Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume II

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 24th, 2020

This is the second 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. 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 Wednesday, January 22.

Current Standings

Looking at the current standings, there are three tiers of teams at or above .500 in conference play. At the top, Duke holds a significant advantage over Florida State and Louisville in efficiency margin, but that margin is largely because the Blue Devils have played the weakest schedule in the ACC thus far — beating four bottom-dwellers by over 30 points each. Among the three schools with 5-3 records, Syracuse is playing the best basketball on a per-possession basis, thanks in great part to the Orange’s acumen on the road (more on that below). Virginia is the only team sporting a 4-4 league mark that has a positive efficiency margin, but the Cavaliers have struggled in close games, dropping all four contests by fewer than eight points. Miami looks like the ACC’s worst squad from an efficiency standpoint, but nobody has faced the ominous slate of conference games that the Hurricanes have to date. Miami has already met Duke and Louisville twice, and lost to Florida State in overtime last Saturday.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Home Court Advantage?

Things are not going as expected for host teams in the ACC this year. With 39 percent of league games already in the books, visiting squads are winning more than half of the time. The chart above shows how ACC home court advantage has worked over the last seven seasons. The national average for home court winning percentage has hovered around 60 percent in recent years and is at 59.9 percent so far in 2020. The ACC is clearly the outlier among major conferences this year – all other Power Six leagues have a home floor winning rate of over 63 percent (including the Big Ten’s incredible 80 percent).

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ACC Stock Report: Volume V

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 22nd, 2020

Back to back losses by previously unbeaten Duke have opened up the standings at the top of the league, as Florida State and Louisville are now tied for the conference lead at 6-1. Below those three schools, however, is an unusually soft middle, littered with a number of teams that have proven capable of pushing their respective seasons in either direction during the final six weeks.  One of those teams leads our stock report this week.

Stock Rising

C’mon, Boeheim, You Team is Looking Up (USA Today Images)

Syracuse. After an 8-7 start, the Orange have reeled off three consecutive victories, putting themselves squarely back in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament berth. Generally speaking, Syracuse seasons turn most often on a tightening of the defensive screws, but this turnabout has been sparked by an offensive renaissance, highlighted by an uncommon adeptness from beyond the arc.

In the last nine seasons, Syracuse finished among the top 100 in three-point shooting just once. This year, however, the Orange rank 49th, at a respectable 36.3 percent, with 170 total makes. Armed with the league’s two most prolific long-range shooters in Buddy Boeheim and Elijah Hughes, Syracuse has shifted its style to fit those pieces, taking nearly 46 percent of its field goal attempts outside of the arc. This represents the highest percentage of those shots by a Jim Boeheim squad in the KenPom era.

While Hughes was the centerpiece of any Syracuse success this year, the coach’s son was far from a known commodity after experiencing some struggles. But, Boeheim came into his sophomore year confident and improved, and his recent heater has resulted in 67 made triples, good for fifth nationally. His 16.2 PPG, combined with Hughes’ 19.3 PPG, make the duo the highest scoring pair in the ACC, giving aid to a Syracuse defense which rates surprisingly low this season (96th) in defensive efficiency. In fact, if the Orange finish in that range, it would represent the second-worst defensive unit for Boeheim in the KenPom era.

In an unusually mediocre year for the league, the team that captures the ACC crown may just end up being the hottest outfit, warts and all. Syracuse may have found something here, playing to its strengths offensively and hoping that its historically good defensive scheme can overcome non-ideal personnel. Its remaining schedule is manageable enough, but if the two sharpshooters remain hot, it is conceivable that Syracuse could head to Greensboro in March as a top-three seed.

Stock Also Rising

David Johnson Spent Ample Time on the Rims at Duke (USA Today Images)

David Johnson, Louisville. Let’s stay positive this week: Hello to Virginia’s presence on the bubble, and North Carolina’s cellar-dwelling. But even the most pollyanna of Louisville supporters acknowledged that the team’s point guard play could prove to be the factor that holds the team back from achieving its maximum potential. But, following his two best games as a collegian, freshman David Johnson went a long way in allaying some of those concerns.

