Duke Heads to Louisville Looking for Confidence

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 17th, 2015

One week ago, the storyline surrounding Duke‘s visit to Louisville was that Mike Krzyzewski would most likely be going for win #1,000 in his illustrious coaching career. How quickly things change in the world of college basketball! Today, after two discouraging beatings by unranked teams, the Blue Devils head into a Noon ET (ESPN) showdown wondering if they can beat just about anybody right now. So what’s going on with the team that won each game handily on its way to a 14-0 start, including that huge early December win at Wisconsin that seems like ages ago?

Mike Kzyzewski Had No Answers in Tuesday's Loss to Miami. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Mike Kzyzewski Had No Answers in Tuesday’s Loss to Miami.
(Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Whenever a team goes through a bad stretch, there are invariably multiple reasons for the slump. In Duke’s case, much has been made of the team’s poor defensive play and with good reason — both N.C. State and Miami torched the Blue Devils with over 1.2 points per possession. Duke’s defense struggled in almost every area in both games: off the dribble; perimeter shooters; poor rotation; transition; at the rim. That’s too many areas to fix with strategic adjustments alone. On offense, the team that has ranked first nationally in offensive efficiency for most of the season has suddenly gone ice cold. Senior Quinn Cook is the only perimeter player who can make a jump shot right now, which allows defenses to concentrate on surrounding Jahlil Okafor without paying the price. Consider this: Cook has made 8-of-14 shots from three-point range in the two losses, but the rest of the team is 6-of-35. Perhaps all of that cold shooting is a big reason for the defensive meltdowns that took place in the second half of each loss (see tables below).

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ACC Stock Watch: Conference Play Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 16th, 2015

Conference play got under way for the ACC roughly two weeks ago, and the early games have lived up to their lofty billing in providing us with valuable insights. Some teams are clearly playing up to their potential and possibly even beyond it, while several others are already searching for answers for disturbing trends. Welcome to this week’s ACC Stock Watch, the first since the ACC’s teams started beating up on each other.

Trending Up

  • Virginia. It would be hard to imagine that a team entering ACC play at 12-0 could be trending up after just two weeks of action, but the Cavaliers have the look of a serious national title contender. The only team boasting both a defense and an offense among the top 10 in efficiency metrics, the Cavaliers have shown a keen ability to win games in a myriad of ways. It’s not just an elite defense carrying Tony Bennett’s team, as it showed in its awesome 89-80 double-overtime win over Miami two weeks ago. Virginia has already toppled the Hurricanes and Notre Dame and have shown no signs of slowing down.
  • North Carolina. With the best of the Tar Heels’ non-conference wins losing some luster (Ohio State, Florida), North Carolina badly needed a marquee win in conference play. Last weekend’s victory over Louisville qualified as such, and holding on to beat NC State in Raleigh on Wednesday night showed the team may have regained some of the toughness that was so sorely lacking. Could a 3-1 ACC start propel North Carolina to bigger things?
Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (newsobserver.com)

  • NC State. A 3-2 start in the ACC may not blow anyone away, but the Wolfpack’s demolition of Duke and their near-win over a surging North Carolina team shows Mark Gottfried’s group is capable of making some noise this year. Add in a blowout win over Pittsburgh an is there a reasonable argument that NC State belongs with the heavyweights?
  • Miami. There were plenty of questions about the direction in which the Hurricanes were heading when they closed the non-conference schedule by losing three of four. But Angel Rodriguez and company have answered the bell in the ACC, pushing Virginia to double-overtime and handling Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. With Notre Dame and NC State up next, we’ll know even more about Miami by this time next week.

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ACC M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 16th, 2015

