Three Takeaways from Weekend #1 in the ACC

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 13th, 2017

The ACC fared well on the opening weekend of college basketball, with only one school suffering a surprising loss as Wake Forest fell to Georgia Southern in Winston-Salem on Friday night. As is usually the case, most of the other league teams opened the season by beating inferior opponents. Here are three takeaways from the league’s first weekend of action.

1) North Carolina: No Joel Berry. No Problem.

Luke Maye was the star in North Carolina’s convincing season opening win over Northern Iowa.
(Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

Despite not having All-America point guard Joel Berry II (broken hand) and another starter — transfer Cameron Johnson (sprained neck) — in the lineup, North Carolina didn’t miss a beat in its 86-69 win over Northern Iowa on Friday night at the Smith Center. Freshman Jalek Felton and Seventh Woods combined for 14 points and three assists while splitting time running the team, but the Tar Heels’ primary playmaking came from the wing as Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams each logged five assists. As long as Berry is out — and maybe even when he returns — Pinson will often initiate the offense.

The most encouraging thing from the Tar Heels’ opener was the surprising performance of their untested frontline. Junior Luke Maye showed that he’s ready for a breakout season after posting 26 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-16 shooting. Maybe even more important than Maye’s unforeseen outburst was the play of two relatively unheralded freshman big men, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. The post duo combined for 23 points and 14 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. If Roy Williams can get that kind of production from his frontcourt, he can afford to maintain his preferred style of inside-out play this season.

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ACC Non-Conference Games: 10 to Watch

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 9th, 2017

As the opening of the regular season draws near, it’s a good time to closely examine the schedules of all 15 ACC squads and pick out the 10 most interesting non-conference match-ups. The following list excludes any potential games in early season tournaments as well as the ACC/Big Ten Challenge contests — we’ll take a in-depth look at those separately in later posts. This group of 10 games are listed in chronological order (all game times are ET) — mark your calendars now.,

  • November 10 (Friday) – Georgia Tech vs. UCLA (Shanghai, China) – ESPN, 11:30 PM. The Yellow Jackets are traveling over 7,500 miles from Atlanta to tip off Josh Pastner’s second year at the helm. This game shapes up as an interesting battle between one of the nation’s best offenses from a year ago (UCLA – #2 KenPom Offensive Rating) and one of the stingiest defenses (Georgia Tech – #6 KenPom Defensive Rating). A big key to settling this game will be the individual match-up of two excellent returning seniors in the post, with Georgia Tech’s Ben Lammers (9.9% block rate in 2016-17) attempting to stop the smooth mid-range game of UCLA’s Thomas Welsh (132.2 Offensive Rating). Unfortunately for Pastner, he’ll be without two of his starters — Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson have been suspended indefinitely for breaking NCAA rules — while it’s unclear what the game time status will be for UCLA’s LiAngelo Ball and friends after their shoplifting incident at a Hangzhou Louis Vuitton store.

Tom Izzo will be looking for his second win in 12 tries versus Mike Krzyzewski in this year’s Champions Classic. (Chris Trotman)

  • November 14 (Tuesday) – Duke vs Michigan State (Champions Classic – Chicago) – ESPN, 7:00 PM. This could be college basketball’s marquee non-conference match-up of the season, with both squads ranked in virtually everyone’s preseason top four (including the newly released RTC16). Duke may have an edge in raw talent but the Spartans boast National Player of the Year favorite Miles Bridges and a host of other experienced players to surround him. Next week’s game may be Tom Izzo’s best chance in years to beat his friend and rival Mike Krzyzewski. For Coach K to extend his success against Izzo — the Duke head coach holds a 10-1 career advantage — the Blue Devils will need Grayson Allen to end his personal slump in this annual event. Allen has only managed a total of 18 points on 23 percent shooting in Duke’s last two appearances (both losses) in the Champions Classic.

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Meet the ACC’s Newly Eligible Transfers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 3rd, 2017

With all the player turnover these days in college basketball, coaches can no longer rely solely on just the freshmen they recruited to fill their open roster spots. Correspondingly, ACC coaches hit the transfer market every offseason to plug the holes resulting from various spring defections. In order to get familiar with the transfers entering the ACC this season, the table below shows all the non-freshmen newcomers to the league broken into four groupings (graduate transfers; traditional transfers; JuCo transfers; sitting out this year). Players within each category are ordered according to the anticipated impact that they will have for their teams this season.

Over the past few seasons a number of ACC schools have taken advantage of the NCAA rule that allows graduate transfers to play immediately at their new schools. But for the most part, only a few such transfers have made a major impact. This year’s crop of incoming graduate transfers may be the deepest we have seen in the ACC, however, with all 10 projected as rotation players and at least half as immediate starters. Last year, Jim Boeheim got great perimeter play from graduate transfers Andrew White and John Gillon — his team expects similar production from Geno Thorpe, a rangy guard from South Florida who should be well-suited for the Syracuse system. Boston College picked up a much needed frontcourt player in Deontae Hawkins, a key cog on a good Illinois State team last year.

