Bracket Prep: Florida, Virginia, Michigan State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2014

Championship Week has found its close, but here are a few final short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket this week. None of these titans really needed the “automatic bid” portion of their Tournament title gift package, of course, but with each figuring to play a key role in the weeks ahead, here’s what you need to know about a trio of Championship Week’s final victors.

Florida

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

  • SEC Champion (32-2, 21-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #2/#3/#3
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +16.1
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In the final minutes of basketball before the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled, Florida survived Kentucky to claim the SEC crown, complete their 21-game conference sweep, and keep alive a 26-game win streak. Quite a tidy going away package for the Gators, who will enter the Tournament as a #1 seed and among the two or three favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas. The one-point victory Sunday was only the fifth time this season that the Gators have won by three points or less – a testament to the workmanlike attitude that has extended this win streak time and time again.
  2. The Gators led the SEC in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Defensive weaknesses are hard to spot with the Gators, but despite the high overall level of offensive efficiency, there is a weak spot or two that opponents will seek to exploit. Florida’s free throw shooting is shaky (66.2% as a team, 295th nationally), and even primary ballhandlers Scotty Wilbekin (72%), Casey Prather (68%) and Kasey Hill (63%) are anything but sure things at the charity stripe. Three-point shooting isn’t a concern for Florida at first glance – they shoot 37% as a team, 73rd best in the country – but Wilbekin (58 3PM, 40%) and Michael Frazier (107 3PM, 46%) have combined to make over 70% of the team’s three-point field goals. The rest of the team shot just 27% from distance, so if an opponent can find a way to take away looks from either Wilbekin or Frazier – especially the latter, who is strictly a perimeter shooter – things could get pretty one-dimensional for the Gator offense.
  3. Florida is the perfect example of a team that used the entire season to grow into an elite squad. For much of November and December, Billy Donovan was just trying to keep proverbial head above water with his team, as pieces shifted in and out of the Gator lineup. Wilbekin, Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Chris Walker all missed time for various reasons, but save for road losses at Wisconsin and Connecticut (and no shame in those, either), the Gators kept on winning. Prather grew into an unlikely All-American candidate, Wilbekin has staked his claim as the best point guard in America, and Frazier is now second to none when it comes to perimeter shooters. None of these things happen without one of the best coaches in the game pressing all the right buttons from the sideline, but Donovan has spent the last four months constructing a team poised for even greater things in the NCAA Tournament. And after winning 26 games in a row en route to a sweep of the SEC titles, that, my friends, is saying something.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Virginia 72, #7 Duke 63

Posted by Matt Patton & Brad Jenkins on March 16th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Virginia claimed the ACC crown. (credit: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

Virginia claimed the ACC crown. (credit: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

  1. Virginia was the better team. They took all of Duke’s shots and punched right back. They dominated stretches with rebounding and defense. It took a miracle stretch by Jabari Parker to keep Duke in the game. Virginia’s balance and defensive strength (along with winning the regular season and tournament) will make people think of Miami last season. Virginia’s constant off-ball screens on offense kept Duke defenders out of sync the whole game, which led to all of the fouls. Virginia has three lock-down defenders in Joe HarrisMalcolm Brogdon and Akil Mitchell. That’s enough to slow every team down. Also while the Cavaliers only got credit for five blocks, it felt like more than ten (while only committing 15 fouls). Last but not least, Virginia is going to be a nightmare draw in the NCAA Tournament. This is an impossible team to prepare for–especially on short rest. They may go cold and make an early exit, but don’t say I didn’t warn you when they are in Arlington.
  2. Jabari Parker solidified his high lottery status. He had a couple of just ridiculous buckets (a step-back three and a transition dunk to name two), and an unstoppable stretch while Mitchell was on the bench. Don’t be fooled by his inefficient stat line. Parker was the best offensive player on the floor. After the game, Coach K pointed out that Parker has a ways to go: “Part of his development is, when he makes those [NBA] moves, is to finish, get fouled, not get fouled, you know what I mean. [...] His should be a combination.”
  3. This was likely a battle for a spot in the East Regional. This loss may hurt Duke even more soon. I don’t think the Blue Devils ever had a shot at a top seed (take away the loss to Wake Forest and it’s a different story), but they definitely had a shot to play through Raleigh and then New York City. Now? Who knows. It’s still possible, but Virginia definitely put themselves in the driver’s seat for a nice location and a two-seed (likely with a very favorable one to boot).

