Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 78, Notre Dame 47

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

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Three Key Takeaways.

  1. If North Carolina plays defense like it did tonight, the Tar Heels will win the national championship. Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country and they couldn’t buy a good look for 10 solid minutes. Roy Williams’ team was incredibly aggressive, especially on the perimeter, never allowing Notre Dame’s guards to any space to operate. They only gave up 22 points (a season low for both teams) on 34 possessions, good for a first half defensive efficiency of 0.65 points per possession. After the run ended five minutes into the first half, it was far too late for Notre Dame to catch up. The Irish ended up scoring only 47 points in the game, its lowest total since a loss to Syracuse in 2013.

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

  2. Repeat after me: North Carolina is really deep. The Heels got 20 points off the bench and they actually played better when Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks both picked up their second fouls with 6:30 to play in the first half. Very few teams in the country would have been able to bounce back so quickly. Isaiah Hicks has played really well over the last couple of games (he finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds), and this was his best game since he scored 21 points at Syracuse.
  3. Notre Dame is a streaky team. It was blown out three other times this season (at Syracuse; at Florida State; vs. Miami), and every once in a while you will see a team get too far into its own head and become woefully overmatched. This was one of those times. The Tar Heels defense totally took Notre Dame out of its offense, as the Irish went from a team that excels on ball movement to one trying to isolate against a much taller front line. Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson were held a combined 1-of-16 from the field, an unbelievably disappointing performance.

Star of the Game. Tonight Marcus Paige looked every bit the first team all-ACC player everyone expected. He played great defense, hit some soul-crushing threes, and finished with seven assists and no turnovers. When he’s locked in, guarding the Tar Heels is borderline impossible. The last few years the question was always: “Can North Carolina shoot well enough to win?” This tournament has been evidence that both Joel Berry and Paige are more than capable. (Author’s note: It’s worth noting that Berry finished the game with four assists and no turnovers.)

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ACC Tournament Thursday Takeaways

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

Thursday in Washington, DC, featured a terrific afternoon with Notre Dame clawing past Duke in overtime. Unfortunately, the other three games of the day weren’t quite as closely contested. Here are a few takeaways from the quarterfinals action.

The Pitt band plays during the quarterfinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC, Thursday, March 10, 2016. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

The Pitt band plays during the quarterfinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

North Carolina (26-6): The Tar Heels got a huge lift from Joel Berry in the first half as he carried their often-stagnant offense. In the second half, North Carolina’s depth was on full display while Brice Johnson was his normal all-ACC self. However, the highlight of the day may have been head coach Roy Williams failing to censor himself in the following exchange:

Q: Coach, the unbalanced schedule this year. It benefited you guys having the easiest strength of schedule in the ACC this year. Do you think it benefited you at all getting the No. 1 seed going into this tournament?

A: Depends on how you evaluate that. You know what we didn’t have the benefit of, to make somebody say we didn’t have the easy schedule, we didn’t get to play North Carolina. All that is a bunch of horse ****.

Well said, coach. We all want the round-robin back, but that’s not realistic with 15 teams. Even then, we don’t think you’d be able to play North Carolina.

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Notre Dame Upends Duke; Tobacco Road Rematch Denied

Posted by Matt Patton on March 10th, 2016

Midway through the second half of Thursday afternoon’s second ACC quarterfinal, a Duke-UNC rematch looked like destiny. Duke led Notre Dame by 16 with 11 minutes to play. To that point, the game had strongly resembled North Carolina’s earlier win over Pittsburgh: Notre Dame and Duke were matched in strengths (offense); Duke struggled out of the gate but Grayson Allen kept the game close; and a second half Fighting Irish drought looked fatal. And then the Blue Devils ran out of gas.

