2018-19 RTC16: Week Seven

Posted by Walker Carey on January 7th, 2019

Winning conference road games is difficult — it always has been and always will be. #8 Kansas and #11 Nevada were reintroduced to that notion on Saturday, with both top-10 teams falling hard in hostile road environments. The Jayhawks’ loss at Hilton Coliseum to a strong #15 Iowa State squad was not necessarily surprising — the Cyclones closed as a two-point favorite — but it was the way in which Bill Self‘s group faltered that raised some eyebrows around the country. Kansas finished the 77-60 defeat with an astounding 24 turnovers while also hitting just six of their 20 three-point attempts, while usual standout performers Lagerald Vick and Dedric Lawson combined for just 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting. The weekend went from bad to worse for Kansas on Sunday when Self announced that big man Udoka Azubuike — who was sidelined in Saturday’s loss — will miss the remainder of the season with a hand injury. Nevada’s loss was more unexpected, as the Wolf Pack dropped an 85-58 laugher to a New Mexico team that entered the contest with a paltry 7-6 record. Eric Musselman‘s team suffered through an uncharacteristically poor offensive outing — shooting just 33 percent from the field — and it let a 12-point halftime deficit balloon to the final margin with a no-show second half. Standout forward Caleb Martin had a particularly brutal evening, finishing with just eight points on 2-of-14 shooting. It was a rough weekend for these two teams, but knowing college basketball, a majority of the other top squads will also stumble on the road at some point over the balance of the season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

ACC Weekend Preview: December 15 Edition

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 14th, 2018

Although the basketball slate has been very light during finals week, there are several intriguing ACC match-ups coming our way on Saturday. Rush the Court ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) previews your Saturday. (all rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, December 15

Roy Williams Will Be Ready for Gonzaga Saturday Night (USA Today Images)
  • #87 Old Dominion at #16 Syracuse. The Orange have won five straight games since back-to-back losses at Madison Square Garden last month, but they still have legitimate concerns on offense. Most pundits thought the return of Tyus Battle and the addition of transfer Elijah Hughes, along with freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim, would result in an improved three-point shooting team this season. They’ve been anything but, however, making just 29.0 percent (308th nationally) from long-distance. Luckily, Syracuse, as usual, boasts the 10th-best defense in the country, anchored by 7’2” center Pascal Chukwu (87.0 DRtg, 15.8% blk), who makes it very difficult to finish around the rim. Jim Boeheim‘s group will be tested by a very solid Old Dominion team that is led by two senior guards. Ahmad Caver (18.5 PPG, 5.1 APG, 23.1 PER) is one of the top point guards in the country and B.J. Stith (18.0 PPG, 8.8 RGP, 23.8 PER) is as tough a two-guard as you’ll find anywhere. This pair certainly won’t be intimidated by a raucous atmosphere in the Carrier Dome.
  • #27 NC State vs. #42 Penn State. This game will take place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and offers a great opportunity for NC State to pick up a quality win over a Big Ten team. So far the Wolfpack have played only two games against top 100 opponents, with a neutral court win over Vanderbilt their lone victory. Kevin Keatts’ offense has been led by point guard Markell Johnson (12.2 PPG, 4.2 APG, 72.9% eFG), who is the engine that makes the uptempo offense go. That offense will face a top-10 Nittany Lions’ defense on Saturday. NC State likes to play small-ball, but it will have to be ready for Lamar Stevens (20.1 PPG), Penn State’s go-to option with a 30.2 percent usage rate.
  • #11 Virginia Tech vs. #52 Washington. How about an ACC double-header in AC this weekend! Virginia Tech will follow behind NC State, a team that of which it is very similar: Both clubs have fantastic offenses that have feasted against mostly inferior competition. To get another notch in its growing belt this weekend, Buzz Williams’ team will need to light up the Washington zone from long-distance. The Hokies are shooting 44.9 percent (fourth nationally) from long-range, with every playing averaging at least 20 minutes per game converting at 40 percent or better. When a team shoots the ball that well, they want to avoid turnovers to get up as many shots as possible. This means that point guard Justin Robinson needs to improve on his 21.3 percent turnover rate if the Hokies hope to make a run in the ACC.
  • #6 Gonzaga at #7 North Carolina. This Saturday evening tilt has a chance to be the best game of the entire non-conference slate. Gonzaga has already played a pair of classics with Duke and Tennessee (splitting), but both of those contests were on neutral courts. The Chapel Hill crowd should be fired up to provide an amazing atmosphere for a mid-December college basketball game. Given how deep both of these teams are, it will be fascinating to see how they match up with each other. Will we see five-star freshman Nassir Little (96.1 DRtg) or senior Cam Johnson (95.1 DRtg) defend Gonzaga star Rui Hachimura (26.5 PER & 121.9 ORtg)? Will star freshman point guard Coby White, who missed the Tar Heels’ last game with an ankle injury, suit up? Can Luke Maye get any shots off around the rim with Brandon Clarke (94.3 DRtg, 11.9% blk) lurking nearby? If you are a college basketball fan and aren’t watching this game, what are you doing instead?

