ACC Weekend Preview: January 19

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 18th, 2019

This weekend is highlighted by a monster showdown in Durham, but there are some tricky road trips as well for teams near the top of the standings. Rush the Court ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you ready for the weekend ahead in the ACC. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, January 19

Roy Williams Needs His Freshmen to Produce (USA Today Images)

#10 North Carolina (13-4, 3-1) at #72 Miami (9-7, 1-3). Did we finally see the Nassir Little coming-out party? The stud freshman has been spent plenty of time on Roy Williams’ bench so far this season, but in the Tar Heels’ recent win over Notre Dame, Little scored 11 second-half points on 5-of-8 shooting along with six boards. Part of the equation for this North Carolina team being successful was Little becoming an immediate star. The Heels also need Coby White to get back on track. In the Tar Heels’ four ACC contests to date, White’s Offensive Rating is down eight points and his turnover percentage is up six points to nearly 24 percent. He’ll try to find his footing in Coral Gables as he matches up with Miami dynamo Chris Lykes, someone who is posting a 133.3 Offensive Rating and a 27.3 PER.

#32 NC State (14-3, 2-2) at #75 Notre Dame (11-6, 1-3). Oh, what a loss in Winston-Salem will do for an ACC team’s outlook. The Wolfpack were feeling pretty good about themselves in early ACC play after a successful non-conference campaign followed by a competitive home loss to North Carolina. Then Kevin Keatts‘ squad dropped the one game you cannot lose in the ACC this season. NC State three-point shooting, which was so strong through the first 13 games of the year (41.4%) has dropped to just 29.9 percent in ACC play. Given the way the Wolfpack plays, they are going to be in considerable trouble if they can’t start making more shots from long-distance. NC State heads to South Bend to take on a struggling Fighting Irish club. Even though it’s been a disappointing season for Mike Brey’s team so far, how about a little love for John Mooney? He is quietly putting up a monster season (30.2 PER, 130.6 ORtg), averaging a double-double and shooting nearly 46 percent from three-point range.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume II

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 16th, 2019

With #1 Duke’s home loss to Syracuse Monday night — and more significantly the injury and extended absence of Tre Jones — some of the luster of this weekend’s highly-anticipated match-up with conference-leading Virginia has eroded. Or perhaps Tony Bennett’s squad just appears like it will inevitably run roughshod through the ACC for the second consecutive campaign.

Stock Rising:

Jeff Capel is Making a Mark in Pittsburgh Already (USA Today Images)

Jeff Capel: While he wasn’t Pittsburgh’s first choice, Capel has left little doubt that he was the right choice to clean up the mess of the two-year failed marriage with Kevin Stallings. Capel entered the program last spring having to do yeoman’s work just to construct a playable roster. But now, after Monday night’s victory over Florida State, the feisty Panthers have already vanquished two NCAA Tournament likelies (Louisville), and in doing so, have brought back some of the energy that used to be synonymous with the Peterson Events Center.

Behind the precocious freshman trio of Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney, Capel’s crew has already exceeded last season’s win total by four, and in so doings has risen from 138th in KenPom to start the season to a current standing of 68th. Pitt’s upcoming schedule is arduous, however, as three of the Panthers’ next four games are away from home (and the home game vs. Duke), but it is undeniable that a basketball trajectory is veering upward again in the Steel City.

Stock Zig Zagging:

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.14.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 14th, 2019

After a lackluster opening weekend, things were much crazier around the ACC this weekend. In the headline match-up in Tallahassee on Saturday, Duke survived Florida State, 80-78, on Cam Reddish’s last second three. Reddish (23 points) and fellow freshman RJ Barrett (32 points) picked up the slack when Zion Williamson missed the entire second half with an eye injury. The long Seminoles caused problems for the Blue Devils in the paint, blocking seven Blue Devils’ shots, winning the battle of the boards (+5) and out-dunking Duke by a 10-to-1 margin. League co-leader Virginia grabbed another impressive road win too, as the Cavaliers manhandled Clemson, 63-43. Two road underdogs also won with surprising ease as Louisville dominated North Carolina at the Smith Center, 83-62, and Georgia Tech pulled off a stunner at Syracuse, 73-59. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Steven Enoch outplayed Luke Maye as Louisville shocked North Carolina in the Smith Center on Saturday. (thecardinalconnect.com)
  • Best Win: Few gave Louisville a realistic chance to win in Chapel Hill on Saturday, much less blow the Tar Heels off their own floor. After all, the Cardinals had just lost to Pittsburgh while North Carolina was coming off an impressive road win over a ranked and fired-up NC State squad. However, Chris Mack’s unit came out smoking (seven first half 3-pointers) and North Carolina never put up much of a fight in the 21-point defeat. The most lopsided home loss of the Roy Williams era was also a huge boost to Louisville’s growing postseason resume. A major key to the victory was the Cardinals’ dominance in the paint. Connecticut transfer Steven Enoch finished with career highs in points (17) and rebounds (11), outplaying UNC star Luke Maye, who finished with just nine points on a cold (3-for-14) shooting day.
  • Worst Loss: Georgia Tech gave Syracuse a taste of its own medicine Saturday night in the Carrier Dome. Josh Pastner used a zone defense to befuddle the Orange’s offense and pull off a surprisingly easy upset. Syracuse was unable to penetrate the Yellow Jackets’ interior and struggled to make shots from deep (7-for-33), but Georgia Tech only launched 12 threes (hitting six) and shot 63.3 percent (19-of-30) on two-pointers. Jim Boeheim’s team now has three home defeats and is currently projected by KenPom to finish 9-9 in the league, well below its preseason expectations.
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ACC Weekend Preview: January 12

