ACC Weekend Review: 01.14.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 14th, 2019

After a lackluster opening weekend, things were much crazier around the ACC this weekend. In the headline match-up in Tallahassee on Saturday, Duke survived Florida State, 80-78, on Cam Reddish’s last second three. Reddish (23 points) and fellow freshman RJ Barrett (32 points) picked up the slack when Zion Williamson missed the entire second half with an eye injury. The long Seminoles caused problems for the Blue Devils in the paint, blocking seven Blue Devils’ shots, winning the battle of the boards (+5) and out-dunking Duke by a 10-to-1 margin. League co-leader Virginia grabbed another impressive road win too, as the Cavaliers manhandled Clemson, 63-43. Two road underdogs also won with surprising ease as Louisville dominated North Carolina at the Smith Center, 83-62, and Georgia Tech pulled off a stunner at Syracuse, 73-59. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Steven Enoch outplayed Luke Maye as Louisville shocked North Carolina in the Smith Center on Saturday. (thecardinalconnect.com)
  • Best Win: Few gave Louisville a realistic chance to win in Chapel Hill on Saturday, much less blow the Tar Heels off their own floor. After all, the Cardinals had just lost to Pittsburgh while North Carolina was coming off an impressive road win over a ranked and fired-up NC State squad. However, Chris Mack’s unit came out smoking (seven first half 3-pointers) and North Carolina never put up much of a fight in the 21-point defeat. The most lopsided home loss of the Roy Williams era was also a huge boost to Louisville’s growing postseason resume. A major key to the victory was the Cardinals’ dominance in the paint. Connecticut transfer Steven Enoch finished with career highs in points (17) and rebounds (11), outplaying UNC star Luke Maye, who finished with just nine points on a cold (3-for-14) shooting day.
  • Worst Loss: Georgia Tech gave Syracuse a taste of its own medicine Saturday night in the Carrier Dome. Josh Pastner used a zone defense to befuddle the Orange’s offense and pull off a surprisingly easy upset. Syracuse was unable to penetrate the Yellow Jackets’ interior and struggled to make shots from deep (7-for-33), but Georgia Tech only launched 12 threes (hitting six) and shot 63.3 percent (19-of-30) on two-pointers. Jim Boeheim’s team now has three home defeats and is currently projected by KenPom to finish 9-9 in the league, well below its preseason expectations.
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Analysis: ACC Turnover Battle Drives Success

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 10th, 2019

It is common knowledge in basketball circles that winning the turnover battle is an important factor in determining the victor. However, we did not realize just how crucial it is until we reviewed every ACC league game from a year ago and found that the teams committing an equal or lesser number of turnovers than their opponents were victorious 76 percent of the time.

Duke Lost Two Games to North Carolina Last Season in Part Because of Turnovers

Among major statistical measures, only overall field goal shooting (81%) is a better predictor of the outcome of a game. Turnovers, in fact, were a better indicator than three-point shooting (74%), free throw shooting (61%) and rebounding (54%) in ACC play. Armed with that fact, we decided to examine several team characteristics that influence how well conference squads take care of the ball, with the caveat that overall skill and talent is the most likely driver. Over the last five years of play, offensive tempo, assist percentage and three-point attempt rate turned out to have no discernible impact on turnovers. The four team attributes that are listed below, however — years of experience, minutes continuity, average height and bench minutes — exhibit some connection to turnover rates. Here’s a look at how these traits are already fitting some league teams in 2018-19.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.07.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 7th, 2019

All the favorites held serve on the first weekend of conference play around the ACC. On Saturday, the league’s co-favorites each won handily at home, as Virginia took care of Florida State and Duke routed Clemson. Two other ranked ACC squads were also successful – North Carolina blitzed Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech bested Boston College. The weekend was incredibly devoid of close games, with no outcomes among the group decided by single digits. Here are the highlights from (the real) opening weekend around the ACC.

