ACC M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 26th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Sporting News: Even before Duke manufactured an impressive comeback for Mike Krzyzewski‘s 1,000th win on Sunday, Mike DeCourcy made the case that Coach K is the best coach ever in college basketball. Specifically, DeCourcy makes the case for the ACC legend over John Wooden and his 10 national titles. The problem is (and this is part of his argument) that the game is simply incomparable now to that of UCLA’s heyday. Truthfully, it’s totally different than it was even 15 years ago. And that’s the best argument in favor of Coach K (if you’re one to compare apples and oranges), as he’s succeeded over a huge range of time. He’s easily the most accomplished coach of the modern era, but I’m not ready to sharpie him in over the likes of Bob Knight, Dean Smith or John Wooden in the history books. Each ruled an era and changed the game in their own images. That’s good enough for me.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: Jim Boeheim got a little salty (and rightfully so) that big man Rakeem Christmas was left off the Wooden Award watch list, calling him “probably the best center in the country.” That’s a pretty bold statement with Duke’s Jahlil Okafor playing in the same conference, but it’s true Christmas hasn’t been getting the national credit he deserves for putting up nearly identical numbers to Okafor (marginally fewer points and a little lower percentages, but better defense). Christmas is averaging 18/9 on 60 percent shooting this season, nearly doubling his usage without seeing much of a hit in his efficiency (although his block percentage is down). Here’s to hoping ACC voters give Christmas his due come all-ACC voting season.
  3. Soaring to Glory: So this article is both weirdly pessimistic and optimistic. About Boston College’s current players, it’s very pessimistic. That’s fair considering last season’s dumpster fire, but there’s more talent on this year’s team than say… Virginia Tech. But the roster is pretty thin thanks to Steve Donahue signing no one of consequence and a couple of transfers out of the program. But it’s at least tentatively optimistic on the prospects of first-year head coach, Jim Christian. This year’s group is playing with more heart than last year’s squad, but it’s hard to say how much of that comes from the top and how much comes from the change in player personnel. I think the Eagles are likely better off in the long run with Christian, but until we see what sorts of players he’ll bring to Chestnut Hill, it’s tough to get overly optimistic. In addition to offensive Xs and Os, Donahue excelled at finding “diamonds in the rough” (like Olivier Hanlan); he just couldn’t fill out an ACC-quality roster. Christian isn’t the type of guy who will be in the running for many four-star players, so he’s got to have good evaluation skills to succeed there.
  4. Tallahassee Democrat: Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes is starting to live up to his high school scouting report and fill up the scoring column. He’s still not a good shooter from long range, but he’s averaging 18.5 points a game in ACC play and was lethal against North Carolina over the weekend. Rathan-Mayes is apparently very open to coaching, which is good because he’s also prone to heat checks. You get the feeling that he’s got a chance to be a very special player in Tallahassee if he keeps on this trajectory.
  5. Fayetteville Observer: North Carolina is starting to pile up injuries on the wings that could make running challenging. Theo Pinson broke a bone in his foot, so he’s now sidelined along with Joel Berry and Stilman White. The good news for Tar Heels faithful is that the injury bug has mostly avoided the starters (although Marcus Paige is a little banged up). The bad news is that Berry and Pinson need the playing time to improve (and to give Roy Williams the rotation he likes).
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ACC Stock Watch: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 23rd, 2015

Some of the ACC’s squads righted the ship in a relatively quiet week, while still others affirmed their descent to the cellar of the conference standings. With six weeks remaining in the regular season, there is still plenty of time for teams to ascend or plummet, and we’ll continue to track their progress on a week-to-week basis. Below is this week’s ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • North Carolina. While the Tar Heels’ win over Virginia Tech was less than enthralling, their more impressive road win over a Wake Forest team that was competitive with both Duke and Louisville at home lends credence to the notion that they may be hitting their stride. However, mounting injuries in the backcourt are a concern for Roy Williams.
  • Duke. After the entire college basketball nation wondered what was wrong with the Blue Devils with consecutive losses to NC State and Miami, Duke responded with an impressive road win over Louisville and an easy dismantling of Pittsburgh on Monday night. Coach K may have found some defensive relief with the zone he’s employed much more heavily in the past two contests.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina. Jackson’s emergence over the last week has finally given everyone a glimpse into the player he can become: an efficient offensive threat to complement Marcus Paige on the perimeter. In wins over Virginia Tech and Wake Forest this week, he scored 33 points on a combined 11-of-18 shooting (3-of-6 from three).
Justin Jackson continued his impressive stretch for the Tar Heels in a win over Wake Forest (espn.com)

