Thursday in Washington, DC, featured a terrific afternoon with Notre Dame clawing past Duke in overtime. Unfortunately, the other three games of the day weren’t quite as closely contested. Here are a few takeaways from the quarterfinals action.
The Pitt band plays during the quarterfinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)
North Carolina (26-6): The Tar Heels got a huge lift from Joel Berry in the first half as he carried their often-stagnant offense. In the second half, North Carolina’s depth was on full display while Brice Johnson was his normal all-ACC self. However, the highlight of the day may have been head coach Roy Williams failing to censor himself in the following exchange:
Q: Coach, the unbalanced schedule this year. It benefited you guys having the easiest strength of schedule in the ACC this year. Do you think it benefited you at all getting the No. 1 seed going into this tournament?
A: Depends on how you evaluate that. You know what we didn’t have the benefit of, to make somebody say we didn’t have the easy schedule, we didn’t get to play North Carolina. All that is a bunch of horse ****.
Well said, coach. We all want the round-robin back, but that’s not realistic with 15 teams. Even then, we don’t think you’d be able to play North Carolina.
Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 4th, 2016
With just under six minutes to go in the Smith Center on Saturday afternoon, Georgia Tech was in great position to snag a precious ACC road win in Chapel Hill. The Yellow Jackets had started strong, leading by three at the half. North Carolina was playing its third game in six days, and with a Big Monday road trip to Florida State looming, it seemed as if the Tar Heels were looking ahead. Roy Williams’ team was uncharacteristically sloppy on offense early, committing seven first half turnovers, and was forced to battle Georgia Tech’s beefy frontline without injured starting center Kennedy Meeks. However, just as it did so many times in ACC play last season, Brian Gregory’s squad just couldn’t close the deal, falling by a final score of 86-78.
Adam Smith’s three point shooting has brought balance to Georgia Tech’s offense. (Photo by Chris Rodier/Icon Sportswire).
The pivotal moment in the game came when Adam Smith missed a wide open three with 5:41 to play and the Yellow Jackets on top 67-66. That miss kicked off an 8-0 Tar Heel run to take control of the contest, leaving Gregory wondering if his team will ever get over the hump in finishing winnable games. Not all hope is lost, however; this season’s group has shown potential that it may have what it takes to turn that trend around in 2016. That faith rests largely in a much improved offense, led by three seniors: center Charles Mitchell, wing Marcus Georges-Hunt, and the sharp shooting Smith. After Saturday’s game, Roy Williams talked about facing this year’s Yellow Jacket offense:
“I told Brian [Gregory] — this was before the game — that I liked his club. It’s so, so much better than they were last year, and he’s done a great job with them, got some new guys that look like they’ve been there the whole time the way they’ve bought into what he wants for them to do. But when you’ve got a three-point shooter like [Adam] Smith, you’ve got a guy that drives it to the basket and gets to shoot 15 free throws like Marcus and you’ve got [Charles] Mitchell and those guys doing everything inside, it’s tough to guard that kind of team.”
As the the majority of the league transitions from Feast Week into the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, now is as good a time as any to make some initial evaluations. Based on what we’ve seen through two-plus weeks of the young season, let’s take stock in each of the 15 ACC clubs, reviewing what has transpired so far, and considering in what direction we surmise each to be trending.
Jim Boeheim has plenty to be thankful for after his club’s performance in winning the Battle 4 Atlantis (syracuse.com)
Syracuse: Not many teams are feeling better about itself than Syracuse is at the moment. Picked to finish ninth in the ACC standings, the Orange probably surprised even themselves in taking home the title at the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis. Seamlessly intertwining veterans Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney with rookies Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon, Jim Boeheim looks to have a team capable of reinvigorating his spirits during his 40th year at the helm. Banned from the postseason a year ago and forced to miss the first nine conference games this season, Boeheim appeared worn down last March as tumult swirled around his program. His current team, however, showed considerable resolve in coming from behind to beat both Connecticut and Texas A&M in the Bahamas, appearing eerily similar to some of his special clubs of the past and proving that there is still some juice left in the Hall of Famer’s tank. The Orange entertain Wisconsin on Wednesday before a weekend trip to the nation’s capital to visit old friend Georgetown.
Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 25th, 2015
Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.
