ACC Weekly 5: 11.15.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on November 15th, 2017

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  1. Sports Illustrated: For the most part, Duke’s battle with second-ranked Michigan State last night lived up to the hype. The game was borderline unwatchable because of frequent whistles for stretches of the second half, but the rest of the evening showcased two very talented teams squaring off in an electric environment. The top story from Duke’s victory will be Grayson Allen‘s scorching three-point shooting (7-of-11 3FG), but Trevon Duval’s superb point guard play may do more in the long run to shore up the narrative that the Blue Devils are this year’s favorite to cut down the nets. In sadder news, associate head coach Jeff Capel’s father, Jeff Capel, Jr., succumbed to ALS yesterday. Capel had coached everywhere from high school to the NBA, including a particularly successful stint at Old Dominion from 1994-2001.
  2. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Everyone knew Pittsburgh would be bad this season, but back-to-back losses to open the season against Navy and Montana just hammer the Panthers’ struggles home. Only a little over 3,000 fans showed up to watch Kevin Stallings‘ team lose its second game of the season, which bodes poorly for the second-year coach’s future at the helm. Very rarely is firing a coach at midseason a good idea, but it doesn’t take very long to drift into irrelevance so the program should consider drastic measures. The long shadow of Jamie Dixon’s unceremonious departure (along with Stallings’ buyout) will make hiring the Panthers’ next coach even more challenging.
  3. Durham Herald-Sun: All aboard the Kevin Keatts train! The new NC State coach got a bevy of good news this week as incoming freshman Braxton Beverly was deemed eligible to play right away (following a somewhat controversial NCAA ruling that meant he had to sit out). That good news was followed up by top-rated junior college recruit Kevin Funderbunk announcing his decision to play for the Wolfpack next season. Oh, and don’t forget that NC State is undefeated (3-0) and has not been tested yet this young season. Alas, the wins came against three teams that are an insult to cupcakes, and it’s still a transition season in Raleigh, but things are already looking up.
  4. Winston-Salem Journal: Conversely, things are not looking up in Winston-Salem. After a brutal 0-2 start with losses to Georgia Southern and Liberty at home, Danny Manning’s team looks like it belongs in the Jeff Bzdelik era. Bryant Crawford attributed the team’s struggles to a lack of effort on defense, but some of those are likely growing pains following the drastic change in composition of the team between last year and now. Luckily for the Demon Deacons, their non-conference schedule mostly remains manageable, so they have a little time to figure things out. Still, barring a miraculous run in conference play, it’s safe to already count Wake Forest out of the Big Dance.
  5. Collegiate Times: Virginia Tech hasn’t played anyone yet, which should add a grain of salt to the Hokies’ fast-paced domination in their first two games (against The Citadel, there were a staggering 95 possessions as Virginia Tech scored over 130 points). Negativity aside, Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been phenomenal to start the season. If he can continue his robust production into conference play, Buzz Williams is set.
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ACC Burning Questions: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Matt Patton on November 10th, 2017

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

Burning Question: How much will Roy Williams adapt to his team’s strengths?

Roy Williams‘ incredible success over the last two seasons should have silenced all of his doubters. By nearly any standard his teams were exceptionally talented — loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans and consensus four- and five-star players. But Duke and Kentucky were recruiting better classes, and that role reversal led to some grumbling from fans and overreaction from the media. Williams ultimately got the last laugh, of course, with the added bonus that even the ongoing specter of the NCAA disappeared after it punted on the academic fraud scandal. However, it is important to note that this year’s North Carolina team isn’t comprised of the same successful group of the last two seasons and it doesn’t profile like any of Williams’ best teams. The Tar Heels have a strong backcourt led by Joel Berry II and Pittsburgh transfer Cameron Johnson, but Tony Bradley’s early departure to the NBA left the frontcourt lacking in depth, experience and talent.

