NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Teams

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 16th, 2014

Selection Sunday has now yielded a 2014 NCAA Tournament field, and the bracket is filled out. It’s time to analyze how the ACC teams fared in their quest to garner postseason success. Some teams seem to have an easier path than others, but it is March and nothing can be taken for granted. Some may be surprised that six ACC teams made the field, especially since Florida State was the presumed ACC team on the brink, but nonetheless the ACC tied for the second-most teams in the field behind the Big 12′s seven entrants. Here’s a look at the six ACC squads that were lucky enough to hear their names called, and what their NCAA Tournament might look like.

Virginia, #1 seed, East Region. The Cavaliers were rewarded (and justly so) for claiming the ACC regular season and tournament titles with a #1 seed in the East. They won’t have to travel far in the early stages, either, with the opening rounds in a familiar venue in Raleigh. After what should be an opening round win over Coastal Carolina, Virginia will have to tangle with either Memphis or George Washington. The Cavaliers are one of the few teams in the country that always controls the tempo, so a match-up with a running team like the Tigers won’t faze them a bit. Tony Bennett’s team has a good shot of advancing to the Final Four if it can survive a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with a suddenly-healthy #4 seed Michigan State. Villanova as the #2 seed is not as potent as other regions’ second seeds, so the Cavaliers have a very realistic shot of ending up in Arlington.

Virginia's dominance of the ACC regular and postseason helped them grab a number one seed (usatoday)

Duke, #3 seed, Midwest Region. Duke also gets the favorable early draw of playing in Raleigh, opening with Mercer. The Blue Devils’ region arguably has the most questionable top seed in Wichita State, but a potential UMass meeting in the second game could be tricky. Duke’s NCAA hopes are always pinned on how they shoot from distance, and if they’re on they can beat anyone. If they’re off, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood have to make plays to rescue the team. The region’s #2 seed, Michigan, already tussled with Duke earlier in the year and fell short, so that should also bolster Mike Kzryzewski’s outlook. Nevertheless, Louisville lurks in the Midwest with a head-scratching #4 seed, so Duke is not without a test at every turn in its quest to bring glory back home to Durham for the fifth time.

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Sentimental Value: On the Notion of an ACC Regular Season Crown

Posted by Christopher Kehoe on March 14th, 2014

Since many of the ACC’s founding members sprang from what was known as the ‘Southern Conference’ in 1953, the ACC adopted many of the SoCon’s mannerisms and bylaws. The Southern Conference traditionally anointed a champion via their postseason tournament and out of that came their postseason automatic bid. Ever since the ACC formalized the wording of a similarly fateful decision in 1961, the ACC regular season title has been all but a formality. The idea behind awarding a postseason victor in a short and somewhat chaotic multi-day tournament setting was to provide a free-for-all environment that was both entertaining and unpredictable. This ACC Tournament gave lower seeded teams who had a less successful regular season a chance at making The Big Dance. And back in the day and age where these rules were first enacted, only 15 teams were awarded chances at the NCAA Tournament, making a bid all that more valuable and cherished.

Is ACC Tournament success a strong indicator of NCAA Tournament success?

Is the ACC Tournament success a strong indicator of NCAA Tournament success? Florida State parlayed a win in the tournament in 2012 into a solid showing in the Big Dance.

In a format where games are played on top of each other with little or no rest or time to prepare, less superior teams would essentially be able to pull a win out regardless of their records. But while all the other major conferences today at least recognize officially the regular season champion, why has the ACC lagged behind is perplexing to say the least. The ACC finally began paying homage to the regular season winners in 1990, and retroactively recognized the winners from 1954-1989 in that same year. But why it took them so long, and why more conferences do not go along with the Ivy League method of a regular season champion is beyond me. ESPN‘s entrance into the foray and emphasis placed on Championship Week may have something to do with it, glamorizing the end of season postseason tournaments as bubble bursting madness.