Zach Auguste got the better of his matchup with Marshall Plumlee in Notre Dame's win over Duke. (photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

Zach Auguste got the better of his matchup with Marshall Plumlee in Notre Dame’s win over Duke. (photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

The Notre Dame comeback began in earnest with just under eight minutes left when Notre Dame grabbed three straight offensive boards before scoring. Soon after VJ Beachem rediscovered his shooting stroke, while Zach Auguste continued his relentless assault of the backboards. Auguste would finished with 22 rebounds on an afternoon when he was easily the best player on the floor.

Make no mistake about it: The story here is Notre Dame, not Duke. The Blue Devils are very much who we thought they were — a flawed but extremely capable offensive team who will have a chance to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. But on the other side, this game was a reminder that Notre Dame is still built around the foundation of last year’s ACC title squad that almost knocked off Kentucky in the Elite Eight. It’s a team with veterans like Auguste, Demetrius Jackson (who struggled en route to a 13 point, four assist afternoon) and Steve Vasturia (12 points, six assists) who are ready for another shot at an ACC title. Despite wins over North Carolina, Duke (now twice), and Louisville, the Fighting Irish are still looking for national respect. The guy at the helm certainly has a good deal of that, as Mike Brey is now 5-1 in his last six games against Duke and his mentor, Mike Krzyzewski.

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Handing Out ACC Awards and Superlatives

Posted by Matt Patton on March 8th, 2016

The chips have fallen where they did, so it’s time to take a look back at the best the ACC had to offer this season.

First Team All-ACC

Malcolm Brogdon Has Helped the Cavs Turn the Corner (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty)

Malcolm Brogdon gets the slight nod for conference player of the year honors. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia (POY)
  • Brice Johnson, North Carolina
  • Grayson Allen, Duke
  • Cat Barber, NC State
  • Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame

With 15 ACC teams from which to choose, the normal difficulty of selecting a first team was mitigated by Brogdon, Johnson, Allen and Barber being virtual locks. Brogdon gets the nod for ACC Player of the Year over Johnson for his outstanding defense, but it was a close race. The senior is the best player to suit up for Tony Bennett’s team in recent memory thanks to his incredible efficiency and on-ball defense. It’s certainly possible that these four players end up on several All-American teams, although Barber will lose some votes because of NC State’s lack of success this year. The wild card is Notre Dame’s Jackson. I went back and forth here. The media and coaches chose Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame, but Jackson won the eye test for me. He was a tremendous pure point guard for the Irish this year, and Mike Brey’s team would have likely ended up in the bottom third of the conference without him.

Second Team All-ACC

  • Michael Gbinije, Syracuse
  • Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
  • Anthony Gill, Virginia
  • Michael Young, Pittsburgh
  • Damion Lee, Louisville

Gbinije, Blossomgame and Gill were head and shoulders above Young and Lee. The first two took on greatly augmented roles this season, playing as deluxe Swiss Army Knives for teams that overachieved.

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ACC M5: 03.01.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 1st, 2016

