ACC Weekend Review: 01.02.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 2nd, 2017

The opening weekend of ACC play was one of the wackiest we have ever seen. On Saturday afternoon two home underdogs pulled off massive upsets: Virginia Tech over Duke and Georgia Tech over North Carolina. Those games were followed by a trio of late afternoon contests in which the winner rallied from a late second half deficit to pull out a close victory on the road —Florida State nipped Virginia; Clemson beat Wake Forest; and Notre Dame edged Pittsburgh in overtime. It was certainly a wild way to close out 2016, but the fun didn’t stop with the calendar year. Boston College, a team that had not won an ACC game since March 2015, celebrated the New Year by blasting Syracuse to snap its 20-game ACC losing streak. Here are the highlights from opening weekend around the ACC.

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (Photo: hokiesports.com)

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (photo: hokiesports.com)

  • Best Win: In a normal situation, a 14-point win over the preseason pick to win the conference would warrant ‘Best Win’ accolades, but Virginia Tech’s rout of Duke comes in second this weekend. Instead the title goes to Leonard Hamilton‘s Florida State squad for handing Virginia only its second ACC defeat in Charlottesville since 2012. The Cavaliers came into the game ranked first in KenPom’s system, but the Seminoles rode Dwayne Bacon‘s hot hand in the second half to pull off the upset despite struggling to make shots from the field (41%) and foul line (50%). In addition to his great shooting performance (more on that below), Bacon exploited two rare Virginia breakdowns — scoring after an inbounds steal under the basket on one late possession, and converting an offensive rebound following his own missed free throw a few minutes later. Those are the kinds of plays that beat Virginia, a team that does not very often beat itself.

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North Carolina Readies Itself For ACC Play

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 30th, 2016

North Carolina wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule on Wednesday night by dispatching Monmouth, 102-74, at the Dean Smith Center. Now it is on to conference play, as Roy Williams’ squad visits Georgia Tech tomorrow (Noon ET – ACC Network) in the first of two ACC road trips. It has been an interesting season for the Tar Heels to this point. They started off by winning their first eight games, including a dominant performance in the Maui Invitational, that led ESPN’s Jay Bilas, among others, to proclaim North Carolina as the best team in college basketball. Williams’ team has taken a hit since with a road loss at Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge followed by a neutral court defeat to Kentucky in the Game of the Season. Now, on the eve of ACC play, let’s examine the Tar Heels’ prospects going forward.

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

The obvious strength of this squad is in the frontcourt. With seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks backed by solid freshman Tony Bradley, North Carolina may have a post trio as good as any in college basketball. Despite losing some of his efficiency with greater usage, Meeks has been outstanding in taking on a primary offensive role as well as on the boards at both ends of the floor. Hicks was expected to make a big splash as a first-time starter and he has delivered on that promise. The concern with him is that he has not performed nearly as well against tough competition — sporting a 101.5 Offensive Rating against the Tar Heels’ best four opponents — versus 118.4 in all games. Junior forward Justin Jackson looks like a potential All-ACC first-teamer right now. He converted 6-of-9 attempts from deep en route to a 28-point night against Monmouth, and unlike Hicks, Jackson has come through in big games — averaging 23.2 PPG against the Tar Heels’ five highest rated foes. Bradley, an important substitute off the bench, may have the most professional potential of the bunch. He currently leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and has displayed great hands and advanced footwork for a youngster.

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John Collins Leading Wake Forest’s Resurgence

Posted by Charlie Maikis on December 22nd, 2016

Wake Forest appears to be in the midst of an astounding turnaround. After winning just 11 total games last season, the Demon Deacons are off to an 8-3 start with all three losses coming to teams ranked among KenPom‘s top 50. And for the first time since Dino Gaudio was still the head coach in 2010, Wake is itself ranked among the KenPom top 50. Danny Manning‘s offense this season has been especially improved, moving up over 100 spots in adjusted offensive efficiency (from 132nd last year to 25th). So how has the third-year ACC coach managed to bring out the best of his team this season?

