Morning Five: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 17th, 2014

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  1. We know that predicting the recovery time from a sprained ankle can be difficult, but the information from BYU about Tyler Haws‘ sprained left ankle is more nebulous than we are used to hearing. According to the school, Haws, the third-leading scorer in the country at 23.8 points per game, will be out for an undetermined period of time. Dave Rose seems to be targeting the team’s December 27 game against Gonzaga, which would mean that Haws would miss two weeks, but the school does not want to put a timetable on his return. We have even seen one local writer say that Haws could play as early as this Saturday, but that seems wildly optimistic.
  2. Illinois State suffered a big loss as DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell is expected to be out indefinitely with a broken right hand. Akoon-Purcell was the Redbirds leading scorer this season at 14.1 points per game and was second in rebounding at 5.5 per game. To make matters worse for the Redbirds, senior guard Bobby Hunter (fourth on the team at 8.9 points per game) is recovering from concussion-like symptoms. Akoon-Purcell is expected to miss four-to-six weeks, but it has not been decided yet if he will need surgery, which would obviously have a big impact on his expected recovery time.
  3. We have heard many people ask questions about the potential impact of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, but one possibility we had not consider was a state requiring that college athletes be paid. We might get our first example in South Carolina where a state senator is attempting to introduce a bill that would require state schools with at least $50 million in revenue (Clemson and South Carolina) to pay student-athletes in revenue sports in good academic standing a weekly stipend and set up a trust fund to pay those who graduate while providing a financial literacy course. The weekly stipend is expected to be around $150, which according to the bill should not be an issue for Clemson or South Carolina, which had budgets of approximately $90 million and $70 million respectively. While the NCAA might be willing to look the other way to a degree on the legalization of marijuana we doubt that they would be able to ignore this type of law.
  4. Yesterday, Creighton suspended junior guard James Miliken indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules. While Miliken’s season averages–5.7 points and 2.4 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game–are pedestrian, he did score 23 points in 34 minutes in a double-overtime win against South Dakota last week. While these suspensions for undisclosed violations of team rules tend to typically be merely a slap on the wrist, the school’s statement that “a decision on [Miliken’s] standing within the program is not expected until after the Christmas break” does seem somewhat ominous. If Miliken does not return, the Bluejays should be fine thanks to their depth.
  5. hile the Chris Herren story gets plenty of attention thanks to the 30 for 30 on him as well as his speaking engagements, there are countless other tales of similarly talented players who saw their careers and lives wrecked by drugs. One such player is Tommy Gaines, who was featured in an excellent piece on Grantland by Jordan Ritter Conn. To be honest, we don’t remember much about Gaines and the article doesn’t give a great account of his background mostly because it is so difficult to piece together information about a person like him back then (something we won’t have a problem with if it were to happen today). Still the story about his past and his attempt at redemption is certainly worth your time.
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ACC M5: 12.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on December 12th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Raleigh News & Observer: In this piece, Andrew Carter talks about North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, who’s trying to regain the shooting form that made him a preseason All-American. With his accuracy numbers (35.5% FG) significantly down compared to last year, you have to wonder if Paige is feeling the pressure of being North Carolina’s only viable perimeter threat this season. He probably needs to regain that touch soon if the Tar Heels want to hang with top-ranked Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday (12 ET – CBS). While Kentucky is a bad match-up for most any team, they are a really bad match-up for teams that score almost exclusively from two-point baskets in the paint. Currently, North Carolina ranks 14th in the country in percentage of its points derived from two-pointers, while Kentucky leads the nation in defending two-point attempts, allowing only 30 percent. It would help the Tar Heels’ cause if forward Brice Johnson played well, but don’t count on it. A look at Johnson’s game-by-game statistics so far this year reveals a disturbing trend. In contests against the team’s four worst opponents, Johnson has solid numbers (16.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 61% FG); but against the team’s four top-40 opponents, his production has basically been cut in half (7.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 32% FG).
  2. South Bend Tribune & Seminoles.com: Notre Dame visits Florida State on Saturday (8pm ET – ESPN2) in an early conference match-up between two teams that appear to be moving in opposite directions. The Irish (9-1) are off to nice start and entered the AP Top 25 earlier this week. The Notre Dame offense has been on a tear, averaging 85.1 points per contest while leading the country in field goal shooting (56.2%). On the other hand, the Seminoles (4-4) have been one of the more disappointing teams in the ACC. But in fairness to Leonard Hamilton’s squad, it has been beset by injuries to their two primary guards. After missing two-and-a-half games, Aaron Thomas returned to action last week and looked back in top form, with 22 points in Florida State’s 96-73 victory over Central Florida. Hamilton hopes to get starting point guard Devon Bookert back for the Notre Dame game, after he missed the previous five games due to a foot injury.
  3. Fox Sports: In a game that didn’t get a lot of attention, Clemson rallied for a big overtime home win over #18 Arkansas this past Sunday evening. With all the hoopla surrounding the new NCAA football playoff selection coupled with a normal NFL Sunday, many didn’t notice that the Tigers gained their second win this season over an SEC squad (the other was LSU). Ironically, Clemson’s next two games are also against SEC members, Auburn and South Carolina. In Sunday’s win, Brad Brownell’s guys showed flashes of the defense we have come to expect from Clemson, holding the potent Razorbacks to a season low in points and points per possession (1.04 PPP). In each of Brownell’s first four years at the helm, the Tigers have ranked among the nation’s top-60 in adjusted defensive efficiency, but even after Sunday’s strong performance, Clemson only ranks 121st this year.
  4. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Jamie Dixon was happy to welcome Cameron Wright back to action last Friday in the Panthers’ 76-62 win over crosstown rival Duquesne. Wright only played a token minute, but after a week of practice the senior wing should be ready for more minutes this weekend when the Panthers host St. Bonaventure on Saturday. Dixon hopes that Wright’s return will have a positive impact on the Pitt defense, normally a program strength but an inconsistent liability so far this year. In each of the Panthers’ three losses, opponents torched the Pitt defense by scoring over 1.2 points per possession, a mark only bested by three Panther opponents during all of last season.
  5. Winston-Salem Journal: In a bit of a surprise on Tuesday, sophomore guard Miles Overton informed Danny Manning that he would be leaving the Wake Forest program, effective immediately. It wouldn’t have been as big of a shock if the announcement had come about a week earlier, as Overton had only logged 49 minutes of playing time in the Deacons’ first six games. But last week, he saw a lot more action, scoring 22 points in 40 minutes combined in his last two games. In any case, by leaving now, Overton can transfer to another school for the spring semester, and be eligible to play again next December.
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ACC Exam Week: Grading Out the 15 Schools

