ACC Weekend Review: 03.07.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 7th, 2016

The ACC regular season came to an end on Saturday, and despite persistent congestion at the top of the league standings for much of the campaign, we finished with an outright champion as North Carolina claimed its first regular season conference title since 2012. The Tar Heels collected this year’s title in a similar fashion to how they did so that season, beating archrival Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium after suffering an earlier crushing home loss to the Blue Devils. Miami was not able to tie the Tar Heels for the league’s top spot because of another poor showing on the road — this time at the hands of surging Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Virginia also easily handled Louisville for the second time this season. The Cavaliers (now ranked #1 in KenPom) are perhaps the favorite to win the upcoming ACC Tournament in Washington, D.C. Here are some of the highlights from a busy weekend around the league.

Brice Johnson slams home two of his 18 points as North Carolina dominated Duke in the paint. (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

Brice Johnson slams home two of his 18 points to help North Carolina dominate Duke in the paint. (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: There was a lot at stake for North Carolina in its annual season-ending meeting with Duke. Not only were the Tar Heels playing their archrival for a regular season crown and a potential #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Roy Williams’ team was also playing to prove its toughness against good competition — something this squad has struggled with. The game certainly wasn’t pretty (both teams shot less than 40 percent from the field), but North Carolina finally got over the hump to notch the big win (Duke had won 11 of their 14 previous meetings). To say that the Tar Heels dominated the glass would be a gross understatement. Led by Brice Johnson’s 21 boards, North Carolina held an incredible +35 edge in that category. Duke never led but managed to stay close by making 13 threes and committing eight fewer turnovers. The Tar Heels iced the game by going 8-of-8 from the foul line in the last 30 seconds of play. Saturday’s outcome continued an interesting recent trend in this rivalry. Over the last 14 seasons, Duke and North Carolina have split their regular season games eight times. On seven of those occasions, the Tar Heels claimed the season finale.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.22.16 Edition

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

In Saturday’s two headline ACC contests, one ended up a shocking blowout while the other turned out generally as expected. Most anticipated that a game between teams tied for first place would be a tightly-fought battle, but North Carolina easily handled Miami to reclaim sole possession of the top of the standings. In the other big game of the weekend, injuries and a corresponding lack of depth finally caught up with Duke, unable to hold off Louisville’s second half charge. Elsewhere around the league, it was a bad weekend for three ACC schools fighting for NCAA Tournament consideration. Syracuse lost at home to Pittsburgh, while Clemson and Florida State lost to teams with losing conference records. Here are some of the highlights from a busy weekend around the ACC.

Brice Johnson recorded another double-double and North Carolina routed Miami in Saturday's battle for first place in the ACC. (Gerry Broome/AP Photo)

Brice Johnson recorded another double-double and North Carolina demolished Miami in Saturday’s battle for first place in the ACC. (Gerry Broome/AP Photo)

  • Best Win: The battle for first place in the ACC was completely one-sided as North Carolina dominated Miami  in Chapel Hill. For anyone worried about the Tar Heels after their heart-breaking loss last week to rival Duke, those concerns were erased early in the second half when UNC quickly extended a nine-point halftime lead to as many as 38 points. Brice Johnson led a balanced Tar Heels’ attack with 16 points and 15 rebounds, while five teammates joined him with double figures. For Miami, it was the first of four straight games against ranked ACC opponents — a stretch that will undoubtedly test the Hurricanes’ legitimacy among the league leaders.