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 11th, 2019

ACC play is in full swing and Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) is here to get you set for a busy Saturday of hoops. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, January 12

Kyle Guy Leads Virginia into Clemson (USA Today Images)
  • #2 Virginia (14-0, 2-0) at #40 Clemson (10-5, 0-2). First to 50 wins? Expect a defensive struggle at Littlejohn Coliseum tomorrow afternoon, as two of the best defensive teams in the country get together (Virginia ranks third, Clemson 24th, per KenPom). The good news for anyone hoping for some offense? Each team has a dynamic guard who comes into this game on fire. Virginia’s Kyle Guy is averaging more than 19 points per game over his last four outings while shooting 61.5 percent from long-distance and 62 percent from the field. Meanwhile, Clemson’s Marcquise Reed is also putting up just over 19 PPG in the same span while making 46.7 percent of his threes and adding 5.0 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. This is a monster opportunity for Brad Brownell’s Tigers, which otherwise look headed for the bubble. The key for his squad may be turnovers. Clemson has given the ball away 16 or more times in five straight contests after doing so just once in their first 10 games. Given how few possessions there will be tomorrow, Clemson cannot afford to squander any opportunities to score against Tony Bennett’s defense.
  • #39 Louisville (10-5, 1-1) at #6 North Carolina (12-3, 2-0). The two leading scorers for Louisville and North Carolina may be two of the most underappreciated players in the entire ACC. Cameron Johnson gave every Tar Heel fan a scare when he left Tuesday’s game against NC State with what initially looked like a serious knee injury. Luckily it was cramping instead, because he’s been the best player on Roy Williams’ squad this season. The seniior leads the team with 16.2 points per game but is also backing it up with excellent efficiency numbers (24.5 PER, 127.5 ORtg). His flexibility allows the Tar Heels to play big or small, and his size makes him a tough cover for opposing defenders. For the Cardinals, Jordan Nwora (17.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG) is having the breakout season Louisville fans have been waiting on from V.J. King since he stepped on campus. There are still lots of questions about Chris Mack’s inaugural team in Louisville, but Nwora (27.6 usage rate) has answered the call as a go-to-scorer.
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Analysis: ACC Turnover Battle Drives Success

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 10th, 2019

It is common knowledge in basketball circles that winning the turnover battle is an important factor in determining the victor. However, we did not realize just how crucial it is until we reviewed every ACC league game from a year ago and found that the teams committing an equal or lesser number of turnovers than their opponents were victorious 76 percent of the time.

Duke Lost Two Games to North Carolina Last Season in Part Because of Turnovers

Among major statistical measures, only overall field goal shooting (81%) is a better predictor of the outcome of a game. Turnovers, in fact, were a better indicator than three-point shooting (74%), free throw shooting (61%) and rebounding (54%) in ACC play. Armed with that fact, we decided to examine several team characteristics that influence how well conference squads take care of the ball, with the caveat that overall skill and talent is the most likely driver. Over the last five years of play, offensive tempo, assist percentage and three-point attempt rate turned out to have no discernible impact on turnovers. The four team attributes that are listed below, however — years of experience, minutes continuity, average height and bench minutes — exhibit some connection to turnover rates. Here’s a look at how these traits are already fitting some league teams in 2018-19.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume 1

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 8th, 2019

With the non-conference portion of the season now in the rearview and the ACC schedule tipping in earnest last weekend, it feels like the appropriate time to assess a few programs and players in this year’s initial stock report.