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The Unofficial RTC ACC Superlatives

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 11th, 2014

While the more official hardware is beginning to be handed out, like Player and Coach of the Year and the All-ACC team’s, it’s worth looking at some more under-the-radar superlatives that players and coaches have earned through the course of the regular season on the precipice of ACC Tournament time in Greensboro.

Here are five awards that RTC found to be equally as important as some of their more official brethren:

Most Selfless Upperclassman: Joe Harris, Virginia.

His scoring dipped more than four points a game from a year ago as he watched Malcolm Brogdon become the go-to scorer and clutch player on the team, plummeting from preseason ACC Player of the Year prognostications seemingly from the first game’s opening tip. Nonetheless, Harris’ willingness to play team ball and enlarge his leadership role helped Virginia to their first outright ACC Title in 33 years and a current two-seed projection in the NCAA’s. Harris is a senior, so it’s rare for a player to back off in his final season and allow team success to trump personal statistics. Harris is still a force, but now knows he can operate in the background to help his team’s season become even more special.

Joe Harris' selflessness helped Virginia win the ACC regular season (UVAsports)

Joe Harris’ selflessness helped Virginia win the ACC regular season (UVAsports)

Best Coaching Job Outside of Charlottesville: Roy Williams, North Carolina.

Tony Bennett absolutely deserved the COY award for his unbelievable reclamation job with Virginia, but no one dealt with more adversity this year than Williams. Between the PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald saga, the academics issues brought to light by a former adviser, and the up-and-down start to the year with no set rotation and inconsistent effort, Williams had a ton on his plate in trying to get this team into postseason play. The Tar Heels won 12 conference games in a row, including a split with rival Duke, and own possibly the best non-conference wins of any team in the country. It’s arguably Williams’ best coaching job in Chapel Hill to date. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Bracket Watch: March 8 Update

Posted by Chris Kehoe on March 8th, 2014

A lot can change in the world of college hoops as it relates to the NCAA Tournament, and recently, a lot has. Since the last update we did in early February, Syracuse is no longer undefeated; Virginia is the regular season champion; and UNC has embarked on a mind-boggling winning streak. While the top tier of the ACC has become even more clear since Pittsburgh fell off the face of the Earth, most of the ACC bubble teams living in the #7-#10 seed range have largely disappointed on their way to the outside looking in — surely perennial bubbler and current ESPN personality Seth Greenberg can relate from his ACC days. But while tallies in the loss column have mounted high enough for Syracuse and Duke to be largely removed from #1 seed consideration, Virginia has quietly pushed itself into the discussion. The Cavaliers find themselves in this position thanks to its 16 conference wins and the startling point differential in which they secured them.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett must be ecstatic with the Cavaliers' most recent bracket projection (photo: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

Virginia coach Tony Bennett must be ecstatic with the Cavaliers’ most recent bracket projection (photo: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

So while North Carolina and Virginia’s stocks are soaring, Syracuse and Duke have taken a hit. It remains to be seen if the ACC can land a bid outside of its top four programs, but at this juncture it seems improbable. Since the last update, Florida State and Pittsburgh have both fallen into a steep decline. Jamie Dixon’s team remains close, residing in and around most people’s ‘Last Four Out’ category, but the Seminoles are nowhere to be found. N.C. State also created some February rumblings about making a run at the bubble until the Wolfpack lost badly to Clemson and Miami in a period of two weeks. The ACC Tournament provides the sole venue for teams seeking an automatic bid, but a team running through the slate of Syracuse, UNC, Virginia and/or Duke seems rather daunting at this point.