Player of the game: Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia. Still snubbed. Yeah, he was named all-tournament, but he made a really strong case to complete Wally Walker snub to most valuable player transition. Brogdon locked down Rodney Hood for much of the game. He also stepped up when Virginia needed a bucket, be it a field goal or a free throw. Lamar Patterson started the year imitating Oscar Robertson, but it was Brogdon who finished as the most versatile offensive player. The difference was even more obvious when you take defense into account.

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ACC Regular Season Crown at Stake: Previewing Syracuse vs. Virginia

Posted by Lathan Wells & Chris Kehoe on February 28th, 2014

Saturday’s game between Virginia and Syracuse will crown this season’s ACC champion, but it’s also a showcase of two teams coming in with very different levels of confidence. While Virginia is riding a hot 12-game winning streak, Syracuse is entering the contest having lost two of its last three games. Both of these teams play notoriously slow, but the likelihood of this one becoming a runaway in either team’s favor is also highly unlikely. While Syracuse is quite literally one of the slowest teams in the nation, Virginia is only one spot ahead of the Orange, ranking 344th in adjusted tempo out of 351 total teams.

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular-season title in its first ACC season (apsports.com)

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular season title in its first ACC season. (apsports.com)

Over the last few weeks, Syracuse has eked by in numerous close victories with controversial finishes before managing to drop its first two games of the season in both embarrassing (Boston College) and enraging (Duke) fashion. Tyler Ennis’ seeming invincibility has worn off somewhat as he has cooled off offensively, showing a human side to his unshakably calm demeanor. Part of Syracuse’s weakened state can be attributed to one of head coach Jim Boeheim’s major criticisms: an unbalanced and back-loaded schedule that has Syracuse finishing its inaugural ACC season with four of its last five games on the road. Syracuse’s play of late even has some ESPN analysts like John Gasaway indirectly stating that it may be the first #1 seed to ever fall to a #16, showing just how far the national perception of the Orange has fallen over the recent bumpy stretch.

On the flip side of the coin, Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad is riding an epic wave of momentum that is well on its way to carrying his team to its first sole claim on the ACC regular season title in over three decades. Virginia has won a school record 17 straight games at home and is sitting in sole possession of first place in the ACC at 15-1. Since a brutal 35-point road loss to Tennessee before the new year, Virginia appears the part of a conference champion, winning numerous low-scoring affairs with stifling defense (no ACC opponent has score more than 70 points). Unlike Syracuse’s schedule, the Cavaliers have the boon of three of their last four ACC contests occurring at home in John Paul Jones Arena. While Virginia may not have a single elite scoring option like the Orange’s C.J. Fair, leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon is more than capable of taking over a game and the Cavaliers boast three players who average between 7.9 and 11.5 PPG. So while Syracuse comes into Charlottesville with their pride wounded after a scorching start, Virginia’s confidence has never been higher in its attempt to prevent a newcomer from claiming the conference title in its first season.

ACC Microwriters Chris Kehoe and Lathan Wells will focus in on the key questions surrounding this marquee ACC match-up, tipping off at 4:00 PM ET on Saturday (ESPN).

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ACC M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 26th, 2014