Kyle Guy was on fire Saturday as Virginia dominated Florida State. (John Markon)
  • Best Win: By dominating Florida State from start to finish, defending league champion Virginia served notice that the ACC regular season title race still runs through Charlottesville. A final score of 65-52 was not indicative of the complete beatdown that the Cavaliers administered on Saturday afternoon – the Seminoles scored the last 16 points of the game to make it look better than it actually was. Up until that point, Tony Bennett’s defense had held high-scoring Florida State to just 36 points over 38 minutes of play. Junior sharp-shooter Kyle Guy was red hot (5-of-6 from deep), leading the Cavaliers with 21 points, including 18 in the opening half.
  • Worst Loss: With no upsets occurring over the weekend, we’re going with Notre Dame’s home loss to Syracuse, 72-62. The Irish looked good early, leading by 10 points at one point, but Syracuse rallied behind sophomore transfer Elijah Hughes, who posted a career high 22 points on 6-of-13 three-point shooting. Mike Brey’s two freshman guards had a tough time in their first look at the Orange’s lengthy zone defense, as Prentiss Hubb and Dane Goodwin combined for just four points on 1-for-10 shooting. With its thin roster, Notre Dame can’t afford to drop too many home games if the Irish hope to have a chance at postseason play.
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ACC Conversation: Pre-Conference Edition – Part 2

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), Mick Mcdonald (@themickmcdonald) on January 4th, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald recently got together to chat about the ACC heading in to conference play. Here’s Part 2 of that conversation.

Justin Robinson has guided Virginia Tech into contender status in the ACC. (accsports.com)

Brad Jenkins: Can Florida State or Virginia Tech crack the top three in the ACC? They both look like solid clubs, but are they being overlooked?

Matt Auerbach: I like both teams, and they deserve to be ranked inside the top 10 nationally. But I don’t believe that either will elevate above the aforementioned three squads when the league plays out.

Mick McDonald: Both definitely could, although I like Buzz Williams’ club a bit more. They are lethal offensively with so many guys who can light it up, and they play really hard on the defensive end. Their schedule has been light so far, so I’m very much looking forward to some bigger opportunities coming up shortly. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Justin Robinson can make an argument for best backcourt in the country and Kerry Blackshear is a match-up nightmare.

Matt Auerbach: Truthfully, there’s no denying both belong inside the top 10 based on merit, but I don’t view either as a legitimate threat to make a Final Four without some unusual breaks falling their way.

Mick McDonald: Agree with Matt. These two are rightful top 10 teams, but the ACC is just so loaded that could mean finishing fourth or fifth.

Matt Auerbach: If forced to choose one team over the other, I’d definitely lean towards the Hokies because of the backcourt. With a guy like Robinson surrounded by elite shooters, they can be impossible to stop if they get rolling.

Brad Jenkins: My only concern with the Hokies is that they are so reliant on great shooting. I’m just not sure how they can beat good teams on off shooting nights. I actually think Florida State may be better now that Phil Cofer is back in the lineup, but the Seminoles tend to not always progress very well through league play. Let’s move on to some surprise teams. Are NC State and Louisville legit?

Mick McDonald: I think NC State is legit in terms of a lock NCAA Tourney and potential second weekend team. Kevin Keatts is proving himself as one of the best young coaches in the country — that team looks like a nightmare to prepare for.

Matt Auerbach: Well, you saw the Pack in person, Brad, and your bird’s eye view confirmed what we had been seeing from afar. NC State is the real deal. Balanced, explosive, efficient and great chemistry makes for beautiful offensive basketball and that’s what Keatts’ team has going right now.

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ACC Conversation: Pre-Conference Edition – Part 1

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), Mick Mcdonald (@themickmcdonald) on January 3rd, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald recently got together to chat about the ACC heading into conference play. Here’s Part 1 of that conversation.

Tony Bennett and Mike Krzyzewski looked primed to battle it out for ACC supremacy. (pinterest.com)

Brad Jenkins: Happy New Year fellas! Now that we’re starting conference action, it’s a good time to access the ACC again. The national perception right now seems to be that this is going to be a DukeVirginia battle for league supremacy. Is that how you guys see it?

Mick McDonald: I do. I think you can make a pretty decent argument that those are the two best teams in the country, not just the ACC.

Matt Auerbach: I agree that there is a clear separation between those two and the rest of the league as well, but despite their relative struggles, I wouldn’t rule out North Carolina being a factor when all is said and done.

Mick McDonald: Virginia’s schedule leaves something to be desired to date, although a road win at Maryland and neutral win over Wisconsin are nice. But three of the Cavaliers’ next five games are against top 10 teams, so we’ll know for sure soon.

Brad Jenkins: What has impressed you most so far about Duke, Mick?

