ACC M5: 02.03.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 3rd, 2017

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  1. Duke Basketball Report: If nothing else, this ACC basketball season has been wild — JD King takes a run at trying to make sense of the madness. One thing that might have helped is if he had included RPIforecast data on some of the potential bubble teams. There’s still a lot of variance this far out, but the prediction site pegs Wake Forest and Clemson on the right side of 44 and everyone else on the wrong side (at least per the incredibly flawed RPI). Georgia Tech in particular has a big challenge ahead of it to make up for a lackluster non-conference schedule.
  2. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Ken Sugiura looks at Josh Pastner‘s honeymoon season at Georgia Tech, focusing on the thoughts of former players and school legend Bobby Cremins. All are ecstatic with the job Pastner has done so far this season. Former star Dennis Scott pegged the ultimate X-factor for Pastner, which is that he needs to recruit at a high level. Recruiting was the one area where previous head coach Brian Gregory struggled mightily (Paul Hewitt recruited inconsistently and didn’t get consistent buy-in; however, I think he was a better fit than Gregory). Pastner to this point has shown at a minimum that he can exceed low expectations, but his most talented teams at Memphis always failed to live up to the hype.
  3. Washington Post: Another year, another Virginia team that looks like a Final Four contender. Tony Bennett is one of the most consistent coaches in college basketball, but whether because of small sample size or a hidden fatal flaw in his system, his teams simply haven’t achieved their full potential in March. As Ava Wallace’s piece here points out, this year’s team is much younger than the average Bennett team. But thanks to unwavering leadership from London Perrantes (and good recruiting/player development from the coaching staff), Virginia hasn’t missed a beat.
  4. Roanoke Times: While Mark Berman avers that the Hokies are in good position, I’m not entirely sure that’s true. On one hand, Virginia Tech has looked the part of a NCAA Tournament team for most of the year. On the other, its projected RPI isn’t great, and Ken Pomeroy’s and Jeff Sagarin’s ratings are even worse. That’s not a typical recipe for making the Big Dance. That’s not to say that this season is something to scoff at, just that the Hokies’ eye test looks considerably better than the team’s statistical profile. Still, a couple of marquee wins could change things dramatically — the Hokies have shots upcoming against Virginia at home with a game at Louisville.
  5. ESPN: Justin Jackson is living up to the potential many people saw in him over the past couple of years, and the change has largely been in his aggressiveness. He’s still not North Carolina‘s best player (hello Joel Berry), but he’s part of the reason this team has a chance to go deep come March. Roy Williams needs Theo Pinson to get healthy, and at least assuming reports are accurate that he only has an ankle injury, North Carolina is clearly playing the long game by giving him plenty of time to recover.
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ACC M5: 01.31.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 31st, 2017

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  1. The Heights: Cool piece from the Boston College student paper doing a deep dive (with GIFs) into the Eagles’ close loss over the weekend at Virginia Tech.
  2. USA Today: Georgia Tech is the ACC’s Cinderella this season — remember, the Yellow Jackets were a favorite to dethrone Boston College from the league’s cellar. Now Josh Pastner‘s team looks very much like it will earn a trip to the Big Dance. USA Today‘s Dan Wolken is more qualified to write on Pastner than most — he spent a number of years on the Memphis beat. While Pastner’s hire was initially greeted with great skepticism, the Memphis job may have just been a poor fit (i.e., no one was going to fill John Calipari’s large shoes there). Georgia Tech’s good start in ACC play may turn out to be a flash in the pan or it could be evidence that Pastner can coach a team to a certain ceiling but struggles with expectations. But now’s hardly the time for negativity.
  3. Raleigh News & Observer: If you’re trying to catch up on the ACC — well, mostly the North Carolina teams — Andrew Carter’s piece is a great place to start. I question the notion that the Tar Heels are the obvious best team — especially since they still have five games against Duke, Virginia and Louisville left on the schedule. Duke may ultimately prove to be smoke and mirrors, but the Cavaliers and Cardinals are every bit as good as North Carolina. The most interesting fact from the piece is that ACC road teams were 21-42 going into Sunday (Duke tallied a win in South Bend, but Louisville and Virginia Tech both protected their home courts after the piece was posted).
  4. WDRB: Is Louisville the best team in the ACC? Maybe (but give me Virginia, which should have beaten Villanova in Philadelphia). The Cardinals’ Donovan Mitchell has been tremendous, but Eric Crawford is right to note that Louisville’s gaudy efficiency numbers are partially the result of poleaxing the bottom of the league. There’s certainly no doubt that the Cardinals are a Final Four caliber team with a bona fide all-ACC star. But if they knock off the Cavaliers in Charlottesville? Then we’re talking.
  5. Syracuse Post-Standard: I probably don’t have to tell you the source, but apparently “some people […] behind the scenes” liken Tyler Lydon to Tom Brady. But fun oral history aside, Tyus Battle‘s recovery of Lydon’s pass on Saturday probably saved Syracuse from a crushing collapse against Florida State. It’s obviously impossible to know, but a turnover there gives Leonard Hamilton‘s team a chance to settle down and cut the deficit to one possession. Don’t worry about the Seminole, though: ACC road games are hard.