Justin Jackson continued his impressive stretch for the Tar Heels in a win over Wake Forest (espn.com)

  • Tyus Jones, Duke. The Blue Devils’ freshman point guard endured a rough initiation to ACC play but rebounded with two strong efforts this week. His 10-point, eight-assist performance in a hostile environment at Louisville was steady and important, but he really broke out with a 22-point effort against Pittsburgh, including four three-pointers. Jones made his recent freshman jitters appear to be just that, rebounding individually very nicely along with his team.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse. His week began by being named ACC Player of the Week on January 19 and ended with a demonstration on just how important he is to this Syracuse team. Riddled with foul trouble and available for only 23 minutes, the Orange’s big man still contributed 12 points and seven boards against Boston College. His absence made it possible for the Eagles to hang around in that game, showing once again that Jim Boeheim doesn’t have many options outside of his star center.

Flat

  • Clemson. Holding serve against Syracuse at home was nice, but losing to Florida State was something the Tigers couldn’t afford. Clemson still appears to be a team trending towards the bottom of the standings as its inconsistent offense remains a major issue.
  • Syracuse. 5-1 in the ACC and not trending up? Get back to me when the Orange actually beat a good team. While it was nice that Jim Boeheim’s team held on against Boston College with Rakeem Christmas barely on the floor (see above), this team had better improve dramatically before it enters the final phase of a lopsided schedule (its final seven games include Duke twice, Louisville, Virginia, and Notre Dame). Having one of the least productive benches in the country doesn’t bode well for the Orange’s NCAA Tourney chances.

Trending Down

  • Louisville. Perhaps the loss to Duke wasn’t unexpected with the Blue Devils coming off of consecutive defeats, but the Cardinals’ continued offensive struggles is a major concern. They’re still only shooting 42.7 percent as a team, and Rick Pitino can’t seem to find consistent shot-making from Chris Jones or Wayne Blackshear. Their admittedly outstanding defense can only carry them so far in a conference this loaded with offensive talent.
There are suddenly serious questions marks about Montrezl Harrell and the Cardinals (credit: adam creech)

There are suddenly serious questions marks about Montrezl Harrell and the Cardinals (credit: adam creech)

  • Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ 8-10 overall record and 0-5 ACC start aren’t a surprise, but with the recent announcement that leading rebounder Joey Van Zegeren is leaving the team, their outlook for the remainder of the season became even more bleak. The notion was that Buzz Williams could perhaps coax some surprises out of this roster, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
  • Georgia Tech. Now 0-6 in the ACC. And yes, Virginia is a great team, but scoring a mere 28 points for an entire game (12 in the second half)? Brian Gregory’s team may not be able to recover from such an awful start to the conference season. The Yellow Jackets are at or near the bottom in the ACC in both scoring and stopping their opponents from doing so. That translates to 0-6.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville. As we noted last week, it’s not just that his shots and productivity are down; but now the junior has been stripped of his captaincy by Rick Pitino (later clarified, to some extent, by Pitino on his radio show). Even if this maneuver was a mutual decision or some kind of motivational ploy, it’s not a good sign for the Cardinals if their star needs to tone down his act. Coupled with his earlier suspension for throwing an elbow, Harrell is on the precipice of becoming a bit of a malcontent to the detriment of his team’s success.
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What Happened to the ACC’s Preseason All-Americans?

Posted by Brett Thompson on January 23rd, 2015

On Tuesday, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he had stripped junior star Montrezl Harrell of the Cardinals’ team captaincy. While Pitino claims that the decision was “no big deal,” it is yet another disappointment from one of the ACC’s two preseason AP All-Americans. Statistically speaking, Harrell has not regressed from his sophomore season, but he hasn’t really improved all that much either. His scoring is up about a point per game (14.0 to 14.9 PPG) and he is grabbing nearly an extra rebound per game (8.4 to 9.2 RPG), but while the junior shot the ball more efficiently last year, his level of impact looks and feels about the same. Still, Harrell turned down NBA Draft riches to return to Louisville, and expectations were that he would develop into elite impact territory. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of Harrell’s season has been his play against good competition; in Louisville’s three losses to Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke, Harrell scored nine, nine and 10 points, respectively — shooting 12-of-29 from the field in those games. With so much of the Cardinals’ offense dependent on him for success, it’s no surprise that Louisville lost each of those contests.

