Way Too Early 2018-19 ACC Rankings

Posted by Mick McDonald on April 6th, 2018

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

The Four Kill4s Arrive in Durham With Much Fanfare

  1. Duke. We’ll see if Gary Trent returns, but either way, it’s another loaded freshman class that will make the Blue Devils the most talented team in college basketball. RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are the top three players in the class of 2018 and will be joined by the top-rated point guard, Tre Jones.
  2. Virginia. The Cavaliers lose Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins but return their starting backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, plus ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter. Look for Mamadi Diakite to continue a long line of athletic bigs who flourish in Tony Bennett’s system.
  3. North Carolina. Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are gone, but the Tar Heels return Luke Maye in addition to Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Roy Williams is also bringing in his best recruiting class in years, with point guard Coby White and wing Nassir Little set to arrive. The improvement of sophomore big men Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman will be important to watch.
  4. Virginia Tech. Buzz Williams loses just Justin Bibbs and Devon Wilson from this year’s squad, and he will return a senior-laden backcourt with Ahmed Hill and potential All-ACC player Justin Robinson. Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear, Jr. are versatile bigs who can hit shots from the outside. Last year’s freshmen class also has the potential to break out, especially Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 80, #5 Clemson 76

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Heads Back to the Elite Eight For the Third Year in a Row (USA Today Images)

  1. Udoka Azubuike showed how important he is to Kansas’ success. The sophomore big man is finally back from a knee injury that kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament and limited his minutes during the First and Second Rounds of this NCAA Tournament. With Azubuike now healthy, Kansas forced the issue with him early and often as he finished the evening with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. While those statistics suggest to the casual eye that he just had a good game, you have to look beyond the box score to realize just how important he is to Kansas’ success. The Jayhawks at the very least look his way for an easy bucket every time he’s on the floor, and he is a stalwart in the middle on the defensive end. If Kansas is to win Sunday and advance to Bill Self’s third Final Four, what Azubuike brings to the fold on both ends of the court will be an important factor.
  2. Devonte’ Graham needs to play better if Kansas wants a trip to the Final Four. The final statistics show that Graham finished with a pretty standard outing, totaling 16 points while collecting five rebounds and four assists on the night. While the senior point guard gathered his numbers, he would also be the first to say that he did not play nearly as well as he needs to for his team to advance to San Antonio. Graham made just one of seven shots from three-point range and finished just 4-of-12 from the field. He also committed three uncharacteristic turnovers, including one where he threw the ball away followed by an ill-advised foul that gave Clemson an and-one opportunity. Graham has been quite steady throughout his collegiate career so it is certainly reasonable to expect he will play better against Duke or Syracuse on Sunday. Kansas is going to need a quality performance from him because it cannot advance to another Final Four without Devonte’ Graham playing like the Big 12 Player of the Year.
  3. Clemson deserves a ton of credit for fighting until the final buzzer. There are no good losses or moral victories in the NCAA Tournament, but Clemson’s performance tonight would certainly qualify if there were. Playing in front of a very partisan Kansas crowd, the Tigers fell behind by 20 points early in the second half and it looked like their run was over. It would have been understandable if Brad Brownell‘s squad simply went through the motions for the remainder of the game, but the Tigers instead fought tooth and nail to the final buzzer to lose by only four points. Behind senior guard Gabe DeVoe‘s career-high 31 points and some tenacious defense, Clemson put considerable game pressure on Kansas as the final minutes ticked away. Their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, but you would have to be a significantly jaded individual if you do not come away from that game impressed with Clemson’s fight.

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ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 21st, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week to recap a wild opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and preview the chances of the four remaining ACC schools making the Final Four.

The Answer to Your Trivia Question is Virginia (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: OK guys. Before we look ahead to the Sweet Sixteen, let’s recap the crazy first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. I guess we have to start with the surprising outcomes that I witnessed in Charlotte. Mick, we’ll go ahead and let you give your take on what happened to Virginia.