‘Busting the Bracket’ Projected ACC Seeding*

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ACC Weekend Preview #10

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 7th, 2014

It’s the final weekend of conference play in the ACC, so let’s take a look at the match-ups from an advanced statistics perspective. All statistics used are for results in ACC conference games only along with team rankings (#1-#15) in each category. For each game we will show how the two teams compare in efficiency ratings and the four factors, offense versus defense. We will also look at interesting areas of particular strength and weakness that could hold the key to the outcomes of these games. All numbers are from Ken Pomeroy’s site and are current through games of March 5, 2014. The games are presented in the order of best combined Pomeroy overall team rankings (all times EST). This weekend features some important matchups that will determine seeding in next week’s ACC Tournament in Greensboro.

Saturday - North Carolina (23-7, 13-4 ACC) @ Duke (23-7, 12-5 ACC) – ESPN (9:00 PM)

Marcus Paige Clutch Play Has Been Key To North Carolina's Winning Streak. (Photo: Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige’s Clutch Play Has Been Key To North Carolina’s Winning Streak.
(Photo: Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

Pomeroy Prediction: (#8) Duke 80-72 (#23) North Carolina

nc-duke

While neither of these teams have played their best basketball lately, North Carolina has managed to keep winning (12 straight) while Duke took a bad loss on Wednesday at Wake Forest. In that one Duke collapsed down the stretch, much like they did in earlier ACC road losses at Clemson and North Carolina. On the other hand, the Tar Heels have made enough plays to win three straight close games against teams with losing conference records. North Carolina’s improved offense has dipped lately, having its two worst offensive efficiency games during the winning streak in the last two contests. But the Tar Heel defense has remained solid, holding four of their last five opponents under 1.00 points per possession. Duke is mired in a team wide shooting slump which continued with a miserable 6-of-27 effort from three on Wednesday night. And unlike many Blue Devil teams of the past, the defense is not elite enough to overcome such shooting woes. Duke has been unbeaten at home since losing at the end of the 2012 season to North Carolina. If they want to stay unbeaten at home this year, the Blue Devils probably need to have a comfortable lead late. If it comes down to team toughness and resiliency, the Tar Heels may have the edge.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XV, Player and Coach of the Year Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 6th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

As the college basketball regular season wraps up, I thought this would be a good time to run down my Coaches of the Year and Players of the Year in each of the major conferences. Here goes…

ACC

  • POY: T.J. Warren, NC State (24.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG). Warren has been a tremendous bright spot on an otherwise mediocre Wolfpack squad. Since a rough four-point game against Virginia on January 11, Warren has scored at least 20 points in every game he has played (he missed one game due to injury). At 6’8” and an athletic 215 pounds, Warren is a match-up problem for nearly every opponent. He has had eight 30+ point games (only one fewer than Doug McDermott), including Monday’s 41-point explosion in a road win at Pittsburgh. Some may disagree because NC State is not at the top of the ACC, but a season like this where Warren brought it night after night deserves special recognition.
Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

  • COY: Tony Bennett, Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC). Bennett’s teams have always been terrific defensively and this one is no exception. Ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, Virginia has allowed only four ACC opponents to score 60 or more points this season. Even in a league with a tempo as slow as this year’s ACC, that is a remarkable statistic. Virginia was a trendy surprise pick but I am not sure anyone thought it would turn out to be this good. The Cavaliers were picked fourth in the preseason ACC poll but currently hold a three-game lead over Syracuse and North Carolina with just one game to play.

American

  • POY: Russ Smith, Louisville (18.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.0 SPG). This was a really close call between Smith and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick but I am giving Smith the slightest of edges. Both mean so much to their respective teams but Smith’s decision to return to Louisville for his senior year has proven to be a wise one. Smith is enjoying the best shooting season of his career (46.8 percent) and has matured greatly. He is playing smarter and has led this Louisville team to a 25-5 overall record. The Cardinals again have the look of a Final Four contender and Smith is the primary reason why.