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  1. The State: There’s nothing I hate more than entirely dismissing something on the basis of minor issues instead of its inherent merit. A South Carolina state senator named Marlon Kimpson proposed giving athletes in revenue sports a piece of the pie. Now, the way Title IX is currently written, that would be a violation of federal law, but that’s not to say Kimpson’s plan isn’t worthy of discussion. Alas, that’s essentially all Ron Morris used here in brushing off the proposal (well, that and South Carolina’s athletic department profit margin, which doesn’t mean anything unless you see how it was calculated). I’m for full cost of attendance scholarships in all sports and for requiring schools to provide the same number of scholarships to women as men. But there’s no denying that basketball and football players are undercompensated for their work — especially at the top schools. I would go a step further than Kimpson, though. I would allow schools to give any athlete a certain yearly salary up to a certain limit (say, $50,000) in addition to their scholarship (and only students with scholarships could be compensated). Student-athletes deserve a piece of the pie. End of story.
  2. NBC Sports: Great article by Rob Dauster on Duke‘s defensive woes. Jahlil Okafor is really uncomfortable away from the basket, which makes the Duke defense vulnerable on ball screens. Furthermore, defending high-major players isn’t something he (or anyone) can learn immediately. I expect Duke to either start experimenting with a lot more zone (especially if teams have really dynamic guards) or switching everything like they did against Wisconsin. Zone won’t ever be a permanent fix for this squad, but it would allow Okafor to stay in his comfort zone near the basket. More on Duke’s struggles later today.
  3. Sporting News: Mike DeCourcy wrote a nice piece on Jamie Dixon hitting 300 wins at Pittsburgh. And while it’s true Dixon has had a lot of success with the Panthers, that doesn’t make recent criticisms about his program unfair (think of a less extreme case of Seth Greenberg). I still think Dixon is the man for the job. He recruits to a school that doesn’t have a long history of being a powerhouse, and has had some really good teams over the years (and nearly always takes the Panthers to the Big Dance). But that doesn’t mean he’s an obvious Hall of Famer either. And it also doesn’t mean that his win total isn’t propped up by a ton of marginal (at best) non-conference schedules.
  4. Syracuse Post-Standard (and here): Here are a couple of interesting articles on Syracuse, both headlined with questions. The answer to the first question (Should we worry about Syracuse?) is a resounding yes. This team is 4-0 but has eked out a bunch of close games against middling ACC teams. That’s not a recipe for success in the latter half of conference play when the contenders start showing up. The other article points out that Chris McCullough may not return until next season because of his injury, which would mean good things for Syracuse’s depth then (though would potentially bring up scholarship questions) but could be problematic this year.
  5. Miami Herald: Cool anecdote here from Jim Larranaga on using butterflies to get his team excited and play together. The more you read about this guy, the more likable he becomes (he probably also has the best sense of humor of any ACC coach). Borrowing from a Native American legend that says butterflies stay in groups en route to a shared destination, Larranaga gave the team butterflies of their own, which they released together. It sounds like something he’s been doing for a long time (at least since he was at George Mason), but this is my first time hearing about it.

EXTRA: In a weird nugget, the PNC Center clock operator tried to help NC State‘s comeback last weekend, as time stopped for 15 seconds with a little over a minute to play in the Wolfpack’s eventual loss to North Carolina. Imagine how big a controversy this would have become had the Wolfpack ended up getting that late tip-in and winning the game in overtime.

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ACC M5: 01.15.15 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 15th, 2015

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  1. Charlotte Observer and Sporting News: So, what should we make of Duke‘s back-to-back losses to NC State and Miami? Mike Krzyzewski thinks Duke has a confidence problem. Tom Gatto thinks it may be more serious than that. Both may be right. Duke is in a tough spot. If it is confidence, the upcoming schedule isn’t exactly a cake walk (four of the next five are on the road, including games at Louisville, Notre Dame, and Virginia). That means Coach K needs to find a way to inspire his team or risk a really bad stretch that could derail a season. But this Duke team is still really, really good. It’s not a finished product, but the pieces are all there.
  2. Riddick and Reynolds: Hopefully the future leadership of the NC State Technician reads James Curle’s thoughtful piece on doing the satirical “Daily Tar Hell” edition for next year. This is the second straight year NC State’s student newspaper opted to avoid the parody, which is too bad. Ravi Chittilla’s response is a reasonable one. National newspapers aren’t doing great these days, much less college ones. But I’m sure there are some passionate NC State alumni who would help finance the venture through crowdfunding.
  3. Indianapolis Star: Bad news out of South Bend as Zach Auguste is suspended indefinitely for academic issues. Notre Dame plays everything close to the vest so don’t expect many details leaking out. It’s a good sign he’s still enrolled (the school has a very strict honor code), but that may mean it’s something that is being appealed or something related to the NCAA instead of the school. While the Fighting Irish managed to beat Georgia Tech, Auguste was a very high usage player that will be impossible to replace.
  4. Syracuse Post-Standard: Rakeem Christmas put on a show in order to beat Wake Forest in overtime. This isn’t the first time his development has showed up in the Morning Five (and it probably won’t be the last), but Christmas is earning himself some money the way he’s playing this year. While his field goal percentage isn’t quite as gaudy, Christmas’s scoring and rebounding numbers look a lot like Jahlil Okafor’s. Syracuse isn’t great this season, but as long as they can steal a win against a good team, they’ve done well enough in close games to be on the bubble.
  5. Orlando Sun Sentinel: Miami‘s been up and down this season (having mercurial star players will do that), but the Hurricanes are young. As Jim Larranaga said, “We’re still on the ground floor.” Larranaga has cobbled together one of the better teams in the ACC, recruiting transfers and international players especially. This team is only going to get better next year. That’s what should worry ACC opponents (especially those normally residing in Durham). Even if Larranaga plans on retiring in four or five years, he’s made Miami into a much better job than it was when he took it. Success should mean decent fan support (Miami is and always will be a pro sport town), and that will only help.
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ACC M5: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 14th, 2015