Mick McDonald: Is it weird to say Duke’s Zion Williamson, even with all his hype? He’s better than I considered and is truly a must-watch player. While RJ Barrett hasn’t been quite as efficient, his talent is undeniable. And Tre Jones is exactly the type of point guard Duke has needed the past few years. He really controls the game well.

Brad Jenkins: Yeah, this is the best defensive team Coach K has had in quite a while, led by Jones’ ball pressure. To rank among the top two in the nation in both blocks and steals is quite a thing.

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ACC M5: 12.10.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 10th, 2018

  1. Syracuse.com. It was just like old times at the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon as Syracuse edged Georgetown, 72-71, on Tyus Battle’s jumper with three seconds remaining. These original Big East schools have now met four years in a row after an initial two-year hiatus. Since the Orange joined the ACC prior to the 2013-14 season, they have played 14 non-conference games against original Big East schools, winning six of those contests. But with the ACC moving to a 20-game conference schedule beginning in 2019-20, Jim Boeheim isn’t sure those marquee match-ups can continue. Boeheim commented on the matter after Saturday’s contest, saying, “We’ve got so many games we have to play. It’s difficult to play these games.” That would be an unfortunate consequence of the new ACC schedule plan – it’s safe to say that most of us would rather see Syracuse play Georgetown (or Villanova) than an extra meeting with, say, Georgia Tech.
  2. Onefootdown.com. Speaking of historic non-conference rivalries from the past, Notre Dame lost to UCLA at the buzzer, 65-62, on Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion. As this article points out, the Irish’s problems are, for once, coming on the offensive end. Against the Bruins, Mike Brey’s club made only 33.3 percent of its twos and 8-of-15 from the foul line. On the season, Notre Dame has logged an effective field goal percentage of just 47.7 percent, making it to date the worst shooting team of the Brey era. Not coincidentally, this is also the youngest team Brey has ever suited up. Maybe the offense will begin to click as the season progresses, but if it doesn’t, Notre Dame should expect to have a lot of long nights in ACC play.
  3. Mississippi Clarion Ledger. Two southern ACC schools participated in Saturday’s Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. In the first game, Clemson fell to Mississippi State, 82-71, as the Bulldogs set a program record with 19 three-pointers. This is becoming a troubling pattern for Brad Brownell’s defense this year. Not only are the Tigers allowing opponents to shoot very well from deep – 39.1 percent (322nd nationally) – but they are also giving them a ton of opportunities. Opponents are attempting a robust 43.5 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. As Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said, “You take what the defense gives you. And basically what their defense was giving us today were threes.” For the season, Clemson is giving up 2.5 more made threes per game than they are making. That is not a long-term recipe for success.
  4. Hartford Courant. In the second game at the Prudential Center, Florida State beat Connecticut, 79-71, in a ragged type of affair in which the Seminoles seem to thrive. The game featured a total of 41 turnovers and 55 fouls that resulted in 58 free throw attempts. Leonard Hamilton’s teams have often struggled with ball-handling and this year is no exception – the Seminoles rank 320th in the country with a turnover rate of 22.4 percent. But that’s offset by a defense that forces miscues on 24.3 percent of opponent’s possessions, good for 12th in the nation. With Florida State’s depth, Hamilton doesn’t mind a foul-fest type of game either – the Seminoles also beat Purdue in a similar manner in the recent ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  Expect a lot more “ugly” games involving Florida State, and a lot more Seminoles’ victories.
  5. Yahoo Sports. One scheduled ACC game this weekend did not take place as Boston College was either unable or unwilling – depending on which school you listen to – to travel to Texas A&M. This piece goes through the timeline of relevant events, beginning with the Eagles’ original flight that was delayed because of problems with their chartered plane. It sounds like several alternatives were presented for the game to continue, even if it was moved to a later tip-time on Saturday, but apparently Jim Christian was not willing to play a big non-conference game just five or six hours after a long plane flight. The sad part for Boston College is that it has missed an opportunity to notch a solid road win, something they would likely need to have any shot at an NCAA at-large bid this season.
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ACC M5: 12.03.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 3rd, 2018

