What’s in the Cards? Looking at Louisville’s Tough Road Ahead

Posted by Shane McNichol on January 28th, 2016

Rick Pitino doesn’t do much under the radar.

After losing four big name players after last season, Montrezl Harrell, Chris Jones, Wayne Blackshear, and Terry Rozier, Louisville was expected to take a step back. Those four players were the Cardinals’ four leader scorers, accounting for more than 77% of the team’s points. Then, when news of a prostitution scandal involving former players and staffers broke, on-court success became an afterthought.

And yet, Pitino’s team has succeeded thus far. The Cardinals find themselves ranked 3rd in KenPom and 2nd in Jeff Sagarin’s rankings. The human voters have not been as kind, with Louisville yet to crack the top 15 of the AP Poll. Most bracket projections have Louisville projected as low as a 4 seed.

Can Pitino Work His Magic Again This Season?

The discrepancy is clear. The Cardinals have lost only three games to date, all on the road and at the hands of top 60 competition.  They now boast six wins over the KenPom top 100 teams. Louisville leads the nation in scoring margin, outscoring opponents by 21.6 points per game. That feat has not come against a collection of cupcakes, as Louisville has played a middle of the pack, 170th ranked schedule so far.

Then why the discrepancy? In this year of upsets and parity, Louisville awaits their moment in the sun. Back in November, Pitino theorized that his team had been disrespected by the polls because of the recent scandal. He felt voters ignored his controversial Cardinals. That may have been the case in the preseason, but at this point voters and the court of public opinion await a good reason to acknowledge Louisville. Their schedule has yet to feature a signature win. Their best two victories have come over Pittsburgh and Florida State, both of which came at home. The Cards lost to the two best teams they have played–close games on the road at Michigan State and rival Kentucky.

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The Devils’ Doldrums: Could Duke Miss The NCAA Tournament?

Posted by Matt Patton on January 26th, 2016

After Duke‘s 11 point loss at Miami, Seth Davis tweeted: “It is time to acknowledge the possibility that Duke will not make the NCAA tournament.” Some context for that tweet: Duke has lost four of its last five, including two games at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Since losing Amile Jefferson to a foot injury, the Blue Devils are 7-5 with exactly one win against the KenPom top 100. That’s not exactly a resume that screams NCAA Tournament. On the other side of the equation: Duke is still 20th in KenPom‘s ratings, its RPI projects to remain in the 20s according to RPI Forecast, and there’s evidence Jefferson’s condition is improving. Perhaps most importantly, losing by 11 to a really good Miami team shouldn’t be a cause for concern, and really it was just a two possession game with less than a minute left.

Duke didn't have the legs to hang with Miami. What does that mean going forward? (photo: Chuck Liddy/News & Observer)

Duke Didn’t Have The Legs To Hang With Miami. What Does That Mean For The Blue Devils Going Forward? (Photo: Chuck Liddy/News & Observer)

Maybe the most amazing factoid about Duke’s current start (courtesy of Patrick Stevens): If the ACC Tournament started tomorrow, Duke and Virginia would face off as the ninth and eighth seeds on Wednesday. So then, the ultimate question: Will Duke miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the infamous Pete Gaudet season? There are three ways this might play out.

