Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell Leading Irish to Top of ACC

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 21st, 2017

The play itself, spectacular as it was unique, took guts, guile and extraordinary self-belief, and represents a characteristic of every overachiever. With his team clinging to a three-point lead with 46 seconds remaining last weekend in Blacksburg, Matt Farrell looked to put the finishing touches on Notre Dame’s fifth consecutive victory to start ACC play. In an effort to preserve a few precious seconds, the Hokies rolled the ball up the court. Making himself inconspicuous, Farrell created the illusion that he was not paying attention. Then, in the blink of an eye, the subterfuge ceased, as Farrell dived headlong to smother the ball, pop up, and drop a dime to T.J. Gibbs. Gibbs extended the lead to five with an easy layup, effectively putting an exclamation mark on yet another impressive ACC victory for the Irish.

At 16-3 and tied for first in the league standings with North Carolina and Florida State, Notre Dame is without question one of this year’s pleasant surprises. The presumed strength of the league notwithstanding, the primary reason for hesitation regarding this year’s version of Mike Brey’s squad centered around the transition of point guard duties from three-year standout Demetrius Jackson to the little-known junior from Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. Farrell entered the season with a mere 86 career points in 43 career games, and as a sophomore, he posted the team’s poorest player efficiency rating. And those notes, among others, is why Brey is one of the most under-appreciated developers of talent in college basketball. His teams change somewhat based on the available personnel, but they are always well-versed on the game’s fundamentals and know how to find open shots. Perhaps no player in the head coach’s 17 seasons at Notre Dame puts a stamp of approval on his process quite like Farrell.

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This Weekend in the ACC: January 21

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 21st, 2017

Here are a few things you should be keeping your eye on around the ACC this weekend (all times Eastern).

Have We Reached the Point Where Syracuse Begins to Save Its Season? (USA Today Images)

  • 12:00 PM: Syracuse (11-8, 3-3) at Notre Dame (16-3, 5-1). The Orange, which desperately need some quality wins to get on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, will have a big opportunity this afternoon against the ACC-leading Fighting Irish. The problem for Jim Boeheim‘s club is that this game is in South Bend. In Syracuse’s six (yes, just six) games away from home this season, the Orange are 0-6, having lost those games by an average of nearly 13 PPG against questionable competition (i.e., St. John’s, Connecticut and Boston College). Most teams experience significant home and road shooting splits, but the Orange’s numbers away from home — 37.4% from the field, including just 31.2% from three — have been downright dreadful. Keep an eye on point guard John Gillon. In his six games away from the Carrier Dome, he’s made just 9-0f-37 shots (24.3%) and 3-of-17 (17.7%) from beyond the arc. If Gillon can knock down a few shots to relieve some of the pressure from Andrew White III and Tyler Lydon, Syracuse might be able to hang with Notre Dame long enough to have a chance to pull the upset. If not, it could be a very long afternoon in South Bend.
  • 2:00 PM: Louisville (16-3, 4-2) at Florida State (17-2, 5-1). In our Stock Watch that published earlier this week, we noted the recent terrific play of Louisville wing Donovan Mitchell and how important it will be for the sophomore to maintain his high level of play with starting point guard Quentin Snider on the shelf. Mitchell was once again terrific in the Cardinals’ win over Clemson on Thursday night, but the story of the game was Snider’s replacement, freshman V.J. King. Prior to Thursday night’s game, King had scored just 21 total total points in five ACC contests; his debut as a starter resulted in 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Now that he’s a known commodity, keep an eye on how King performs against the array of talented athletes that Seminoles’ head coach Leonard Hamilton will throw at him. In order to walk out of Tallahassee with a victory, the Cardinals will need King to knock down shots as well as remain physical with the Florida State guards.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 20th, 2017

With approximately one-third of conference play now in the books, it’s time to take a closer look inside the ACC numbers. This is the first edition of our weekly look at the current ACC standings with a focus 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 notes on teams, statistics and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, January 18.

Current StandingsWith a sample size of games this small, any one-game extreme performance can really impact the season numbers. This means that some of what we see in the table above is the result of two ACC blowouts — North Carolina’s 51-point rout of N.C. State, and Duke‘s 53-point beating of Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels are currently leading the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency, mostly because of their incredible dominance on the boards. North Carolina’s 44.0 percent offensive rebounding rate in ACC play is even higher than its nation-leading mark for all games (42.7%). Florida State and Notre Dame have achieved great starts (both are 5-1) despite facing two of the three toughest league slates to this point. At the other end of the ledger is Clemson, which has only managed a single win over Wake Forest while playing the toughest conference schedule. The Tigers’ actual performance margin, however, is better than the three squads ahead of them in the standings, so maybe they are not struggling as much as it appears.

