Rushed Reactions: #3 Notre Dame 77 #2 Florida State 73

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 10th, 2017

Three Key Takeaways.

It’s Brey Day in Brooklyn (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame was the harder playing, smarter, better team. The Irish were the beneficiaries of its characteristically hot shooting from beyond the arc (13 made threes), but they also impressively took the fight to the bigger, stronger and more athletic Seminoles. Led by fearless floor leader Matt Farrell, Notre Dame was the aggressor in racing out to a 16-point halftime lead, leaving Florida State struggling to match the intensity of the Irish. A flurry of hot shooting from little-utilized Braian Angola-Rodas (17 points, 4-of-7 from three) was all that kept the game moderately competitive, but Florida State never applied any legitimate pressure to Notre Dame.
  2. This is why it’s impossible to trust Florida State. Just 24 hours ago, I sat in the same seat convinced that this version of the Seminoles was somehow different and perhaps worthy of discussion as a potential Final Four participant. Now I’m not so sure… or maybe I’ve just flat out changed my mind. It was not so much the loss but rather the uninspired, listless nature of the Florida State performance that makes trusting it so disconcerting. An illustration of the Seminoles’ substandard effort came early in the second half. After watching Notre Dame drill eight, mostly uncontested triples in the first 20 minutes, there is very little doubt that Leonard Hamilton addressed this point in the locker room. Just 1:15 after the half, though, Farrell found himself with a wide-open look from the corner as a lazy, last-second closeout effort by Dwayne Bacon once again proved late and futile.
  3. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Farrell and Bonzie Colson look like a pair of guys likely to be picked last in some of the more competitive pickup games in Brooklyn. But tonight, in a circumstance that becoming far from unusual, they were the two best players on the floor. The senior point guard (15 points, six assists) controlled the game from the tip, employing his grit and intellect that sometimes tends to unfairly overshadow his ability. The behemoth front line size of Florida State was somehow no match for the undersized Colson (18 points, six rebounds), who at 6’5” continues to amaze with his nose for the ball and penchant for scoring over taller opponents.

Star of the Game: Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame.  While the aforementioned dominated the tilt, Vasturia matched Colson’s 18 points in hitting some big shots to stem the tide and grabbed g a critical offensive rebound in the final minute.

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Rushed Reactions: Duke 93, North Carolina 83

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 10th, 2017

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s Second Half Comeback Shocked the Tar Heels (USA Today Images)

  1. No matter the venue, Carolina, Duke gonna Duke, Carolina. The rivalry that almost never fails to deliver traveled north and didn’t disappoint an electrified Brooklyn crowd. North Carolina often appeared in complete control in the first half as the Tar Heels’ lead swelled to 13 points a pair of times, but Duke’s Grayson Allen (four first-half threes, including three in a 95-second span) and Jayson Tatum (18 first half points) managed to keep the Blue Devils within striking distance. North Carolina maintained control in the early second half until point guard Joel Berry picked up his fourth foul at the 15:04 mark with the Heels up nine. What ensued was a 23-7 Duke blitz, sparked by Allen, a rejuvenated Kennard and Jackson. The previously weary Blue Devils ended up being the team that imposed its will down the stretch, and the seemingly punch drunk Tar Heels failed to respond the way anyone expected.
  2. Grayson Allen is back. While the ACC Tournament title has its own cachet and the importance of the rivalry cannot be overstated, North Carolina and Duke always play with an eye toward the trophy awarded in early April. For Duke to become a legitimate contender, though, Allen must perform like an All-American. The junior guard’s travails have been well-documented, but more pertinently from a basketball perspective, his emotional and physical struggles have sometimes made him a marginal player. And after the no-show that was Wednesday’s 12 minutes of scoreless action, he was vital in keeping Duke alive early before spearheading the victory late. He looked healthy, focused, determined and generally back to his peak self. In short, the Duke team we thought we’d see in November simply waited until mid-March to show up. This is a major problem for the other 67 teams hoping to join the Blue Devils in Phoenix.
  3. Joel Berry is the most valuable Tar Heel. While Justin Jackson was deservedly tabbed as the ACC Player of the Year, it is Berry who is the Tar Heels’ most valuable player. He is the only pure point guard on the roster, and North Carolina simply looked lost while he was in foul trouble on the bench. Kennedy Meeks, who dominated Duke on the interior in the first half, became largely uninvolved without Berry on the flo0r. The team just appeared totally discombobulated with its junior floor leader on the pine, with a litany of out of whack possessions.

