NC State is Legit — and So is Markell Johnson

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 20th, 2018

N.C. State got its biggest win of the season on Wednesday night at PNC Arena, taking out #7 Auburn, 78-71. As our colleague Matt Auerbach pointed out yesterday, there has been a lot of early-season skepticism about the Wolfpack because of their weak overall schedule to date. Now, after handling the Tigers, look for Kevin Keatts‘ surprising young squad to crack the Top 25 rankings next week (assuming it handles USC-Upstate over the weekend).

Markell Johnson led NC State to its biggest win of the year over #7 Auburn (wralsportsfan.com)

NC State’s rise is in large part because Markell Johnson has quietly emerged as one of the nation’s best guards. Against Auburn, the 6’1″ junior exploded for 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting and was at his best when his team really needed him. A personal 10-2 run in the second half exhibited the value Johnson is giving his team at a regular occurrence. Against the four Power Six schools that NC State has faced, he is averaging 20.0 points and posting an outstanding effective field goal percentage of 71.4 percent. On the season, Johnson is making 50.0 percent of his threes and 72.7 percent of his two-point attempts. Additionally, he’s posting a superb assist to turnover ratio of 2.5-to-1. As Kevin Keatts said Wednesday night, “He [Johnson] is one of the best guards in the country when he stays aggressive.” Johnson’s game is blending nicely with his backcourt mate Braxton Beverly — the duo thoroughly outplayed Auburn’s highly regarded pair of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. The side-by-side comparison shows that Johnson/Beverly combined for 42 points, 9-of-13 shooting from deep, and four turnovers; Harper and Brown, on the other hand, totaled just 14 points, made only 1-of-9 shots from distance, and committed 10 turnovers.

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NC State Hoping to Show Its Hot Start is the Real Deal Tonight

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 19th, 2018

Perhaps college basketball’s most under-appreciated and terrific start this season is happening very quietly in Raleigh. NC State, winner of nine of its first 10 games heading into this evening’s battle with Auburn — the sole loss came to Wisconsin in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge — has done so in relative anonymity. Tonight, the Wolfpack have an opportunity to take center stage and announce their candidacy for legitimacy to the nation.

Kevin Keatts is Smiling With Good Reason (USA Today Images)

Only four other schools in Division I hoops have played easier schedules to date than Kevin Keatts’ team, so the raised eyebrow skepticism with which some observers view the Wolfpack’s gaudy offensive numbers (currently 12th nationally) is justified. That said, NC State is playing the same brand of uptempo basketball that earned a surprise trip to the NCAA Tournament last season, and Keatts’ proven ability in building cohesion and teamwork is already apparent. Eight of the Wolfpack’s nine victories have come by at least 11 points, a key component of the new NET ratings that the NCAA Selection Committee relies upon during its analysis.

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North Carolina Bounces Back With Big Win Over Gonzaga

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 17th, 2018

After getting blown out at Michigan as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Roy Williams made some terse comments about the current state of his team — basically saying that North Carolina “stinks,” and that he was doing a poor job coaching his squad. In the Tar Heels’ first real test since that evening, his team laid the wood on Gonzaga, 103-90, Saturday night in the Smith Center. Senior forwards Luke Maye and Cam Johnson led the way as Williams’ team once again looked the part of a legitimate national contender.

Luke Maye won his individual battle with Rui Hachimura in North Carolina’s weekend victory over Gonzaga. (photo credit: goheels.com)

After a very successful junior campaign, Maye has to date had a disappointing senior year. His key offensive numbers are down – both in terms of scoring (14.3 versus 16.9 PPG) and shooting (45.0% versus 48.6% FG) — but he got the better of Gonzaga All-America candidate Rui Hachimura on Saturday night. Maye finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds in the winning effort while Hachimura contributed 17 points and six rebounds. One area where Maye has improved this season is at the free throw stripe. After making all seven of his tries against Gonzaga, he is now shooting 79.5 percent on the season (after converting only 62.4 percent of his freebies a year ago).