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Malcolm Brogdon Ascends from Anonymity to the ACC POY Conversation

Posted by Chris Kehoe on March 5th, 2014

Virginia sophomore Malcolm Brogdon was largely an afterthought. Disregarded in almost all of the literature projecting breakout stars (including here), the redshirt sophomore sat out last year recovering from foot surgery. Even on his own team, sophomore cohorts Justin Anderson and Mike Tobey had higher expectations coming into their second campaigns. But Brogdon has outshone them all, hoisting himself up into the first team all-ACC picture and ACC Player of the Year conversation. Brogdon is the leading scorer on a Virginia team that has rolled to a 16-1 ACC record and landed a top-five AP poll and #2 ranking on KenPom’s system. Speaking of Mr. Pomeroy, Brogdon comes in at #7 on his National Player of the Year standings, quite a feat for someone playing on a deep and well-rounded Cavaliers team.

Malcolm Brogdon Is the Real Deal (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty)

Malcolm Brogdon Is the Real Deal (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty)

While freshmen Jabari Parker and Tyler Ennis spent the early months dominating the ACC POY conversation, some more seasoned conference performers have come on strong of late. ACC sophomores have dominated the individual headlines in recent weeks, from UNC’s Marcus Paige and his second half heroics, T.J. Warren’s scoring outbursts (see: 41 points at Pittsburgh), and Brogdon’s consistently solid play on a dominant Virginia club. Coming into this season, you could have asked just about anyone who the undisputed star of the team would be for Virginia, and senior Joe Harris, the team’s consummate do-it-all leader, would have been the most popular answer. But no one outside of the immediate program expected such a meteoric rise for Brogdon or his team, blasting to the regular season title and looking to become the first ACC team to ever win 17 conference games. Bottom line — there are a lot of firsts happening in Charlottesville this season, and as much as head coach Tony Bennett deserves the lion’s share of the praise, the superb play of Brogdon cannot be disputed as a primary factor.

After sitting out his redshirt year to go through rehabilitation, Brogdon consumed mass quantities of film to make sure he would come back better than ever. While his game is still catching up to his work ethic, Brogdon’s lethal shooting ability — 39.2 percent from three; 90.4 percent from the line — has already propelled him to the ACC Player of the Week and CBS Sports’ National Player of the Week accolades. For a guy who just last week set a career high of 19 points (versus Syracuse), it says here that his streak of double-figure scoring games (17) and impressive leadership has set him apart from the rest of the ACC field. Who would have thought such a thing possible on New Year’s Eve, after a zero-point performance resulting in a 35-point loss to Tennessee the day before? And to think we almost forgot all about Malcolm Brogdon — it’s a good thing that we didn’t. He might just turn out to be the unlikeliest ACC Player of the Year in a long, long time. 

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Virginia’s Offense Leads to ACC Crown and Optimism for What Comes Next

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 2nd, 2014

Virginia’s first outright ACC title in 33 years came about in somewhat stunning fashion, blowing out #4 Syracuse by 19 points at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday evening. Anyone who has watched Tony Bennett’s team since the calendar flipped to 2014, though, saw much of what they’ve come to expect from this squad. Their stifling defense may be the Cavaliers’ calling card, but their ultra-efficient offense is the reason they had the ability to defeat one of the nation’s best in Syracuse and are poised to make major noise in March.

Mike Tobey

Offensive production from players like Mike Tobey lifted Virginia to its first outright ACC regular season title in 33 years (Mike Ingalls)

Bennett’s club gets most of its accolades thanks to his trademark “Pack Line Defense,” a stout man-to-man philosophy that stagnates opposing sets and leads to low offensive output. But the way Virginia has been scoring the basketball in ACC play is why it’s boasting an astounding 16-1 ACC record with only a road match-up at Maryland left to close out the year. Twelve of the Cavaliers’ conference wins have come by double figures, a remarkable feat on its own right, and coming into Saturday’s game they were second only to Duke in points per possession. While their defense often translates to opportunities on the offensive end, their demonstrated ability to initiate back-breaking runs (a 20-1 run to close out Georgia Tech; a 30-5 stretch to blow out Notre Dame; a 19-7 streak to pull away from Miami in the second half) shows they have sufficient offensive punch to couple with their effort on the defensive end. On Saturday, they closed out the Orange with a 35-16 blitz over the final 15 minutes of the game, showing that they’re no longer satisfied playing methodical, plodding games in the 50’s. Virginia can now outscore you too, which has to be a frightening proposition for the teams matched up with them over the next few weeks.

