ACC Burning Questions, Part IV: Syracuse, Florida State & Louisville

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 30th, 2019

Syracuse Burning Question: Can Elijah Hughes and the Orange make enough shots to spend a March off of the bubble?

It’s No Coincidence the Orange Man Resembles a Bubble (USA Today Images)

For a school with pedigree and a track record of sustained basketball excellence, the last half-decade has been somewhat of a slog for Syracuse. Almost perennially the power school at the heart of the bubble conversation, the Orange have lost 13 or more games in each of the last five campaigns. And with four starters gone from a 20-14 squad, Jim Boeheim‘s roster would suggest another March where his disposition is wrought with anxiety.

To avoid that fate, Syracuse will need to make more shots from all over the court. The Orange rated 229th nationally in effective field goal percentage a season ago, and were objectively poor from beyond the arc (229th), in two-point range (213th) and from the charity stripe (260th). The loss of its most accomplished scorer and offensive initiator, Tyus Battle, isn’t a great start on improving that ineptitude, but perhaps a more featured role for Elijah Hughes would pay dividends. Hughes led the team with 87 threes a year ago, and was the most efficient scorer the Orange had by a comfortable margin. However, he often times deferrred to Battle, Oshae Brissett and even Frank Howard, relegated to a catch-and-shoot man. This year, Hughes will undeniably be the alpha dog, and how he handles that elevation will likely tell the story of Syracuse’s season.

Florida State Burning Question: Is this the new normal at Florida State?

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ACC 2019-20 Tipoff

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 21st, 2019

We are now just over two weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next two weeks we will provide key question previews of all 15 ACC schools and we will also be sharing our preseason thoughts on Twitter. Follow us there – @rtcACC, Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald). But first, let’s put a bow on last season and take a quick peak ahead at the upcoming campaign.

2018-19 Recap

Redemption and miracle finishes were the themes in Virginia’s dramatic run to the 2019 National Championship. (USA TODAY Sports)

It was another highly successful year for the conference. The ACC became the first league in history to land the top three rankings in the final AP poll – Duke, Virginia and North Carolina – all of which earned #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Then, in one of the all-time best NCAA turnarounds, Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers collected the program’s first National Championship just one year after suffering the agonizing distinction of becoming the first top seed in history to fall to a #16 seed. To add to the drama, Virginia faced extreme peril in each of its final three games in last season’s tourney. According to KenPom’s win probability model, the Cavaliers overcame the following situations:

  • Elite Eight vs Purdue – Trailed 70-67 with 16 seconds to play (Win Probability = 12.2%)
  • Final Four vs Auburn – Trailed 61-57 with 17 seconds to play (Win Probability = 5.5%)
  • Title Game vs Texas Tech – Trailed 68-65 with 22 seconds to play (Win Probability = 13.0%)
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Three #1 Seeds Still a Possibility as ACC Finishes League Play

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 7th, 2019

On the strength of a second-half long-range assault, Virginia bludgeoned Syracuse at the Carrier Dome Monday and all but ensured that the Cavaliers will repeat as regular season ACC champions. They are set to host Louisville this weekend to close the regular season, while co-leader North Carolina, which Virginia defeated in its lone meeting this year, will host a third-place Duke team likely to be without Zion Williamson for a fifth straight game.

These three teams were expected to carry the ACC flag heading into the campaign, and they collectively have done nothing to dispel those preseason expectations. All three remain very much alive for #1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, with Virginia closest to lock territory. Duke, assuming Williamson suits up and acquits himself well in the ACC Tournament, seems comfortably entrenched on the top line too, while North Carolina has put itself in very good position to move up if it can complete the season sweep of Duke on Saturday.

