ACC Preseason Power Rankings

Posted by mpatton on November 14th, 2014

Over the last two weeks, we have previewed each team individually to go with several more articles to get you ready for ACC basketball (first tip: 6:00 PM ET in Durham). Links to the previews can be found in each of the preseason power rankings listed below. Also look for our preseason conference awards which will publish later today.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

Duke Blue Devils 1. Duke (58): Everyone knows about the freshmen, and they are sensational. But are Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon ready to put together a consistent season from start to finish? That answer may determine whether the Blue Devils are Final Four-bound or facing another early departure from the Tourney.
Virginia Cavaliers T2. Virginia (53): Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell didn’t light up the scoreboard in Charlottesville, but their leadership and savvy was key in Virginia’s magical run last year. Can Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson assume larger roles and keep Tony Bennett‘s team in the national limelight?
North Carolina Tar Heels T2. North Carolina (53): Everyone knows about Marcus Paige, and the Tar Heels should be better at the line and from three with the addition of some talented freshmen in the backcourt and on the wing. Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks have to bring it every night in the paint for this team to reach its potential.
LouisvilleLogo 4. Louisville (52): The Cardinals probably have as good a shot as any of the top four. While they will have to learn how to play a new set of conference opponents in unfamiliar arenas, the ACC will have to adjust to Rick Pitino’s style of pressure defense with multiple schemes. Most of the key contributors are now gone from the 2012-13 National Championship squad, but the program brings a culture used to winning at the highest level.
Syracuse Orange 5. Syracuse (42): There are a lot of questions about the Orange after Tyler Ennis’ and Jerami Grant’s early departures. Jim Boeheim has a talented team that won’t be an easy out, but there are a lot of questions about how the offense will run with another freshman, Kaleb Joseph, at the helm.
Florida State Seminoles 6. Florida State (38): The Seminoles haven’t been their usual defensive selves the past two seasons, but this year Leonard Hamilton has three experienced big men along with a cadre of long perimeter players. Aaron Thomas may be the most underrated player in the ACC, which bodes well for things in Tallahassee this year.
Pittsburgh Panthers 7. Pittsburgh (37)Jamie Dixon has a tradition of replacing departed stars with veterans. For Pitt to win games against the ACC’s elite, Cameron Wright and James Robinson must continue that trend and get some help, maybe a year earlier than the norm, from the talented sophomore class. One would think they are due for a healthier year than last, when midseason injuries really set the team back.
NC State Wolfpack 8. NC State (34): T.J. Warren is gone, so this team has to find its offense by committee. Tyler Lewis is too, so Cat Barber will have to be efficient and also seek his own shot. The maturation of a young frontcourt will be key. Mark Gottfried has historically impressed with low expectations.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 9. Notre Dame (32): It won’t be a surprise if Zach Auguste makes a big jump in production as a junior, but beyond that is nothing but unproven post players. With the perimeter filled with talent and experience, keeping Auguste healthy and out of foul trouble may be the key as the Irish try to make a dramatic jump in the standings. Jerian Grant is a contender for ACC Player of the Year.
Miami Hurricanes 10. Miami (25): Arguably the best coaching job in the country last year happened in Coral Gables. If Jim Larranaga gets this team to improve, the Hurricanes will be significantly better than many expect. Manu Lacomte needs to make the leap and lead a young team in a very tough conference.
Clemson Tigers 11. Clemson (18): Brad Brownell showed that even without a ton of obvious roster talent, the Tigers will be competitive — especially on defense. This season he has to prove that again without K.J. McDaniels. It’s unclear who the go-to player will be, so Clemson’s offense could hold this team back.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 12. Wake Forest (17): Wake may be ready for a solid rise in the ACC standings as early as next year. This year will be a challenge, but momentum could be built towards a good 2015-16 season. Juniors Devin Thomas on the inside and Cody Miller-McIntyre in the backcourt will dictate how good this team is.
Boston College 13. Boston College (12): A year and coach removed from last year’s disappointing effort leave a lot of questions in Chestnut Hill. Olivier Hanlan will always be worth the price of admission, but he may not have enough supporting cast to escape the dregs of the ACC unless Dennis Clifford can finally stay healthy.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 14. Georgia Tech (10): It’s really hard to see Brian Gregory surviving as coach here if the Yellow Jackets don’t make the postseason this season. It’s also hard to see this Georgia Tech team finishing in the top half of the ACC, which is what it would probably take to get that NCAA bid — or even a trip to the NIT. The odds of Gregory being in Atlanta after March 2015 are not very good.
Virginia Tech Hokies 15. Virginia Tech (6): Virginia Tech will again be among the cellar-dwellers in the ACC, but at least it has come cachet with the hiring of Buzz Williams. They’ll be serviceable in the backcourt with Devin Wilson returning, but it will be a year or two before we can evaluate the viability of the Hokies as competitive in the conference.