Preseason NIT: Three ACC schools will begin play in a tournament on Thanksgiving Day, with the first being Georgia Tech (#87) as the Yellow Jackets look to bounce back from Sunday’s terrible buzzer-beating home loss to East Tennessee State. Brian Gregory’s already-warm seat is surely hotter now, so he desperately needs a good performance from his squad in Brooklyn this week. The best way to make up for a bad loss is to pull off a huge win. That possibility exists for Georgia Tech if it can get by Arkansas (#102) on Thursday (ESPNU – 2:00 ET), and if highly regarded Villanova (#2) takes care of Stanford (#119) as expected in the other semifinal. The championship game will be on Friday afternoon (ESPN2/U – 3:00 ET).
Advocare Invitational: Defending ACC Champion Notre Dame (#20) also begins tournament action Thursday (ESPNU – 6:30 ET), taking on Monmouth (#134). At first glance this looks like a mismatch, but keep in mind that the Hawks pulled off one of the season’s first upsets, stunning UCLA on opening night in Pauley Pavilion. On Friday, Mike Brey’s guys will get a solid second round opponent in either Iowa (#19) or Dayton (#44). This Orlando event has one of the strongest fields of Feast Week, with seven of the eight schools in the top 100. On the opposite side of the bracket are Wichita State (#23), Xavier (#25), USC (#45) and Alabama (#94). If everything goes as planned for the Fighting Irish, they can pick up a couple of wins that will probably look great on their resume all year long.
Wooden Legacy: Boston College (#118) faces a stiff challenge in Anaheim, as the Eagles meet Michigan State (#13) in an opening round game on Thursday (ESPN2 – 6:30 ET). Jim Christian’s team may not be as bad as we thought in the preseason – the Eagles are 3-0 for the first time in seven years. That includes Sunday’s win over crosstown rival Harvard, Christian’s second in a row over the Crimson after Boston College had lost the previous six meetings. The Spartans are heavy favorites to meet Arizona (#8) in the finals on Sunday (ESPN2 – 10:00 ET). Looking to play spoiler will be Boise State (#60), Providence (#62) and Evansville (#66).
Emerald Coast Classic: Another ACC team that will be a heavy underdog in its opening tournament game is Virginia Tech (#148), who goes against Iowa State (#16) on Friday (CBSSN – 7:00 ET). Things should be somewhat easier for Buzz Williams and company on Saturday, as the Hokies will get either UAB (#93) or Illinois (#101) in the two-day event. But based on their shaky 2-1 start versus weak competition, Virginia Tech has not looked like a squad that’s ready to compete with top-100 teams on a neutral court. So far, Maryland transfer Seth Allen (sat out last year) has been unable to shake off the rust, shooting a frigid 31.0% from the field and committing a total of 13 turnovers in the three games.
Gotham Classic: Like Louisville, Pittsburgh is not participating in a traditional tournament. Beginning in mid-December, the Panthers will play four straight exempt games as part of the Gotham Classic. The only time that Jamie Dixon’s squad will face an opponent away from home is when they take on Davidson (#64) on December 20 (ESPNU – Noon ET) in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The other three games will be in the Petersen Events Center over a two week period; December 11 – Eastern Washington (#200); December 13 – Morehead State (#179); and December 23 – Western Carolina (#203). Those all look a lot like the schools that tend to show up on Pittsburgh’s non-conference schedule during the Dixon era. Of course, Dixon was counting on an opening day meeting with Gonzaga to boost this season’s schedule rating. And with that game cancelled, Pitt will have one of the poorer non-conference slates among power league schools.
Over the last two weeks, we previewed each of the 15 ACC teams individually to get you ready for the season. Links to those previews can be found within each of the preseason power rankings listed below, which were voted on by our crack microsite staff of three. Also look for our preseason conference awards, which will publish a bit later today.
PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS
1. Virginia (304): Can the Cavaliers win the ACC regular season for a third straight year? With a veteran cast led by Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and maybe the nation’s stingiest defense, Tony Bennett probably has the squad to do it. This season, Virginia should take the next step and make a deep run in March.
2. North Carolina (290): MarcusPaige‘s injury could prove to be a setback, but Justin Jackson is poised to become one of the top players in the country. The team returns nearly all its production from last season, and assuming JoelBerry makes the leap we all expect, this group of Tar Heels should absolutely be one of the national favorites come March.
