Opening Weekend in the ACC: Early Goals For All 15 Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 11th, 2016

As we welcome back college basketball this weekend, all 15 ACC schools will be in action, with several suiting up more than once. While teams like Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville have Final Four aspirations as their ultimate objective, others like Boston College and Georgia Tech would probably be content with a winning record. Whatever the preseason expectation level of each team, there are some specific things each would like to accomplish right out of the gate. Here’s our best guess of what each ACC school’s coaching staff will be focused on this weekend.

ACC schools are presented in alphabetical order. (opponent’s preseason KenPom ranking in parenthesis)

Boston College: Find out who can play.

  • Friday Nov. 11, 7:00 ET vs. Nicholls State (#321): The Eagles have a plethora of new players, including three transfers and four freshmen. Jim Christian has watched all of them perform in the preseason, but he will be anxious to see which newcomers can emerge as dependable options when the real games begin.

Clemson: Start building the resume.

Clemson's Brad Brownell has an improved offense and a surprisingly big home court edge in ACC play. (Bart Boatwright/greenvilleonline.com)

Clemson’s Brad Brownell needs a much better performance in non-conference play this year than the 7-5 mark posted by the Tigers a year ago. (Bart Boatwright/greenvilleonline.com)

  • Friday Nov. 11, 7:00 ET vs. Georgia (#58): A horrible performance in the non-conference portion of the Tigers’ schedule cost them dearly last year. One of those resume scars was a blowout loss to Georgia in Athens. The Bulldogs are the highest rated opponent on the ACC docket this weekend, so a revenge win by Clemson would represent a great start for Brad Brownell.

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The ACC’s 15 Unsung Heroes

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 11th, 2016

Casual ACC fans know the stars. But on any successful basketball team, there is always at least one unheralded player who helps his team by contributing in any number of different ways. Perhaps a scorer who brings energy to a second unit; a defensive stopper who anchors the back line of the defense; or a newcomer claiming a role for the future. Who are those guys in the ACC this season? We’re glad you asked.

  • Boston College: Connar Tava. Tava had a terrific junior year in 2014-15 at Western Michigan when he averaged 12.3 points per game and shot 52.1 percent from the field. After suffering a season-ending foot injury early last year, he redshirted and transferred to Boston College in the offseason..
  • Clemson: Marcquise Reed. When you have a player as talented as potential All-American Jaron Blossomgame, he is going to attract a lot of attention from opposing defenses. The best way to take advantage of that? Surround him with players who can knock down the three-point shot. Reed, a transfer from Robert Morris hit 41.3 percent of his shots from long distance last season.
Matt Jones is the key to Duke's defense. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Matt Jones is the key to Duke’s defense. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • Duke: Matt Jones. It’s tough to make a case for a Duke player being relatively unknown, but Jones is the best option here. He averaged 10.4 points per game for the Blue Devils last season, but he won’t be asked to score nearly as much this year. Rather, what he will be asked to do is guard the opponents’ best perimeter players, especially during the home stretch of tight games. He is a terrific on-ball defender and versatile enough to adequately defend both guards and wings.

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

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 8th, 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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All Aboard the Isaiah Hicks Bandwagon

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 7th, 2016

North Carolina never comes out of nowhere. When you’re an historic program with a Hall of Fame coach, why should you? Last year the Tar Heels were ranked first in the preseason AP Top 25 and finished the season a miracle shot away from capturing Roy Williams’ third National Championship. Despite losing All-America forward Brice Johnson and star lead guard Marcus Paige, the Heels are ranked #6 in this preseason’s Top 25 and were picked to finish second in the ACC at Operation Basketball in late October. Point guard Joel Berry was voted to the preseason All-ACC First Team and wing Justin Jackson was named to the Second Team.