UofL and Cincinnati split two games in their final season in the same league (Jamie Rhodes / USA TODAY Sports)

Montrezl Harrell hasn’t been the superstar Louisville hoped for this season. (Jamie Rhodes / USA TODAY Sports)

Harrell isn’t the only preseason All-American from the ACC who has been underwhelming this season. North Carolina guard Marcus Paige entered the year as the highest vote-getter in preseason All-America polls, returning to Chapel Hill following a stellar sophomore campaign in which he had often carried the Tar Heels offensively. Expectations were certainly very high for his junior campaign. Paige limped out to a slow start, shooting only 35 percent in North Carolina’s first four games, including an unlikely loss to Butler. And like Harrell, Paige’s statistics in the Tar Heels’ four losses tell the story: 15.0 points per game on 33 percent shooting. To his credit, Paige has been dealing with plantar fasciitis, and he may be turning the corner in conference play given his “clutch gene” play against Louisville and a 23-point, nine-assist outing at N.C. State. Still, Paige needs to find better consistency and efficiency to support his candidacy for any postseason award.

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ACC M5: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 23rd, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. ESPN: Dana O’Neil penned a must-read profile of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski by talking with many of his longtime friends and family. It’s a long but great read. With Coach K getting a shot at 1,000 wins this weekend, there are plenty of profiles to go around. Pat Forde took a look back at Coach K’s first win, and in more normal M5 fare, Marshall Plumlee will be sworn in to the US Army today.
  2. Winston-Salem Journal: Tributes to Coach K are everywhere, including Winston-Salem, as Danny Manning told Dan Collins that the Demon Deacons aren’t a zone team and would stick to man-to-man even if they struggle with it. But the real reason Collins’ article is worth the click is for all the Wake Forest historical nuggets he hides inside it. I’ll side with Manning on his defensive trademark, though. Assuming a style of play that isn’t totally ludicrous, it’s good to work on molding your players into the type of team you want to coach. If he chose to play all zone, Manning might get a different type of player at Wake in the future (NBA teams often complain about prospects that play too much zone defense in college).
  3. Syracuse Post-Standard: Were we just talking about zone? Well, Syracuse plays a lot of zone. And is under NCAA investigation. If (and only if) the NCAA hands down or the Orange self-impose a postseason ban, they wouldn’t be allowed to compete in the ACC Tournament. That seems like a remote possibility at this point, but you’ll have better luck winning six-figure scratch-off prizes than predicting NCAA punishments. The other wrinkle is what a 14-team ACC Tournament would look like. If such a serious a punishment is coming, I’d expect more details to leak out first.
  4. Richmond Times-Dispatch: Virginia looks like it will run away with the ACC this season. You don’t want to put too much stock in games against Georgia Tech, but the Cavaliers held Brian Gregory’s squad to a ridiculous output of 28 points, while the Cavaliers scored at least 28 points in both halves. Accompanying Virginia’s rise is something of a bandwagon effect. Apparently Cavaliers fans showed up in force at Boston College (which is common for Duke and North Carolina, but both programs have national followings). Tony Bennett has done something really special in Charlottesville. The questions now are: How far can this team go? And can it beat the 76ers hold on to its head coach when the next really big job opens?
  5. Card Chronicle: More details on the Montrezl Harrell situation. Apparently Harrell pulled himself out of the position after Rick Pitino rode him about being more positive. This is plausible and is probably the best-case scenario from a chemistry perspective, but I wouldn’t start celebrating just yet. In more tangible analysis, North Carolina’s Brice Johnson gave an honest and somewhat critical scouting report on Harrell to Lauren Brownlow.

