ACC Preview: Virginia’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 14th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page located here.

Are last year’s reserves ready to step into the prime time?

Virginia as a program enjoyed a renaissance of sorts under Tony Bennett last year, winning its first outright ACC regular season title in 33 years and first ACC Tournament in 38 years. After a slow start in the non-conference slate, Virginia turned it on after the New Year and finished with a record of 30-7, a #1 seed in the East Region, and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Bennett has stressed that despite Virginia’s lofty preseason billing, this is a different year and team. While Virginia returns 70 percent of its core in terms of playing time, the losses of Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell are hefty ones. The players counted on to replace the production and leadership of those two stalwarts will largely determine if the Cavaliers can have an equally or even more successful 2014-15 season.

Virginia is counting on even more intensity and production from Justin Anderson as he moves into the starting lineup (UVA Athletics)

Virginia is counting on even more intensity and production from Justin Anderson as he moves into the starting lineup (UVA Athletics)

The good news for Virginia is it is the ACC team best-suited to replace outgoing starters, as Bennett stresses a team-oriented concept that operates without the need for true superstars. Guard Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia’s best offensive player last year, led the team in scoring at a mere 12.7 points per game. While Brogdon may raise those numbers as he continues to take more of a leadership mantle, it’s not necessary that he do so for the Cavaliers to win. Justin Anderson, the reigning ACC Sixth Man of the Year, will likely step into the starting spot vacated by Harris. While not the three-point threat of Harris, Anderson’s athleticism coupled with capable long-range shooting should keep defenses honest. The backcourt is still in great hands with London Perrantes running the show (after he returns from his one-game suspension), a rising sophomore who displayed remarkable poise and ball security as a freshman. If Perrantes continues to be a threat when looking for his own shot, the Cavaliers’ backcourt could be its calling card on the offensive end.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC M5: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 14th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Louisville Courier-Journal: The top game of the weekend for entertainment value has to be tonight’s father-son coaching matchup between Rick Pitino and Richard Pitino as Louisville and Minnesota meet in the Armed Forces Classic at U.S. Air Base Borinquen, in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. The two Pitinos have met before in 2012 when Richard was in his first year at Florida International, in a game arranged to help out the younger Pitino’s program with exposure and a nice paycheck. Obviously this is a somewhat different situation, with both schools in power leagues focusing on trips to the NCAA Tournament next March. Instead of money and exposure as the main motivators, this is a chance to honor the U.S. Armed Forces, share a little family time, and get an early look at how each squad stacks up against good competition. With all that in play, whichever Pitino wins may not feel too bad about beating the other.
  2. DailyProgress.com: Credit should be given to Tony Bennett as Virginia is the lone ACC school that will open its season on an opponent’s home court. The Cavaliers will make the one-hour trip up to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to play intrastate rival James Madison tonight. As this article points out, last year’s Virginia performance was the classic case of the sum being greater than the parts. Four of those parts will be missing tonight, counting graduated starters Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell along with suspended players London Perrantes and Evan Nolte. But as this game preview points out, the Dukes will also be without two suspended players because of an off-campus altercation with each other in October. One of those suspended was James Madison’s leading scorer from last year, so, even on the road, the Cavaliers may not face too tough of an opener after all.
  3. WRALSportsFan: After a second consecutive year of negative preseason issues surrounding his program, at least Roy Williams doesn’t have to face the same roster uncertainty that he had to deal with in 2013-14. It remains to be seen if the dark cloud of scandal will have a major effect on a North Carolina team that appears poised for a special 2014-15 campaign, but expect Williams to continue to field questions after tonight’s game against North Carolina Central that are unrelated to on-court performance. UNC’s opponent is coming off its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, so this may not be a total mismatch, but as NCCU coach LaVelle Moton indicated at a recent press conference, he is not sure how good team is with so many transfer players and preseason injuries. We will be on press row for opening night at the Smith Center, so follow us on Twitter (@rtcACC) for live updates during the game, and more importantly, for reports from Williams’ postgame press conference.
  4. Greensboro News & Record: Duke is the only ACC team that will play back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, as the Blue Devils host Presbyterian and then Fairfield as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer preliminary round. This article notes that freshman Tyus Jones looks to have already established himself as Duke’s starting point guard. The writer goes on to say Jones will be the first rookie starting as a Duke point guard since Austin Rivers began there in 2011-12, a common misconception. Rivers was never a point guard in his one year at Duke although he was often mentioned as one, perhaps in part because of his famous father, Doc Rivers, who was a longtime NBA point guard. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how Duke’s team chemistry works in these first two tune-up games before heading to Indianapolis to face Michigan State on Tuesday night. We will be in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night to see how Duke’s veteran guards, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, adjust to coming off the bench, so follow us on Twitter (@rtcACC) for additional live in-game and postgame coverage.
  5. BostonUSA.com: On Sunday, Boston College will take on Massachusetts in the middle game of the second annual Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader in Boston’s TD Garden, home of the NBA’s Celtics. The Minutemen only return two starters from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, but they have three others who played at least 30 games in 2013-14, so there’s some decent experience available for Derek Kellogg. It will be the second game of the season for both teams, as Boston College opens with New Hampshire in Conte Forum tonight, while UMass hosts Siena. It will be interesting to see if new coach Jim Christian’s Eagles display improvement on the defensive end, an area where ex-coach Steve Donahue’s teams always struggled. Probably the best team at Sunday’s event will be Harvard, which plays Holy Cross in the last game of the day.
Share this story