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 11th, 2014

It’s Exam Week in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so what better time than the present to analyze the basketball aptitude of the 15 member institutions? Below we present three groupings: the teams representing the head of the class; those with the potential to improve on their early season results; and the disappointments. There’s no sliding scale to our grading system, so the teams were evaluated on how they have performed no matter their preseason expectations (sorry, tough professor).

Top of the Class

  • Duke has earned nothing shy of an A+ thus far, playing like a team that’s clearly a national title contender. The freshmen and veteran holdovers have meshed beautifully, and the Blue Devils’ 8-0 record includes a quality win over Michigan State as well as a very impressive defeat of fellow contender Wisconsin on the road.
  • Louisville is having no problem representing its new conference in an 8-0 start, save for a head-scratching 45-33 win over Cleveland State. Knocking off Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge as well as wins over Minnesota and Indiana leave the Cardinals looking like a contender for the crown too. Montrezl Harrell has been as good as advertised, and the long-awaited emergence of Wayne Blackshear makes this a very dangerous team.
  • Notre Dame sure missed Jerian Grant down the stretch last season. Now that its leading man is back from suspension, the Irish have started off hot. They’re a one-point loss to Providence from being 10-0 and they can present a quality win by virtue of besting Michigan State. Four double-figure scorers contribute to the 10th highest-scoring offense in the country at 85.1 points per game.
Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