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ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Cavaliers

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 1st, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: How Will Virginia Fill the Big Shoes of London Perrantes?

Over his four seasons in Charlottesville, London Perrantes was a massive part of Virginia‘s 112 wins and four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. Since taking the reins of the offense as a freshman, the 6’2″ point guard was a calm and steadying influence during a four-year career that resulted in a pair of ACC championships. There will be a changing of the guard this season as head coach Tony Bennett needs to now rely upon pair of sophomores who showed flashes of brilliance last season. The first of those players is sophomore guard Ty Jerome, who recorded a 60.5 percent effective field goal percentage last year and took over the game at Villanova down the stretch before the Cavaliers lost on a last-second tip-in. Jerome injured his foot over the summer and missed Virginia’s preseason scrimmage as a result, but he is expected to be ready to go for the regular season opener against UNC-Greensboro next week. If Jerome misses any time, look for Rutgers graduate transfer Nigel Johnson to step into the starting point guard role. With a quick first step and a proven ability to find open looks, Johnson could be a key spark plug to provide offense when needed.

Sans man-bun, can sophomore Kyle Guy become the scorer Virginia needs? (USA TODAY Sports)

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Several Takeaways From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2017

We attended ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte this week (links to the coaches’ and players’ press conferences can be found here). In addition to hearing from coaches and players from all 15 league schools, ACC commissioner John Swofford delivered his annual state of the league address. In this post we present some of the primary takeaways and interesting quotes we observed and heard over the course of the day. At the bottom of the post we also present the preseason award results as voted on by participating media.

LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS TO COLLEGE BASKETBALL’S PROBLEMS

Wednesday in Charlotte, ACC Commissioner John Swofford discussed the conference’s role in addressing the current issues facing college basketball. (USA Today Images)

Swofford spent much of his 45-minute forum on Wednesday discussing the current state of college basketball in light of the recent FBI probe into the sport. The longtime commissioner has always been cautious and guarded with his words in public venues, and accordingly — instead of offering headline grabbing suggestions to fix the college game — he opted to take the position of gathering more information before taking a stance. Swofford correspondingly announced that the league is forming a five-member task force to be headed by former Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage. The goal of the group will be to make recommendations to the recently formed NCAA commission, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, that is tasked with finding solutions to the myriad problems exposed by the federal investigation.

When asked for his personal opinion on two low-hanging fruits regarding immediate change, Swofford indicated that he would like to see the one-and-done rule disappear and would be interested in exploring something similar to the college baseball model that forces a decision on professional or collegiate tracks coming out of high school. Both proposals would do little to fix the problems facing college basketball right now — if the top 15 high school seniors went straight to the NBA, then the players ranked #16 through #30 would then become the prime targets for rogue shoe company representatives and agents. So, what’s the difference? As for considering the college baseball model, why don’t we instead worry about creating something that works specifically for college basketball? From the monumental amounts of money involved to the way the entire recruiting structure works, there’s very little in common between those two sports.

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Despite Roiling Offseason, Louisville Basketball Will Be Just Fine

Posted by Chris Hatfield on October 26th, 2017

In some respects, the dust has settled. The terminations of Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich have been made. And now Louisville Basketball moves forward in a new world. The program won’t get the “death penalty.” Putting the basketballs away for an entire season (or more) just isn’t going to happen. Forget the fact that the NCAA continues to lose moral high ground (just get some good lawyers then watch morals go out the door), and remember that it hasn’t been used for over 30 years. It ain’t happening now. Eventually, the beat will drum on, maybe sooner then some think.

The Coaches of Louisville Past and Present Commiserate (USA Today Images)

Is there a precedent for what’s occurred within the program over the last two years? Well. A precedent for strippers in dorms, Wells Fargo transfers to pay for those strippers, a National Championship banner likely being stripped, the head man claiming to have zero knowledge of anything, and the cherry on top – a pay-for-play scheme? No, there’s not much precedent for that. It’s easy to forget, but wanna know a secret? Louisville still has a pretty good team this season.

KenPom ranks the Cardinals as the 16th best team in the Country and fourth in the ACC. Valid questions will be asked about interim head coach David Padgett. How much of his style will be implemented? How much even can be? How will he react to actual game pressure? Can he even manage a game? Yet, the team’s’ talent speaks volumes. The frontcourt, led by the length of Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding, was rated the ninth-best in the country by Rob Dauster at NBC Sports. VJ King and Deng Adel on the wings may be one of the most underrated one-two scoring punches in the country. Even without the services of Brian Bowen, there is still a lot of talent on the roster. It’s doubtful that the NCAA will move fast enough to affect the Cards this season, and the university has expressed little interest in self-imposing again (why would it?). Expect Louisville to be a factor in ACC play as well as when March rolls around.

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ACC Burning Questions: NC State Wolfpack

Posted by Mick McDonald on October 26th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can Kevin Keatts compete in his first season in Raleigh?