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  1. Seminoles.comFlorida State has posted a list of current alumni playing professionally. After going down the page, looking at all the different places around the globe with ex-Seminoles on pro rosters, one notices that there is a fairly prominent league that currently features no former players from Florida State. In a bit of a surprise, despite having put together a solid ACC program over the last decade, Leonard Hamilton has no former Seminoles on NBA rosters right now. I thought for sure Al Thornton, just 32 years old now, would still be in the league and when he wasn’t on this list, I figured it was a mistake. After a quick search it was found that the former 1st Team All-ACC performer recently signed with a club in Puerto Rico. Perhaps this shows that the difference between having a solid college program and one that is a national title contender is having future NBA talent on your roster. Interestingly, the only other current ACC member with no current NBA players is Notre Dame, a similar program success-wise. Like Florida State, the Irish have been pretty consistent winners, but never have had enough star power to make a deep NCAA postseason run. At least in Notre Dame’s case, the Irish have a likely future NBA-baller this year in Jerian Grant.
  2. Clemsontigers.com: While Mike Krzyzewski is getting plenty of attention on his approach to 1000 wins, Clemson’s Brad Brownell just recently reached a coaching milestone of his own. Saturday’s 71-62 Tiger road win over Pittsburgh was Brownell’s 250th career victory. That brings his record at Clemson to 83-64, and while he is well regarded by the media and fellow coaches, eventually Brownell needs to get Clemson back to the NCAA Tournament, where they haven’t been since 2011, Brownell’s first year at the school. Despite’s Saturday’s upset win over the Panthers, making the Big Dance this year may be a reach for this Tiger team, which would be four straight seasons with no NCAA bid. Just ask Steve Donahue and Jeff Bzdelik how that same streak worked out for them.
  3. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: This article looks at a surprising weakness of this year’s Pittsburgh squad: rebounding. Toughness on defense and on the boards have been the cornerstones of Jaime Dixon’s program for years, but that has certainly not been the case this season. In Clemson’s aforementioned win Saturday, the Panthers were thoroughly whipped on the glass by a margin of 17, the most of Dixon’s tenure at Pitt. On the season, the Panthers now rank #236 in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage. Undoubtedly, that has a lot to do with Pittsburgh’s current #162 ranking in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is eerily similar to the performance of Pitt’s 2012 defense, which ended up #149, the only season that Pitt’s defense was not ranked in KenPom’s top 65. Not coincidentally, that was the only year Dixon’s team missed out on the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Louisville Courier-Journal: In this piece, the consequences of Rick Pitino’s short bench are examined, namely in the form of late game fatigue. Against North Carolina, three Louisville starters played almost 40 minutes and possibly wilted down the stretch in the Tar Heels’ 72-71 comeback win. It’s certainly not Pitino’s preferred way to play, but at this point in the season he obviously just doesn’t trust his young reserves enough to give them meaningful minutes. One wonders if this means the Cardinals will have to dial back some of their famous pressure defense just to keep their core guys fresh. Pitino certainly isn’t coddling his young players and perhaps is trying to send them a message with his public comments, saying, “This is a very unusual group because they’re weak physically, they’re weak emotionally and they’re weak basketball-wise.” Coaches know that the players hear every public word spoken by their coach, but it remains to be seen if they are capable of earning Pitino’s trust anytime soon.
  5. Ramblinwreck.com: Georgia Tech is trying what they call an innovative pricing program for their final two home games this season. They call it the Ramblin’ Rates program, and describe it as a descending-price auction that makes sure that fans pay the lowest market price for the games. The two games in question just happen to be versus Louisville and North Carolina, obviously the two biggest drawing events of the season to be held at McCamish Pavilion. While the plan tries to paint itself as a great benefit to the fans, it’s pretty obvious that the school thinks the demand for tickets for those attractive opponents will drive the “lowest market price” above normal game pricing and bring in extra cash by getting their patrons to bid-up the cost. I don’t think it’s a scam and if the tickets all sell, then the market will have been responsible and that’s OK. But one could legitimately ask, why doesn’t the market get to decide things when Alabama A&M comes to town?
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ACC M5: 01.13.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 13th, 2015