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ACC M5: 01.26.16 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 26th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. The Dagger: I agree wholeheartedly with the headline of this article. Duke shouldn’t be ranked next week. But the reason Miami didn’t rush the court against Duke says as much about the Miami program under Jim Larranaga as it does about the undermanned Blue Devils. More on Duke’s recent struggles and their NCAA Tournament hopes later, but don’t let that distract from the fact that the Hurricanes are great this season. They’re experienced, well-coached, and a little inconsistent.
  2. Tomahawk Nation: Exhaustive review from Michael Rogner of Florida State‘s rebounding struggles against Pittsburgh. He classified each offensive board as lucky, good offense, or good defense. My first takeaway reading this was that I wish we had similar numbers for all teams. Florida State’s much smaller than expected because of injuries, so they’ll need to start rebounding by committee.
  3. Chicago Tribune: Speaking of important injuries, Demetrius Jackson will be out in Notre Dame’s game Thursday at Syracuse. Jackson’s absence (assuming reports are correct and the team is just being cautious) may prove a blessing. The reason is freshman Rex Pflueger has played very well in the last three games after only playing more than ten minutes once earlier in the season. It also gives Steve Vasturia valuable time at point guard, which could be important if Jackson ever gets in foul trouble.
  4. Syracuse Post Standard: If the Orange want to safely make the NCAA Tournament, the next five games are all close to must-wins. The first four are at home and the Orange should be favored in all four. At 3-5 in ACC play, Syracuse has to claw it’s way into the top half of the conference. They do have two very strong non-conference wins (Connecticut and Texas A&M), but the St. John’s loss looks awful.
  5. Louisville Courier-Journal: Louisville is an enigma. Statistically, they’re a great team. But they have no “great” wins (the last three are the only ones even worth mentioning). We should find out more  starting Saturday. Eight of the teams last 11 games are against likely NCAA Tournament teams (not even counting Pittsburgh as one), including at Duke, Virginia, and Miami. Rick Pitino, mildly trolling, noted: “It reminds me so much of the Big East in its prime.”

EXTRA: The NCAA made a good decision pushing back the date college players have to declare for the NBA Draft until after the combine. That gives kids a lot more time to get accurate information on where they might be picked. And while coaches might privately complain about the uncertainty (publicly doing so in the current climate would be out of touch), they may see more borderline guys come back and this should prevent the draft from becoming a distraction during the NCAA Tournament.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.25.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 25th, 2016

Once again, it wasn’t exactly a weekend of mega-matchups in the ACC. Going into Saturday’s action, the league had seven teams rated in KenPom’s top 38, yet none of them faced each other over the weekend. Some of the games were affected by winter storm Jonas, which caused the rescheduling of two games. On Sunday afternoon, North Carolina continued its undefeated ways in the ACC by holding off a feisty Virginia Tech squad in a game that was moved from Sunday night due to travel concerns in Blacksburg. Syracuse probably faced the toughest travel adversity, finally arriving in Charlottesville less than seven hours before Sunday night’s tipoff. In a game that had been originally scheduled for Saturday night, Virginia pulled away in the closing seconds to hang on against an Orange team that is suddenly playing well. Saturday, three road teams were successful in tight contests; Duke snapped its three game losing streak by beating N.C. State in Raleigh; Louisville gave Georgia Tech another tough home loss; and Pittsburgh rallied from a big halftime deficit to overtake Florida State. In other Saturday action, Miami broke open a tight game late to defeat Wake Forest, and Notre Dame blasted Boston College even though the Irish lost point guard Demetrius Jackson to injury just minutes into the game. Here are some of the highlights from the weekend in the ACC.

Tony Bennett and Virginia earned a hard fought win over Syracuse on Sunday night. (Stephen D. Cannerelli/syracuse.com)

Tony Bennett and Virginia earned a hard fought win over Syracuse on Sunday night.
(Stephen D. Cannerelli/syracuse.com)

  • Best Win: Since we didn’t have any blockbuster matchups or big upsets this weekend, we will declare Virginia‘s home 73-65 victory over Syracuse as the best ACC win of the weekend. The Cavaliers came into the contest with a disappointing 3-3 ACC record and were facing one of the hottest teams in the league. After dropping their first four league games, the Orange had ripped off three straight wins, including two on the road. The Syracuse surge looks to be directly related to the return of Jim Boeheim, who had to serve a NCAA mandated nine-game suspension that included the school’s first three ACC games. The Cavaliers led most of the way but couldn’t shake the Orange, who made 13 three-pointers, until the end. Tony Bennett‘s big three led the way as usual; Malcolm Brogdon scored 21 points; Anthony Gill had 16 points and eight rebounds; and London Perrantes finished with 16 points and seven assists.
  • Worst Loss: After 20 minutes of play, Florida State was looking good against Pittsburgh. The Seminoles were at home, leading by 10, and playing a team coming off a confidence killing home loss to NC State earlier in the week. But two weaknesses from the past came back to haunt Leonard Hamilton‘s team, who let the Panthers come back to take an important 74-72 win in a matchup of NCAA Tournament hopefuls. Somehow, Florida State managed to lose despite outshooting Pitt from the field by a wide margin (53.7 percent to 39.3 percent). Pitt won as a result of having more chances to score, thanks to a +6 edge in both offensive rebounds and turnovers. Those two areas have long been an issue for the Seminoles during Hamilton’s tenure, but hadn’t this year until conference play began. Currently, Florida State ranks 13th in the league in turnover margin and last in defensive rebounding percentage in ACC games.
Grayson Allen had a strong all-around game to help Duke end its losing streak. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer)