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  1. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Akil Mitchell‘s offense is starting to come around. His defense has been elite all season, but his offense has taken a major step back from last year. His numbers still don’t match the double-double machine he was, but his shooting splits (not counting the free throw line) are almost identical to 2012-13. The good news is that his rebounding is back at an elite level. This year the Cavaliers don’t need him to shoulder nearly the same offensive load, but he’s absolutely critical for the Cavaliers on the boards.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: So the ratings are back from Syracuse-Duke and it’s safe to say the ACC will want these two schools to play multiple times a year. ESPN’s broadcast on Saturday night outdrew Lebron versus Durant two nights earlier, making it the highest rated sports event of the week (on cable). It also nearly doubled the ratings for North Carolina-Duke last Thursday night, which were admittedly split between ESPN and the local networks. Also, please enjoy more Jim Boeheim memes in the bottom slideshow.
  3. Charlotte Observer: Tyler Lewis finally has the starting point guard job at NC State. When Cat Barber started earlier this season, it looked like Lewis might be destined to become a role player coming off the bench. But as Barber’s freshman mistakes mounted, Mark Gottfried started going to Lewis more often. Lewis still can’t keep opposing guards in front of him, but there’s no denying that the Wolfpack’s offense looks best when he’s at the helm. He needs to improve his defense to keep the job in the long term because Barber will assuredly improve his consistency as he gets older.
  4. Raleigh News & Observer: Don’t look now but Marshall Plumlee is looking like a talented basketball player. It’s weird to say that there weren’t high expectations for a McDonalds All-American, but Plumlee never got much attention last season or for much of this one. Plumlee isn’t likely to see a huge boost in minutes next year (unless the Blue Devils want to go massive with him and Jahlil Okafor on the floor), but he already looks like a totally different player. He’s become much more confident, and therefore, effective. His shot-blocking and rebounding could end up being the Zoubekian post presence many have suggested that the Blue Devils need to make it to the Final Four.
  5. Blogger So Dear: Wake Forest showed some fight last night, playing spoiler at a sparsely attended game in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons beat Clemson, probably putting the Tigers on the wrong side of the bubble for good (barring a miraculous ACC Tournament run). Most importantly Jeff Bzdelik’s team showed a spark in the second half that had been missing the last couple of games. His team hasn’t quit yet, and still has an outside shot of finishing .500 with winnable games against Boston College and Miami (though that’s on the road) coming up.
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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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ACC M10: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 12th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Fayetteville Observer: Great piece from Bret Strelow with a transcript from a conference call of ACC coaches discussing the Marcus Smart situation. Always good for a quote, Jeff Bzdelik mentioned “Twitter muscle,” noting “there are a lot of unhappy people out there.” Mike Krzyzewski had a lot to say and was the only coach to provide an example of something concrete that’s been done to try and avoid situations like these (in the 1980s, Duke put opposing fans in the 75 seats closest to the bench instead of students). Duke is a special circumstance though because many of its students are right on the court level. It was nice to see Jim Boeheim stick up for Smart (and generally, it feels like people are doing a good job with the post-kneejerk reactions on the incident).
  2. Charlottesville Daily Progress: A lot of disappointed articles have been written about Virginia’s Akil Mitchell this year, as his numbers have dropped significantly from last season. But what hasn’t been getting enough love outside of local media and blogs is attention to his defense. Mitchell consistently draws the opponents’ best large wing/high post players, and he locked down Evan Smotrycz in Virginia’s too-close-for-comfort win against Maryland Monday night.
  3. Macon Telegraph: Even in the slow-tempo ACC, Georgia Tech‘s current offense just isn’t cutting it. The good news is that Robert Carter is back. The bad news is that the team still relies on Chris Bolden (who is making a truly abysmal 28.7 percent of his twos this season) as a scoring option. But the Yellow Jackets need Trae Golden healthy to even be competitive in most conference games.
  4. John Gasaway: Tuesday Truths is back! That means another head-scratching look at the ACC’s tempo and wondering just how Syracuse has averaged 55 possessions per game. That’s ridiculously slow. What’s also becoming clear is that Syracuse is playing with fire right now. The Orange have slipped well below Virginia and Duke in efficiency margin (+0.17 compared with +0.22 and +0.21, respectively), and they still have road games against Pittsburgh, Duke, Virginia and a dangerous Florida State team that may be truly desperate for a resume win. Syracuse could easily go 1-3 in those games, and I’d be surprised if it didn’t lose at least two of them. Long story short: Don’t wrap up the regular season ACC title just yet.
  5. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Speaking of Pittsburgh-Syracuse later tonight, Paul Zeise had a chat about the Panthers. Other than someone calling the Orange uptempo (see above), there’s a lot of good stuff here. Remember, in Pittsburgh’s recent slide, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna have not been playing at 100 percent. It’s also interesting that despite the injuries, Zeise likes Pittsburgh’s match-up with Syracuse. Clearly, the Panthers have to play better than they did against Virginia Tech last weekend, but that game may have been a worst case scenario (unhealthy trap game). Read the rest of this entry »
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Virginia Has Turned the Corner