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  1. Syracuse.com: The Orange received crushing news yesterday that freshman Chris McCullough will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. While his season had been inconsistent to this point, there’s no denying that this is a huge loss for Jim Boeheim’s team. His potential has been well-documented and he’s shown flashes of what he’s capable of at times this season. Perhaps the biggest development from this news, however, is how much his loss further depletes Syracuse’s depth. Syracuse may be the rare ACC team with an easier start to the conference slate, but its overall chance of a promising season took a big blow with this injury.
  2. ESPN.com: North Carolina’s thrilling victory over Louisville on Saturday had to do wonders for the team’s confidence, and more importantly, may have finally given the Tar Heels the early signature win they needed. One of the more interesting items from this article, though, is that Marcus Paige has been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot for several weeks. This could help shed some light on the reason for his inauspicious start to the season, and also lend some credence to how impressive his heroic second half against the Cardinals really was.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: NC State’s pummeling of Duke on Sunday is one of the biggest headlines of the young ACC season to date, but what the Wolfpack accomplished in the paint may be the real storyline here. While it has been Mark Gottfried’s perimeter players who have gotten most of the corresponding attention, Kyle Washington and BeeJay Anya were the keys to the big upset win. NC State’s post players’ abilities to hold their own against Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow bode very well for the Wolfpack as the season progresses. This is a team that has been on a roll since conference play started, and it looks to continue its hot start in another rivalry match-up with North Carolina on Wednesday.
  4. Streaking The Lawn: A suddenly vulnerable-looking Kentucky team is no longer a unanimous No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, as Virginia wrested two votes from the Wildcats in this week’s rankings following its big win at Notre Dame over the weekend. The Cavaliers appear to be a legitimate title contender and threat to capture the ACC crown despite all the preseason hype about Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville. According to KenPom, Virginia is the only team in the country ranked among the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (sixth-best offense; fourth-best defense).
  5. ESPN.com: Duke’s loss to NC State could be attributed to a number of different things — namely defensive lapses and poor three-point shooting — but C.L. Brown keeps it simple: They’re led by freshmen. Despite Okafor’s big game, there were many signs that the youngsters leading this Blue Devils’ team still have much to learn about life in the ACC. Point guard Tyus Jones has not contributed nearly the gaudy numbers he posted prior to conference play, and Okafor and Winslow did little to slow the Wolfpack’s frontcourt (with Winslow eventually fouling out). It’s probably a good time for everyone to remind themselves that they’re watching a Duke team that hasn’t started three freshmen since 1983 for a reason.
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ACC M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 9th, 2015