Good in the mid-week victory at Pittsburgh, Johnson was dynamite in the upset of Duke, leading the Cardinals with a career-high 19 points and seven assists. Named the league’s Freshman of the Week after nearly eclipsing his entire year’s production in two victories, Johnson is a player who possesses elite size at the point guard position. Johnson sustained a shoulder injury with three minutes remaining in Saturday’s contest, but all indications are the injury is reportedly nowhere near as serious as the shoulder ailment that caused him to miss the first four games of his rookie campaign. If healthy, Johnson could be the missing ingredient to elevate Chris Mack’s club back into the conversation of the nation’s elite.

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Weekend Notebook: Big 12 Elite Hit the Road

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2020

It’s been a strange year around college basketball, and in some ways, the Big 12 is no different. Yes, Baylor and Kansas are leading the league, as expected, but with the Bears and Jayhawks flanked by West Virginia, three teams rank among the top five of KenPom‘s overall adjusted efficiency rankings, which is definitely something new. Similarly, whereas we’re used to seeing depth and NCAA Tournament-caliber teams down to the seventh or eighth spot, this year the middle looks more hollow with Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma State really scuffling.

Are These the Best Two Teams in College Basketball? (USA Today Images)
  1. As it turns out, all three of those teams will be on the road this weekend, with Baylor paying a visit to Oklahoma State, Kansas flying down to Austin and West Virginia doing battle with Kansas State in Manhattan. All three are also expected to win, which probably says more about the quality of the league’s bottom half than anything else. If the season ended today and this were a normal year, you wouldn’t see seven or eight teams getting into the NCAA Tournament like usual. The Cowboys have been completely overmatched in league play with Cameron McGriff and Lindy Waters underperforming and Isaac Likelele still limited after missing four games with an undisclosed illness. Texas is looking feisty, but while Kansas State was expected to have a down year, the Wildcats are still trying to find their way, and it doesn’t help that the team has no idea what to expect out of Cartier Diarra on a nightly basis. I expect the bottom of the league to get better as we get into February, but the top should maintain its stranglehold this weekend.
  2. Announcers have been quick to note it, as have many in the national media, but I continue to be fascinated by the two-way consistency of Udoka Azubuike. Oklahoma shot a paltry 1-for-8 on dunks and layups Tuesday night with the Jayhawks’ big man moving incredibly well to disrupt close looks. Not only is he blocking shots at a higher rate than last season, but he’s somehow found a way to be even more efficient on offense, putting up a shooting percentage (or let’s just be real – dunking percentage) of 76.9 percent. The next few games should provide some opportunities for him to do well on offense as the team continues to work without a fully healthy Devon Dotson.
  3. Iowa State is really going through it as the Cyclones have had a terrible time stringing together any semblance of consistency. Smart defenses have realized that Tyrese Haliburton can’t hit a jump shot to save his life and are hedging away on pick-and-rolls, daring him to connect. In Haliburton’s defense, other playmakers have been tough to come by on the Iowa State roster, which I suppose is what can happen when you lose two talents like Lindell Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker. But the rest of the team isn’t exactly young, and as much as some fans are ready to move on from the head coaching tenure of Steve Prohm, that’s not happening anytime soon (nor should it). The Cyclones just don’t have a lineup that works against quality opponents and things only appear to get tougher from here. Wednesday’s loss at Baylor marked the beginning of a stretch of five road games out of seven. My guess is that this time next month, the team will have dug itself too big a hole to return to the NCAA Tournament, but I do think there remains some untapped potential with this squad.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 17th, 2020

With exactly 30 percent of conference play now in the books, it’s time to take a look inside the ACC numbers. This is the first 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. 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 Wednesday, January 15.

