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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Rushed Reactions: #4 West Virginia 83, #5 Notre Dame 71

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2017

West Virginia relied on timely shooting and aggressive defense (per usual) to reach its second Sweet Sixteen in the last three years.

West Virginia is headed to San Jose next week. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. No one is immune to Press Virginia. Notre Dame entered Saturday with the best offensive turnover rate in the country, a testament to its stable of seasoned ball-handlers and deliberate approach. Faced with West Virginia’s relentless, bruising defensive pressure, though, the Irish struggled just as so many of the Mountaineers’ opponents have this season. Mike Brey’s veteran club suffered 10 turnovers in the first half alone, unable to find any offensive rhythm and surrendering easy baskets on the other end. West Virginia — which forces turnovers at a higher rate than any other team in college hoops — jumped out to a 10-0 lead to start the game and never really looked back.
  2. The Mountaineers’ offense was pretty great, too. Much of the conversation surrounding West Virginia focuses on its defense, and deservedly so. But if it was defense that gave the Mountaineers’ an initial edge on Saturday, it was the offense that ultimately carried them home. Bob Huggins’ group shot 50 percent from the field, including 8-of-14 from behind the arc and 21-of-26 at the free throw line. Especially great was West Virginia’s interior passing, which enabled Esa Ahmad (11 points), Elijah Macon (11 points), Daxter Miles (18 points), and others to routinely find easy looks at the rim. Oh, and the timely three-point shooting helped — especially from Jevon Carter (4-of-5 3FG), who drilled a clutch triple with 2:30 remaining that helped stick a fork in Notre Dame.
  3. Bonzie Colson was every bit as good as you’d expect. While Notre Dame lost, it wasn’t because Colson didn’t hold his own. The uniquely-built 6’5″ forward scored 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-5 shooting from long range along with eight rebounds. Despite picking up his fourth foul with about nine minutes left in the game, Colson remained effective on the offensive end, enabling the Irish to hang around despite facing a superior opponent. Silver lining for Notre Dame fans? The big man is only a junior, and should enter 2017-18 as a front-runner for ACC Player of the Year.

Player of the Game. Jevon Carter, West Virginia (24 points, 4-of5 3FG). For as outstanding as Colson was, Carter make the biggest difference in this game. The 6’2″ junior, known for his tenacious defense and quick hands (2.6. SPG), knocked down big shot after big shot on Saturday, including a long three-pointer from straight-on midway through the second half and that dagger triple with a few minutes remaining. He couldn’t have picked a better time to match his season-high point total.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Wisconsin 84, #9 Virginia Tech 74

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2017

Wisconsin came out on top tonight in an entertaining, back-and-forth affair that saw the two teams combine for 20 made three-pointers.

Bronson Koenig had a huge night in Buffalo. (Photo: The Sports Post)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Bronson Koenig was awesome. Hampered by a lingering leg injury for much of February, Koenig seemed to be trending toward full health late in the season. His performance on Thursday night put any remaining doubts to rest — the senior point guard is back. Koenig scored 28 points on 8-of-17 shooting from behind the arc, including a 5-of-6 stretch from three-point range during the second half that enabled Wisconsin to maintain its slight advantage. Perhaps the most pivotal moment of the night came near the eight-minute mark, when he knocked down a gutsy triple from several feet behind the arc, then stole the ball on the other end before drawing a foul. On a night where star forward Ethan Happ scored just 10 points, Koenig’s effort was essential. Whether he plays at a high level again on Saturday may determine if the Badgers will return to the Sweet Sixteen.
  2. Wisconsin is living and thriving from behind the arc. For the second time in three games, Wisconsin attempted more three-pointers (31) than two-pointers (30). The staggering ratio worked against Northwestern in the Big Ten semifinals — Wisconsin hit 12 threes in that one — and carried the Badgers again on Thursday night (13-for-31 3FG). With players like Happ (13.9 PPG) and Nigel Hayes (13.5 PPG) manning the interior, it’s not like Wisconsin can’t score inside effectively. For an offense that’s struggled to find its groove at times this year, though, perhaps the best tonic is simply the freedom to hoist from long range.
  3. Virginia Tech basketball is (and will remain) exciting under Buzz Williams. In just three short years, Buzz Williams has transformed a Virginia Tech offense that ranked dead last in the ACC in 2014 to one of the nation’s best this season. And it showed on Thursday night. The Hokies — a great three-point shooting team — carved up Wisconsin’s interior defense like butter in the second half, as Zach LeDay (23 points) found himself more than a couple powerful dunks to ignite the Virginia Tech faithful. Whether it was half-court sets or unselfish plays in transition, Williams has clearly done a masterful job on that end of the court. Despite the departures of Seth Allen (13.4 PPG) and LeDay (16.3 PPG), it’s hard to imagine the Hokies falling too far down the ACC standings in 2017-18.