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ACC M5: 02.22.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 22nd, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. The Comeback: If you’re looking for a good recap of Duke – North Carolina, this isn’t it (the Student Section has you covered there). But good on Roy Williams for not calling a timeout during North Carolina’s final possession. It’s not his fault that Joel Berry put on blinders and decided against attacking the basket (or that Marcus Paige wanted no part of the play). Not much else to say at this point other than the obvious — it was an amazing win for Duke considering all of its injuries.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: North Carolina banished the narratives and self-esteem issues following its Duke loss with an absolute beatdown of a very good Miami team. As Roy Williams aptly put it after the drubbing: “Things look better when the ball goes in the basket” (although his rant about Doug Gottlieb not knowing how to put on his shorts won the press conference). Inconsistency in North Carolina’s backcourt wasn’t anticipated this season, but it’s what could keep the team from a Final Four trip to Houston. Marcus Paige doesn’t seem himself right now, and the backcourt as a whole can struggle in feeding Brice Johnson. It’s pretty clear that North Carolina is the best team eligible to play in the ACC Tournament as the teams stand right now, but a lot of teams will cause them problems on their off nights.
  3. ND Insider: So much for Notre Dame having the most obvious path to the ACC regular season title. The Fighting Irish’s defense couldn’t keep Georgia Tech’s Marcus Georges-Hunt from putting them two games back of the Tar Heels in the standings (tied for fifth, but holding the tiebreaker with Duke). The clog at the top of the ACC means a lot, as only the top four will get double-byes in Washington, DC, next month (currently Notre Dame and Duke are tied for fourth since Louisville is ineligible). Now’s when things get really interesting. The Tar Heels will go on the road in three of their last four games, including trips to Raleigh (never underestimate a rivalry game), Charlottesville and Durham. Three of Miami’s and Virginia’s four remaining games come against the top six teams in the conference. That leaves Duke and Notre Dame with the easiest finishing schedules (although they start with the most losses).
  4. Syracuse Post-StandardPittsburgh kept its NCAA dreams alive by finishing a season sweep of Syracuse this weekend. Jamie Dixon clearly has Jim Boeheim’s number (he’s 7-2 in the Carrier Dome), and this year Jamel Artis was the star who killed the zone. Let’s discuss the ACC bubble. Syracuse is probably in (especially since for some unknown reason the Selection Committee will consider Boeheim’s suspension), and that bodes well for the Panthers — a team that lacks many marquee wins but will have a shot at a couple more down the stretch. Florida State and Clemson, however, appear to be in trouble. What’s bizarre is that the Tigers have much better “good wins” than any of the other teams, but they just were awful in non-conference play. Clemson’s upcoming game at Georgia Tech is a must-win and its home contest against Virginia might be too. Florida State desperately needs some wins to close out the season after a possible bubble-bursting loss in Blacksburg. Luckily the Seminoles will get shots at Duke and home against Syracuse and Notre Dame (who has struggled considerably on the road).
  5. ACC Digital Network: Dunkuary. Thank me later.
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What’s Trending: Tackles, Tempers, And More!

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 18th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

If College Basketball’s Tripping Epidemic Wasn’t Enough…

Then we have this item for you, as Maryland’s Diamond Stone took it up a notch. At the end of the first half, with Maryland down big to Wisconsin at home, the freshman phenom briefly lost his temper, tackling Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown after the whistle. To make matters worse, Stone pushed Brown’s head back into the ground as he was getting up. Take a look:

Stone was given a flagrant 1 for his actions, and subsequently suspended for a game by coach Mark Turgeon. Though Stone was apologetic after the game, it’s a shame to see any player lose his temper like that. Oh, and Wisconsin snapped Maryland’s 27-game home winning streak.

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Evaluating All-ACC Candidates Heading Into the Home Stretch

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 10th, 2016

With four weeks to go in the regular season, it’s a good time to start thinking about potential all-ACC players. Below we list 10 players whose play to this point deserve highest consideration for conference honors. With nearly four weeks of action remaining, there’s plenty of time for movement within and perhaps into or out of the group.

Note: all statistics and (ACC Rank) are for conference games only through Sunday, February 7.

1) Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber, N.C. State   JR

PPG – 24.1 (1), APG – 4.1 (6), FT% – 91.0 (1), 3FG% – 43.1 (6), MPG – 39.1 (1)

Mike Krzyzewski lavished praise on Anthony Barber after Duke's latest game with N.C. State. (newsobserver.com)

Mike Krzyzewski lavished praise on Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber after Duke’s latest game with N.C. State. (newsobserver.com)

The debate has already begun concerning Barber as an ACC Player of the Year candidate. There is a school of thought that says he must be on a team that finishes highly in the league standings – and that’s normally the case. But the ultra-quick guard is also getting support from at least one of the league’s most prominent coaches. Here’s what Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski said about Barber just last weekend after the Blue Devils’ win over N.C. State:

That kid is really good. I’m not NC State’s sports promotion here, but don’t judge just how good a guy is by the record of his team, because they’re close to winning five more games. He gives them a chance to win every game. He’s the toughest out in the league because in trying to get him, he spoon feeds some of those guys too. He’s responsible for a lot of points for that basketball team and you can figure it out mathematically with assists, but also spacing and this and [Maverick] Rowan might get open a little more because of it, big time. He’s very good.

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ACC Stock Watch: Conference Play Week 1 Edition

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 8th, 2016

With the first full week of conference play now in the books, results have mostly held to form thus far (Virginia falling in Blacksburg notwithstanding). The presumptive favorites appear to be as good as advertised, and perhaps even a little better in some cases (see: Brice Johnson’s 39-point, 23-rebound exercise in absurdity in Tallahassee). In fact, Johnson doesn’t even make this week’s Stock Watch because that kind of performance can’t be defined by any sort of trajectory — it’s off the graph entirely.