Stock Up

Elijah Hughes: When considering Syracuse’s chances to contend at the top of the league, the preseason focus was on the returns of Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett. And while both have been good, it is perhaps Hughes, the transfer from East Carolina, who has been the most consistent player for the Orange. Coming off Saturday’s 22-point, 10-rebound game in a victory at Notre Dame — both career highs — Hughes is now second on the team in scoring, third in rebounding, and is by far the team’s best threat from long range with 36 made triples. Notching double-figures in all but two games, the 6’6” swingman has been a pleasant surprise for Jim Boeheim during a season that has been a bit more uneven than some (guilty as charged) presumed before it started.

Kyle Guy: Unlike Hughes, big things were expected from the 6’3” Virginia marksman who was coming off a sophomore campaign where he earned All-ACC first team honors and a third team All-America nod. As a junior, Guy is leading the undefeated Cavaliers in scoring just as he did a year ago, but the improvements in his game have been obvious both visually and statistically. Guy’s shot creativity and ability to elevate quickly over bigger defenders off the bounce is an addition to his always lethal shooting coming off curl screens in set plays. His offensive rating is up from 105.2 to 126.4, while his true shooting percentage has similarly seen a 12 percent spike, thanks to a career best 48.3 percent mark from inside of the arc. The Virginia star’s money is made from beyond the arc, however, and after blistering Florida State in the league opener by making five of six attempts, Guy now ranks 42nd in the nation, making 41 of his 85 three attempts.  

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.07.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 7th, 2019

All the favorites held serve on the first weekend of conference play around the ACC. On Saturday, the league’s co-favorites each won handily at home, as Virginia took care of Florida State and Duke routed Clemson. Two other ranked ACC squads were also successful – North Carolina blitzed Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech bested Boston College. The weekend was incredibly devoid of close games, with no outcomes among the group decided by single digits. Here are the highlights from (the real) opening weekend around the ACC.

Kyle Guy was on fire Saturday as Virginia dominated Florida State. (John Markon)
  • Best Win: By dominating Florida State from start to finish, defending league champion Virginia served notice that the ACC regular season title race still runs through Charlottesville. A final score of 65-52 was not indicative of the complete beatdown that the Cavaliers administered on Saturday afternoon – the Seminoles scored the last 16 points of the game to make it look better than it actually was. Up until that point, Tony Bennett’s defense had held high-scoring Florida State to just 36 points over 38 minutes of play. Junior sharp-shooter Kyle Guy was red hot (5-of-6 from deep), leading the Cavaliers with 21 points, including 18 in the opening half.
  • Worst Loss: With no upsets occurring over the weekend, we’re going with Notre Dame’s home loss to Syracuse, 72-62. The Irish looked good early, leading by 10 points at one point, but Syracuse rallied behind sophomore transfer Elijah Hughes, who posted a career high 22 points on 6-of-13 three-point shooting. Mike Brey’s two freshman guards had a tough time in their first look at the Orange’s lengthy zone defense, as Prentiss Hubb and Dane Goodwin combined for just four points on 1-for-10 shooting. With its thin roster, Notre Dame can’t afford to drop too many home games if the Irish hope to have a chance at postseason play.
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ACC Conversation: Pre-Conference Edition – Part 2

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), Mick Mcdonald (@themickmcdonald) on January 4th, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald recently got together to chat about the ACC heading in to conference play. Here’s Part 2 of that conversation.

Justin Robinson has guided Virginia Tech into contender status in the ACC. (accsports.com)

Brad Jenkins: Can Florida State or Virginia Tech crack the top three in the ACC? They both look like solid clubs, but are they being overlooked?

Matt Auerbach: I like both teams, and they deserve to be ranked inside the top 10 nationally. But I don’t believe that either will elevate above the aforementioned three squads when the league plays out.

Mick McDonald: Both definitely could, although I like Buzz Williams’ club a bit more. They are lethal offensively with so many guys who can light it up, and they play really hard on the defensive end. Their schedule has been light so far, so I’m very much looking forward to some bigger opportunities coming up shortly. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Justin Robinson can make an argument for best backcourt in the country and Kerry Blackshear is a match-up nightmare.

Matt Auerbach: Truthfully, there’s no denying both belong inside the top 10 based on merit, but I don’t view either as a legitimate threat to make a Final Four without some unusual breaks falling their way.

Mick McDonald: Agree with Matt. These two are rightful top 10 teams, but the ACC is just so loaded that could mean finishing fourth or fifth.