Mick McDonald: Do I have to? I haven’t had the stomach to go back and watch it, and frankly, most of the game feels like a haze. Sort of like a bad dream you try to forget. That said, it was a collection of things, all of which were a worst case scenario for Virginia. Early foul trouble for Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, plus Tony Bennett’s refusal to play Marco Anthony, meant they had to play the same five guys (including Nigel Johnson and Jack Salt, who aren’t scorers) most of the first half. Secondly, their jump shots weren’t falling. Third, UMBC hung around long enough to get their confidence up. All of that still led to a halftime tie. Most Virginia fans were having Coastal Carolina flashbacks to 2014, still thinking they’d put it together. When the first play of the second half was an and-one to give Wilkins his third foul, things felt different. Then UMBC couldn’t miss, Virginia lost its composure and it was over. And yes, not having DeAndre Hunter hurt. But it was by no means the lone reason they lost.

Matt Auerbach: Obviously we’ve been beaten to death with every talking head, captain obvious rationale: Virginia isn’t built to play from behind; its style lends itself to keeping inferior teams in the game; and so on. But the truth remains that this tournament is a one-and-done scenario, and for that reason, remains random at its core. If they play 10 times, the Cavaliers win the other nine with a few of those games by 30-plus points. There’s no reason to attempt to explain it. It’s one of the reasons we love this event so much, unless, as in this case, you’re on the Virginia end.

Mick McDonald: Well said, Matt. Pat Forde, a columnist I usually respect and enjoy, published a column hours after the game calling the entire Virginia/Tony Bennett program fraudulent. That’s insane (and certainly trolling clickbait, but that’s another discussion). Bennett will keep winning and will eventually get to a Final Four. Just like every other great coach who “couldn’t win in March” before him.

Matt Auerbach: That article was written about Mike Krzyzewski 30 years ago, and was written about Jim Boeheim and his zone for a long time too. The antithesis was said about Tom Izzo; how’s that been working out?

Mick McDonald: People just have such a hard time accepting that events can be random and not need some massive underlying reason why they happened. This event breeds wild one-time results.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 2018

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

Same Favorite: #2 Duke (28-7). The Blue Devils did nothing in the first weekend to lessen their status as the favorite to advance to San Antonio from this region — in fact, they probably strengthened their case with a pair of dominant victories over #15 Iona and #7 Rhode Island. Neither the Gaels nor Rams had enough size or talent to keep up with Duke last weekend in a pair of blowout wins. Mike Krzyzewski‘s club now advances to face ACC rival Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen for their second match-up of the season — the two teams most recently met in February where Duke logged a 60-44 home victory. Given the versatile firepower that the Blue Devils have on the offensive end of the court along with Syracuse’s scoring issues, it is wise to presume another Duke victory and a slot in the regional finals against either #2 Kansas or #5 Clemson. Beating Duke is one thing and Syracuse is capable of doing so certain scenarios, but beating Duke when it is clearly firing on all cylinders is quite another story.

Duke Mowed Down Two Opponents on Its Way to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #5 Clemson (25-9). No Sweet Sixteen team quite flew under the radar more than Clemson during the opening weekend. The Tigers kicked off tournament play with a comfortable and relatively drama-free 11-point victory over #12 New Mexico State, which had been a popular upset pick. While chaos engulfed the Second Round on Sunday, the Tigers brought out their big guns in a dominant 84-53 win over #4 Auburn. The Tigers’ Sweet Sixteen match-up with #1 Kansas is only daunting in name alone, as these Jayhawks are beatable. If Brad Brownell‘s group can carry over its first weekend efficiency to this week, it could have a chance at duplicating its intrastate rival’s run from last season and advancing to the first Final Four in program history.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #3 Michigan State’s unexpected demise. Most national pundits initially viewed this region as either #2 Duke or #3 Michigan State’s to win. While the Blue Devils still have a shot to come out of the East region, the Spartans’ season ended in stunning fashion on Sunday in a ghastly 55-53 loss to #11 Syracuse. Michigan State slogged through the defeat by shooting just 25.8 percent from the field, 21.6 percent from three-point range, and committing 14 turnovers. Additionally, freshman star Jaren Jackson Jr. played only 14 ineffective minutes while Tom Izzo opted instead for sixth-year senior Ben Carter in his place down the stretch. To make matters even worse, Sparty took the loss at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, a venue that is just 90 miles from the Michigan State campus in East Lansing.