Joel Berry will start the season on the sidelines, making Roy Williams’ job even tougher. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

It’s no secret Williams’ best teams have a blueprint roster. Two very good bigs (or, one great one), an elite point guard and an army of players on the wing (with at least one sharp-shooter). Berry is the elite point guard; Johnson is the sharp-shooting wing; but Luke Maye (despite his NCAA Tournament heroics) is no Sean May. With Bradley back, the Tar Heels would have had a good chance at a third straight trip to the Final Four. Without him it’s up to Williams to figure out how to adopt his system to accommodate three true post players (two of whom are freshmen). There’s still plenty of talent on the roster: Theo Pinson is back and consensus top-50 recruit Jalek Felton should get playing time right away. Seventh Woods still has a long way to go, but should have improved considerably during the offseason. Expect this year’s roster to be better shooting on the whole than the last few North Carolina teams (although maybe not, without the individual prowess of Justin Jackson), but it’s hard to see the secondary break working well without significant changes.

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ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Tech Hokies

Posted by Matt Patton on November 7th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Are the Hokies tall enough?

In some ways Virginia Tech was something of a surprise last season, but success in Blacksburg was always a matter of when, not if, for a head coaching talent like Buzz Williams. This year’s squad sounds hungry for even greater success — hoping to make school history by making back-to-back NCAA Tournaments — but the Hokies’ roster, to put it bluntly, is vertically challenged. After Khadim Sy withdrew from school during the offseason, only one player in the primary rotation will be over 6’6″, and that player, sophomore Kerry Blackshear, is coming off a medical redshirt season. Blackshear is a capable offensive rebounder (10.2%), but he will need to take a much bigger role in the post than he did two years ago. The only other clear post players on the team are Division II transfer Nick Fullard (who averaged less than five points a game at Belmont Abbey) and consensus three-star recruit PJ Horne (who stands only 6’6″). Williams will need Fullard and Horne to play significant productive minutes per game this season or his team will just have to play really small. That’s a ton to ask from two men playing their first season of Division I basketball, and in the ACC, no less. Alternatively, look for Williams to play to his strengths and try several all-guard lineups to force various mismatches.

Chris Clarke’s health will have a lot to do with Virginia Tech’s success this season. (Chet Strange/Getty Images)

In much better news, junior wing Chris Clarke looks to be Virginia Tech’s most important player this season. Although he stands only 6’6″, he was last year’s best defensive rebounder at 22.6 percent (108th nationally). But he’s coming off a torn ACL, so it is as of yet unclear if he will be ready for the heavy minutes that Williams will almost definitely need him to play. In addition to rebounding, Clarke did a good job scoring efficiently last season, and he should be considered a major breakout candidate in the ACC this season if fully healthy. The Hokies’ other returning guards look excellent too. Justin Robinson averaged double-figures last season while former starters Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs both also proved efficient offensive players (admittedly on limited possessions). Add top-50 recruit Nickell Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede (consensus four-star prospect) to the mix and there’s a lot of young talent in the wings. Alexander-Walker especially should be able to help this team right away.

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ACC Burning Questions: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Posted by Matt Patton on November 2nd, 2017

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

Burning Question: Can Danny Manning avoid a speed bump as the team relies more on its backcourt?

Wake Forest caught a lot of people off guard last season. Sure, head coach Danny Manning was a popular rising star in both the media and blogosphere, but most experts felt like the Demon Deacons were still a year or two away from a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, super sophomore John Collins morphed into arguably the most productive player in the ACC (earning himself a spot in the NBA First Round over the summer), and Wake Forest eked itself into the First Four of the Big Dance. In year four of the Manning era, he faces a bigger challenge. In addition to losing the all-ACC First Teamer Collins, Wake also lost starting power forward Dinos Mitoglou to the European pros.

Bryant Crawford has big shoes to fill with John Collins gone. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

That means this year’s team will rely heavily on its backcourt — especially juniors Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods — for success. Seven-foot junior Doral Moore will be joined by graduate transfer Terrance Thompson in the frontcourt, but neither has the talent of Collins. Moore was a turnover machine last year (26.9% TO rate), and while Collins made a massive leap in usage and efficiency between his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was a much more efficient player to begin with. The Deacs’ general lack of depth in the frontcourt, along with the arrival of consensus top-50 wing Chaundee Brown, means there are likely to be a lot of three- and maybe even four-guard lineups in Winston-Salem this season.