With the departure of Brice Johnson, North Carolina will need senior Isaiah Hicks to play a larger role if they want to return to the Final Four. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer)

With the departure of Brice Johnson, North Carolina will need senior Isaiah Hicks to play a larger role if it wants to return to the Final Four. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer)

There is (rightfully) a lot of love for Williams’ squad heading into the season, but the player on the team not getting nearly enough hype is senior forward Isaiah Hicks. Hicks, who was the ACC Sixth Man of the Year last season, was a dominant force in short batches. However, the presence of Johnson at the four prevented him from logging the kind of minutes (45.2% minutes rate) that would have facilitated bigger numbers (8.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG). With Johnson no longer around, Hicks figures to become a key piece to a North Carolina team looking to get back to the Final Four and finish the job. Somewhat surprisingly, Hicks was not chosen for the All-ACC First or Second Team at Operation Basketball. That omission may look silly come March.

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ACC Burning Questions: Louisville Cardinals

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 4th, 2016

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

Burning Question: Will members of Louisville’s talented sophomore class make the leap to stardom?

Outside of some of the recent Kentucky and Duke squads that featured freshman superstars, most preseason top-20 teams return at least one double-figure scorer. That is not the case with this year’s Louisville squad — ranked #13 in the preseason AP poll and #14 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll — with Quentin Snider at 9.4 PPG representing the highest returning scoring average. The expectation underlying the Cardinals’ lofty rankings is that head coach Rick Pitino will see a leap in production from a sophomore class that oozes NBA potential. The player Pitino expects to reach stardom soonest is shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, whose high-flying style of play produced some of the best dunks seen anywhere in college basketball a season ago. If the sophomore wants to become a complete player, he must improve a three-point stroke that connected on only 25 percent of his 72 three-point attempts last year.

Donovan Mitchell hopes to show he can be more than just a dunking machine as a sophomore.

Donovan Mitchell hopes to show he can be more than just a dunking machine as a sophomore.

Mitchell can look to former Louisville backcourt stars Russ Smith and Terry Rozier as examples of shooting guards who blossomed under Pitino. Despite an injury-plagued first campaign, wing Deng Adel is another sophomore who has the attention of NBA scouts. He showed flashes of his vast potential late in the year, starting the last five games. The third member of the class is lanky forward Raymond Spalding, who, according to Pitino, “probably has the most pro potential on the team.” Blessed with a 7’4″ wingspan, Spalding is one of the longest and most versatile defenders in college basketball. But it’s not just the youngsters in the program that have Louisville fans excited. Senior Mangok Mathiang broke a bone in his foot last December and never returned, but he should be fully healthy now. With Chinanu Onuaku gone to the NBA, it’s Mathiang’s turn to man the post by blocking shots, snagging boards, and finishing at the rim. Others available in the Cardinals’ deep frontcourt are juniors Jaylen Johnson, Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman. After an offseason of hard work, Pitino is calling Johnson “the most improved player on this team.” Mahmoud and Stockman give Louisville a pair of experienced seven-footers to back up Mathiang. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 11.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 1st, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Duke kicked off its ACC exhibition season on Friday night with an easy 90-59 win over Division II Virginia State. Sophomore Luke Kennard exploded for 30 points, but the bigger story of the evening was Duke’s ongoing injury woes. Already playing without the services of injured super-freshmen Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum, Mike Krzyzewski lost two more starters to minor ailments within the first six minutes of the game. Senior wing Matt Jones left with a sore hamstring after just three minutes, and junior guard Grayson Allen went to the locker room after taking some shots to his shoulder. Allen later returned to finish with 13 points in 22 minutes, but he sat out the last eight minutes of the contest. Krzyzewski admitted afterward that he may consider toning down the intensity level of practice rather than risk more preseason harm.
  2. The saga of the North Carolina academic scandal has taken many twists and turns over the past several years, and news last week contributed to the fun when we found out that the NCAA may not actually be backing down nearly as much as we previously had thought. Things seemed to be looking more positive for the school after many of the NCAA’s initial charges went missing from the revised Notice of Allegations — including no statements about the men’s basketball program — and North Carolina’s bold retort claiming that, irrespective of that, the NCAA has no jurisdiction over the case anyway. If this were a George Lucas movie, we might say that The NCAA Strikes Back. In a release made public by the university last week, the NCAA sent UNC a harshly worded response rejecting the school’s position, and both sides met in a procedural hearing on Friday. Stay tuned for more information on this case — and there’s always more information.
  3. North Carolina State learned on Monday that Turkish freshman Omer Yurtseven must sit out the first nine games of the season because of eligibility issues. Additionally, two other ACC schools took disciplinary action against a pair of upperclassmen. Virginia confirmed that junior transfer Austin Nichols will miss all basketball activities for the next two weeks, including the Cavaliers’ season opener against UNC Greensboro. Georgia Tech also reported that senior point guard Josh Heath will miss the Yellow Jackets’ first four games of the season. In each case, the catch-all ‘violation of team rules’ was the reason given for the suspensions.
  4. The ACC is well-represented in KenPom’s preseason team rankings, with 12 league schools placed among the 51 best in the nation. Top-ranked Duke is joined in the top 10 by North Carolina (#5), Virginia (#7) and Louisville (#9), which looks very similar to the other preseason polls that have been released so far. The ACC appears to be the conference to watch for efficient scoring this year, with 12 league squads rated 34th or better in offensive efficiency. Pomeroy also lists three ACC teams that excel at the other end of the floor, with Virginia, Louisville, and Syracuse all ranked among his top five in defensive efficiency.
  5. CBSSports.com recently released its annual preseason top 100 (and one) player rankings, and the ACC, with 22 players listed, notched seven more slots than any other conference. We found it interesting that the ACC media seems to value proven performance over potential, as this national ranking from Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander clearly does not. For example, veteran guards London Perrantes and Joel Berry are rated as the 11th and 12th best ACC players according to the CBS list, but each was named to the Preseason All-ACC First Team and both were among the top four vote-getters.
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Happy Halloween: Tricks or Treats Around the ACC