3. Duke (213): It’s not fair to expect this highly-touted class of Blue Devils’ freshmen to live up to the exploits of last year’s superstar class. Expect this team to take a while to find its stride, with a lot of ups and downs along the way. But if the youngsters grow up in time, Mike Krzyzewski should find himself with another tough out come March.
4. Notre Dame(202): The Irish will lean heavily on the production of three returning starters and a successful offensive philosophy that led to the second best efficiency in the country last season. It will need to make up for the loss of departed leaders Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, but Demetrius Jackson looks like one of the best point guards in the country.
5. Miami (157): The last time Jim Larranaga had a squad this experienced was in 2013, when Miami won both the ACC regular season and tourney titles. The conference appears to be much stronger at the top than it was three years ago, but this veteran group of Hurricanes could still be a sleeper contender, led by three all-ACC caliber seniors.
6. Syracuse (132): Dajuan Coleman holds the keys to Syracuse’s success this season even if senior Michael Gbinije looks to be the team’s star. After a lackluster finish a year ago, this team could become one of the best in the conference if the pieces fit together well. If the NCAA’s nine-conference game suspension stands for Jim Boeheim, though, it could be tough for the Orange to find their stride.
7. Florida State (105): The Seminoles are a trendy darkhorse candidate this year thanks to superstar freshman Dwayne Bacon joining Xavier Rathan-Mayes in Tallahassee. Leonard Hamilton will have to find a defensive stopper in the frontcourt, however, if this team wants to crack the top of the league.
8. Louisville (104): With considerable turmoil surrounding the program off the court, the Cardinals will rely on two graduate transfers and a Hall of Fame coach to navigate the loss of its top four scorers. Never count out Rick Pitino, but he’s facing an uphill climb to succeed in the ACC this season.
9. NC State (81): This team has a lot of good pieces, but how will Cat Barber handle being the alpha dog without big shot Trevor Lacey around? A trim Beejay Anya should terrify ACC players hoping to score in the paint. This team oozes potential, but will need time for everyone to adjust to life without Lacey and Ralston Turner.
10. Pittsburgh(62): Last year’s Panthers were the worst defensive team and among the weakest rebounding units in Jamie Dixon’s long career. As a result, mproving those two areas has been a major topic of discussion for Pittsburgh’s head coach this preseason. Dixon hopes that a pair of graduate transfers are good enough to toughen up the front line, where last year’s problems originated.
11. Wake Forest (29): Look for Danny Manning‘s winning ways to creep into Winston-Salem this year, although a move up the standings will be tough because the ACC is much stronger top-to-bottom than in previous years. Devin Thomas needs to have a first team All-ACC caliber season for the Demon Deacons to approach the top half of the league.
12. Clemson (16): Once again, we expect the Tigers to defend like crazy while struggling to score – just as they have throughout Brad Brownell’s tenure. Can Brownell survive another year of not making the Big Dance? It won’t help that Clemson has to play all of its home games in Greenville this season, 30 miles from campus, while Littlejohn Coliseum gets a needed facelift.
13. Virginia Tech (15): It’s only taken Buzz Williams two years to almost completely turn over this roster, with junior Devin Wilson currently the only scholarship holdover from the past regime. The Hokies’ talent level is improved, but his youngters are probably another year or two away from getting close to the upper half of the league.
14. Georgia Tech (12): It’s another year on the hot seat for Brian Gregory, who has yet to post a winning ACC record in his four previous campaigns in Atlanta. Pathetic outside shooting has been a constant problem during the Gregory era, and the Yellow Jackets desperately need senior transfer Adam Smith to help turn that around to give a decent frontcourt room to operate.
15. Boston College (3): This team is one of the younger teams in the country, but Jim Christian brought in Florida transfer Eli Carter to beef up the team’s experience. If one of the freshmen turns out to be a diamond in the rough, this team might find a way to escape the ACC cellar.
Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 29th, 2015
The ACC’s annual Media Day, otherwise known as “ACC Operation Basketball,” took place in Charlotte on Wednesday. There was plenty of the normal coachspeak and playerspeak in effect, as every player at every school has apparently been “working hard,” and every newcomer is “very talented” and “learning fast.” Aside from all of that, there were several parts of yesterday’s press conferences that were very entertaining, so here is a list of some of the more interesting quotes and quips of the day.