Share this story

ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Tuesday Preview

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 27th, 2018

After Monday’s games, the 2018 Big Ten/ACC Challenge is tied with a pair of surprising results — Nebraska won at Clemson and Boston College outlasted Minnesota. ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) previews tonight’s heavy slate of action. (All rankings via KenPom as of Tuesday, November 26.)

Clemson Gave up a Home Game Last Night Against Nebraska (USA Today Images)

  • #16 Virginia Tech at #38 Penn State. Buzz Williams has another terrific offense brewing this season in Blacksburg. The Hokies currently rank seventh in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency and are making 41.4 percent (26th nationally) of their shots from long distance. They’ve also gotten the start of a breakout season from sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker (29.8 PER, 60.6% eFG). Their hot shooting will be tested tonight by a Penn State defense that is allowing its opponents to make just 22.9 percent (fourth nationally) of their attempts from three-point range. While excellent on the perimeter, Virginia Tech lacks size and could be vulnerable to Nittany Lions forward Lamar Stevens (26.6 PER, 24.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG).
  • #95 Illinois at #52 Notre Dame. Mike Brey’s club currently ranks just 51st in offensive efficiency, which is an odd sight to see. The last time a Brey team finished outside the top 50 in that category was all the way back in 2004-05. Part of the struggles this season have laid at the feet of T.J. Gibbs, the expected star of this team who has shot just 32.4 percent from the field and 21.1 percent from three-point range. Notre Dame will need to make some shots tonight to get a win, as the Illini feature a talented young backcourt of sophomore Trent Frazier (17.6 PPG, 58.3% eFG) and freshman Ayo Dosunmu (14.5 PPG, 57.6% eFG).
  • #8 Michigan State at #58 Louisville. Hello, Jordan Nwora. It hasn’t taken long for the talented Cardinals’ sophomore to break out this season, already the team’s leading scorer (18.4 PPG) despite coming off the bench. Nwora (29.4 PER, 57.6% eFG) is not simply a scorer, however. He’s posting a 27.8 defensive rebounding percentage and his turnover percentage is much improved this season despite more usage. While Nwora is actively turning into an ACC star, the Cardinals still have issues on the defensive end. They’re allowing opponents to shoot 43.8 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from long distance. They’ll have a tough task scoring tonight against Michigan State (eighth in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency).

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Conversation: Preseason Projections – Part 2

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 6th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) recently got together to chat about the upcoming 2018-19 season and share their thoughts on all 15 ACC schools. Here’s Part 2 of that conversation. Part 1 can be found here.

Justin Robinson returns to lead Virginia Tech after being a Second Team All-ACC selection in 2017-18. (AP Photo)