Posted by Chris Kehoe on January 29th, 2014

Since December 30’s 87-52 beatdown that Virginia suffered at the hands of Tennessee in Knoxville, the Cavaliers have won seven of their last eight games. What Virginia has essentially done is establish itself as a clear member of the upper echelon of the ACC, arguably the third- or fourth-best team in the conference behind Duke and undefeated Syracuse. The Cavaliers sit comfortably at 16-5 and 7-1 in league play, their sole blemish coming in a close loss to Duke in the confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Virginia’s most recent victory came at the expense of a reeling Notre Dame team on Tuesday, yet another example of Virginia’s defense and style of play frustrating its conference foes thus far.

So far, London Perrantes (left) and Joe Harris have had a lot to celebrate recently. (USA TODAY Sports)

London Perrantes (left) and Joe Harris have had a lot to celebrate recently. (USA TODAY Sports)

The most impressive thing about Virginia’s play of late has been their emphatic victories, thrashing ACC teams by wide margins. They have beaten Florida State by 12 twice, North Carolina by 13, N.C. State by 31, Wake by 23, Virginia Tech by 20, and Notre Dame by 15. Virginia has effectively put the rest of the league on notice that, regardless of its non-conference performance, the Cavaliers are returning senior leaders from a highly successful unit with postseason experience. First and foremost has been the improved play of Joe Harris, which, as noted in an earlier article here on the ACC microsite, is the key to their resurgence of late.

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Virginia’s Resurgence Directly Tied to Success of Joe Harris

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 16th, 2014

There is no question that Virginia entered the season fully expecting to be able to count on senior Joe Harris to elevate the team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012 and make a serious run at the upper echelon of the ACC. Harris was considered one of the surest bets not only on the Cavaliers roster, but in the entire new-look ACC. He made the all-conference first team last season and received preseason votes for ACC player of the year.  After a non-conference slate from which the Cavaliers emerged an uninspiring 9-4 with zero standout wins and whiffs in statement games versus VCU, Wisconsin and Tennessee along with a bad loss to Wisconsin Green-Bay, fans and analysts alike surmised the Cavs were having disappointing seasons from just about everyone on the roster. But Harris was actually the main culprit, with his scoring way down and, perhaps most puzzlingly, carrying an average of only seven field-goal attempts per contest.

Joe Harris vs Duke

UVA’s long-term fortunes are directly tied to Joe Harris (credit: associatedpress)

Now, four games into the ACC slate, it appears that Harris has finally found his scoring stroke at just the right time. Virginia, needing a strong conference record to offset its non-conference woes, has begun 3-1 in the ACC with only a tough loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor blemishing their conference record. It’s no coincidence that much of what glaringly ailed Tony Bennett’s team early on has seemingly been remedied. The defense is still suffocating; the frontcourt is back to providing secondary scoring options and commanding the glass; and the team is getting better shots as a result of improved ball movement and patience.

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After Slow Start, Virginia Now Looks Like a Legitimate ACC Contender

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 15th, 2014

Even after Monday night’s 69-65 loss to Duke, Virginia looks like it is built to stay near the top of the ACC for the rest of the season. On a night when Duke played inspired basketball and had the famous Cameron Indoor Stadium home court edge, it took a fortunate bounce on a Rasheed Sulaimon three-pointer to keep Virginia from starting the ACC season with a 4-0 record. In winning their first three games, including Saturday’s 76-45 stomping of N.C. State, the Cavaliers have been winning impressively, with a 22-point average margin of victory. Even in their closest win, a 62-50 victory at Florida State, Virginia held a 22-point lead with 11 minutes left in the game. Undefeated Syracuse is now the perceived ACC favorite, but Virginia is certainly playing at such a high level now that it too must be considered a serious contender as well.