Four Teams in the Preseason Top 10: Banner Year for the ACC?

Posted by Brett Thompson on November 12th, 2014

The Atlantic Coast Conference looks poised to have a dominant season among basketball’s top conferences, boasting four of the nation’s preseason top 10 teams in Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville. After a short one-year stint in the American Athletic Conference, Louisville is the latest former Big East team to join the ACC, while the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Cavaliers are ACC mainstays — each hopes to carry the conference banner to the finish line in March. Virginia wants to defend its conference title and prove last season wasn’t a fluke; Louisville hopes to send a message in its ACC debut; and the Tobacco Road teams are hoping to make it back to their rightful place in the Sweet Sixteen and beyond. Simply put, the ACC is going to be a war at the top of the standings, and each team has a major driver pushing it this year.

Virginia's ascendance will only help the ACC's argument that it's the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

Virginia’s ascendance will only help the ACC’s argument that it’s the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

This season marks the third time since 2002 that a conference has had four teams in the preseason top 10. Ironically, both of these instances came courtesy of the Big East. In 2011, the conference placed Connecticut and current ACC members Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville within the top 10; and in 2008, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and another current ACC member, Notre Dame, topped the list. In each of those years, the ACC’s only two representatives were — who else? — Duke and North Carolina. This definitely speaks to the prestige of the basketball programs that the ACC has added in recent years, and it’s not implausible to think the ACC could place even more than four squads in the top 10 in coming seasons.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC M5: 11.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 12th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. A Dime Back: This UConn fan site executed a classic troll on the Huskies’ old Big East rival, Syracuse, by buying the domain http://syracuse.nyc/ and flaunting Connecticut’s success in the Big Apple at the Orange. Of course, the irony of this story is that if UConn considers itself the champ of New York it will soon have to give up that belt due to inactivity. The Huskies don’t have a single game this season scheduled in the Big Apple while the Orange will play twice in Madison Square Garden in November as part of the 2K Classic. Syracuse will ultimately get the last laugh when the ACC starts playing its ACC Tournament in Brooklyn in 2017 while Connecticut, left behind in the last major conference realignment, travels to less prestigious campus sites/cities for the American Athletic Conference’s postseason tourney. Good job, good effort.
  2. CBSSports: Virginia will be without two of its key returnees when the Cavaliers tip off the season on Friday night at James Madison. The school announced one-game suspensions for starting point guard London Perrantes and reserve forward Evan Nolte for violating team rules over the summer. This hasn’t been the best start to the season for the sophomore Perrantes, who, after a preseason injury delayed his availability to practice, now finds himself sitting out for a game. Both players are supposed to return to action for Virginia’s home game with Norfolk State on Sunday.
  3. Boston College Exhibition: On November 6, Boston College played its only preseason exhibition game, defeating American International, 92-53, in Conte Forum. Graduate student transfer Aaron Brown led the Eagles in the scoring column with 21 points. Brown comes to Boston College from Southern Miss, where he averaged 9.9 points per game and shot 39 percent from three-point distance as a junior. Perhaps he can be the versatile and athletic wing player that was noticeably absent from the program under the watch of former coach Steve Donahue. Boston College kicks off the 2014-15 season for real on Friday when it hosts New Hampshire.
  4. Miami Exhibition: Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes trailed at halftime before rallying to beat Eckerd, 74-58, at the BankUnited Center last Thursday. This was the only preseason contest for Miami before it hosts Howard in the season’s official opener on Friday. Sophomore guard Manu Lecomte was the lone returning player from last year to see minutes, as eight Hurricanes made their public debut. The most impressive was former Texas wing Sheldon McClellan, who led the team’s scoring with 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting from both the field and the foul line. His fellow Big 12 transfer, former Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez, also shined with six assists and five steals. Of course, Larranaga excels at putting together different pieces in a productive manner, so don’t underestimate this team just because it hasn’t played together much at all before this preseason.
  5. Georgia Tech Exhibition: Last Saturday at McCamish Pavilion, Georgia Tech topped Clayton State, 74-41, in this preseason’s lone exhibition contest for the Yellow Jackets. Tech used its size advantage to dominate the boards (+32 total rebounds) but did nothing to dispel the concern we expressed in our team preview related to poor free throw shooting of the incoming transfer big men — Charles Mitchell and Demarco Cox combined to go 2-of-10 from the stripe. Brian Gregory’s team hosts a good Georgia squad in Friday’s regular season opener, and a win against such high-major competition would be huge for the embattled Georgia Tech coach as he begins a crucial season in Atlanta.
Share this story

