Key ACC Non-Conference Games For NCAA Hopefuls

Posted by Brad Jenkins on November 19th, 2019

The top five schools in the ACC preseason poll (Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia and Florida State) look like good bets to make the Big Dance this season, but right below that group sits a trio of teams that appear likely to finish in the middle of the league standings. To warrant inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, it may come down to how these squads perform in a handful of key non-conference games. Here’s a look at each team’s three most important contests outside of ACC play, along with a sneaky tough opponent for the trio.

NC State

Kevin Keatts needs his NC State squad to pick up some key non-conference wins in case the Wolfpack is on the NCAA bubble again next March. (Jerome Carpenter/WRAL)
  • Memphis (Brooklyn, NY – Barclays Center Classic) – Thu Nov 28 (4:00 ET ESPN2)
  • Wisconsin (Big Ten/ACC Challenge) – Wed Dec 4 (9:15 ET ESPN2)
  • @ Auburn – Thu Dec 19 (9:00 ET ESPN 2)

The Wolfpack may catch a break on Thanksgiving Day if Memphis freshman phenom James Wiseman is still sitting out with eligibility issues. Either way, if Kevin Keatts finds his team on the NCAA bubble once again, a neutral site win over a top-20 team would look mighty good on its resume. The other two contests are rematches from last year in which the home team triumphed in tightly contested affairs.

Upset Alert: @ UNC Greensboro – Sun Dec 15 (3:00 ET ESPN+)

The Spartans return three starters from a campaign in which they won 29 games and were closer to making the NCAA Tourney than NC State. According to KenPom’s win probability metric, the Wolfpack currently has a 57 percent chance of coming out on top.

Notre Dame

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ACC Stock Report: Volume I

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on November 14th, 2019

While Duke’s victory over Kansas in the Champions Classic and Cole Anthony’s historic start have garnered much of the ACC attention, there are some stories under the surface that are also worth noting. Here’s this season’s initial stock report.

Stock Rising

A Happy Derryck Thornton Has Landed at Boston College (Boston Herald)

Derryck Thornton Four years after starting his career at one of the ACC’s flagship programs, Thornton has started his final collegiate campaign at a perennial cellar dweller, looking to take advantage of a last chance to alter the narrative of a disappointing career. After reclassifying and getting to Duke a year ahead of schedule, Thornton logged an uninspiring season in Durham before ultimately opting for USC rather than compete for point guard minutes with future one-and-doner Frank Jackson. Things never really materialized as anticipated for him in Los Angeles, and now, as he watches contemporaries like De’Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball about to sign their second NBA contracts, Thornton is looking to turn it all around in Chestnut Hill. His early returns have been dynamite. Perhaps now maturing into that five-star prospect, Thornton has piloted the Eagles to a trio of early wins, scoring a career-high 23 in the conference-opening win against Wake Forest, following that up with another 22 in a win over a talented South Florida team and handing out five assists in short minutes against High Point. Popular opinion was that this was a make or break year for Jim Christian at the school, and preseason expectations were portending an inevitable break. But a strong start by Thornton has the Eagles feeling a little bit more optimistic.

Stock Holding

Pittsburgh. It’s tough to make sense of an inconsistent 2-1 start by Pittsburgh, but maybe it should be expected given such a youthful roster. After a gritty opening win against a Florida State team that has since authored a dismantling of top-10 Florida in Gainesville, the Panthers dropped a home game to #256 Nicholls State before going back on the road to pull away late from Robert Morris. The central reason for concern regarding a potential leap for Jeff Capel’s club in year two was an inability to stretch the defense. However, in junior college transfer Ryan Murphy, Pittsburgh may have found a perfect fit to complement attack-first guards Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens. Murphy’s energy and marksmanship shot the Panthers back into the opener against the Seminoles, and his 28 points against Nicholls State nearly singlehandedly avoided the upset. The 6’2” junior has now accounted for half of the Panthers’ 18 triples through the team’s first three contests, and after drawing his first start Tuesday night, he looks to be a fixture for Capel’s squad going forward.

