ACC Taking Stock: Volume III

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 12th, 2017

Far be it from me to rain on the parade taking place in Chestnut Hill after Boston College’s stunning upset over the nation’s #1 team over the weekend, but buying high and selling low is no way to make a living. Make of it what you will, but the smart money is on the Eagles’ takedown being a result we are not likely to remember a few months from now. That, however, doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it today.

Saturday Will Probably Be The Highlight of BC’s Season, But There Are Other Signs For Optimism (Anthony Nesmith/CSM)

While the national media spun Saturday’s result into a narrative of “what’s wrong with Duke?”, allow us to view it through the prism of a Boston College fan. It’s been a decade since the Eagles were relevant in the college hoops landscape — mostly spent in complete obscurity, to be honest — but the brilliance of their backcourt over the weekend was no fluke. Ky Bowman’s near-triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in carving up the Duke defense, along with Jerome Robinson‘s perfect 5-of-5 day from three-point range, ensured that Duke was going to have a difficult time keeping up. It is more likely than not that Saturday’s result will be the highlight of the year in Chestnut Hill, but, if even for a day, some level of excitement returned to the once proud program. And with a dynamic duo populating Jim Christian‘s backcourt for the remainder of this year and presumably next, the trajectory could finally be pointing up for college basketball in Beantown.

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge Preview: Part II

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 28th, 2017

After a two-game appetizer on Monday night that resulted in a 2-0 ACC lead, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge revs into high gear this evening with a full slate of five more games.

  • Louisville at Purdue (8:00 PM, ESPN): Of the 10 Challenge teams playing tonight, only Louisville is ranked in this week’s AP Top 25, checking in at #17.  The Cardinals, which have won their first four games with new head coach David Padgett at the helm, travel to Mackey Arena for their sternest test to date to take on Purdue. The Boilermakers are coming off of a disappointing seventh place finish at the Battle 4 Atlantis during Feast Week, but they finished strong in obliterating Arizona in an 11-of-22 performance from three-point range. Padgett’s group has thus far sustained the defensive prowess and identity (second nationally in block percentage and 10th in two-point field goal percentage) of former head coach Rick Pitino, but Purdue will represent a significant step up in weight class in the featured game of the evening.

The Cardinals Have Maintained A Similar Style Under David Padgett (Credit: Michael Clevenger/Courier-Journal)

  • Florida State at Rutgers (7:00 PM, ESPNU): Considering the Seminoles’ opposition to date, a 5-0 start isn’t all that surprising, but the manner in which they have achieved that result most certainly has been. Florida State has exceeded 85 points in four of its first five contests by shooting a very healthy 53 percent as a team, highlighted by a blistering 64 percent conversion rate from inside the arc (trailing only Xavier nationally). A trip to visit 6-0 Rutgers should make for an interesting match-up, as neither squad has played a top-100 team nor have they been tested. Terrance Mann will be the focal point of Steve Pikiell’s defensive game plan, as the junior has missed only seven of his 40 two-point field goal attempts so far this season.

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ACC Weekly 5: 11.15.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on November 15th, 2017

morning5_ACC

  1. Sports Illustrated: For the most part, Duke’s battle with second-ranked Michigan State last night lived up to the hype. The game was borderline unwatchable because of frequent whistles for stretches of the second half, but the rest of the evening showcased two very talented teams squaring off in an electric environment. The top story from Duke’s victory will be Grayson Allen‘s scorching three-point shooting (7-of-11 3FG), but Trevon Duval’s superb point guard play may do more in the long run to shore up the narrative that the Blue Devils are this year’s favorite to cut down the nets. In sadder news, associate head coach Jeff Capel’s father, Jeff Capel, Jr., succumbed to ALS yesterday. Capel had coached everywhere from high school to the NBA, including a particularly successful stint at Old Dominion from 1994-2001.
  2. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Everyone knew Pittsburgh would be bad this season, but back-to-back losses to open the season against Navy and Montana just hammer the Panthers’ struggles home. Only a little over 3,000 fans showed up to watch Kevin Stallings‘ team lose its second game of the season, which bodes poorly for the second-year coach’s future at the helm. Very rarely is firing a coach at midseason a good idea, but it doesn’t take very long to drift into irrelevance so the program should consider drastic measures. The long shadow of Jamie Dixon’s unceremonious departure (along with Stallings’ buyout) will make hiring the Panthers’ next coach even more challenging.
  3. Durham Herald-Sun: All aboard the Kevin Keatts train! The new NC State coach got a bevy of good news this week as incoming freshman Braxton Beverly was deemed eligible to play right away (following a somewhat controversial NCAA ruling that meant he had to sit out). That good news was followed up by top-rated junior college recruit Kevin Funderbunk announcing his decision to play for the Wolfpack next season. Oh, and don’t forget that NC State is undefeated (3-0) and has not been tested yet this young season. Alas, the wins came against three teams that are an insult to cupcakes, and it’s still a transition season in Raleigh, but things are already looking up.
  4. Winston-Salem Journal: Conversely, things are not looking up in Winston-Salem. After a brutal 0-2 start with losses to Georgia Southern and Liberty at home, Danny Manning’s team looks like it belongs in the Jeff Bzdelik era. Bryant Crawford attributed the team’s struggles to a lack of effort on defense, but some of those are likely growing pains following the drastic change in composition of the team between last year and now. Luckily for the Demon Deacons, their non-conference schedule mostly remains manageable, so they have a little time to figure things out. Still, barring a miraculous run in conference play, it’s safe to already count Wake Forest out of the Big Dance.
  5. Collegiate Times: Virginia Tech hasn’t played anyone yet, which should add a grain of salt to the Hokies’ fast-paced domination in their first two games (against The Citadel, there were a staggering 95 possessions as Virginia Tech scored over 130 points). Negativity aside, Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been phenomenal to start the season. If he can continue his robust production into conference play, Buzz Williams is set.
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Five Surprises from Opening Weekend in the ACC