EXTRA: In defense of Syracuse‘s court-rushing from a participant. My fiery take is if something is fun and reasonably safe for players, go for it. “Act like you’ve been there before” is for fun-haters.

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ACC M5: 01.26.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 26th, 2017

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  1. The Players’ Tribune: Every year there’s at least one story out of the league that puts everything into perspective. Basketball, after all, is just a game. Sure, there’s future money and fame at stake, but stories like this from TPT highlight the contradiction of the game’s impact on those who play it while also shedding light on how little a win-loss record means next to personal relationships. Duke interim head coach Jeff Capel‘s post on his father’s ALS diagnosis is beautiful, funny and gutting.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Welp, it was good while it lasted. Florida State was in pole position to take the ACC regular season crown until the Seminoles suffered a hideous loss at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night. Florida State isn’t the first team to get caught slumping in Atlanta this season, but a drubbing by 22 points will raise eyebrows for those who are rightfully labeling the Seminoles as legitimate ACC contenders. Andrew Carter’s article here is still worth highlighting since Leonard Hamilton‘s team has a favorable schedule from here on out (at least compared with the other contenders). For the record, I probably would put my money on North Carolina or Virginia, but Hamilton arguably has his best team ever in Tallahassee.
  3. Winston-Salem Journal: So close to equaling his predecessor’s ACC road win total in just one season, Danny Manning‘s team came up just short of knocking off Jim Boeheim’s roller coaster team at Syracuse. The improvement Manning’s team has shown this year might be more impressive than what Hamilton has done at Florida State (even if the Demon Deacons are fighting an uphill battle to get to a .500 conference record). Bottom line: Wake Forest is good. A lack of quality non-conference wins will hurt their chances on Selection Sunday, but they may ultimately find their way on to the bubble thanks to sophomore forward John Collins‘ outstanding efforts.
  4. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: I hope no parents turned on the Pittsburgh vs. Louisville game on Tuesday night, as it was an X-rated woodshedding by the Cardinals — in Pittsburgh, no less. As Craig Meyer writes, Kevin Stallings publicly called out his team for lacking leadership on Monday, and his team responded in kind by completely quitting on him. Stallings was always something of a head-scratching hire after Jamie Dixon found greener pastures in Texas, but this season is going much worse than even his biggest doubters could have imagined. The Panthers have far more talent than their 1-6 ACC record indicates, but that necessarily falls on Stallings. First years in a new job are always tough, but Pittsburgh can’t afford to slide toward basketball oblivion while the rest of the conference continues to improve.
  5. Backing the Pack: Dennis Smith ended NC State‘s multi-decade losing streak in Cameron Indoor Stadium with a show for the ages on Monday night, capping it off with a dunk that didn’t count but could be heard over the silent Crazies crowd and all around the Triangle. That game could be a serious turning point for both teams. Is this the confidence boost the Wolfpack needed to salvage what was looking like a lost season? Is this the wakeup call for Duke‘s band of talented freshmen who often play much worse than the sum of their parts? Truthfully, I don’t know. The Blue Devils missed a lot of open shots and were probably the better team for much of the night, but NC State had the best player on the floor in Smith (and Abdul-Malik Abu played a tremendous game too). Don’t read too much into one game, but it’s clear that Duke has chemistry issues and Smith is an amazing talent.

