ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Regional Recap

Posted by The ACC Team on April 3rd, 2019

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite team of Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chat about the ACC’s lone Final Four participant, as well as the losses suffered by ACC squads in the regionals.

Zion Williamson’s Collegiate Career Ended in Washington, DC, on Sunday (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: Welcome to April, fellas! Although it’s a little disappointing that only one of the ACC’s trio of top seeds made it through regional play, we still have the league’s best team, Virginia, heading to Minneapolis. But before we look ahead, let’s recap the amazing regionals action we just saw. Before we look at the individual ACC squads that perished, what are your overall thoughts on what we witnessed? Was this the best Elite Eight ever?

Mick McDonald: The 2005 NCAA Tournament is the standard bearer for amazing Elite Eights, and I think this year’s crop rates right up there with it. All four games featured two excellent teams playing at high levels in close games. We got two overtime games, a heavyweight battle between two legendary coaches, and one of the best individual performances in the history of the tournament from Purdue’s Carsen Edwards. Top it off with the amazing buzzer-beating scramble by Virginia to lock in an all-time moment, and I think you can make a pretty good argument for it being the best.

Matt Auerbach: All things being equal, the one that could rival this Elite Eight was, as Mick referenced, the one back in 2005. But, given the epic nature of the finish between Virginia and Purdue — with a backdrop of the performance of Edwards and the redemption of the Cavaliers — to highlight a weekend where another game went to overtime, another was decided by a point and another — Texas Tech vs. Gonzaga — was perhaps the best played of them all. It was an exhilarating set of games, and undeniably one of the best set of Elite Eight games ever.

Brad Jenkins: I’ve been watching this tournament since… well, let’s just say for quite a while. I can’t recall a better four games to get to the Final Four. And the Virginia-Purdue classic is on the short list of the best college games I’ve ever watched. Now, let’s talk a little about the ACC teams that bowed out in the Sweet Sixteen, beginning with Florida State and Virginia Tech. Tough losses for both programs, but historic seasons nonetheless.

Matt Auerbach: Yeah, I think Florida State just kind of ran into an off night situation with Gonzaga. It felt as though the Zags kept them at a comfortable distance throughout the contest, and the Seminoles could never get a spark to surge into the lead. As for the Hokies, you can’t get any closer than that!

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Edition

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 17th, 2019

The ACC received seven bids to the NCAA Tournament today, down from the nine invitations that the conference garnered in 2017 and 2018. Those seven selections completely mirrored the overall season for the ACC. It was impressive at the top, with three teams earning #1 seeds for the first time since the Big East performed the trick a decade ago, but it was a disappointment at the bottom, with both NC State and Clemson missing out on trips to the tournament. The Wolfpack have very little to be upset about, frankly, having played the worst non-conference schedule in college basketball this season — but even if you aren’t a fan of that metric, their best win over Auburn while also finding ways to lose to both Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Here is a quick look at the best and worst case scenarios for the seven ACC teams that did qualify for the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

The Zion Williamson Show Moves to the NCAA Tournament as the Overall #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Duke (#1 East)

Best Case: The Blue Devils win the National Championship. However, the truest best cast would be four straight blowouts (including a payback win over Virginia Tech and a showdown with Michigan State along the way) as they waltz to Minneapolis as the prohibitive favorite.

Worst Case: Virginia Tech has beaten the Blue Devils before, and with Justin Robinson now back in action, the Hokies get hot from long range and take down Duke in the Sweet Sixteen.

Virginia (#1 South)

Best Case: Tony Bennett leads his best offensive team to his first Final Four and silences a whole lot of doubters, including plenty of loud voices who thought last year’s loss to UMBC proved that his program and his style of playe was “fraudulent.”

Worst Case: I mean… lightning can’t strike the same place twice, right? Right?

North Carolina (#1 Midwest)

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ACC Conversation: Regular Season Recap

Posted by The ACC Team on March 12th, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald take a look back at the regular season, including the All-ACC selections, and look ahead to the ACC Tournament.