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 14th, 2017

Although the competition was mostly uninspiring over the last several days, it was a very busy weekend of basketball around the ACC. This week will bring an improvement in competition for the league, beginning with Duke taking on Michigan State in the first game of the Champions Classic in Chicago tonight. Just because the opposition wasn’t great, though, doesn’t mean we should ignore opening weekend. Here are the five biggest surprises from the first weekend-plus of the brand new ACC season.

Wake Forest Fell Hard to Georgia Southern on Friday Night (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  1. Wake Forest loses to Georgia Southern. This was a mild surprise but certainly not shocking to anyone who follows the mid-majors. Georgia Southern features two excellent guards in Ike Smith and Tookie Brown, both of whom played well on Friday night. Wake Forest, in its first game without all-ACC star John Collins, showed just how much they will miss the big man this season. In a game with ample opportunity to show their value, junior center Doral Moore battled foul trouble and finished with just two points, while sophomore center Sam Japhet-Mathias played just seven minutes without a point. Danny Manning’s small-ball, backcourt-heavy lineup is workable with Bryant Crawford leading the way, but not if they don’t even have the best backcourt on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Tech Hokies

Posted by Matt Patton on November 7th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Are the Hokies tall enough?

In some ways Virginia Tech was something of a surprise last season, but success in Blacksburg was always a matter of when, not if, for a head coaching talent like Buzz Williams. This year’s squad sounds hungry for even greater success — hoping to make school history by making back-to-back NCAA Tournaments — but the Hokies’ roster, to put it bluntly, is vertically challenged. After Khadim Sy withdrew from school during the offseason, only one player in the primary rotation will be over 6’6″, and that player, sophomore Kerry Blackshear, is coming off a medical redshirt season. Blackshear is a capable offensive rebounder (10.2%), but he will need to take a much bigger role in the post than he did two years ago. The only other clear post players on the team are Division II transfer Nick Fullard (who averaged less than five points a game at Belmont Abbey) and consensus three-star recruit PJ Horne (who stands only 6’6″). Williams will need Fullard and Horne to play significant productive minutes per game this season or his team will just have to play really small. That’s a ton to ask from two men playing their first season of Division I basketball, and in the ACC, no less. Alternatively, look for Williams to play to his strengths and try several all-guard lineups to force various mismatches.

Chris Clarke’s health will have a lot to do with Virginia Tech’s success this season. (Chet Strange/Getty Images)

In much better news, junior wing Chris Clarke looks to be Virginia Tech’s most important player this season. Although he stands only 6’6″, he was last year’s best defensive rebounder at 22.6 percent (108th nationally). But he’s coming off a torn ACL, so it is as of yet unclear if he will be ready for the heavy minutes that Williams will almost definitely need him to play. In addition to rebounding, Clarke did a good job scoring efficiently last season, and he should be considered a major breakout candidate in the ACC this season if fully healthy. The Hokies’ other returning guards look excellent too. Justin Robinson averaged double-figures last season while former starters Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs both also proved efficient offensive players (admittedly on limited possessions). Add top-50 recruit Nickell Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede (consensus four-star prospect) to the mix and there’s a lot of young talent in the wings. Alexander-Walker especially should be able to help this team right away.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Wisconsin 84, #9 Virginia Tech 74

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2017

Wisconsin came out on top tonight in an entertaining, back-and-forth affair that saw the two teams combine for 20 made three-pointers.