Stock Falling

Jim Boeheim is Already Cranky (USA Today Images)

Jim Boeheim’s Act. After his team’s dreadful opening night performance against Virginia — 34 points on 24 percent shooting — Boeheim lashed out at the ACC, which had the gall in his eyes to “grab the money” and start the season with an intra-league slate to promote the rollout of its newly launched television network. Boeheim has been at this long enough, is certainly smart enough, and is undeniably rich enough, to know that this whole thing is a television show, and that’s why his salary has risen presumably about 40 times to $2.5 million dollars a year over the span of his illustrious 44-year career. Typically, Boeheim doesn’t reach his maximum level of ornery until mid-March when he is defending a weak non-conference schedule, but the combination of opening with the reigning National Champion, and then getting spanked in front of his home crowd, really had him in mid-season form. Fortunately, the Orange will once again play a whole bunch of non-league games (all of them) inside the New York State border before really attacking the teeth of the league docket. His team won’t be any worse, because it won’t face a better defensive unit than Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers, and as Boeheim rightly alluded to, the offenses generally trail the defenses in the early part of the season. And as for Bennett, shouldn’t he have been the coach feeling slighted? His team was forced to open the season on the road at Syracuse? Not a word — just another dominant win, with no whining about it.

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Red River Rising as Texas and Oklahoma Grab Early Resume Wins

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2019

Both Oklahoma and Texas have had their moments in the Big 12, but it would be fair to call them wildcards in recent seasons. Under Lon Kruger‘s leadership, the Sooners have finished as high as second in the conference (2015) and as low as ninth (2017). Under Shaka Smart‘s direction, the Longhorns have finished as high as fourth (2016) and as poorly as last place (2017). While the small sample caveat applies here, the early going this season has given both teams’ fanbases some reason to buy in to 2020.

Lon Kruger (USA Today Images)

Beating one of the worst teams in the Big Ten isn’t going to turn heads on a national level (nor should it), but the Sooners answered the bell over the weekend with a 71-62 semi-road win over Minnesota in Sioux Falls. Like most games around this time of year, a sloppy first half ceded to a 23-4 rager midway through the second half. Oklahoma is hardly a young team, but with the squad graduating five seniors last spring, cohesion was going to be an early question. To their credit, Brady Manek (16.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG) and Kristian Doolittle (10 points, 10 rebounds in his debut against the Gophers) have given Kruger a pair of leaders to which to turn, while Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves (17 PPG, 6 RPG) and sophomore guard Jamal Bienemy should be rotation stalwarts all season long. More tests are on the way, starting with tonight’s matchup against an Oregon State team fresh off a win over Iowa State, but more often than not Kruger can be trusted to get the most out of his players.

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This is a Different Looking Duke Team

Posted by Brad Jenkins on November 11th, 2019

After just two games, it’s obvious that this year’s Duke team is not going to look (or play) like any of head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s recent Blue Devils’ squads. His roster this season is devoid of NBA Lottery talent, so success in Durham in 2019-20 will be much more dependent on a group effort.

Sophomore point guard Tre Jones is Duke’s clear leader at both ends of the court. (AP Photo)

Typically, Duke features two players that dominate the team’s offensive touches — think Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett last season; Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter the year prior; and Jason Tatum and Luke Kennard the season before that. So far, Duke’s new points by committee approach has resulted in good balance – five Blue Devils are averaging between 10.0 and 16.0 points per game. Also, Coach K appears to be altering his traditional method of minutes distribution, i.e., playing more than seven guys. Through the Blue Devils’ first two outings, nine players are seeing more than 12 minutes of action per contest. It’s been a long time since Krzyzewski has employed this approach, a fact he acknowledged after Duke’s 89-55 win over Colorado State on Friday night. “I need to learn how to sub again.” What remains to be seen is whether the lack of a go-to scorer will cost his team in tight-game situations. There is an advantage to having multiple options that defenses must prepare for, but there are also times when somebody just needs to go get a bucket. Early signs suggest that perhaps Cassius Stanley will develop into that guy. Though less heralded than fellow freshmen Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt, Stanley has been Duke’s most impressive rookie to date — leading the team in scoring (16 PPG), while being extremely efficient (13-of-17 FG).

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ACC Opening Game Reactions

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 7th, 2019

No conference launched the college basketball season quite like the ACC, with seven league games already in the books by Wednesday evening, in addition to Duke taking down Kansas in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. Here’s are five things that stood out over the opening two nights of ACC action.

Cole Anthony Blew Everyone Away on Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Cole Anthony is the real deal. Attention to everyone who did not put Cole Anthony on your preseason first-team All-American teams: You were silly and this is just the beginning of how silly you will look. After a slow start in the season opener against Notre Dame, Anthony took over in the second half, finishing with 34 points, 11 rebounds and five assists on 12-of-24 shooting, including 6-of-11 from long-range. The performance was even more critical given that the Tar Heels were short-handed with Brandon Robinson on the shelf. A star is born in Chapel Hill. Now let’s just see if someone can get him some new glasses.