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2016

In the spirit of Halloween, let’s examine some potentially spooky scheduling situations facing ACC squads this season. We all experience anxiety about frightening things that we know are in our future, but sometimes we can also get a good scare from an unexpected source. Below we will present examples of both types of hair-raising situations.

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Fright Night: Potentially Scary Non-Conference Match-ups

When schools release their non-conference schedules over the summer, most fans focus on the name-brand opponents first. This frequently means that they fail to notice some of the tricky mid-major schools on the ledger — teams that are often as good or better than many power conference schools. Below is a list of such frightening opponents for ACC teams this year. Beware of these so-called “buy” games, and don’t be surprised if some of these teams put a real scare into your favorite ACC squad. (preseason KenPom ranking in parenthesis)

  • November 11 – Eastern Michigan (#88) at Pittsburgh – The top four scorers return for the Eagles, the second highest-rated team in the MAC (KenPom’s ninth-best conference in the preseason).
  • November 13 – Chattanooga (#93) at North Carolina  The Mocs are coming off a 29-6 year as the defending Southern Conference champs. They return four starters and will expect to be in the Big Dance again next March.
  • November 15 – Iona (#102) at Florida State Normally a mid-major school that loses four key players wouldn’t represent that much of a threat, but Iona is a program that wins at a high level year after year. The Gaels have won at least 20 games in each of Tom Cluess’ six seasons at the helm.

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Top Quotes and Moments from ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2016

Coaches, players and members of the media all gathered in Charlotte on Wednesday for the 2016 edition of ACC Operation Basketball. It was a long day for all and a fun day for most. We camped out in Salon I in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and witnessed press conferences for all 15 coaches – yes, after staying home last year Rick Pitino came too. We also heard from 30 players — two from each school — and observed commissioner John Swofford’s ‘State of the League’ address. What follows are a smattering of some of our favorite quotes and quips from the day.

PLAYERS

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

One of the interesting parts of the morning session was hearing various players’ responses when asked to describe their head coaches.

  • Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame – On Mike Brey: “He brings energy to practice every single day. He keeps the guys loose, which I think is really a benefit for us, and helps us play loose on the court.”
  • Sheldon Jeter, Pittsburgh – On his impressions from his reunion meeting with Kevin Stallings: “It was just kind of like the same stuff I did my first time meeting him at Vanderbilt. A very genuine guy. Very truthful.”
  • Matt Jones, Duke – On the annual adaptability of Mike Krzyzewski: “It’s been different each year. Coach K does a really good job of figuring out what guys respond to and how well they respond to it.”