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  1. SB Nation: History looks certain. With its loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday, Boston College tied the ACC record for most losses in a season. Just over 1,000 fans came see a beatdown at the hands of Virginia Tech last week, and the Eagles look like a lock to become the first major conference team to go winless in football and men’s basketball since World War II (unless you count the Southwest Conference, where TCU went winless in both during the 1977 season). Only a trip to Raleigh and a visit from Clemson stand in the way of the annals of infamy.
  2. Palm Beach Post: Miami‘s Tonye Jekiri has had a really nice year. In addition to playing great defense, he’s nearly averaging a double-double. What’s especially interesting is that his efficiency statistics are actually a little worse than last year. Part of that can be explained by playing on a much better team (though that doesn’t explain his slip in block percentage), but Jekiri is a big reason why Jim Larranaga’s team has a very good shot at winding up as the top seed in Washington, D.C. The Hurricanes will be big Duke fans this weekend assuming they make it past Notre Dame.
  3. Burlington Times News: Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre, the last stalwarts of the class that might save the Wake Forest program, ended their careers at Joel Coliseum in a frustrating loss on Sunday to Virginia Tech. The two seniors are as much a microcosm of their program as Jekiri is for the Hurricanes. They’ve shown flashes of brilliance but Thomas’ play will likely be remembered for his quick temper as much as his occasional dominance, and Miller-McIntyre for his inexplicable disappearances over the years. Credit both for sticking with the moribund program through the Jeff Bzdelik tenure as well as the subsequent coaching change. As hard as Danny Manning’s first couple of seasons have been in Winston-Salem, they would have been much worse without these two on board.
  4. USA Today: Roy Williams‘ new contract gives a lot more latitude to North Carolina to fire him for cause. People might read into the ongoing NCAA investigation and think that’s what led to the stronger language, but I believe SID Steve Kirschner when he says that the new clauses merely reflect the NCAA’s changing rules. Speaking of the NCAA investigation, if you’re looking to find more damning or exonerating information from the Wainstein report, there are more files available for you to peruse.
  5. Macon Telegraph: Georgia Tech won its fourth straight ACC game for the first time since the school made the national championship game in 2004 (to find four regular season ACC wins in a row, we have to go back to the 2002 team). That’s a pretty amazing streak and speaks to just how bad Paul Hewitt’s contract extension was. All four games this season have been decided by six or fewer points (amazingly, including Boston College), and all of the Yellow Jackets’ conference wins have come by seven points or fewer (over half of their losses were decided by a similar margin).

EXTRA: Want to read a really bad, moralizing opinion piece on Grayson Allen‘s trips? Then I’ve got you covered.

EXTRA EXTRA: Just in case you’re taking a trip to ACC country anytime soon, this post from Patrick Stevens on where to eat is a must-bookmark.

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ACC M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 24th, 2016

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  1. The ACC: Rejoice, ACC fans, because the bracket for this year’s conference tournament is out (including approximate tipoff times that will inevitably be pushed back since they still use the assumption that every game will end in under two hours). Unfortunately, in the league’s promotion of the event, a graphic designer failed to use a stock photo of the US Capitol. Alas, #goacc.
  2. BC Interruption: Speaking of that bracket, you can go ahead and sharpie Boston College in for the #14 seed. Is it statistically possible that the Eagles can catch Wake Forest? Yes. But after getting stomped by Virginia Tech at home last night, don’t hold your breath for that result. More seriously, Boston College has major issues with its men’s basketball program. The athletic department just announced a $200 million investment in sports, but it won’t directly affect the basketball team. An improved football team would help (Boston College is on pace to become the first team in ACC history to lose all of its conference men’s basketball and football games in the same school year), but there’s a lot of general apathy among the Eagles’ fan base. Even during the Al Skinner era, the basketball program found it difficult to compete with hockey for winter attendance. Firing Jim Christian after one season would be overly reactionary, but for each year the program continues to struggle, the more energy it will take to rebuild it. Just a guess, but it would seem that most of the remaining fans wouldn’t mind another change at the helm.
  3. Hampton Roads Daily Press: This piece is a good rebuttal to the chorus of whining ACC coaches. David Teel was right to focus on Miami head coach Jim Larranaga, who knows the benefits to both coffers and recruiting alike that asymmetric schedules can bring. Television revenue has become increasingly important to athletic departments (since unlike most other revenue, there’s no cost to the school when ESPN shows up to a game that would be played regardless). Then again, Larranaga may have just been in a good mood after Miami eked by Virginia to stay in the hunt for the top seed at next month’s ACC Tournament.
  4. Syracuse Post Standard: Jim Boeheim caught some recent flak for his comments about junior Tyler Roberson. Boeheim said, “If I had anyone else he wouldn’t play a minute,” in response to a question about his big man. As he’s prone to do, Boeheim immediately doubled down on the comments. Whether this public shaming will help Roberson play with more effort is unclear, but what should be clear is that Roberson isn’t paid enough to be publicly ridiculed for something as subjective as effort. Shame on Boeheim.
  5. Raleigh News & Observer: Duke named former Blue Devil guard Nolan Smith a special assistant to the basketball program. Many people had wondered as he struggled to rehabilitate from repeat injuries whether Smith might eventually turn to coaching. He now has, but what remains to be seen is when he can join the staff as a full assistant. Is this a sign that assistant coach Jeff Capel might be thinking about taking over another program after this year? Or will a mid-major school take a shot at Nate James after Duke’s recent string of recruiting success? Both important questions, but the biggest current source of confusion facing most Duke fans is what Grayson Allen meant with this Instagram post.
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ACC M5: 02.22.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 22nd, 2016