Should we be more worried about Duke’s offense? The Blue Devils notched a big win Tuesday over Kansas in the Champions Classic, but there are definitely concerns about Duke’s offense. The Jayhawks gifted the Devils 26 turnovers, but they still shot just 35.9 percent from the field and didn’t put the game away until the very end. Additionally, Duke made just eight of its 24 three-point attempts. Tre Jones was 0-of-4 from long range and Jack White and Alex O’Connell (2-of-9 combined) didn’t provide an offensive spark off the bench. The good news? There is plenty of time for Mike Krzyzewski to build an offense around Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Cassius Stanley.

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Big East Key Questions: Villanova and Xavier

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 4th, 2019

Villanova: Will the Wildcats’ offense be as effective without a clear go-to guy?

Jay Wright Wonders Where His Offense Will Come From (USA Today Images)

Villanova’s roster last season was missing a perimeter creator and Jay Wright clearly had expected 2018 Final Four MOP Donte DiVincenzo to have filled that role. Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall were terrific on their own, but a supporting cast led by Joe Cremo and Jahvon Quinerly fell woefully short of preseason expectations. Collin Gillespie began to flourish when Booth assumed the go-to scoring role, but he looked overmatched as the lead ball-handler. Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels showed great promise as well, but neither created for themselves very often.

The 2019-20 Wildcats do not have any unforeseen departures, but they did lose the only two players in Booth and Paschall who could consistently put the ball in the basket. A strong group of returnees is bolstered by an excellent freshman class, but it is difficult to see how the Villanova offense moves forward. When you factor in the fifth-year seniors’ wealth of experience and essential contributions, an adjustment period feels inevitable.

Still, most prognosticators disagree. Despite finishing 30th in KenPom last season and losing their two most productive players, the Wildcats are expected by many to be significantly better this season. Villanova has been consistently ranked as a top-10 team in most human polls and computer metrics. I expect Villanova finish closer to 20th nationally. Their defense has elite potential with great positional size and versatility, but the losses of Booth and Paschal — especially on the offensive end — are being undersold. Multiple players will need to take major leaps in their skill set development to become consistent shot creators. Freshman Bryan Antoine was the most logical candidate until his season was jeopardized with a shoulder injury. Bey and Justin Moore could fill that role eventually, but it is probably too soon to place that burden on them. Perhaps big man Jeremiah Robinson-Earl can add an interior scoring punch, but will that be enough?

Xavier: Was last year’s end of season push a mirage or a sign of things to come?

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Big 12 Key Questions: Will Kansas Return to the Top?

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 4th, 2019

You didn’t have to look at the standings last season to know that the Jayhawks weren’t their usual selves. You could throw a dart and hit a valid reason for Kansas missing out on a Big 12 15-peat: A disappointing backcourt outside of Devon Dotson; Udoka Azubuike missing 75 percent of the team’s games with a hand injury, and the frontcourt rotation behind him being terribly ill-equipped to pick up the slack; or the fact that eventual conference champion Texas Tech was flat-out better and Kansas State far more cohesive. With the page turning to 2019-20, though, the Jayhawks will look to avenge last season with a cast of bona fide challengers waiting for the league’s flagship program to stumble.

Bill Self No Longer Has the Pressure of The Streak to Worry About (USA Today Images)

Bill Self‘s team will be much deeper this season. Dedric Lawson is gone, but the Jayhawks return nearly everyone else of consequence. Though the head coach may not say so publicly, it’s tough to ignore the feeling that he isn’t all that heartbroken over losing Charlie Moore and K.J. Lawson, even if Quentin Grimes left Lawrence with a substantial amount of potential that Kelvin Sampson may tap at Houston. In their place, Isaiah Moss and Jalen Wilson should bring the scoring punch Kansas needs to put together the kinds of runs they struggled to assemble a season ago. Defensively, the Jayhawks will be deep and versatile up front. Self could surround Azubuike with another defense-first big like David McCormack or Silvio De Sousa, but with the way basketball has trended over the last few years, a small-ball option emerging among Marcus Garrett or Ochai Agbaji could be what tips the scales, provided of course that Self can keep the noise surrounding the program’s current entanglement with the NCAA from becoming a mitigating factor.

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ACC Burning Questions, Part 5: Duke, North Carolina & Virginia

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 1st, 2019

Duke Burning Question: Who replaces Zion Williamson?

Coach K Has Less Talent This Season But Always Finds a Way (USA Today Images)

Just kidding. No single person can replace what Williamson gave the Blue Devils last season (40.8 PER and 70.8% eFG), which represents one of the best seasons in the history of college basketball.

Actual Duke Burning Question: How will Mike Krzyzewski make all the new pieces fit?