North Carolina also made a season high 13 three-pointers against the Zags with Johnson chiefly responsible (6-of-8 3FG). Williams has been waiting for a break-out shooting performance, saying after the game, “I’ve been telling Cam [Johnson], Kenny [Williams] and Luke [Maye] that you guys are our best shooters — how ’bout trying to be our best makers?” A regular strength of the North Carolina program is its work on the boards and that was hugely evident on Saturday as well. Gonzaga entered the contest ranked among the 50 best offensive rebounding teams in college basketball, but the Zags managed to only grab five of its 33 misses against the Tar Heels. Meanwhile, North Carolina converted 14 offensive boards into 27 points. As Mark Few said afterward, “They just pounded us on the glass, too. […] The shots we did get them to miss, they usually got the rebound and put it back in.”

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ACC Weekend Preview: December 15 Edition

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 14th, 2018

Although the basketball slate has been very light during finals week, there are several intriguing ACC match-ups coming our way on Saturday. Rush the Court ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) previews your Saturday. (all rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, December 15

Roy Williams Will Be Ready for Gonzaga Saturday Night (USA Today Images)
  • #87 Old Dominion at #16 Syracuse. The Orange have won five straight games since back-to-back losses at Madison Square Garden last month, but they still have legitimate concerns on offense. Most pundits thought the return of Tyus Battle and the addition of transfer Elijah Hughes, along with freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim, would result in an improved three-point shooting team this season. They’ve been anything but, however, making just 29.0 percent (308th nationally) from long-distance. Luckily, Syracuse, as usual, boasts the 10th-best defense in the country, anchored by 7’2” center Pascal Chukwu (87.0 DRtg, 15.8% blk), who makes it very difficult to finish around the rim. Jim Boeheim‘s group will be tested by a very solid Old Dominion team that is led by two senior guards. Ahmad Caver (18.5 PPG, 5.1 APG, 23.1 PER) is one of the top point guards in the country and B.J. Stith (18.0 PPG, 8.8 RGP, 23.8 PER) is as tough a two-guard as you’ll find anywhere. This pair certainly won’t be intimidated by a raucous atmosphere in the Carrier Dome.
  • #27 NC State vs. #42 Penn State. This game will take place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and offers a great opportunity for NC State to pick up a quality win over a Big Ten team. So far the Wolfpack have played only two games against top 100 opponents, with a neutral court win over Vanderbilt their lone victory. Kevin Keatts’ offense has been led by point guard Markell Johnson (12.2 PPG, 4.2 APG, 72.9% eFG), who is the engine that makes the uptempo offense go. That offense will face a top-10 Nittany Lions’ defense on Saturday. NC State likes to play small-ball, but it will have to be ready for Lamar Stevens (20.1 PPG), Penn State’s go-to option with a 30.2 percent usage rate.
  • #11 Virginia Tech vs. #52 Washington. How about an ACC double-header in AC this weekend! Virginia Tech will follow behind NC State, a team that of which it is very similar: Both clubs have fantastic offenses that have feasted against mostly inferior competition. To get another notch in its growing belt this weekend, Buzz Williams’ team will need to light up the Washington zone from long-distance. The Hokies are shooting 44.9 percent (fourth nationally) from long-range, with every playing averaging at least 20 minutes per game converting at 40 percent or better. When a team shoots the ball that well, they want to avoid turnovers to get up as many shots as possible. This means that point guard Justin Robinson needs to improve on his 21.3 percent turnover rate if the Hokies hope to make a run in the ACC.
  • #6 Gonzaga at #7 North Carolina. This Saturday evening tilt has a chance to be the best game of the entire non-conference slate. Gonzaga has already played a pair of classics with Duke and Tennessee (splitting), but both of those contests were on neutral courts. The Chapel Hill crowd should be fired up to provide an amazing atmosphere for a mid-December college basketball game. Given how deep both of these teams are, it will be fascinating to see how they match up with each other. Will we see five-star freshman Nassir Little (96.1 DRtg) or senior Cam Johnson (95.1 DRtg) defend Gonzaga star Rui Hachimura (26.5 PER & 121.9 ORtg)? Will star freshman point guard Coby White, who missed the Tar Heels’ last game with an ankle injury, suit up? Can Luke Maye get any shots off around the rim with Brandon Clarke (94.3 DRtg, 11.9% blk) lurking nearby? If you are a college basketball fan and aren’t watching this game, what are you doing instead?

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Finals Week Cram Session: What does each ACC Team need to improve?

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 13th, 2018


In the spirit of Finals Week and the pause it creates in the flow of the non-conference slate, we thought now would be a good time for our own early-year evaluation. With only a few weeks of practice and a handful of tune-ups remaining before conference play, we took a quick look at what each ACC squad could stand to improve upon.