Virginia's Justin Anderson Blocks Ralston Turner of N.C. State In Cavalier Rout. (Photo: Ethan Hyman/AP)

Virginia’s Justin Anderson Blocks Ralston Turner of N.C. State In Cavalier Rout. (Ethan Hyman/AP)

Virginia has clearly turned its season around after a less than impressive December (2-3 record). The Cavaliers hit rock bottom in a 87-52 blowout loss at Tennessee on December 30. After using seven different starting lineups, head coach Tony Bennett has finally found stability with his current starting unit. Virginia is now 8-1 with a group featuring Mike Tobey and Akil Mitchell up front, with Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogden and London Perrantes on the perimeter. After a puzzling lack of production from Harris and Mitchell in the pre-conference part of the schedule, the two senior all-ACC performers have turned things around on and off the court. According to Bennett, “The Tennessee game was a wake up call [for Harris and Mitchell].” He was referring to the fact that the duo has recently taken responsibility for being better team leaders. Tobey has shown signs of fulfilling his potential as a low post scorer (16 points vs. N.C. State), and the versatile Brogdon has been more consistent, scoring in double figures in all four ACC games. The freshman Perrantes’ maturation at the point guard spot has also been a key to the Cavaliers’ recent success, with 16 assists against only five turnovers in conference play. Justin Anderson gives Virginia great energy and athleticism off the bench, and he can defend almost any position. Further quality depth comes from Anthony Gill and Darion Atkins on the inside, and Evan Nolte and Teven Jones on the perimeter. All in all, it’s a nice rotation that has jelled just in time.

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Only a Strong ACC Run Can Rescue Virginia

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 31st, 2013

When the year began, the Virginia Cavaliers made it a point to avoid the types of missteps that derailed their season a year ago and relegated them to an NIT bid. There were three main areas the team had to lock down: a solid showing in the non-conference schedule; more offensive production from the point guard position; and avoiding a late-season collapse in ACC play. Conference play is now on the horizon, and the Cavaliers will have to look themselves in the mirror knowing they failed miserably at the first area of emphasis, have more questions than answers about the second, and will absolutely have to reverse the trend of the third to make an NCAA Tournament run. Nothing is as head coach Tony Bennett expected for his team roughly a third of the way into the 2013-14 season.

Joe Harris

It’s been a rough start to a promising year for Joe Harris and UVA (credit: grantland.com)

Virginia had two match-ups against ranked foes prior to conference play. They suffered a heartbreaking loss to VCU at home in November and then bowed out of a horrifically low-scoring affair against Wisconsin in December, again at home. A bad loss to Wisconsin Green-Bay, Bennett’s alma mater, followed, putting the Cavs in a precarious position with only a game at Tennessee left as a possible noteworthy non-conference victory. That evaporated early and often Monday night, as Virginia was overwhelmed by the Volunteers from start to finish in a crushing 35-point loss. The demoralizing score and performance would be devastating enough if it weren’t also serving as a microcosm of their entire season.

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ACC M5: 12.18.13 Edition

Posted by mpatton on December 18th, 2013

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  1. Charlotte Observer: Good story from David Scott on Ian Miller, a Charlotte native, and how he’s really matured over his career. He has had academic problems and injuries set him back, but this season Miller seems healthy and ready to run Leonard Hamilton’s team. He has upped his field goal  percentages pretty dramatically, along with his assists. When Florida State needs a bucket, his foul-drawing ability makes him tough to stop. Speaking of tough to stop, the Seminoles had a pretty jaw dropping box score from their win against UNC Charlotte. They took the 49ers behind a woodshed in Tallahassee, winning 106-62 (and it really wasn’t that close). Also don’t forget, Charlotte is the team that beat Michigan earlier this season. I’ll go ahead and say teams won’t enjoy coming to the Donald L. Tucker Center this season.
  2. Charlottesville Daily Progress: One troubling part of Virginia’s start is Akil Mitchell‘s slide in production. Last year Mitchell was a double-double machine; this year he doesn’t have any. Part of that is due to minutes, as Virginia is much deeper this season in the frontcourt. But his percentages are down too, and his turnover rate is up. That’s a bigger issue. The good news is Virginia’s bigger, deeper frontcourt makes the Cavaliers an elite defensive rebounding team. The bad news is that this team really needs Mitchell’s missing offensive production (they’ve lost two of three games by a single possession and the other because the team only hit two field goals in the second half).
  3. Daily Tar Heel: Whew boy, it sounds like student tickets for the North Carolina-Kentucky game were a total mess. The first administration faux pas was getting rid of half the student section (the upper deck student section was ticketed for alumni instead). The bigger mistake was in an effort to avoid students camping out, the UNC Ticket Office tried to “randomize” the order by picking a random number (in this case 468) and telling every student in front of that number to go to the back of the line. Needless to say the students who spent the afternoon in the rain weren’t pleased being sent to the back (and then not getting in at all). Next time a lottery would probably work a lot better.
  4. Syracuse Post-Standard: It’s been a little too long since we had some good old-fashioned coach-speak, so here’s some from a master: “We have a chance to be a good team. We’re not anywhere near that now. We’ve got a lot of work left to do.” Truth is that could’ve been any coach off to a good start, but it was Jim Boeheim. Boeheim is slipping into a bit of a routine with his recent press conferences, which means he must be getting bored. Not to worry, with a hot Villanova team and ACC play around the corner, I expect we’ll here a little more variety in the coming weeks.
  5. Fox Sports Carolinas and Real Tailgate: Need to catch up on the last week of ACC action? Lauren Brownlow and @WxMoose have you covered. Brownlow should be your go-to to get context on the week’s best (and worst) performances. The Weather Moose will translate those performances into GIFs.
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ACC M5: 11.25.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on November 25th, 2013