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Forgotten Florida State Still Very Much a Contender

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 10th, 2017

It has been said, often with a pejorative undertone, that there aren’t many teams that look better getting off the bus than Florida State. If the second half of Thursday night’s ACC quarterfinal was any indication, you’d be hard pressed to find many teams who look better on the court either. Down a bucket at the half, the Seminoles utilized a pair of dominant scoring runs to dispatch a game Virginia Tech squad to advance to tonight’s ACC Tournament semifinals. The second-tallest team in college basketball, Florida State played to its strengths in bullying the smaller Hokies, snatching 18 offensive rebounds to eventually wear them down. And while Virginia Tech mostly employed a lineup with its tallest player standing at just 6’7”, there just aren’t many teams in the national landscape that can match the overwhelming size and depth that Leonard Hamilton has at his disposal.

The ultra athletic Dwayne Bacon is just one of many stalwarts on Florida State’s impressive squad. (24/7)

Depth tends to get overvalued at this time of year, but there is something to be said for the quality of Florida State’s roster that 12 guys can see action without performance dipping. With 10 players averaging double-figure minutes, the Seminoles not only have the sufficient confidence and trust that comes with so much shared on-court experience, but they can also separate themselves in one essential regard. At this time of year, a team can’t just win with bodies — it needs guys who can take over a game. And within Hamilton’s lengthy rotation, he has three such players. Read the rest of this entry »

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Computers and Eyes Tell Divergent Stories About Virginia

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 10th, 2017

What I’m about to write won’t make me very popular with the majority of new wave, analytically-obsessed fans, who comprise a majority of today’s young college basketball devotees. But forget what KenPom’s formula spits out. Use your eyes. Virginia stinks. Inexplicably, prior to its ACC quarterfinal loss last night — a game in which the Cavaliers were thoroughly outplayed by Notre Dame from tip to buzzer — Virginia was still rated seventh by KenPom’s analytical formula. After its 10th loss of the season, Tony Bennett‘s team probably won’t slide all that much. But if you watch Virginia play and can honestly tell me it is an elite team — and in this model that means the Cavs would be favored to beat all but Gonzaga, Villanova and North Carolina on a neutral floor — then fly me to Vegas with all the money you can get your hands on to take, let’s say, UCLA.

Tony Bennett and Virginia are still a very strong team, but not quite where they have been. (USA TODAY Sports)

I use UCLA as an example because, first, the metrics don’t care much for the Bruins (17th nationally, per KenPom), and second, they have pros. And while their defense leaves much to be desired at times, the Bruins have a roster full of studs who are not very far away from earning a handsome living playing basketball. And that matters at this time of year. A tremendous pack line defense and slow tempo can only get you so far. Who for Virginia can blow by his defender and get to the rim himself or create an easy opportunity for a teammate? The answer is as startling as it is obvious. Bennett has done a remarkable job in revitalizing a moribund program in Charlottesville by winning a pair of ACC regular season titles and making a trip to the Elite Eight, so it would be disingenuous for me to disparage the Cavaliers’ style of play without acknowledging that his teams have  all utilized an identical strategy. Still, successful systemic pedigree can only get you so far. This iteration doesn’t have a Justin Anderson or a Malcolm Brogdon on the roster, a pair of players who, by the way, are now NBA professionals. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Bubble Waiting Game Begins For Syracuse…

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 9th, 2017

It’s going to be a long 96 hours for Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim as his team waits to see if it has done enough to warrant inclusion in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Yesterday’s five-point loss to Miami (FL) dropped the Orange to 18-14 on the season (10-9 ACC) and have firmly planted the tradition-rich powerhouse on the bubble. With six wins over the RPI top 50, Syracuse has proven it can beat NCAA Tournament quality teams (all of which came on its home floor). But with 14 losses overall, including five outside of the RPI top 100, is Syracuse anything more than a mediocre beneficiary of playing in one of the strongest conferences in college basketball history?

