ACC Weekend Preview: February 24-25

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 24th, 2018

With just two regular season weekends remaining in ACC play, there is still much to be determined. Teams are battling to finish among the top four and receive the corresponding double-bye in the ACC Tournament, and there are a handful of bubble teams that need wins to boost their resumes. (All rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 24

Louisville Might be in Trouble (USA Today Images)

  • Louisville (#38) at Virginia Tech (#28). This is an absolutely monster game for David Padgett‘s Cardinals. Louisville has exactly one win — at Florida State — worth bragging about, and if the season ended today, the Cardinals would be headed to the NIT. They had big chances to add important wins in their past two games, but Louisville responded with one of their worst defensive performances of the year (122.4 Defensive Rating against North Carolina) and one of their worst offensive performances of the year (77.8 Offensive Rating against Duke). In their 94-86 victory against Virginia Tech earlier this year, the Cardinals posted a (non-Pitt) season-high effective field goal conversion rate of 63.6 percent. If this team wants to make the NCAA Tournament, it will need similar offensive performances down the stretch, beginning this weekend in Blacksburg.
  • Boston College (#82) at Miami (#40). Boston College is much improved in Jim Christian’s fourth year at the helm, and much of that improvement is from the absolutely incredible year junior guard Jerome Robinson is having in Chestnut Hill. Robinson, presumably a unanimous First Team All-ACC selection next month, is the second-leading scorer in the league (20.5 PPG). He’s been even better in ACC games, averaging 24.7 points per game and putting up a 123.4 Offensive Rating. Most importantly, Robinson and running mate Ky Bowman have made Eagles basketball fun to watch. If both return next year, this team will be in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

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On Arizona’s Uncertain (Immediate?) Future…

Posted by Adam Butler on February 23rd, 2018

Allonzo Trier’s suspension yesterday came with great emotion, at least from the perspective of an Arizona fan. Immediately, it’s upsetting. Trier is in his third season in Tucson but it’s been closer to one-and-a-half. It was a broken hand during his freshman year that led to missing seven critical mid-conference games. The Wildcats went 5-2 in his absence during that stretch. They’d finish 6-4 upon his return. His sophomore campaign started in January because of a 19-game suspension. The Wildcats went 17-2 without him and 15-3 after his return. So while his absence hasn’t always led to Arizona’s demise, his absence isn’t welcomed either. The presumed irresponsibility of accepting unknown substances isn’t quickly forgiven.

Will Allonzo Trier Ever Play at Arizona Again (USA Today Images)

And now Arizona finds itself without Trier again as the same reason for last season’s suspension has re-emerged. According to the school, trace amounts of his last failed test were found after a late January drug test. As we said, it’s immediately upsetting. But consider the case of Kolton Houston. The Georgia football player tested positive, was approved by the NCAA to return, but only upon clearing the drug completely from his system. Turns out that clearing certain drugs is hard to do and Houston spent all his eligibility and a lot of money trying to play again. Houston is a case by which we might sympathize with Trier. Further, the NCAA just isn’t a group we generally laud for its jurisprudence. Typically, the opposite.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 22nd, 2018

Here is the latest edition of our weekly view at the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their conference records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics, and trends around the conference. This week we will look at the how ACC teams have performed in the nail-biter games — conference games decided by one or two possessions. Finally, we will forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, February 20.

Current Standings

With very few exceptions, the standings to date correspond well with each team’s points per possession margin (PPM). Notre Dame is the only school with a losing conference record that doesn’t also have a negative PPM — mostly because of the Irish’s 30-point thumping of N.C. State in early January. Without that abnormal game included in the data, Notre Dame would have logged a -0.03 PPM, which is more in line with its record. Speaking of the Wolfpack, they join Virginia Tech as the only two ACC squads with winning records despite a negative PPM. In our special statistical focus of the week below, we will explain why that is the case.