EXTRA: The ACC announced its Basketball Legends class for this year, highlighted by late, great NC State coach Jim Valvano.

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ACC Burning Questions: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Matt Patton on November 10th, 2016

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

Can the reloaded Tar Heels get back to the Final Four?

There's no question this year: this is Joel Berry's team. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

There’s no question this year: this is Joel Berry’s team. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

As was well-documented, North Carolina’s 2015-16 season was equal parts fairy tale and horror film. Roy Williams loses Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson from last year’s National Runner-Up, but this season’s team will likely be just as talented. First off, Joel Berry is criminally underrated. He was without a doubt the most important player on last year’s team, and he has a good chance to wind up on the short list for National Player of the Year. Second, Isaiah Hicks may finally put everything together last season and will go a long way toward filling Johnson’s shoes. However, there are some open questions here. Theo Pinson is out indefinitely after breaking his foot again, leaving the team overly reliant on Berry in the backcourt. He’ll have help in Nate Britt and freshman Seventh Woods , both of whom should get plenty of minutes (especially considering Roy Williams’ penchant for deep rotations), and Justin Jackson is a likely All-ACC wing. But the dropoff from the talent of Berry to Britt is steep, and Woods is still a freshman. That means Williams will need Berry on the floor for most of the game — especially once conference play begins. With Pinson out indefinitely, Jackson won’t have much help on the wing either. But don’t lose sight of the fact that Jackson and Berry are both elite, championship-level players. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Burning Questions: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by Matt Patton on November 7th, 2016

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

Burning Question: How far do the Irish slide? (a.k.a. How good are Bonzie Colson and TJ Gibbs?)

Notre Dame probably won’t be as good as it was last year and the Irish definitely won’t be as good as they were two years ago. So where does that leave us? Mike Brey lost his two best players — Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste — and both are going to be nearly impossible to replace, especially defensively. The two most important returnees to watch are junior Bonzie Colson and freshman TJ Gibbs. Colson is an incredibly efficient offensive player already accustomed to high usage (albeit on limited minutes), which makes him a surefire success in many ways. The challenge for Brey will be finding a way for Colson’s increased minutes to not kill the Irish on the glass. Auguste was one of the best defensive rebounders in the country, whereas Colson is merely a good rebounder. Despite Auguste’s proficiency, Notre Dame was still an atrocious defensive rebounding team, so his loss doesn’t help a middling defense unless Colson improves or John Mooney turns out to be ACC-ready faster than expected.

VJ Beachem has the spotlight now, but Bonzie Colson has bigger shoes to fill. (Photo Credit: Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

VJ Beachem has the spotlight now, but Bonzie Colson has bigger shoes to fill. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Gibbs is less known. He’s a consensus top-100, four-star recruit, but he’ll be called upon to replace a former McDonald’s All-American. Point guards tend to translate quickly to the college game, but Gibbs may be a season away from the helm. He’ll likely start the season spelling junior Matt Farrell. Farrell has always proven to be a competent college player, but he is probably best suited for an important supporting role. He could make a quantum leap this season, but neither the eye test nor his statistics point in that direction. Colson and Farrell are joined by seniors VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia. Beachem is most likely the best pure shooter in the ACC. He’s got fringe NBA talent but will need to show he is capable of handling a larger share of the offense this year.

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ACC Burning Questions: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Matt Patton on October 26th, 2016

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

Burning Question: How quickly will Andrew White and John Gillon slot into Jim Boeheim’s system?

Tyler Lydon will have help this year in Syracuse. (Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

Tyler Lydon will have help this year in Syracuse. (Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

Can you be a consensus Top 25 team as well as a conference sleeper? This question doesn’t pertain only to the Orange, but because of the deserving press of those two monolithic teams on Tobacco Road, Syracuse is flying under the radar this preseason. It’s not just the perpetual hype machine surrounding Duke and its bevy of one-and-dones or North Carolina following up on its heartbreaking ending. There are legitimate questions about this Syracuse team but you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of teams as talented as Jim Boeheim‘s group. The first question he needs to answer is how to replace the team’s best player and jack-of-all-trades, Michael Gbinije?