Bronson Koenig had a huge night in Buffalo. (Photo: The Sports Post)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Bronson Koenig was awesome. Hampered by a lingering leg injury for much of February, Koenig seemed to be trending toward full health late in the season. His performance on Thursday night put any remaining doubts to rest — the senior point guard is back. Koenig scored 28 points on 8-of-17 shooting from behind the arc, including a 5-of-6 stretch from three-point range during the second half that enabled Wisconsin to maintain its slight advantage. Perhaps the most pivotal moment of the night came near the eight-minute mark, when he knocked down a gutsy triple from several feet behind the arc, then stole the ball on the other end before drawing a foul. On a night where star forward Ethan Happ scored just 10 points, Koenig’s effort was essential. Whether he plays at a high level again on Saturday may determine if the Badgers will return to the Sweet Sixteen.
  2. Wisconsin is living and thriving from behind the arc. For the second time in three games, Wisconsin attempted more three-pointers (31) than two-pointers (30). The staggering ratio worked against Northwestern in the Big Ten semifinals — Wisconsin hit 12 threes in that one — and carried the Badgers again on Thursday night (13-for-31 3FG). With players like Happ (13.9 PPG) and Nigel Hayes (13.5 PPG) manning the interior, it’s not like Wisconsin can’t score inside effectively. For an offense that’s struggled to find its groove at times this year, though, perhaps the best tonic is simply the freedom to hoist from long range.
  3. Virginia Tech basketball is (and will remain) exciting under Buzz Williams. In just three short years, Buzz Williams has transformed a Virginia Tech offense that ranked dead last in the ACC in 2014 to one of the nation’s best this season. And it showed on Thursday night. The Hokies — a great three-point shooting team — carved up Wisconsin’s interior defense like butter in the second half, as Zach LeDay (23 points) found himself more than a couple powerful dunks to ignite the Virginia Tech faithful. Whether it was half-court sets or unselfish plays in transition, Williams has clearly done a masterful job on that end of the court. Despite the departures of Seth Allen (13.4 PPG) and LeDay (16.3 PPG), it’s hard to imagine the Hokies falling too far down the ACC standings in 2017-18.

Star of the Game. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin (21 points, 8-of-17 3FG). Everything was falling for Koenig in the second half, including a spot-up corner three that hit front rim, bounced off the backboard, and fell through the net. His steady hand and timely shooting helped Wisconsin remain ahead despite several momentous scoring bursts for Virginia Tech down the stretch. In order for Wisconsin to advance past Saturday, the senior needs to continue playing at a very high level.

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This Weekend in the ACC: February 18

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 18th, 2017

Here are a few things to keep your eye on around the ACC this weekend (all times Eastern):

Saturday, 12:00 PM: Clemson (14-11, 4-9) at Miami (17-8, 7-6) — This is an important game between two ACC bubble teams. The Tigers enter the weekend just 4-9 in conference play, but given a strong performance in non-conference action combined with a weak bubble nationally, they can probably sneak into the NCAA Tournament with an 8-10 league record. That means winning two of their three tricky remaining games (they also visit Virginia Tech and host Florida State), starting with Miami this weekend. The Hurricanes will be without starting point guard Ja’Quan Newton for the second straight game as he serves a three-game suspension, but Jim Larranaga‘s club should have enough defensive length to handle Clemson star Jaron Blossomgame. The key in this contest will be how, without the services of Newton, Miami chooses to defend the Tigers’ three-pronged backcourt attack of Shelton Mitchell, Avery Holmes and Marcquise Reed.

Jayson Tatum has led the Blue Devils turnaround. Can he now lead them back to the Final Four? (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Saturday, 1:00 PM: Wake Forest (15-11, 6-8) at Duke (21-5, 9-4) — Duke’s current six-game winning streak has renewed discussion of the Blue Devils as the ACC favorite. Freshman Jayson Tatum is a big reason why — the versatile forward is averaging 15.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from three-point range during those six games. Playing mostly as a small four, Tatum is a match-up nightmare who has shown he can make clutch jump shots when Duke needs them. Look for Tatum to have a monster afternoon, as Wake Forest does not have a good defensive option to counter his quickness on the perimeter. Read the rest of this entry »

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This Weekend in the ACC: February 11

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 11th, 2017

Here are a few things to keep your eye on around the ACC this weekend (all times Eastern).