  • Brad Jenkins: Let’s discuss Florida State. I was a little surprised at ACC Media Day to hear Leonard Hamilton and his players talk about coming up short last year — as if the Elite Eight wasn’t good enough. That impressed me (if they really believe it). How good can the Seminoles be this season?
  • Mick McDonald: I think they are being overrated somewhat thanks to the NCAA Tournament run. They’ll be solid — Leonard Hamilton teams usually are. They’ve got good depth and guys like Terrance Mann and Phil Cofer (when he returns) who are proven ACC players, and a guy in MJ Walker who could be in for a breakout year. But I see them much more as a solid sixth-eighth place team versus one that can compete for the league title.
  • Matt Auerbach: Which is essentially what they were a year ago. But we tend to remember how teams finished and apply our expectations based upon that. I think Florida State will be good, in fact better than a year ago, but that puts the Seminoles at around 11-7 in the league.
  • Brad Jenkins: Florida State does have a pretty decent ACC schedule, as the Seminoles will play the bottom four teams on the road, which could help them place higher than expected. Buzz Williams did a good job last year of hiding Virginia Tech’s size disadvantage by going to a pack-line defensive philosophy. Can the Hokies get away with that again? It feels like this is the year that Buzz has been building for.
  • Mick McDonald: Count me all-in on Buzz. I think you can make an argument the Hokies have the best backcourt in the league with Justin Robinson and Nickeil-Alexander Walker. Chris Clarke is a poor man’s Jae Crowder from Williams’ awesome Marquette teams, and they have a few other guys who shoot the lights out. I have them fourth in the ACC and a borderline top-10 team nationally. If Kerry Blackshear can stay out of foul trouble, this team can beat anyone. (Editor’s note: This conversation took place before Wednesday’s announcement that Clarke had been suspended indefinitely from the Hokies’ squad.)
  • Matt Auerbach: Agreed. I love Robinson and that’s a great comp for Clarke. Ty Outlaw can also really shoot it. Blackshear is the X-factor here. When he plays well, this team will be nearly impossible to deal with in Blacksburg and will be able to compete with anyone on the road.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Burning Questions Part 4: Virginia Tech, Syracuse & Florida State

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 1st, 2018

As we head into another exciting ACC season, we will be reviewing the key question for each of the league’s 15 squads. Today Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) works into the upper tier, with Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Florida State

Virginia Tech Burning Question: We know they’ll fill it up, but can the Hokies improve enough defensively to fulfill their potential?

Buzz Williams Needs to Improve His Defense to Contend This Year (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech came out of the gates blazing a year ago, scoring more than 90 points in five of its first six affairs. And while the numbers understandably dipped as the competition toughened, the Hokies’ up-tempo, let-it-fly mentality, led to season marks of 28th nationally in offensive efficiency and sixth in effective field goal percentage. Lead guard Justin Robinson, the engine behind the high-powered unit, is back for his senior season, and pairs with sophomore sharpshooter Nickeil Alexander-Walker, as perhaps the most explosive backcourt in the ACC.

Robinson, a preseason all-ACC second team selection, is the model of consistency, and the type of point guard head coach Buzz Williams can trust to spearhead his attacking offense. An old-school point guard at his core, Robinson has developed in an old-school manner, as his three-point percentage, points, assists and steals per game have all steadily increased over his three years in Blacksburg. Another leap is a tall order for him after averaging 14.0 PPG, 5.6 APG and shooting nearly 40 percent from long-distance last season, but one that he may need to make given that senior Chris Clarke has been suspended from the team indefinitely. Clarke, the runner-up for ACC Sixth Man of the Year, was in line to start and become a major contributor. In his absence, the Hokies will need a healthy and productive Kerry Blackshear Jr. to replicate upon his excellent sophomore season. Coming off a redshirt year, the 6’10” Blackshear averaged just under 13 points per game on the back of a 63.4 percent true shooting rate. Without Clarke around to bolster the interior, he becomes the Hokies’ leading returning rebounder and will be relied upon to protect the rim.

In his first four years at Virginia Tech, Williams’ teams have never finished within the top 60 nationally in defensive efficiency. If this is to be the year that the Hokies break through and make a run in the NCAA Tournament, improvement on that end is absolutely necessary. There’s no doubt that this team’s offense will pressure opposing defenses, but seeking to outscore the opposition will only get a team so far.

Syracuse Burning Question: Can Syracuse make enough shots?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Projecting Five ACC Breakout Players

Posted by Mick McDonald on October 25th, 2018

You know the returning stars and you know all about the five-star freshmen who are set to make their debuts. Today we present five ACC players who we believe will be household names around the conference by March.