ACC Preview: Duke’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 11th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Duke’s veterans adapt to, and excel in, new roles?

All of the pre-season talk, and rightfully so, concerning Duke has been focused on the incoming freshman class Mike Krzyzewski has assembled. Jahlil Okafor, the most dominant incoming true center the Blue Devils have procured in some time, has garnered numerous accolades already in being named pre-season ACC Freshman of the Year by the ACC media and even the Associated Press pre-season Player of the Year. Freshman Tyus Jones, part of a “package deal” recruitment with Okafor, looks to be the starting point guard when the season begins this week. And wing Justise Winslow showed the defensive prowess expected of him, along with the scoring acumen, in the exhibition season to also merit a spot in the starting lineup.

Quinn Cook will have to acclimate to playing without the ball in his hands more often this year (SI)

Quinn Cook will have to acclimate to playing without the ball in his hands more often this year (SI)

While the freshman class is a sterling one, this team still maintains a number of veterans who will be familiarizing themselves with new roles. Senior Quinn Cook, one of the team’s two captains, was the starting point guard for most of last season and surely thought he’d seize the reins this year prior to Jones’ commitment. He’s now likely relegated to a spot coming off the bench and occasionally playing off the ball when he and Jones are on the court together. Cook, to his credit, has said all the right things about occasionally deferring to a freshman, but it’s still going to be a challenge to acclimate to the mindset of providing offense off of the bench, oftentimes from the off-guard position.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Should North Carolina Remove Its 2005 National Championship Banner?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 11th, 2014

On Saturday, Dan Kane of the Raleigh News & Observer posted a follow-up piece on the North Carolina academic/athletic scandal in the wake of last month’s Wainstein Report, a searing description of the details of a “shadow curriculum” that allowed many North Carolina student-athletes over an 18-year period to take fraudulent “paper classes” in order to remain eligible. Kane has been lauded for his investigative reporting since the onset of the scandal several years ago, and his work has been largely vindicated by Wainstein’s findings. In his latest article, Kane reveals that, after reviewing the corresponding documents underlying the report, North Carolina’s 2005 National Championship team made a mockery of the term “student-athlete.”

Were these 2005 NCAA Champs "Student-Athletes" or merely Athletes. (Getty Images)

Were these 2005 NCAA Champs “Student-Athletes” or merely Athletes?
(Getty Images)

Kane reports that several key members of that team were free to concentrate on basketball without worrying too much about college classwork, as a total of 35 bogus classes were taken by UNC basketball players during the 2004-05 academic year (that comes out to 2.7 fraudulent classes per scholarship player). Drilling down even further, 26 of those courses were held during the crucial spring semester that included March Madness. It’s reasonable to presume that some players on that team did absolutely no academic work from January-May 2005, which, as Kane suggests, could have given the Tar Heels a competitive advantage over schools with players who were required to attend classes and perform the work that was assigned in them.