Saturday, 1:00 PM: Clemson (13-10, 3-8 ACC) at Duke (19-5, 7-4 ACC) Someone call Kenny Loggins, because the Tigers have officially entered the Danger Zone. After losing at the buzzer to Syracuse to suffer yet another heart-breaking defeat at home, Clemson’s NCAA Tournament hopes are in big, big trouble. Sometimes you can pinpoint a specific reason why a team is struggling, but sometimes losing a handful of close games is nothing more than just bad luck. In Clemson’s six ACC games that have fallen within a five-point window, the Tigers are just 1-5. It’s difficult to imagine that anything less than a 5-2 finish will be good enough for Clemson to make a realistic run at the NCAA Tournament, and the immediate road ahead is filled with difficulty. Including today’s trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium, three of the Tigers next four games are on the road against NCAA Tournament-quality teams.

Can Quentin Snider’s return to the Louisville lineup lead them to an ACC Championship? (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Saturday, 2:00 PM: Miami (16-7, 6-5) at Louisville (19-5, 7-4) This is an important game for both Louisville and Miami, but for very different reasons. The Hurricanes have won four of their last five contests and appear to be trending on the right side of the bubble — a road win over Louisville would do wonders for their Tournament resume. As for the Cardinals, point guard Quentin Snider is expected back in the lineup after missing six games with a hip injury. The junior was averaging 14.8 points and 5.3 assists per game over the last four games prior to his injury, so for a team with limited offensive capabilities, getting a healthy Snider back is incredibly important for the prospects of a championship season for Rick Pitino.

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ACC Stock Watch: January 10

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 10th, 2017

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

STOCK UP

Syracuse. Has Jim Boeheim righted the ship in upstate New York? After an incredibly disappointing 8-6 start to the season, the Orange notched consecutive easy wins over Miami and Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome last week. In both victories, Boeheim used the same five players — John Gillon, Andrew White, Tyus Battle, Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon — for all but 17 minutes of game action, and White and Battle in particular played all 80 minutes. It appears that Boeheim’s shortened rotation has been effective, especially on the defensive end. In two losses to St. John’s and Boston College, the Orange allowed 93 and 96 points, respectively; last week they held Miami to 55 and a high-scoring Pittsburgh squad to just 66 points.

Has Jim Boeheim found the answer to what was ailing the Orange? (Nick Lisi/AP)

Joel Berry II, North Carolina. The North Carolina point guard was in our Stock Down section last week after he struggled in the Tar Heels’ surprising loss to Georgia Tech. He earned his way on to the Stock Up list this week after a tremendous performance in a win at Clemson. After shooting a miserable 3-of-13 in Atlanta, Berry responded with an impressive 12-of-19 performance at Clemson, including seven three-pointers and great leadership down the stretch. He followed that up with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists in Sunday’s blowout win over NC State. If North Carolina expects to get back to the National Championship game, it will need Berry to play like he did this week to get there.

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In Hoops We Trust: Trust Coach, “It’s OK”

Posted by Joshua Lars Weill on January 5th, 2017

When Grayson Allen suited up for Duke on Wednesday evening against Georgia Tech, much more than just an interesting news story erupted on social media. Writers and fans all jumped in to add their two cents on whether Allen’s remarkably swift return from his “indefinite” suspension for tripping an Elon player in a game last month was appropriate, adequate or even necessary. Predictably, most (presumably non-Duke) fans said Allen’s sentence was too short. And just as predictably, scribes across the spectrum said it was just enough and to trust the judgment of the legendary coach. Which, of course, (predictably) sent those same (non-Duke) fans into fits of eye-rolling at what they deemed as the writers’ (predictably) pro-Mike Krzyzewski response. Adding another layer to this is the news that Coach K is about to take a month-long leave of absence for back surgery, effectively handing over his team to assistant Jeff Capel. Toss in that Allen is the prototypical Duke “villain” personality (in attitude, demeanor, and, yes, race), and that the Blue Devils badly lost the only game Allen was “indefinitely” suspended for, and you have quite a little tempest brewing in Durham.

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

With back surgery looming, Mike Krzyzewski might have ended Allen’s suspension earlier than expected to ease the transition to Jeff Capel. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

It would be easy to see this as a craven move by a coaching lifer who is regularly given a tremendous benefit of the doubt by anyone in the basketball community. Or to see it as a sign of injustice for a white kid at the NCAA’s ur-basketball location. But to me, it’s pretty simple. Krzyzewski had Allen return after a one-game absence because the pressure would have been on Capel to mete out a punishment he didn’t inflict, and then to end that punishment when Capel deemed appropriate. That would be unfair to Capel and unfair to Allen. The coach who punished him should be the one that he signed with and the one absolving him, whatever that punishment might have been. You could argue that Allen deserved to miss more games, but not many more. Could Krzyzewski have handled the entire thing better from the beginning? Yes. Is this some case of malicious intent? Unlikely. Read the rest of this entry »

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