A Look at the ACC in the NIT

Posted by Charlie Maikis on March 14th, 2017

March Madness is now upon us, but let’s take a moment to consider a different postseason tournament as the ACC is sending three teams to the NIT this season. In a year where many observers thought the NCAA Tournament bubble was one of the weakest in years, the Selection Committee was not particularly kind to the conference. Of the three ACC bubble teams, Wake Forest made the field of 68 while Syracuse and Georgia Tech were left at home. Clemson joins the Orange and Yellow Jackets in this year’s NIT, meaning that the 12 of the 15 ACC teams were invited to one of the two prestigious postseason tournaments. Before the NCAA Tournament vacuums all the oxygen in the college basketball universe, let’s discuss the trio of ACC teams playing in the NIT.

Syracuse and Clemson are two of the strongest teams in the NIT field this year and give the ACC a great chance at success. Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse

Syracuse was a curious case as the Orange were left out of the NCAA Tournament presumably because of a lackluster non-conference performance. Teams that go 10-8 in what is widely regarded as the nation’s best conference usually get an invitation to the Big Dance, but that factor alone clearly wasn’t enough this season. The result was Syracuse’s placement as the top overall seed in the NIT bracket, but perhaps in the toughest region of the four. Their region also contains four other power conference teams, and the average Kenpom ranking of of the group is five spots better than the rest of the field. Luckily Syracuse doesn’t have to play the other seven teams but just the ones in front of it, starting on Wednesday night at home against UNC-Greensboro. Remember, after Jim Boeheim blasted the city of Greensboro (site of ACC headquarters and numerous ACC Tournaments) at last week’s ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, the municipality fired back:

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Taking Stock of Jaron Blossomgame’s Senior Season

Posted by Charlie Maikis on March 6th, 2017

Jaron Blossomgame entered this season with sky-high expectations. After winning the ACC Most Improved Player award a year ago, the senior forward was selected to the preseason All-ACC First Team. And while his statistical output was very similar to last season, Clemson’s disappointing performance in a league full of stars assuredly hurt him given an All-ACC Third Team placement in the postseason awards. Was returning to school a good idea for the senior forward? Let’s take a deeper look at Blossomgame’s performance this season to find out.

Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame has been the focus of opposing defenses (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Across the board, his numbers in scoring, rebounding and assists are slightly down, and his overall efficiency has suffered as a result. The primary reason for this decrease is related to his shooting ability. According to Hoop-Math, Blossomgame’s field goal percentage on shots at the rim improved this season by 6.3 percent. His field goal percentage on other shots inside the arc increased by 2.0 percent. For a player whose game is generally predicated on athleticism and conversions at the rim, those are good signs. The problem area, however, has come on Blossomgame’s perimeter game. Strangely, a player who converted 44.1 percent of his three-point attempts a season ago has regressed to 26.4 percent this year. Perhaps this should be unsurprising given that he was a 24.8 percent long-range shooter during his first two years of college, but for someone who shot so well to drop so precipitously is suggestive that his norm is much closer to the 32.2 percent he has converted in his career.

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ACC Transfers Making Their Presence Felt on the Bubble

Posted by Charlie Maikis on February 17th, 2017

Everyone is well aware that the top tier of the ACC consists of top 10 programs like North Carolina, Duke and Louisville. These schools tend to recruit at a high level nationally and develop much of their talent from within. In the middle of this year’s ACC standings, however, a number of key transfers have proven responsible for much of their teams’ current success. Bubble teams Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Clemson are anchored by at least two players who did not begin their careers in the league. Let’s examine how the these programs’ reliance on transfers this season have impacted their pushes toward the NCAA Tournament.

Syracuse

Syracuse Orange guard John Gillon (4) and forward Tyler Lydon (20) and guard Andrew White III (3) come off the court during a timeout in the second half of a game against the Miami Hurricanes at the Carrier Dome. (Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports)

Transfers: Andrew White III, John Gillon

Both Orange transfers are now on their third team and seem to have finally found a good fit. White spent two years at Kansas before transferring to Nebraska and ultimately ending up at Syracuse, whereas Gillon spent a season at Arkansas-Little Rock before playing two years at Colorado State and finally landing in upstate New York. The pair of seniors has given head coach Jim Boeheim a needed influx of talent after losing his top three scorers from last year’s Final Four squad. White and Gillon combine to average 28.6 points per game, but that might understate their abilities, though, as Gillon in particular has shown that he can put up monster numbers (43 points, nine assists, 9-of-10 3FG against NC State). While Syracuse has struggled of and on this season, the Orange will likely go as far as their pair of transfers can carry them.