Virginia and North Carolina Finished 1/2 in the ACC Standings (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: Guys, it’s been a solid regular season. For the most part, predictions held to form. Before we look at the ACC awards, any thoughts on how the conference season went?

Matt Auerbach: I think, speaking for all of us, the season pretty much held to form. The top three teams were a cut above the rest — quite possibly the three best teams in the country. Florida State and Virginia Tech were just a notch below that group, but both teams are viable threats to advance deep into the NCAA Tournament. For me, the middle and bottom of the conference was a lot weaker than expected. I knew the top three would separate themselves because they are all so elite, but the bottom of the league was often times non-competitive.

Mick McDonald: I think it was about as expected. I thought Mike Brey would get more out of a young Notre Dame team than he did, but Rex Pflueger‘s injury early in the year basically ended any chance of the Fighting Irish being interesting.

Brad Jenkins: Yeah, injuries and suspensions really curtailed the seasons at Notre Dame and Miami. Does that make Syracuse the biggest disappointment?

Mick McDonald: They definitely are for Matt!

Matt Auerbach: For me, without question!

Mick McDonald: I think Clemson should be on that list too, though. The Tigers brought a lot back from a Sweet Sixteen team and are as on the bubble as you can possibly be heading into the ACC Tournament.

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 23

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 22nd, 2019

This weekend in the ACC features a stiff test for each of the three contenders for the ACC championship. Rush the Court ACC writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you set. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, February 23

Everyone Recalls the Last Regular Season Contest Between Louisville and Virginia (USA Today Images)

#1 Virginia (23-2, 11-2) at #19 Louisville (18-9, 9-5). The Cavaliers continue to roll toward a #1 seed, but a concerning trend has developed recently with this team. In Virginia’s last six games, it has logged a turnover rate of 17.0 percent or higher four times — this coming after a run of 14.2 percent or lower throughout ACC play. The Cavaliers, the slowest-paced team in college basketball, cannot afford to waste offensive possessions against good teams. Their margins are thinner in that regard. When Louisville has the ball, Chris Mack’s go-to scorer, Jordan Nwora (17.3 PPG, 28.0% usage), will see a pair of overwhelming defenders in DeAndre Hunter (90.9 DRtg) and Braxton Key (81.8 DRtg). The Cardinals need Nwora to lead the way, because they’ve been a nightmare offensively since their massive blown lead against Duke. In their past two games, Louisville has shot just 30.6 percent from the field and 25.5 percent from long distance. The Virginia defense isn’t usually the cure for offensive ailments.

#17 Florida State (21-5, 9-4) at #5 North Carolina (21-5, 11-2). The game of the weekend in the ACC features two of the hottest teams in college basketball. During Florida State’s current eight-game winning streak, the Seminoles have locked opponents down on the defensive end, holding teams to an icy 38.3 percent shooting from the field. Despite playing just 20 minutes per game and coming off Leonard Hamilton’s bench, Mfiondu Kabengele (31.1 PER, 126.0 ORtg) has asserted himself as one of the most efficient players in the league. He could be a nightmare match-up for a North Carolina team that doesn’t have much depth on its front line. The Tar Heels instead have depth on the wing, and they’re led by Cameron Johnson, who needs to be getting more hype as a potential first-team All-ACC candidate. In ACC contests, Johnson (138.4 ORtg, 28.0 PER) has been a dynamo and remains a steady force around Coby White and Luke Maye in the sport’s seventh-best offense.