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ACC Burning Questions: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Posted by Matt Patton on October 20th, 2016

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

Burning Question: What sort of “sophomore leap” can we expect from Bryant Crawford, John Collins, and Doral Moore?

Wake Forest is coming off an incredibly disappointing season. Despite having a pair of talented seniors in the lineup, the Demon Deacons managed only two league wins last year, causing fans to suffer flashbacks of the Jeff Bzdelik era. The 2015-16 team was better than its record, though, and that discrepancy largely falls on the shoulders of the team’s most talented (and now graduated) players: Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas. This year the Demon Deacons will lack their senior leadership but that may finally provide Danny Manning the distance he needs to fully reshape the basketball environment in Winston-Salem. First, I’m an admitted Manning apologist. His results have so far been inconsistent, but Bzdelik passed along a culture so toxic that no one could have reasonably expected a quick fix. This, however, is the year Manning must start to show real progress (with next year being the year to make a leap in the conference standings). The road will be tough and the win total may not reflect significant improvement, but Wake Forest needs to beat the worst teams in the league (here’s looking at you, Boston College and Georgia Tech), while playing competitively against the better teams (hey, Virginia).

John Collins is an analytics darling, but can he make the leap the statistics say? (Photo Credit: Bob Hebert)

John Collins is an analytics darling, but can he make the leap the statistics suggest? (Bob Hebert/Getty)

To replace Miller-McIntyre and Thomas, look no further than sophomores Bryant CrawfordJohn Collins and Doral Moore. Collins in particular carries the Luke Winn-endorsed high usage and efficiency hallmark of breakout sophomores, and Crawford effectively replaced Miller-McIntyre’s role for much of last season. How competitive Wake Forest will be, though, depends mostly on the team’s ceiling (the ACC is stacked) and I’ll be surprised if Crawford and Collins aren’t the keys to the Deacs’ highest performance. Crawford will need to cut down on his turnovers while Collins needs to prove efficient in increased minutes, but those are achievable goals. Moore, on the other hand, showed flashes of brilliance last season. You can’t teach tall, but Manning appears capable of coaching up his bigs. If that holds true, Moore could become a real star in the ACC by the time he’s done there. Joining the trio of star sophomores are graduate transfer Austin Arians from Milwaukee, who should provide some immediate help on the wing. Don’t look for Arians to become a volume scorer in Winston-Salem, but he can keep opponents honest with his shot and he never turns the ball over. It’s also possible we’ll see a quantum jump from Mitchell Wilbekin this season. His brother Scottie Wilbekin made a big step forward at Florida between his sophomore and junior years. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five ACC Storylines to Watch this Offseason

Posted by Matt Patton on April 11th, 2016

With the long offseason ahead of us, let’s take a look at five key ACC storylines to keep an eye on over the summer.

  1. NCAA Sanctions: After investigations that surrounded both programs in different ways this season, there should finally be some closure for Louisville and North Carolina. Louisville is still trying to get in front of NCAA sanctions by self-imposing its own (in addition to this year’s postseason ban, the program also recently added recruiting penalties). This strategy has worked well for other schools, but predicting eventual NCAA punishments is an exercise in futility. North Carolina is the more interesting case — the Tar Heels may not receive any sanctions or they may get the book thrown at them. What remains unclear is whether there will be administrative fallout from either scandal. I would not be shocked if Rick Pitino ends up stepping down from his post — especially if the NCAA deems the Cardinals’ self-imposed penalties insufficient. But I would be shocked if Roy Williams did.

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

  2. Coaching Carousel: This is a slow year for the ACC in terms of coaching turnover. Pittsburgh lost Jamie Dixon to his alma mater, TCU, and Georgia Tech fired Brian Gregory. The Yellow Jackets were initially spurned by Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel and Bryce Drew (who went to Vanderbilt instead), and after reports that Cal’s Cuonzo Martin was their top candidate, athletic director Mike Bobinski hired Josh Pastner away from Memphis. Pastner is far from a sure thing in this spot, but he should be able to put more talented teams on the floor. Whether those teams will have more success than what Gregory mustered (two teams with winning records; no NCAA Tournament appearances) remains to be seen. In Pittsburgh, many fans were upset with the hiring of Kevin Stallings away from Vanderbilt (ironically, the response from Commodores’ fans mirrored Dayton fans after Georgia Tech hired Gregory). Stallings will have his work cut out for him in the Steel City, but he was a solid coach with several very good teams in Nashville. Like Jamie Dixon, he may have stuck around the same place a little too long, but there’s no reason to think he won’t do reasonably well there. Read the rest of this entry »
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North Carolina’s No Good Very Bad Ending to Fairy Tale Season