Current Standings

This early in the conference slate, efficiency numbers can be highly skewed by blowouts. Case in point, Syracuse ranks third in efficiency margin, largely due to 25+ point wins over Georgia Tech and Boston College. Likewise, Jim Christian’s Eagles are .500 in the standings but dead last in efficiency margin because they’ve been outscored in their three losses by a total of 84 points. Virginia is worse in the standings compared to their per-possession play because of its inability to win tight contests. The Cavaliers have tasted defeat each time that they were in a game decided by fewer than eight points. Tony Bennett needs to figure that out as Virginia seems headed for more tight affairs due to its slow pace of play, stingy defense (ranking first in the ACC) and anemic offense (dead last in the leaguge). A depleted North Carolina squad has been reeling lately, and things may get even worse – the Tar Heels’ struggles have occurred against the easiest schedule in the league to date.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Offensive Efficiency Woes

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ACC Stock Report: Volume IV

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 15th, 2020

Stock Rising

What a Wild Four-Day Stretch for Clemson Basketball (USA Today Images)

Clemson. Weeks don’t come much better than this, football results notwithstanding, as the Tigers backed up an historic victory in Chapel Hill with a home stunner over conference unbeaten Duke on Tuesday night. Given the state of North Carolina basketball this winter, there was a reasonable expectation that this year’s opportunity was ripe for Clemson to put a halt to the mind-numbing string of 59 consecutive losses on the road. There was no such assumption, however, when #3 Duke came to town, but the Tigers put together their best 40-minute effort of the season on their way to upending the top-rated KenPom outfit in impressive fashion.

While the headlines were focused on snapping the ignominious and unprecedented losing streak at North Carolina, the details paint a less optimistic picture. The Tigers needed a miraculous comeback — they were down 10 points inside two minutes in Chapel Hill — just to force overtime, where they ultimately outlasted the Tar Heels. But the good vibes and positive momentum weren’t going to be good enough to take down Duke, who has been running roughshod through a very down ACC, and had seemingly separated itself as the team to beat. Instead, though, the 9-7 Tigers put together a remarkably well-balanced performance in handing Duke its first loss since an upset to Stephen F. Austin on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

Clemson shot a scorching 56.6 percent from the floor, the best clip by a Blue Devils’ opponent in nearly six years. Perhaps even more pertinent to the upset was the Tigers’ ability to keep Duke from converting second-chance opportunities. This is not a vintage Duke team from the perimeter, but they have been able to maul teams on the offensive glass, rebounding their misses at the seventh-best rate in the country (37.2% Off Reb). Tuesday, Clemson limited Duke to just four offensive rebounds, and that, combined with its blistering shooting, was the combination that Brad Brownell’s club needed to climb back to .500 in league play and put a bow on one of the school’s most triumphant weeks in hardwood history.

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Five Questions: Big East Midseason

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on January 15th, 2020

It feels like just yesterday that the season was tipping off and we were examining the biggest questions each Big East team would face this season, trying to fit new players into the puzzle, and evaluating offseason departures. But here we are at the midpoint of the season, and while there has been plenty of clarity around the conference’s contenders, the questions continue to pop up faster than the answers. Below, Big East microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro attempt to tackle the biggest ones at this point of the year.

1. Providence is off to a surprising 3-1 start. Is it too little too late or can you see a path for a tournament bid?

Where Does Providence Go From Here? (USA Today Images)

BC: Unfortunately, I think it’s too little too late for Providence. Despite an impressive 3-1 start that includes two road wins, the Friars likely need to get to 12-6 to make up for their awful non-conference start. Their schedule will only get tougher from here — providing more opportunities — but will also expose their inconsistent offense. Tonight’s game versus St. John’s is basically a must-win at this point because it may be their easiest remaining game on the schedule. Providence needs more contributions from AJ Reeves and Luwane Pipkins, who combined to shoot 1-of-11 against Butler last Friday.