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 16

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 15th, 2019

While this weekend doesn’t feature a signature showdown in ACC play, it still provides plenty of intrigue for the many teams vying for NCAA Tournament position. Rush the Court ACC writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you set. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, February 16

Can Louisville Recover From Its Meltdown? (USA Today Images)
  • #32 Clemson (15-9, 5-6) at #13 Louisville (17-8, 8-4). While Louisville’s collapse against Duke got most of the attention around the ACC this week, it was Clemson that suffered more long-term damage with its loss to Miami. Clemson had been grinding opponents down, holding their previous three opponents under 35 percent in effective field goal percentage, but in their loss this week, Brad Brownell’s club allowed Miami (48.1% eFG) far too many easy baskets. A positive sign for the Tigers has been the recent play of Shelton Mitchell. In his last three games, Mitchell (15.0 PPG, 46.9 FG%, 44.4% 3FG) has become the necessary complement to Marcquise Reed that Clemson expected to have this season. They’ll need both Mitchell and Reed at the top of their games when they face the defensive ball-pressure facilitated by Louisville’s backcourt.
  • #22 Florida State (19-5, 7-4) at #99 Georgia Tech (11-14, 3-9). Here come the Seminoles… Leonard Hamilton’s club has now reeled off six consecutive victories, and in typical Florida State fashion, they are getting significant contributions from different players every night. Against Wake Forest earlier this week, Christ Koumadje scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and shot 10-of-12 from the field in a dominant victory over the Demon Deacons. Last weekend in a win over Louisville, Terrance Mann scored 20 points while knocking down three-of-four of his attempts from long distance. In their previous win against Syracuse, Mfiondu Kabengele notched 18 points and eight rebounds while making 7-of-10 shots from the floor. Florida State has lots of different ways to win games, which makes them well positioned for another deep run in March.
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ACC Weekend Preview: February 9

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 8th, 2019

It’s a busy weekend around the ACC, including the #1 vs. #2 rematch we’ve all been waiting for in Charlottesville. Rush the Court ACC writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you prepped. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, February 9

Clemson Needs a Win and Virginia Tech Visits on Saturday (USA Today Images)

#9 Virginia Tech (18-4, 7-3) at #35 Clemson (14-8, 4-5). This feels like the kind of game Clemson needs to win if it realistically hopes to make the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers’ current resume has no meat on the bone, so an opportunity to beat a top 10 KenPom team is one they can’t squander. They’ll need to take advantage of a Virginia Tech club without much interior size, which means feeding Elijah Thomas (29.6 PER, 65.9% eFG) like they did in their win over Wake Forest last Sunday (23 points on 10-of-11 FG). What cannot happen is that Thomas instead gets into foul trouble, like he did on Wednesday night at Georgia Tech (seven points in 17 minutes). Given the Hokies’ firepower from the outside, it’s difficult to envision a Clemson victory without another monster performance from its big man.

#42 NC State (16-7, 4-6) at #75 Pittsburgh (12-11, 2-8). My, how things can change in just a week. Only 10 days ago, NC State was *this close* to taking down Virginia. After losing in overtime, however, the Wolfpack followed up with embarrassing displays on both offense (24 points in a home loss to Virginia Tech) and defense (allowing 113 to North Carolina in Chapel Hill). So what we have is something that feels like an important game for Kevin Keatts, one in which he really needs a breakout performance from Torin Dorn. The senior shot just 35.3 percent from the field and made only one three-pointer in the last two games, but the bigger issue is that Dorn hasn’t played well since conference play began. In league games only, Dorn (14.3 PER, 41.9% eFG) has been much worse than his overall numbers (20.8 PER, 50.7 eFG%) — if the Wolfpack expect to turn things around, it starts with their small-ball four recovering his groove.