Can Aamir Simms continue the promising finish to last season following Donte Grantham’s injury? (Al Bello/Getty Images)

  • Aamir Simms, Clemson. A back-end top-100 prospect coming out of high school, Simms was a project last year. In his first 17 games, he mostly saw action in garbage time. But when star forward Donte Grantham tore his ACL on January 20 at Notre Dame, Simms was a different player. Over his last 17 games, the bulky forward shot 48 percent from the field and made 39 percent from three-point range in becoming a key cog of the Tigers’ attack. With an experienced backcourt that excels in ball screen action returning, look for Simms to continue to emerge as one of the best pick-and-pop stretch forwards in the ACC this season.
  • Jordan Nwora, Louisville. Last season at Louisville was a mess from the very beginning (you may have heard about this whole Brian Bowen situation). A group of talented veterans never really meshed under interim coach David Padgett, but because they logged such heavy minutes, the Cardinals’ underlying freshman class never really got a chance to show what it could do. The wing Nwora played just 12.0 MPG last season, but he shot almost 44 percent from long distance and logged a stellar 61.2 percent eFG in ACC play. With new head coach Chris Mack taking over, expect Nwora to become his go-to bucket-getter.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Way Too Early 2018-19 ACC Rankings

Posted by Mick McDonald on April 6th, 2018

This season may have just wrapped up, but we are always looking forward to next season. Here’s a much too early look at how the ACC may shake out in 2018-19.

The Four Kill4s Arrive in Durham With Much Fanfare

  1. Duke. We’ll see if Gary Trent returns, but either way, it’s another loaded freshman class that will make the Blue Devils the most talented team in college basketball. RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are the top three players in the class of 2018 and will be joined by the top-rated point guard, Tre Jones.
  2. Virginia. The Cavaliers lose Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins but return their starting backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, plus ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter. Look for Mamadi Diakite to continue a long line of athletic bigs who flourish in Tony Bennett’s system.
  3. North Carolina. Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are gone, but the Tar Heels return Luke Maye in addition to Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Roy Williams is also bringing in his best recruiting class in years, with point guard Coby White and wing Nassir Little set to arrive. The improvement of sophomore big men Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman will be important to watch.
  4. Virginia Tech. Buzz Williams loses just Justin Bibbs and Devon Wilson from this year’s squad, and he will return a senior-laden backcourt with Ahmed Hill and potential All-ACC player Justin Robinson. Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear, Jr. are versatile bigs who can hit shots from the outside. Last year’s freshmen class also has the potential to break out, especially Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #9 Alabama 86, #8 Virginia Tech 83

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Alabama is a Dangerous Squad (USA Today Images)

  1. Virginia Tech missed an opportunity in the first half. Virginia Tech led by two points at halftime but that thin lead represented a missed opportunity for the Hokies. They had shot 68 percent from the field and 78 percent from the three-point line but they couldn’t get stops on the other end to build any kind of meaningful lead. Alabama on its own right shot 59.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the period – and the Crimson Tide are a team that gets more dangerous as it builds confidence. That confidence allowed Alabama to stay hot in the second half while Virginia Tech regressed. The Hokies have to be kicking themselves for not getting after it more on the defensive end in the first half when they had their chance.
  2. Alabama’s talented freshmen showed out spectacularly. The Crimson Tide received massive contributions tonight from star freshman guard Collin Sexton and reserve freshman swingman John Petty. Sexton provided the energy and attitude Alabama needed all night long, finishing with a game-high 25 points and dishing out a team-high six assists. Petty came off the Crimson Tide bench and knocked down six of his eight three-point attempts on his way to totaling 20 points. Everyone knows the old adage about experience being the most valuable asset in the NCAA Tournament but Alabama seems to be doing just fine with its freshmen leading the way.
  3. How far can Collin Sexton take the Crimson Tide? There have been several examples of lead guards taking their teams deep into the bracket over the years. Collin Sexton certainly fits that mold, as he has the skills and presence to take Alabama to unprecedented heights. Sexton’s next test will not be easy, though, as the Crimson Tide will face top-seeded Villanova on Saturday. That game will present a difficult individual challenge for Sexton in matching up with Villanova All-American point guard Jalen Brunson. There is still quite a bit of basketball to be played prior to Saturday, but college basketball fans should mark Villanova vs. Alabama in the early afternoon slot as appointment viewing.

Player of the Game. Collin Sexton, Alabama. It has to be Sexton. Without the services of its star freshman, Alabama would have lost by 20 or more points. He is the engine that drives the Crimson Tide, and he went well tonight, finishing with 25 points and six assists.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach, Mick McDonald on March 14th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week about the NCAA Tournament prospects for all nine ACC schools involved.