Miscellaneous Power Rankings Notes:

  • Coach K reloadsDuke was the top choice again this year with another one-and-done big man, but the Blue Devils weren’t the unanimous pick. Virginia and Louisville both got a first place vote.
  • Clear Contenders: North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia (in some order) rounded out everyone’s top four, marking a distinct upper tier in the conference.
  • Media/Microsite solidarity: For the second season in a row, no teams differed from the preseason media poll by more than two spots.
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ACC Preview: Pittsburgh’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 7th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Pittsburgh overcome key personnel losses and injuries to compete with the ACC’s big boys?

Last year was Pittsburgh’s first season in the ACC, and the Panthers came out of the gate like gangbusters, winning 18 of their first 20 games and starting conference play with a 6-1 record. Then things headed south as Jamie Dixon’s squad limped home, finishing fifth in the league with an 11-7 mark. There was even some talk that Pittsburgh was on the bubble before they won two games in the ACC Tournament to secure an NCAA bid. Now the Panthers are ready for a second go-round in an improved ACC, but without the services of last year’s two best players, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna.

Jamie Dixon's Team Was Beyond Impressive on Thursday Afternoon (US Presswire)

Jamie Dixon’s Team Has Already Suffered Some Key Injuries in the Preseason (US Presswire)

The explanation for last year’s dropoff midway through the ACC season was twofold. The primary reason was a series of injuries that ran through the squad like a mini-epidemic. Durand Johnson was Pitt’s third-leading scorer when he tore his ACL in a January win over Wake Forest, immediately ending his season. While his was the only major injury, the team was soon beset by nagging ailments that seemed to hit at the same time. Patterson was mentioned as a possible ACC Player of the Year candidate before a hand injury caused the senior to lose his shooting touch. Zanna played through a severe ankle sprain, but the injury zapped him of his explosiveness and caused the Panthers staples — interior defense and rebounding — to suffer immensely. Others that played hurt were freshmen Michael Young (back) and Chris Jones (thumb). The second problem was that the schedule got tougher after that excellent ACC start, and the Panthers subsequently went 0-5 against the ACC’s top four teams. That issue, combined with an extremely weak non-conference slate (278th nationally), is what put Pitt in the position of needing quality wins in Greensboro to ensure a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers got that cherished victory when they barely held off North Carolina in the ACC quarterfinals. Can Dixon’s squad avoid the same scenario this season?

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One on One: An ACC Preview With Bret Strelow

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the ACC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an ACC expert in Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow), the ACC basketball reporter for The Fayetteville Observer.

Rush the Court: Duke was an extremely talented unit last season, but it was ultimately done in by its defensive deficiencies in its stunning NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer. The Blue Devils once again have a talented roster and are widely projected to win the league. Will this season be any different than last when it comes to the defensive end of the floor?

Bret Strelow: It would be hard to get much worse. The Blue Devils ranked in the 100s in defensive efficiency, which is a far cry from what a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team usually is. With Jabari Parker, defense was not his calling card. Rodney Hood took on some tough assignments and struggled at times. The current thought around the Duke camp is that Jahlil Okafor at 6’11” and 270 pounds is a legitimate rim-protector. Duke can clean up some of its mistakes and pressure the ball a little bit more with Okafor back there. I think Duke should ultimately be a better defensive team, but we will see how much of a difference that will make.

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

RTC: Marcus Paige alone can probably keep North Carolina competitive in the ACC, but if the Tar Heels want to compete for the league crown, they are going to need a supporting cast to step forward. What Tar Heels can you see breaking out this season?

Strelow: It really might be a little bit of everybody. If Marcus Paige has to carry the load like he did for much of last season, North Carolina is probably not going to reach the goal that it has of contending for a Final Four and a national title. I think you can expect a little bit from everybody. Brice Johnson was extremely efficient last season in a secondary role behind James Michael McAdoo. If Johnson can stay out of foul trouble and guard well enough, I think his offense will be there. Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down. His offense has never been a problem. With Johnson and Meeks, you have two solid front line guys. When you look at the North Carolina freshmen class, Justin Jackson is a guy who has the uncanny ability to score. He has a way of scoring quickly and scoring in a way that does not require a lot of dribbles. I think he can really have a big year. He is probably more of an offensive threat than fellow freshmen Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II. I think outside shooting might still be an issue for North Carolina outside of Paige and if Jackson can hit a few. When you look at a guy like J.P. Tokoto, outside shooting is not his game. I think the Tar Heels have enough inside and with Jackson coming along, they are going to have enough to help Paige carry the load this season.