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Brad Brownell’s Days May be Numbered at Clemson

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 14th, 2017

It’s been six long years since Clemson has been invited to the Big Dance, and based on recent history, we are likely witnessing Brad Brownell’s farewell ACC campaign. Just six weeks ago, the prospect of the Tigers ending their NCAA drought looked promising — a 10-2 mark in non-conference play included four wins over Power Five schools. After a comeback road win over Wake Forest to begin ACC play, however, the bottom has since dropped out. Clemson now rests near the bottom of the ACC with a conference record of 3-9. Saturday’s 64-62 loss at Duke was a typical outcome, as six of the Tigers’ ACC defeats have been by five points or fewer. Now holding an overall record of 13-11 going into tonight’s rematch against Wake Forest, Clemson faces a steep uphill climb to earn an NCAA bid and save Brownell’s job.

Brad Brownell’s Clemson Tigers suffered yet another close defeat at Duke on Saturday.
(Travis Bell/SIDELINE CAROLINA)

There was considerable discussion of Duke’s emotional state entering Saturday’s meeting with Clemson, tipping off just 38 hours after the Blue Devils’ draining win over rival North Carolina. But Clemson was also dealing with negative vibes stemming from its own gut-wrenching last second loss to Syracuse. In Saturday’s postgame press conference, Brownell commented, “You know, give our kids a lot of credit; we took a major punch in the gut this week on that loss against Syracuse. We’ve been a little snake-bit, but at the end of the day we’ve got to figure out ways to make the winning plays to change these things.” Mike Krzyzewski echoed Brownell’s view by saying, “I feel bad for Brad’s team because I have watched six of their games. Five that I watched, they could have won easy with one possession. This was another one, and that is the heartbreak of our league.”

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ACC Stock Watch: January 24

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 24th, 2017

Each week during the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days to discuss the teams, players, and anything else trending across the league.

STOCK UP

  • North Carolina State. Yes, the Wolfpack lost a close one at home to Wake Forest on Saturday. But NC State needed a statement win to get its season on track and there aren’t many bigger statements than a victory over Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. There has never been a question about the level of talent in Raleigh, but effort and defensive lapses have been recurring issues throughout the year. NC State brought its best effort on Monday night, with freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. (32 points; six assists) leading the way. In eight ACC games, Smith is averaging 20.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 6.9 APG, and 2.6 SPG in what could be an ACC Player of the Year campaign. The Wolfpack have a long way to go, but the future lottery pick is exactly the type of player who can carry NC State all the way from a 2-5 ACC start to the NCAA Tournament.

Jonathan Isaac has become exactly what Leonard Hamilton hoped he would become, a legitimate second superstar next to Dwayne Bacon. (David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

  • Jonathan Isaac, Florida State. The Seminoles’ pair of wins over Notre Dame and Louisville last week cemented their status as ACC title contenders as well as a legitimate candidate for a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament. We know how terrific Dwayne Bacon has been this year, but the emergence of freshman Jonathan Isaac has taken Florida State to another level. Over the team’s last five games, Isaac is averaging 16.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game while shooting a scorching 61 percent from the field, 45.5 percent from three-point range and 89 percent from the free throw line. Isaac is quickly joining teammate Bacon in the superstar category, and given all of the depth Leonard Hamilton can readily place around the pair, it’s easy to envision Florida State paying a visit to Arizona in early April.

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ACC Stock Watch: January 3

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 3rd, 2017

Each week of the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days and discuss the teams, players and anything else that is trending up and down across the league.

STOCK UP

Clemson. For the Tigers, anything less than a trip back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 will be a major disappointment. Sporting a pair of respectable losses (Xavier and Oklahoma on a neutral court) and a handful of good-not-great wins (at South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Nebraska), the last week of 2016 looked like a critical point in the season for Brad Brownell’s club. Fast forward a week to wins over a very talented UNC-Wilmington team and a much-improved Wake Forest squad and Clemson now sits at 11-2 with a big home game to come against North Carolina tonight. The Tigers are undoubtedly feeling good about the direction of the program and it doesn’t hurt that the football team had a nice weekend too.