  • Could Virginia actually be better than last year’s conference championship-winning team? The Cavaliers have let Justin Anderson loose, and he has been nothing short of a star to pair along with Malcolm Brogdon. They’re still one of the best defensive teams in the country and have shown they can win playing multiple styles, counting road wins over Maryland and VCU already on the resume.
  • Miami is probably the pleasant surprise of the conference thus far, sporting a 9-1 record and earning a spot few saw coming in the national rankings. We’ll excuse the hiccup against Wisconsin-Green Bay (the same team that nipped Virginia early last year) since the Hurricanes have already beaten Florida and Illinois. Transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan have allowed the other players who were asked to do too much last season to return to more comfortable supporting roles.

Those With Potential

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ACC Stock Watch: Week Three

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 5th, 2014

After two weeks of some mediocre non-conference competition along with some enlightening Feast Week match-ups, the conference found itself in familiar territory battling its peers in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The games featured there, along with the few that preceded it, continue to shine a light on the teams and players in the conference who are rising, falling, or simply standing still. Here’s the third weekly edition of our ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Tyus Jones, Duke. No one had a better week than the Blue Devils’ freshman point guard. After a sizzling 16 points and 10 assists in a win over Army earlier this week, Jones put the team on his back to help Duke defeat the nation’s fourth-ranked team on the road. His 22 points helped to offset an average game from the more-ballyhooed Jahlil Okafor, who posted 13 points while battling underneath with the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky all night. More impressive than his numbers was his poise down the stretch and how efficiently he ran the Duke offense all night long. The first true road test was little test at all for this standout freshman.
  • Wayne Blackshear, Louisville. Terry Rozier hit the big shots at the end of the game in the Cardinals’ win over Ohio State on Tuesday night, but it was Blackshear’s breakout performance that made the biggest impact. Long a player with high upside but inconsistent production, Blackshear’s all-around game against the Buckeyes (22 points, 4-of-8 from three, six rebounds) was the kind of contribution that Rick Pitino and Louisville has been waiting for from the senior.
Wayne Blackshear's big night is hopefully a sign of more good things to come for Louisville (USAToday Sports)

Wayne Blackshear’s big night is hopefully a sign of more good things to come for Louisville fans (USAToday Sports)

  • Duke. What can really be said about the scariest team in the country not located in Lexington? Duke went into a very difficult road environment in Madison, Wisconsin, and merely shot 65 percent from the field and used its talented freshmen trio to overcome the veteran stars of the Badgers. They’re as efficient an offensive team as there is in college basketball right now.
  • Miami. While the buzzer-beater win over Florida has now lost some of its luster, the Hurricanes just keep on winning. After dispatching an overmatched South Alabama team, Miami held Illinois (a team averaging 90 points per game coming in) to only 61 in its win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The transfers are everything Jim Larranaga could have hoped they’d be, and holders Manu Lecomte and Tonye Jekiri are flourishing in complementary roles.

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Big Ten/ACC Challenge: Which League Has the Upper Hand?

Posted by mpatton on December 2nd, 2014

The Big Ten/ACC Challenge wasn’t the original inter-conference, made-for-TV battle, but it’s still the best. It represents a clash of styles, histories (especially with most of the Big East now in the ACC) and talent between two of the top basketball leagues in the country. The ACC dominated the Challenge from its inception, winning the first 10 meetings from 1999-2008, but the Big Ten is in the middle of a furious comeback by winning three in a row from 2009-11 before the ACC managed to eke out a couple of ties. This season the challenge expanded to a whopping 14 games, and on paper it looks like it will be another close one.

Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers Headline the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Monday (Big Ten leads 2-0)

The Challenge started on Monday night, with Big Ten schools coming away victorious in two blockbuster middling match-ups. Florida State and Clemson have disappointed to start the season, so their losses to Nebraska and Rutgers weren’t surprising. But it’s not like those two schools have looked like powerhouses either. It’s also important to note that both games took place on ACC turf, which means the ACC needs to steal at least two road games of its own in order to break even the rest of the way. That these were considered toss-ups is also somewhat troubling. Regardless, let’s look at the remainder of the schedule.