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What’s on the Mind of the 15 ACC Programs Right Now

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 17th, 2014

With the start of the ACC college basketball season rapidly approaching, allow us to put on our psychoanalyst’s hat to determine what’s on the mind of each of its 15 member programs right now. Some are of the optimistic variety, while others are fearful at what they see lying ahead. All of them, though, are hoping to contribute to discussions lauding the ACC as the nation’s preeminent college basketball conference this year. Let’s jump into each program alphabetically.

  • Boston College: Blind optimism. The reality is that the Eagles, even with an all-ACC caliber star in Olivier Hanlan, are likely one of the three worst teams in the conference. But there’s a new coach around in Jim Christian, and thanks to the usual roster turnover, few remaining pieces to recall the 8-24 debacle of a year ago. Buying in to a new coach and system may not be a problem, but production on the court will continue to be.
  • Clemson: Loss. That loss is a huge one, in the departure of NBA draft pick K.J. McDaniels, who was their best player on both sides of the ball last year and led the team in four statistical categories. A 10-win improvement from the year before earned Brad Brownell a six-year contract extension, but how will this team score enough to win even if it replicates its defensive success of a year ago?
Jim Christian's hopes a clean slate and overhauled roster reverses BC's fortunes (credit: bostonherald.com)

Jim Christian hopes a clean slate and overhauled roster reverses BC’s fortunes (credit: bostonherald.com)

  • Duke: Motivation. Not just because of a stellar recruiting class that includes their first dominant center in some time in Jahlil Okafor and the overall potential to be in the mix for a championship. There’s also the internal motivation for Quinn Cook to keep a hold on the starting point guard role in light of the arrival of stud freshman Tyus Jones, and Rasheed Sulaimon’s motivation to show that an early-season slump last year (temporarily earning him a place in Coach K’s doghouse) was an aberration. Oh, and that first round NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer could light a fire of some sort, too.

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Morning Five: 09.29.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 29th, 2014

morning5

  1. Pittsburgh suffered a significant blow when it announced that fifth-year senior Cameron Wright would be out for ten weeks after undergoing surgery on his broken left foot on Friday. Wright averaged 10.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game last season and is the Panthers’ leading returning scorer after scoring just 4.3 points per game as a sophomore. Wright is expected to return just before Christmas meaning that he will miss the team’s Maui Invitational trip and their  ACC/Big Ten Challenge match-up against Indiana, but should be back in time for the start of ACC play.
  2. Ty Hudson, one of the top point guards in the class of 2015, committed to Clemson on Saturday giving Brad Brownell his first commitment in the class of 2015. Hudson committed while on his official visit at Clemson, but the bigger factor was probably the team’s new assistant–Ritchie Riley–who had recruited Hudson while he was an assistant at UAB and is widely attributed as the driving force behind Hudson’s decision to go to Clemson. Hudson had also been looking at Mississippi, Oklahoma State, and South Florida.
  3. ESPN will have a new voice on-air next season as Jim Calhoun will be working with the network. Calhoun, who has been promoting a documentary in advance of its premiere next week, has not finalize the details of what his work will entail, but he is expected to be doing studio work at ESPN. We never know how coaches will translate to television, but after the Bob Knight experience the past few years we are looking forward to seeing Calhoun on TV particularly when he is talking about that team from upstate New York.
  4. Carlton Bragg, a consensus top-20 player in the class of 2015, will take a visit to UCLA on October 31 after having an in-home visit with Steve Alford. Bragg, a 6’8″ power forward out of Ohio, has narrowed down his list to Arizona, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and UCLA. He already has two visits set up at Kansas (October 10) and Kentucky (October 17) so this would be his third planned visit, but according to reports Bragg does not plan on committing until the late signing period so we would not expect an announcement any time soon.
  5. Former Louisville commit Antonio Blakeney has set-up visits at Missouri (October 17) and LSU (November 7). Blakeney as you may remember backed out of his commitment to Louisville less than two weeks after his initial commitment. As we have stated before, many suspect his recruitment is being influenced by Blakeney’s Nike AAU connections, which was obviously in conflict with Louisville’s adidas contract. The other two schools on Blakeney’s list–Kentucky and Oregon–are also Nike schools so you can figure that this will be followed closely by fans on all sides.
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Five Key Questions as Pittsburgh Heads to the Carrier Dome with Something to Prove

Posted by Matt Patton & Lathan Wells on January 18th, 2014

In anticipation of the new marquee ACC match-up this afternoon at 4:00 PM EST, microsite columnists Matt Patton and Lathan Wells ask each other the tough questions. Somehow, we only mention CJ Fair once.