morning5_ACC

  1. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: After coming up just a little short at Iowa in last week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Pittsburgh struggled early in Friday’s annual City Game with cross-town rival Duquesne. But the Panthers eventually got it going and won going away, 74-53, in front of a crowd of 12,246. We mention the game’s attendance because it represents a 21 percent increase over last year’s meeting in the same event, furthering the notion that first-year head coach Jeff Capel is rebuilding the excitement level for his program in the Steel City. Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot noticed a difference with Capel in charge, saying, “[Former Pitt] Coach [Kevin] Stallings is a finesse guy who is a little more offensively oriented. This team is more like Duke [where Capel played and was an assistant coach].”
  2. Louisvile Courier-Journal: Louisville took another positive step in its own rebuilding process by winning at Seton Hall, 70-65, on Saturday afternoon. The Cardinals showed during Feast Week that they were ready to compete with the big boys — dropping close games against Tennessee and Marquette in the NIT Season Tip-Off — before edging top-10 Michigan State in overtime last week. In adding a significant road win over a Big East club, Chris Mack‘s balanced attack — only Dwayne Sutton (12 points) reached double figures — has become the norm this year. Sophomore breakout player Jordan Nwora (17.7 PPG) leads the squad in scoring, but eight other Cardinals are averaging between 6.3 and 10.0 points per contest. Keep an eye on this team over the next month.
  3. USA Today: Three ACC schools took part in Saturday’s Miami Hoophall Invitational at AmericanAirlines Arena, although the sparse crowds suggest that the four games would have fit better in a local high school gym. Georgia Tech was the first squad to see action, ultimately blowing a 16-point second half lead in falling to St. John’s, 76-73. We are now in year three of the Josh Pastner era, and some clear patterns have emerged:  First, the Yellow Jackets will defend hard (they are currently 16th in national defensive efficiency); next, they will struggle to make shots from deep (30.7% 3FG this season). If their shooting holds, Georgia Tech will fail to make at least 33 percent of its three-pointers for the third straight season. Until Pastner can recruit some shooters into the program — and shouldn’t he have by now (?) — the Yellow Jackets’ limited offense will hold them back.
  4. Miami Sun-Sentinel: Georgia Tech wasn’t the only ACC team to blow a huge lead in the Hoophall Invitational. Home team Miami squandered a 15-point second half advantage in losing to Yale, 77-73, its third consecutive defeat. Head coach Jim Larranaga has noticed a fatal flaw in the Hurricanes’ defense this year — after Yale’s Miye Oni (29 points) torched his club, the Hurricanes’ coach noted, “We just don’t have a guy that can stop a guy like that.” Previously, Bethune-Cookman’s Malik Maitland (29 points) and Fresno State’s Braxton Huggins (28 points) found similar success against the Hurricanes’ defense. This raises the obvious question — if mid-major players are slicing up Miami, what will happen when the stars of the ACC get a crack at the Hurricanes?
  5. WRAL Sportsfan: The only victorious ACC school in Miami on Saturday was NC State, which pulled away late to top Vanderbilt, 80-65. Much like the Wolfpack’s game at Wisconsin earlier in the week — when the Badgers rallied to overtake them — NC State was in control for most of the way before being challenged in the second half. This time, Kevin Keatts’ team responded positively in what was only their second match-up with a team ranked in KenPom’s top 175. NC State forward Torin Dorn is quietly putting up impressive numbers in many areas. The 6’5″ senior is leading the team in scoring (16.6 PPG) and on the boards (7.6 RPG), while making 55.7 percent of his two-point tries and 50.0 percent of his three-point attempts. Additionally, Dorn has collected 14 steals and only committed nine turnovers in eight games this year.
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Eight ACC Takeaways From the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 30th, 2018

This year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was full of tight games that came down to the wire, so it was fitting that the event ended in a deadlocked 7-7 tie. In fact, 10 of the 14 games were decided by two possessions or fewer, with the Big Ten coming out ahead in six of those nail-biters. Below we offer takeaways from the event for eight ACC squads — four of which came out winners and four of which came out losers.

Louisville Shows Some Toughness

Louisville celebrates a gutsy home win over Michigan State. (Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal)

It appears that Chris Mack’s plan to restore toughness to the Louisville program may already be ahead of schedule, as the Cardinals proved very resilient in Tuesday’s 82-78 overtime victory over Michigan State. After watching a nice lead evaporate late in regulation, Louisville responded well in the extra session behind Ryan McMahon’s career game (24 points, 12-of-13 FT). Tough teams get to the free throw line often and nobody’s better at that aspect of the game right now than the Cardinals.

Key Stat: Louisville made 30-of-41 free throws against the Spartans. Season FTA% = 65.5% (#1 nationally).