Completely Expected (First Weekend): #2 Duke. There was never much doubt whether Duke was headed to the Sweet Sixteen last weekend. The Blue Devils impressively rolled through both Iona and Rhode Island without much tension — Duke won the two games by a combined 47 points. Marvin Bagley III and Gary Trent Jr. averaged 22.0 PPG and 17.0 PPG, respectively, while freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. was a dominant presence on the defensive end of the court.

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Clemson 84, #4 Auburn 53

Posted by rtmsf on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Clemson Will Not Soon Forget This Performance (USA Today Images)

  1. Sheer Dominance. Not even the #1 vs. #16 match-ups earlier this weekend were this lopsided. Chalk it up to Clemson’s outstanding defense combined with Auburn’s inept offense, but the point remains that a run that started with a 13-13 tie at the 12-minute mark of the first half became a 40-point lead 20 minutes later. FORTY. Not even Cincinnati can blow that kind of advantage. The statistics are marvelous in their ugliness (e.g., Auburn’s 26 percent shooting), but the key stretch was really the last 10 minutes of the first half when Auburn missed 18 consecutive shots while giving up 25 points in a series of layups and three-pointers on the other end. It was a blitzkrieg, magnificent in its efficiency and domination. And it propelled Clemson to the Sweet Sixteen for just the fourth time ever.
  2. Is Clemson Good? Obviously, yes, but just how good? Today’s victory was a real eye-opener for a lot of people wondering if the Tigers were capable of making a deep run. New Mexico State was a trendy upset pick on Friday, and Clemson manhandled the Aggies without too much concern. Today’s game was 32 minutes of curb-stomping. The question with Clemson has never been with its defense, which ranks among the top 10 in college basketball this season, but rather whether they had enough play-makers to get past the likes of elite programs. Their best win this season was over North Carolina in Littlejohn Arena, but it they lost relatively close games to Duke and Virginia (the ACC Tournament game). The Tigers may get their chance to prove themselves in the Midwest Regional next weekend, as Kansas awaits next followed by ACC brethren Duke or Syracuse. In a ball-control kind of game where the shots aren’t falling (a typical Jayhawks loss scenario), it wouldn’t be impossible to see Clemson advance two more rounds just like its Palmetto State rival from a season ago.
  3. Auburn Still Had a Great Season. No team likes to go out of the NCAA Tournament like Auburn did today, but sometimes the forces align and there’s not much a team can do to manage the buzzsaw. Still, Bruce Pearl put together a fantastic season that included a first-place finish in the SEC (the Tigers were projected ninth in the preseason by SEC media), the school’s first NCAA appearance (and win) in 15 years and a buzz that had been missing around the basketball program for a very long time. Depending on how the FBI thing shakes out, Auburn is poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament for years to come — only hopefully with better performances than the Tigers gave today.

Player of the Game. Elijah Thomas, Clemson. Thomas set the tone in the first half with 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting as the Tigers simply overwhelmed the other Tigers. He finished with a highly-efficient 18 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of assists on 7-of-10 shooting. But really, the entire Clemson team was the player of tonight’s game.

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ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Untrustworthy: Caveat Emptor on These 10 Teams

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on March 14th, 2018

Preseason rankings — they are, in most sports, completely irrelevant when the postseason rolls around. But not in college basketball. When projecting Final Four teams, as we have covered in this space before, the preseason AP Poll is just as predictive as the current AP poll. The rationale for this is that preseason rankings account for things that the mathematical models struggle with (for example, coaching changes, big recruiting classes, injuries and suspensions, etc.), making them a surprisingly accurate projection system. So what about the handful of teams each year that are excluded from these rankings but go on to do great things in the regular season? Is it safe to assume that if you can’t crack the preseason Top 25, you won’t cut down any nets in March?