Can anyone disrupt Syracuse's diaper dandy? (credit: Mark Konezny / USA TODAY Sports)

Can anyone disrupt Syracuse’s diaper dandy? (credit: Mark Konezny / USA TODAY Sports)

LathanTyler Ennis has proven to be a freshman beyond his years at the point, with a demeanor that belies his class. Can anyone disrupt him defensively and thus help stymie what Syracuse wants to do on offense?

Matt: Calling Ennis a surprise is disingenuous because everyone expected him to be really good. People just didn’t him to be this good this quickly. He’s made the offense more efficient by replacing Michael Carter-Williams, the current NBA Rookie of the Year front-runner. But Pittsburgh will likely try to make the freshman uncomfortable by sealing off the lane with face-guarding on the perimeter.

Pittsburgh has some of the best ball movement in the country (seventh nationally in assists per field goal made). How will Syracuse’s zone combat it?

Lathan: In short, the zone makes ball movement the key to staying in the game. Syracuse’s length across its lineup forces teams to keep throwing the ball around the perimeter and causing teams to hurry late in the shot clock to get a good shot. Establishing a solid high-low option is probably the key to having some sort of success on offense.

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Four Thoughts on Cincinnati’s Jimmy V Win Over Pitt

Posted by CD Bradley on December 18th, 2013

Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.

Brad Penner/USA Today Sports The defense of Sean Kilpatrick (right) and his fellow Bearcats was key in Cincinnati's 44-43 win over Pittsburgh at the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday.

Brad Penner/USA Today Sports
The defense of Sean Kilpatrick (right) and his fellow Bearcats was key in Cincinnati’s 44-43 win over Pittsburgh at the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday.

  1. It is clear that the question that will determine Cincinnati’s fate this year is whether their aggressive defense can overcome their inept offense. It did so, barely, Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden. The Bearcats held the Panthers without a field goal for more than 11 minutes of game action, bridging the half, but only managed to outscore punchless Pitt 6-5 over that span. After a veritable offensive explosion in which Pitt made four field goals in less than three minutes, Cincinnati endured an even longer drought, failing to make a field goal for more than 13 minutes. And yet, Cameron Wright‘s driving layup with 1:09 remaining gave Pitt a 43-42 lead. Admittedly, a key reason the Panthers failed to connect from the field was that Cincinnati continually chose fouls over allowing points in the paint; Pittsburgh shot 29 free throws (making 19) to Cincinnati’s three. But between all the fouls, the Panthers hit only 11-of-33 field goals, a testament to the consistent defensive pressure they faced all night.
  2. There was much moaning and complaining on Twitter about the lack of aesthetic appeal offered by last night’s match-up. And while it was no offensive masterpiece, scoring efficiency wasn’t awful at right around 0.9 points per possession. What really set apart this game, though, was the glacial pace of it. At approximately 48 possessions (the average this season is around 68), it was one of the slowest games of the year. As pointed out by @BPredict (proprieter of the Basketball Predictions blog), it’s only the third game so far this season with fewer than 50 possessions, and the first that didn’t involve Delaware State. Cincinnati’s style of play lends itself to slow games, with its lack of any discernible offensive sets paired with relentless defense designed to deny scoring opportunities. Read the rest of this entry »
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Season In Review: Pittsburgh Panthers

Posted by mlemaire on May 15th, 2013

If you are one of those glass half-full type of people, then you could easily point out that a season which saw Pittsburgh finish 24-9 and 12-6 in the Big East is a giant step forward from the year before when the Panthers went just 22-17 and 5-13 in the conference. But chances are that if you are a Pittsburgh basketball fan, you aren’t one of those glass half-full type of people and that is because all of Pitt’s regular season success has never translated into anything more than a single trip to the Elite Eight and a few Sweet Sixteen appearances. The Panthers were good enough to make it back to the NCAA Tournament, which likely saved coach Jamie Dixon from a wave of criticism this offseason, but it wasn’t exactly a triumphant return to the Big Dance. Advanced metrics loved the Panthers because of the team’s exceptional efficiency on both ends of the floor, but that didn’t stop them from shooting 35.1 percent from the field in a first-round clunker against Wichita State and departing from the NCAA Tournament in unceremonious fashion.