EXTRA: He’s not in the ACC anymore, but Chris Collins joined the tribute to Coach K and absolutely lost it after a questionable no-call from the officials at last night’s Northwestern-Ohio State game.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 22nd, 2015

With approximately three weeks of conference play now in the books, it’s time to take a closer look at the ACC season. This is the first edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and team performances, focusing on which teams are playing better or worse than their records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

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

Current Standings

Jan21ACCPPP

It’s no revelation that Tony Bennett’s Virginia team has been the best team in the league to date, holding a larger points per possession (PPP) margin over second place North Carolina than the Tar Heels have over the sixth-best team, Louisville. And the Cavaliers are doing it at both ends of the floor, leading the league in offensive and defensive efficiency. It’s hard to understand why many of the experts only seem to talk about Virginia’s defense — which is great by the way — seemingly blinded by the fact the this is an equally outstanding offensive team as well. Not just “also pretty good,” but… “Outstanding!” Syracuse fans should probably be hesitant based on the discrepancy between the Orange’s gaudy 5-1 ACC record and their possession-based performance. Note that they have benefited from playing the least challenging conference schedule thus far, facing six teams that populate the bottom of the standings. Eventually the ACC heavyweights will show up on the docket, and that record is likely to backslide. Georgia Tech’s situation — dead last in the standings, but eighth in PPP — is what happens when the Jackets lose games by margins of one, three, five, seven and seven points. Pittsburgh may be in a similar spot as its former Big East rival from upstate New York, sporting a fortunate .500 record given their easy schedule.

Advanced Stat of the Week: North Carolina’s Rebounding (Both)

