ACC Stock Report: Volume II

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 16th, 2019

With #1 Duke’s home loss to Syracuse Monday night — and more significantly the injury and extended absence of Tre Jones — some of the luster of this weekend’s highly-anticipated match-up with conference-leading Virginia has eroded. Or perhaps Tony Bennett’s squad just appears like it will inevitably run roughshod through the ACC for the second consecutive campaign.

Stock Rising:

Jeff Capel is Making a Mark in Pittsburgh Already (USA Today Images)

Jeff Capel: While he wasn’t Pittsburgh’s first choice, Capel has left little doubt that he was the right choice to clean up the mess of the two-year failed marriage with Kevin Stallings. Capel entered the program last spring having to do yeoman’s work just to construct a playable roster. But now, after Monday night’s victory over Florida State, the feisty Panthers have already vanquished two NCAA Tournament likelies (Louisville), and in doing so, have brought back some of the energy that used to be synonymous with the Peterson Events Center.

Behind the precocious freshman trio of Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney, Capel’s crew has already exceeded last season’s win total by four, and in so doings has risen from 138th in KenPom to start the season to a current standing of 68th. Pitt’s upcoming schedule is arduous, however, as three of the Panthers’ next four games are away from home (and the home game vs. Duke), but it is undeniable that a basketball trajectory is veering upward again in the Steel City.

Stock Zig Zagging:

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ACC Conversation: Preseason Projections – Part 1

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) recently got together to chat about the upcoming 2018-19 season and share their thoughts on all 15 ACC schools. Here’s Part 1 of that conversation.

Danny Manning needs his young stars to come through for Wake Forest to move up the ACC standings. (Walt Unks/Winston-Salem Journal)

  • Brad Jenkins: Happy New Year, gentlemen! Let’s start with a look at the projected bottom of the league. Matt, you did our preview piece on Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Can any of these teams surprise us and contend for an NCAA bid like the Yellow Jackets did two years ago?
  • Matt Auerbach: Great to be back, guys! The short answer to that, Brad, is no. I just can’t see it. The best-case scenario for the first two, particularly Pittsburgh, is that they are competitive and playing a more exciting brand of basketball than they have the last two years. Jeff Capel was a home run hire that will ultimately steer the Panthers back to relevance. Josh Pastner built up some equity with his run to the NIT finals two years ago, but there doesn’t seem to be much to be excited about in Atlanta. As for Wake, if Jaylen Hoard could have a Trae Young or Deandre Ayton type of impact, sure. While extremely talented, I think the odds of that occurring, however, are near nil, and the pressure will be mounting on Danny Manning if another disappointing season ensues.
  • Mick McDonald: Great point on Capel, Matt. Pitt basketball at least feels interesting again. They’ll be bad this year but I’ll be interested to see how guys like Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens begin their careers. I think they may actually be better than Georgia Tech. Pastner’s team looks rough.
  • Matt Auerbach: Without a doubt, of the three, I’d be least surprised if Pittsburgh won four or five games.
  • Mick McDonald: I know Manning keeps pulling good recruits but it feels like he needs to have a team make some noise sometime soon.
  • Brad Jenkins: I think there’s a chance for Capel to do something like what Pastner did in his first year in Atlanta based on the new energy he has in the Pitt program, but the ACC schedule rotation did him no favors — they have zero home games against the predicted bottom four in the league. Is Manning the ACC coach on the Hot Seat this year?
  • Mick McDonald: I guess, but given how his recruiting is going, I’d bet Manning gets at least one more year.

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ACC Burning Questions, Part 3: Clemson, Miami & NC State

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2018

As we head into another exciting ACC season, we will be reviewing the key question for each of the league’s 15 squads. Today Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) looks at the middle of the conference, with Clemson, Miami and NC State

Clemson Burning Question: After last year’s surprisingly successful season, can the Tigers repeat that performance?

Clemson returns one the nation’s top backcourts with seniors Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed. (TheClemsonInsider.com)

Last season was a breakout year for Brad Brownell’s program in many ways: a school-record 25 wins; a program-most 11 ACC victories; a top 20 finish in the AP poll; and, a trip to the Sweet Sixteen that included a resounding victory over fellow power conference upstart Auburn. With a veteran squad returning this season, Clemson is poised to build upon that success and perhaps even improve it. Last year the Tigers were consistently solid on both ends of the floor, using a three-guard lineup to shred opponents from the perimeter combined with a stifling defense (KenPom’s seventh-best nationally). Another key for the Tigers’ unprecedented success was that they finally learned how to win close games in league play. After a gut wrenching 2-9 performance in contests decided by fewer than seven points two years ago, the Tigers went 4-3 in such games last season.