Did Duke’s Domination of Kentucky Taint Their Perception? (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Wake Forest: A 5-3 record, lowlighted by a home loss to Houston Baptist, has the Demon Deacons staring down the barrel of another lost season. Given the likelihood that freshman phenom Jaylen Hoard will spend just another few months in Winston-Salem, developing returning young talent should be paramount. Sophomore Oliver Sarr, who rates 34th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, needs more minutes. And given Wake’s putrid percentage on two-point field goals (48.1%, 239th nationally), Sarr’s prowess on the offensive glass will be of assistance in the near-term.

Pittsburgh: A home loss to Niagara notwithstanding, the Panthers have been feisty under first year coach Jeff Capel. Continuing to feature the freshman backcourt duo of Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens, the team’s first and third-leading scorers, respectively, should pay future dividends even if the pair take their lumps as rookies.

Boston College: The Eagles are a late-game collapse against Providence from standing at 7-1. Junior Ky Bowman has been as good as anticipated, but freshman backcourt mate Wynston Tabbs has been a revelation. Featuring a star like Bowman without stunting the growth of the talented Tabbs is a line that Jim Christian will have to balance throughout league play.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets rank 215th nationally in effective field goal percentage, which is somehow an improvement from a year ago. Once again Josh Pastner’s charges are locking down defensively (11th nationally) but simply cannot put the ball in the hoop. Since they can’t make twos (159th) or threes (250th), here’s a suggestion. For a team that rates 250th nationally in three-point attempt share, what could it hurt to throw caution to the wind and start hoisting a few more from beyond the arc?

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish uncharacteristically rank 258th (31.2%) in three-point percentage in struggling to a 6-3 start. For Mike Brey’s team to snap out of its funk, they need more from sophomore D.J. Harvey. After three straight double-figure scoring outings, Irish fans are hoping that the light is finally starting to go on for the highly-acclaimed wing who has mostly struggled in his time in South Bend.

Miami: The Hurricanes are currently enduring a curious four-game skid, the last two of which came to a pair of Ivy League foes. With this hole they have dug, Jim Larranaga’s club probably needs to sweep the remainder of its non-conference schedule in addition to notching at least 10 ACC wins to make the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive year. To do that, they need a more efficient Chris Lykes, whose offensive rating has plummeted below 100.0 in each of the four losses.

Clemson: The Tigers have lost to the three best teams on its schedule thus far, including a neutral court defeat to Mississippi State last Saturday. Leading scorer Marcquise Reed missed that affair with a sprained knee, and for Brad Brownell’s club to return to the NCAA Tournament, they need him back in action pronto. The graduation of Gabe DeVoe, who made a team-high 86 three-pointers a year ago, has also shrunk the floor, but Clemson needs to find a way to vastly improve on its chilly 30.9 percent three-point shooting (266th nationally).

Louisville: Not much was expected in year one under Chris Mack, but the Cardinals have proven to be a cohesive, hard-playing bunch. Featuring burgeoning star Jordan Nwora while the rest of the roster excels in their specific roles is the recipe for Mack’s squad to maintain its chemistry and to further exceed preseason expectations.

NC State: Perhaps the biggest positive surprise the league has to offer this season, the Wolfpack’s remarkable offensive start has gone unnoticed nationally. Ranking 15th in offensive efficiency, Kevin Keatts has a deep, talented, unselfish roster, playing his brand of uptempo basketball. The team has great balance — with 10 players averaging at least 4.6 PPG — but if anything could be nitpicked, it is the frigid shooting of sophomore Braxton Beverly. The shooting guard is connecting on only 28.6 percent of his shots — a fact that has been masked by hot shooting among the rest of the roster — but Beverly will need to be reliable when others cool off.

Syracuse: Once again, the Orange just cannot shoot the basketball, and it is difficult to envision them improving much on this key metric. Freshman Buddy Boeheim is an easy target because of his last name, but he is one of the few players with the ability to create space for Oshae Brissett. The coach’s son must improve on his 6-of-29 start from three-point range, however, and, while we’re at it, Marek Dolezaj, should under no circumstances be averaging just three points and two rebounds per game.

Florida State: The Seminoles have been consistent on both ends of the floor in winning eight of its first nine games, with the lone loss coming to defending national champion Villanova. Imagine how much better the 27th most efficient offense in the nation would be if it wasn’t turning it over on an alarmingly high 22.4 percent of its possessions (321st nationally).

