Three #1 Seeds Still a Possibility as ACC Finishes League Play

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 7th, 2019

On the strength of a second-half long-range assault, Virginia bludgeoned Syracuse at the Carrier Dome Monday and all but ensured that the Cavaliers will repeat as regular season ACC champions. They are set to host Louisville this weekend to close the regular season, while co-leader North Carolina, which Virginia defeated in its lone meeting this year, will host a third-place Duke team likely to be without Zion Williamson for a fifth straight game.

These three teams were expected to carry the ACC flag heading into the campaign, and they collectively have done nothing to dispel those preseason expectations. All three remain very much alive for #1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, with Virginia closest to lock territory. Duke, assuming Williamson suits up and acquits himself well in the ACC Tournament, seems comfortably entrenched on the top line too, while North Carolina has put itself in very good position to move up if it can complete the season sweep of Duke on Saturday.

The two outfits trailing the conference elite played an overtime thriller on Tuesday night, as Florida State protected its home floor in squeaking by a Justin Robinson-less Virginia Tech, and clinched the coveted double-bye at next week’s ACC Tournament in the process. The Seminoles and Hokies are both viable sleepers to make a run to Minneapolis this April, while the top three could each be considered favorites to do so when the brackets are revealed a week from Sunday.

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.04.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 4th, 2019

Two ACC squads in desperate need of a quality win failed to take advantage of their opportunities on Saturday. NC State stayed within striking distance of Florida State throughout their game, but the Pack couldn’t overtake the Seminoles in Tallahassee before falling, 78-73. Likewise, Clemson played North Carolina tough in Littlejohn Coliseum before losing another heart-breaker, 81-79. Elsewhere, co-leader Virginia had no problems with Pittsburgh, winning 73-49 in Charlottesville, and Duke — still playing without Zion Williamson — rolled Miami in Durham, 87-57. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Mfiondu Kabengele led a balanced Florida State attack as the Seminoles held off N.C. State in Tallahassee on Saturday. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
  • Best Win / Worst Loss I: Clemson failed to boost its NCAA Tournament resume by losing yet another nail-biter in ACC play. The Tigers have now lost four ACC contests on the very last possession and, as a result, are in serious NCAA bubble-trouble. Brad Brownell’s club owns a lousy 1-9 record in Quadrant 1 games and they’re quickly running out of chances to prove the Tigers can beat good teams. For North Carolina, this win keeps the Tar Heels tied atop the ACC standings, and puts them firmly in the mix for a potential #1 seed in the Big Dance. The biggest scare of the game came late in the first half when Roy Williams collapsed and had to be helped off the floor, never to return. It’s not the first time that his vertigo has struck him down during a game, but fortunately he seemed to be doing well soon after the game ended.
  • Best Win / Worst Loss II: Much like Clemson, NC State still has work to do to earn a second straight bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Wolfpack had a chance to grab a signature road win at Florida State on Saturday but couldn’t pull it off, leaving Kevin Keatts’ squad with just two Quadrant 1 wins in 10 tries. Add in the nation’s worst non-conference strength of schedule and their resume has some serious issues. With the win, Leornard Hamilton’s squad remains tied for fourth place in the league with Virginia Tech. The Hokies travel to Tallahassee on Tuesday and the winner will earn a coveted double-bye in the upcoming ACC Tournament.
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ACC Stock Report: Volume VII

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 28th, 2019

Sitting alone atop the conference at 11-1 and with a sweep in hand over defending champion Virginia, the smart money a little over a week ago was on Duke to cruise to its first ACC regular season title since 2010. An explosive sneaker appears to be the only thing that can slow down the freight train known as Zion Williamson, and his freak injury has led the Blue Devils to drop two of its last three games, leaving the door open for the Cavaliers and North Carolina. At 13-2 in the standings, they both now sit a game clear of Duke with only three left to play.

Stock Rising: Kerry Blackshear, Jr.

Kerry Blackshear Has Been a Stalwart for Virginia Tech This Season (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech was looking like a fashionable dark horse Final Four contender after winning 17 of its first 20 games this season. However, when senior point guard Justin Robinson went down with an injury that has kept him sidelined all February, those high hopes turned into a matter of survival. The play of Kerry Blackshear, Jr., however, has the Hokies back on the attack.