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ACC M5: 01.22.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 22nd, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Duke Basketball Report: Good read from Al Featherston on Coach K and his new zone defense. I have a theory that Krzyzewski’s views on using the zone have softened somewhat because of his close friendship with Jim Boeheim. I also agree with Krzyzewski’s observation that Duke‘s defense is tied to its offense. The notion makes sense for a couple of reasons: most importantly, making shots allows a team sufficient time to set its defense (either through a press or in the half-court); but secondly, making shots also keeps players’ confidence high. Zone will not win Duke a championship. This is still a really young team and the head coach needs to figure out how to keep things under control when adversity hits (my guess is that it starts and ends with the team’s All-American center).
  2. Orangeburg Times and Democrat: This article reads a little like a bitter coach’s presser, but Clemson does have an attendance problem, which is really unfortunate because Littlejohn Coliseum is one of the best arenas in the ACC (and it might just be the loudest when at capacity). While I agree that some impetus has to be put on the students and fan base, Clemson also currently plays an ugly style of basketball. KJ McDaniels provided Top 10-worthy dunks and blocks on a regular basis, but this year’s team doesn’t have that must-watch player. Combine that lack of star power with a sluggish and inefficient offense, and you have a recipe for general apathy.
  3. Orlando Sentinel: Jim Larranaga threw his entire Miami team out of practice earlier this week in an effort to find the right message for a team that struggles with consistency. Part of Miami’s roller coaster tendency is because Angel Rodriguez is such a mercurial player, but some part of it may also lie with the team’s overall effort. Miami is in good shape as far as NCAA Tournament consideration is concerned (assuming the Selection Committee continues to reward strong wins), but it’s far from a lock for the Big Dance thanks to some head-scratching losses. Someone on this team needs to step up and become a steadying force down the stretch.
  4. South Bend Tribune: The ACC needs to rework its broadcasting contract. In expanding the conference (from numerical and geographic perspectives), the TV deal hasn’t caught up. Sure there are plenty of options to watch ACC teams play under the lights on ESPN, but it’s the third-tier games that are still frustratingly hard to find. Having a dedicated network (instead of the piecemeal “ACC Network” across local stations) would help, but I think they should keep the web of local networks in addition to the games shown on any future network.
  5. Louisville Courier-Journal: There may be some trouble brewing in Louisville, as junior All-American Montrezl Harrell is no longer a team captain. The school hasn’t yet released anything else on the matter, but such a move doesn’t make me confident in where the team stands. In order to make a run in March, Harrell needs to be a vocal leader on this team. Maybe Rick Pitino is trying to send him a message, but the move is more than likely punitive. Don’t expect much more to come out about this, but the Cardinals’ team chemistry and Harrell’s engagement are a couple of things to keep an eye on over the Cards’ next few games.
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ACC M5: 01.21.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 21st, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Streaking the Lawn: Here’s a cool visualization from Streaking the Lawn looking at the winners of every ACC game for home games versus away games. Right now the conference gives a slight edge to the home teams (which have won 23 of 40 games counting Syracuse’s win over Boston College), but it’s still a little early to put too much stock in this. Once all the teams have played each other, this will be a very interesting graphic. On its own it will still say as much about match-ups as it does home-court advantage, but charts are a quick way of getting into the M5.
  2. Washington Post: College GameDay is coming to Charlottesville for the first time in its admittedly short history! It should be a really fun day with Duke coming to town in one of the more anticipated games of the regular season. The funniest part of this story is that ESPN host Karl Ravech accidentally slipped the news before the Worldwide Leader had officially announced it, but that game has been on everyone’s radar for a while so it’s not exactly a surprise. For the time being, though, I don’t have much insight on it (I’d favor Virginia, but Duke will win if it’s hitting threes).
  3. Sporting News: Speaking of the Blue Devils, don’t immediately label Duke‘s recent dabbling with a zone a defensive cure-all. That said, this Duke team will likely need to play more zone than any other group under Mike Krzyzewski (they are too small and laterally challenged in the backcourt to make up for Okafor’s learning curve). In some games Duke’s man-to-man may do the trick (see the game at Wisconsin), but in other games, a zone might be the way to go (see the game at Louisville). Learning to play both competently will determine how tough this team is to beat in March.
  4. Busting Brackets: Is Louisville overrated? It depends on how good you think the Cardinals are. What we know about Rick Pitino’s team is that it doesn’t have a consistent halfcourt offense. The Cards don’t shoot well and Montrezl Harrell isn’t your classic back-to-the-basket post player. That said, their defense is elite. Louisville will crush most undermatched teams on their defense alone, but they too will struggle to score against better teams. This is a really good squad, but it is missing some key offensive pieces that it has had over the last few years (as many expected coming into this season).
  5. John Gasaway: Tuesday Truths are back! Unsurprisingly, Virginia is running away with the league from an efficiency standpoint. Look for Duke and another challenger (maybe North Carolina or Notre Dame?) to close the gap a little as the season progresses. The biggest surprises here were NC State and the Tar Heels taking the runner-up spots. Gasaway thinks North Carolina has the best shot at becoming a well-rounded team, but I worry about the Tar Heels’ ability to make shots.
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ACC M5: 01.20.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 20th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Virginia looks like the team to beat in the ACC (and maybe the country) so far, and part of the reason the Cavaliers are so successful is the team-oriented mindset of the entire roster. Individual accolades and national love may be hard to come by for this team, but the Cavaliers keep on winning. Don’t expect them to go undefeated, though. Even though they get Duke at home, there’s a good argument to be made that they’re actually a better team on the road. This team has a chance to do something special, and between the Cavaliers and Blue Devils, this season feels like the end of the ACC’s Final Four drought (which dates back to Duke’s National Championship in 2010).
  2. CBS Sports: Well, that de-escalated quickly. After rumors swirled around Notre Dame center Zach Auguste‘s recent academic suspension, he was back in the lineup in the Irish’s win against Miami this weekend. That’s great news for Mike Brey, as Auguste is one of the most important offensive players on a team that is completely locked in on that end of the floor. That said, Notre Dame’s best lineup (and the one that led to the comeback) had Auguste sitting on the bench in favor of a faster group.
  3. Boston Globe: Boston College is showing signs of moving the right direction. This year’s team has a much different energy than last year’s group, and it could easily be 2-2 in ACC play (instead of 0-4). But after five straight losses to Harvard, the Eagles got revenge on the Crimson, which may prove a good omen. Playing Miami and Pittsburgh to close losses also shows that this team is ready to contend with borderline NCAA Tournament teams. And with the way Louisville and North Carolina shoot, counting out any decent offensive team is a mistake. Jim Christian now just has to find a way to make these moral victories into real ones (or risk the team’s self-esteem plummeting).
  4. Virginia Tech Collegiate Times: Speaking of winless ACC teams, Virginia Tech is also a member of that notorious club. The Hokies put up a strong effort against North Carolina over the weekend (if not for a late game turnover, Virginia Tech looked like it would make Roy Williams sweat until the final horn), but a team that has been forced to play five guards at different points this season can’t really expect to compete with elite competition every night out. Justin Bibbs may be the real deal, though.
  5. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Syracuse can thank former ACC member Maryland for helping balance its athletic budget this year. Most athletic departments aren’t known for running profits, and all the extra money that the Orange owed the Big East from its separation agreement wasn’t helping things from an accounting standpoint. The Terrapins had to pony up $31 million to be split among the ACC member schools and the cut Syracuse gets will cover more than a year of payments. Another interesting tidbit from this article is that all of the non-revenue sports at Syracuse made half as much as its basketball teams, which seems like a pretty strong showing. Even at a basketball school with a bad football team, pigskin still drives the bus.
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ACC Weekend Review: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 19th, 2015