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  1. Hampton Roads Daily Press: How good is Virginia‘s defense? Consider that the Cavaliers have held 39 straight conference opponents to under 50 percent shooting. That’s unreal. The only two teams I see with a chance at ending that streak this year are Duke and Notre Dame. But it’s a testament to the pack-line defense, which has been brutally effective since Tony Bennett got to Charlottesville. Relatedly, WatchESPN did a pretty good halftime piece on Bennett’s defense with Darian Atkins and Malcolm Brogdon showing Jay Williams and Shane Battier how it works.
  2. Miami Herald: Miami basketball alumnus Darius Rice is still working towards his dream of playing in the NBA. He graduated from Miami way back in 2004, but still hasn’t found his way onto an NBA roster despite size with three-point range, and he is getting to the point where his big break needs to come soon. His professional career reads like a traveler’s fantasy, but what’s most irritating about Rice’s story is how he has excelled in the D-League (including a 52-point game in the championship), almost proving that the NBA doesn’t take it seriously. Here’s to hoping his status as an ACC legend (despite only playing in the Big East) gets him that one last shot.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: Wake Forest’s Devin Thomas made Duke’s Jahlil Okafor look like a freshman on Wednesday night. Thomas outhustled the Duke phenom all night, using his veteran strength and confidence to gain the upper hand. What was striking was how poorly Okafor passed out of the double-team. To be fair, Thomas also got the best of fellow All-American candidate Montrezl Harrell earlier in the week. Everyone has bad games, and it looks like Okafor recognizes that (he still ended up with a double-double), but Duke’s season will ultimately depend on how he responds to this sort of adversity. Any possession he doesn’t get a touch is a mistake, but Okafor has to fight for position to earn that touch too.
  4. Durham Herald Sun: Theo Pinson may be the answer to some of North Carolina’s struggles, at least against below-average defensive teams. The sample size is small and bear with me here through some Bzdelik-ian logic. If you remove Ohio State and Clemson (the two top-100 defensive teams Pinson has played against) and Pinson is shooting nearly 80 percent from the field (and most of his misses were threes). Obviously you can’t just ignore good defenses in the statistical profile, but Pinson’s aggressive play could be the answer to North Carolina’s offensive struggles. However, his three-point shooting will not plug the most gaping hole for the Tar Heels.
  5. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Rakeem Christmas‘ improvement has been astounding. Brian Tahmosh takes care of the per-game statistics (along with some comparisons to other Syracuse stars), but think about this: Christmas has nearly doubled his usage with only a small decrease in efficiency. He’s essentially the exact same player he was last year except that he’s taking more than twice as many shots. Oh, and he’s a better rebounder and distributor. That’s just insane.
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ACC M5: 01.08.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 8th, 2015

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  1. Miami Herald: Miami is off to the greener pastures of apparel company Adidas. While that means more money for the school, it’s no secret that Nike is considered more hip and arguably more structurally sound with their basketball shoes. There’s also the corollary fact that AAU basketball is run by the shoe companies. While recruits are in the habit of regularly switching allegiances, the move could affect who Miami recruits in the future. The Hurricanes will join NC State and Louisville under the Adidas brand — the other ACC non-Nike schools are Notre Dame and Boston College, which are with Under Armour, and Georgia Tech, with Russell).
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: Syracuse guard Ron Patterson has been told to “keep shooting” despite his early struggles. He definitely wasn’t alone in that struggle against Georgia Tech last night (the two teams combined to go 33-of-109 from the field), but Jim Boeheim needs Patterson to contribute this year because Kaleb Joseph isn’t an instant standout like Tyler Ennis last season. If the Orange’s shooting woes continue, Syracuse will be looking at a very uncomfortable Selection Sunday.
  3. Louisville Courier-Journal:. Their playing styles couldn’t be more different, but Louisville, Virginia and Duke have a lot in common in that all three are top-five teams nationally that have recently put up questionable performances. While the bottom of the ACC isn’t very good, there aren’t any free games where you can mess around for 30 minutes before hitting the gas and winning easily. Wake Forest just missed pulling off a couple of upsets over the Cardinals and Blue Devils, and Virginia has gotten a bit too cute against Miami and NC State. All three teams are assuredly works in progress, but the coach who can get the most consistent effort from his team will likely wind up on top of the league this season.
  4. Duke Basketball Report: Six ACC teams currently have more turnovers than assists on the season. That’s… not good. The better news is that four of those six teams have an assist/turnover ratio above 90 percent and could still improve (because your stats usually get better in conference play?). Unsurprisingly, Clemson clocks in with the worst such ratio (0.85) and Florida State – a team that has struggled with turnovers the last few years — brings up the rear (0.87). But Louisville (0.94) and NC State (0.94) both need to improve if they want to make something of the postseason.
  5. Deadspin: Ken Pomeroy took a look at the odds that Virginia or Duke will finish as the last unbeaten team in college basketball (instead of Kentucky). Kentucky is the favorite to turn the trick by far, but the results were closer than I expected (although Kentucky’s chance at an undefeated regular season is currently at 18 percent, which is much higher than Virginia or Duke’s). Through the lens of efficiency margin, Duke and Virginia offer pretty similar profiles, so the Cavaliers’ advantage is likely from getting to play Duke at home and avoiding Louisville until the last game of the season.
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ACC M5: 01.07.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 7th, 2015

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  1. The ACC: Well folks, I’m happy to announce that the ACC Tournament is finally big time. Yes, contractual obligations and some inexplicable nostalgia mean the conference tournament won’t be moving to New York until next year, but even then, the center of the universe NYC will only be one of the cities in the rotation. Will it be a big deal since the even will not be at the Garden? Clearly this question was plaguing the league offices, along with ESPN. Thankfully, they found a solution: New York Life will now sponsor the ACC Tournament. So the next time some national media member gives you attitude about the ACC, feel free to use this exchange:

    National Media Member: [lazy narrative about the ACC Tournament being small time because it’s often played in Greensboro]
    You: That’s the New York Life ACC Tournament to you, pal.