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ACC Weekend Preview: January 26

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 25th, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you ready for the weekend ahead in the ACC, which features another tough road trip for Clemson and an intriguing match-up in Blacksburg. (all rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, January 26

Virginia Appears Back on Track After Its Loss at Duke (USA Today Images)

#1 Virginia (17-1, 5-1) at #72 Notre Dame (11-8, 1-5). Tony Bennett’s club has been excellent this season thanks to the play of their big three: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and DeAndre Hunter. Each player is making more than 40 percent from long-range, owns an Offensive Rating better than 119.0, and is putting up PER’s of 21.5 or more. Three players consistently performing at such a high level makes Virginia very tough to beat regardless of support, but when the Cavaliers get contributions from others, they reach another level. That’s why the recent play of big man Jay Huff has been so intriguing. The sophomore is making his 10 minutes per contest really count. In the Cavaliers’ last four games, he is averaging 8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting 75.0 percent from three-point range. He has always had good offensive ability, but slow feet on defense has limited his playing time. Lately, though, the big man has improved just enough on that end of the floor so that Bennett is comfortable deploying him as a very valuable weapon off of his bench.

#49 Clemson (11-7, 1-4) at #31 NC State (15-4, 3-3). The Tigers are just 1-4 in ACC play to date, but it’s hard to blame Brad Brownell‘s club too much when the four losses came at Duke, at Syracuse, versus Virginia and at Florida State. Such is life in the loaded ACC. Knowing that Clemson was staring down that opening conference gauntlet is what made its non-conference performance so worrisome — the Tigers lost to the three best teams they played (Mississippi State, Nebraska and Creighton) and their best victory was a road win over rival South Carolina. Needless to say, Clemson needs to start improving its NCAA Tournament resume very soon. To do that, the Tigers need more production from sophomore Aamir Simms. In Clemson’s five ACC games, Simms (8.2 PPG) is making just 35.4 percent from the field and tallying an 83.7 Offensive Rating. When defenses focus on teammates Marcquise Reed or Elijah Thomas, Simms needs to be a viable option to score, especially against teams without much size (e.g., NC State). If they fail to turn the corner soon, the Tigers should begin planning on a trip to the NIT.

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ACC Weekend Preview: January 19

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 18th, 2019

This weekend is highlighted by a monster showdown in Durham, but there are some tricky road trips as well for teams near the top of the standings. Rush the Court ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you ready for the weekend ahead in the ACC. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, January 19

Roy Williams Needs His Freshmen to Produce (USA Today Images)

#10 North Carolina (13-4, 3-1) at #72 Miami (9-7, 1-3). Did we finally see the Nassir Little coming-out party? The stud freshman has been spent plenty of time on Roy Williams’ bench so far this season, but in the Tar Heels’ recent win over Notre Dame, Little scored 11 second-half points on 5-of-8 shooting along with six boards. Part of the equation for this North Carolina team being successful was Little becoming an immediate star. The Heels also need Coby White to get back on track. In the Tar Heels’ four ACC contests to date, White’s Offensive Rating is down eight points and his turnover percentage is up six points to nearly 24 percent. He’ll try to find his footing in Coral Gables as he matches up with Miami dynamo Chris Lykes, someone who is posting a 133.3 Offensive Rating and a 27.3 PER.

#32 NC State (14-3, 2-2) at #75 Notre Dame (11-6, 1-3). Oh, what a loss in Winston-Salem will do for an ACC team’s outlook. The Wolfpack were feeling pretty good about themselves in early ACC play after a successful non-conference campaign followed by a competitive home loss to North Carolina. Then Kevin Keatts‘ squad dropped the one game you cannot lose in the ACC this season. NC State three-point shooting, which was so strong through the first 13 games of the year (41.4%) has dropped to just 29.9 percent in ACC play. Given the way the Wolfpack plays, they are going to be in considerable trouble if they can’t start making more shots from long-distance. NC State heads to South Bend to take on a struggling Fighting Irish club. Even though it’s been a disappointing season for Mike Brey’s team so far, how about a little love for John Mooney? He is quietly putting up a monster season (30.2 PER, 130.6 ORtg), averaging a double-double and shooting nearly 46 percent from three-point range.