After losing two of their first three with Robinson out, Buzz Williams’ squad has now won four of five, including Monday’s upset victory over Duke. In that game, Blackshear led the Hokies in scoring for the fourth consecutive time, finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds. The junior has averaged 22.6 points per game and 10.0 boards per contest over this key stretch. Holding on to fourth place in the ACC standings and maintaining its relative KenPom placement (11th at the time of Robinson’s injury and now) has been no small feat without its floor general and best overall player around — the inspired play of Blackshear is the reason why.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 27th, 2019

Here’s another edition of our weekly view of the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their conference records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics and trends around the conference. This week we examine how ACC teams are faring in conference nail-biters. Finally, we will forecast how the final league standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Monday, February 25.

Current Standings

The standings mostly line up with performance, especially among the top six squads in efficiency margin. At the bottom of the league, there is a logjam of six more teams in the 2-4 victory range, but there is a clear best (Miami) and worst (Wake Forest) of the bunch in efficiency performance. Based on their play on a per possession basis, Clemson should not be trailing Syracuse and NC State in the standings, but that is the Tigers’ current reality. Below we will explain why that is the case.

Statistic of the Week: Winning Close Games

Despite its reputation for competitiveness, the ACC ranks 30th among the nation’s 32 conferences in the number of one-possession games played this year. You have to go back to 2002 to find a year when the league had fewer close games than this season’s 15.7 percent rate. No matter how you define close games (one or two possessions), Clemson has struggled mightily in those tight league contests. To rub more salt into the Tigers’ wound, all three of their close defeats this season literally occurred on the game’s final play. NC State has been involved in more (8) nail-biters than any other school and the Wolfpack have pulled out six of those games. Combined with last year’s impressive performance — Kevin Keatts‘ team was 5-2 in games decided by six points or fewer — he is off to a start to his ACC coaching career that can best be described as Leonard Hamilton-esque.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.25.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 25th, 2019

Despite a strong slate of ACC match-ups in the queue on Saturday, the games were mostly devoid of drama. The main takeaway from the weekend is that there is a significant gap between the top three schools and everyone else. Virginia overcame a 10-point halftime deficit on the road to overwhelm a reeling Louisville squad, 64-52; the frontcourt of North Carolina was too much for Florida State in the Tar Heels’ 77-59 win in Chapel Hill; and Duke rallied to beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, 75-65. This leaves those three league heavyweights tied at the top of the ACC standings with 12-2 records, clear of the rest of the league by three games in the loss column. Virginia Tech took advantage of those results to move into sole possession of fourth place — the Hokies beat Notre Dame in South Bend by a score of 67-59. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Nassir Little gave North Carolina a strong effort off the bench as the Tar Heels dominated Florida State in the paint on Saturday. (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)
  • Best Win #1: Those who expected this to be a letdown game for North Carolina should have known better. Yes, the Tar Heels were coming off a huge win over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but it’s not like Roy Williams‘ club isn’t used to dealing with this situation — playing the game after “The Game” — every season. Florida State kept it close for about 30 minutes, but North Carolina closed the contest on a 21-7 run to put away the Seminoles. The Tar Heels’ frontcourt was the difference, as seniors Cam Johnson and Luke Maye each posted double-doubles and freshman Nassir Little scored 18 off the bench. North Carolina dominated the glass (+15) and held the Seminoles to their second lowest scoring output of the year. Leonard Hamilton’s team saw its eight-game winning streak snapped and damaged its hopes for gaining the the coveted double-bye as the #4 seed in the ACC Tournament.
  • Best Win #2: With no upsets occurring this weekend we will highlight another big win because of the circumstances surrounding the game. There were several factors going against Duke when it took the floor at Syracuse on Saturday night — the Blue Devils were without the services of National Player of the Year favorite Zion Williamson; they had just been run out of their own gym by arch-rival North Carolina; and they were facing a motivated Syracuse team, who already had beaten Duke earlier this year, in front of an on-campus record 35,642 fans. Furthermore, the Orange controlled things early and led by five at that break. But RJ Barrett reminded us that Williamson isn’t the only star on Mike Krzyzewski’s squad — the other freshman superstar carved up the Syracuse zone to the tune of 30 points and seven assists to lead the comeback. Duke also got a huge boost from Alex O’Connell, who scored 17 second half points.
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ACC Weekend Preview: February 23