Trending Up

Buzz Williams continues to clean house as he turns around Virginia Tech's basketball program. (Michael Shrayer - USA TODAY Sports)

In just his second year, Williams has Hokies’ fans buzzing earlier than expected in Blacksburg. (Michael Shrayer/USA TODAY Sports)

Virginia Tech: Even after an 11-22 campaign a season ago, few seemed to doubt that Buzz Williams would eventually build Virginia Tech into a competitive ACC program. After an inauspicious start in this year’s non-conference season (nobody forgets that opening night loss to Alabama State), the Hokies probably shocked even themselves with their opening week of ACC play. An overtime win over struggling NC State is one thing, but following that up with a win over intrastate bully and two-time defending league champion Virginia is quite another. The victory put a halt to the Hokies’ seven-game losing streak to the Cavs and shows that Williams might actually be ahead of schedule in generating some excitement in Blacksburg. With his trademark passion and intensity, it is only a matter of time before Virginia Tech becomes a consistent winner.

Jordan Roper: The senior guard from Clemson proved there is more than one way to skin a cat in leading his team to a pair of impressive victories last week. On Saturday, Roper connected on a career-best seven three-pointers en route to a team-high 23 points, boosting the Tigers to a nine-point win over Florida State. His shots weren’t falling on Wednesday — Roper was unable to manage a single made field goal — but he set a career-high of 10 assists in an impressive overtime victory at Syracuse. Roper is averaging career-bests in points, rebounds and assists for the 2-1 Tigers, which next host Louisville in a game on Sunday where his steadiness will be critical.

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ACC M5: 01.06.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 6th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlotte Observer: Saying Florida State didn’t have an answer for Brice Johnson on Monday night would be quite an understatement. Johnson’s ridiculous stat line was immediately overshadowed by the prime time Big Monday game between Kansas and Oklahoma, but it truly was a performance for the ages. Patrick Stevens puts the performance in perspective by noting that an ACC player has only put up as many as 39 points and 23 boards on four previous occasions. And none of those instances came after 1964. The Tar Heels’ defense will give themselves a lot of teams chances to stick around games, but when their two-point jump shots are falling (which happens at a higher clip than any team in the country), they’re nearly impossible to beat.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: Syracuse‘s first two losses were easy to write off, as Miami may wind up as the best team in the ACC and the Oakland Zoo makes Pittsburgh a brutal place to play. But a home loss against Clemson? That’s a bad look. Part of the problem was that the game featured the smallest Carrier Dome conference crowd for a conference game in the last 15 years. The Orange could easily wind up 1-8 in ACC play if they’re not careful (the trip to Winston-Salem won’t be a cake walk), but it was also the last game without the services of Jim Boeheim, so maybe his return will right the ship. Syracuse looks all out of sorts right now.
  3. Charlottesville Daily Progress: The ACC is going to be absolute mayhem this year. A few teams may end up rising above the fray, but Virginia Tech knocking off Virginia on Monday night seems like a sure sign of things to come. This was Buzz Williams’ first big win since taking the helm in Blacksburg, but it definitely won’t be his last (relatedly, the last two games mentioned in this M5 definitively establish that Boston College is at the bottom of the league). The top teams all have flaws and there are five of them. Don’t write off any team besides the Eagles at home this season.
  4. Raleigh News & Observer: Before the season you could count me among the vocal skeptics who thought that the 30-second shot clock would not produce much change in college basketball. So far, though, both scoring and possessions are up (a renewed interest in calling the games tighter has helped too). As Andrew Carter points out in his article, 11 of 15 ACC teams last year failed to average 70 points per game. Thirteen teams are doing so this year. It doesn’t hurt that the league also sports four of the five most efficient offenses in the country (North Carolina, Duke, Virginia and Notre Dame), according to KenPom.
  5. Fayetteville Observer: Bad news for NC State‘s Terry Henderson, as head coach Mark Gottfried said he won’t be back in action for at least two to three weeks. Normally a player like him would redshirt after missing so much time, but since Henderson is a transfer who has already sat out a year (a sixth year of eligibility is generally only granted when two seasons are missed for injury), it’s unlikely that his request would be granted. If healthy, Henderson would provide some much-needed outside shooting on the wing for the Wolfpack.
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Can North Carolina’s Offense Compensate for Its Porous Defense?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 22nd, 2015