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  1. The Comeback: If you’re looking for a good recap of Duke – North Carolina, this isn’t it (the Student Section has you covered there). But good on Roy Williams for not calling a timeout during North Carolina’s final possession. It’s not his fault that Joel Berry put on blinders and decided against attacking the basket (or that Marcus Paige wanted no part of the play). Not much else to say at this point other than the obvious — it was an amazing win for Duke considering all of its injuries.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: North Carolina banished the narratives and self-esteem issues following its Duke loss with an absolute beatdown of a very good Miami team. As Roy Williams aptly put it after the drubbing: “Things look better when the ball goes in the basket” (although his rant about Doug Gottlieb not knowing how to put on his shorts won the press conference). Inconsistency in North Carolina’s backcourt wasn’t anticipated this season, but it’s what could keep the team from a Final Four trip to Houston. Marcus Paige doesn’t seem himself right now, and the backcourt as a whole can struggle in feeding Brice Johnson. It’s pretty clear that North Carolina is the best team eligible to play in the ACC Tournament as the teams stand right now, but a lot of teams will cause them problems on their off nights.
  3. ND Insider: So much for Notre Dame having the most obvious path to the ACC regular season title. The Fighting Irish’s defense couldn’t keep Georgia Tech’s Marcus Georges-Hunt from putting them two games back of the Tar Heels in the standings (tied for fifth, but holding the tiebreaker with Duke). The clog at the top of the ACC means a lot, as only the top four will get double-byes in Washington, DC, next month (currently Notre Dame and Duke are tied for fourth since Louisville is ineligible). Now’s when things get really interesting. The Tar Heels will go on the road in three of their last four games, including trips to Raleigh (never underestimate a rivalry game), Charlottesville and Durham. Three of Miami’s and Virginia’s four remaining games come against the top six teams in the conference. That leaves Duke and Notre Dame with the easiest finishing schedules (although they start with the most losses).
  4. Syracuse Post-StandardPittsburgh kept its NCAA dreams alive by finishing a season sweep of Syracuse this weekend. Jamie Dixon clearly has Jim Boeheim’s number (he’s 7-2 in the Carrier Dome), and this year Jamel Artis was the star who killed the zone. Let’s discuss the ACC bubble. Syracuse is probably in (especially since for some unknown reason the Selection Committee will consider Boeheim’s suspension), and that bodes well for the Panthers — a team that lacks many marquee wins but will have a shot at a couple more down the stretch. Florida State and Clemson, however, appear to be in trouble. What’s bizarre is that the Tigers have much better “good wins” than any of the other teams, but they just were awful in non-conference play. Clemson’s upcoming game at Georgia Tech is a must-win and its home contest against Virginia might be too. Florida State desperately needs some wins to close out the season after a possible bubble-bursting loss in Blacksburg. Luckily the Seminoles will get shots at Duke and home against Syracuse and Notre Dame (who has struggled considerably on the road).
  5. ACC Digital Network: Dunkuary. Thank me later.
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ACC M5: 02.17.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 17th, 2016