Grayson Allen had a strong all-around game to help Duke end its losing streak.
(Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Few Duke teams have needed a regular season win as desperately as this team needed this win on Saturday against rival N.C. State. The Blue Devils had lost three consecutive ACC games coming into the day, all of which had been winnable in the final minute of play. Grayson Allen made sure the Blue Devils’ losing streak came to an end with an excellent all-around performance. The sophomore guard led all scorers with 28 points, shooting 11-17 from the floor and 5-5 from the line. Allen also dished out seven assists and helped out on the glass, finishing with seven rebounds – six of them on the defensive end. Allen is making a strong case for first team All-ACC honors, as he currently ranks second in the ACC in scoring. He’s also fifth in both field goal percentage and assists in ACC games.
  • Unsung Heroes: The most obvious choice here is sophomore big man Anas Mahmoud of Louiville. The native of Cairo, Egypt more than doubled his previous career high, finishing with 15 points in the Cardinals’ road win over Georgia Tech. Mahmoud has been gaining more confidence and playing time from Rick Pitino lately, averaging close to eight points and six boards in his last four outings. Pitt’s Jamie Dixon was glad to see Sterling Smith snap out of his slump, as the graduate transfer tied his season-high with 16 points, including four three-pointers. Smith was much more aggressive than he was in his three prior contests, when he only attempted a total of four shots in 56 minutes of play. Finally, Miami’s Ja’Quan Newton deserves recognition. Newton helped break open a tight game with Wake Forest by scoring 13 of his 18 points in the second half. The aggressive sophomore has been solid off the bench all year for the Hurricanes – he’s second on the team in both scoring and assists, and leads the team in free throw attempts despite playing less than 22 minutes per game.
  • Most Efficient Offense/Least Efficient Defense: At half-time of Saturday’s game in Raleigh, Duke trailed by seven, which was due in great part to a soft Blue Devil zone defense that allowed N.C. State to shoot 56.7 percent from the field. But according to Mike Krzyzewski after the game, despite the deficit and defensive struggles, the zone at least allowed his thin Duke team to be much fresher for the second half than they had been in their previous three losses. The strategy worked (at least for one game) as Duke scored 52 points on 31 second half possessions. For the game, the Blue Devils averaged 1.33 points per possession. Duke shot the ball well in all areas: 65 percent on two-pointers, 40 percent on threes, and 78 percent from the foul line.
  • Most Efficient Defense/Least Efficient Offense: We don’t expect to see Notre Dame’s defense win this honor very often, but when the opponent is Boston College, even the Irish’s normally generous defense can look good. The Eagles managed only 0.74 points per possession on Saturday in South Bend and rank 338th in the country in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. You can safely expect to see them in this category a few more times this season. The biggest issue for BC in this game was two-point shooting, as the Eagles made just eight of their 38 two-point attempts.
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ACC M5: 01.22.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 22nd, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Paul Zeise’s theory about Pittsburgh‘s problems against NC State is that the Panthers struggle with size. He’s wrong that in it wasn’t a rebounding issue (the Panthers had a bad rebounding night against NC State, but were fine against Purdue and Louisville), and NC State’s shot blocker also weren’t a huge factor. The common thread in the losses is unsurprisingly poor shooting. Pittsburgh isn’t a good enough defensive team to win when it shoots poorly. Either way, this trend is worth looking out for when the Panthers play other tall opponents (ahem, Florida State).