The two outfits trailing the conference elite played an overtime thriller on Tuesday night, as Florida State protected its home floor in squeaking by a Justin Robinson-less Virginia Tech, and clinched the coveted double-bye at next week’s ACC Tournament in the process. The Seminoles and Hokies are both viable sleepers to make a run to Minneapolis this April, while the top three could each be considered favorites to do so when the brackets are revealed a week from Sunday.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume VI

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 19th, 2019

With Virginia’s win over Virginia Tech on Monday night, North Carolina is now in position to create a three-way tie at first place in the ACC standings with an upset victory at Duke on Wednesday. 

Stock Rising

Florida State is Riding High Again (USA Today Images)

Florida State: Just one short month ago, the Seminoles blew a 10-point halftime lead at Boston College to extend their losing streak to three games. That defeat dropped Florida State to 1-4 in ACC play and out of the national polls. With a promising season circling the drain, Leonard Hamilton’s veteran squad has responded by winning every game since. In ripping off those seven consecutive wins, Florida State has vaulted itself back into the second tier of the league behind Virginia, North Carolina and Duke. Only a dramatic comeback overtime victory over Louisville and a nine-point handling of Clemson were close games. In typical fashion, the Seminoles are winning with balance, depth, length and defensive acumen. Five different players have led the team in scoring over the past seven games, and only the Cardinals reached 70 points against their top-20 defense.

Sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele has been a revelation, leading the Seminoles in scoring despite not starting a single game. Senior Terrance Mann is the only other player averaging in double figures, but Florida State’s lack of an explosive scorer is made up in the balance of having eight guys notching 6.5 points per game or better. The Seminoles face a stiff test in keeping its current winning streak alive, as a trip to a desperate Clemson team looms tonight followed by a visit to Chapel Hill. But, with a split, and with all of its final four games coming in Tallahassee and at Wake Forest, Hamilton’s squad could find itself right where most envisioned prior to its slow start — as the #4 seed heading into the ACC Tournament.

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What’s Trending: The Wild Week That Was

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 18th, 2019

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

It was quite a week for Kentucky at Rupp Arena. It began with a controversial ending as SEC rival LSU got the benefit of the doubt when it came to a tip-in at the buzzer.

https://twitter.com/SECNetwork/status/1095506119525650438

The loss pushed Kentucky two games behind SEC-leading Tennessee. Not to worry, though, as the Wildcats took a bite out of the #1 team in the country in a prime time showcase between top-five teams.

The win against the Volunteers pushed Kentucky’s John Calipari into some new territory of his own…

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ACC Stock Report: Volume III

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 24th, 2019

As we are now a third of the way through the conference docket, the preseason favorites of Duke, Virginia and North Carolina have forged a three-way tie for first at 5-1. Two other teams sit a half-game behind that trio, as Syracuse and a surprising Louisville squad are at 4-1, which is where we start this week’s stock report.

Uptrend

It’s Return of the Mack Around Louisville (USA Today Images)
  • Chris Mack: Given the context of a largely unproven roster, it was reasonable to assume that Louisville would be a sub-.500 team in mid-December. Instead, Mack’s team navigated the non-conference slate nimbly enough to take nine of its 13 games, highlighted by a mammoth home win over an increasingly exceptional looking Michigan State club. That momentum has carried over into ACC play, as the Cardinals have won four of their first five contests, announcing themselves as an upper echelon player in throttling North Carolina by 21 in Chapel Hill. It was the worst home loss for the Tar Heels in the Roy Williams’ era, and that performance played a major part in Louisville’s rapid ascension in the KenPom ratings. Up from a middling 63rd in the preseason to a robust 16th now, it appears that Mack didn’t understand that 2018-19 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Barring something unforeseen, the Cardinals are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus. Louisville hosts NC State tonight in a match-up between the two most pleasant surprises the league has to offer this season.
  • John Mooney: Injuries and uncharacteristically poor shooting (223rd in 3FG, 266th in 2FG) have combined to sabotage this season in South Bend. Short of another Mike Brey magic act, the Fighting Irish look destined to miss the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since 2006. The bright spot amid that disappointment has been junior center John Mooney. Averaging a double-double on the season, Mooney now ranks 10th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage, first in ACC games –where he’s snatching more than 14 total boards per game — and 70th in offensive rating. It will likely be a long winter at Notre Dame, but the Mooney is a sole bright spot as he is putting together a First Team All-ACC campaign.
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Ten Questions To Consider: Mid-season Questions as Non-Conference Play Comes to a Close

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on December 29th, 2018

Sandwiched between the holidays and the New Year is a weekend slate of games that includes a bitter rivalry, several rematches of early season games, and individual matchups that fans and scouts will want to see. Here are ten questions to consider while enjoying games over the next few days.