Posted by Matt Patton on April 7th, 2016

There’s no arguing that North Carolina is among college basketball royalty. The Tar Heels are one of only three programs with a truly national fan base (the other two are Duke and Kentucky). They own five national championships and consistently recruit a level of talent that most programs can only dream of. But with the news of a multi-year academic scandal and corresponding NCAA investigation hanging overhead, the carefully-curated lustre of “the Carolina Way” had faded. The uncertainty of the drawn-out investigation resulted in a surplus of negative recruiting and several classes that lagged behind the other national powerhouses.

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (Photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

“When you’re a kid growing up, you don’t dream of missing the last second shot, or a team beating you at the buzzer,” he said. “You dream of having that moment. That confetti. Seeing your family over there crying tears of joy. Hugging guys you’ve had blood, sweat and tears with for four years. That’s what you dream of. We were close to that dream.”Marcus Paige

All of this set the stage for Roy Williams to rebrand his team — one of college basketball’s elites — as a Cinderella despite starting the season as the top dog (preseason AP #1). Some experts quickly left the Tar Heels’ bandwagon after they blew a mid-November double-figure second half lead at Northern Iowa (a team that was ultimately one broken press away from the Sweet Sixteen, remember). A narrative has existed over the last few years — promoted incessantly by Dan Dakich’s egocentric view of history — that North Carolina lacked toughness. The early loss to the Panthers played into that narrative, but it more or less became gospel when the Tar Heels allowed a lesser Duke squad to steal a February victory in Chapel Hill even with Matt Jones injured for most of the game. Suddenly Doug Gottlieb was mentioning that Williams was considering retirement to allow Hubert Davis to assume the helm. Since that loss on February 17, the Tar Heels played with an “us against the world” mentality that we hadn’t seen from them. Read the rest of this entry »

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On Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim: Hall of Fame Alumni

Posted by Matt Patton on April 2nd, 2016

Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim couldn’t seem more different on most days. Both reflect their environments: one is a cranky New Yorker; the other sounds every bit like he grew up in Swannanoa, North Carolina (a town of fewer than 5,000 people in the eastern North Carolina mountains). But the two have fascinating reputations to unpack.

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, left, and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, right, greet each other before for the start of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. Syracuse won 57-45. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, left, and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, right, greet each other before for the start of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. Syracuse won 57-45. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

Williams was a longtime assistant for Dean Smith, and he rarely lets an opportunity get by without letting you know about it. Everything from his disinterest in calling timeouts to stop opponent runs to his frequent first half subbing harken back to his assistant coaching tenure under Smith. After a decade on the Tar Heels’ bench, Williams left in 1988 to take over a Kansas program in disarray as a result of Larry Brown. Hardly a rebuilding job, though, Williams made the NCAA Tournament in every year he was in Lawrence except his first (the Jayhawks were still on probation). He wound up taking Kansas to the Final Four a total of four times, including the 2002-03 season, right before he left for Chapel Hill. At the time, Williams famously said, “I could give a sh– about North Carolina,” immediately following his championship game loss to (ironically) Jim Boeheim and Syracuse.

Back at his alma mater starting in 2003, Williams took over a floundering program that had lost 36 games in its previous two seasons (it would take Williams six years to log 36 losses). Matt Doherty bequeathed him a young team with many of the players Williams would ride to his first national championship — Raymond Felton, Jawad Williams, Sean May and Jackie Manuel. But Williams’ Tar Heels bore no resemblance to the ones coached by Doherty. They ran like the wind and turned the undersized May into an unstoppable juggernaut. It’s impossible to consider now, but North Carolina was arguably one more bad hire away from long-term irrelevance (with Coach K just down the road having just won his third championship in 2001).

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