Leading the charge this year will be one of the nation’s top backcourts, featuring two fifth-year seniors — Marcquise Reed (Second Team All-ACC, 15.8 PPG) and Shelton Mitchell (12.2 PPG, 3.6 APG). Also returning for his final campaign is Elijah Thomas (10.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.3 BPG), one of the best two-way big men in the league. We agree with fellow RTC-ACC writer Mick McDonald, who lists the Tigers’ 6’7″ sophomore Aamir Simms among his top breakout candidates in the ACC this year. A key for Brownell will be replacing the production of departed guard Gabe DeVoe — a dangerous three-point bomber, DeVoe helped spread the court, allowing Reed and Mitchell excellent driving angles. But even if Clemson’s offense slips a bit, its defense should be good enough to keep the Tigers in the upper half of the ACC with another trip to the Big Dance.

Miami Burning Question: Will the Hurricanes’ guard play be good enough?

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ACC Non-Conference Games: Ten Worth Watching

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 23rd, 2018

Even in the face of fervent anticipation, the start of the college hoops season has a way of sneaking up on us. Now only two weeks away and with the brutal gauntlet of a full conference slate coming seven weeks after that, it feels like a good time to preview the 10 most compelling non-conference match-ups that ACC members will encounter during the upcoming campaign. This list excludes preseason tourneys (Duke heading to Maui, for example, among others) and the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which we will preview in more depth ahead of those events. Here we go, in calendar order, starting with the Champions Classic on opening night.

It’s Always Must-See College Basketball when Duke Meets Kentucky (USA Today Images)

  • November 6- Duke vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic, Indianapolis). In a very off-brand, sensible decision, the NCAA has stopped burying the season’s annual tip-off on a pedestrian Friday night and instead will utilize the grand stage of the Champions Classic to get things going. In the nightcap game of the Indianapolis event, two teams with legitimate championship aspirations and talent galore will meet once again. For Duke, the nation’s top-rated incoming class features do-everything wing R.J. Barrett along with explosive man-child Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones (brother of Tyus Jones, the 2015 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player). In an unusual turn of events, it will be Kentucky that is armed with the more experienced roster, as the Blue Devils’ leading returning scorer will be junior big man Marques Bolden (3.9 PPG), while the Wildcats retained sophomores Quade Green, P.J. Washington and Nick Richardsfrom last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad.
  • November 6: Florida at Florida State. This annual tussle will serve as the rivals’ season opener this year, as the Gators look to avenge a home thrashing by the Seminoles last season. Florida State returns seven of its top nine scorers, including leading man Phil Cofer, from a squad that was within a whisker of the Final Four a year ago. The cupboard is not bare for Mike White, either, as Florida features a dynamic, experienced tandem on the wings in seniors KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson. Numerous explosive athletes on both sides of the floor will make this game worth flipping to during the commercial breaks of the Duke/Kentucky tilt.
  • November 15: Connecticut vs Syracuse (Madison Square Garden). Two old Big East foes will rekindle their long and storied rivalry at a familiar venue in New York City. The Orange return all of their top pieces from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad, including the ACC’s third-leading scorer, Tyus Battle. He will be joined by a pair of exciting rising sophomores in Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj along with freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim, giving Syracuse a roster that should easily result in a top-half ACC finish. New Connecticut head coach Danny Hurley will begin the process of getting this proud program back on track after consecutive sub-.500 seasons that led to the ouster of onetime championship coach Kevin Ollie.

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ACC Year in Review: Virginia’s Disappointment Stains Otherwise Strong ACC Season

Posted by Matt Auerbach on April 13th, 2018

For the first time since the 2014 Final Four in Arlington, Texas, the ACC was without representation during the season’s final weekend. Despite that disappointment, the ACC still finished the year rated as the second strongest conference via KenPom, with two of its nine NCAA Tournament entrants — Florida State and Duke — falling just a game short of a trip to San Antonio. That said, ACC regular season and tournament champion Virginia dominated the conference in stupendous fashion, winning the regular season by four games over runner-up Duke in large part thanks to the stingiest defense since the 38-1 Kentucky team in 2015. A convincing three-day run in Brooklyn left little doubt that Virginia was a worthy #1 overall seed heading into the Big Dance. We all know what happened next.