Tuesday

  • Pittsburgh at Indiana (7:00 PM ESPN2): Recent history says this match-up will be awesome, but this season has been a disappointment so far for both teams. Jamie Dixon’s Panthers took an unexpected loss to Hawaii on its way to the Maui Invitational; likewise, the Hoosiers lost a shocker at home to Eastern Washington. Over the course of the season, Pittsburgh appears to be the better team, but without Durand Johnson (suspended for the season) and the game in Bloomington, there are plenty of questions. Prediction: Pittsburgh
  • Minnesota at Wake Forest (7:00 PM ESPNU): Look at this game on paper and it looks like a blowout. The Demon Deacons have finished near the bottom of the ACC during the last four years, and they’re also coming off a loss to Delaware State (at home). But Minnesota looks beatable here — especially if Codi Miller-McIntyre plays up to his potential. The Gophers are more experienced, but Danny Manning’s team should be able to pull off a couple of a head-scratching wins this season at home (I mean, Jeff Bzdelik pulled the feat last year), so this game isn’t as straightforward as it looks. Prediction: Wake Forest

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Back and Forth: Best of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Posted by David Harten on December 2nd, 2014

For the past 15 years, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge has done its part to give the college basketball community some great early season games. But as you scroll through the annals of the event’s fun history, it’s not chock-full of historic moments. Don’t get me wrong — there were a number of great games to choose from, but aside from the hardcore college basketball aficionado (/raises hand), it’s tough to isolate a few stand alone plays or performances to define this stable of yearly games between two of the country’s best conferences. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the bottom line is that the Challenge has not been an event known for so many great moments as much as great basketball.

Fourteen Years of ACC/Big Ten Challenges Have Produced Some Great Moments

Fifteen Years of ACC/Big Ten Challenges Have Produced a Few Great Moments

Still, there have been a few. Here are some of those moments and games.

5) 11/29/06 – Purdue 61, No. 25 Virginia 59: Crump For The Win. Tarrance Crump only averaged 5.0 points per game and shot 41 percent from the field in his two seasons with the Boilermakers, but the floater he hit with 1.8 seconds left in the Challenge game to give Purdue the win over a ranked Virginia team may have been the biggest shot of his career. His game-winning shot was set up after Virginia’s Sean Singletary hit two free throws to tie the game with 29 seconds remaining. The win was notable in that it was Purdue’s first over a ranked non-conference opponent at home in 21 years. (Challenge result: 8-3 ACC.)

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ACC M5: Who’s Been a Turkey Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 26th, 2014

morning5_ACC

Here’s a look at some of the most disappointing performances so far by ACC teams.