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: North Carolina is shooting more than four percent better on free throws this season than last year (74.4 vs. 70.2, respectively). When questioned about the dramatic improvement, Roy Williams was on point: “Everybody thinks that your bad free-throw shooters would get into a room and get some candles out and do a seance and everything.” Just how good are the Tar Heels from the charity stripe this season? Marcus Paige is the the third-best free throw shooter on the team, with Isaiah Hicks hot on his tail. So far North Carolina is 0-2 in games decided by five points or fewer, but the improved free throw shooting will continue to paid dividends in stretching leads.
  3. Syracuse Post Standard: This is a good look at Michael Gbinije and his evolution – one somewhat forced upon him – into a point guard. Interestingly, Duke (where Gbinije transferred from) would love to have Matt Jones complete a similar transformation, but Jones still looks a little lost running the offense. Syracuse’s road to the NCAA Tournament is challenging but achievable. It becomes near impossible if Gbinije can’t play consistently like he did against Duke.
  4. Richmond Times Dispatch: This is the first story of the year on an ACC team holding a players-only meeting. That team was Virginia, slotted by many as the best team in the league before messing around and losing three of their first five ACC games. Clemson coming to Charlottesville didn’t look like a test before the season, but with the teams trending in opposite directions, the seniors chose to take matters into their own hands.
  5. CBS Sports: Not going to lie, this is being posted mainly because of the vine of Donovan Mitchell‘s dunk. But it’s worth mentioning that the one team that might be better than North Carolina in the ACC is Louisville. Their strength of schedule was so bad in non-conference that it’s still tough to get a good read on the Cardinals, but they’re terrific defensively and are undefeated at home this season.
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ACC M5: 01.20.16 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 20th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Everyone put your hands together for NC State! That’s right, the Wolfpack got their first conference win at Pittsburgh. The Panthers’ league record is a little shinier than their non-conference play merited (they only beat one top-100 team according to Ken Pomeroy), but going to Pittsburgh and coming out with a win says a lot about Mark Gottfried‘s team. At least for tonight NC State was a good shooting team, led by Cat Barber‘s 31 points on 18 shots (he went 14-14 from the charity stripe). But even more promising was holding a good offensive team at bay on the road.
  2. Hampton Roads Daily Press: Buzz Williams knows that his team’s record is likely a mirage. But he knows that it’s progress that the Hokies find themselves in situations where games can go their way. And he talks about exploiting small things–out of bounds plays and drawing fouls–to make his team more competitive. Both also are of utmost importance in close games when each possession matters a little more.
  3. USA Today: This is a good story from Nicole Auerbach on Malik Beasley (and Dwayne Bacon, but he’s really just mentioned as Beasley’s friend and the other freshman star). Beasley’s parents are both actors, but his father also played basketball at a high level. The preparation he put in over the summer getting to know Leonard Hamilton’s system and his future teammates while taking summer courses is a little like learning lines.
  4. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia Tech is a better team than a lot of people know. While the team’s conference record looks like Wake Forest and Boston College, the Yellow Jackets are much more efficient (62 according to Ken Pomeroy; 59 according to Jeff Sagarin). That should pay dividends at some point, though it may be too late to save Brian Gregory’s job. Gregory will have plenty of time to plan for this Saturday when Louisville comes to town, and that’s the kind of win that could start turning heads.
  5. Syracuse Post Standard: So Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t happy about the no-call on a rebound at the end of Duke‘s third straight loss (though possibly it was karmic justice for another controversial no-call). But the real reason to bring up this article is to touch on Coach K snubbing a few Syracuse players in the handshake line. Handshake lines are stupid, but this controversy may be even stupider (or Boeheim could be sticking up for a friend).
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ACC Weekend Review: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 18th, 2016