Preseason Expectations

Most pundits were cautiously bullish on the Panthers’ chances of rebounding from the 2011-12 debacle. Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson were both gone, but the team returned basically every other contributing player and also added Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler (15.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 46.1% FG as a sophomore with the Chippewas) and ballyhooed freshman center Steven Adams, a seven-footer from New Zealand who was universally considered an NBA talent. No one expected the Panthers to shock the world this season, but both the coaches and our writers had Pitt pegged as one of the top five teams in the conference, and during the regular season at least, they made us look smart.

It Will Be Another Long Off-season For Jamie Dixon After Another Disappointing Early Exit From the NCAA Tournament.

It Will Be Another Long Off-season For Jamie Dixon After Another Disappointing Early Exit From the NCAA Tournament.

The Good

Despite the disappointing finish, there are plenty of team-wide positives Dixon can point to this offseason. For starters, the Panthers’ trademark defense returned with a flourish. After finishing outside the top 150 in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2011-12, the Panthers leaped all the way back into the top 20 in that category by creating turnovers and contesting shooters on every possession. The offense was even more efficient, finishing just outside the top 10 in adjusted offensive efficiency thanks in large part to the team’s terrific offensive rebounding, taking care of the basketball, and insistence on scoring inside of 20 feet. Also, he very much looked the part of a freshman point guard at times this season, but James Robinson (6.1 PPG and 3.5 APG in just 26.6 MPG) is going to develop into an excellent floor general for Dixon as quickly as next season. Neither Woodall nor Lamar Patterson took their games to the next level, but they were still the only two consistent offensive threats on the roster. Even Adams (7.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 57.7 FG%) proved himself to be an excellent prospect, although he didn’t exactly set the conference ablaze like so many had predicted.

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Playing Catch-Up: How The Big East Has Fared To Date

Posted by mlemaire on November 16th, 2011

Since the Big East microsite was a little later to the 2011-12 season than some of its other brothers and sisters, let’s take a few moments to get caught up on where things stand heading into this year.  These 16 teams are listed in no particular order.

Syracuse: Projected preseason Big East co-champs (with Connecticut) by the coaches and currently ranked No. 5 in the country by the Associated Press, the Orange are talented, deep and 3-0 to start the year. They captured the coveted de-facto New York state title with easy wins over Fordham, Manhattan and Albany. Through those three games, ten players have logged at least 30 minutes of playing time.  The early stat leaders have been 6’7” senior forward Kris Joseph (16.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG) who notched his 1000th career point against Manhattan, and 6’8” junior forward James Southerland (13.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG).  However it is likely individual numbers will not tell the story as the wealth will be spread around Syracuse’s vast depth.  You know the names.

  • Guards:  Scoop Jardine (senior), Brandon Triche (junior) Dion Waiters (sophomore) and Michael Carter-Williams (freshman)
  • Forwards: C.J. Fair (sophomore) and Rakeem Christmas (freshman)

All of the above along with a fit and productive sophomore center Fab Melo will keep Jim Boeheim and the air horn busy all year long.  

James Southerland Has Been Great So Far This Season

Louisville: The good news is that Louisville is 2-0 as they prepare for this weekend’s matchup against Butler. The bad news is the Cardinals are already thinner then when they started the season, having lost versatile role player Mike Marra for the season because of a knee injury suffered against Lamar. The team might be deep enough to absorb the loss of Marra, but they will be thin up front, especially if sophomore center Gorgui Dieng (7 RPG, 4.5 BPG) is continuously in foul trouble. As is often the case with Rick Pitino-coached teams, the Cardinals played suffocating defense in holding both Tennessee-Martin and Lamar below 30 percent from the field and that defense will keep Louisville competitive all season long. Freshman Chase Behanan (12 PPG, 12.5 RPG) looks the part of a double-double machine, but he will be in danger of wearing down if he consistently has to play more than 30 minutes per game.

Pittsburgh: Everybody knew that Pittsburgh would have one of the better starting lineups in the conference this season, but after two games, the jury is still out on how deep Jamie Dixon’s bench goes. Rider only dressed nine players on Saturday and Pittsburgh still needed to come behind in the second half to win. Ashton Gibbs (22.5 PPG) is going to shoot a lot and will be in contention for the conference’s scoring title. Tray Woodall (52.9 3PT%) seems to have drastically improved his shooting and will be dangerous offensive weapon, and Nasir Robinson and Dante Taylor help form a rugged and experienced frontcourt. But if the Panthers want to contend for the conference crown this season, a lot will depend on the development of roles players like Talib Zanna and freshmen Khem Birch, John Johnson, and Cameron Wright.

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