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ACC Conversation: The Elite Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Mick McDonald, Matt Auerbach on February 21st, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald took some time this week to chat about what they like and dislike about the ACC’s top contenders and whether they think a team from the conference’s middle tier could make some noise in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Does Virginia Have Enough Inside Offense to Win in March? (USA Today Images)

  • Brad Jenkins: OK Mick. Why don’t you kick it off with your thoughts on Virginia?
  • Mick McDonald: Because of the pace they play, the Virginia guards aren’t getting enough credit on the offensive end. Having three guys who can shoot like Ty Jerome/Kyle Guy/Devon Hall is usually a good way to win in March. That said, if the jumpers aren’t falling (like in the Virginia Tech game), can they generate enough offense? It’s why DeAndre Hunter is such a huge piece for them. He can create mismatches and they need to work to find him shots (like in the Miami game) to get their offense going. Also, I’m not convinced Isaiah Wilkins is 100 percent. I think his back may still be bothering him and that’s worth keeping an eye on over the next few weeks.
  • Brad Jenkins: My concern is very similar. Virginia just doesn’t get many points that aren’t on jumpers from 15 feet out. Hunter has been playing great and definitely gives them more of a dynamic scorer, but if he’s out there in the last 10 minutes, who do you take off the floor? Not sure Wilkins at the five will work against bigger teams they may see in March.
  • Mick McDonald: It’s definitely an issue. They are going to have to shoot it well to make the Final Four. I do think between Jack Salt and Mamidi Diakite they have enough bodies to make the five-spot work, but they aren’t getting any offense there.
  • Brad Jenkins: The ACC Tourney will be important for them. Past NCAA failures have to be in the back of their mind. I think it would be a huge confidence boost if they cut down the nets in Brooklyn, especially considering how good Duke and North Carolina suddenly look.
  • Mick McDonald: Yes and no. I do think an ACC title would help their confidence… but this team might go 17-1 in the league, including getting the “win at Cameron” monkey off the program’s back. Tony Bennett has won an ACC Tournament. I don’t think a loss on Friday would doom them. I also think they’ll probably have the #1 seed in the South locked up prior to the ACC Tournament, which is important.
  • Brad Jenkins: But they’ve been a #1 seed before, so maybe this will be the year. That defense will keep them in any game, but that tempo will also keep opponents in the game. Moving on to Duke. Is there a real correlation to Grayson Allen finding his game and Marvin Bagley III being out?

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Providence Offense is Too Reliant on Kyron Cartwright

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 21st, 2018

As mentioned in Rush the Court‘s season preview on Providence, the key question for Ed Cooley‘s group was whether it could break into the Big East’s upper echelon. The optimistic stance was that a senior-laden group coming off of three consecutive NCAA Tournaments with one of the best point guards in the nation in Kyron Cartwright was bound to turn the corner and take up residence in the Top 25. And yet the Friars, plagued by inconsistency this season, have fallen short. With a 17-10 (8-6 Big East) record heading into tonight’s game against Seton Hall, a fourth straight trip to the Dance seems likely despite a sputtering offense that has frustrated everyone associated with the program. The search for an offensive solution extends in a number of different directions, but it ultimately stops with the play of the Providence seniors. A look under the hood — especially at Cartwright’s offensive production — reveals a team that struggles to effectively score against quality competition. The senior’s shooting figures, in particular, are at a career-high mark, but his performance against top 50 opponents drops considerably.

The above table compares the difference in Cartwright’s KenPom Offensive Rating, effective field goal percentage, and assist rate against top 50 opponents versus the entire regular season. In other words, his junior year Offensive Rating was two percent better in top 50 match-ups (104.9) than throughout the full season (102.6). Player performance should naturally decline against better competition, but Cartwright performed slightly better against those outfits during his junior season. The troubling trend here, however, is the noticeable drop-off that his offensive efficiency has suffered this year against good competition — a 17 percent drop in Offensive Rating, six percent drop in effective field goal percentage and a nominal drop in assist rate. Because of its league-best defense, Providence doesn’t need 20 points per game from Cartwright to be successful, but it desperately needs additional sources of efficient scoring in those key top 50 match-ups.

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Can Georgia Save Mark Fox’s Job?