No Pitino, No Problem. ACC Media Day Must Go On! (WDRB.com)
Finding Sunshine on a Cloudy Day
We start with a few examples of putting a positive spin on a difficult situation… because what else can you do?
When discussing how his broken foot will affect Wake Forest, Codi Miller-McIntyre said it would help his team because of the experience that the younger guards will gain in his absence. He also said that his goal is to be back for the Demon Deacons’ trip to Maui in late November.
While talking about all of those close ACC losses suffered by Georgia Tech last season, Brian Gregory said, “We were able to compete. The next step is to be able to finish those games.”
And even though he has one of least experienced rosters in the country, Boston College head coach Jim Christian pointed out that his team has great experience at the two most crucial positions of center and point guard in fifth-year seniors Dennis Clifford and Eli Carter.
Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 21st, 2015
This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.
Burning Question: Can Brian Gregory survive another losing ACC season?
For those keeping track at home, yes: this was the exact same Burning Question we used before last season, and we got a somewhat surprising answer in March. By retaining Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech became the first ACC school in recent memory to return a head coach with losing ACC records in each of his first four seasons at the helm. In his fifth campaign in Atlanta, Gregory will at least have an experienced squad of eight upperclassmen looking to figure in the rotation. However, it should be noted that three of those eight players are senior transfers, so team chemistry isn’t necessarily a given.
Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory is still looking for his first winning ACC season. (Photo: Icon Sports Media)
The biggest story for the Yellow Jackets last year was their incredibly poor performance in close ACC games. Twelve of their 15 conference losses were by only seven points or fewer. Even more amazing was Georgia Tech’s 0-9 mark in one-possession games, a record which included three excruciating overtime losses. Some of this has to be attributed to just plain bad luck, but another factor in those struggles could have been Gregory’s difficulty in finding a solution at point guard. Could that improve this season? The good news (in theory) is that the team returns three point guards. Maybe one of Travis Jorgenson and Josh Heath will see dramatic improvements in their second years in the program, and junior Corey Heyward still has a chance to develop his offense. But unless one of those three players emerges, point guard play will continue to be a decisive disadvantage for Georgia Tech when compared with the rest of the ACC.
ACC Tournament Wednesday is in the books. Brad has you covered on North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and NC State’s Cat Barber. In other games, Clemson and Florida State played a compelling final few minutes as Leonard Hamilton’s team held off a furious onslaught (see below) from a Tigers team that had been down 20. Despite the near-comeback, the story of that game was the Seminoles’ Xavier Rathan-Mayes (30 points on 11-of-19 shooting). I mistakenly left him off my players to watch this week even though he boasts the most impressive performance of the year. He’s fearless (sometimes to a point of fault), but he’s capable of putting up huge numbers when his shots are falling. The freshman has his work cut out to score against the pack-line defense of Virginia (12:00 PM, ESPN), but if he’s making his threes, Rathan-Mayes should be just fine. Still, to beat Virginia, the Seminoles as a whole need to play a great game. Their biggest problem will be limiting the Cavaliers’ possessions, so Florida State’s tendency toward turnovers (21.9%) must be addressed. The bottom line is that the Seminoles will need everything they can get from Rathan-Mayes and still need the relatively inefficient Virginia offense of late to show up in Greensboro. It’s still undecided whether Justin Anderson will play today, but don’t expect him to immediately return at the level he was at the time of his injury.
The other games today also feature plenty of intrigue. Lots of eyes will also be on North Carolina‘s rubber match with Louisville (2:00 PM, ESPN), as the Cardinals are still looking to prove they can consistently compete without Chris Jones, and North Carolina will again be without Kennedy Meeks. Personally, I’m still interested to see if Louisville’s win against Virginia was a fluke or if Rick Pitino has found the answer for his team’s late-season swoon.
The most compelling game of the day will be the rematch between NC State and Duke (7:00 PM, ESPN). Trust me, a lot of teams invited to the NCAA Tournament will be watching this tape if the Wolfpack win. On paper, NC State has the primary pieces that give Duke’s defense fits: dynamic guards and inside length. Both teams look to be playing better than when they first met and the crowd will be heavily for NC State. Can Barber, Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner carve up the porous Duke defense a second time this season? Or will the more talented Blue Devils run away with things?
Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 11th, 2015
ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.
It was a surprisingly exciting pair of games that we witnessed on the first day of the 2015 ACC Tournament. In the opener, 12th-seeded Boston College and All-ACC first teamer Olivier Hanlan rallied late to edge 13th-seeded Georgia Tech, 66-65. After that, 14th-seeded Virginia Tech held off a late charge by Wake Forest to slip past the 11th-seeded Deacons by a score of 81-80. All four teams competed hard, and while there were plenty of airballs, silly fouls, and missed defensive assignments — these squads entered Tuesday at least five games south of .500 on the year — for most of the afternoon, the sparse opening-day crowd certainly left the Greensboro Coliseum entertained. Here are some takeaways on each team:
Virginia Tech freshman Jalen Hudson set a school ACC Tournament scoring record in the Hokies win over Wake Forest. (USA Today Images)
Georgia Tech (12-19): Attention in Atlanta will now turn to the coaching status of Brian Gregory with the season now complete. When you look at his four-year win totals (11-16-16-12), it’s tough to make a compelling case for keeping Gregory in charge of the program. While it’s true that Georgia Tech was incredibly unlucky this year — the Jackets were 0-11 in ACC games decided by five points or less, or in overtime — many will view that failure as the head coach’s responsibility. Offense has been bad for his entire tenure, with the team ranking outside the top-200 in adjusted offensive efficiency three out of four years. In fact, it’s fair to say that the only thing Georgia Tech has done well under his direction is to rebound the ball. Per the recent norm for ACC schools when a coach misses the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four years at the helm, look for a change to be made this spring. Read the rest of this entry »
Atlanta Journal Constitution: Whew… Mark Bradley is not impressed by Brian Gregory. Georgia Tech continued its floundering play in close conference games, losing to Boston College by one with an admittedly ugly last possession. Bradley pulls no punches here — my favorite jab was “I’m not sure Tech has designed plays.” I don’t think it’s totally Gregory’s fault that Georgia Tech went 0-11 in close ACC games this year, but I do think it’s time for change in Atlanta. It’s never a good sign when you hire a coach away from a mid-major and a majority of its fan base seems relieved or even jubilant. That said, if the Yellow Jackets can steal another coach away from Flyer Nation, Archie Miller would be a great hire.
Washington Post: Why did Buzz Williams leave Marquette? I mean, he was just one more underperforming Rick Barnes season away from being the media favorite for Texas! This is a terrific profile of Williams and all of his peculiarities. Williams is a character and a bit of a control freak (most elite coaches are), but he’s also got the motor and patience to build Virginia Tech into a much better program over time.
The ACC: Moving back to Georgia Tech, Max Skinner talked to Bobby Cremins, who will join the group of ACC Legends this year. It’s a fun conversation talking about everything from conference expansion to one-and-dones to his nickname (Cake, which apparently came from South Carolinians not being able to understand his New York City accent). Best line? “Anybody that thinks Virginia basketball is boring is either not a fan of Virginia or is an idiot.” Well said, sir.
Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer: Let’s start with the first article. North Carolina needs more from its bigs — Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks — especially when the going gets tough. Let’s move to the second article. Kennedy Meeks will likely miss the ACC Tournament due to an undiagnosed illness. That spells bad news for the Tar Heels, which already have an uphill battle to fight thanks to a Wednesday start (though Ken Pomeroy gave UNC the third-best odds to win the tournament). With Meeks out of the lineup that means a lot more Joel James, who probably deserved consideration for the Most Improved Player award, and a lot more scoring weight on Marcus Paige and Johnson’s collective shoulders.
Hampton Roads Daily Press: David Teel talked with John Swofford about a not-so-new idea to move college basketball forward to avoid so much of an overlap with college football. Swofford wasn’t terribly into the idea but said that he thought basketball should work harder to come out of the gates with some momentum. I disagree. College basketball should accept its place as a niche sport and work on more important problems. Pushing the season ahead would only make an athlete’s decision whether to declare for the NBA Draft more stressful. It also would mean more overlap with the NBA season, possibly including the playoffs. Leave things the way they are! Although I’m totally on board with the idea of moving the NCAA Tournament to ESPN.
EXTRA: Thank Martin Rickman for reminding me that this happened 20 years ago this week.