Star of the Game. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin (21 points, 8-of-17 3FG). Everything was falling for Koenig in the second half, including a spot-up corner three that hit front rim, bounced off the backboard, and fell through the net. His steady hand and timely shooting helped Wisconsin remain ahead despite several momentous scoring bursts for Virginia Tech down the stretch. In order for Wisconsin to advance past Saturday, the senior needs to continue playing at a very high level.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 12th, 2017

The ACC received nine bids to the NCAA Tournament today, as the Selection Committee rewarded one of the league’s two bubble teams with Wake Forest making the field over Syracuse and its 2-10 record away from the Carrier Dome. Another big question going into today was whether regular season champion North Carolina or ACC Tournament winner Duke would get a #1 seed? The Tar Heels, on the strength of their regular season work, ultimately got the nod from the committee. Here are some quick best- and worst-case scenarios for each of the nine ACC teams in the field.

North Carolina (#1 South)

  • Best Case: The Tar Heels’ size and experience results in another appearance in the National Championship game with a chance for the school’s sixth national title.
  • Worst Case: North Carolina has another bad shooting night away from the Smith Center against an opponent (e.g., Butler) that will not allow the Heels to dominate the offensive glass.

Duke hopes to continue to play like it did in Brooklyn where they won four games in four days to capture the ACC Tourney Title. (abc11.com)

Duke (#2 East)

  • Best Case: Duke builds on its current momentum all the way to Phoenix, giving Coach K a shot at his sixth National Championship.
  • Worst Case: On a day when Duke’s threes are not falling, the Blue Devils get picked off in the Second Round by South Carolina, which benefits from a friendly local crowd in Greenville.

Louisville (#2 Midwest)

  • Best Case: Louisville’s defense overwhelms its foes and the Cardinals hit enough shots to get Rick Pitino back to the Final Four for a chance at his second title at the school and third overall.
  • Worst Case: The threes and free throws don’t connect for the Cardinals and they can’t get turnovers against a hot Michigan or Oklahoma State squad in the Second Round.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VIII – Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 7th, 2017

Here is the final edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. With the regular season now complete, we will look at which ACC teams performed better in the second half of league play and how that may impact the upcoming ACC Tournament. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins and what that means for each team’s postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Saturday, March 4.

Current Standings

North Carolina finished with an impressive two-game lead in the standings to edge out Louisville with the league’s top efficiency margin. Since the Cardinals finished as the #4 seed for this week’s ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, the two best teams in the conference landed on the same side of the bracket. The Tar Heels finish with the league’s top offense for the first time since 2009 — incidentally the last time North Carolina won the National Championship. This year, Roy Williams’ club used an outstanding offensive rebounding rate (42.5%) to overcome a modest shooting year — the Heels finished 10th in the league in effective field goal percentage (51.7%). Virginia reclaimed its status as the ACC’s best defensive squad, as Tony Bennett‘s teams have now finished as one of the ACC’s two best defenses in each of the last six seasons. Virginia’s pack line defense led the league in forcing turnovers (20.1%) and finished third in opponents’ effective field goal percentage (48.5%). Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.06.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 6th, 2017

The ACC regular season wrapped up on Saturday and things went mostly according to plan with home favorites winning six of the seven contests. The lone road underdog to triumph was Wake Forest boosting its NCAA Tournament hopes with a nice comeback win at Virginia Tech. In one of the season’s most exciting games, North Carolina earned revenge for an earlier loss at Duke defeating the Blue Devils on Saturday night in the Smith Center. In other important action, Louisville and Florida State clinched double-byes in the upcoming ACC Tournament by beating Notre Dame and Miami, respectively. Syracuse also routed Georgia Tech in the Carrier Dome in what was effectively an NCAA Tournament elimination game. Here are the highlights of the weekend around the ACC.