Posted by David Changas on February 20th, 2018

After an impressive week that included an overtime win in Gainesville to complete a season sweep of Florida followed by an 11-point home win against Tennessee, Georgia has suddenly put itself in position to make a run to the NCAA Tournament — and, by proxy, save head coach Mark Fox’s job. Prior to the win against the Gators, the Bulldogs had compiled a 4-8 SEC record and lost six of their previous seven games. But even during that dismal run, this was not a team that was completely devoid of hope. Given that Georgia possibly has the best player in the SEC in senior forward Yante Maten and had excruciatingly blown double-digit leads at Auburn and against Arkansas in late January, it was clearly a better team than its record. Had the Bulldogs avoided meltdowns in those two contests, the possibility of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the third time in Fox’s nine seasons in Athens would have been realistic. Even without those victories, a 15-11 (6-8 SEC) Georgia team isn’t completely finished just yet.

Mark Fox needs his team to finish strong to earn a tenth season at Georgia (John Kelly/UGA)

During his tenure in Athens — a school where admittedly basketball has been and remains a clear afterthought, even by SEC standards — Fox has always been regarded as an underachieving but solid coach who has enough respect from his peers and administration to earn more time. Some would argue that his lackluster overall record, which includes three 20-win seasons but no NCAA Tournament wins, has not been good enough to justify keeping him around in a rapidly improving league. And after Georgia lost its third game in a row on February 10 – a 78-61 home thrashing at the hands of Auburn – it appeared as if Fox’s tenure might be nearing an end. Last week’s performance, however, at least offers a glimmer of hope that he can save his job.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.20.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 20th, 2018

This weekend it was as if traveling ACC squads were on a Disney vacation with six road teams coming out on top. Before Saturday’s action, ACC teams had won 64 percent of their home games this year, but only hapless Pittsburgh (at Florida State) failed to win away from home this weekend. Among the successful road warriors, Duke beat Clemson in a battle for second place in the league, North Carolina continued its winning ways by rolling past Louisville, and Syracuse got back in the bubble conversation by upsetting Miami. In other action, Notre Dame got a superb game from Matt Ferrell to beat Boston College before dropping a game to Miami, and surging NC State handled Wake Forest. Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action around the ACC.

Gabe DeVoe and his teammates struggled to score against Duke’s zone defense in the Tigers’ home loss Sunday afternoon. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

  • Best Win: Duke used its improving defense to pick up a big 66-57 win in Littlejohn Coliseum on Sunday. With each team missing a key player — Marvin Bagley III (Duke) and Shelton Mitchell (Clemson) — the weekend’s marquee ACC contest turned into a low-possession slugfest. After trailing for most of the second half, the Tigers reeled off 10 consecutive points to tie the game before Duke answered with the game’s final nine points. Duke has now won three straight games without Bagley in the lineup as Grayson Allen (19 points) has played much better, but the biggest difference for the Blue Devils lately has been on the defensive end. Playing a zone almost exclusively, Duke held Clemson to just 24.2 percent shooting in the second half and has now held 10 of its last 12 opponents under 1.0 point per possession.

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What We Learned From a Wild Week in the Big Ten

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2018

From massive upsets to historic comebacks and some ridiculous individual performances in-between, it was one heck of a week in the Big Ten. Let’s examine a few key takeaways.

Purdue should be just fine, assuming Vincent Edwards returns to action. (John Terhune/Journal & Courier)

  • Purdue fans need not panic (unless, of course, Vincent Edwards’ injury lingers). Entering its game against Ohio State on February 7, Purdue had won 19 straight, sat undefeated in the Big Ten (12-0), and looked seemingly unbeatable — especially in Mackey Arena, where it had crushed its opponents by 27 points per game. Then the Boilermakers stumbled against the Buckeyes. Then they dropped a nail-biter at Michigan State, which was followed by a stunning defeat at Wisconsin on Thursday. Suddenly, there were deep concerns about Matt Painter‘s crew. “Something just feels different,” senior Vincent Edwards said of the team’s struggles last Thursday. Take a step back and examine the losses, though, and it’s clear that bad luck was partially at play. Were it not for a last second tip-in against Ohio State and a last second three-pointer versus Michigan State, perhaps the Boilermakers would have gone 3-1 in their last four games. Maybe even 4-0. Their close win over red-hot Penn State on Sunday shows just how fine the line is between a quality win and a “problematic” loss. If there is real cause for concern, it’s this: Edwards (14.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG) missed the game against the Nittany Lions with an injured ankle. Assuming he doesn’t miss extended time down the stretch, Purdue should still be considered a Final Four contender. If his injury lingers, then the Boilers can panic.