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  1. Sports Channel 8: One of the best rivalries in sports is here! And, weirdly, it feels much less hyped than usual. Maybe that’s because of Duke‘s skid a bit earlier this season or because the Carolina Panthers held local media’s attention much longer than usual. Either way, I think tonight’s game will shape up poorly for Duke. There are three scenarios at play in my mind. 1) Duke keeps the game close but runs out of gas the last six minutes (most likely); 2) North Carolina blitzes Duke out of the gate, shredding the zone and back-dooring the overplay man-to-man; 3) Duke makes a lot of threes and Mike Krzyzewski throws a bunch of junk defenses at the Tar Heel guards to get the win (least likely). The Blue Devils are really talented, but North Carolina should be able to run them into the ground on the offensive end of the floor.
  2. Orlando Sentinel: Devon Bookert and Boris Bojanovsky have been playing much better lately. Their improved play unfortunately wasn’t enough to get past Miami on Sunday, but the Seminoles are still clinging to a spot in the at-large field. From my perspective, taking care of business against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech plus another win against either Syracuse or Notre Dame is enough to get Leonard Hamilton back into the Big Dance. What would make a world of difference is if Xavier Rathan-Mayes found himself over the next few weeks. His efficiency hasn’t dropped from last year but he’s using a lot fewer possessions so maybe there’s some slack there.
  3. Winston-Salem Journal: This is great context from Dan Collins about Bryant Crawford‘s turnover woes (Bobby Hurley, Ed Cota and Chris Corchiani all finished with more than 400 turnovers for their careers and are the top three assisters in NCAA history). Lots of turnovers means the team relies on you to make lots of plays, so in the long run, this season should do Crawford a lot of good. Assuming he can eventually get the game to slow down, it will pay off handsomely. On an unrelated note, the Demon Deacons suffered another gut-wrenching road loss to Pittsburgh last night despite a great game from Codi Miller-McIntyre (Pitt’s James Robinson also gave a herculean effort).
  4. U Sports: Speaking of which, Pittsburgh is in serious trouble. The Panthers have only three wins over likely NCAA Tournament teams this season, and one of those was against Syracuse without Jim Boeheim. Ken Pomeroy doesn’t favor the Panthers in any of their remaining games (although he predicts that they win two), but needing two overtimes to beat Wake Forest at home doesn’t bode well for upcoming games against Louisville and Duke (much less a road trip to the Carrier Dome). Barring an unlikely turnaround or a serious ACC Tournament run, Jamie Dixon’s squad looks like an NIT team.
  5. Streaking the Lawn: This is a good look at what Virginia needs to do to earn a double-bye in Washington, DC, in a few weeks. The top of the ACC is very crowded and will become even more so if Duke manages to beat North Carolina tonight. Six teams hold four losses or fewer, although Louisville no longer counts for ACC Tournament consideration. And thanks to unbalanced scheduling, there are six games left featuring teams vying for the double-bye. Hold on to your butts!

EXTRA: This is a good podcast featuring Jerry Stackhouse talking about his recruitment to North Carolina.

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ACC Afternoon 5: 02.15.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 15th, 2016