Saturday was a day for upsets in the ACC as four underdogs were victorious. Notre Dame won a shootout over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium in the marquee matchup of the weekend; the Clemson Tigers continued their amazing run with a home rally over Miami; Virginia Tech overcame a large late deficit to beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta; and Syracuse got its second ACC win by blasting Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The other two games on the day ended as expected – Pittsburgh handled Boston College at home and North Carolina, the ACC’s only undefeated team in conference play, overcame a slow start to finish off North Carolina State in Chapel Hill. In the only ACC action on Sunday, Virginia‘s road woes continued in a loss to Florida State in Tallahassee. Here are some of the other highlights from the weekend in the ACC.

Brad Brownell and Jaron Blossomgame have had plenty to celebrate during Clemson's five straight ACC upset wins. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

Brad Brownell and Jaron Blossomgame have had plenty to celebrate during Clemson’s five straight ACC upset wins. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

  • Best Win: In one of the most improbable occurrences in college basketball this year, Clemson has overcome one of the ACC’s toughest early league schedules by winning five straight games as an underdog. The latest victim was Miami by a score of 76-65 on Saturday afternoon in Greenville. With seven minutes to go and Miami holding a six point lead, it looked like the Tigers’ streak was near its end. But Clemson closed out the game with a 25-8 run and has now won five straight ACC games for the first time since Rick Barnes was coaching the Tigers in 1997. Jaron Blossomgame led the way with 25 points on 9-for-15 shooting. During the Brad Brownell era, the Tigers have always played good defense, but the difference this year is the Tigers’ offense. After finishing among the bottom three in ACC offensive efficiency the last three years (and never above 1.00 points per possession), Clemson is currently sixth in the league at a much improved 1.12 points per possession. A huge part of that success is the Tigers’ ability to punish teams from the foul line – they rank second in the ACC in free throw rate (45.1%) and first in accuracy (79.6%).
  • Worst Loss: Even though Wake Forest’s dismal effort in a home blowout to Syracuse technically may be the worst performance, we instead will go with the squad that suffered the most heartbreaking defeat, mainly because of what it may mean for that team’s confidence going forward. The team in question is Georgia Tech, who suffered a total meltdown at home against Virginia Tech. In our last weekend recap, we lauded Brian Gregory’s team for finally getting over the hump in winning a close league game. Well, the praise may have been a bit premature. The end of Saturday’s game in Atlanta played out exactly like many of the Yellow Jackets’ league games did a year ago, as the Jackets blew a 10-point lead over the last 4:14 of the game. In its final 12 possessions, Georgia Tech had more turnovers (4) than points (3). It certainly didn’t help that Adam Smith, the Jackets’ main outside threat, only made one three-pointer in seven tries from deep.
Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson punished Duke with 31 points in the Irish's big road win. (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson punished Duke with 31 points in the Irish’s big road win.
(Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Notre Dame’s Mike Brey has many weapons at his disposal, and that includes sophomore Bonzie Colson, who apparently loves to play against Duke. Colson helped the Irish defeat the Blue Devils in last season’s ACC Tournament semifinals with a then career-best 17 points. He nearly doubled that output on Saturday afternoon, finishing with 31 points and 11 rebounds (eight offensive) to lead the Irish to their fourth win over Duke in five meetings as ACC members. Colson scored in a variety of ways: post moves, putbacks, free throws (5-5) and even from deep (2-3 on threes). Afterwards, Brey commented on his play, “He gets pretty fired up when he does play them. Bonzie’s a big game guy. He loves a big game, and I thought he helped his teammates get confident.” Colson did not start the contest but logged 33 minutes as Brey recognized early on that the burly forward was a huge matchup problem for the Blue Devils’ thin frontcourt.
  • Unsung Heroes: With North Carolina’s top three scorers struggling against NC State, Roy Williams needed someone else to step up. That someone turned out to be Kennedy Meeks, who scored 25 points, grabbed six boards and blocked three shots to help the Tar Heels pull away from their rival. In only his second game back from a knee injury, Meeks had his highest point total since he tallied 25 in the season opener. Syracuse has not been a balanced team this year, having been carried by its backcourt to this point. But in Saturday’s rout of Wake Forest, junior forward Tyler Roberson delivered a dose of frontcourt production with 16 points and 13 rebounds. That makes four consecutive double figure scoring games for Roberson, who also helped the Orange’s defense Saturday with three steals. Pittsburgh’s Cameron Johnson only played 15 minutes in the Panthers’ win over Boston College, but he maximized that time with 20 points on an efficient seven of ten shooting performance. The redshirt freshman wing flashed a nice touch from deep, making four of his seven long-range attempts. He is now shooting 42.4 percent for the season from three-point range.
  • Most Efficient Offense/Least Efficient Defense: With Notre Dame visiting Duke in a game featuring two of the top four offenses in the country, we expected a shootout. Boy did we ever get one. Rare are games in which both teams score at a rate higher than 1.30 points per possession, but that’s what happened in Cameron Indoor on Saturday. The Irish prevailed with an offense that posted 1.36 points per possession in the exciting 95-91 win. That’s the most points per possession allowed by Duke to an ACC foe at home in the 15-year KenPom era. As one might expect in a performance that efficient, Notre Dame was outstanding in multiple offensive areas. They made 51.8 percent of their two-point attempts; hit 43.8 percent from three-point range; converted 80 percent from the foul line; grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, and only gave the ball away six times. It took every bit of that efficiency to hold off a Duke team that made half of their 24 three-point attempts.
  • Most Efficient Defense/Least Efficient Offense: In the weekend’s most lopsided game, Wake Forest managed only 0.77 points per possession in its 83-55 home loss to Syracuse. The Deacons had a tough time figuring out how to attack the Orange’s 2-3 zone from the outset and finished with 18 turnovers. When the Demon Deacons did get shot opportunities, they failed miserably, making just two of 20 from deep and missing 17 of 42 free throw attempts. Coming into the game, Wake figured to take advantage of Syracuse’s normally weak defensive rebounding, but things played out differently, as the Deacons only grabbed 25 percent of their misses. That percentage is well below Wake’s season average (35.1%) and that of Syracuse’s opponents (also 35.1%). Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim said, “This was the best defensive game we’ve had all year. We just were tremendously active. We had been doing a good job at the three-point line, but not so much inside. We were much better inside tonight.”