Losing De’Andre Hunter is a huge blow to Virginia’s NCAA title hopes. (Ryan M. Kelly/Getty)

Brad Jenkins: Well it’s Tourney time fellas! I guess we should start with the gut wrenching news of the day – De’Andre Hunter is out with a broken wrist for the entire tournament. Mick, how does Virginia adapt short-term and long-term?

Mick McDonald: I figured we’d have to start here. It’s devastating news for Virginia. Hunter’s flexibility allowed the Cavaliers to play small with him at the four or bigger with him at the three. He was a great option on offense and could score in a variety of ways. It’s crushing. Long term — as in, next year — it’s no big deal. He’ll recover and be ready to go. But this year? I just can’t see Virginia winning the title without him. Maybe they can get by Arizona/Kentucky/Cincinnati to make the Final Four, but I doubt it.

Matt Auerbach: I hate to agree with Mick, because after being in Brooklyn and seeing and finally appreciating the live beauty of Virginia basketball, I penciled them in as my favorite — but thankfully, it was in pencil. Hunter is a tremendous talent and gives them so much on both ends off the bench. Without him, I think the Arizona game if it materializes becomes a lot trickier.

Mick McDonald: Tony Bennett will now have to give minutes to Marco Anthony, a smaller freshman wing who played well during Nigel Johnson’s suspension. He’s not Hunter but he will have to play well when called on.

Brad Jenkins: It does remove the option of playing small. The good news is that the other talented teams in the South region like Kentucky, Arizona and Cincinnati all will have required a bigger Virginia lineup anyway. So I think they can still get to San Antonio.

Matt Auerbach: All this being said — and the loss of Hunter could easily be viewed as detrimental — but would it shock me to see Virginia still make it to San Antonio? Absolutely not.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Conversation: The Elite Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Mick McDonald, Matt Auerbach on February 21st, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald took some time this week to chat about what they like and dislike about the ACC’s top contenders and whether they think a team from the conference’s middle tier could make some noise in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Does Virginia Have Enough Inside Offense to Win in March? (USA Today Images)

  • Brad Jenkins: OK Mick. Why don’t you kick it off with your thoughts on Virginia?
  • Mick McDonald: Because of the pace they play, the Virginia guards aren’t getting enough credit on the offensive end. Having three guys who can shoot like Ty Jerome/Kyle Guy/Devon Hall is usually a good way to win in March. That said, if the jumpers aren’t falling (like in the Virginia Tech game), can they generate enough offense? It’s why DeAndre Hunter is such a huge piece for them. He can create mismatches and they need to work to find him shots (like in the Miami game) to get their offense going. Also, I’m not convinced Isaiah Wilkins is 100 percent. I think his back may still be bothering him and that’s worth keeping an eye on over the next few weeks.
  • Brad Jenkins: My concern is very similar. Virginia just doesn’t get many points that aren’t on jumpers from 15 feet out. Hunter has been playing great and definitely gives them more of a dynamic scorer, but if he’s out there in the last 10 minutes, who do you take off the floor? Not sure Wilkins at the five will work against bigger teams they may see in March.
  • Mick McDonald: It’s definitely an issue. They are going to have to shoot it well to make the Final Four. I do think between Jack Salt and Mamidi Diakite they have enough bodies to make the five-spot work, but they aren’t getting any offense there.
  • Brad Jenkins: The ACC Tourney will be important for them. Past NCAA failures have to be in the back of their mind. I think it would be a huge confidence boost if they cut down the nets in Brooklyn, especially considering how good Duke and North Carolina suddenly look.
  • Mick McDonald: Yes and no. I do think an ACC title would help their confidence… but this team might go 17-1 in the league, including getting the “win at Cameron” monkey off the program’s back. Tony Bennett has won an ACC Tournament. I don’t think a loss on Friday would doom them. I also think they’ll probably have the #1 seed in the South locked up prior to the ACC Tournament, which is important.
  • Brad Jenkins: But they’ve been a #1 seed before, so maybe this will be the year. That defense will keep them in any game, but that tempo will also keep opponents in the game. Moving on to Duke. Is there a real correlation to Grayson Allen finding his game and Marvin Bagley III being out?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story