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Challenging the Narrative: Marcus Paige Has “Unpredictable” North Carolina Rolling

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 28th, 2014

College basketball media coverage is predictable. Early in the season, teams become associated with certain narratives. As teams evolve over the course of the season, the narratives may seem less and less apt, but we do our best to hang on to them as long as possible. Some teams don’t change enough to warrant a reconsideration of the way they’re written and talked about. Others change so much, and so quickly, that by February we can’t possibly attempt to re-apply the labels we slapped on them in November and December. Let’s run through some examples.

Since falling to 1-4 in the ACC, North Carolina has rolled off 10 straight wins (Getty Images).

Since falling to 1-4 in the ACC, North Carolina has rolled off 10 straight wins. (Getty Images)

  • Iowa: “KenPom likes ‘em, but they can’t win the close games.”
  • Michigan State: ‘Boy, if this team ever gets healthy, it’s winning it all. Mark it down.”
  • Kentucky: “So much talent, but not enough leadership.”
  • Louisville: “Pitino’s guys can really play, but without Chane Behanan, that frontcourt is going to be an issue come March.”
  • And, my personal favorite, North Carolina: “I have no idea what to expect from this team on a nightly basis.”

The origin of the unpredictability the Heels have become known for this season is easy to pinpoint. Over its first nine games of the season, Carolina beat then-No. 1 Michigan State, then-No. 11 Kentucky, and then-No. 3 Louisville. It also lost at home to Belmont (ranked #73 in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings at the time) and on the road against UAB (#66). This mix of great wins and baffling losses didn’t sit well with us narrative architects. How does one go about describing a team that’s so unpredictable? It was maddening. That’s how Carolina earned its reputation as the most unpredictable team in the country. Trust Carolina at your own peril, was the thought. The only thing we thought we knew about the Heels was how much we didn’t know. Which is to say, a lot.

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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 85, N.C. State 84 (OT)

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 27th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

North Carolina's Marcus Paige Outdueled N.C. State's T.J. Warren. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

North Carolina’s Marcus Paige Outdueled N.C. State’s T.J. Warren.
(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

  1. North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and N.C. State’s T.J. Warren put on a show for the ages. The two stars seemingly traded baskets for the entire second half and overtime of this one. After being held to four points on 2-of-6 shooting in the first half, Paige exploded for 31 more after the break, the last two coming on a game-winning driving layup with less than a second to go. Warren was equally unstoppable, finishing with a game-high 36 points that included two free throws that tied the game and forced the extra session with two seconds left in regulation. To put these performances in perspective, the previous scoring high in an ACC game this year was the 34 put up by Warren in a home game with Wake Forest, so this one game now has the top two individual scoring totals of the season. Paige was red-hot from the perimeter, hitting 7-of-10 from three after halftime. Most of the bombs seemed to come just when North Carolina looked to be in trouble, with perhaps the biggest coming in overtime to cut a six-point Wolfpack lead in half with 2:40 to go. The Tar Heels tried multiple defenders and three different zone defenses to corral Warren down the stretch, but nothing seemed to slow down the ACC’s leading scorer as he scored 19 of N.C. State’s last 27 points in the final nine minutes of action.
  2. N.C. State Looks Headed To The NIT. The Wolfpack lost another chance to get an eye-popping win much like they did at Syracuse 15 days earlier. Not only do they lack a marquee win, but N.C. State is now winless in eight games against the RPI top 50. Even if the Wolfpack wins out to go 10-8 in the ACC regular season, their best win will have been over Pittsburgh, which is currently #45 in the RPI. With that resume it would likely take at least a run to the ACC Tournament finals for N.C. State to get any consideration from the NCAA Selection Committee. But considering the Wolfpack’s modest preseason expectations, even an NIT bid would be a positive thing for such a young team. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Weekend Preview #8