In the headline match-up of the weekend, Duke ended its two-game losing streak with a surprisingly comfortable win at Louisville on Saturday. But the bigger surprise was how the Blue Devils did it, going almost exclusively with a 2-3 zone defense that was incredibly effective against the cold-shooting Cardinals. Notre Dame rallied from a 12-point second half deficit to beat Miami in South Bend on Saturday, keeping the Irish in second place in the league standings behind undefeated Virginia. The Cavaliers also had to mount a second half comeback to overtake Boston College Saturday afternoon in Conte Forum. In other games over the weekend, Syracuse dropped its first league game of the year at Clemson; N.C. State picked up a road win versus Florida State; and North Carolina and Pittsburgh each won home games against a pair of conference winless clubs, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Here are some other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC.

Notre Dame's Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday's win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday’s win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Jerian Grant had scored a total of only 26 points in his previous three games, but the senior guard broke out of his mini-slump with a huge effort against Miami on Saturday. The ACC Player of the Year candidate finished with an efficient 25 points that came on 8-of-10 field goal shooting. He also passed out eight assists and was part of a perimeter defense that held Hurricanes’ guard Angel Rodriguez in check. Rodriguez had torched Duke in his previous game with 24 points, but only managed four points on 1-of-10 shooting Saturday. Grant was also the difference down the stretch as his three broke a tie with 6:19 left and he also scored a layup and blocked a shot in the last minute to seal the win.
  • Best Win: After looking nothing like a championship contender in its two prior outings, Duke got back on track with a mild upset at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center on Saturday. After an all-night coaches’ meeting following Duke’s home debacle versus Miami, Mike Krzyzewski abandoned the Blue Devils’ trademark pressure man-to-man defense to instead play a 2-3 zone against the Cardinals. While it was a big surprise to most of us, the zone was not totally unexpected by Louisville’s Rick Pitino, who said afterwards, “Duke is a team that never plays zone… and that’s what I would have done if I were in [Mike Krzyzewski’s] shoes.” Pitino is no doubt referring to his team’s lack of perimeter shooting, which finished a chilly 4-of-25 on three-pointers against the Devils. Ironically, Duke looked a lot more like a recent-vintage Syracuse team, with the Blue Devils playing deliberately on the offensive end to go along with the newly-installed zone defense.

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Three Takeaways as Notre Dame Rallies Past Miami

Posted by Walker Carey on January 17th, 2015

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Miami (FL) and Notre Dame in South Bend.

There are very few teams in the country that have the backcourt talent and depth of Notre Dame. That was illustrated again on Saturday afternoon as Irish coach Mike Brey relied on small ball to secure a 75-70 come-from-behind victory over Miami (FL). With his team trailing 40-31 at the 15:32 mark of the second half, Brey inserted a five-guard lineup featuring seniors Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton along with sophomores V.J. Beachem, Demetrius Jackson, and Steve Vasturia. The perimeter-oriented lineup played the balance of the game and it outscored the Hurricanes 44-30 while it was on the court. Saturday’s victory concluded another successful week for the Irish, as they moved to 17-2 overall and 5-1 in ACC play. The following are three takeaways from Saturday’s action.