Frank Howard is Important to Syracuse

With Frank Howard on the sidelines with an injury, Syracuse struggled mightily from the perimeter in its first four contests. That was particularly true for Orange starters Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and Elijah Hughes, who together connected to make only 11-of-56 shots from behind the arc. With Howard now back in the lineup, Jim Boeheim’s guys suddenly have found the range — Battle, Brissett and Hughes combined to make 7-of-15 shots from deep in Syracuse’s 72-62 win at Ohio State on Wednesday.

Key Stat: Syracuse shot 11-of-24 (45.8%) on three-pointers against the Buckeyes. In its first four games without Howard, the Orange converted only 20.5 percent.

Virginia Gets Offensive

For the second time in Virginia’s last three outings, Tony Bennett’s celebrated defense was subpar – Maryland managed to score 1.18 points per possession (PPP) in the Cavaliers’ 76-71 road win on Wednesday evening. That’s a number that was topped by just one Virginia opponent last season — UMBC posted 1.19 PPP in last March’s historic upset of the Cavaliers. Virginia beat its old ACC rival by outscoring them, using hot shooting from deep (45.5% 3FG) and tremendous ball security.

Key Stat: Virginia with only two turnovers. Season TO% = 11.7% (#2 nationally).

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ACC Feast Week In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 26th, 2018

It was a mixed performance by the 11 ACC squads that saw action in early season tournaments over Feast Week, as three league schools took home titles but five preseason top-25 ACC teams fell to lower-rated clubs. Below we will review some comparison statistics with the other five major basketball conferences as well as some of the ACC’s best and worst team performances from the last 10 days.

Unlike last November when the Big 12 dominated Feast Week play, things were more balanced this year, with some interesting conference-related takeaways: After a rough opening week of the regular season, the Big East (best record against other Power Six conferences) bounced back nicely in tournament action; the SEC (no titles) may not be nearly as strong as many had us believe; and the Pac-12 (overall losing record) is clearly a notch below the other Power Six leagues this year. Up next are some of the highs and lows involving ACC squads last week.

THE BEST

Three Tournament Titles for ACC Teams.

  • Virginia Tech – Charleston Classic. The Hokies captured the ACC’s first tourney championship with an 89-83 comeback win over Purdue. Emerging star Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the way, as the sophomore guard averaged 22.0 PPG on 55.1 percent shooting over the three games. Senior point guard Justin Robinson more than held his own against Purdue All-American Carsen Edwards in the title clash. Robinson finished with 23 points and six assists, leading Buzz Williams‘ club back from a 12-point second half deficit.
  • Boston College – Ft. Myers Tip-Off. Although the competition in Ft. Myers, Florida, was not stellar, Jim Christian’s squad deserves credit for two fairly comfortable wins. The Eagles took out Wyoming, 88-76, behind Ky Bowman’s 38-point explosion, and followed that up by holding Loyola (Chicago) to 0.87 points per possession in a 78-66 victory over last year’s surprise Final Four school.

De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome celebrate Virginia’s Battle 4 Atlantis title. (@UVAMensHoops)

  • VirginiaBattle 4 Atlantis. The Cavaliers’ vaunted defense struggled in their semifinal win over Dayton last week, allowing the Flyers to score 1.08 points per possession (PPP), but things were quickly back to normal for Tony Bennett’s pack-line D in Friday night’s championship tilt against Wisconsin. The Badgers only managed to post 0.79 PPP in Virginia’s 53-46 triumph. Sophomore De’Andre Hunter led the way with 20 points and nine boards in the title game, and the Cavaliers may have found some unexpected perimeter depth in the form of 5’9″ freshman Kihei Clark. Bennett inserted Clark into the starting lineup in the title game to spark his defense, and Clark responded with five defensive rebounds and three steals in 37 minutes of action.

THE WORST

Five Ranked ACC Teams Lost as Tournament Favorites.