  1. Can Chris Mack beat Kentucky in his first matchup against the Wildcats as Louisville coach? (Kentucky @ Louisville, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN2) In their first game against Kentucky as head coach of Louisville, both David Padgett and Rick Pitino lost by 20 or more points. Chris Mack’s Lousville team is led by Jordan Nwora who comes into this game having made 16-of-28 three-pointers over the last five games.
  2. Will Florida’s defense be able to create turnovers at a higher rate against Butler this go around? (Butler @ Florida, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPNU) This is a rematch of the Battle 4 Atlantis fifth-place game in which Butler beat Florida 61-54. In that game, Florida’s defense forced turnovers at a season worst rate of just 17.4%. On the season, the Gators force turnovers at a rate of 24.7%, which ranks among the top ten in the nation.
  3. Will one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the country have St. John’s ready for its Big East opener? (St. John’s @ Seton Hall, Saturday 8:30 PM EST, Fox Sports Net) St. John’s has played one of the ten easiest non-conference schedules in the country according to KenPom rankings. The Red Storm begin Big East play against a Seton Hall team that has won five straight.
  4. Will Oregon avoid disaster in a trap-game at Boise State? (Oregon @ Boise State, Saturday 7:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Oregon beat Boise State by 12 points just two weeks ago at Matthew Knight Arena. The Broncos led the Ducks at halftime of that game. This game is sandwiched between a loss at Baylor and Oregon’s conference-opener next week against in-state rival Oregon State.
  5. Does Purdue have a bad matchup on its hands with Belmont coming to West Lafayette? (Belmont @ Purdue, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Opponents have shot 38% from beyond the arc against Purdue on the season, which puts Purdue’s three-point defensive ranking outside of the top 300. Belmont enters this game as a team that shoots 36.4% from distance and has six players who have made double-digit threes while shooting at least 33% for the season.
  6. Will North Carolina continue its recent trend of following a loss with a dominating performance? (Davidson @ North Carolina, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN2) North Carolina has lost consecutive non-conference games just once (November 2010) with Roy Williams as coach. Following loses to Texas and Michigan earlier in the season, the Tar Heels came out and won the next games by 16 and 28 points.
  7. What will Markus Howard do next? (Southern @ Marquette, Friday 8 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Marquette’s leading scorer Markus Howard is one of five players in the nation who is averaging 25 or more points per game. Howard is averaging 32.8 points this month and is coming off of his second 45 point game of December. Southern’s defensive efficiency ranks among the bottom five in the nation.
  8. Is beating Lipscomb a must for the sake of Clemson’s resume? (Lipscomb @ Clemson, Sunday 3:00 PM EST, ESPN3) Clemson is 0-3 against KenPom top 100 teams on the season. The Tigers get one more opportunity at a top 100 non-conference win with Lipscomb. If Brad Brownell’s squad does not get the win, early conference games against Duke and Virginia could turn into must-win games.
  9. Which big-man will shine brighter between Ethan Happ and Charles Bassey? (Wisconsin @ Western Kentucky, Saturday 5:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Western Kentucky’s five-star freshman big man Charles Bassey will be put to the test against Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. Both Bassey and Happ do a tremendous job of drawing fouls. With WIsconsin’s offense running through Happ, Bassey’s ability to stay out of foul trouble will be key in this game.
  10. Just how good is the MAC’s second best team? (Penn @ Toledo, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN+) While Buffalo has rightfully been a team that has been in the spotlight, Toledo continues to also perform at a high level. The Rockets are 11-1 with a NET ranking in the top 70. Tod Kowalczyk’s squad’s next three games are all against KenPom top 100 teams, including a January 8th matchup with Buffalo.

