning Question: Is this the new normal at Florida State?

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ACC Burning Questions, Part 1: Boston College, Pittsburgh & Wake Forest

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 22nd, 2019

Boston College Burning Question: Will the second consecutive early departure sabotage another campaign before it even begins?

Is All Lost at Boston College? (USA Today Images)

Despite what has amounted to a lost decade of hoops in Chestnut Hill, Jim Christian’s charges had a slight glimmer of hope when the 2017-18 season came to a close. Seven league wins, the most since 2013, and an NIT appearance, the first postseason of any kind since the same year, had Boston College excited for a breakthrough last season. However, when half of one of the league’s preeminent backcourts vaulted to the NBA (Jerome Robinson) and the other (Ky Bowman) opted to eschew his final year of eligibility a year later, the Eagles seem destined for yet another year of irrelevance, cemented at the bottom of the ACC standings.

To add injury to insult, the player most equipped to fill the dynamic shoes of Bowman, rising sophomore Wynston Tabbs, will miss the entire year after September knee surgery. Much will therefore fall on the shoulders of former five-star recruit Derryck Thornton, now at his third collegiate stop, and senior Nik Popovic, the team’s leading returning scorer and second-leading rebounder. Expectations are bleak, as Boston College is the only ACC school outside of the KenPom preseason top 100, and if that plays itself out on the floor, it seems unlikely that Christian will be back to steward the Eagles for a seventh season.

Pittsburgh Burning Question: Will Jeff Capel’s progress continue?

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Three #1 Seeds Still a Possibility as ACC Finishes League Play

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 7th, 2019

On the strength of a second-half long-range assault, Virginia bludgeoned Syracuse at the Carrier Dome Monday and all but ensured that the Cavaliers will repeat as regular season ACC champions. They are set to host Louisville this weekend to close the regular season, while co-leader North Carolina, which Virginia defeated in its lone meeting this year, will host a third-place Duke team likely to be without Zion Williamson for a fifth straight game.

These three teams were expected to carry the ACC flag heading into the campaign, and they collectively have done nothing to dispel those preseason expectations. All three remain very much alive for #1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, with Virginia closest to lock territory. Duke, assuming Williamson suits up and acquits himself well in the ACC Tournament, seems comfortably entrenched on the top line too, while North Carolina has put itself in very good position to move up if it can complete the season sweep of Duke on Saturday.

The two outfits trailing the conference elite played an overtime thriller on Tuesday night, as Florida State protected its home floor in squeaking by a Justin Robinson-less Virginia Tech, and clinched the coveted double-bye at next week’s ACC Tournament in the process. The Seminoles and Hokies are both viable sleepers to make a run to Minneapolis this April, while the top three could each be considered favorites to do so when the brackets are revealed a week from Sunday.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume VII

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 28th, 2019

Sitting alone atop the conference at 11-1 and with a sweep in hand over defending champion Virginia, the smart money a little over a week ago was on Duke to cruise to its first ACC regular season title since 2010. An explosive sneaker appears to be the only thing that can slow down the freight train known as Zion Williamson, and his freak injury has led the Blue Devils to drop two of its last three games, leaving the door open for the Cavaliers and North Carolina. At 13-2 in the standings, they both now sit a game clear of Duke with only three left to play.

Stock Rising: Kerry Blackshear, Jr.

Kerry Blackshear Has Been a Stalwart for Virginia Tech This Season (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech was looking like a fashionable dark horse Final Four contender after winning 17 of its first 20 games this season. However, when senior point guard Justin Robinson went down with an injury that has kept him sidelined all February, those high hopes turned into a matter of survival. The play of Kerry Blackshear, Jr., however, has the Hokies back on the attack.

After losing two of their first three with Robinson out, Buzz Williams’ squad has now won four of five, including Monday’s upset victory over Duke. In that game, Blackshear led the Hokies in scoring for the fourth consecutive time, finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds. The junior has averaged 22.6 points per game and 10.0 boards per contest over this key stretch. Holding on to fourth place in the ACC standings and maintaining its relative KenPom placement (11th at the time of Robinson’s injury and now) has been no small feat without its floor general and best overall player around — the inspired play of Blackshear is the reason why.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume VI

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 19th, 2019

With Virginia’s win over Virginia Tech on Monday night, North Carolina is now in position to create a three-way tie at first place in the ACC standings with an upset victory at Duke on Wednesday. 

Stock Rising

Florida State is Riding High Again (USA Today Images)

Florida State: Just one short month ago, the Seminoles blew a 10-point halftime lead at Boston College to extend their losing streak to three games. That defeat dropped Florida State to 1-4 in ACC play and out of the national polls. With a promising season circling the drain, Leonard Hamilton’s veteran squad has responded by winning every game since. In ripping off those seven consecutive wins, Florida State has vaulted itself back into the second tier of the league behind Virginia, North Carolina and Duke. Only a dramatic comeback overtime victory over Louisville and a nine-point handling of Clemson were close games. In typical fashion, the Seminoles are winning with balance, depth, length and defensive acumen. Five different players have led the team in scoring over the past seven games, and only the Cardinals reached 70 points against their top-20 defense.

Sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele has been a revelation, leading the Seminoles in scoring despite not starting a single game. Senior Terrance Mann is the only other player averaging in double figures, but Florida State’s lack of an explosive scorer is made up in the balance of having eight guys notching 6.5 points per game or better. The Seminoles face a stiff test in keeping its current winning streak alive, as a trip to a desperate Clemson team looms tonight followed by a visit to Chapel Hill. But, with a split, and with all of its final four games coming in Tallahassee and at Wake Forest, Hamilton’s squad could find itself right where most envisioned prior to its slow start — as the #4 seed heading into the ACC Tournament.