JK: The best part about the Big East is that there’s no shortage of opportunities for quality wins. I’ve seen a record of 12-6 quoted on Providence’s message boards as the golden record, and honestly, it probably gets them there. That puts the Friars at 19-12 overall, ranked among in the top three of the conference standings, and presumably includes eight or so wins over NCAA Tournament teams. The home game loss against Butler last Friday was definitely a missed opportunity, but the Friars have definitely turned a corner. Alpha Diallo is finally getting (creating) good looks around the hoop; guard Maliek White has found consistent scoring; and the defense was successful in forcing opponents to take tough shots. A four-game winning streak featured some of the best two-point defense all season. That said, it’s an uphill climb to get to 12-6 — this team can’t afford any missed opportunities.

2. Marquette and Xavier are squaring off tonight and both stand at 1-3 heading into that game. Which team is more likely to right the ship and continue on the Tournament track?

JK: This is tough. Both teams have significant holes (interior offense for Marquette; shooting for Xavier) but Marquette probably has the higher ceiling and is therefore more likely to right the ship. Xavier is awkwardly constructed by lacking a true point guard, and aside from KyKy Tandy, you more or less know what you’re getting with this team. On the other hand, with Markus Howard consistently putting up 25-30 points per game, there’s a floor for Marquette that hopefully encourages more production from Brendan Bailey or Koby McEwen. But most of all, the team desperately needs Theo John to give something — anything — in the post. The 6’9″ big man has been saddled with foul trouble and awkwardly low efficiency around the hoop, contributing to an offense that ranks 338th (!) nationally in field goal conversions at the rim. No matter how much the defense has improved this season, interior offense is going to hold this team back.

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ACC Decade in Review, Part 2: The Five Best Players

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 10th, 2020

As the new new decade gets under way, it’s a good time to reflect on the past 10 years of basketball in the ACC. Recently, the Rush the Court ACC microsite team — Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) — got together to select the five best teams and players that the league has produced from the 2009-10 through 2018-19 seasons. Today we reveal our choices for the top five ACC players of the decade. Of course, selecting an All-Decade team is always a subjective exercise, but it’s now more difficult than ever, considering the current makeup of college basketball. How does one definitively compare one-and-done freshmen phenoms with solid four-year performers? And what about other players that leave school early after stellar sophomore or junior campaigns? No doubt, this was a much easier process when college basketball’s best stuck around campus for most of their careers. Case in point, in the past 10 seasons, only four players were selected first team All-ACC more than once. An average of 11 players earned that distinction in the prior three decades. With the current state of affairs in the sport, we are forced to put more weight on individual season accomplishments – all five of our selections below were consensus first team All-America selections in their last, or only, year of college action. Four won ACC Player of the Year honors in those decorated seasons, and the only one who did not was beaten out in the voting by another member of our top five. Here are our choices for the ACC’s All-Decade team.

MALCOLM BROGDON, VIRGINIA 2012-16 (Player of the Decade)

Malcolm Brogdon was the only player of the decade to be named a 3-time All-ACC First-Teamer. (Getty Images)

The most accomplished four-year performer of the past 10 seasons, Brogdon was the steady force behind Virginia’s rise to prominence. During his last three seasons, Virginia went 45-9 in ACC play with Brogdon being named first team All-ACC each year by the league’s coaches. As a senior, he not only won ACC Player of the Year, but was also selected as the conference’s top defender. National honors poured in as well – along with earning consensus first team All-America honors, he was named National Defensive Player of the Year by the NABC. During his time in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers won two ACC regular season crowns and captured the ACC Tournament title in 2014. The only blemish on Brogdon’s college basketball resume is the lack of a Final Four appearance. Virginia looked like a shoo-in for the 2016 Final Four, but the Cavaliers squandered a late 15-point lead and lost to Syracuse in the Elite Eight, the final game of Brogdon’s outstanding career.

