Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2016

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On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina (28-6, 14-4 ACC). Although this region is loaded from top to bottom, the ACC regular season and tournament champions are the clear favorite. Roy Williams has one of the nation’s most talented teams with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leading the way. Contending with Johnson is a nightmare for most teams. A relentless rebounder who averages a double-double, Johnson is one of the nation’s most efficient players. Carolina has weaknesses — namely three-point shooting and three-point defense — but the way it utilizes great athleticism to speed up the game makes the Heels hard to beat.

UNC

The ACC regular season and tournament champions are the favorite to take the East Region. (Photo: Todd Melet)

Should They Falter: No. 4 Kentucky (26-8, 13-5 SEC). Yes, we’re going to roll with the Wildcats here. John Calipari’s team has made Final Fours from lower seeded positions — most notably in 2011 and 2014. This is not a vintage Kentucky team by any means, but it is highly talented and Coach Cal has proven that he can push the right buttons in March. College basketball is a guards’ game and Kentucky has that in spades with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. The lack of a major threat inside and occasionally spotty defense are definite concerns, but Kentucky has the talent and athletes to get by North Carolina in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup.

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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 78, Notre Dame 47

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

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Three Key Takeaways.

  1. If North Carolina plays defense like it did tonight, the Tar Heels will win the national championship. Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country and they couldn’t buy a good look for 10 solid minutes. Roy Williams’ team was incredibly aggressive, especially on the perimeter, never allowing Notre Dame’s guards to any space to operate. They only gave up 22 points (a season low for both teams) on 34 possessions, good for a first half defensive efficiency of 0.65 points per possession. After the run ended five minutes into the first half, it was far too late for Notre Dame to catch up. The Irish ended up scoring only 47 points in the game, its lowest total since a loss to Syracuse in 2013.

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

  2. Repeat after me: North Carolina is really deep. The Heels got 20 points off the bench and they actually played better when Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks both picked up their second fouls with 6:30 to play in the first half. Very few teams in the country would have been able to bounce back so quickly. Isaiah Hicks has played really well over the last couple of games (he finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds), and this was his best game since he scored 21 points at Syracuse.
  3. Notre Dame is a streaky team. It was blown out three other times this season (at Syracuse; at Florida State; vs. Miami), and every once in a while you will see a team get too far into its own head and become woefully overmatched. This was one of those times. The Tar Heels defense totally took Notre Dame out of its offense, as the Irish went from a team that excels on ball movement to one trying to isolate against a much taller front line. Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson were held a combined 1-of-16 from the field, an unbelievably disappointing performance.

Star of the Game. Tonight Marcus Paige looked every bit the first team all-ACC player everyone expected. He played great defense, hit some soul-crushing threes, and finished with seven assists and no turnovers. When he’s locked in, guarding the Tar Heels is borderline impossible. The last few years the question was always: “Can North Carolina shoot well enough to win?” This tournament has been evidence that both Joel Berry and Paige are more than capable. (Author’s note: It’s worth noting that Berry finished the game with four assists and no turnovers.)

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ACC Tournament Thursday Takeaways

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

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, Thursday, March 10, 2016. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

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.

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Notre Dame Upends Duke; Tobacco Road Rematch Denied

Posted by Matt Patton on March 10th, 2016

Midway through the second half of Thursday afternoon’s second ACC quarterfinal, a Duke-UNC rematch looked like destiny. Duke led Notre Dame by 16 with 11 minutes to play. To that point, the game had strongly resembled North Carolina’s earlier win over Pittsburgh: Notre Dame and Duke were matched in strengths (offense); Duke struggled out of the gate but Grayson Allen kept the game close; and a second half Fighting Irish drought looked fatal. And then the Blue Devils ran out of gas.

Zach Auguste got the better of his matchup with Marshall Plumlee in Notre Dame's win over Duke. (photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

Zach Auguste got the better of his matchup with Marshall Plumlee in Notre Dame’s win over Duke. (photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

The Notre Dame comeback began in earnest with just under eight minutes left when Notre Dame grabbed three straight offensive boards before scoring. Soon after VJ Beachem rediscovered his shooting stroke, while Zach Auguste continued his relentless assault of the backboards. Auguste would finished with 22 rebounds on an afternoon when he was easily the best player on the floor.

Make no mistake about it: The story here is Notre Dame, not Duke. The Blue Devils are very much who we thought they were — a flawed but extremely capable offensive team who will have a chance to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. But on the other side, this game was a reminder that Notre Dame is still built around the foundation of last year’s ACC title squad that almost knocked off Kentucky in the Elite Eight. It’s a team with veterans like Auguste, Demetrius Jackson (who struggled en route to a 13 point, four assist afternoon) and Steve Vasturia (12 points, six assists) who are ready for another shot at an ACC title. Despite wins over North Carolina, Duke (now twice), and Louisville, the Fighting Irish are still looking for national respect. The guy at the helm certainly has a good deal of that, as Mike Brey is now 5-1 in his last six games against Duke and his mentor, Mike Krzyzewski.

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Handing Out ACC Awards and Superlatives

Posted by Matt Patton on March 8th, 2016

The chips have fallen where they did, so it’s time to take a look back at the best the ACC had to offer this season.

First Team All-ACC

Malcolm Brogdon Has Helped the Cavs Turn the Corner (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty)

Malcolm Brogdon gets the slight nod for conference player of the year honors. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia (POY)
  • Brice Johnson, North Carolina
  • Grayson Allen, Duke
  • Cat Barber, NC State
  • Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame

With 15 ACC teams from which to choose, the normal difficulty of selecting a first team was mitigated by Brogdon, Johnson, Allen and Barber being virtual locks. Brogdon gets the nod for ACC Player of the Year over Johnson for his outstanding defense, but it was a close race. The senior is the best player to suit up for Tony Bennett’s team in recent memory thanks to his incredible efficiency and on-ball defense. It’s certainly possible that these four players end up on several All-American teams, although Barber will lose some votes because of NC State’s lack of success this year. The wild card is Notre Dame’s Jackson. I went back and forth here. The media and coaches chose Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame, but Jackson won the eye test for me. He was a tremendous pure point guard for the Irish this year, and Mike Brey’s team would have likely ended up in the bottom third of the conference without him.

Second Team All-ACC

  • Michael Gbinije, Syracuse
  • Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
  • Anthony Gill, Virginia
  • Michael Young, Pittsburgh
  • Damion Lee, Louisville

Gbinije, Blossomgame and Gill were head and shoulders above Young and Lee. The first two took on greatly augmented roles this season, playing as deluxe Swiss Army Knives for teams that overachieved.

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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

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  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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