John Collins has put Wake Forest on college basketball's radar. (Photo Credit: Bob Hebert)

John Collins has put Wake Forest on college basketball’s radar. (Photo Credit: Bob Hebert)

The resurgence starts with sophomore center John Collins. In a modern era of shooters and slashers, Manning has gone old school in centering his offense around the 6’10” big man. The Deacs play an inside-out game focused on getting Collins touches near the basket. Per Synergy Sports, Wake posts up on 15 percent of its possessions, the eighth-highest figure in the nation. But dumping the ball into the paint only works if you have an effective scorer there, and Collins is among the very best in the nation at doing just that. He ranks seventh in the ACC at 17.5 points per game, shoots a scorching 60 percent on twos and uses over 30 percent of the Deacs’ possessions.

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ACC Trends: The Rise of Three-Point Shooting, Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 22nd, 2016

In Part I of this series published earlier this week, we examined the latest stylistic change in college basketball: a substantial surge in three-point shooting. Players in both the NBA and college basketball are hoisting and making more long-range shots than ever before, a trend we expect to continue growing into the future. With that in mind, we decided to gauge how the 15 current ACC head coaches may be willing to adapt to such a shift in style of play. To make that assessment, we must first look at recent history.Coaches3s-ImportanceThe graph above shows the relative importance of three-point shooting for ACC coaches over the past five seasons, both offensively and defensively. This rating is simply an average of how a coach’s team has ranked nationally in three areas concerning three-point shooting: three-point accuracy; three-point attempt percentage; and the percentage of points derived from three-point baskets. With only one exception — Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning has only four years under his belt — we used data from the last five seasons for each coach, including seasons at other schools (i.e., Josh Pastner at Memphis and Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt). Read the rest of this entry »

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Should Georgia Tech Be Buzzing About Its Start?

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 20th, 2016

The expectations for the first year of the Josh Pastner era at Georgia Tech were about as low as they can get, as the Yellow Jackets were picked to finish 14th of 15 teams — ahead of only lowly Boston College — by the media in October. One national hoops writer even went as far to predict that Georgia Tech would go winless in the ACC this season. While Pastner’s team certainly won’t be an NCAA Tournament contender and will still most likely finish within the bottom tier of the conference standings, it is also clear that the Jackets are better than expected. That feeling was somewhat reinforced when Tech defeated a solid VCU team in Richmond last week, but keep in mind that it has also lost at home to Ohio (a top 100 team) and was demolished on the road by a mediocre Tennessee squad. However, there are several bright spots on this team that should have the fans in Atlanta excited for the future.

Yellow Jackets freshman Josh Okogie has been one of this biggest surprises in the country. (Adam Hagy/USA Today)

Yellow Jackets freshman Josh Okogie has been one of this biggest surprises in the country. (Adam Hagy/USA Today)

The obvious place to start is with junior center Ben Lammers. A three-star recruit, Lammers did not show much more than potential in his initial two years under Brian Gregory. Whether Pastner is simply getting more out of him this season or he is finally showing a progression of skills, he is clearly a different player. Lammers leads the Yellow Jackets in scoring (15.8 PPG), rebounding (10.8 PPG) and blocks (4.6 BPG), and he is currently the second-leading rebounder in the ACC and the nation’s leader in blocks per game. Fellow junior Tadric Jackson is shooting 56.3 percent from three-point range, giving Pastner a much-needed outside threat and a terrific complement for when the defense collapses on Lammers. Senior Quinton Stephens has not shot the ball very well but he has taken on the versatile forward role that was expected of him, averaging 11.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. But it is the rise of an unheralded freshmen who has been the biggest bright spot so far for the Yellow Jackets. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Trends: The Rise of Three-Point Shooting, Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 20th, 2016

*Ed. Note: This is a repost of an article that first appeared on the site November 8, 2016. 

Throughout its long and illustrious history, the sport of basketball has gone through numerous stylistic changes. For many years, the focus was on dominant post players with names like Russell, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and Walton. In the 1980s a shift to the era of great all-around players began. With apologies to Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson led the charge and Michael Jordan took it to the highest level. This trend of the two-way superstar continued to present day, with Kobe Bryant giving way in the last decade to LeBron James. Now, in the mid-2010s, we may be entering the dawn of a new era — the age of the three-point bomber. And if this trend is here for awhile, how will it affect the short-term future for ACC schools? In this first of a two-part look at the issue, we will examine some recent conference trends on three-point shooting.