ZION WILLIAMSON, DUKE 2019

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ACC Stock Report: Volume III

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 8th, 2020

Stock Rising

MJ Walker is Having a Year (USA Today Images)

M.J.Walker. Once considered a possible one-and-done candidate, the former McDonald’s All-American may finally be living up to his immense potential. In Saturday’s upset win over Louisville at the Yum! Center, Walker led the Seminoles with 23 points while making nine of his 13 attempts (including a season-high five threes). Walker has now reached double figures in five of his last six games, and is seemingly rounding into form after missing some time earlier in the year with a nagging leg injury. Once again, Leonard Hamilton’s calling card is great balance, as Florida State sports eight players averaging more than 5.9 points per game, but Walker is the one player with enough upside to carry the team to a deep run in March. While Trent Forrest is the unquestioned leader of the unit, and Devin Vassell’s sophomore production jump has been a very pleasant surprise, the light coming on for Walker may be the development that has the Seminoles vying for a conference title that seems up for grabs.

Stock Holding

Georgia Tech. While the story coming out of Chapel Hill on Saturday was predictably and justifiably centered on the mess that is North Carolina, it is worth noting Georgia Tech’s performance as well. Josh Pastner’s team was ruled ineligible for postseason play before the start of the season, right before coming out of the gates with an opening night upset win at NC State. Since, it has been the sort of nondescript, under the radar season we have grown accustomed to from the Yellow Jackets, so Saturday’s whitewashing of the Tar Heels definitively stands out. The Jackets started the game on a 27-4 run, providing the home team with its largest halftime deficit in the 34-year history of the Smith Center. Point guard Jose Alvarado led the way with 25 points, as Georgia Tech picked up its first victory on the road over the Tar Heels in a decade. Granted these aren’t your grandad’s, dad’s, or even your infant baby’s Tar Heels — especially given the Cole Anthony injury — but nonetheless, it was a great showing by Georgia Tech in a season sure to be devoid of many others.

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ACC Decade in Review, Part 1: The Five Best Teams

Posted by ACC Team on December 26th, 2019

As we approach the beginning of a new decade, it’s a good time to reflect on the past 10 years of basketball in the ACC. Recently, the Rush the Court ACC microsite team — Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) — got together to select the five best teams and players that the league has produced from the 2009-10 through 2018-19 seasons. Today we reveal our choices for the top five ACC teams of the decade. There were a bunch of excellent squads to choose from — 12 ACC teams earned #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament (four each for Duke, North Carolina and Virginia); eight of those advanced to the Elite Eight; and, four ultimately went on to cut down the nets on Monday night. To put these elite squads in order, we not only considered their specific accomplishments but also the competition that presented against them in any given year. Here are our choices for the top five ACC teams of the last decade.

#5) 2018-19 DUKE

Zion Williamson and the 2018-19 Duke Blue Devils fell short of expectations, bowing out to Michigan State in the Regional Finals. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
  • Overall: 32-6 (AP-1)   ACC: 14-4 (3)
  • KenPom: AdjEM – 30.62 (4)   AdjO – 120.0 (7)   AdjD – 89.3 (6)
  • ACCT: Champs   NCAA: L in Regional Finals
  • Key Players: Zion Williamson (22.6 PPG), RJ Barrett (22.6 PPG), Cam Reddish (13.5 PPG).

The year of Zion started with a bang as the Blue Devils blew out Kentucky 118-84 in the Champions Classic season opener, thrusting Duke into an immediate role of national favorite. Led by its two consensus first team All-Americans, Williamson and Barrett, Duke was rolling right along before its season was turned upside down on February 20. That was the night that Zion blew out his shoe and injured his knee in the opening minute of North Carolina’s dominant win over the Blue Devils. Entering that game, Duke was 23-2 and sported a KenPom efficiency margin of 35.92, which was on pace to become the second-best mark of the entire decade (2015 Kentucky – 36.91). The Blue Devils would never be the same. As other top teams around the nation hit their stride in March, Duke regressed. When Williamson returned for the postseason, his young supporting cast appeared both tired and tentative. The Blue Devils were fortunate to get by UCF and Virginia Tech at the buzzer before bowing out to Michigan State, 68-67, in the Elite Eight. In the end, their elite top-end talent couldn’t overcome their woeful outside shooting (30.8% 3FG).