Tre Jones is back to continue to be one of the most pesky on-ball defenders in the country. His pass-first mentality (24.0% assist rate) and ability to take care of the ball (13.2% turnover rate) were an ideal fit with stars like Williamson and RJ Barrett filling lanes. Without the benefit of their transcendent services, however, Duke will need more than just passing and defense from the sophomore. If defenses resort to giving him more space — remember, Jones shot just 26.2 percent from three-point range last season — he needs to knock down open shots at a higher clip for this team to reach its potential.

Duke’s freshman class, as usual, is one of the best in the country. Big man Vernon Carey is an old-school, below the rim player who will be tested against smaller lineups (and may even force Krzyzewski into a zone). Stretch-four Matthew Hurt will provide much needed outside shooting, while athletic wings Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley round out the class. Krzyzewski will also make bigger asks of his returning players. The Blue Devils will rely on Javin DeLaurier (88.8 Defensive Rating) to guard more athletic big men; Alex O’Connell will be asked to add bulk to his 37.5 percent three-point shooting; and Jack White (27.8% 3FG) hopes to regain his stroke. It’s tough to see how these pieces will work together to make Duke an elite squad, but the Hall of Fame coach will no doubt find a way for the puzzle pieces to fit together.

North Carolina Burning Question: Is Cole Anthony college basketball’s next superstar?

Last year, it was Williamson who took the college basketball world by storm. Two seasons ago, it was Oklahoma point guard Trae Young. Here is a bet that North Carolina point guard Cole Anthony becomes the next can’t-miss, Twitter-trending, talking-head magnet of the game this year. We know how much talented point guards can thrive in a Roy Williams offense — it’s also reasonable to suggest that he has never had a talent at that spot quite like Anthony.

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Big East Key Questions: Seton Hall & St. John’s

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 1st, 2019

Seton Hall: Is there enough roster improvement here to warrant a Top 25 ranking?

Myles Powell Dives Back Into Big East Play as a Preseason All-American (USA Today Images)

A recent article over at Three Man Weave highlighted an interesting conundrum: Decent teams with high minutes continuity from the previous season rarely make a big leap. Just two of the 47 data points containing teams with 80%+ minute continuity that finished the prior season between #41-#80 on KenPom finished in KenPom’s top 15 the next year. In other words, the most likely outcome for this year’s Seton Hall team is last season’s result, which would be a huge letdown for a fanbase thirsty for postseason success. Michael Nzei is the only meaningful contributor lost from last year’s squad, and the addition of 7’0″ transfer Ike Obiagu should go a long way in shoring up the Pirates’ lackadaisical post defense. But outside of that, the onus will likely fall on Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden to provide consistent scoring alongside the 23.1 PPG fire hose that is All-American Myles Powell. Cale alternated between a confident, slashing 6’6″ wing who could pour in 20+ points in numerous ways and a forgotten standstill shooter who couldn’t find his mark. Rhoden, on the other hand, is a rising 6’6″ sophomore who demonstrated his tremendous potential in flashes and has the makings of a legitimate breakout candidate with more minutes. Nonetheless, we know what last season’s Seton Hall team was capable of — the question is whether a corner can be turned this season. Let’s see if those players can make the leap.

St. John’s: Can newly minted head coach Mike Anderson bring some defense to Queens?

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ACC Burning Questions, Part IV: Syracuse, Florida State & Louisville

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 30th, 2019

Syracuse Burning Question: Can Elijah Hughes and the Orange make enough shots to spend a March off of the bubble?

It’s No Coincidence the Orange Man Resembles a Bubble (USA Today Images)

For a school with pedigree and a track record of sustained basketball excellence, the last half-decade has been somewhat of a slog for Syracuse. Almost perennially the power school at the heart of the bubble conversation, the Orange have lost 13 or more games in each of the last five campaigns. And with four starters gone from a 20-14 squad, Jim Boeheim‘s roster would suggest another March where his disposition is wrought with anxiety.

To avoid that fate, Syracuse will need to make more shots from all over the court. The Orange rated 229th nationally in effective field goal percentage a season ago, and were objectively poor from beyond the arc (229th), in two-point range (213th) and from the charity stripe (260th). The loss of its most accomplished scorer and offensive initiator, Tyus Battle, isn’t a great start on improving that ineptitude, but perhaps a more featured role for Elijah Hughes would pay dividends. Hughes led the team with 87 threes a year ago, and was the most efficient scorer the Orange had by a comfortable margin. However, he often times deferrred to Battle, Oshae Brissett and even Frank Howard, relegated to a catch-and-shoot man. This year, Hughes will undeniably be the alpha dog, and how he handles that elevation will likely tell the story of Syracuse’s season.

Florida State Burning Question: Is this the new normal at Florida State?

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