Stephen Curry's long range bombing represents the new stlye of basketball that's already changing the college game. (Credit: www.sportingnews.com)

Stephen Curry’s long range bombing represents a new style of basketball that’s already changing the college game. (Getty)

To a great extent nowadays, college coaches borrow ideas from both the NBA and international basketball. High-major programs with a number of future pros like to use pick-and-roll or isolation sets. Coaches with less talented squads often mirror European offenses that feature a drive and kick approach with multiple long-range shooters available. Of late we have seen a dramatic stylistic shift in the NBA that incorporates much of the European model. Despite coming up short to James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in last June’s NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors are the hottest thing in basketball right now. Led by two-time MVP Stephen Curry, the Warriors set an NBA record by averaging 13.1 made threes per game last season. But Golden State isn’t the only professional team prospering from the deep shot. Clearly seeing the value of good three-point shooting, the average NBA team attempted 24.1 three-pointers last season, compared with an average of only 18.0 just five years prior. And in terms of overall success, the five NBA teams that made the most shots from behind the arc all finished with winning records – including both championship round finalists (the Cavaliers finished second in made threes). Read the rest of this entry »

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Handicapping the Early Race For At-Large ACC Bids

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 15th, 2016

The conversation about the ACC potentially placing a record number of teams in the NCAA Tournament has already started. There are currently 11 ACC teams among the RPI top 70, and that number excludes two more quality teams that have played weaker schedules to date in Syracuse and Miami (FL). Using an expected RPI calculation (per RPIforecast.com), 13 of the ACC’s 15 teams are projected to finish the season among the RPI top 100. With the possible exception of Boston College and its four albatross losses to Nicholls State, Richmond, Harvard and Hartford, the rest of the ACC has yet to remove themselves from at-large contention. North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Virginia and Notre Dame can feel pretty safe about inclusion barring an unprecedented collapse, a rash of injuries or some sort of unanticipated scandal. Georgia Tech is an interesting case with losses to Ohio, Penn State and Tennessee, but it doesn’t seem as if Josh Pastner’s group has enough talent to make a run in conference play. Let’s review the eight teams that fall somewhere in the middle.

The Resume Builders: Florida State, Clemson

Florida State Appears in Good Shape to This Point (USA Today Images)

Florida State Appears in Good Shape to This Point (USA Today Images)

The Seminoles are off to a nice 10-1 start with wins already over Illinois, Minnesota and Florida. On top of that, Florida State is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the ACC’s unbalanced schedule this season. Of the league’s presumptive top four teams, only Duke appears twice on the schedule. If Leonard Hamilton’s bunch can hold serve at home and do no worse than the middle of the pack in conference play, they should be in.

Clemson hit the ground running with early wins over Georgia and Davidson and the Tigers have avoided any ugly losses to date. As most schools drift through exams and the holidays without much of a test, Brad Brownell’s team will do the opposite with upcoming tough games against South Carolina, Alabama and a strong UNC-Wilmington squad. After that stretch, the Tigers will enjoy an even easier conference schedule than Florida State, catching all five of the ACC’s best teams only once this season.

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Where Did Boston College Go Wrong?

Posted by Charlie Maikis on December 14th, 2016

Despite earning a surprising win against Auburn on Monday night, Boston College sits at just 5-5 on the season with losses to Harvard, Hartford and Nicholls State already on its resume. It’s no stretch to note that the Eagles are off to another tough start for what seems like the 100th season in a row. Still, it wasn’t that long ago that the program was riding high. Despite finishing over .500 just once since 2010-11 and enduring a sustained funk over the last five years that few major conference programs have endured, the Eagles under former head coach Al Skinner notched seven NCAA Tournament appearances in nine seasons during the 2000s.

What Has Happened to Steve Donahue's Defense? (Boston College Athletics)

Steve Donahue couldn’t maintain Al Skinner’s standards at Boston College. (Boston College Athletics)

As the sixth year of disappointment quickly moves toward conference play, the overarching question is where did Boston College go wrong? Skinner’s final season ended with a record of 15-16 (6-10 ACC), but the hiatus of talent that left with him had an immediate effect. Former ESPN 100 recruit Rakim Sanders decided to transfer to Fairfield, and incoming recruit Brady Heslip, who went on to become a major contributor for several successful Baylor teams, was released from his letter of intent. After Skinner had brought in two ESPN 100 recruits in his first two classes of that recruiting service’s era, the combination of Steve Donahue from 2010-14 and current head coach Jim Christian (2014-present) have combined to bring in just one — Ryan Anderson, who also transferred out, incidentally — in the seven classes since.