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ACC Burning Questions: Boston College Eagles

Posted by Matt Patton on October 20th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Can Boston College cobble together a winning season?

We’re nearing put up or shut up time for Boston College head coach Jim Christian. Last year’s Eagles lacked both talent and experience, a deadly combination. They stifled any possible early momentum with an atrocious loss at home to Nicholls State right out of the gate, but a 4-1 December stretch that included wins over Auburn, Providence and Syracuse built hope for a breakthrough after the new year. Alas, the whole team hit a freshman wall in ACC play, finishing the year on a 15-game losing streak.

Ky Bowman needs to make a sophomore leap for Boston College to sniff .500. (Photo: Keith Carroll / BC Heights)

What’s the upside? First, nearly all of Boston College’s talent is back. Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman were Christian’s best players last season, and it wasn’t really close. Nik Popovic is an intriguing player who could make a big leap during his sophomore season (admittedly, his best games last year were against poor competition), and throw in Illinois State graduate transfer Deontae Hawkins along with four consensus three-star freshmen. That’s a much better team — at least on paper — than what the Eagles brought to bear last season. They should be one of the better perimeter shooting teams in the ACC, and more experienced teammates should relieve some of the pressure from Robinson, possibly further boosting his efficiency. Despite shooting very well from the floor last season, Boston College’s poor offensive efficiency was because of a high number of turnovers, poor rebounding and an inability to get to the charity stripe. The last two pieces are related and unlikely to improve dramatically if the team ends up spreading the floor as much as anticipated. Minimizing turnovers should be a very high priority this season (along with loads of practice in team rebounding).

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ACC M5: ACC Tourney Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 7th, 2017

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  1. Greensboro News & Record: HB2 strikes again. This year an NCAA Tournament first weekend site was moved from Greensboro to Greenville, South Carolina; now commissioner John Swofford says the league would “be remiss if [it] didn’t” plan on alternative future locations for the ACC Tournament. This could serve to precipitate the inevitable decentralization of the ACC and/or the ultimate evolution to a national entity (much as the Duke/North Carolina rivalry has become a national phenomenon). According to a February poll, approximately 60 percent of North Carolina residents disagree with large parts of HB2 (including the part that led the NCAA to pull its events out of the state). Potentially losing the ACC Tournament may be what forces the North Carolina legislature to move forward with a full repeal. We’ll learn very soon how much the Tar Heel State cares about the ACC Tournament.
  2. The ACC: The league got it right with the all-ACC first team (and based on the vote totals, it was a no-brainer): North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, Wake Forest’s John Collins and Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson should have joined Duke’s Luke Kennard as unanimous first-teamers (the same probably goes for Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, though he’s a hair below the top four). I thought Collins would finish a bit closer to Jackson in Player of the Year votes (although it’s likely that many voters rewarded Jackson for being on a better team). The only head-scratcher among the group was that Kennard didn’t get more votes for Most Improved Player.
  3. KenPom: Ken Pomeroy projects the ACC Tournament as a three-team race (Florida State gets an honorable mention) between North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville. Dark horse: Wake Forest has a pretty favorable path to the semifinals and will have the best player on the floor in nearly every game. A fun (potential) matchup I’m most looking forward to: the Duke vs. NC State rematch on Wednesday. Either way should be a great week of games. Food for thought: Florida State is the most well-balanced team efficiency-wise (although North Carolina and Louisville both rank among the top 25 in offensive and defensive efficiency). That should bode well in the postseason.
  4. Charlottesville Daily Progress: London Perrantes had quite the career at Virginia. Even as part of a program that doesn’t get any one-and-dones, a four-year college starter is exceedingly rare. He owns the most starts in Virginia history (a number inflated by the modern schedule, but still impressive nevertheless). He’s also defined the program as an unflashy, never flustered, quietly efficient point guard. He’s left Ty Jerome some pretty big shoes to fill in his absence.
  5. Raleigh News & Observer: NC State fans probably need a sincere pick-me-up, so how about a retrospective on the Wolfpack’s last ACC championship? It’s somewhat bittersweet since it also highlights the slow decline of the program as Duke grew into a national powerhouse in the 1980s and 1990s. Barry Jacobs’ stories are always tremendous, and this one comes through as well.