Notre Dame is Playing Together (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame is Playing Together (USA Today Images)

  1. Jerian Grant broke out of his mini-slump in impressive fashion. In each of Notre Dame’s last three games (wins over North Carolina and Georgia Tech, and a loss to Virginia), Grant was held below his season average of 16.3 points per game. That trend changed in the victory over Miami today, as Grant was without question the best player on the floor for the duration of the afternoon. He finished the game with 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go along with eight assists. None of those 23 points were more impressive than the three he got from hitting a ridiculous step-back three-pointer at the 6:19 mark of the second half. That three put Notre Dame up 61-58 and it did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game. The Irish trailed by as many as 12 in the second half, but it was the steadiness and leadership of Grant that kept the Irish in the game and eventually earned his team the victory. Great players make big plays in winning time, and that was exactly what Grant did for Notre Dame on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »
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Duke Heads to Louisville Looking for Confidence

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 17th, 2015

One week ago, the storyline surrounding Duke‘s visit to Louisville was that Mike Krzyzewski would most likely be going for win #1,000 in his illustrious coaching career. How quickly things change in the world of college basketball! Today, after two discouraging beatings by unranked teams, the Blue Devils head into a Noon ET (ESPN) showdown wondering if they can beat just about anybody right now. So what’s going on with the team that won each game handily on its way to a 14-0 start, including that huge early December win at Wisconsin that seems like ages ago?

Mike Kzyzewski Had No Answers in Tuesday's Loss to Miami. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Mike Kzyzewski Had No Answers in Tuesday’s Loss to Miami.
(Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Whenever a team goes through a bad stretch, there are invariably multiple reasons for the slump. In Duke’s case, much has been made of the team’s poor defensive play and with good reason — both N.C. State and Miami torched the Blue Devils with over 1.2 points per possession. Duke’s defense struggled in almost every area in both games: off the dribble; perimeter shooters; poor rotation; transition; at the rim. That’s too many areas to fix with strategic adjustments alone. On offense, the team that has ranked first nationally in offensive efficiency for most of the season has suddenly gone ice cold. Senior Quinn Cook is the only perimeter player who can make a jump shot right now, which allows defenses to concentrate on surrounding Jahlil Okafor without paying the price. Consider this: Cook has made 8-of-14 shots from three-point range in the two losses, but the rest of the team is 6-of-35. Perhaps all of that cold shooting is a big reason for the defensive meltdowns that took place in the second half of each loss (see tables below).

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ACC Stock Watch: Conference Play Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 16th, 2015

Conference play got under way for the ACC roughly two weeks ago, and the early games have lived up to their lofty billing in providing us with valuable insights. Some teams are clearly playing up to their potential and possibly even beyond it, while several others are already searching for answers for disturbing trends. Welcome to this week’s ACC Stock Watch, the first since the ACC’s teams started beating up on each other.

Trending Up

  • Virginia. It would be hard to imagine that a team entering ACC play at 12-0 could be trending up after just two weeks of action, but the Cavaliers have the look of a serious national title contender. The only team boasting both a defense and an offense among the top 10 in efficiency metrics, the Cavaliers have shown a keen ability to win games in a myriad of ways. It’s not just an elite defense carrying Tony Bennett’s team, as it showed in its awesome 89-80 double-overtime win over Miami two weeks ago. Virginia has already toppled the Hurricanes and Notre Dame and have shown no signs of slowing down.
  • North Carolina. With the best of the Tar Heels’ non-conference wins losing some luster (Ohio State, Florida), North Carolina badly needed a marquee win in conference play. Last weekend’s victory over Louisville qualified as such, and holding on to beat NC State in Raleigh on Wednesday night showed the team may have regained some of the toughness that was so sorely lacking. Could a 3-1 ACC start propel North Carolina to bigger things?
Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (newsobserver.com)

  • NC State. A 3-2 start in the ACC may not blow anyone away, but the Wolfpack’s demolition of Duke and their near-win over a surging North Carolina team shows Mark Gottfried’s group is capable of making some noise this year. Add in a blowout win over Pittsburgh an is there a reasonable argument that NC State belongs with the heavyweights?
  • Miami. There were plenty of questions about the direction in which the Hurricanes were heading when they closed the non-conference schedule by losing three of four. But Angel Rodriguez and company have answered the bell in the ACC, pushing Virginia to double-overtime and handling Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. With Notre Dame and NC State up next, we’ll know even more about Miami by this time next week.

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