  2. Roanoke Times: Don’t look now, but Tony Bennett has another excellent defensive team with great offensive balance and several legitimate all-ACC level players (I’m looking at you, Justin Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill). Actually those three guys aren’t just all-ACC level guys, they’re all among the top 10 of Ken Pomeroy’s Player of the Year race. The trio is a big reason why Virginia’s offense is so much scarier than normal this season.
  3. Macon Telegraph: Time for a small dose of crow for yours truly. Before the season I noted that Georgia Tech was one of the few ACC teams that I didn’t think was moving in the right direction as a program. I may have been wrong. The Jackets are certainly not world-beaters, but this year’s team looked solid in last week’s double-overtime loss in South Bend (we’ll also ignore my preseason skepticism of Mike Brey and Jerian Grant). Georgia Tech still can’t shoot, but man do they ever crash the glass. Let’s give Charles Mitchell his due. He’s becoming the player we all thought he could be at Maryland: an efficient big man (ignoring the turnovers) and a machine on the glass.
  4. Boston Herald: Jim Christian wants Conte Forum to become a tougher place for opponents to visit. He certainly has his work cut out for him, as a mostly apathetic basketball culture has settled in around Chestnut Hill (a small group of students excluded). But Boston College students like sports (see: hockey), and Conte is warm in the winter, so that gives Christian a fighting chance to turn things around. In the long run he needs significantly more community and alumni support. Those groups tend to be more fair-weather than students and will likely show up when the team starts winning. However, Boston College’s loss last night to Pittsburgh is exactly the kind of game the program needs to start winning to get that crowd out in force.
  5. Charlotte Observer: Welp. NC State basketball player Terry Henderson was arrested for allegedly shooting an air gun at a vehicle on Monday night. Henderson is a transfer from West Virginia who is sitting out but should be expected to play a big role next season. That said, a surefire way to screw up your college career is to do something dumb during a redshirt season. The main reason I bring up this article is to point out how very young NC State is this year. While Ralston Turner is a senior and Trevor Lacey is a junior, everyone else on the team is either a freshman or a sophomore. That means a couple of things: first, this team could be very scary if it keeps improving over the next couple of years, and second, there are limited roster spots available.
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Notre Dame’s Supporting Cast Provides Staying Power

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 6th, 2015

Most of the accolades associated with Notre Dame’s 14-1 start have been bestowed on star senior Jerian Grant, the ACC’s second-leading scorer and top assist man. Skepticism over the Irish’s relatively unimposing non-conference slate were correlated questions about how the team would operate when Grant was held in check. After a thrilling one-point win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill last night, the Notre Dame trio of Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton have silenced those questions and put the rest of the conference on notice that the Irish are a team capable of contending with the ACC’s elite.

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

It was apparent early in Monday’s game that North Carolina’s top defender, J.P. Tokoto, was tasked with slowing Grant. He and the other Tar Heels who took turns defending the explosive wing were extremely successful, as Grant contributed a season-low eight points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field and eventually fouling out. With as much as Grant has produced this year — he uses a quarter of the Irish’s offensive possessions — such a performance would have appeared to doom the Irish in a tough road environment. Instead, Mike Brey’s team showed that its supporting cast is strong enough to overcome his occasional lack of production by contributing a combined 49 points and 16 rebounds.