EXTRA: This piece on the ACC’s historic ties to the Big Apple is fascinating. Like I mentioned in this morning’s first blurb, the ACC may be nearing the end of its transition from a regional to a national brand. This story sheds more light on the beginning of that history, and how the league pushed recruiting well beyond its footprint.

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ACC M5: 02.23.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 23rd, 2017

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  1. Syracuse Post-Standard: Before I get started, I hope you caught that SyracuseDuke game last night. The big home win probably puts the Orange on the right side of the bubble for now (although this is far from assured), and John Gillon‘s contested three that banked through was the team’s second game-winner of the month. Duke only has its second half defense to blame for the loss. The Blue Devils played plenty well enough on offense, but allowing Syracuse to go a blistering 18-of-26 from the field in the second half was more than a good night on the glass could overcome. But back to the story at hand: Apparently an upset Syracuse fan called Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner to complain about fans chanting “air ball” at Gillon. Thankfully, Gillon’s 26-point, six-assist performance last night shows he wasn’t too impacted by the vitriol.
  2. Roanoke Times: Clemson may have sold its soul for a football championship (and its fans are likely at peace with that). After Tuesday night’s loss to Virginia Tech, the Tigers are now 1-7 in games decided by five p0ints or fewer in ACC play (they lost another game by six points). That gives Brad Brownell’s club a slight edge over Wake Forest in ranking lowest in ACC “Luck,” according to Ken Pomeroy (the Demon Deacons, by contrast, are 3-4 in ACC games decided by five points or fewer). If in fact Clemson still has its soul, that would imply some regression (or progression) to the mean, which could mean an exciting week in Brooklyn for the Tigers.
  3. Sports Illustrated: This is your annual reminder that the ACC will likely be replacing four Hall of Fame coaches in coming years, not to mention Miami’s Jim Larranaga. The only obvious choice is Jeff Capel almost certainly getting the chance to succeed Mike Krzyzweski at Duke (although given enough time, Chris Collins may have too much success at Northwestern to ignore). It remains to be seen whether North Carolina learned its lesson from hiring Matt Doherty, or whether the Tar Heel Way will take precedence over a surer pick. I don’t see the Tar Heels hiring Texas’ Shaka Smart, but Arizona’s Sean Miller would have a tough time saying no. Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin makes perfect sense at Louisville (and he’s criminally underrated nationally). Replacing Jim Boeheim at Syracuse looks simultaneously the easiest and most challenging. There’s a successor already in place (Mike Hopkins), but there’s been no evidence of any momentum to hand over the keys.
  4. Duke Basketball Report: Try to avoid the unnecessary aside about North Carolina’s academic scandal (the Raleigh News & Observer covered it better than any paper in the country and was relentless in uncovering new facets of the case). Other than that, I agree wholeheartedly with Al Featherston’s description of the NC State job. It’s a good but not elite job. Hiring Sidney Lowe (and the media narrative following Herb Sendek’s ousting) put the program in a really tough long-term spot. Mark Gottfried dug out of the hole but his team looked totally lost this year. Featherston’s best point is that a lot of luck goes into hiring a basketball coach. NC State could make a great hire (and that includes many people other than Archie Miller — UNC Wilmington’s Kevin Keatts and North Carolina Central’s Levelle Moton both come to mind). They could also make another hire that’s a band-aid, or worse.
  5. WRAL Sports Fan: Props to the ACC for ending the asinine process where anyone who contributed $15 could vote for postseason awards. That led to a huge advantage for North Carolina schools. Now each team will be represented by an equal number of people. In a league the size (both in terms of number of teams and geographic area) of the ACC, this makes the most sense.
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ACC M5: 02.14.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 14th, 2017