As the NCAA continues to sniff around the North Carolina campus, the question becomes what should happen to the 2005 National Championship banner that prominently hangs in the Smith Center? The NCAA will eventually hand out some sort of punishment to the program — presumably — but does the fake-class scheme rise to the level of the organization forcing the school to vacate its appearance in the 2005 NCAA Tournament? No champion has ever lost its title, but let’s look at that possibility. Since the inception of the NCAA Tournament in 1939, the NCAA has vacated 11 Final Four appearances. They are as follows:

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC’s ACC Preseason Awards

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 11th, 2014

With the 2014-15 ACC season just about to tip off, our esteemed panel of micrositers has come together to release our preseason individual superlatives. It was a close race for most of these positions, but those who were close to making the cut will earn honorable mention below. Feel free to comment on where we went horribly awry or how accurately you think we’ve nailed it.

Player of the Year: Marcus Paige, PG, North Carolina. It might be a good thing if Paige’s scoring numbers drop this year, as that would probably mean more offensive production from his peers. North Carolina has a promising group of freshmen in the backcourt and on the wing, but a more mature and seasoned frontcourt could help Paige excel as the team’s primary ball-handler. Jahlil Okafor and Montrezl Harrell are two others who could easily claim this award by season’s end.

Marcus Paige is RTC's pre-season ACC Player of the Year (newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige is RTC’s preseason ACC Player of the Year (newsobserver.com)

Freshman of the Year: Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke. We didn’t stray far from public opinion on this one. Okafor gives Duke its most formidable post player in many years, and his exhibition performances have done little to dampen the enthusiasm for his talent in Durham. Justin Jackson (North Carolina), Shaqquan Aaron (Louisville) and Kaleb Joseph (Syracuse) are dark horse candidates worth keeping an eye on.

Coach of the Year: Leonard Hamilton, Florida State. Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski were the others we considered, but the potential for Florida State to make some noise in the ACC race this year means Hamilton is the preseason choice. Florida State will continue to play its trademark smothering defense, but we think that the offense will be vastly improved. It says here that the Seminoles will improve on their 9-9 ACC record and return to the Big Dance after an NIT semifinals appearance a year ago.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Preview: Clemson’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on November 11th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Will Brad Brownell keep surprising or will KJ McDaniels’ departure spell doom in the upstate?

Let’s be clear, Clemson was a lot better than most people gave it credit for last season. The Tigers made it to the semifinals of the NIT and went 4-8 against Ken Pomeroy’s top 50, with wins coming against Duke, Maryland, Illinois and Florida State. But they also had KJ McDaniels, and just like Clemson was underrated last season, so was he. He was one of the country’s best defenders, using more than 28 percent of Clemson’s possessions while remaining the most efficient player on the team. Now it’s a new year and McDaniels is getting paid to play for the 76ers. There aren’t any returning players in the ACC who could replace him, much less anybody on Brad Brownell’s current roster.

Jaron Blossomgame should help make up some of KJ McDaniels production this season. (AP)

Jaron Blossomgame (5) should help make up some of KJ McDaniels’ lost production this season. (AP)

This year we know one thing: Clemson will play defense. The Tigers return most of their team other than McDaniels and Brownell’s teams always play defense. Seniors Rod Hall and Demarcus Harrison will be joined by Jaron Blossomgame, Jordan Roper and Landry Nnoko. Only Blossomgame was a freshman last year, so that’s a lot of available experience available to Brownell (albeit that experience would make for a short lineup). Blossomgame will likely find himself getting the majority of McDaniels’ old minutes. More interestingly — at least in the long-term — is Brownell bringing in consensus top-100 forward Donte Grantham and Gabe Devoe. Grantham is projected to start right away, and although Devoe wasn’t as highly touted, he lit up the scoreboard in high school (34.0 PPG), and he shot over 40 percent from deep with over 100 makes. Between Grantham’s size and Devoe’s scoring ability, look for these two freshmen to get immediate time. Brownell has struggled in recruiting ACC-caliber talent during his first four seasons, but these two players could mark a turning point in his acquisition of talent.

Having to rely on freshmen to carry an offense that was buoyed to mediocrity by a strong free throw percentage (74.4%) and solid offensive rebounding (33.8%) isn’t a recipe for consistency. And none of the current core has any experience in being a go-to player at this level, an issue that will manifest on nights when the jumpers aren’t falling. With such a strong top of the conference this season, this is probably a year when Clemson slips into the bottom third of the league. Whether that is enough to save Brownell’s job is anybody’s guess, but the future looks bright for the Tigers even if this one feels like a roller coaster.