Virginia Tech: The Hokies can really shoot the ball, sporting the sixth most efficient offense nationally, on the back of the second-highest effective field goal percentage (61.0%). The backcourt of Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker can stake a claim to being the best in the country, as the two are combining for nearly 33 points and more than 10 assists per game. The Hokies as currently constructed, however, are not a team that can bail themselves out by getting easy points from the free throw line, as they rank 318th nationally in free-throw share. Buzz Williams‘ personnel are designed to get to the rim and create contact — it may just take a few cold shooting nights to provide the impetus to do so.

North Carolina: Here’s a scary proposition for the rest of the ACC: The Tar Heels rank fourth nationally in offensive efficiency and their two most ballyhooed players haven’t played very well this season. Preseason All-American Luke Maye is averaging just 13.7 points per game on 31 percent shooting from deep, while projected lottery pick Nassir Little is averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game. If Maye gets it rolling and Little’s immense talent starts to bloom, this team could be unstoppable on the offensive end of the floor.

Virginia: The Cavaliers are 9-0 to date and have barely had to break a sweat in achieving that perfect record. Ranking 12th nationally on offense and fourth on defense, Tony Bennett’s club is going about its business in its typically efficient, workmanlike manner. However, defensive menace and offensive conductor extraordinaire Kihei Clarke broke his wrist on Sunday, and although no timetable has been set for his return, missing significant time would be a blow to Virginia’s aspirations in capturing back-to-back ACC championships.

Duke: Coming out of the gates like it did against Kentucky in the Champions Classic almost worked against the Blue Devils in that we are unlikely to see them play at that level of dominance again. That certainly doesn’t mean Duke cannot achieve everything it wants — it’s just that its initial effort was so flawlessly sublime. Regardless of what happens in the next few months, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and friends will be the favorite to win the national title in March. When situations get tight, though, sometimes games are won and lost on the free-throw line. At 65 percent to date, the Blue Devils need to be better from the charity stripe. But, other than that, they’re awfully good.

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Finals Week Analysis: Addressing Duke’s Preseason Questions

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 12th, 2018

Heading into the 2018-19 season, we knew that Duke’s talent would be at a very high level, but there were a handful of legitimate questions surrounding Mike Krzyzewski’s youthful club. With 10 games now in the books and students in the midst of finals, it seems like a good time to assess how the Blue Devils are addressing those preseason concerns. Duke’s 9-1 record has been achieved with superstar freshmen Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett grabbing most of the headlines, but two of their classmates may hold the key to a truly spectacular season.

Trey Jones has been the catalyst behind Duke’s improved man-to-man defense. (Lance King/Getty Images)

Question #1: Would the Blue Devils be able to play effective man-to-man defense?

In the preseason, Krzyzewski praised the defensive potential of his team, citing its quickness and length on the perimeter. In recent years, however, Duke has not been very successful in executing Coach K’s favored pressure man-to-man defense. Youth cannot entirely be blamed for those struggles — those teams frequently had effort issues as well. For example, halfway through last season, the Blue Devils’ defense was so bad that Krzyzewski gave up on it and began exclusively playing zone. Based on Duke’s current defensive numbers, that will not be a problem this year. The Blue Devils currently rank fifth in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings, while holding opponents to very good shooting rates — 42.4 percent shooting on two-pointers, and 28.2 percent from behind the three-point line.

According to Krzyzewski, freshman point guard Tre Jones deserves most of the credit for the defensive resurgence. Jones’ pressure on the ball is something we haven’t seen from a Blue Devils guard in many years — maybe since Chris Duhon 15 years ago. This allows Duke’s rangy wings to get in passing lanes, generating live-ball turnovers that often lead to showtime dunks at the other end. Duke leads the nation in steal percentage (14.5%) and is forcing turnovers on 21.8 percent of opponents’ possessions (50th nationally). In the previous four seasons, the Blue Devils have not been among the nation’s top 200 teams in forcing miscues. Gonzaga last month achieved some success in attacking Duke’s ball-screen defense when Marquise Bolden was on the floor, but Krzyzewski’s counter to that strategy may be to give more minutes to the more mobile Javin DeLaurier. DeLaurier, who allows the Duke defense to switch at all five spots, made his first start of the year against Yale last Saturday.