Jim Boeheim (USA Today Images)

Losers of five of their last seven games and with a scary RPI rating of #84, Syracuse faces two enormous barriers to entry based on historical precedent. Despite the persistent narrative that an entire body of work is what the committee evaluates, there has been a subtle preference for taking teams that are playing their best basketball down the stretch. The RPI is another albatross, as inclusion in this year’s NCAA Tournament would make the Orange the lowest at-large selection since the peculiar inclusion of Air Force in 2004.

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Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell Leading Irish to Top of ACC

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 21st, 2017

The play itself, spectacular as it was unique, took guts, guile and extraordinary self-belief, and represents a characteristic of every overachiever. With his team clinging to a three-point lead with 46 seconds remaining last weekend in Blacksburg, Matt Farrell looked to put the finishing touches on Notre Dame’s fifth consecutive victory to start ACC play. In an effort to preserve a few precious seconds, the Hokies rolled the ball up the court. Making himself inconspicuous, Farrell created the illusion that he was not paying attention. Then, in the blink of an eye, the subterfuge ceased, as Farrell dived headlong to smother the ball, pop up, and drop a dime to T.J. Gibbs. Gibbs extended the lead to five with an easy layup, effectively putting an exclamation mark on yet another impressive ACC victory for the Irish.

At 16-3 and tied for first in the league standings with North Carolina and Florida State, Notre Dame is without question one of this year’s pleasant surprises. The presumed strength of the league notwithstanding, the primary reason for hesitation regarding this year’s version of Mike Brey’s squad centered around the transition of point guard duties from three-year standout Demetrius Jackson to the little-known junior from Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. Farrell entered the season with a mere 86 career points in 43 career games, and as a sophomore, he posted the team’s poorest player efficiency rating. And those notes, among others, is why Brey is one of the most under-appreciated developers of talent in college basketball. His teams change somewhat based on the available personnel, but they are always well-versed on the game’s fundamentals and know how to find open shots. Perhaps no player in the head coach’s 17 seasons at Notre Dame puts a stamp of approval on his process quite like Farrell.

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ACC Burning Questions: Miami Hurricanes

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 8th, 2016

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

Burning Question: Does Miami have enough talent on hand to replace all of its significant departures?

While Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan both transferred to Miami halfway through their collegiate careers, the pair felt more like program players than short-term mercenaries. Now faced with the departures of the venerable backcourt duo, head coach Jim Larranaga must replace not only their production but also their demonstrated intangibles and leadership. The proverbial torch will be passed to junior dynamo Ja’Quan Newton. Known for his fearless style of play, the 6’2” combo guard embodies the characteristics of a typical undersized player from Philadelphia. Newton averaged 10.5 points in 22 minutes per contest, undeniably thriving as a spark plug with the highest usage rate on the squad. Will he seamlessly make the transition to the become the lead Hurricane and at times sacrifice his own offense for the betterment of the team? We shall see.

Jim Larranaga and Miami are quietly having a very good season. (Getty)

Jim Larranaga said goodbye to some known commodities, but the cupboard is not bare in Coral Gables. (Getty)

Miami’s leading returning scorer is junior Davon Reed, who averaged better than 11 points per game as a full-time starter. A 38 percent shooter from beyond the arc, Reed’s long-range proficiency should complement Newton’s proven ability to penetrate. Because the Hurricanes under Larranaga have typically been perimeter-oriented, the importance of the Miami frontcourt tends to get overshadowed. In that vein, a gaping hole exists with the graduation of Tonye Jekiri, an All-ACC first-team defensive performer. Senior Kamari Murphy flanked Jekiri last season, but he will be asked to be take on greater responsibility for anchoring the defense while simultaneously increasing his offensive role. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Burning Questions: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 2nd, 2016

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

Burning Question: Will injuries stand in the way of Duke’s run at history and a sixth National Championship for Mike Krzyzewski? 