Free throws, threes, layups and dunks — the distance or form didn’t matter. For much of the second half in Saturday’s game against UCLA, it felt like North Carolina couldn’t miss. And for a crucial six-minute stretch late in the second half, it didn’t. The Tar Heels made 11 consecutive field goals, during which its lead ballooned from five to 16 points. From there, Roy Williams‘ veteran team put the Bruins in the rear view mirror and never looked back. For opponents that have never experienced the frenzy of North Carolina’s offense, the task of slowing it down once it gets rolling can be daunting, and UCLA was only the latest victim to conveniently fall into this trap. Still, for a team that blew the doors off of another quality opponent, questions linger about the quality and legitimacy of the Tar Heels’ defense.

North Carolina Carved Up the UCLA Defense (USA Today Images)

North Carolina Carved Up the UCLA Defense. (USA TODAY Sports)

The North Carolina offense is humming. The Heels boast seven players averaging more than eight points per game and rank second nationally in offensive efficiency. But a heavy reliance on an uptempo attack to generate all those points comes with the caveat that their two losses this season came against teams that are among the slowest in college basketball. Texas and Northern Iowa like to slow down the pace, and both have experienced guards who manage to limit turnovers, and hence, the overall number of possessions. As such, North Carolina stands at 8-0 this season in games with 70 or more possessions and is 1-2 in games where it failed to reach that threshold. While its offense is averaging a robust 14.6 seconds per possession, its defense is using 18.8 seconds per possession — one of the 10 slowest teams nationally. In other words, North Carolina is spending an inordinate amount of time in its games laboring away on the defensive end. Read the rest of this entry »

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CBE Hall Of Fame Classic: Reactions From Night Two

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2015

Brian Goodman is the lead Big 12 correspondent for Rush The Court. He’s in Kansas City this week for the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. You can follow Brian on Twitter @BSGoodman or the RTC Big 12 Twitter account @b12hoops.

The CBE Hall Of Fame Classic wrapped in Kansas City on Tuesday night, with North Carolina overcoming a hot night from Kansas State to take the title by a score of 80-70. In the consolation round, Northwestern withstood a second half Missouri run to topple the Tigers 67-62.

  • North Carolina’s late run deflates Kansas State. The Tar Heels and Wildcats traded jabs for most of the night, with Kansas State pulling ahead for a prolonged stretch in the second half. In the closing minutes, however, North Carolina reeled off a 21-3 run to put Bruce Weber’s team away. It was a collective effort down the stretch for North Carolina, but one specific play turned the tide in the Tar Heels’ favor. Coming out of a media timeout with a touch under four minutes left, Roy Williams drew up a baseline out-of-bounds designed play for Joel Berry, who found himself open thanks to a pair of screens to bury a three-pointer off a pass from Brice Johnson. The Tar Heels were soft on offense for the better part of 35 minutes, allowing Kansas State to keep up on the glass and get some steals, but they tightened their game up when it mattered most and showed some toughness to close things out.
Down the stretch, Kennedy Meeks and UNC had just enough to hold off hometown Kansas State. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Down the stretch, Kennedy Meeks and UNC had just enough to hold off hometown Kansas State. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Kamau Stokes puts on a show as the young Wildcats put a scare into UNC. We talked yesterday about Dean Wade‘s great effort on the blocks on Monday, but it was a different Kansas State newcomer who grabbed the attention of everyone in the Sprint Center last night. Stokes came into Tuesday’s final shooting a paltry 3-of-14 from distance on the season, but caught fire against North Carolina with a 6-of-8 effort from distance. With each passing bucket, Stokes grew more confident, firing up the crowd and his teammates. Stokes’ hot stretch even drew a double-team from the Tar Heels at one point. His night was made even more unexpected by the fact that he required an extra year at prep school just to get a Division-I scholarship offer. It’s just unfortunate that the rest of the Wildcats shot just 36 percent from the floor and couldn’t buy a stop late in the game. Tonight served as a reminder that even though Bruce Weber has a young team full of guys that want to play for him, it’s still going to be a process. Stokes will continue to get opportunities as Weber figures out his rotation, but while we wouldn’t expect him to be this hot regularly, even decent three-point shooting would be a big lift to Kansas State as it retools.

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North Carolina’s Other Guards Looking Strong Thus Far

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 18th, 2015

When Marcus Paige broke his hand on November 4 and it was announced that North Carolina’s star guard would miss the first several games of the season, the obvious positive spin on the situation was easy to anticipate. The Tar Heels would still win its first several games comfortably while the other guards on the roster would be gifted a great opportunity to improve. Upon Paige’s return, the narrative went, his backcourt mates would have greater in-game experience to support the ACC’s Co-Preseason Player of the Year in their quest for a National Championship. Sometimes spin turns out to be reality: After the Tar Heels’ first two games of the season, that plan seems to working out beautifully.