Question #2: How good (or bad) will the perimeter shooting be?

Duke has finished among KenPom’s top 10 offensive efficiency rankings in every year of the past decade. A big component of that success has been the Blue Devils’ sustained ability to knock down perimeter shots, year after year. Over the past nine campaigns, Duke has converted at least 37 percent of its shots from long-range, finishing well above the national average each year. While immensely talented, none of this season’s four ballyhooed freshmen came to college known for their expertise in shooting the ball. And with no returning players of note, outside shooting acumen was a huge question for this team heading into the Champions Classic. After 10 games, this is still a concern – Duke is currently making just 33.2 percent of its three-point efforts.

A deeper dive into the numbers, however, reveals that Duke’s perimeter shooting woes may not be as bad as its season mark suggests. The Blue Devils were ice cold in their last two outings, making just 10-of-47 from distance, but prior to those two games, they sank a respectable 36.0 percent of their three-point attempts. And perhaps surprisingly, Duke is shooting better when it faces tougher competition – making 37.6 percent from beyond the arc versus the five best defenses they have faced. One potential caveat here is that Krzyzewski’s club is too dependent on Cam Reddish’s game-to-game accuracy. As Duke’s highest-volume deep shooter, Reddish’s propensity for streakiness is concerning. After starting the year on fire – 10-of-21 from three-point range in his first two games – he has struggled lately. Reddish was largely responsible (1-of-14) for Duke’s poor three-point shooting in its last two contests, and a cold night from him could be problematic when Duke begins to tackle the better defensive teams in the ACC.

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ACC M5: 12.10.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 10th, 2018

  1. Syracuse.com. It was just like old times at the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon as Syracuse edged Georgetown, 72-71, on Tyus Battle’s jumper with three seconds remaining. These original Big East schools have now met four years in a row after an initial two-year hiatus. Since the Orange joined the ACC prior to the 2013-14 season, they have played 14 non-conference games against original Big East schools, winning six of those contests. But with the ACC moving to a 20-game conference schedule beginning in 2019-20, Jim Boeheim isn’t sure those marquee match-ups can continue. Boeheim commented on the matter after Saturday’s contest, saying, “We’ve got so many games we have to play. It’s difficult to play these games.” That would be an unfortunate consequence of the new ACC schedule plan – it’s safe to say that most of us would rather see Syracuse play Georgetown (or Villanova) than an extra meeting with, say, Georgia Tech.
  2. Onefootdown.com. Speaking of historic non-conference rivalries from the past, Notre Dame lost to UCLA at the buzzer, 65-62, on Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion. As this article points out, the Irish’s problems are, for once, coming on the offensive end. Against the Bruins, Mike Brey’s club made only 33.3 percent of its twos and 8-of-15 from the foul line. On the season, Notre Dame has logged an effective field goal percentage of just 47.7 percent, making it to date the worst shooting team of the Brey era. Not coincidentally, this is also the youngest team Brey has ever suited up. Maybe the offense will begin to click as the season progresses, but if it doesn’t, Notre Dame should expect to have a lot of long nights in ACC play.
  3. Mississippi Clarion Ledger. Two southern ACC schools participated in Saturday’s Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. In the first game, Clemson fell to Mississippi State, 82-71, as the Bulldogs set a program record with 19 three-pointers. This is becoming a troubling pattern for Brad Brownell’s defense this year. Not only are the Tigers allowing opponents to shoot very well from deep – 39.1 percent (322nd nationally) – but they are also giving them a ton of opportunities. Opponents are attempting a robust 43.5 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. As Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said, “You take what the defense gives you. And basically what their defense was giving us today were threes.” For the season, Clemson is giving up 2.5 more made threes per game than they are making. That is not a long-term recipe for success.
  4. Hartford Courant. In the second game at the Prudential Center, Florida State beat Connecticut, 79-71, in a ragged type of affair in which the Seminoles seem to thrive. The game featured a total of 41 turnovers and 55 fouls that resulted in 58 free throw attempts. Leonard Hamilton’s teams have often struggled with ball-handling and this year is no exception – the Seminoles rank 320th in the country with a turnover rate of 22.4 percent. But that’s offset by a defense that forces miscues on 24.3 percent of opponent’s possessions, good for 12th in the nation. With Florida State’s depth, Hamilton doesn’t mind a foul-fest type of game either – the Seminoles also beat Purdue in a similar manner in the recent ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  Expect a lot more “ugly” games involving Florida State, and a lot more Seminoles’ victories.
  5. Yahoo Sports. One scheduled ACC game this weekend did not take place as Boston College was either unable or unwilling – depending on which school you listen to – to travel to Texas A&M. This piece goes through the timeline of relevant events, beginning with the Eagles’ original flight that was delayed because of problems with their chartered plane. It sounds like several alternatives were presented for the game to continue, even if it was moved to a later tip-time on Saturday, but apparently Jim Christian was not willing to play a big non-conference game just five or six hours after a long plane flight. The sad part for Boston College is that it has missed an opportunity to notch a solid road win, something they would likely need to have any shot at an NCAA at-large bid this season.
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With Chris Mack, Louisville Proving to be Ahead of Schedule