  1. Clemson: The Tigers already have two bad losses on their resume. First came a 77-74 home loss to Winthrop on Monday, November 17, and then Clemson suffered an unimpressive 72-70 defeat at the hands of Gardner Webb, this past Friday in the opening round of the Paradise Jam Tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The shocking thing about both losses is that we expected Brad Brownell’s Tigers to struggle on offense and be stingy as always on the defensive end, but that was not the case in either game. In fact, Clemson shot over 48 percent from the field in both contests but surprisingly allowed over 70 points to two offenses that kenpom currently has ranked #194 (Gardner Webb) and #244 (Winthrop). In the two games combined, Clemson gave up 20 made three-point baskets, allowed 24 offensive rebounds, and only forced 14 turnovers. It should be noted that the Tigers did respond to these losses with back-to-back wins over Nevada and LSU in the Paradise Jam, but those bad losses will stick with them (and the ACC) all season long.
  2. Florida State: Picked by most to finish in the upper-middle part of the ACC, Leonard Hamilton’s squad has been a huge disappointment so far by dropping three of its first four games. All of the defeats are to teams ranked in kenpom’s top-75, so looked upon individually, no loss is considered terrible, but in two of them the circumstances are troubling. First of all, a mid-level ACC team should not lose at home to any team from the Colonial Athletic Conference, but that’s exactly what happened as Northeastern edged the Seminoles, 76-73 in Tallahassee last Tuesday. Then Florida State dropped back-to-back games over the weekend at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Uncasville, Connecticut. Providence destroyed them, 80-54 on Saturday by scoring at will (1.26 points per possession) on the normally stout Seminoles’ defense. That’s the second worst defensive performance by Florida State since the 2007-08 season. Sunday’s 75-69 loss to Massachusetts was much more competitive, especially considering that star guard Aaron Thomas missed the second half after being rushed to the hospital for apparent dehydration due to an illness. This isn’t the first time that Florida State has struggled during the early nonconference part of the season, and often they are able to turn things around in conference play and contend for a bid to the NCAA tournament. However if the Seminoles drop many more games before January, they may be in too big a hole to dig out of in the newly improved ACC.
  3. Pittsburgh: In a game that went largely unnoticed, Pittsburgh took a tough 74-70 loss at Hawaii, last Friday night. It was the first of four games in Maui for the Panthers as they are now competing in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Perhaps due to jet lag, Pitt allowed the Rainbow Warriors to connect on 53 percent of their field goals. The defense didn’t get much better though in Monday’s 81-68 win over Chaminade, as the Division II Silverswords also topped the 50 percent mark from the field. The Panthers won because they were able to dominate the glass by a huge +34 rebound margin, which included 27 offensive boards for Pitt. Even before this trip, Pittsburgh was not very impressive in a seven point win over Samford, currently ranked #306 in kenpom. Jaime Dixon’s squad still has a chance to right the ship before returning stateside, but at least thus far, Pittsburgh’s reputation as a tough team to score against looks to be in jeopardy this season.
  4. Virginia Tech: We hesitate to include the Hokies here, since Buzz Williams’ team was not expected to be very good, especially early in the season. But when an ACC school loses on it’s home floor to the 312th ranked team in the country, they don’t deserve a pass. Appalachian State went in to Blacksburg this past Saturday afternoon and beat Virginia Tech, 65-63. The Hokies shot better than Appalachian State from the field and held a +4 edge in turnovers, but couldn’t overcome a shocking rebound deficit of -15. The Mountaineers turned 19 offensive boards into 23 second chance points, while Virginia Tech only scored five from its eight offensive rebounds. Certainly that does not bode well for the Hokies, when stronger ACC frontlines come to town.
  5. Wake Forest: The Deacons have two early losses that are pretty bad, but for different reasons. Last Wednesday, Wake Forest got hammered at Arkansas, 83-53 and followed that by falling at home to Iona on Friday night, by a score of 85-81. While no one expected the Deacons to roll into Fayetteville, Arkansas, and beat a team expected to finish near the top of the SEC, the 30-point margin was disappointing. Even though Iona is a good team and the preseason favorite in the MAAC, and Wake Forest had a quick turnaround following the trip to Arkansas, Danny Manning wasn’t happy with how his team responded in terms of early effort. The new Deacon head coach also wasn’t pleased with himself for calling a timeout that he didn’t have, with Iona up by two and 23.1 seconds left. The Gaels made 2-of-4 subsequent free throws to ice the game. In a recent blog, longtime Wake Forest beat writer Dan Collins discussed how Manning is drawing a line in the sand, regarding the effort level of all his players, including supposed stars Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre. We will soon see if that message is getting results, as the Deacons get an early ACC road game, at N.C. State next Saturday, December 6.
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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments Part I Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 21st, 2014

morning5_ACC Note: To gauge relative team strength, we are using current Kenpom ratings.