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  1. WTVD (ABC 11): Mark Armstrong dropped quite a bombshell on NC State fans yesterday. Per his sources, Debbie Yow has decided to fire head coach Mark Gottfried at the end of the season and the school has already reached out to Archie Miller. Reaching out to the Dayton head coach is the only part of the report that NC State denies, which makes sense (the school would reach out to Miller’s agent, not him directly). Joe Giglio does a good job breaking down Gottfried’s resume and it appears that such a move could be the right decision so long as the school makes the right hire.
  2. Richmond Times-Dispatch: Virginia Tech announced forward Chris Clarke has torn his ACL and is done for the season. This is a huge blow to the Hokies’ NCAA Tournament hopes, as their rotation isn’t very deep and Clarke is the team’s best defensive rebounder. Even considering last weekend’s big win over Virginia, the loss of the sophomore likely means Virginia Tech’s postseason rests on a strong showing in the ACC Tournament (wins over Duke and Virginia probably do not make up for such a lackluster non-conference schedule).
  3. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Is the honeymoon era over for Pittsburgh and the ACC? Was this a form of destiny or a simply a clash of basketball styles? Maybe some of both. While Mike DeCourcy is right when he points out Pittsburgh’s lack of homegrown talent, plenty of schools with abundant local products also regularly struggle (see: Georgia Tech). Occam’s Razor suggests that Jamie Dixon didn’t like the change of administration and knew he’d be paid handsomely with correspondingly less pressure at TCU. However, Decourcy’s point does mean that the Pittsburgh program cannot afford to float into anonymity. That being said, if the last couple of seasons have taught us anything in ACC basketball, the right hire (hello, Buzz Williams) can make all the difference.
  4. Sporting News: I hate this storyline. Yes, the ACC could set a new record for number of entrants to the Big Dance, but that’s a product of expansion rather than depth. The same was true of the Big East in 2011, which placed 11 teams into the NCAA Tournament. There’s a simple reason neither the Big East nor the ACC was rated as the best conference by Ken Pomeroy in 2011 or this year. Our perception of depth (highly impacted by media coverage and one-off results) differs from reality. It’s true that there’s a ton of parity at the top of this league, but highest number is dumber than non-possession adjusted stats (in 1996 and 1997, for example, the ACC placed six of its nine teams into the Big Dance).
  5. Technique: In happier news, Georgia Tech still has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. That’s astounding considering what this program looked like coming into the season. It still looks like an uphill climb thanks to a pretty uninspiring non-conference schedule, but a strong finish could make up for some of those early season struggles.
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ACC M5: 02.09.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 9th, 2017

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  1. Louisville Courier-Journal: Arguably the ACC’s best team may be about to get a lot better. The undermanned result against Virginia (which has always played kryptonite to Rick Pitino’s teams) aside, Louisville‘s Quentin Snider has been cleared to practice. There’s still no concrete timeline on his return to game action, but the Cardinals are a much scarier offensive team with Snider on the floor — especially since Tony Hicks broke his hand.
  2. ACC Sports: While the world outside is chaotic, a well-worn (at least by Jon Rothstein) phrase still applies. Death. Taxes. And NC State‘s coach finding a warm seat after failing to meet expectations. Mark Gottfried  — someone who does not have a track record of sustained coaching excellence — was a hire in Raleigh that always came with an expiration date. And that’s why a season where the Wolfpack have plenty of talent but few quality wins to show for it is so important. The most damning part of NC State’s play this year hasn’t been its record; rather, it’s been the occasional appearance of quitting. Many times that has meant Dennis Smith playing his own game; sometimes it’s been lukewarm moral victory talk from Gottfried after an embarrassing loss; and other times it’s been a veteran player getting left behind on an important road trip. Gottfried has earned another chance because he’s shown considerable success during his tenure with the Wolfpack, but fans are right to worry that this season’s disappointment fits very well with his career pattern.
  3. South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Thanks to a win against Virginia Tech, Miami is probably on the right side of the bubble for now. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, their closing ACC schedule makes achieving .500 in conference play look like an uphill battle. A trio of away games at Louisville, Virginia and Florida State are nearly guaranteed losses; a home game against Duke and a road trip to Virginia Tech certainly won’t be cake walks either. Without a legitimate non-conference win to hang its hat on, Miami will likely need a decent showing in Brooklyn to feel secure on Selection Sunday. Jim Larranaga is right to point out that youth is his team’s biggest hurdle, but the flashes his team has already shown should frighten ACC opponents about the Hurricanes’ future.
  4. Raleigh News & Observer: Roy Williams was all class when talking about Grayson Allen before tonight’s battle between Duke and North Carolina, describing the attention Allen has gotten as “way, way out of proportion.” And he’s right. Of course, Duke brought some of this on Allen because it never suspended him last season and his “indefinite” suspension earlier this year was for only one game. But ESPN‘s coverage of Allen has bordered on farcical, perhaps topped by Michelle Beadle calling for an opponent to knock him out. Here’s hoping tonight’s game is good enough to outshine the controversy.
  5. The Pitt News: The eight-game losing streak is dead! Pittsburgh finally notched its second ACC win (the Panthers beating Virginia will never make sense) thanks to playing an outmatched Boston College.