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on December 5th, 2018

When Louisville pried Chris Mack away from Xavier last May, the move was almost universally lauded around college basketball circles. Given the swirl of uncertainty that had become pervasive in the Cardinals’ program over the last few years, nabbing a head coach of Mack’s standing was viewed as a major coup. Sure, a commitment of seven years and nearly $30 million dollars helped, but no price was too steep to acquire someone of Mack’s ability and character. The end of the Rick Pitino era had been marred by very personal and very public lapses of morality mixed with fiery defiance and steadfast refusal of accountability concerning illicit recruiting practices within his program. The Hall of Fame coach’s excellence on the court — Louisville had returned to its historical status as a top 10 national program, just behind the perennial blue-bloods — gave him enough rope to survive a school-imposed postseason ban in 2016; but the final straw came in connection with allegations of fraud and corruption that rocked the NCAA to its core. Louisville saw that it was at a crossroads and its next hire would undoubtedly dictate the trajectory of the next decade of Cardinals’ basketball.

Chris Mack Has Been a Pleasant Early Surprise at Louisville (USA Today Images)

After making the NCAA Tournament in eight of nine seasons at the helm of his alma mater (most recently as a #1 seed), there were only a handful of candidates available who would consider a job facing such an uncertain future. Mack, whose wife is a native of Louisville, nevertheless took the leap, with the expectation that his first season would act as a bridge campaign with a roster largely barren of high-major ACC talent. Expectations are always a moving target, however, and the early returns on Mack’s hire are much better than anticipated. In winning five of its first seven contests, the Cardinals have looked exceedingly capable and competitive against the nation’s 24th-toughest schedule. The most recent four-game gauntlet of Tennessee and Marquette on a neutral floor, home for Michigan State, and at Seton Hall, yielded a respectable 2-2 split with discussion of an at-large NCAA berth considered a very real possibility.

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ACC M5: 12.03.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 3rd, 2018