  • Syracuse – 2K Classic. Granted, the Orange were without injured guard Frank Howard last week but no one expected them to get worked like they did in Madison Square Garden two weekends ago. Syracuse struggled mightily with perimeter shooting (11-of-50 3FG) in their two games, and even Jim Boeheim’s famous zone defense was ineffective, allowing both Connecticut and Oregon to top 80 points — something that only one of Syracuse’s opponents managed to do in regulation last year.
  • Clemson – Cayman Islands Classic. The Tigers were solid favorites in this event but couldn’t contain Creighton’s T-Shon Alexander in the championship game. Alexander exploded for 36 points in the Bluejays’ 87-82 win, torching Brad Brownell’s squad from deep (seven threes) and from the foul line (11-of-11 FT). Surprisingly, seniors Marquise Reed and Elijah Thomas were extremely careless with ball, combining for 12 of Clemson’s 19 turnovers in the championship bout.
  • Duke – Maui Invitational. So much for that crazy idea that the Blue Devils would go unbeaten. After dispatching #8 Auburn in the semifinals, Duke ran into an offensive machine in the title game. Gonzaga made 10 of its first 15 three-point attempts while racing to an impressive 16-point second half lead. Mike Krzyzewski’s young squad made a furious comeback to earn a chance to win but couldn’t convert with the game on the line and fell to the #3 Zags, 89-87. Duke missed all seven of its field goal attempts in the game’s final minute, which included an 0-for-5 effort from R.J. Barrett.
  • North Carolina – Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. Texas once again played the spoiler role as the Longhorns hung on to defeat North Carolina, 92-89, in the opening round in Las Vegas. The Tar Heels were unable to contain Texas guard Kerwin Roach, who erupted for 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting. Surprisingly, Roy Williams is now 1-7 versus the Longhorns as the Tar Heels’ head coach. His team avoided a disastrous trip by rallying to beat UCLA, 94-78, in Friday’s consolation game.
  • Florida State – AdvoCare Invitational. The Seminoles entered Sunday’s title game with Villanova averaging 82.7 points per game, but they allowed the Wildcats to control tempo and lost a low scoring affair, 66-60. Leonard Hamilton’s crew was fortunate to be playing in the championship game, rallying from nine points down in Friday’s semifinal game with LSU to force overtime. The Seminoles eventually won, 79-76, when Mfiondu Kabangele rattled in a corner three with less than a second to go in the extra period.
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Several ACC Takeaways From Opening Night

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 7th, 2018

Opening night of the 2018-19 season was a total success for the ACC as league members swept their nine opponents last evening by convincing double-figure margins. Here are some takeaways from the three most prominent contests played by conference squads Tuesday night.

DUKE’S NEWCOMERS EXCEEDED THE HYPE

Zion Williamson and his fellow freshmen lived up to their immense hype in Duke’s big win over Kentucky. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

It doesn’t sound possible after all the preseason buzz surrounding the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class, but Duke‘s rookies were even better than advertised in a 118-84 thrashing of top-five Kentucky. This game represented a mismatch in talent from the outset, as Duke’s celebrated trio of RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish combined to finish with 83 points on 56.6 percent shooting. Barrett and Williamson, in particular, were amazing in transition, but they also scored much more easily in the half-court against a bevy of long and athletic Wildcats. At least for one glorious night in early November, Mike Krzyzewski’s squad had all of the answers to its preseason questions surrounding outside shooting (12-26 3FG), defense (Kentucky lingered around 1.0 PPP most of the game) and depth (eight Blue Devils saw double-figure minutes). After years of struggling to find a true point guard to orchestrate the offense, Duke looks like it has a diamond in Tre Jones, who finished with seven assists and zero turnovers. Even junior Jack White came off the bench to play 30 solid minutes, scoring nine points and grabbing a game-high 11 boards. Yes, it’s only one game — but if the Blue Devils can stay healthy, their potential is downright scary.

FLORIDA STATE’S DEFENSE IS LEGIT

Duke wasn’t the only ACC team to dominate a highly regarded team from the SEC last night, as Florida State used a strong second half start to pummel Florida, 81-60. Leonard Hamilton‘s team utilized old school defense to fuel its NCAA Tournament run to the Elite Eight last March, and it was more of the same against the Gators in holding their rival to a frigid 37.0 percent from the field and forcing 16 miscues. The Seminoles weren’t bad on the other end of the floor (1.12 PPP), either, especially considering they are currently without leading scorer Phil Cofer (broken foot). Florida State converted a robust 11-of-23 from three-point land, with PJ Savoy leading the way in nailing 5-of-7 from deep. Normally, Hamilton’s teams usually take some time to gel, but it looks like Florida State is already set to roll this year. If this is the ACC’s seventh best team (per the ACC Media preseason poll), then the league is in outstanding shape relative to the rest of college basketball.

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