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Specter of Harry Giles Still Looming Over Duke

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 7th, 2016

Mike Krzyzewski is accustomed to unexpected roster transformations. After all, when you spend over four decades on the college basketball sidelines, it is inevitable that injuries, suspensions and other roster-wreaking circumstances will occasionally arise. This season’s Blue Devils are still an early version of what they eventually will become, but Tuesday’s night’s 84-74 Jimmy V Classic win over Florida revealed a group steadily evolving into the team many expected before all the injuries began. Star freshman Jayson Tatum contributed 22 points and eight rebounds in his second career game, while fellow freshman blue-chipper Marques Bolden saw a couple minutes off the bench. The presence of each was important in dispatching a good Florida team, but even the added production of Tatum could not fully obscure the continued absence of the most decorated of Duke freshmen, Harry Giles. The Blue Devils may already have the pieces in place to win the 2017 NCAA Tournament — consider that they just beat a Top 25 team by double figures on a night where presumptive NPOY Grayson Allen went 2-of-10 — but the roster won’t feel complete, the upside not fully explored, until Giles makes his debut.

Harry Giles' Return Could Be An Early Christmas Present For Duke (Photo: Getty)

Harry Giles’ Return Could Be An Early Christmas Present For Duke (Photo: Getty)

Ten days ago, moments after Duke had dispatched Appalachian State in a post-Thanksgiving tilt at Cameron Indoor, Krzyzewski identified just how different this season had been than expected. “We had this unbelievably deep team, supposedly,” Coach K said. “And really the past month, we’ve been back to what we’ve done the last two years, where there’s no practice, you are in therapy…it’s frustrating, but you do what you need to do.” In the days since, of course, the Blue Devils have regained some degree of health. Tatum and Bolden are back in action, although Giles, who has been going through pregame warmups since a November 23 game against William & Mary, remains on the shelf. After last night’s win, Krzyzewski added, “We’re hoping before Christmas, those two games,” when asked about Giles’ potential debut. Those two referenced games are December 19 and December 21 match-ups with Tennessee State and Elon, respectively. Some have suggested that Giles’ best course of action may be to sit out the entire season, but it appears Duke expects him to be on the court sooner than later. Given Giles’ prodigious prep reputation, that development has large potential ramifications for the Blue Devils. But no matter how significant his ultimate impact becomes, Krzyzewski will also find solace in a playable and complete roster.

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Dwayne Bacon is Florida State’s Difference Maker

Posted by Charlie Maikis on December 6th, 2016

Over the last five years Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton has coaxed a number of highly-rated recruits to Tallahassee, but the Seminoles have struggled to translate those recruiting victories to on-court ones. Sitting at 7-1 so far this season with solid but not spectacular wins over Illinois and Minnesota, Hamilton’s group appears ready to return to prominence. Florida State has long been known for its elite defense, but the difference this season has come on offense where the Seminoles currently rank among the nation’s top 25 units. Per Synergy Sports, they rank 20th nationally in two-point field goal percentage and are producing nearly 0.2 more points per possession on shots around the rim this season. This short-range improvement has come in large part thanks to the offensive improvement of Florida State’s best wing, Dwayne Bacon.

Has Bacon's improved shooting spurred an offensive revolution at FSU? (Geoff Burke- USA Today Sports)

Has Bacon’s improved shooting spurred an offensive revolution at FSU? (Geoff Burke- USA Today Sports)

Bacon’s decision to return to Florida State for his sophomore season was a recruiting victory in itself. His size and athleticism make him a top prospect regardless of class, but he has also significantly improved his three-point jump shot — from 28.1 to 43.2 percent — to become one of the better marksmen in college basketball. The sophomore wing’s astonishing rise in shooting from distance has correspondingly opened things up for his Seminoles’ teammates inside. For example, 83 percent of Bacon’s assists in the half-court have been to big men for dunks or layups as a result of defenders respecting his shooting ability. Those are the easy looks that allow a team like Florida State, which generally doesn’t shoot very well, to run an efficient half-court offense. Even Xavier Rathan-Mayes, the team’s assist leader the last two years, has gotten in on the act by dishing eight percent more of his assists on two-pointers than last year.

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