morning5_ACC

  1. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: After coming up just a little short at Iowa in last week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Pittsburgh struggled early in Friday’s annual City Game with cross-town rival Duquesne. But the Panthers eventually got it going and won going away, 74-53, in front of a crowd of 12,246. We mention the game’s attendance because it represents a 21 percent increase over last year’s meeting in the same event, furthering the notion that first-year head coach Jeff Capel is rebuilding the excitement level for his program in the Steel City. Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot noticed a difference with Capel in charge, saying, “[Former Pitt] Coach [Kevin] Stallings is a finesse guy who is a little more offensively oriented. This team is more like Duke [where Capel played and was an assistant coach].”
  2. Louisvile Courier-Journal: Louisville took another positive step in its own rebuilding process by winning at Seton Hall, 70-65, on Saturday afternoon. The Cardinals showed during Feast Week that they were ready to compete with the big boys — dropping close games against Tennessee and Marquette in the NIT Season Tip-Off — before edging top-10 Michigan State in overtime last week. In adding a significant road win over a Big East club, Chris Mack‘s balanced attack — only Dwayne Sutton (12 points) reached double figures — has become the norm this year. Sophomore breakout player Jordan Nwora (17.7 PPG) leads the squad in scoring, but eight other Cardinals are averaging between 6.3 and 10.0 points per contest. Keep an eye on this team over the next month.
  3. USA Today: Three ACC schools took part in Saturday’s Miami Hoophall Invitational at AmericanAirlines Arena, although the sparse crowds suggest that the four games would have fit better in a local high school gym. Georgia Tech was the first squad to see action, ultimately blowing a 16-point second half lead in falling to St. John’s, 76-73. We are now in year three of the Josh Pastner era, and some clear patterns have emerged:  First, the Yellow Jackets will defend hard (they are currently 16th in national defensive efficiency); next, they will struggle to make shots from deep (30.7% 3FG this season). If their shooting holds, Georgia Tech will fail to make at least 33 percent of its three-pointers for the third straight season. Until Pastner can recruit some shooters into the program — and shouldn’t he have by now (?) — the Yellow Jackets’ limited offense will hold them back.
  4. Miami Sun-Sentinel: Georgia Tech wasn’t the only ACC team to blow a huge lead in the Hoophall Invitational. Home team Miami squandered a 15-point second half advantage in losing to Yale, 77-73, its third consecutive defeat. Head coach Jim Larranaga has noticed a fatal flaw in the Hurricanes’ defense this year — after Yale’s Miye Oni (29 points) torched his club, the Hurricanes’ coach noted, “We just don’t have a guy that can stop a guy like that.” Previously, Bethune-Cookman’s Malik Maitland (29 points) and Fresno State’s Braxton Huggins (28 points) found similar success against the Hurricanes’ defense. This raises the obvious question — if mid-major players are slicing up Miami, what will happen when the stars of the ACC get a crack at the Hurricanes?
  5. WRAL Sportsfan: The only victorious ACC school in Miami on Saturday was NC State, which pulled away late to top Vanderbilt, 80-65. Much like the Wolfpack’s game at Wisconsin earlier in the week — when the Badgers rallied to overtake them — NC State was in control for most of the way before being challenged in the second half. This time, Kevin Keatts’ team responded positively in what was only their second match-up with a team ranked in KenPom’s top 175. NC State forward Torin Dorn is quietly putting up impressive numbers in many areas. The 6’5″ senior is leading the team in scoring (16.6 PPG) and on the boards (7.6 RPG), while making 55.7 percent of his two-point tries and 50.0 percent of his three-point attempts. Additionally, Dorn has collected 14 steals and only committed nine turnovers in eight games this year.
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Eight ACC Takeaways From the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 30th, 2018

This year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was full of tight games that came down to the wire, so it was fitting that the event ended in a deadlocked 7-7 tie. In fact, 10 of the 14 games were decided by two possessions or fewer, with the Big Ten coming out ahead in six of those nail-biters. Below we offer takeaways from the event for eight ACC squads — four of which came out winners and four of which came out losers.

Louisville Shows Some Toughness

Louisville celebrates a gutsy home win over Michigan State. (Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal)

It appears that Chris Mack’s plan to restore toughness to the Louisville program may already be ahead of schedule, as the Cardinals proved very resilient in Tuesday’s 82-78 overtime victory over Michigan State. After watching a nice lead evaporate late in regulation, Louisville responded well in the extra session behind Ryan McMahon’s career game (24 points, 12-of-13 FT). Tough teams get to the free throw line often and nobody’s better at that aspect of the game right now than the Cardinals.

Key Stat: Louisville made 30-of-41 free throws against the Spartans. Season FTA% = 65.5% (#1 nationally).

Frank Howard is Important to Syracuse

With Frank Howard on the sidelines with an injury, Syracuse struggled mightily from the perimeter in its first four contests. That was particularly true for Orange starters Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and Elijah Hughes, who together connected to make only 11-of-56 shots from behind the arc. With Howard now back in the lineup, Jim Boeheim’s guys suddenly have found the range — Battle, Brissett and Hughes combined to make 7-of-15 shots from deep in Syracuse’s 72-62 win at Ohio State on Wednesday.

Key Stat: Syracuse shot 11-of-24 (45.8%) on three-pointers against the Buckeyes. In its first four games without Howard, the Orange converted only 20.5 percent.

Virginia Gets Offensive

For the second time in Virginia’s last three outings, Tony Bennett’s celebrated defense was subpar – Maryland managed to score 1.18 points per possession (PPP) in the Cavaliers’ 76-71 road win on Wednesday evening. That’s a number that was topped by just one Virginia opponent last season — UMBC posted 1.19 PPP in last March’s historic upset of the Cavaliers. Virginia beat its old ACC rival by outscoring them, using hot shooting from deep (45.5% 3FG) and tremendous ball security.

Key Stat: Virginia with only two turnovers. Season TO% = 11.7% (#2 nationally).

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