EXTRA: Get ready.

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ACC M5: 02.07.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 7th, 2017

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  1. Syracuse Post Standard: Apparently (and unsurprisingly, really) Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski called Jim Boeheim to congratulate him on his 899th* win (*just kidding, he has 1,000 wins). But more important than his USA Basketball colleague was the reception that Boeheim received from Orange fans. I’m a little worried, though, that he NCAA’s sanctioning of Boeheim will mean that he and Krzyzewski retire sooner than if there was still a reasonable chance of the former catching the latter.
  2. Louisville Courier-Journal: Louisville probably would have lost to Virginia last night regardless of their presence, but the absences of Mangok Mathiang and Deng Adel made their odds even lower. The real story here, though, was Rick Pitino‘s reaction when asked about Mathiang’s missing rebounding. After a standard graciousness in losing interview, Pitino then sniped: “I don’t even… Don’t mention his name to me.” Then he ended the interview. It’s certainly possible that Pitino was simply fed up with reporters at that point, but it’s more likely he’s livid with his captain for violating curfew. Pitino needs to strike the right balance, though, because the Cardinals have a chance to cut down some postseason nets if they can get reasonably healthy.
  3. Raleigh News & Observer: Even for a Mark Gottfried team, NC State‘s defense is atrocious. It’s unfortunate that StatBroadcast no longer exists, as it would be interesting to see non-adjusted efficiency ratings for the Wolfpack. The saddest part of this analysis is that NC State isn’t even the least efficient team in the ACC in conference play. That honor goes to Pittsburgh, which has allowed its conference opponents to shoot 42.5 percent from three and 53.7 percent from inside the arc. Either way, expect Gottfried hot seat chatter to reach fever pitch if this team doesn’t turn things around very quickly.
  4. Orlando Sentinel: My goodness, Florida State put the beatdown on Clemson this weekend. The 48-point victory was so lopsided that the Tigers’ FanSided blog went on a rant about needing better recruiting. I agree fully with the statement that head coach Brad Brownell needs to recruit more talent — that said, the question with this particular coach was always going to be about his ability to attract talent. The Clemson program, when viewed through an impossibly optimistic lens, looks like a sleeping giant. They have plenty of money and national publicity (with even more coming after the CFP National Championship); and they have an awesome, intimate basketball arena. But viewed more realistically, Clemson is awful more often than it is good. It’s a football school, through and through.
  5. Slap the Sign: This article is more than a little dramatic. Notre Dame certainly didn’t have a very good week, but the Irish are a long way from missing the NCAA Tournament. They rank among the top 30 in projected RPI, among the top 30 in KenPom, and are a consensus #6 seed in Bracket Matrix. Notre Dame can’t continue on its current path (1-5 in their last six games), but there’s no reason to think the Irish will either. Against Florida State and at Louisville will be really tough games, but the remaining five should all be wins (with the possible exception of NC State in Raleigh).
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