Virginia Became the First #1 Seed to Lose to a #16 Seed (USA Today Images)

  • Biggest Surprise: What happened in Charlotte several weeks ago defied all the laws of common sense and conventional basketball wisdom. The ignominious distinction of becoming the first #1 seed to fall to a #16 will sting the Virginia program for years — perhaps decades — but given the passage of time we can also start to begin to appreciate a tremendous season submarined by an inexplicable 40-minute sample size. And while that upset alone is the exact definition of a surprise, a Cavaliers team that was picked to finish sixth in the preseason laying waste to the entire ACC for three months qualifies as a legitimate surprise on its own right.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 80, #5 Clemson 76

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Omaha for the Midwest Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Heads Back to the Elite Eight For the Third Year in a Row (USA Today Images)

  1. Udoka Azubuike showed how important he is to Kansas’ success. The sophomore big man is finally back from a knee injury that kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament and limited his minutes during the First and Second Rounds of this NCAA Tournament. With Azubuike now healthy, Kansas forced the issue with him early and often as he finished the evening with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. While those statistics suggest to the casual eye that he just had a good game, you have to look beyond the box score to realize just how important he is to Kansas’ success. The Jayhawks at the very least look his way for an easy bucket every time he’s on the floor, and he is a stalwart in the middle on the defensive end. If Kansas is to win Sunday and advance to Bill Self’s third Final Four, what Azubuike brings to the fold on both ends of the court will be an important factor.
  2. Devonte’ Graham needs to play better if Kansas wants a trip to the Final Four. The final statistics show that Graham finished with a pretty standard outing, totaling 16 points while collecting five rebounds and four assists on the night. While the senior point guard gathered his numbers, he would also be the first to say that he did not play nearly as well as he needs to for his team to advance to San Antonio. Graham made just one of seven shots from three-point range and finished just 4-of-12 from the field. He also committed three uncharacteristic turnovers, including one where he threw the ball away followed by an ill-advised foul that gave Clemson an and-one opportunity. Graham has been quite steady throughout his collegiate career so it is certainly reasonable to expect he will play better against Duke or Syracuse on Sunday. Kansas is going to need a quality performance from him because it cannot advance to another Final Four without Devonte’ Graham playing like the Big 12 Player of the Year.
  3. Clemson deserves a ton of credit for fighting until the final buzzer. There are no good losses or moral victories in the NCAA Tournament, but Clemson’s performance tonight would certainly qualify if there were. Playing in front of a very partisan Kansas crowd, the Tigers fell behind by 20 points early in the second half and it looked like their run was over. It would have been understandable if Brad Brownell‘s squad simply went through the motions for the remainder of the game, but the Tigers instead fought tooth and nail to the final buzzer to lose by only four points. Behind senior guard Gabe DeVoe‘s career-high 31 points and some tenacious defense, Clemson put considerable game pressure on Kansas as the final minutes ticked away. Their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, but you would have to be a significantly jaded individual if you do not come away from that game impressed with Clemson’s fight.

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ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 21st, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week to recap a wild opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and preview the chances of the four remaining ACC schools making the Final Four.

The Answer to Your Trivia Question is Virginia (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: OK guys. Before we look ahead to the Sweet Sixteen, let’s recap the crazy first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. I guess we have to start with the surprising outcomes that I witnessed in Charlotte. Mick, we’ll go ahead and let you give your take on what happened to Virginia.

Mick McDonald: Do I have to? I haven’t had the stomach to go back and watch it, and frankly, most of the game feels like a haze. Sort of like a bad dream you try to forget. That said, it was a collection of things, all of which were a worst case scenario for Virginia. Early foul trouble for Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, plus Tony Bennett’s refusal to play Marco Anthony, meant they had to play the same five guys (including Nigel Johnson and Jack Salt, who aren’t scorers) most of the first half. Secondly, their jump shots weren’t falling. Third, UMBC hung around long enough to get their confidence up. All of that still led to a halftime tie. Most Virginia fans were having Coastal Carolina flashbacks to 2014, still thinking they’d put it together. When the first play of the second half was an and-one to give Wilkins his third foul, things felt different. Then UMBC couldn’t miss, Virginia lost its composure and it was over. And yes, not having DeAndre Hunter hurt. But it was by no means the lone reason they lost.