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ACC Bubble Watch: Syracuse, Miami (FL), Virginia Tech & Clemson

Posted by Charlie Maikis on January 19th, 2017

The ACC is shaping up as arguably one of the strongest conferences ever assembled, with several pundits already saying that the league could get as many as 11 teams into the NCAA Tournament. While North Carolina, Notre Dame, Louisville, Florida State, Duke and Virginia are virtual locks, there are a number of other ACC teams that still have a reasonable shot with a strong finish. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll use KenPom‘s projections to narrow the ACC bubble to teams that his methodology projects to win at least eight conference games: Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Syracuse. (Ed. note: KenPom has since projected Wake Forest to win eight ACC games as well, but they are not included in this Bubble Watch.) Two months out from Selection Sunday, let’s take a look at what these four teams will need to do to get to the NCAA Tournament.

Miami (USA Today Images)

  • Miami. The Hurricanes sit at 12-5 overall and 2-3 in conference play. Despite a weak non-conference schedule (303rd nationally), their only losses prior to ACC play came to likely NCAA Tournament teams Iowa State and Florida. Miami’s best non-conference win, however, is over a middling Stanford club, which means that there won’t be much margin for error over the next eight weeks. The Hurricanes have six games remaining against unranked teams (four in Coral Gables), so if they can win those and find one more victory elsewhere, a 9-9 ACC record should be enough. Dropping one or more of those contests, though, will create significant pressure on Jim Larranaga’s squad to beat a top-tier team, something it has yet to do this season.

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ACC Stock Watch: January 17

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 17th, 2017

Each week during the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days to discuss the teams, players and anything else trending across the league.

STOCK UP

  • Notre Dame. As expertly diagrammed by our Brad Jenkins last week, winning on the road in the ACC is quite the chore. So when a team can win a pair of games over likely NCAA Tournament teams away from home in the same week — as Notre Dame did with victories over Miami and Virginia Tech — it will result in a “Stock Up” spot on our list for the second consecutive week. Irish point guard Matt Farrell has made so many big plays down the stretch for his team that, according to David Peel, head coach Mike Brey referred to Farrell as “his Aaron Rodgers.” Now that’s some high praise, indeed.

Donovan Mitchell is becoming the leader of a very talented Louisville team. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • Donovan Mitchell, Louisville. When you think about the great Rick Pitino teams, you think about terrific guards — players like Peyton Siva and Russ Smith from Louisville’s 2013 National Championship team or Tony Delk and Wayne Turner from Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship squad. Pitino’s best teams have always had outstanding athletes in the backcourt leading the way. Sophomore Donovan Mitchell is the next name on that list. In the Cardinals’ last five games, Mitchell is averaging 19.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game. His ascension to stardom will become even more important in the short term as news broke last night that starting point guard Quentin Snider will miss 2-3 weeks with a hip injury. If Mitchell can continue to play at a very high level, Pitino could be headed back to another Final Four.
  • North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ home win over Florida State on Saturday was an important step for Roy Williams’ team if it wants to win the ACC this season. After also beating Syracuse during Big Monday last night, North Carolina has now won five straight games after an ACC-opening hiccup at Georgia Tech. The key to the streak has been Williams’ offense, as the Tar Heels, riding stellar three-point shooting to the tune of 40.5 percent, have scored at least 85 points in each of those five games. When they miss, extra opportunities abound, with North Carolina also averaging nearly 17 offensive rebounds per game during the stretch. A combination of an offense that is clicking, domination of the offensive glass and a favorable schedule over the next few weeks could give the Tar Heels an early advantage in the ACC title race.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.16.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 16th, 2017

There were several marquee match-ups in the ACC this weekend, including two monster games on Saturday afternoon as North Carolina overcame some adversity to hand Florida State its first league loss and Louisville ensured that Duke continued its struggles on the road. Later that day, Notre Dame held off Virginia Tech to remain unbeaten in league play, while three schools that entered January with NCAA Tournament aspirations — Clemson, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State — all suffered devastating home defeats to drop to a last place tie in the standings. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Theo Pinson celebrates North Carolina’s big win over Florida State. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: In a league as strong as the ACC this season, sometimes a team must show some collective toughness to pull out a win. That’s exactly what North Carolina did on Saturday afternoon in its impressive 96-83 home victory over a red-hot Florida State squad. Faced with the daunting task of playing the nation’s second tallest team without freshman center Tony Bradley (out with a concussion), the Tar Heels were already short-handed in the paint. With Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks battling foul trouble, Roy Williams was forced to play almost half the game with no true post player. North Carolina not only hung in with the bigger, deeper Seminoles, but the Tar Heels managed to dominate the glass in a surprisingly effective rebounding effort  (+22). Three Tar Heels — Hicks, Joel Berry and Justin Jackson — finished with over 20 points and Theo Pinson turned in a solid overall effort with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.

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Is Cameron Johnson the Key for Pittsburgh?

