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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ACC Weekend Preview: December 15 Edition

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 14th, 2018

Although the basketball slate has been very light during finals week, there are several intriguing ACC match-ups coming our way on Saturday. Rush the Court ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) previews your Saturday. (all rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, December 15

Roy Williams Will Be Ready for Gonzaga Saturday Night (USA Today Images)
  • #87 Old Dominion at #16 Syracuse. The Orange have won five straight games since back-to-back losses at Madison Square Garden last month, but they still have legitimate concerns on offense. Most pundits thought the return of Tyus Battle and the addition of transfer Elijah Hughes, along with freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim, would result in an improved three-point shooting team this season. They’ve been anything but, however, making just 29.0 percent (308th nationally) from long-distance. Luckily, Syracuse, as usual, boasts the 10th-best defense in the country, anchored by 7’2” center Pascal Chukwu (87.0 DRtg, 15.8% blk), who makes it very difficult to finish around the rim. Jim Boeheim‘s group will be tested by a very solid Old Dominion team that is led by two senior guards. Ahmad Caver (18.5 PPG, 5.1 APG, 23.1 PER) is one of the top point guards in the country and B.J. Stith (18.0 PPG, 8.8 RGP, 23.8 PER) is as tough a two-guard as you’ll find anywhere. This pair certainly won’t be intimidated by a raucous atmosphere in the Carrier Dome.
  • #27 NC State vs. #42 Penn State. This game will take place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and offers a great opportunity for NC State to pick up a quality win over a Big Ten team. So far the Wolfpack have played only two games against top 100 opponents, with a neutral court win over Vanderbilt their lone victory. Kevin Keatts’ offense has been led by point guard Markell Johnson (12.2 PPG, 4.2 APG, 72.9% eFG), who is the engine that makes the uptempo offense go. That offense will face a top-10 Nittany Lions’ defense on Saturday. NC State likes to play small-ball, but it will have to be ready for Lamar Stevens (20.1 PPG), Penn State’s go-to option with a 30.2 percent usage rate.
  • #11 Virginia Tech vs. #52 Washington. How about an ACC double-header in AC this weekend! Virginia Tech will follow behind NC State, a team that of which it is very similar: Both clubs have fantastic offenses that have feasted against mostly inferior competition. To get another notch in its growing belt this weekend, Buzz Williams’ team will need to light up the Washington zone from long-distance. The Hokies are shooting 44.9 percent (fourth nationally) from long-range, with every playing averaging at least 20 minutes per game converting at 40 percent or better. When a team shoots the ball that well, they want to avoid turnovers to get up as many shots as possible. This means that point guard Justin Robinson needs to improve on his 21.3 percent turnover rate if the Hokies hope to make a run in the ACC.
  • #6 Gonzaga at #7 North Carolina. This Saturday evening tilt has a chance to be the best game of the entire non-conference slate. Gonzaga has already played a pair of classics with Duke and Tennessee (splitting), but both of those contests were on neutral courts. The Chapel Hill crowd should be fired up to provide an amazing atmosphere for a mid-December college basketball game. Given how deep both of these teams are, it will be fascinating to see how they match up with each other. Will we see five-star freshman Nassir Little (96.1 DRtg) or senior Cam Johnson (95.1 DRtg) defend Gonzaga star Rui Hachimura (26.5 PER & 121.9 ORtg)? Will star freshman point guard Coby White, who missed the Tar Heels’ last game with an ankle injury, suit up? Can Luke Maye get any shots off around the rim with Brandon Clarke (94.3 DRtg, 11.9% blk) lurking nearby? If you are a college basketball fan and aren’t watching this game, what are you doing instead?

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Tuesday Preview

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 27th, 2018

After Monday’s games, the 2018 Big Ten/ACC Challenge is tied with a pair of surprising results — Nebraska won at Clemson and Boston College outlasted Minnesota. ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) previews tonight’s heavy slate of action. (All rankings via KenPom as of Tuesday, November 26.)