Matt Auerbach: Obviously we’ve been beaten to death with every talking head, captain obvious rationale: Virginia isn’t built to play from behind; its style lends itself to keeping inferior teams in the game; and so on. But the truth remains that this tournament is a one-and-done scenario, and for that reason, remains random at its core. If they play 10 times, the Cavaliers win the other nine with a few of those games by 30-plus points. There’s no reason to attempt to explain it. It’s one of the reasons we love this event so much, unless, as in this case, you’re on the Virginia end.

Mick McDonald: Well said, Matt. Pat Forde, a columnist I usually respect and enjoy, published a column hours after the game calling the entire Virginia/Tony Bennett program fraudulent. That’s insane (and certainly trolling clickbait, but that’s another discussion). Bennett will keep winning and will eventually get to a Final Four. Just like every other great coach who “couldn’t win in March” before him.

Matt Auerbach: That article was written about Mike Krzyzewski 30 years ago, and was written about Jim Boeheim and his zone for a long time too. The antithesis was said about Tom Izzo; how’s that been working out?

Mick McDonald: People just have such a hard time accepting that events can be random and not need some massive underlying reason why they happened. This event breeds wild one-time results.

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Clemson 84, #4 Auburn 53

Posted by rtmsf on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Clemson Will Not Soon Forget This Performance (USA Today Images)

  1. Sheer Dominance. Not even the #1 vs. #16 match-ups earlier this weekend were this lopsided. Chalk it up to Clemson’s outstanding defense combined with Auburn’s inept offense, but the point remains that a run that started with a 13-13 tie at the 12-minute mark of the first half became a 40-point lead 20 minutes later. FORTY. Not even Cincinnati can blow that kind of advantage. The statistics are marvelous in their ugliness (e.g., Auburn’s 26 percent shooting), but the key stretch was really the last 10 minutes of the first half when Auburn missed 18 consecutive shots while giving up 25 points in a series of layups and three-pointers on the other end. It was a blitzkrieg, magnificent in its efficiency and domination. And it propelled Clemson to the Sweet Sixteen for just the fourth time ever.
  2. Is Clemson Good? Obviously, yes, but just how good? Today’s victory was a real eye-opener for a lot of people wondering if the Tigers were capable of making a deep run. New Mexico State was a trendy upset pick on Friday, and Clemson manhandled the Aggies without too much concern. Today’s game was 32 minutes of curb-stomping. The question with Clemson has never been with its defense, which ranks among the top 10 in college basketball this season, but rather whether they had enough play-makers to get past the likes of elite programs. Their best win this season was over North Carolina in Littlejohn Arena, but it they lost relatively close games to Duke and Virginia (the ACC Tournament game). The Tigers may get their chance to prove themselves in the Midwest Regional next weekend, as Kansas awaits next followed by ACC brethren Duke or Syracuse. In a ball-control kind of game where the shots aren’t falling (a typical Jayhawks loss scenario), it wouldn’t be impossible to see Clemson advance two more rounds just like its Palmetto State rival from a season ago.
  3. Auburn Still Had a Great Season. No team likes to go out of the NCAA Tournament like Auburn did today, but sometimes the forces align and there’s not much a team can do to manage the buzzsaw. Still, Bruce Pearl put together a fantastic season that included a first-place finish in the SEC (the Tigers were projected ninth in the preseason by SEC media), the school’s first NCAA appearance (and win) in 15 years and a buzz that had been missing around the basketball program for a very long time. Depending on how the FBI thing shakes out, Auburn is poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament for years to come — only hopefully with better performances than the Tigers gave today.

Player of the Game. Elijah Thomas, Clemson. Thomas set the tone in the first half with 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting as the Tigers simply overwhelmed the other Tigers. He finished with a highly-efficient 18 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of assists on 7-of-10 shooting. But really, the entire Clemson team was the player of tonight’s game.