Share this story

ACC Preview: North Carolina’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 10th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can North Carolina’s frontcourt live up to its potential?

North Carolina underwent a major roster re-shuffling last season due to the dismissal of P.J. Hairston and the late insertion of Leslie McDonald into the lineup. The team was all over the place in the season’s first half, notching impressive wins over highly-ranked teams while suffering several head-scratching losses to lesser opponents. The Tar Heels finally found their footing come conference play, however, and finished 24-10 overall (13-5 ACC) en route to the NCAA Tournament’s Third Round, where they lost to Iowa State. This year’s edition is projected as a better team, but the Tar Heels’ chances of making a deep run in March will directly tie to the success of its deep but sometimes inconsistent frontcourt.

Johnson will need to use his added bulk to help him bang with the bigs in the ACC this year (gettyimages)

Johnson will need to use his added bulk to help him bang with the bigs in the ACC this year (gettyimages)

Brice Johnson was a sort of super-sub for North Carolina last year, spelling enigmatic James Michael McAdoo at power forward and occasionally filling in at the center position. He averaged 10.3 points per game, largely on transition baskets and buckets around the rim. Johnson’s biggest weaknesses were his lack of bulk, causing him to struggle playing against bigger, stronger opponents, and his propensity for foul trouble. He has reportedly added about 20 pounds to his frame, so the Heels hope that his improved strength will allow him to handle the night-in, night-out pounding in the paint. If he can also become a more well-rounded defender by tempering the tendency to send every opponent’s shot into the fifth row, Johnson can better remain on the floor and become a very dependable contributor on both ends of the court.

Johnson’s running mate in the paint, Kennedy Meeks, was a polar opposite of Johnson. Meeks came into Chapel Hill as a freshman needing to lose weight, and he has done so to the tune of a whopping 50 pounds in the last year-plus. Meeks is not a prototypical center at 6’8″, but he has excellent offensive moves around the basket and understands his limitations in playing below the rim. He is also an exceptional passer, helping to ignite fast breaks and finding open men from the post. Like Johnson, Meeks needs to stay on the floor with McAdoo no longer in the mix, but if his conditioning has greatly improved that will prove much easier for the sophomore. Meeks and Johnson also showed great chemistry in executing the high-low game when they shared court time last year, which bodes very well for the team when they are operating together in the Tar Heels’ starting lineup.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC M5: 11.10.14 Exhibition II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 10th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. North Carolina: North Carolina wrapped up its exhibition season with another rout, this time thrashing Belmont Abbey by a score of 112-34 on Friday night. Once again, it was freshman Justin Jackson who led the way, efficiently scoring 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field. Even against Division II competition, Roy Williams has to be pleased with the pace at which the Tar Heels are scoring and how well they are sharing the ball. In their two exhibition games, the Heels have scored a total of 223 points and tallied 54 assists. Another encouraging sign is that North Carolina has made 73 percent (38-of-52) of its attempts from the stripe in its two preseason contests, after struggling mightily from the foul line last year (62.6%).
  2. Wake Forest: Wake Forest held its only preseason exhibition game in the Joel Coliseum on Friday night,  besting Young Harris by a 96-71 score. New head coach Danny Manning arrived in Winston-Salem with a reputation for developing big men while he was an assistant at Kansas, and he might already be illustrating that impact as junior center/power forward Devin Thomas went for 26 points and 12 boards on perfect 12-for-12 shooting. Two lingering concerns for the Deacs, though, were the 20 turnovers committed and the 25 fouls whistled on them.
  3. Duke: Duke won its second and final exhibition game over the defending NCAA Division II champs, Central Missouri, on Saturday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Mules actually took it to the Blue Devils early, grabbing a 13-7 lead before Duke answered with 17 consecutive points to methodically take control of the game. With their size and talent advantage, Duke racked up a huge edge in free throw attempts (+28), and while center Jahlil Okafor has received most of the preseason hype, fellow freshman Justise Winslow has been the team’s leading scorer in each preseason game.
  4. NC State: The Wolfpack played their lone exhibition game of the preseason as well on Saturday, beating Queens by a score of 78-47. NC State only led by two at the half but dominated afterwards, holding Queens to 24 percent shooting from the field in the second half. The Wolfpack also forced 30 turnovers in the game, and even though the competition wasn’t ACC-caliber, anything close to that mark in the regular season would be a pleasant surprise for a program not known for pressure defense. Two freshmen forwards, Caleb Martin and Abdul-Malik Abu, led the scoring column with 16 and 14 points, respectively, making their bids to replace some of the departed T.J. Warren’s offensive firepower.
  5. Clemson: It looks like more of the same for Clemson this year, and that means defense will once again be the Tigers’ calling card. Brad Brownell’s team harassed Anderson into a colder-than-ice 15.7 percent shooting night in a 62-36 victory Saturday in Littlejohn Coliseum. Unfortunately it might be more of the same for the Tigers’ offense as well. Clemson shot a dismal 31.7 percent from the field and only connected on 9-of-31 three-pointers. Let’s hope Clemson’s regular season games won’t all be as ugly as this one. Each team experienced horrendous scoring droughts, with Anderson in one stretch missing 19 straight shots and Clemson misfiring on its first 15 second half attempts. That couldn’t have been very easy on the eyes.
Share this story