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ACC M5: 01.06.15 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 6th, 2015

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  1. Tar Heel Blog: As you certainly know by now, ESPN legend Stuart Scott passed away Sunday after a very public fight with cancer. He was one of the most recognizable voices at the Worldwide Leader for his catchphrases and hip-hop references, but also for his unabashed Tar Heel fandom. Scott often made his way back to Chapel Hill for Late Night with Roy until very recently. If you’ve got fifteen minutes, ESPN also put together a great tribute to Scott.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Barry Jacobs, as per usual, is a must-read on Coach K making changes to his career following the infamous 1995 season. Other Triangle fans often sneer when the season is brought up (not at the injury but the attribution of the team’s 4-15 record following Krzyzewski’s departure to Pete Gaudett), but that time off may have been more important than many previously thought. It’s impossible to get through a Duke game without an announcer talking about how important family is to Mike Krzyzewski; and it took an ultimatum from his wife Mickie–along with weeks of chronic pain–to get Krzyzewski to finally go to a doctor and eventually take time off.
  3. Backing the Pack: NC State looked really, really impressive against Pittsburgh. This breakdown also looks forward to the mini-murderer’s row facing the Wolfpack (at Virginia, against Duke and against North Carolina). Mark Gottfried turned his team around after an ugly loss to Cincinnati, but he really needs to keep them sharp in Charlottesville and against Duke. Getting those two teams back to back is a recipe to kill a team’s confidence, but it also is a great chance at a marquee win to hang your hat on come Selection Sunday. I like the Wolfpack’s chances to keep the games close if they keep their wits about them (and play defense). Regardless of the outcome, Gottfried has a team in decent shape. Jamie Dixon should start sweating though.
  4. Blogger So Dear: If you missed Wake Forest‘s game against  Louisville, you missed one of the guttiest performances of the season–especially from Devin Thomas who made the vaunted Cardinal front line look outmatched. Danny Manning has his team believing, and it’s getting him some national credit. The Demon Deacons won’t be a frontrunner in the ACC this season. However, this game shows why the Manning hire may be exactly what the doctor ordered. As long as this team continues to play hard, they’ll stick around games they have no business in and Manning may bring some big-time recruits into town.
  5. Raleigh News & Observer: King Karl Hess is in the news! A former Wake Forest trustee Mit Shah tweeted that Hess yelled, “When I’m older, I want to sit in your seat and watch your Egyptian ass referee a game.” Beyond that we don’t have much information, but this could spell trouble for Hess. Refs can’t ever engage with fans (even if Shah was being obnoxious). There are three ways this could go: (1) Hess apologizes and is likely suspended by the league; (2) Hess apologizes for engaging with a fan but claims he didn’t say anything racial; (3) Hess and/or the league deny he said anything and go about their business. It’s hard to believe the ACC would let Hess continue working if evidence comes out (even with an unspoken agreement like they had with NC State), but it’s also possible that Shah and Ron Wellman have better things to do than pursue an internal investigation.

EXTRA: So… Jerian Grant‘s dunk from last weekend was awesome. And after nearly looking past Georgia Tech, the Fighting Irish got a very good win at North Carolina.

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Boston College’s Lack of Depth Limits Its Potential This Season

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 5th, 2015

Saturday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Boston College showed that while its first unit is capable of competing with the best teams in the ACC, the lack of productivity from its reserves may be too big of an issue to overcome. After a ho-hum first half where the Eagles entered the locker room down 16 points, Jim Christian’s team came storming out to trail Duke by just 10 seven minutes into the second stanza. The Eagles used all five starters to cut the lead to a manageable figure, but then fatigue and foul trouble forced Boston College to go to the bench. The outcome: Within four minutes, the Blue Devils had spurted to an insurmountable 24-point lead and ended up coasting the rest of the way to an 85-62 victory.

Olivier Hanlan played well against Duke but needs more help. (Lance King/Getty Images)

Olivier Hanlan played well against Duke but needs more help.
(Lance King/Getty Images)

In his postgame press conference, Christian commented that his team “needed to get energy from our bench in this game. I don’t think we did that.” He made a point to say that he wasn’t worried as much about bench points (a 17-point deficit), but more about getting effort and energy from the bench in areas such as rebounding and defense. Perhaps the player most affected by the Eagles’ lack of quality depth is star guard Olivier Hanlan, who led the way against Duke with 22 points and four assists in 37 minutes of action. As Christian said of his best player, “I wish we could get him a rest but unfortunately we don’t have another point guard.” Hanlan, described by Mike Krzyzewski as “a load to defend,” was effective in getting to the basket despite facing multiple fresh Blue Devil defenders throughout the game. But according to his coach, fatigue is hurting the junior All-ACC player’s contributions at the defensive end, and his challenge is to learn to “play through it.” Tired legs is also a major reason that Hanlan’s shooting percentages are down across the board this year.

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