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 14th, 2017

When Kevin Stallings took over the Pittsburgh program last spring, it wasn’t the typical rebuilding job most new coaches walk into. Rather, Stallings inherited seniors Jamel Artis and Michael Young, who at this point in the season are the top two scorers in the ACC (Artis – 22.8 PPG; Young – 22.0 PPG). While the first-year head coach surely feels lucky to have two excellent players on hand, he also knows that they alone cannot get Pittsburgh back to the NCAA Tournament. The dynamic duo needs help, and perhaps the most vital piece to solving that problem is redshirt sophomore wing Cameron Johnson, who has become a strong third contributor this year. With so much defensive emphasis placed on containing Artis and Young, Johnson has been able to feast on a steady diet of open looks, shooting a career-best 38.9 percent from three-point range and producing a team-best Offensive Rating of 123.1.

Cameron Johnson knocking down shots is critical for Pittsburgh’s success (Pitt Athletics)

The ACC has illustrated Johnson’s importance to the Pittsburgh offense. In an overtime win over Virginia, he scored 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from three-point range and grabbed eight rebounds in the Panthers’ biggest victory of the year. However, in Pittsburgh’s three ACC losses — road defeats at Syracuse and Louisville in addition to a home loss to Notre Dame — Johnson shot just 3-of-21 from three-point range. Young and Artis are excellent shooters in their own right — both well over 40 percent from distance — but when Johnson is also knocking down shots, it makes Pittsburgh much tougher to beat. Against the Cavaliers, Johnson nailed four threes and the Panthers won. Against the others, he didn’t and Pittsburgh lost.

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Can Duke Still Put Together a Special Season?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 13th, 2017

Before this college basketball campaign tipped off back in November, recall that Duke was the near-consensus choice as the nation’s best team. With a nice blend of established veterans and ultra-talented newcomers entering the program — along with the Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski at the helm — it appeared as if the Blue Devils were in position to dominate (remember some of the 40-0 chatter?). Now, as we approach mid-January, things look a lot different in Durham. It feels like Duke has battled almost nothing but injuries and controversies since practice began. The conventional wisdom has been that the Blue Devils will eventually get healthy and begin to achieve some of those lofty expectations, but is the more likely scenario quickly becoming something far less than anticipated?

With multiple injuries and distractions, Mike Krzyzewski and Jeff Capel have had to coach through major adversity in 2016-17. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

As far as all the injuries, suffice it to say that, among Duke’s top 10 players, only Luke Kennard and Matt Jones have been available for every game. Blue-chip freshmen Harry Giles (who missed the first 11 games), Jayson Tatum (eight) and Marquise Bolden (eight) sat out for most of the early going, putting Duke in the difficult position of building rotations and chemistry on the floor without its full roster. Initially, the Blue Devils played well with Kennard and Amile Jefferson emerging as upperclassmen stars. When Tatum joined the starting lineup in early December and preseason All-American Grayson Allen once again looked healthy and happy, things appeared to be coming around. After the Blue Devils destroyed UNLV in Las Vegas on December 10, many observers thought they were well on their way. Then the bottom fell out.

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ACC Home Court Advantage – Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 13th, 2017

This is the second part of a review of home court trends in the ACC. In Part I that published yesterday, we looked at overall home court winning percentage in ACC conference games over the last 15 years. Today we will look at the outcomes when ACC teams play each other twice in the regular season. In the days before major conference expansion, every league team played the others twice each year, a convention that ended when the ACC reached 11 members in 2005. The conference has since played an unbalanced schedule that features several home-and-home scenarios but mostly consists of one-time match-ups. TeamsPlayTwice2

As the above graph shows, we reviewed 312 double-meetings between ACC teams over the last 10 years. We broke the data into four discernible outcomes — sweeps by better and worse teams (as determined by KenPom‘s final rankings), and splits where home or away teams won both games. The data shows that there were 188 sweeps and 124 splits over the 10-year sample. The better team won both games 53.5 percent of the time; teams splitting games by defending their home floors occurred 32.7 percent of the time; while sweeps from the worse team and splits with the road teams winning made up the remaining 21.8 percent — on average, about twice per season.

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ACC Home Court Advantage – Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 12th, 2017

Through the first two weeks of conference play, ACC teams are an impressive 21-7 (.750) at home, flying in the face of a national trend. Over the past 15 years, there has been a slight but noticeable drop in home court advantage in college basketball. From 2002-09, teams won their conference home games at a rate of about 62 percent. It dropped to nearly 61 percent for the next four seasons from 2010-13, and then declined a bit further to approximately 60 percent over the last three campaigns. How has it looked in the ACC over the same span? This is the first of a two-part examination of home court advantage in the ACC.ConfHomeWin%15Yrs

As you can see above, the ACC at just over 63 percent ranks in the middle of the pack of the six power leagues over the last 15 seasons at defending home turf. Interestingly enough, home court advantage in the major conferences has not been as volatile as the nation overall. Read the rest of this entry »

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