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 22nd, 2019

This weekend in the ACC features a stiff test for each of the three contenders for the ACC championship. Rush the Court ACC writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you set. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, February 23

Everyone Recalls the Last Regular Season Contest Between Louisville and Virginia (USA Today Images)

#1 Virginia (23-2, 11-2) at #19 Louisville (18-9, 9-5). The Cavaliers continue to roll toward a #1 seed, but a concerning trend has developed recently with this team. In Virginia’s last six games, it has logged a turnover rate of 17.0 percent or higher four times — this coming after a run of 14.2 percent or lower throughout ACC play. The Cavaliers, the slowest-paced team in college basketball, cannot afford to waste offensive possessions against good teams. Their margins are thinner in that regard. When Louisville has the ball, Chris Mack’s go-to scorer, Jordan Nwora (17.3 PPG, 28.0% usage), will see a pair of overwhelming defenders in DeAndre Hunter (90.9 DRtg) and Braxton Key (81.8 DRtg). The Cardinals need Nwora to lead the way, because they’ve been a nightmare offensively since their massive blown lead against Duke. In their past two games, Louisville has shot just 30.6 percent from the field and 25.5 percent from long distance. The Virginia defense isn’t usually the cure for offensive ailments.

#17 Florida State (21-5, 9-4) at #5 North Carolina (21-5, 11-2). The game of the weekend in the ACC features two of the hottest teams in college basketball. During Florida State’s current eight-game winning streak, the Seminoles have locked opponents down on the defensive end, holding teams to an icy 38.3 percent shooting from the field. Despite playing just 20 minutes per game and coming off Leonard Hamilton’s bench, Mfiondu Kabengele (31.1 PER, 126.0 ORtg) has asserted himself as one of the most efficient players in the league. He could be a nightmare match-up for a North Carolina team that doesn’t have much depth on its front line. The Tar Heels instead have depth on the wing, and they’re led by Cameron Johnson, who needs to be getting more hype as a potential first-team All-ACC candidate. In ACC contests, Johnson (138.4 ORtg, 28.0 PER) has been a dynamo and remains a steady force around Coby White and Luke Maye in the sport’s seventh-best offense.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 20th, 2019

Here’s another edition of our weekly view of the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their conference records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics and trends around the conference. This week we look at an interesting recent trend that exists when North Carolina plays its arch-rival Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Finally, we will forecast how the final league standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Monday, February 18.

Current Standings

After destroying Wake Forest by 38 points over the weekend, North Carolina has closed the gap considerably on Virginia and Duke in ACC efficiency margin. Offense is the primary reason that these three schools are leading the league. Seven ACC teams are playing excellent defense in conference action, but only the trio of league leaders are also scoring at an elite clip. If only Clemson could get a break — the Tigers have now lost three conference games at the buzzer, including both of their last two outings. If Brad Brownell’s club had won those games, it would have an identical record to Syracuse, which has been much more fortunate. The Orange continue to look good in the standings despite basically breaking even in efficiency margin.

Statistic of the Week: A Tale of Two Halves in Cameron Indoor Stadium

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ACC Stock Report: Volume VI

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 19th, 2019

With Virginia’s win over Virginia Tech on Monday night, North Carolina is now in position to create a three-way tie at first place in the ACC standings with an upset victory at Duke on Wednesday. 

Stock Rising

Florida State is Riding High Again (USA Today Images)

Florida State: Just one short month ago, the Seminoles blew a 10-point halftime lead at Boston College to extend their losing streak to three games. That defeat dropped Florida State to 1-4 in ACC play and out of the national polls. With a promising season circling the drain, Leonard Hamilton’s veteran squad has responded by winning every game since. In ripping off those seven consecutive wins, Florida State has vaulted itself back into the second tier of the league behind Virginia, North Carolina and Duke. Only a dramatic comeback overtime victory over Louisville and a nine-point handling of Clemson were close games. In typical fashion, the Seminoles are winning with balance, depth, length and defensive acumen. Five different players have led the team in scoring over the past seven games, and only the Cardinals reached 70 points against their top-20 defense.

Sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele has been a revelation, leading the Seminoles in scoring despite not starting a single game. Senior Terrance Mann is the only other player averaging in double figures, but Florida State’s lack of an explosive scorer is made up in the balance of having eight guys notching 6.5 points per game or better. The Seminoles face a stiff test in keeping its current winning streak alive, as a trip to a desperate Clemson team looms tonight followed by a visit to Chapel Hill. But, with a split, and with all of its final four games coming in Tallahassee and at Wake Forest, Hamilton’s squad could find itself right where most envisioned prior to its slow start — as the #4 seed heading into the ACC Tournament.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.18.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 18th, 2019

It appears that the ACC is on a regular rotation this season that provides us with a great set of games every other weekend. Still, there were some interesting things happening on Saturday around the league; Louisville almost blew another late lead before holding on to edge Clemson, 56-55; and Virginia had an unexpectedly tough time with Notre Dame, winning 60-54 in Charlottesville. Elsewhere in the conference, North Carolina routed Wake Forest, 95-57, in Winston-Salem, and first-place Duke handled NC State in Durham by a score of 94-78. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Jordan Nwora’s block saved the day for Louisville against Clemson on Saturday as the Cardinals survived another late meltdown. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
  • Best Win: Coming off back-to-back heartbreaking losses to Florida State and Duke — games in which Louisville led both games by double-figures late — Chris Mack’s club almost did it again. This time, the Cardinals led Clemson by eight points with 30 seconds to go, before falling apart again in front of a stunned crowd at the KFC Yum! Center. At the end, Louisville practically handed the game to the Tigers when Marcquise Reed stole Jordan Nwora’s inbounds pass in the lane with three seconds to go — had Nwora not redeemed himself by blocking Reed’s short jumper to preserve the one-point victory, the Cardinals would be in full meltdown mode. Normally, we wouldn’t bestow “Best Win” status to a ranked team that barely survived against a squad with a sub-.500 conference record, but in this case, Louisville gets that distinction because it possibly saved its season.
  • Worst Loss: We also have an unusual choice in this weekly category. Nobody expected lowly Wake Forest to give North Carolina much of a game on Saturday, but the enormous margin of defeat — 38 points represents the largest in series history — may be the final nail in the coffin for Danny Manning’s tenure in Winston-Salem. After barely squeaking into the 2017 NCAA Tournament First Four, Manning was given a six-year contract extension — reportedly with a huge buyout attached. Since then, the Demon Deacons have posted a 20-35 record, including a pathetic ACC mark of 6-24. If Manning gets fired after the conclusion of this season, we recommend that the school have someone other than athletic director Ron Wellman choose the next head basketball coach. He’s certainly whiffed on his last two selections (Jeff Bzdelik and Manning) and as a result, Wake Forest is now one of the worst power conference programs in college basketball.
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ACC Weekend Preview: February 16

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 15th, 2019

While this weekend doesn’t feature a signature showdown in ACC play, it still provides plenty of intrigue for the many teams vying for NCAA Tournament position. Rush the Court ACC writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you set. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, February 16

Can Louisville Recover From Its Meltdown? (USA Today Images)
  • #32 Clemson (15-9, 5-6) at #13 Louisville (17-8, 8-4). While Louisville’s collapse against Duke got most of the attention around the ACC this week, it was Clemson that suffered more long-term damage with its loss to Miami. Clemson had been grinding opponents down, holding their previous three opponents under 35 percent in effective field goal percentage, but in their loss this week, Brad Brownell’s club allowed Miami (48.1% eFG) far too many easy baskets. A positive sign for the Tigers has been the recent play of Shelton Mitchell. In his last three games, Mitchell (15.0 PPG, 46.9 FG%, 44.4% 3FG) has become the necessary complement to Marcquise Reed that Clemson expected to have this season. They’ll need both Mitchell and Reed at the top of their games when they face the defensive ball-pressure facilitated by Louisville’s backcourt.
  • #22 Florida State (19-5, 7-4) at #99 Georgia Tech (11-14, 3-9). Here come the Seminoles… Leonard Hamilton’s club has now reeled off six consecutive victories, and in typical Florida State fashion, they are getting significant contributions from different players every night. Against Wake Forest earlier this week, Christ Koumadje scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and shot 10-of-12 from the field in a dominant victory over the Demon Deacons. Last weekend in a win over Louisville, Terrance Mann scored 20 points while knocking down three-of-four of his attempts from long distance. In their previous win against Syracuse, Mfiondu Kabengele notched 18 points and eight rebounds while making 7-of-10 shots from the floor. Florida State has lots of different ways to win games, which makes them well positioned for another deep run in March.
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