After Saturday night’s win over Duke, Roy Williams celebrated North Carolina’s second consecutive outright ACC regular season title (Getty/Streeter Lecka)

  • Best Win I: Even though North Carolina had already clinched the ACC regular season title, the Tar Heels still had much at stake in its annual season-ending meeting with Duke. In using a late-game spurt to beat the Blue Devils, Roy Williams’ club avenged an earlier loss and moved considerably closer to clinching a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The game was a riveting back-and-forth affair with great individual performances on both sides. Luke Kennard made his case for ACC Player of the Year by leading the Blue Devils with 28 points, but his efforts were not enough to overcome outstanding performances from North Carolina’s Joel Berry (28 points including 5-of-5 on threes) and Isaiah Hicks (21 points, nine rebounds). Another difference this time came in the form of North Carolina’s improved perimeter defense. Duke punished the Tar Heels from beyond the arc with 13 three-pointers several weeks ago; on Saturday, the Blue Devils managed only 7-of-19 from deep.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VII

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

Here is the latest edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. This week we will look at the how ACC teams have performed in the nail-biter games — conference games decided by one or two possessions. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that means for each team’s postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Wednesday, March 1.

Current Standings

Hats off to North Carolina for clinching at least a share of the ACC regular season title for the second straight season and for the eighth time in Roy Williams’ 14-year tenure at the school. The Tar Heels took advantage of a scheduling imbalance in their favor this year, with only three road games coming versus the top nine schools in the ACC standings. Despite being generally regarded as the ACC’s sixth best team in both the efficiency metrics and the national polls, Notre Dame sits alone in second place in the standings. With the Irish traveling to Louisville this weekend, though, the odds are against Mike Brey’s squad in catching the Heels. If all the home favorites win their games this weekend, Virginia Tech could rise all the way to the #5 seed in next week’s ACC Tournament, even with a likely negative points per possession margin. See below for how Buzz Williams’ guys have made this a legitimate possibility.

Advanced Stat of the Week: Performance In Close Games

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.27.17 Edition

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

Saturday was a great day for visiting ACC teams with one notable exception – Miami celebrated its Senior Day by beating Duke in a 55-50 defensive struggle. Road teams on Saturday came out on top everywhere else. North Carolina wrapped up the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament by winning at Pittsburgh; Florida State crushed Clemson’s NCAA at-large bid hopes; and Virginia ended its four-game losing streak by besting N.C. State. Home teams had better results on Sunday as Louisville handled Syracuse and Notre Dame topped Georgia Tech. Here are the highlights of the weekend around the ACC.

Jim Larranaga has now led Miami to four straight ACC victories, including Saturday’s win over Duke.
(David Santiago-miamiherald.com)

  • Best Win: Prior to last week, Miami had been flying under the radar even with a cleary upward trajectory in the ACC. But after back-to-back upset wins over ranked opponents — at Virginia on Monday and at home against Duke on Saturday — the Hurricanes are finally getting some deserving national attention. Against the Blue Devils, Jim Larranaga’s club found a way to win despite shooting just 38.0 percent from the floor and giving up 21 offensive rebounds. Its defense saved the day, holding Duke to its lowest single-game point total in over eight years. The Hurricanes are now in a fifth-place tie with Duke in the ACC standings, and they still have a shot at a top-four finish and the ACC Tournament double-bye that comes along with it.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 24th, 2017

Here is the latest edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. This week we will look at the most extreme example of home court advantage in the ACC. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that means for each teams’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Wednesday, February 22.

Current Standings

Thanks to Wednesday’s home win over Louisville, North Carolina has now taken the lead in efficiency margin to go along with its two-game cushion in the standings. Efficiency margins confirm that the Tar Heels and the Cardinals are the two best teams in the league, so we should not be surprised if they meet again in the ACC Tournament championship game. If neither squad loses until March 11, one of the NCAA’s #1 seeds would probably be on the line that Saturday night. The standings match up well with efficiency at this point, with two notable exceptions – Virginia has played quite a bit better than its record indicates, while Virginia Tech appears to be very fortunate to be 8-7 in league play. Perhaps the hottest team in the league right now is Miami, as the Hurricanes have posted seven victories in their last nine outings.

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