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Virginia Shows Resolve in Rallying to Beat North Carolina

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on February 12th, 2019

It is difficult to dream up a more daunting back-to-back scenario than playing host to #2 Duke on Saturday followed by visiting the #8 team on its home floor 48 hours later. And after the disappointment of losing the front end in a season sweep to the Blue Devils, Virginia faced a must-win situation at North Carolina on Monday night if it had any designs on repeating as the ACC regular season champion.

Virginia Came Through in the Clutch in Chapel Hill Last Night (USA Today Images)

In staking itself a seven-point halftime lead, the Cavaliers controlled pace while managing to keep the Tar Heels from getting anything going in transition. The second half was a different story, however, as North Carolina dictated tempo early and opened up a seven-point advantage of its own with fewer than eight minutes remaining. Tony Bennett‘s team could have easily collapsed under the weight of the physical and mental pressure at that point, but that’s not what happened.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume V

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 7th, 2019

Saturday’s rematch between Virginia and Duke looked for a while like it would be the deciding factor in this year’s ACC regular season race. Maybe it will turn out to be just that, but let’s not rush so fast on calling it the game for the crown.

Stock Rising

North Carolina is Quietly Waiting on Duke and Virginia to Falter (USA Today Images)

North Carolina’s Backboard Dominance: Don’t look now, but Roy Williams’ bunch has officially made the ACC regular season championship a three-horse race. Since its curious blowout loss to Louisville three weeks ago, North Carolina has ripped off six consecutive wins, including a return-the-favor beatdown of the Cardinals on Saturday. Despite some hiccups, North Carolina has never dropped out of KenPom‘s top 10, and currently rates seventh nationally on the strength of both a top-20 offense and defense. During their recent run, it has been notable how the Tar Heels have gotten back to dominating the backboard, a staple for Williams’ squads in Chapel Hill. Since being outrebounded in the January 12 loss to Louisville, the Heels have averaged more than 10 rebounds per game than its opposition, highlighted by a +17 advantage on Saturday. Now 19th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 15th in keeping jits opponents off of the offensive boards, North Carolina has gotten back its identity as an elite rebounding unit. If the Heels hold serve against Miami at home on Saturday, Monday’s home tilt with Virginia could set up as a battle for the top slot in the conference standings — assuming the Cavaliers can protect their home court against Duke — which will be no easy task thanks to…

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ACC Stock Report: Volume IV

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on February 1st, 2019

Virginia played perhaps its worst game in conference play on Tuesday night — an uncharacteristically sloppy, and mistake-riddled effort — and still managed a road win against a top-30 team. Duke, despite devolving somewhat into a two-man show, is still running roughshod through its opposition. And while there is a four-way tie in the loss column at the top of the standings — Louisville and North Carolina are maintaining contact with the top two — it is looking increasingly likely that the teams perched #1/#2 on the KenPom ratings will ultimately separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Stock Rising

Virginia Survived NC State Earlier This Week (USA Today Images)

Virginia Offense: While not on display in Tuesday’s victory in Raleigh, these Cavaliers are arguably the best offensive group Tony Bennett has coached in Charlottesville. Virginia now ranks as the fifth most efficient offense in college basketball — up from 30th a year ago, a season in which it earned the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers have already exceeded 80 points six times this year, which is more than they have in their two previous campaigns combined. Bennett’s club ranks 12th nationally in making 39.6 percent of its three-pointers, led by the ACC’s best long-range shooter, Kyle Guy (45% 3FG). Combined with the versatile Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter, who currently rank ninth and 10th, respectively, in the KenPom Player of the Year standings, the Cavaliers own a trio of versatile shot creators and makers that it hasn’t had before. Its lockdown defense (second nationally in defensive efficiency) and stinginess with the ball (third in turnover percentage) haven’t gone anywhere, so the traditional ingredients of Bennett’s success still remain. But now, with a pinch of offensive explosiveness thrown into the mix, Virginia is an absolute nightmare to play.

Stock Holding

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ACC Stock Report: Volume III

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 24th, 2019

As we are now a third of the way through the conference docket, the preseason favorites of Duke, Virginia and North Carolina have forged a three-way tie for first at 5-1. Two other teams sit a half-game behind that trio, as Syracuse and a surprising Louisville squad are at 4-1, which is where we start this week’s stock report.

Uptrend

It’s Return of the Mack Around Louisville (USA Today Images)
  • Chris Mack: Given the context of a largely unproven roster, it was reasonable to assume that Louisville would be a sub-.500 team in mid-December. Instead, Mack’s team navigated the non-conference slate nimbly enough to take nine of its 13 games, highlighted by a mammoth home win over an increasingly exceptional looking Michigan State club. That momentum has carried over into ACC play, as the Cardinals have won four of their first five contests, announcing themselves as an upper echelon player in throttling North Carolina by 21 in Chapel Hill. It was the worst home loss for the Tar Heels in the Roy Williams’ era, and that performance played a major part in Louisville’s rapid ascension in the KenPom ratings. Up from a middling 63rd in the preseason to a robust 16th now, it appears that Mack didn’t understand that 2018-19 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Barring something unforeseen, the Cardinals are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus. Louisville hosts NC State tonight in a match-up between the two most pleasant surprises the league has to offer this season.
  • John Mooney: Injuries and uncharacteristically poor shooting (223rd in 3FG, 266th in 2FG) have combined to sabotage this season in South Bend. Short of another Mike Brey magic act, the Fighting Irish look destined to miss the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since 2006. The bright spot amid that disappointment has been junior center John Mooney. Averaging a double-double on the season, Mooney now ranks 10th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage, first in ACC games –where he’s snatching more than 14 total boards per game — and 70th in offensive rating. It will likely be a long winter at Notre Dame, but the Mooney is a sole bright spot as he is putting together a First Team All-ACC campaign.
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