Clemson Gave up a Home Game Last Night Against Nebraska (USA Today Images)

  • #16 Virginia Tech at #38 Penn State. Buzz Williams has another terrific offense brewing this season in Blacksburg. The Hokies currently rank seventh in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency and are making 41.4 percent (26th nationally) of their shots from long distance. They’ve also gotten the start of a breakout season from sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker (29.8 PER, 60.6% eFG). Their hot shooting will be tested tonight by a Penn State defense that is allowing its opponents to make just 22.9 percent (fourth nationally) of their attempts from three-point range. While excellent on the perimeter, Virginia Tech lacks size and could be vulnerable to Nittany Lions forward Lamar Stevens (26.6 PER, 24.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG).
  • #95 Illinois at #52 Notre Dame. Mike Brey’s club currently ranks just 51st in offensive efficiency, which is an odd sight to see. The last time a Brey team finished outside the top 50 in that category was all the way back in 2004-05. Part of the struggles this season have laid at the feet of T.J. Gibbs, the expected star of this team who has shot just 32.4 percent from the field and 21.1 percent from three-point range. Notre Dame will need to make some shots tonight to get a win, as the Illini feature a talented young backcourt of sophomore Trent Frazier (17.6 PPG, 58.3% eFG) and freshman Ayo Dosunmu (14.5 PPG, 57.6% eFG).
  • #8 Michigan State at #58 Louisville. Hello, Jordan Nwora. It hasn’t taken long for the talented Cardinals’ sophomore to break out this season, already the team’s leading scorer (18.4 PPG) despite coming off the bench. Nwora (29.4 PER, 57.6% eFG) is not simply a scorer, however. He’s posting a 27.8 defensive rebounding percentage and his turnover percentage is much improved this season despite more usage. While Nwora is actively turning into an ACC star, the Cardinals still have issues on the defensive end. They’re allowing opponents to shoot 43.8 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from long distance. They’ll have a tough task scoring tonight against Michigan State (eighth in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency).

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Reviewing the ACC’s Five Early Losses

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 16th, 2018

We’re just over a week into the season and the ACC has suffered a total of five losses. Two of those defeats came from teams that were expected to struggle, two others were from teams that were hoping to be on the fringe of the NCAA Tournament, and one came from a potential contender. RTC ACC writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) breaks each of those early losses down. (All rankings via KenPom as of November 15.)

Syracuse Struggled Against Old Enemy UConn Last Night (USA Today Images)

  • #96 Connecticut 83, #7 Syracuse 76. As the old saying goes, throw out the KenPom rankings when two old rivals get together. Syracuse had to scratch and claw to make the NCAA Tournament last year despite an elite defense because the Orange simply couldn’t score (135th nationally). Last night against Connecticut in Madison Square Garden, they were up to their old tricks again. The Orange shot just 39.4 percent from the field and made just six threes while allowing Connecticut to nail 12-of-21 from three-point range. Most teams won’t shoot nearly that well against Syracuse’s length this year, but its lack of consistent offense leaves the Orange vulnerable when a team gets hot.
  • #259 IUPUI 76, #90 Boston College 69. Whatever dreams Boston College had at making a run at an at-large bid this year may already be over with its bad loss earlier this week to IUPUI. Jim Christian’s team simply isn’t making enough shots, hitting only 29.5 percent of its three-pointers so far this season and getting limited production from its frontcourt of Steffon Mitchell (46.4% eFG) and Nik Popovic (47.4% eFG). Most importantly, Boston College needs to find some depth — through only three games, the Eagles’ five starters are averaging at least 28 minutes per contest. Freshman Jairus Hamilton is playing just over 18 minutes per game off the bench. Nobody else is seeing more than five minutes per contest. If Christian can’t find anyone else he trusts to give the occasional spell to Ky Bowman and Jordan Chatman, Boston College is in major trouble in the ACC.

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