Theo Pinson has shown good playmaking skills with Marcus Paige out. (Will Bratton/WRAL)

Theo Pinson has shown good playmaking skills with Marcus Paige out. (Will Bratton/WRAL)

Last Friday night North Carolina tipped off the season with an impressive 91-67 neutral court win over Temple in Annapolis. The Heels followed that up with a lackluster performance in its Sunday home opener against Fairfield, a game in which the final score of 92-65 was not indicative of how close the game was. In both games, the Tar Heels have received great offensive production from its current backcourt rotation — sophomores Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson along with junior Nate Britt. This trio has combined to average 39.5 points per game thus far, complementing the strong production from the Tar Heels’ frontcourt. In a bit of a surprise, Pinson has been the most effective playmaker on the floor, twice leading the team in assists, including a super performance on Sunday: eight assists and zero turnovers. Meanwhile, Berry and Britt have been lighting it up from deep, combining to make 12-of-20 threes. Perhaps Paige’s absence has helped to answer one of the biggest questions about perimeter shooting going into this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Preview: North Carolina’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on November 5th, 2015

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

Burning Question: Is this really the best team in the country?

The Tar Heels were a very good team last season — remember, they led national runner-up Wisconsin until the final six minutes of the Sweet Sixteen (and were within one point in the final minute). But JP Tokoto opted to play basketball for money, leaving Roy Williams without much depth on the wing. Theo Pinson will likely get the call to replace him and seems a good fit for the role. He was a worse than average shooter last season but he was a good prep free throw shooter which usually tracks well with shooting ability. Pinson should immediately assume the role as this team’s defensive stopper.

Is a healthy Theo Pinson the difference between a good and great North Carolina team? (photo: USATSI)

Is a healthy Theo Pinson the difference between a good and great North Carolina team? (USATSI)

The x-factors for this team are twofold. First and foremost, Marcus Paige has to get healthy — his recently broken hand will put him out of action for a month. The real x-factor, however, is Joel Berry. Berry was quietly very efficient last season. It was shocking that he finished the season with an offensive efficiency rating of over 110 (the best of the bench). With Paige out of the lineup, this will be Berry’s offense to run from day one along with Nate Britt. The good news for Tar Heels fans is that both point guards are competent three-point shooters, and it’s also good for both to get early season experience at point guard so that when Paige comes back he’ll mostly be able to play off the ball. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015

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While the early round upsets and Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA Tournament unique to any other sporting event in the country, there is always something to be said about the best competing against the best. No more might that be true than this season’s Sweet 16, which feature arguably a legitimate “Top 16” team pool … and it all gets started today. Here are four previews of Thursday’s games:

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Cleveland) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren't often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren’t often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

The Irish and Shockers will meet Thursday night in what should be a very entertaining battle between two of the country’s best perimeter teams. Notre Dame and its four-guard lineup boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country. USBWA first-team All-American Jerian Grant is one of the best offensive guards in the country. His scoring ability and ball distribution skills definitely makes him a player to watch each time he takes the court. For Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia have each made a name for themselves this season. Jackson has greatly matured as Notre Dame’s floor leader on offense and his ball pressure on defense has been a greatly under appreciated facet of his game. Vasturia is the only Irish starter that does not have a scoring average in double figures, but his knack for hitting big shots coupled with some tenacious defense against some very good players (see his performance from last Saturday against Butler’s Kellen Dunham) has contributed to Notre Dame reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003. When you think of the great glue guys in the country, Irish swingman Pat Connaughton has to be one of the first players who comes to mind. The captain has been an essential asset all season from his three-point shooting to his defensive rebounding to his overall leadership, Connaughton has been the heart of the Irish attack.

Wichita State is equally as talented on the perimeter. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet has had as good of an NCAA Tournament as anyone thus far, as he thoroughly outplayed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell in the round of 64 before having his way with Kansas guards’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the round of 32. The other two Shockers perimeter players — Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton — each bring a unique skill set that have lifted the team all season. Baker has a knack for leading the scoring effort and hitting big shots. Cotton is an elite defender and his athleticism results in him constantly being a slashing threat on the offensive end. This is going to be a very fun game and you have to figure that both team’s perimeter groups will get theirs. Read the rest of this entry »

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