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ACC Weekend Preview: January 12

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 11th, 2019

ACC play is in full swing and Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) is here to get you set for a busy Saturday of hoops. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, January 12

Kyle Guy Leads Virginia into Clemson (USA Today Images)
  • #2 Virginia (14-0, 2-0) at #40 Clemson (10-5, 0-2). First to 50 wins? Expect a defensive struggle at Littlejohn Coliseum tomorrow afternoon, as two of the best defensive teams in the country get together (Virginia ranks third, Clemson 24th, per KenPom). The good news for anyone hoping for some offense? Each team has a dynamic guard who comes into this game on fire. Virginia’s Kyle Guy is averaging more than 19 points per game over his last four outings while shooting 61.5 percent from long-distance and 62 percent from the field. Meanwhile, Clemson’s Marcquise Reed is also putting up just over 19 PPG in the same span while making 46.7 percent of his threes and adding 5.0 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. This is a monster opportunity for Brad Brownell’s Tigers, which otherwise look headed for the bubble. The key for his squad may be turnovers. Clemson has given the ball away 16 or more times in five straight contests after doing so just once in their first 10 games. Given how few possessions there will be tomorrow, Clemson cannot afford to squander any opportunities to score against Tony Bennett’s defense.
  • #39 Louisville (10-5, 1-1) at #6 North Carolina (12-3, 2-0). The two leading scorers for Louisville and North Carolina may be two of the most underappreciated players in the entire ACC. Cameron Johnson gave every Tar Heel fan a scare when he left Tuesday’s game against NC State with what initially looked like a serious knee injury. Luckily it was cramping instead, because he’s been the best player on Roy Williams’ squad this season. The seniior leads the team with 16.2 points per game but is also backing it up with excellent efficiency numbers (24.5 PER, 127.5 ORtg). His flexibility allows the Tar Heels to play big or small, and his size makes him a tough cover for opposing defenders. For the Cardinals, Jordan Nwora (17.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG) is having the breakout season Louisville fans have been waiting on from V.J. King since he stepped on campus. There are still lots of questions about Chris Mack’s inaugural team in Louisville, but Nwora (27.6 usage rate) has answered the call as a go-to-scorer.
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A Look at Five ACC Early Season Surprises

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 21st, 2018

As things around the college basketball world slow down heading into the holidays, Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) takes a look at a few early-season surprises from around the ACC.

  • NC State. Given all the new faces in Raleigh this year, many had reservations on whether Kevin Keatts could meld a new group into a winner. It’s still early but the answer is a resounding yes. The Wolfpack have already notched solid wins over Vanderbilt and Penn State on neutral courts in addition to knocking off a top-10 Auburn team at PNC Arena. NC State’s offense ranks 13th nationally (per KenPom) play at a very high pace (12th nationally) and have 10 players who see at least 13 minutes of action per game. If you aren’t well-conditioned before you take the court against the Wolfpack, you’re in big trouble. Keatts also has a pair of stars who need to start getting more attention beyond the Research Triangle. Point guard Markell Johnson owns a 73.9 percent effective field goal rate (third nationally) and a robust 138.2 Offensive Rating (11th nationally). He’s also cut his turnover rate nearly in half this season. Senior Torin Dorn is flourishing as a small-ball four, currently providing a 26.2 PER, 119.3 Offensive Rating and an 83.2 Defensive Rating, while shooting 45.8% from long-distance.
Kevin Keatts Isn’t Messing Around (USA Today Images)
  • Clemson. Syracuse has been a surprise disappointment as well through the first month of the season, but at least the Orange have a win at Ohio State to hang their hats on. Brad Brownell’s club, on the other hand, has not beaten a single team inside KenPom’s top 120. By losing to Creighton and Mississippi State on neutral courts as well as Nebraska at home, the Tigers have missed out on their only chances to pick up quality wins in the non-conference schedule. Their normally stout defense is rated just 50th in the country, per KenPom, and leading scorer Marcquise Reed has missed three games (including the Mississippi State game) with a sprained knee. Clemson is hopeful to have Reed back for the start of ACC play, and Brownell will certainly need him with the Tigers first three ACC games at Duke, at Syracuse and hosting Virginia. Yikes.
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