  1. Charleston Classic: Fresh off Monday’s big upset over Florida, Jim Larrañaga‘s squad is looking to make some more noise in the Gildan Charleston Classic. On Thursday afternoon, Miami (#40) topped Drexel (#161), 66-46, with its defense, holding the Dragons to 31.4 percent shooting from the field. Next up for the Hurricanes will be this afternoon’s semifinal game (2:30 ET – ESPN2) with Akron (#181), a team that beat USC (#169) yesterday in a mild surprise. It looks like Miami’s only chance for a quality win here would be in Sunday night’s championship game (9:00 ET – ESPN2) against a team from the more competitive side of the bracket. The tourney’s pseudo-host, South Carolina (#81), will meet Charlotte (#87) in today’s other semifinal, so either way Miami will face its toughest opponent in the event on Sunday, with another pretty good opportunity for a resume-building win.
  2. Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Boston College (#147) rebounded from its first loss of the year with a somewhat surprising opening round win on Thursday over New Mexico (#55), 69-65, in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Olivier Hanlan came up big down the stretch with 10 points in the last 7:03 to clinch the win. A look at the bracket shows a tough road ahead for the Eagles with today’s semifinal matchup (5:00 ET – ESPN2) against West Virginia (#47) followed by a game with either Dayton (#50) or defending national champion Connecticut (#18). If Boston College wins one or two more games here, it will be good news for the ACC. Last year, after a terrible non-conference performance, the Eagles became a drag on the entire ACC’s RPI, but this year they may actually be helpful in that regard.
  3. 2K Sports Classic: California (#63) shocked Syracuse (#12) by a score of 73-59 on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden to advance to tonight’s championship game of the 2K Sports Classic, where they will take on Texas (#15). Syracuse, who will face Iowa (#24) in the consolation game (5:00 ET – ESPN2) trailed by 12 at the half and never threatened the Bears the rest of the way. California got a measure of revenge, though, as the Orange beat the Bears in last year’s Maui Invitational on the way to that event’s championship. Jim Boeheim’s Orange saw their hot streak in these type of early tournaments come to a halt, after winning five such events in a row over a six-year period. The last time Syracuse came up short was back in the 2007 NIT Tipoff, also held at the same New York venue, where they settled for third place.
  4. Paradise Jam: This afternoon, Clemson (#91) will kick off the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands with a matchup (1:30 ET) against Gardner-Webb (#191). Here’s a look at the bracket for this event, and it’s clearly not full of top-notch programs compared to many of the other early tournaments. Still, if Clemson were to win this tournament — the championship game is Monday night (9:00 – CBS Sports Network) — beating Seton Hall (#75) and LSU (#77) along the way, it would be a slight boost to the Tigers’ resume and the ACC’s conference RPI. Of course, the opposite is true as well. With a bad home loss to Winthrop (#188) already on its ledger, Clemson can ill afford to drop another game to an opponent outside of the top 100.
  5. Coaches vs. Cancer Classic: Coming off its Champions Classic victory over Michigan State on Tuesday, Duke (#2) is in Brooklyn tonight (9:30 ET – TruTv) to take on Temple (#109) in the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Former Blue Devils player and assistant coach Johnny Dawkins leads Stanford (#52) against UNLV (#98) in the other semifinal game. As a player, Dawkins is widely regarded as the most important recruit in Mike Krzyzewski’s illustrious career in Durham, and later he spent 11 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater. If the two meet on Saturday night (Finals: 9:30 ET – TruTv), it would be the first time Dawkins would get to match coaching wits with his mentor. Now in his seventh year at Stanford, Dawkins needs another solid season to stay off the hot seat. He finally got his team to the NCAA Tournament last March, when the Cardinal upset Kansas before losing to Dayton in the Sweet Sixteen.
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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: Clemson’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on November 11th, 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.

Will Brad Brownell keep surprising or will KJ McDaniels’ departure spell doom in the upstate?

Let’s be clear, Clemson was a lot better than most people gave it credit for last season. The Tigers made it to the semifinals of the NIT and went 4-8 against Ken Pomeroy’s top 50, with wins coming against Duke, Maryland, Illinois and Florida State. But they also had KJ McDaniels, and just like Clemson was underrated last season, so was he. He was one of the country’s best defenders, using more than 28 percent of Clemson’s possessions while remaining the most efficient player on the team. Now it’s a new year and McDaniels is getting paid to play for the 76ers. There aren’t any returning players in the ACC who could replace him, much less anybody on Brad Brownell’s current roster.