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Rushed Reactions: Virginia 64, Clemson 58

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 9th, 2018

RTC’s Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

They’re Not Brand Names, But All They Do Is Win (USA Today Images)

  1. Virginia can flip a game quickly. Trailing 20-13 midway through the first half and looking like anything but the overall #1 seed heading into next week’s NCAA Tournament, the Cavaliers held Clemson without a field goal for the final 9:33 of the first half in converting a seven-point deficit into a nine-point advantage. The 19-3 spurt was sparked by De’Andre Hunter on both ends and punctuated by a pair of Kyle Guy triples, but it was the trademark Virginia defense that was most responsible for the game-seizing run. Clemson missed its last 10 field goal attempts of the half and was coaxed into a period in which the veteran team appeared both flummoxed and demoralized.
  2. De’Andre Hunter is a game-changer. Hunter, despite being on floor for less than half of the game, is the only other Cavalier besides Guy who qualifies as a major contributor, per KenPom, with a team-leading usage rate of 25.4 percent. After a Mamadi Diakite floater cut the Tigers’ lead to five, Hunter singlehandedly put the lead back in Virginia’s possession for good. A made three, a steal and hit-ahead to Guy for a dunk, followed by another bucket, gave the Cavs a lead they would never relinquish. A lethal combination of size and athleticism with a rapidly improving set of skills, Hunter’s presence on the floor presents a unique problem for opposing defenses. While Virginia’s offense generally is predicated on crisp ball movement and screening action to get a shot for the open man, Hunter provides a wrinkle that can wreck a defensive game plan, with the ability to score or create in pick-and-pop and isolation sets.
  3. Clemson will be fine.  No need to panic if you’re a Clemson fan. The Tigers will hear their name called on a Selection Sunday for the first time since 2011, and while this game will leave a sour taste in Brad Brownell’s mouth, the hard acceptance here is that Virginia has done this to just about all of its opponents this year. And while it is not debatable that the ceiling for this team was significantly lowered with the season-ending injury suffered by Donte Grantham seven weeks ago, Clemson has the grit, experience and defensive aptitude to find its way into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament with the right draw.

Star of the Game: Ty Jerome, Virginia. It is the ultimate compliment for a team like Virginia when the task of choosing just one player as the star seems equally as impossible as it is to consistently score on its defense. While Guy led the team in scoring and Hunter’s surge flipped the game, arguments could also be made for the efforts made by big men Diakite (10 points, four rebounds) and Jack Salt (eight points, eight rebounds). Ultimately, though, it was the defense in holding Clemson to 34.7 percent shooting from the field, led by Jerome and Devon Hall, in limiting the high scoring backcourt tandem of Marcquise Reed and Gabe Devoe to 14 points on a combined 5-of-23 shooting. Jerome, being the primary point of attack defender, and for dishing out a career-high 10 assists, gets the nod here — but again, it could’ve been any of this entire squad.

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ACC Conversation: End of Season Awards

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerback, Mick McDonald on February 28th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week  about who they think should take home All-ACC Honors.

Duke’s Marvin Bagley Will Assuredly Find Himself on the All-ACC Team (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: Last week we focused on teams. This week, we can discuss individuals. How do you guys feel the All-ACC first team will shake out? Mick, why don’t you go first.

Mick McDonald: Sure thing. In terms of how I *think* it’ll shake out, I’d be pretty surprised if it wasn’t Marvin Bagley III, Luke Maye, Jerome Robinson, Tyus Battle and Kyle Guy. Personally, I’m not sure I’d have Battle there and I would definitely have Devon Hall over Guy.

Matt Auerbach: From my perspective, I totally agree with Mick that the top three are locked in, as Bagley, Maye and Robinson’s individual prowess has far exceeded the rest of the conference. I think Battle has a ton of empty calories in his 19 PPG, so I’d opt for Joel Berry II in his stead. As for the conference champion’s representative, I’m with Mick. It may be Guy over Hall, but that is wrong. For me, Hall is the glue that holds the whole thing together on both ends of the floor.

Mick McDonald: Hall gets no love because he only averages about 12 PPG, but he has been insanely good. He ranks second in the ACC in Offensive Rating and fourth in Defensive Rating.  Also, he’s second behind Bagley in Win Shares. It would be insane to put Guy over him because he averages 2-3 more points per game.

Brad Jenkins: I think the fascinating thing to watch will be how the voters handle the Virginia players. They absolutely should get a guy on the first team, and I agree it should be Hall. The only statistic in which Guy is better is scoring, and that’s because he takes five more shots a game.

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