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 21st, 2014

It’s another weekend of conference play in the ACC, so let’s take a look at the match-ups from an advanced statistics perspective. All statistics used are for results in ACC conference games only along with team rankings (#1-#15) in each category. For each game we will show how the two teams compare in efficiency ratings and the four factors, offense versus defense. We will also look at interesting areas of particular strength and weakness that could hold the key to the outcomes of these games. All numbers are from Ken Pomeroy’s site and are current through games of February 19, 2014. The games are presented in the order of best combined Pomeroy overall team rankings (all times EST).

Saturday - Syracuse (25-1, 12-1 ACC) @ Duke (21-6, 10-4 ACC) – ESPN (7:00 PM)

Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski's Teams Played a Classic Three Weeks Ago. (Photo: Raleigh News & Observer / Getty Images)

Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski’s Teams Played a Classic Three Weeks Ago.
(Photo: Raleigh News & Observer / Getty Images)

Pomeroy Prediction: (#5) Duke 70-65 (#9) Syracuse

Syr-Du

A little of the shine came off this weekend’s national spotlight game, when Syracuse suffered its first defeat of the season Wednesday night, and then Duke stumbled Thursday night in Chapel Hill. It wasn’t surprising that the Orange finally lost one, given all the narrow victories they’ve had lately, but it is shocking that the culprit was Boston College, and also that the loss happened in the Carrier Dome. The fact that average teams keep taking Syracuse to the wire is probably of bigger concern right now. It’s quite possible that this depth-shy Syracuse team is starting to wear down a bit. Even though they play a zone defense which uses less energy than man-to-man, the heavy minutes played may be affecting the Orange’s starters. In ACC play, Syracuse has four players logging over 35 minutes per game. Duke also looked like a tired team Thursday. The Blue Devils’ normally high powered offense had no juice in the second half of that game, going a stretch of almost nine minutes without a field goal. Much of the credit should go to North Carolina’s defense and the outstanding Smith Center crowd, but when Duke did get an open look, they usually came up short -probably due to tired legs. So, we should not expect either team to repeat the offensive display from the first meeting, when each scored at an astounding rate – both over 1.30 points per possession. With their fourth game in eight days, the Blue Devils may have to depend on the Cameron Crazies and a bunch of minutes from the bench, to get over the energy hump.

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Virginia: The Quiet and Legitimate Title Contender

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 20th, 2014

Kansas, Syracuse, Duke, Wichita State, Arizona, Michigan State: These are some of the teams typically first mentioned when discussing this season’s NCAA championship contenders. While Virginia is laden with senior leadership, elite defense, and loved by the advanced metrics, the Cavaliers are rarely mentioned as a contender along with the others. At 22-5 and 13-1 in the ACC, however, the Cavaliers are well on their way to a top-two finish in one of the country’s best conferences. With Syracuse’s surprising loss last night versus Boston College and a tough pair of road games upcoming, Tony Bennett’s team appears to be well on its way to capturing the ACC throne for the first time since a 2007 tie, and their first sole ACC regular season title since 1981. 

UVA's Joe Harris has a lot to celebrate with Virginia's winning ways. (USA Today).

UVA’s Joe Harris has a lot to celebrate with Virginia’s winning ways. (USA Today).

So why is a projected ACC regular season champion — one that will likely carry 25+ wins into the NCAA Tournament — not getting enough buzz? For starters, the nation is enamored with superstar culture, and Virginia doesn’t have a transcendent individual who is destined for NBA greatness and seated atop all the mock drafts. While this team has several really good players who mesh very well together, they do not have a Julius Randle, Doug McDermott, or Jabari Parker — someone who generates mass publicity and draws droves of NBA front office personnel at their games.

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