Of course there were some light-hearted moments as well, and here are three player comments that brought laughter to the room.

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Meet the ACC’s Newly Eligible Transfers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 21st, 2016

Compared with just a short decade ago, many more student-athletes are going the transfer route. When we combine that trend with the 60-75 underclassmen who turn professional each spring, the aggregate result is that roster turnover is at an all-time high. When it comes to media coverage of newcomers, the focus tends to primarily be on freshmen. So in order to get familiar with the transfers entering the ACC this season, we have provided the list below that breaks non-freshmen newcomers to the league into four groupings (traditional transfers; graduate transfers; JuCo transfers; sitting out this year). Players within each category are ordered according to the anticipated impact that they will have this season.trad_transfers

This group represents what we know as the traditional transfers — those who are moving from one four-year school to another and, as a result, were forced to sit out last season. Virginia’s Austin Nichols is expected to step in as Anthony Gill’s immediate replacement in the post. He should fit right in with Tony Bennett’s scheme defensively and will provide additional rim protection after proving to be an elite shot-blocker in his two years at Memphis. The word out of Raleigh is that NC State’s Torin Dorn has looked great in preseason workouts and may be ready to start for the Wolfpack. Clemson figures to get major production from at least two of its transfers — Marquise Reed was a big-time scorer on an NCAA Tournament team in 2014-15 (Robert Morris) and Elijah Thomas was a top-50 type recruit coming into college.

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ACC Burning Questions: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Posted by Matt Patton on October 20th, 2016

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

Burning Question: What sort of “sophomore leap” can we expect from Bryant Crawford, John Collins, and Doral Moore?

Wake Forest is coming off an incredibly disappointing season. Despite having a pair of talented seniors in the lineup, the Demon Deacons managed only two league wins last year, causing fans to suffer flashbacks of the Jeff Bzdelik era. The 2015-16 team was better than its record, though, and that discrepancy largely falls on the shoulders of the team’s most talented (and now graduated) players: Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas. This year the Demon Deacons will lack their senior leadership but that may finally provide Danny Manning the distance he needs to fully reshape the basketball environment in Winston-Salem. First, I’m an admitted Manning apologist. His results have so far been inconsistent, but Bzdelik passed along a culture so toxic that no one could have reasonably expected a quick fix. This, however, is the year Manning must start to show real progress (with next year being the year to make a leap in the conference standings). The road will be tough and the win total may not reflect significant improvement, but Wake Forest needs to beat the worst teams in the league (here’s looking at you, Boston College and Georgia Tech), while playing competitively against the better teams (hey, Virginia).

John Collins is an analytics darling, but can he make the leap the statistics say? (Photo Credit: Bob Hebert)

John Collins is an analytics darling, but can he make the leap the statistics suggest? (Bob Hebert/Getty)

To replace Miller-McIntyre and Thomas, look no further than sophomores Bryant CrawfordJohn Collins and Doral Moore. Collins in particular carries the Luke Winn-endorsed high usage and efficiency hallmark of breakout sophomores, and Crawford effectively replaced Miller-McIntyre’s role for much of last season. How competitive Wake Forest will be, though, depends mostly on the team’s ceiling (the ACC is stacked) and I’ll be surprised if Crawford and Collins aren’t the keys to the Deacs’ highest performance. Crawford will need to cut down on his turnovers while Collins needs to prove efficient in increased minutes, but those are achievable goals. Moore, on the other hand, showed flashes of brilliance last season. You can’t teach tall, but Manning appears capable of coaching up his bigs. If that holds true, Moore could become a real star in the ACC by the time he’s done there. Joining the trio of star sophomores are graduate transfer Austin Arians from Milwaukee, who should provide some immediate help on the wing. Don’t look for Arians to become a volume scorer in Winston-Salem, but he can keep opponents honest with his shot and he never turns the ball over. It’s also possible we’ll see a quantum jump from Mitchell Wilbekin this season. His brother Scottie Wilbekin made a big step forward at Florida between his sophomore and junior years. Read the rest of this entry »

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