A large part of the charm and allure of college basketball is its unpredictability. Grand proclamations and bold predictions made in October rarely see themselves all the way through, and the well-heeled equity a team builds up during an elite regular season isn’t worth a darn when getting pushed to the brink in the NCAA Tournament. That said, with the roster that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has assembled in Durham, there is very little doubt that his Blue Devils are the odds-on favorite to cut down the nets next April in Phoenix. And while a random one-game sample could derail the team in its quest for a second title in three seasons, it is a mortal lock that this squad will finish a tad higher than fifth place in the ACC standings last year. By its own astronomical standards, Duke’s 2015-16 campaign was a disappointment. Losers of 10 or more games for the first time since 2007, the 25-11 Blue Devils were unceremoniously extinguished by #1 seed Oregon in the Sweet Sixteen. And while Duke found its defensive deficiencies too difficult to overcome, the team returns a tremendous amount of perimeter firepower from the fourth most efficient offense in the country.

Grayson Allen led the way for Duke with 29 points. (Credit: Getty Images/ Jim Rogash)

Grayson Allen, one of the nation’s top returnees, will be bolstered with the nation’s top recruiting class. (Getty)

Grayson Allen is the headliner. The junior burst into our consciousness during the 2015 Final Four and translated that momentum into an explosive sophomore season. In averaging an impressive 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, Allen earned first-team All-ACC and third-team All-American accolades. Combining with freshman star Brandon Ingram to form one of the country’s most dangerous offensive duos, Allen was college basketball’s 44th-rated offensive player, according to KenPom. His rare combination of elite athleticism with dead-eye shooting make him a consensus preseason All-America selection heading into his third campaign in Durham. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Tech Hokies

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on October 31st, 2016

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

Burning Question: Is the ahead-of-schedule rebuild under Buzz Williams ready to land the Hokies in the NCAA Tournament?

On the surface, the decision was a rather head-scratching one. In fleeing a program that was humming along – a regular NCAA Tournament participant at a basketball-first university — Buzz Williams’ move to Virginia Tech in 2014 surprised a lot of people. But much like Marquette had done a decade ago, Buzz Williams bet on Buzz Williams. As he now enters year three of his reclamation project in Blacksburg with the team eyeing its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2007, the rebuild appears far ahead of schedule.

Williams' rebuilding project is way ahead of schedule, as he enters his third season in Blacksburg.(Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

Williams’ rebuilding project is way ahead of schedule entering his third season in Blacksburg. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

With mostly holdovers from the 22-win James Johnson era over two seasons, Williams’ first group of Hokies limped to an 11-22 campaign in 2014-15. After a similarly modest start to last season, Virginia Tech began to slowly take on the hard-nosed, grinding style that Williams’ squads trademarked in the Big East. In ripping off five consecutive victories to close out ACC play, the Hokies finished at 10-8 before giving Miami a run for its money in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. Now rated 39th this preseason by KenPom, Williams’ squad appears to be on the cusp of entry to the Big Dance.

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ACC Burning Questions: Florida State Seminoles

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 25th, 2016

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

Burning Question: Will the stable of talent Leonard Hamilton has assembled in Tallahassee finally manifest into an NCAA bid?

The preseason hype swirling around the Florida State basketball program has seemingly become a summer rite of passage. But sure as we are to be inundated with grand proclamations of Leonard Hamilton‘s crew becoming a factor in this season’s ACC title race, it is almost as certain that results will fall significantly short of expectations. Heading into his15th campaign at the helm, Hamilton once again has a roster that appears capable of earning the Seminoles’ first NCAA Tournament berth since 2012. In light of recent disappointments, however, it would be prudent to exercise a cautious approach with this bunch.

It's Dwayne Bacon's team now that classmate Malik Beasley left early for the NBA. (Greg Oyster, 247Sports)

It’s Dwayne Bacon’s team now that classmate Malik Beasley left early for the NBA. (Greg Oyster/ 247Sports)

Upon his arrival on campus last year, the popular belief was that McDonald’s All-American Dwayne Bacon was a one-and done player. And while classmate Malik Beasley parlayed his immediate success into a first-round NBA Draft selection, Bacon opted for another year of seasoning. From a physical standpoint, Bacon’s size and strength are commensurate with that of typical NBA wings – the issue is with refining his skill set. The freshman led the team in scoring and rebounding, crossing the 20-point threshold an impressive 12 times despite only shooting 28 percent from behind the arc. He will be relied upon to make the leap from productive freshman to an all-ACC performer this season. He has the talent and pedigree to do just that.

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