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With Chris Mack, Louisville Proving to be Ahead of Schedule

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on December 5th, 2018

When Louisville pried Chris Mack away from Xavier last May, the move was almost universally lauded around college basketball circles. Given the swirl of uncertainty that had become pervasive in the Cardinals’ program over the last few years, nabbing a head coach of Mack’s standing was viewed as a major coup. Sure, a commitment of seven years and nearly $30 million dollars helped, but no price was too steep to acquire someone of Mack’s ability and character. The end of the Rick Pitino era had been marred by very personal and very public lapses of morality mixed with fiery defiance and steadfast refusal of accountability concerning illicit recruiting practices within his program. The Hall of Fame coach’s excellence on the court — Louisville had returned to its historical status as a top 10 national program, just behind the perennial blue-bloods — gave him enough rope to survive a school-imposed postseason ban in 2016; but the final straw came in connection with allegations of fraud and corruption that rocked the NCAA to its core. Louisville saw that it was at a crossroads and its next hire would undoubtedly dictate the trajectory of the next decade of Cardinals’ basketball.

Chris Mack Has Been a Pleasant Early Surprise at Louisville (USA Today Images)

After making the NCAA Tournament in eight of nine seasons at the helm of his alma mater (most recently as a #1 seed), there were only a handful of candidates available who would consider a job facing such an uncertain future. Mack, whose wife is a native of Louisville, nevertheless took the leap, with the expectation that his first season would act as a bridge campaign with a roster largely barren of high-major ACC talent. Expectations are always a moving target, however, and the early returns on Mack’s hire are much better than anticipated. In winning five of its first seven contests, the Cardinals have looked exceedingly capable and competitive against the nation’s 24th-toughest schedule. The most recent four-game gauntlet of Tennessee and Marquette on a neutral floor, home for Michigan State, and at Seton Hall, yielded a respectable 2-2 split with discussion of an at-large NCAA berth considered a very real possibility.

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ACC M5: 12.03.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 3rd, 2018