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  1. Duke Basketball Report: If you’re behind at all on ACC play, read this outstanding piece from Al Featherston. If you’re not behind, read it anyway. I agree with him wholeheartedly that Notre Dame has the most likely path to the top seed in Washington, DC. North Carolina is the better team, but there are a lot of traps in the final few games of its conference season. But what I hadn’t considered was all the tiebreaker scenarios (most of which give Notre Dame the advantage). Either way, ACC play has some great games ahead of it in the final month.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Will Duke’s Amile Jefferson redshirt? On one hand, he is eligible for a redshirt year and his veteran leadership could be the x-factor in whether next year’s stacked Blue Devils’ roster wins a championship. On the other hand, Duke is bringing in two elite 6’9″ freshmen and Chase Jeter might transfer if he’s relegated to the bench next season (not to mention Duke is still recruiting five-star center Marques Bolden). The bottom line is that Duke is a Final Four contender with Jefferson this year. That’s why I think he returns.
  3. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Virginia lost a heartbreaker in Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday on a controversial buzzer-beater from Grayson Allen. (Note: I don’t think this was an example of a Duke bias, just the tendency of referees to swallow their whistles in the final seconds to focus more on the clock.) Before the wild ending, though, it was an awesome game. It looked like Virginia would run Duke out of the gym in the first half before Brandon Ingram rescued the Blue Devils, at one point scoring 16 straight points for his team. Then Tony Bennett locked Ingram down with Malcolm Brogdon (who in response put the Cavaliers’ offense on his shoulders), opening the game up for Allen.
  4. Syracuse Post Standard: Tyler Lydon has turned out to be quite a diamond in the rough for Jim Boeheim this season. Lydon has looked like a totally new player during the Orange’s five-game winning streak, using an average of 23 percent of possessions compared with a season usage of less than 16 percent. That’s a big difference. He’s Syracuse‘s most efficient player, mostly thanks to excellent shot selection and stroking nearly 45 percent of his three-point attempts.
  5. CBS Sports: NC State’s Cat Barber finally started getting some national love last week, as he’s scored more than 30 points five times in the last seven games. In those same seven games, head coach Mark Gottfried has let him sit for a total of three minutes. So why has it taken so long for him to get noticed? Part of it is a disconnect. Generally the national media loves underdogs, but Barber doesn’t fit that mold. He’s on a major conference team, and his team is generally viewed as disappointing (unlike former Virginia Tech star Erick Green, whose team was expected to be horrendous). That’s a perfect recipe for getting ignored. Still, it’s nice to see Barber getting some shine, even if it is belated. Also, here’s to him putting on an Olivier Hanlan-esque performance at the Verizon Center next month.

EXTRA: The ACC released its schedule of conference opponents for the next two seasons. Just in case you want to start complaining about unbalanced schedules a little earlier than usual.

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ACC M5: 02.10.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 10th, 2016

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  1. The Comeback: Obviously the big news last week was Louisville announcing a self-imposed postseason ban. That’s dumb and unfair to Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. Rick Pitino posits that a more appropriate punishment would have been to levy fines against the program and basketball coach. Allen Kenney does a good job poking the holes here, as that money would likely come from a more vulnerable part of the athletic department budget.
  2. BC Interruption: This hasn’t been a banner year for Boston College, and Patrick Stevens does a good job contextualizing just how bad the Eagles have been to this point. But that’s not why we’re here! Rather, the Eagles took North Carolina to the brink of its third league loss at Conte Forum last night (losing by three after leading for most of the game). Eli Carter put on a show with 26 points and four assists, while Dennis Clifford (14 points, 13 rebounds) achieved some of his pre-injury potential. In more concerning news, Roy Williams’ vertigo reared its ugly head again, but he emphasized it wasn’t anything new or particularly serious.
  3. Palm Beach Post: This is a perfect example of Betteridge’s law of headlines. This is decidedly not the best Miami team ever, as the 2012-13 Hurricanes would run their current squad off the floor (they absolutely should have been a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament that year, but that’s a story for another day). That’s not meant to take anything away from this team; it’s just that this season’s team had higher expectations coming in so it benefited from climbing the polls more quickly.
  4. ESPN: Welp, look’s like Betteridge’s law isn’t perfect after all. Grayson Allen certainly should end up the next hated white Duke player, but it will require one of two things to happen. Either the sophomore needs to stay in Durham for another year or this year’s team needs to improve to the status of a national contender (not the favorite by any means, but a top-10 team). Not to worry, though, he’s already working on his resume. The best part of Dana O’Neil’s article is Justise Winslow‘s addition. I won’t spoil it.
  5. Syracuse Post-Standard: With Louisville’s postseason ban in effect this season, it will represent the second straight year of a weird ACC Tournament bracket. Just like last year, any team finishing 10th or better in the regular season standings will receive at least one bye. The Cardinals’ departure from the field, though, benefits everyone from the cluster of NCAA Tournament hopefuls tied with five losses, to Duke and Notre Dame, both of which are vying for the double-bye.

EXTRA: The Daily Tar Heel ran a really nice story on Dean Smith‘s legacy a year after his death.

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