 

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ACC M5: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 18th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. The State: All hail our Clemson overlords (and Ken Pomeroy). First, the Tigers. Clemson is on a five-game ACC win streak, which includes wins over presumed contenders Louisville, Duke, and Miami. If the Tigers can find a way to win two of their next three (at Virginia, vs. Pittsburgh, and at Florida State), the schedule looks very favorable going forward. One caveat: Clemson has been incredibly lucky in close games, but don’t spend time hating. And why is Ken Pomeroy a wizard? His ratings had Clemson 55th in the country to start the season; after a rough patch pushed the Tigers over 100, they’re now back to 56.
  2. Newport News Daily Press: On the other end of the spectrum, Virginia is reeling. The Cavaliers have lost three of their last four (and four of five true road games on the season). David Teel does a great job exhausting perspectives on Tony Bennett’s team. The most important thing to remember is that road wins are nearly impossible to come by in the ACC. This Virginia team whipped a very good West Virginia team on a neutral court. The difference between last year’s team and this one is how well teams are shooting against Virginia (maybe Darion Atkins was just that good?). This year, the Cavaliers are pedestrian when it comes to field goal percentage defense; last year they were top five in the country.
  3. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Syracuse likely won’t make the NCAA Tournament this year for the second season in a row. This is the second “rebuilding cycle” in the last ten years. Michael Burke does a good job looking at the causes behind both dance droughts. Relatedly, this team’s poor performance has led to awful (relatively speaking) attendance this season. The poor attendance is unlikely to improve much with a mediocre slate of conference home games on the schedule this year (notably no North Carolina or Duke, but also no Miami or Virginia). Look for Pittsburgh and Notre Dame to still be big draws, though.
  4. Orlando Sentinel: Don’t look now, but Florida State may be righting the ship. Malik Beasley has been tremendous the last two games (39 points on 22 shots). If Dwayne Bacon can improve his efficiency some, this team should be able to make a run at a bid to the Big Dance. The only home loss the Seminoles have is to a great North Carolina team (in a game that was close until the last couple of minutes), and the only “bad” loss is a neutral-site loss to Hofstra. There’s still work to be done, but things are looking up.
  5. Duke Basketball Report: This year is just nuts. We’ve talked about Clemson, but Virginia Tech is also tied for second in the ACC in the loss column. Duke (admittedly without Amile Jefferson) and Miami have each lost its last two games. The only teams that are performing as expected bracket the conference: North Carolina is undefeated and Boston College looks like a dumpster fire. The Tar Heels will lose eventually (a mediocre defense makes that a certainty), but picking a Boston College win is harder to do. Home against Virginia Tech is the only one that looks remotely feasible. But alas, if there’s one thing ACC play should have taught us, it’s to keep predictions to ourselves.
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Notre Dame’s Explosive Offense Makes Them A Dangerous Team