morning5_ACC

  1. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: After coming up just a little short at Iowa in last week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Pittsburgh struggled early in Friday’s annual City Game with cross-town rival Duquesne. But the Panthers eventually got it going and won going away, 74-53, in front of a crowd of 12,246. We mention the game’s attendance because it represents a 21 percent increase over last year’s meeting in the same event, furthering the notion that first-year head coach Jeff Capel is rebuilding the excitement level for his program in the Steel City. Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot noticed a difference with Capel in charge, saying, “[Former Pitt] Coach [Kevin] Stallings is a finesse guy who is a little more offensively oriented. This team is more like Duke [where Capel played and was an assistant coach].”
  2. Louisvile Courier-Journal: Louisville took another positive step in its own rebuilding process by winning at Seton Hall, 70-65, on Saturday afternoon. The Cardinals showed during Feast Week that they were ready to compete with the big boys — dropping close games against Tennessee and Marquette in the NIT Season Tip-Off — before edging top-10 Michigan State in overtime last week. In adding a significant road win over a Big East club, Chris Mack‘s balanced attack — only Dwayne Sutton (12 points) reached double figures — has become the norm this year. Sophomore breakout player Jordan Nwora (17.7 PPG) leads the squad in scoring, but eight other Cardinals are averaging between 6.3 and 10.0 points per contest. Keep an eye on this team over the next month.
  3. USA Today: Three ACC schools took part in Saturday’s Miami Hoophall Invitational at AmericanAirlines Arena, although the sparse crowds suggest that the four games would have fit better in a local high school gym. Georgia Tech was the first squad to see action, ultimately blowing a 16-point second half lead in falling to St. John’s, 76-73. We are now in year three of the Josh Pastner era, and some clear patterns have emerged:  First, the Yellow Jackets will defend hard (they are currently 16th in national defensive efficiency); next, they will struggle to make shots from deep (30.7% 3FG this season). If their shooting holds, Georgia Tech will fail to make at least 33 percent of its three-pointers for the third straight season. Until Pastner can recruit some shooters into the program — and shouldn’t he have by now (?) — the Yellow Jackets’ limited offense will hold them back.
  4. Miami Sun-Sentinel: Georgia Tech wasn’t the only ACC team to blow a huge lead in the Hoophall Invitational. Home team Miami squandered a 15-point second half advantage in losing to Yale, 77-73, its third consecutive defeat. Head coach Jim Larranaga has noticed a fatal flaw in the Hurricanes’ defense this year — after Yale’s Miye Oni (29 points) torched his club, the Hurricanes’ coach noted, “We just don’t have a guy that can stop a guy like that.” Previously, Bethune-Cookman’s Malik Maitland (29 points) and Fresno State’s Braxton Huggins (28 points) found similar success against the Hurricanes’ defense. This raises the obvious question — if mid-major players are slicing up Miami, what will happen when the stars of the ACC get a crack at the Hurricanes?
  5. WRAL Sportsfan: The only victorious ACC school in Miami on Saturday was NC State, which pulled away late to top Vanderbilt, 80-65. Much like the Wolfpack’s game at Wisconsin earlier in the week — when the Badgers rallied to overtake them — NC State was in control for most of the way before being challenged in the second half. This time, Kevin Keatts’ team responded positively in what was only their second match-up with a team ranked in KenPom’s top 175. NC State forward Torin Dorn is quietly putting up impressive numbers in many areas. The 6’5″ senior is leading the team in scoring (16.6 PPG) and on the boards (7.6 RPG), while making 55.7 percent of his two-point tries and 50.0 percent of his three-point attempts. Additionally, Dorn has collected 14 steals and only committed nine turnovers in eight games this year.
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ACC Conversation: Preseason Projections – Part 1

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 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 1 of that conversation.

Danny Manning needs his young stars to come through for Wake Forest to move up the ACC standings. (Walt Unks/Winston-Salem Journal)

  • Brad Jenkins: Happy New Year, gentlemen! Let’s start with a look at the projected bottom of the league. Matt, you did our preview piece on Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Can any of these teams surprise us and contend for an NCAA bid like the Yellow Jackets did two years ago?
  • Matt Auerbach: Great to be back, guys! The short answer to that, Brad, is no. I just can’t see it. The best-case scenario for the first two, particularly Pittsburgh, is that they are competitive and playing a more exciting brand of basketball than they have the last two years. Jeff Capel was a home run hire that will ultimately steer the Panthers back to relevance. Josh Pastner built up some equity with his run to the NIT finals two years ago, but there doesn’t seem to be much to be excited about in Atlanta. As for Wake, if Jaylen Hoard could have a Trae Young or Deandre Ayton type of impact, sure. While extremely talented, I think the odds of that occurring, however, are near nil, and the pressure will be mounting on Danny Manning if another disappointing season ensues.
  • Mick McDonald: Great point on Capel, Matt. Pitt basketball at least feels interesting again. They’ll be bad this year but I’ll be interested to see how guys like Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens begin their careers. I think they may actually be better than Georgia Tech. Pastner’s team looks rough.
  • Matt Auerbach: Without a doubt, of the three, I’d be least surprised if Pittsburgh won four or five games.
  • Mick McDonald: I know Manning keeps pulling good recruits but it feels like he needs to have a team make some noise sometime soon.
  • Brad Jenkins: I think there’s a chance for Capel to do something like what Pastner did in his first year in Atlanta based on the new energy he has in the Pitt program, but the ACC schedule rotation did him no favors — they have zero home games against the predicted bottom four in the league. Is Manning the ACC coach on the Hot Seat this year?
  • Mick McDonald: I guess, but given how his recruiting is going, I’d bet Manning gets at least one more year.

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