Former head coach Mark Gottfried managed to get NC State to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons in Raleigh, but life on the bubble proved very stressful. After logging back-to-back losing seasons the next two years, Gottfried was fired following last season. His replacement, the highly impressive Kevin Keatts, will begin his fourth year as a head coach. After three seasons as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville, Keatts wasted no time in turning around a UNC-Wilmington program that had experienced six straight losing seasons. The Seahawks won 18 games in his first season on the bench en route to a share of the CAA regular season championship in 2014-15, and followed that up with two more conference championships and corresponding trips to the NCAA Tournament. UNC-Wilmington came away from those experiences with an 0-2 record, but not without putting serious scares into ACC powers Duke and Virginia.

Can Kevin Keatts compete in season one in Raleigh? (Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Turning the Wolfpack around won’t be easy, as NC State loses its top three scorers from last season. Still, the cupboard for Keatts is hardly bare. The returning core is led by 6’8″ senior Abdul-Malik Abu, who averaged 12.0 points and seven rebounds per game last season. The athletic big man improved his effective field goal percentage (52.9%) for the third straight season and should benefit from the guards attacking the rim in Keatts’ system. Sophomore Markell Johnson will take over point guard duties from lottery pick Dennis Smith, Jr., but he will be pushed by incoming recruit Lavarr Batts, Jr. (who originally committed to VCU but ended up in Raleigh after Will Wade took the LSU job). Keatts will ask a lot of both players, especially on the defensive end in becoming a nuisance for opposing point guards. Read the rest of this entry »

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Where 2017-18 Happens: Reason #24 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 18th, 2017

As RTC heads into its 11th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 10. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#24 – Where The Bank is Open Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 preseasons.

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ACC Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 28th, 2017

Now that we are back in the midst of the long offseason, it’s time to look at some key ACC storylines to keep an eye on in coming months.

NCAA Punishments (Maybe): Rinse – Recycle – Repeat! This has become an annual bullet point on the ACC offseason storyline list, but maybe it will be the last time we have to include it pertaining to North Carolina and Louisville. The North Carolina academic scandal investigation — which has now dragged on for nearly half a decade — may finally be moving toward a conclusion. Despite the best efforts of UNC’s Four Corners stalling strategy, a recent letter from NCAA infractions committee chairman Greg Sankey indicated that a hearing has been scheduled for mid-August. Still, as we are all aware given the prolonged nature of this case, nothing has proceeded at more than a snail’s pace to this point.

Rick Pitino and Louisville are still waiting on the NCAA to rule on the school’s 2015 stripper scandal. (Jamie Rhodes – USA TODAY Sports)

Louisville’s stripper scandal is a much less complicated case so it seems to be closer to a resolution. The school recently held its own hearing with the NCAA infractions committee and a commonly held belief is that the NCAA will have its final answer on penalties in about two months. The school’s argument that Rick Pitino should not be charged with failure to monitor his assistant coach has already been rejected by the NCAA, so barring a late reprieve, expect the Cardinals’ head coach to serve a suspension at some point next season.

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2016-17 ACC Year In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 21st, 2017

As with any college basketball season, the ACC experienced its ups and downs during the 2016-17 campaign. The obvious highlight was North Carolina capturing its sixth National Championship — the 14th time an ACC school has won the grand prize. Despite Duke’s late push in the ACC Tournament, the Tar Heels were the league’s best and most consistent team for nearly the entire season, winning the regular season conference race by two games in a historically competitive year. The league as a whole put a conference-record nine teams in the NCAA Tournament this season, but spoiled that accomplishment by laying a giant first weekend egg in the Big Dance. After placing 11 teams in the Sweet Sixteen over the previous two years, the Tar Heels were the only ACC representative this time around. Here’s a final look at some of the highs and lows of ACC basketball this season.

Roy Williams became the sixth head coach in NCAA history with three or more National Championships.
(Getty Images)

Best Performance: By capturing this year’s National Championship, North Carolina earned some redemption after losing one year ago on a Villanova buzzer-beater for the ages. The Heels did so with a potent combination of talent and experience, featuring three seniors and three juniors among their top six players. On the talent side, consider that five of the 15 remaining McDonald’s All-Americans from the 2013 and 2014 classes were in North Carolina’s starting lineup this season. This North Carolina team is not one of the greatest teams in school history, but its NCAA Tournament run proved Roy Williams’ club will be regarded as one of the toughest. The Tar Heels twice came back from late five-point deficits during the first two weekends (Arkansas and Kentucky), and both Final Four games against Oregon and Gonzaga were tight until the last few possessions. In keeping with its core strengths, North Carolina used its abilities in offensive rebounding and ball security to to beat the Ducks and Zags. John Gasaway calls the concept shot volume, as the Tar Heels were able to get 10 more shot attempts than Oregon and 14 more than Gonzaga. Williams, with his ninth Final Four appearance (fourth-best ever) and third National Championship, must now be considered one of greatest college coaches of all-time. His critics can no longer claim that he’s just been fortunate to have so much talent on his rosters. If talent is all that is required, then why aren’t Arizona and Kansas making more Final Fours? Why doesn’t John Calipari have three titles? It’s just not that easy.

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