#4) 2009-10 DUKE

  • Overall: 35-5 (AP-3)   ACC: 13-3 (1-Tie)
  • KenPom: AdjEM – 33.29 (1)   AdjO – 121.0 (1)   AdjD – 87.5 (5)
  • ACCT: ACC Champs   NCAA: National Champs
  • Key Players: Jon Scheyer (18.2 PPG), Kyle Singler (17.7 PPG), Nolan Smith (17.4 PPG).

This was probably the toughest team on this list to rate. Their accomplishments and metrics rank among the best of the decade; only last year’s Virginia squad logged a higher KenPom rating; they are one of only two teams to finish among the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency; and they are the only team to win both the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. But the consensus opinion is that this was the least talented of Mike Krzyzewski’s five championship teams. Perhaps it was its style of the play — Duke ranked 229th nationally in tempo –- or the lack of NBA lottery picks that the program is known for. Even though none of the players from this squad reached star status in the pros, five members carved out NBA careers of two or more years. That depth helped Duke rip West Virginia 78-57 in the national semifinals before hanging on to beat Butler in one of the most riveting title games ever. The entire game was played within a window of seven points – Duke’s largest lead was six and Butler’s biggest edge was one. It all came down to Gordon Hayward’s half-court fling that rimmed out at the horn, giving Duke the 61-59 win.

#3) 2016-17 NORTH CAROLINA

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Quarter-Pole Check-In on the Big East

Posted by Brad Cavallaro & Justin Kundrat on December 18th, 2019

We’re only about five weeks into the regular season and yet it feels like an eternity judging by how much has happened thus far. Between the risers and fallers, early season disappointments and pleasant surprises, the Big East has had no shortage of compelling storylines. Below, Big East writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro regroup and recap several of the key questions the conference is facing going into the holidays.

With only a close loss at Baylor, Butler has emerged as a Big East contender (or even front-runner) by analytics and their body of work. Do you see the Bulldogs as a legitimate contender or just a team off to a hot start?

Is Butler the Big East Team to Beat? (USA Today Images)

JK: With Seton Hall floundering and Villanova skirting by against inferior opponents, there’s no question in my mind that Butler is the top dog in the conference right now. The Bulldogs won’t overwhelm you with size or athleticism or shooting or lottery picks, but this team is as cohesive as any in the country. They remind me a bit of some of the Virginia teams in recent years, in that every game is played on Butler’s terms. The Bulldogs currently rank 338th nationally in tempo and opponents are getting just 16.7 percent of their shot attempts in transition, good for 12th nationally. Combine that with a defense that is elite in both defensive rebounding and discouraging perimeter shots and you have a recipe for success — there are no easy buckets with this team. On the other end, there are occasional concerns about the offense over-relying on Kamar Baldwin, but others have stepped up in recent games (here’s looking at you, Sean McDermott). And when opponents are scoring just 54.5 PPG, you don’t need multiple 20+ point scorers on the roster. Anyway, count me in as a buyer of Butler stock.

BC: I think at this point Butler is absolutely a contender. Between Seton Hall’s injuries and Xavier’s recent disappointing play, Butler and Villanova look like the clear front-runners in the Big East. While the Bulldogs do not have top-half conference talent, their excellent chemistry and buy-in from their role players has created a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” scenario. While team synergy looks like the main reason for Butler’s early success, they are also receiving some great individual performances. Baldwin has taken the step from great player to star and the defense has been excellent with players like Aaron Thompson and Bryce Nze setting the tone. I think the most likely scenario is that Butler settles into the #15-#20 range nationally, but if they can get more from Jordan Tucker and Khalif Battle, the ceiling is even higher.

Seton Hall has disappointed, surrendering late game leads versus both Michigan State and Oregon? Can they back up their lofty preseason ranking and who emerges in Mamu’s absence?

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