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 18th, 2016

Last season, Notre Dame had the most successful run of Mike Brey‘s tenure in South Bend. The Irish finished third in the ACC with a 14-4 record, and then won the ACC Tournament in Greensboro by knocking off league stalwarts Duke and North Carolina on back-to-back nights. Then came an excellent NCAA Tournament run where they fell to an unbeaten Kentucky squad on the game’s final possession in a Regional final. That Irish team featured the second ranked offense in the country according to KenPom’s efficiency ratings, trailing only Wisconsin’s historically best offense. After losing its top two players from last year’s group, Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton (both NBA draft picks), Brey’s current team may not be as strong overall due to a significant drop off defensively. But Notre Dame’s offense has remained elite (currently #1 in Kenpom) and that makes them a threat to win any time they take the floor.

Demetrius Jackson leads Notre Dame's outstanding offense and is among the nation's best point guards. (Ben McKeown/AP Photo)

Demetrius Jackson leads Notre Dame’s outstanding offense and is among the nation’s best point guards. (Ben McKeown/AP Photo)

As if to prove this point, on Saturday afternoon Notre Dame outscored Duke 95-91 by posting an outstanding 1.36 points per possession. We looked over the 15 years of KenPom historical data, and couldn’t find a better offensive performance for a visiting ACC team in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Granted, this is not a vintage Duke squad, with youth and a lack of depth being the main problems. But yesterday, the Blue Devils played hard and well most of the game (51.8 FG%, 50.0 3FG%), and the Cameron crowd was at its best, making it a difficult environment for the visitors. Still, Notre Dame maintained its poise and offensive efficiency down the stretch to come out on top in this shootout.

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Who are the Hoos? The Ups and Downs of Virginia

Posted by Shane McNichol on January 15th, 2016

When the Virginia Cavaliers dropped two consecutive games on the road against the Techs of the ACC (in-state rival Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech), serious questions about how good Tony Bennett’s squad started to pop up. They opened last year on a tear and were among the nation’s best teams until Justin Anderson’s injury. Now, with Anderson permanently gone (to the NBA) the Cavaliers look suddenly vulnerable. Could losses to two of the ACC’s least sexy outfits signal more troubles to come?

Tony Bennett's Team Has Struggled On The Road This Season (AP)

Tony Bennett’s Team Has Struggled On The Road This Season (AP)

The Cavaliers silenced some of the doubters by beating a good Miami team on Tuesday. But while the nice win washed away some of the concern, the cracks in Virginia’s armor are still very noticeable. The most glaring difference between its losses last week and the Miami win this week is where the games were played. The Cavs topped Miami at home, while both losses came on the road. Virginia has only played four true road games to date and has struggled mightily in them, losing three of four.

Digging into the stats a bit reveals that on the road, Virginia has not been playing nearly as effectively as we’ve come to expect a Tony Bennett coached team to play.