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Big 12 Weekend In Review

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 19th, 2018

Another weekend of Big 12 action is in the books, and with it another dramatic set of games, each one carrying significant implications on both the league standings and the at-large picture for the NCAA Tournament. With Kansas and Texas Tech drawing back to even with four games remaining — including a crucial head-to-head match-up this coming Saturday — there’s still plenty of intrigue even if Saturday night’s events in Lawrence gave the impression that a 14th straight conference title for the Jayhawks is likelier than the standings suggest.

Bob Huggins became the latest visiting coach to show his frustration with the officiating at Allen Fieldhouse. (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World)

  • Starting with the weekend’s marquee game between Kansas and West Virginia, Bob Huggins’ comments on the officiating, while valid, also left me ambivalent. Huggins certainly made a strong point when he pushed for referees to be made available to media after games in a fashion similar to that of coaches and players. The game as a whole would benefit, but as The Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger wrote in his postgame column, Huggins is probably not the right messenger for that idea when you consider his own team’s style of play. That said, while the 35-2 free throw disparity between the Jayhawks and Mountaineers drew the lion’s share of attention, caution should be exercised from draw sweeping conclusions. After all, the Mountaineers held a double-digit lead with fewer than 10 minutes to go despite the difference in free throw attempts, and West Virginia attempted just six shots at the rim all game long — compared with 13 by the Jayhawks. When a team fails to attack the tin, it will have a much harder time getting foul calls, especially on the road. Again, that isn’t to absolve John Higgins’ officiating crew from some responsibility here, but proper context is the name of the game when it comes to wide free throw disparities, even in extreme cases like this one.

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 17-18

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 16th, 2018

Somehow, there are just three weekends of play left in the ACC regular season. While Virginia appears to have the regular season title locked up, there is still much to be decided below the Cavaliers in the standings. (All rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 17

Not Even Jim Boeheim is Sure Where the Orange Are Headed (USA Today Images)

  • Syracuse (#50) at Miami (#37). The Orange suffered a home loss to NC State on Wednesday, one they may very well regret they let slip away on Selection Sunday. Syracuse currently has just one Q1 win (a road victory over Louisville) on its resume, so it still has significant work to do to make the NCAA Tournament. The good news? Plenty of opportunities remain, beginning with a trip to Miami tomorrow. The Syracuse defense has been stingy against ACC foes, as usual, allowing ACC opponents to shoot just 39.9 percent from the field (second in the ACC). The issue has been on the offensive end, where the Orange are making just 42.3 percent of their own shots. If they want to score enough to win key games down the stretch, they need Tyus Battle’s sidekick, Oshae Brissett, to continue his recent scoring pace. Over his past three games, Brissett is averaging 18.7 PPG and shooting 50 percent from the three-point line.
  • NC State (#55) at Wake Forest (#84). Ask any Wolfpack fan what comes after an important win? The answer would be a loss to a bad team. It has certainly been that way in much of NC State’s past, and has even reared its ugly head in Kevin Keatts’ first season at the helm in Raleigh (e.g., beat Arizona, lose to Northern Iowa.) So, forgive them if they aren’t exactly looking forward to a trip to Winston-Salem this weekend after an important road win at Syracuse earlier this week. NC State handled the Demon Deacons in Raleigh in mid-January, thanks to 22 points from Omer Yurtseven. And while the sophomore big man has been outstanding for most of this season, he has also begun to slow a bit. In his last four games, Yurtseven has averaged just 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 48.6 percent from the field (down from 59.5 percent on the season). Keatts will need his big man to have another big night if the Wolfpack are to avoid yet another letdown.

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