ACC Preview: Pittsburgh’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 7th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Pittsburgh overcome key personnel losses and injuries to compete with the ACC’s big boys?

Last year was Pittsburgh’s first season in the ACC, and the Panthers came out of the gate like gangbusters, winning 18 of their first 20 games and starting conference play with a 6-1 record. Then things headed south as Jamie Dixon’s squad limped home, finishing fifth in the league with an 11-7 mark. There was even some talk that Pittsburgh was on the bubble before they won two games in the ACC Tournament to secure an NCAA bid. Now the Panthers are ready for a second go-round in an improved ACC, but without the services of last year’s two best players, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna.

Jamie Dixon's Team Was Beyond Impressive on Thursday Afternoon (US Presswire)

Jamie Dixon’s Team Has Already Suffered Some Key Injuries in the Preseason (US Presswire)

The explanation for last year’s dropoff midway through the ACC season was twofold. The primary reason was a series of injuries that ran through the squad like a mini-epidemic. Durand Johnson was Pitt’s third-leading scorer when he tore his ACL in a January win over Wake Forest, immediately ending his season. While his was the only major injury, the team was soon beset by nagging ailments that seemed to hit at the same time. Patterson was mentioned as a possible ACC Player of the Year candidate before a hand injury caused the senior to lose his shooting touch. Zanna played through a severe ankle sprain, but the injury zapped him of his explosiveness and caused the Panthers staples — interior defense and rebounding — to suffer immensely. Others that played hurt were freshmen Michael Young (back) and Chris Jones (thumb). The second problem was that the schedule got tougher after that excellent ACC start, and the Panthers subsequently went 0-5 against the ACC’s top four teams. That issue, combined with an extremely weak non-conference slate (278th nationally), is what put Pitt in the position of needing quality wins in Greensboro to ensure a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers got that cherished victory when they barely held off North Carolina in the ACC quarterfinals. Can Dixon’s squad avoid the same scenario this season?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Assessing Coach K’s Evolving Position on One-and-Done

Posted by Brett Thompson on November 7th, 2014

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is never one to shy away from his opinions on the state of college basketball. In fact, just last year, Coach K voiced his concerns about college basketball’s current era of the “one-and-done,” the highly touted freshmen who dominate the sport for a year before advancing to the NBA Draft mere months after arriving on campus. Krzyzewski stated just last year that he was “worried that that is always becoming a thing,” referring to the idea of elite freshmen overshadowing established upperclassmen. He has also made it clear that he is in favor of a two-year draft rule, and has backed this notion as recently as the end of October. All of this makes it surprising that the Blue Devils head coach admitted on Thursday that he fully expects his latest freshman phenom, Jahlil Okafor, to be Duke’s latest one-and-done player.

Jahlil Okafor Headlines Three ACC Players Selected to the Preseason AP All-America Team

It Appears That Jahlil Okafor Will Reside For About Nine Months in Durham

“We won’t have him long,” Krzyzewski said, implying that Okafor is more of a short-term rental than a centerpiece for years to come. This shouldn’t surprise anyone should the big man leave school — since 2007, only a single player who was named #1 on the ESPN 100 recruiting rankings stayed in school for more than one year (Harrison Barnes, North Carolina 2010-12). The freshman is going to be closely observed by NBA scouts from the second he touches the floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and, barring some kind of strange collapse, he is almost guaranteed a spot in next year’s NBA Draft Lottery.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story