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Pittsburgh Has the Goods to Make a Run

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 14th, 2016

Whether attributable to a relative lack of postseason accomplishment or a bruising (read: unappealing) style of play, the consistent success sustained by Pittsburgh during the 10 years from 2002-11 has been largely forgotten. Consider that the Panthers were at some point ranked in the AP top 10 in each of those campaigns and won fewer than 25 games only once during that span. However, in an era of program success measured through March triumphs, Pittsburgh’s lack of a Final Four appearance kept it from the most elite tier. Transitioning from the Big East to the ACC in 2013 didn’t seem to help. While programs like Syracuse and Louisville seamlessly made the move, Pitt struggled to find a niche. A fifth-place finish and a trip to the Round of 32 two years ago was followed by a disappointing 19-15 season in 2014-15. With a similar roster returning this season, Pitt was projected to finish in 10th place by ACC media in their preseason poll.

Jamie Dixon's Team Moves the Ball Well

Say what you want, Jamie Dixon ALWAYS has his teams right in the thick of things. (Getty)

A hot start from the Panthers was largely ignored, citing a non-conference schedule among the nation’s worst (322nd). But in winning their first three ACC games in convincing fashion, it is high time to pay attention to the a 14-1 (3-0 ACC) team that boasts one of college basketball’s best offensive attacks. And not only is the second-best offense (according to KenPom) very effective, it is also pleasing to watch. Dixon’s team currently ranks 18th in effective field goal percentage — making 55 percent of its twos, 39 percent of its threes, and 80 percent from the line (best in the nation). Given those achievements, Pitt hasn’t abandoned its signature toughness, rebounding nearly 39 percent of its misses (11th nationally) and turning the ball over only 15 percent of the time (23rd). Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 01.13.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 13th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Kennedy Meeks is back for North Carolina. He’s not 100 percent yet, but it’s a good sign that he’s back and in stark contrast with those of Amile Jefferson (Duke) and Terry Henderson (NC State). The Tar Heels need the junior big man in the lineup to meet their National Championship aspirations. It also looks increasingly clear that North Carolina is the team to beat in the ACC this season. Miami doesn’t appear far behind, but the road to a conference title will go through Chapel Hill.
  2. Slap the Sign: This is a decent Notre Dame primer, as the Irish are still searching for a leader after the departures of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. Demetrius Jackson is very talented but his best games have come in losses rather than wins. The most damning statistic working against the Irish may be that of “good wins.” — their only one so far came against Iowa. All of its other top-50 opponents have resulted in losses. That’s something Mike Brey will have to change to avoid a disappointing conference finish.
  3. Boston College Heights: Dennis Clifford is starting to look like his old self at Boston College. He’s still not consistent (he turns the ball over too much to be efficient), but he’s moving better and will likely be the reason the Eagles beat a team they shouldn’t. Boston College is horrid this season (the only two worse major conference teams worse are St. John’s and Rutgers), but its defense will give it a fighting chance a few times during conference play.
  4. Duke Basketball Report: Amile Jefferson’s injury has made Duke worse in the short run because the team has no depth. Mike Krzyzewski has been using a six-man rotation (sometimes seven by playing Chase Jeter for a few minutes) since Jefferson went down. But Duke isn’t known for playing large rotations to begin with, and it’s unlikely that either Luke Kennard or Marshall Plumlee would have seen this sort of time without the starting center’s absence. It’s still hard to tell if this Duke’s team is fool’s gold thanks to nearly all of its recent opponents being helplessly outclassed, but all of that will change at the end of the month when the team travels to Coral Gables.
  5. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Why is Pittsburgh getting no love from the national media? The Panthers’ only loss came against a very good Purdue team that’s frankly a nightmare matchup (size plus shooting). Sure, Pitt’s non-conference schedule was nothing to write home about, but it’s odd that Jamie Dixon’s group isn’t getting a little more publicity. Even if they go into the Yum! Center and beat Louisville later this week, many people may blame the inconsistent Cardinals.

EXTRA: GIF power rankings??? Don’t mind if I do. If you only look at one, look at NC State. It’s perfection.

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