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Josh Okogie helped lead Georgia Tech to a surprising win over North Carolina in their ACC opener (Adam Hagy/USA Today Sports)

Georgia Tech. We wrote last week that the Yellow Jackets should already be pleasantly surprised with the list of accomplishments Josh Pastner’s team has checked off this season. We would guess that adding a huge home win over North Carolina to open the conference season might instantly jump to the top of that list. Pastner’s feisty bunch frustrated the Tar Heels all New Year’s Eve afternoon in Atlanta, slowing the pace and retreating into a suffocating zone defense to keep them from easy transition baskets. Josh Okogie was terrific, scoring 26 points that included a sterline 11-of-13 performance from the free throw line. The Yellow Jackets are not likely to be an NCAA Tournament threat this season, but in one home game they proved that anyone thinking a trip to Atlanta would be an easy “W” this year has another thing coming. Right, Jon Rothstein?

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

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 22nd, 2016

In Part I of this series published earlier this week, we examined the latest stylistic change in college basketball: a substantial surge in three-point shooting. Players in both the NBA and college basketball are hoisting and making more long-range shots than ever before, a trend we expect to continue growing into the future. With that in mind, we decided to gauge how the 15 current ACC head coaches may be willing to adapt to such a shift in style of play. To make that assessment, we must first look at recent history.Coaches3s-ImportanceThe graph above shows the relative importance of three-point shooting for ACC coaches over the past five seasons, both offensively and defensively. This rating is simply an average of how a coach’s team has ranked nationally in three areas concerning three-point shooting: three-point accuracy; three-point attempt percentage; and the percentage of points derived from three-point baskets. With only one exception — Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning has only four years under his belt — we used data from the last five seasons for each coach, including seasons at other schools (i.e., Josh Pastner at Memphis and Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt). Read the rest of this entry »

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Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame Seeking Recognition and Relevance

Posted by Charlie Maikis on November 17th, 2016

Clemson has always been a football school, but don’t tell that to Jaron Blossomgame. Coming off an All-ACC season in which he won the conference’s Most Improved Player Award, the redshirt senior is now looking to lead the Tigers to their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2011. Clemson started the campaign with a win over Georgia at the new Littlejohn Coliseum last Friday night, and it will continue with an opening round game later this morning  against Davidson at the Tire Pros Invitational in Kissimmee, Florida. A lack of postseason success has prompted many to overlook Blossomgame as a legitimate candidate for All-America honors, but after averaging 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last year, “JB” comes into his final season looking to cement his status as one of the premier players in the nation.

Dec 18, 2015; Greenville, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers forward Jaron Blossomgame (5) celebrates during a timeout in the second half against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. The Gamecocks won 65-59. Mandatory Credit: Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

Jaron Blossomgame is poised for a monster season. (USA TODAY Sports)

A legitimate inside-out threat, Blossomgame’s versatility makes him very difficult to stop. Per Synergy Sports, he ranked in the 89th percentile nationally in points per possession on post-ups, but also shot an outstanding 44.6 percent from beyond the arc (on 102 attempts). There is no easy solution for guarding him — an opponent needs a player quick enough to chase him around the perimeter but also big enough to avoid his punishment on the blocks. The dearth of players around the country capable of defending Blossomgame allows him to take advantage of his spots. And yet, as lethal as he can be in the half-court, he may even more potent in transition. Between points and assists, Blossomgame created 1.604 points per possession in 53 transition opportunities last year. In last week’s opener, Blossomgame did just that — he picked his spots en route to 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting with six rebounds and three assists. While he is already an elite offensive threat, there are still areas in which the senior can improve. His three dimes last weekend matched his second-best output ever in that regard, and as assistant coach Steve Smith said about his improving passing ability, “we stress those things to him daily.” Blossomgame’s defense also has room to grow, as he and Donte Grantham inside last year proved incapable of containing opposing bigs to the tune of 1.17 points per possession.

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ACC Burning Questions: Clemson Tigers

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

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

Burning Question: Is this the year that Clemson returns to the NCAA Tournament?