Matt Auerbach: If forced to choose one team over the other, I’d definitely lean towards the Hokies because of the backcourt. With a guy like Robinson surrounded by elite shooters, they can be impossible to stop if they get rolling.

Brad Jenkins: My only concern with the Hokies is that they are so reliant on great shooting. I’m just not sure how they can beat good teams on off shooting nights. I actually think Florida State may be better now that Phil Cofer is back in the lineup, but the Seminoles tend to not always progress very well through league play. Let’s move on to some surprise teams. Are NC State and Louisville legit?

Mick McDonald: I think NC State is legit in terms of a lock NCAA Tourney and potential second weekend team. Kevin Keatts is proving himself as one of the best young coaches in the country — that team looks like a nightmare to prepare for.

Matt Auerbach: Well, you saw the Pack in person, Brad, and your bird’s eye view confirmed what we had been seeing from afar. NC State is the real deal. Balanced, explosive, efficient and great chemistry makes for beautiful offensive basketball and that’s what Keatts’ team has going right now.

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ACC Conversation: Pre-Conference Edition – Part 1

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), Mick Mcdonald (@themickmcdonald) on January 3rd, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald recently got together to chat about the ACC heading into conference play. Here’s Part 1 of that conversation.

Tony Bennett and Mike Krzyzewski looked primed to battle it out for ACC supremacy. (pinterest.com)

Brad Jenkins: Happy New Year fellas! Now that we’re starting conference action, it’s a good time to access the ACC again. The national perception right now seems to be that this is going to be a DukeVirginia battle for league supremacy. Is that how you guys see it?

Mick McDonald: I do. I think you can make a pretty decent argument that those are the two best teams in the country, not just the ACC.

Matt Auerbach: I agree that there is a clear separation between those two and the rest of the league as well, but despite their relative struggles, I wouldn’t rule out North Carolina being a factor when all is said and done.

Mick McDonald: Virginia’s schedule leaves something to be desired to date, although a road win at Maryland and neutral win over Wisconsin are nice. But three of the Cavaliers’ next five games are against top 10 teams, so we’ll know for sure soon.

Brad Jenkins: What has impressed you most so far about Duke, Mick?

Mick McDonald: Is it weird to say Duke’s Zion Williamson, even with all his hype? He’s better than I considered and is truly a must-watch player. While RJ Barrett hasn’t been quite as efficient, his talent is undeniable. And Tre Jones is exactly the type of point guard Duke has needed the past few years. He really controls the game well.

Brad Jenkins: Yeah, this is the best defensive team Coach K has had in quite a while, led by Jones’ ball pressure. To rank among the top two in the nation in both blocks and steals is quite a thing.

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A Look at Five ACC Early Season Surprises

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 21st, 2018

As things around the college basketball world slow down heading into the holidays, Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) takes a look at a few early-season surprises from around the ACC.

  • NC State. Given all the new faces in Raleigh this year, many had reservations on whether Kevin Keatts could meld a new group into a winner. It’s still early but the answer is a resounding yes. The Wolfpack have already notched solid wins over Vanderbilt and Penn State on neutral courts in addition to knocking off a top-10 Auburn team at PNC Arena. NC State’s offense ranks 13th nationally (per KenPom) play at a very high pace (12th nationally) and have 10 players who see at least 13 minutes of action per game. If you aren’t well-conditioned before you take the court against the Wolfpack, you’re in big trouble. Keatts also has a pair of stars who need to start getting more attention beyond the Research Triangle. Point guard Markell Johnson owns a 73.9 percent effective field goal rate (third nationally) and a robust 138.2 Offensive Rating (11th nationally). He’s also cut his turnover rate nearly in half this season. Senior Torin Dorn is flourishing as a small-ball four, currently providing a 26.2 PER, 119.3 Offensive Rating and an 83.2 Defensive Rating, while shooting 45.8% from long-distance.
Kevin Keatts Isn’t Messing Around (USA Today Images)
  • Clemson. Syracuse has been a surprise disappointment as well through the first month of the season, but at least the Orange have a win at Ohio State to hang their hats on. Brad Brownell’s club, on the other hand, has not beaten a single team inside KenPom’s top 120. By losing to Creighton and Mississippi State on neutral courts as well as Nebraska at home, the Tigers have missed out on their only chances to pick up quality wins in the non-conference schedule. Their normally stout defense is rated just 50th in the country, per KenPom, and leading scorer Marcquise Reed has missed three games (including the Mississippi State game) with a sprained knee. Clemson is hopeful to have Reed back for the start of ACC play, and Brownell will certainly need him with the Tigers first three ACC games at Duke, at Syracuse and hosting Virginia. Yikes.
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