Jaron Blossomgame should help make up some of KJ McDaniels production this season. (AP)

Jaron Blossomgame (5) should help make up some of KJ McDaniels’ lost production this season. (AP)

This year we know one thing: Clemson will play defense. The Tigers return most of their team other than McDaniels and Brownell’s teams always play defense. Seniors Rod Hall and Demarcus Harrison will be joined by Jaron Blossomgame, Jordan Roper and Landry Nnoko. Only Blossomgame was a freshman last year, so that’s a lot of available experience available to Brownell (albeit that experience would make for a short lineup). Blossomgame will likely find himself getting the majority of McDaniels’ old minutes. More interestingly — at least in the long-term — is Brownell bringing in consensus top-100 forward Donte Grantham and Gabe Devoe. Grantham is projected to start right away, and although Devoe wasn’t as highly touted, he lit up the scoreboard in high school (34.0 PPG), and he shot over 40 percent from deep with over 100 makes. Between Grantham’s size and Devoe’s scoring ability, look for these two freshmen to get immediate time. Brownell has struggled in recruiting ACC-caliber talent during his first four seasons, but these two players could mark a turning point in his acquisition of talent.

Having to rely on freshmen to carry an offense that was buoyed to mediocrity by a strong free throw percentage (74.4%) and solid offensive rebounding (33.8%) isn’t a recipe for consistency. And none of the current core has any experience in being a go-to player at this level, an issue that will manifest on nights when the jumpers aren’t falling. With such a strong top of the conference this season, this is probably a year when Clemson slips into the bottom third of the league. Whether that is enough to save Brownell’s job is anybody’s guess, but the future looks bright for the Tigers even if this one feels like a roller coaster.

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ACC M5: 11.10.14 Exhibition II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 10th, 2014

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  1. North Carolina: North Carolina wrapped up its exhibition season with another rout, this time thrashing Belmont Abbey by a score of 112-34 on Friday night. Once again, it was freshman Justin Jackson who led the way, efficiently scoring 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field. Even against Division II competition, Roy Williams has to be pleased with the pace at which the Tar Heels are scoring and how well they are sharing the ball. In their two exhibition games, the Heels have scored a total of 223 points and tallied 54 assists. Another encouraging sign is that North Carolina has made 73 percent (38-of-52) of its attempts from the stripe in its two preseason contests, after struggling mightily from the foul line last year (62.6%).
  2. Wake Forest: Wake Forest held its only preseason exhibition game in the Joel Coliseum on Friday night,  besting Young Harris by a 96-71 score. New head coach Danny Manning arrived in Winston-Salem with a reputation for developing big men while he was an assistant at Kansas, and he might already be illustrating that impact as junior center/power forward Devin Thomas went for 26 points and 12 boards on perfect 12-for-12 shooting. Two lingering concerns for the Deacs, though, were the 20 turnovers committed and the 25 fouls whistled on them.
  3. Duke: Duke won its second and final exhibition game over the defending NCAA Division II champs, Central Missouri, on Saturday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Mules actually took it to the Blue Devils early, grabbing a 13-7 lead before Duke answered with 17 consecutive points to methodically take control of the game. With their size and talent advantage, Duke racked up a huge edge in free throw attempts (+28), and while center Jahlil Okafor has received most of the preseason hype, fellow freshman Justise Winslow has been the team’s leading scorer in each preseason game.
  4. NC State: The Wolfpack played their lone exhibition game of the preseason as well on Saturday, beating Queens by a score of 78-47. NC State only led by two at the half but dominated afterwards, holding Queens to 24 percent shooting from the field in the second half. The Wolfpack also forced 30 turnovers in the game, and even though the competition wasn’t ACC-caliber, anything close to that mark in the regular season would be a pleasant surprise for a program not known for pressure defense. Two freshmen forwards, Caleb Martin and Abdul-Malik Abu, led the scoring column with 16 and 14 points, respectively, making their bids to replace some of the departed T.J. Warren’s offensive firepower.
  5. Clemson: It looks like more of the same for Clemson this year, and that means defense will once again be the Tigers’ calling card. Brad Brownell’s team harassed Anderson into a colder-than-ice 15.7 percent shooting night in a 62-36 victory Saturday in Littlejohn Coliseum. Unfortunately it might be more of the same for the Tigers’ offense as well. Clemson shot a dismal 31.7 percent from the field and only connected on 9-of-31 three-pointers. Let’s hope Clemson’s regular season games won’t all be as ugly as this one. Each team experienced horrendous scoring droughts, with Anderson in one stretch missing 19 straight shots and Clemson misfiring on its first 15 second half attempts. That couldn’t have been very easy on the eyes.
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ACC M5: Halloween Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2014