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  1. Sports Illustrated: Marcus Paige has stepped up in a big way, scoring 32 points to lead the Tar Heels to a big upset over Louisville Sunday. Most impressively he was 9-of-14 from three. Should that prove to not be an anomaly, North Carolina may be as good as people originally thought regardless of whether PJ Hairston or Leslie McDonald return. Paige looks like a first-team All-ACC player right now. He’s built off of a strong finish to last season and looks more confident than ever. Only time will tell whether the Tar Heels turn out to be more like the team that lost to Belmont or the one that dethroned the defending champs (which, incidentally hadn’t lost a game since last February 9).
  2. Richmond Times-Dispatch: One of Virginia‘s strengths this year is its depth in the frontcourt. Tony Bennett is taking advantage of that depth by playing around with different combinations. He likes Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins defensively, while Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill are more offensive-minded. Also interesting is that Bennett thinks with the right match-up he might try to play three of the four with Mitchell guarding the three. That’s a tough assignment for Mitchell (watch the smaller Duke wings try to stay in front of a smaller, quicker player).
  3. Hartford Courant: Counterpoint on the Boston College-Connecticut rivalry renewal from the Connecticut point of view. Jeff Jacobs makes a good point: The basketball rivalry benefits Boston College much more than Connecticut. He also points out that the rivalry, while heated and intense, has been fairly lopsided since Jim Calhoun raised the Huskies to national prominence. He also points out that Syracuse would be the ideal team to rekindle a basketball rivalry with — although the Orange certainly aren’t known for their tough non-conference home-and-homes. If I were in Connecticut’s position, I’d agree wholeheartedly with this take. If you agree to play in football (say, every other year at a minimum), we’ll play basketball. I don’t see that happening, but the more I read the quotes that got this story started, the more I don’t see a permanent restoration of the old rivalry anyway.
  4. Washington Post: Say what you want about Lefty Driesell, but the guy clearly loves his players. Maryland great Tom McMillen is being inducted to the Naismith Hall of Fame this year, and he will become the first Maryland player honored. On top of his standout basketball career, McMillen was also a Rhodes Scholar and he currently serves on the Maryland Board of Trustees. Driesell’s first assistant coach George Raveling is also being inducted (albeit mostly for his time serving as the Nike director of international basketball). I love redemption stories and I love a less salty Lefty Driesell.
  5. ESPN Insider: After the early signing period, five ACC teams finished with grades of A-minus or higher according to Paul Biancardi. Most notable of the standouts is Maryland, which Biancardi expects to be Mark Turgeon’s best class thanks to a couple of top 100 players. Overall, the conference as a whole had a terrific recruiting haul. At the top, it is borderline ridiculous (Duke and North Carolina combine for seven top-25 recruits alone). On the other end of the spectrum, Jeff Bzdelik better get his recruiting in order soon or his job may be less secure than many already believe it should be.
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