Clemson head coach Brad Brownell has a swanky remodeled home arena, a returning All-America candidate and three talented transfers ready to join a group that finished last season at 10-8 in ACC play. After five consecutive seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance, the Tigers may finally be poised to crash the Big Dance once again. Brownell’s job security may or may not depend on an invitation to the NCAA Tournament this year, but history shows that it is an extremely rare situation for an ACC coach to remain in his post after six straight years of missing the games premier event.

Brad Brownell hopes this is the year that Clemson makes it back to the NCAA Tournament. (sportstalksc.com)

Brad Brownell hopes that Clemson makes it back to the NCAA Tournament after a five-year hiatus. (sportstalksc.com)

In his six seasons at the helm, Brownell has developed a deserving reputation as a coach who maximizes his available talent. With a six-year 50-54 conference record, the Tigers have become a consistent middle-of-the-pack ACC program. Early in Brownell’s tenure, road wins were scarce — he logged only five such victories during his first three years at the school. But lately, the Tigers have improved in that regard by claiming 10 road wins over the past three seasons. Last year Clemson was very competitive in most of its away losses, dropping three games by three points or fewer and winning three others. Speaking of playing on the road, the Tigers also return to a remodeled Littlejohn Coliseum this season after spending 2015-16 at Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena — a 45-minute trip from campus. Capacity at the new Littlejohn is slightly lower now, but 9,000 wild fans should be plenty to recreate the electric home court atmosphere that students at Clemson have historically provided. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 10.24.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 24th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse tipped off its season on Friday night with Orange Madness in the Carrier Dome. Jim Boeheim may be in the twilight of his great career, but the way his school renews the basketball year is not old-school at all. Much like Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness, the event attracts celebrities and is all about entertainment — making sure that players, fans and recruits enjoy the festivities. Sophomore forward Tyler Lydon is expected to have a breakout season for the Orange, but this week he experienced a different sort of breakout — a rash caused by poison oak which caused him to miss two days of practice.
  2. Unlike the light-hearted action at Syracuse, Duke‘s players really got after it during their 20-minute scrimmage that wrapped up Countdown to Craziness in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night. The intensity of the game was good from a competitive perspective, but it almost backfired when Grayson Allen awkwardly barreled into Amile Jefferson‘s legs while aggressively pursuing a loose ball. After an anxious minute on the floor, Jefferson got up and appeared to be sore but not injured. In other news from the practice, freshman Jayson Tatum showed why he is considered a top-5 NBA Draft pick by pouring in 18 points to lead all scorers.
  3. North Carolina got some bad news over the weekend when it announced that junior Theo Pinson will be out indefinitely with a fracture of the fifth metatarsal on his right foot. Pinson is expected to replace the departed Marcus Paige — who, ironically, also missed the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign with a foot injury — in the Tar Heels’ starting backcourt. Roy Williams has the luxury of good perimeter depth this season, although senior Nate Britt is the only other player with much experience. In the meantime, Britt should get the nod as Joel Berry’s starting running mate, but expect sophomore Kenny Williams and freshmen Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson to gain some extra early playing time as well. Pinson will probably not return until mid-January at the earliest, and sadly this continues his historical pattern of being prone to injury.
  4. After years of struggling to advance deeply in the NCAA Tournament, Mike Brey has now guided Notre Dame to the Elite Eight in each of the past two seasons. Two key players that played on both of those teams are now missing — point guard Demetrius Jackson and center Zach Auguste. As the Irish’s only viable post threat, Auguste may be the more difficult player to replace, and it seems that is what Brey had in mind when he started talking up seldom-used Martin Geben back in the spring. Under Brey, it’s not uncommon for big men to make a leap in productivity as upperclassmen, but we would be shocked if Geben approaches anything close to what Auguste posted during his last two years in South Bend.
  5. After having to play its home games in Greenville, South Carolina, last season, Clemson is looking forward to playing in a remodeled Littlejohn Coliseum this year. Everyone around the program seems very pleased with the new facility, but head coach Brad Brownell has the right perspective when he said, “The building doesn’t win you any games. A better office, nicer TVs and couches doesn’t win any games. Hopefully it brings guys together in an environment where they spend more time together and become closer and that bond wins games.” The other hope is that the updated facilities help the Tigers in recruiting – Brownell has proven he can compete with the big boys in the ACC when he has decent talent.
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