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  1. TheACC.com: The ACC media picked Duke as a fairly strong favorite to win the league this year, giving the Blue Devils 41 out of a possible 65 first place votes at ACC Operation Basketball on Wednesday (for a complete rundown of the day, don’t forget to check out Lathan Wells’ 15 takeaways post). North Carolina joins newcomer Louisville and defending champ Virginia in a tight cluster in the next three spots in the poll. Last year’s three Big East transfer teams occupy the next three positions, which confirms the general opinion that the old ACC needed an injection of quality teams to boost itself back into the nation’s elite. The preseason all-ACC team was led by North Carolina guard Marcus Paige, but an interesting repeat member of the preseason all-conference squad is Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, who missed the entire ACC season in 2013-14 due to his academic suspension.
  2. Kenpom: Speaking of rankings, Ken Pomeroy has posted his initial ratings for all 351 NCAA Division I teams, and he gives a summary explanation of how he develops his statistical model in his most recent blog entry. The legendary guru of advanced basketball statistics has six ACC squads among his top-23, including Duke at #1, which is a mild shock considering the relative talent and experience returning at Kentucky and Arizona. Somewhat surprisingly, the ACC is rated as the Pomeroy’s third-best conference, sitting behind the Big Ten and Big 12. Of course, as the season progresses, Pomeroy’s preseason ratings will weigh progressively less in his formulas, giving a more accurate picture of all the teams as they relate to each other.
  3. Charlottesville Daily Progress: One thing that came out of ACC Operation Basketball that caught many by surprise was when Tony Bennett revealed that Virginia’s accomplished sophomore point guard London Perrantes has not practiced since a foot injury occurred on October 3. Although the Cavaliers have had their fair share of injuries over the last few years, last season’s run to the ACC regular season title was definitely aided by the fine health of the team. Virginia was able to develop a consistent rotation in which everyone knew and executed their respective roles, game after game, culminating with the Cavaliers grabbing their first ACC Tournament championship in almost 40 years. Certainly, January and conference play is pretty far off at this point, so Bennett hopes Perrantes is able to get healthy in time to make a similar run.
  4. Greensboro News-Record: In this interesting piece, Ed Hardin looks at the ACC’s newest member Louisville and compares Rick Pitino’s program to some of the great ACC teams of the past from a style standpoint. It is true that the Cardinals bring characteristics that remind long-time observers of some of the ACC’s best and most entertaining teams in its long and illustrious history. For instance, the multiple defenses that Pitino employs so effectively reminds us of how North Carolina’s Dean Smith befuddled opponents by using combinations of man-to-man and zone defenses, trapping on both. And even though Pitino is known as a visionary regarding the use of the three-point shot as a vital part of his offense, going back to leading an improbable Providence team to the 1987 Final Four, he knows the value of a legitimate inside game as well.
  5. Groupstate.com: It seems as if Clemson’s representatives in Charlotte were asked about departed player K.J. McDaniels more than they were questioned about this year’s squad. Possibly only ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren of N.C. State meant as much to his team last season as did McDaniels, now beginning his NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers. But while the Wolfpack will certainly miss Warren’s offense, what makes the loss of McDaniels so critical to Clemson is that he was its best player all over the court. It will obviously take a committee of several to replace everything he did, but the ACC media is skeptical of that notion, picking Clemson 11th this year after a sixth place finish in 2013-14.
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