Can Virginia Break the Trend? (USA Today Images)

To answer this question, I looked at historical NCAA Tournament teams that were unranked in the preseason but were ranked in the final regular season poll (this one) to examine whether they came crashing down to earth when it mattered most. My findings indicate that these teams have in fact underperformed as a group in the NCAA Tournament. Since 2007, 106 teams fit the criteria. Just 37 of that group (35%) exceeded their seeds’ average win expectation (based on average wins for each seed since 2002), and the group as a whole won just 120 games. That mark is 30 below an expected aggregate total of 150 victories, a statistically significant difference at the five percent level. Furthermore, just one of 51 top-four seeds ultimately made the Final Four (Kemba Walker’s 2011 Connecticut squad), although they have collectively produced 11 Elite Eight appearances with Florida‘s run last year being the most recent example. The conclusion here is that, although a handful of teams in this group may turn out to exceed expectations, it is likely as a whole to underperform.

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RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWRegion).

Favorite: #2 Duke (26-7, 13-5 ACC). While Kansas is the top seed in the region, Duke’s overall talent makes the Blue Devils the favorite. According to KenPom, Duke ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency. The Blue Devils are led by senior guard Grayson Allen (15.7 PPG, 4.5 APG) and freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III (21.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG), which gives it a decided talent advantage on both the perimeter and inside nearly every time they take the floor. Neither Rhode Island nor Oklahoma possesses the offensive firepower to knock off Duke in the Round of 32, while a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with Michigan State represents a rematch of a Champions Classic showdown where Allen scored a career-high 37 points in leading his team to victory. Considering #1 Kansas’ general inconsistency and questions surrounding the health of big man Udoka Azuibuike, the Blue Devils’ path to another Final Four appears clear.

Grayson Allen’s Last Hurrah Starts in the Midwest Region (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: #1 Kansas (27-7, 13-5 Big 12). For a team that earned its 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title this season, Kansas certainly experienced plenty of national doubt. There have been legitimate questions about the Jayhawks’ overall depth and interior play all season — and those discussion points were not helped by Azuibuike suffering a knee injury prior the to the Big 12 Tournament. That said, Kansas was able to win three games in three days at the Big 12 Tournament to take home the title and the Jayhawks appear to be playing their best basketball of the season. With senior guards Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk leading the charge, coupled with the emergence of sophomore guard Malik Newman, Kansas has enough offensive prowess to keep up with anyone in the field.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Oklahoma (18-13, 8-10 Big 12). The Sooners were one of the best stories of the early portion of this season. Freshman guard Trae Young was drawing favorable comparisons to Stephen Curry for his outstanding perimeter game, and it appeared Lon Kruger‘s group was equipped to rise from the ashes of last season’s debacle to ascend to the program’s second Final Four in the last three years. That all came to a screeching halt when the calendar turned to 2018. Since Big 12 play began, Oklahoma has gone just 8-12 and has not won a game away from Norman. While Young looked fresh and explosive in the early season, he has looked tired and lethargic since (an astronomical nation-leading usage rate of 38.6 percent surely contributes). The committee has repeatedly acknowledged that it values early season play just as much as it does the late season, so you can certainly understand why the Sooners were selected to the Field of 68. The surprising part is how firmly they were in — getting a #10 seed and avoiding the First Four is a generous draw for a team that has struggled so much.

Criminally Underseeded: #14 Bucknell (25-9, 16-2 Patriot League). Following a loss to Boston University on January 2, Bucknell was saddled with a mediocre 7-8 record and was looking for answers. The Bison finished the year, however, by winning 18 of their last 19 games and dominating the Patriot League Tournament — winning their semifinal and championship games by 31 and 29 points, respectively. It seems like everything is humming along nicely for Nathan Davis‘ group as the NCAA Tournament commences this week. That is why it was surprising to see the Bison earn only a #14 seed and a rather intimidating match-up with a very talented Michigan State squad in Detroit. Advancing past the First Round will be a tough ask of Bucknell.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 11th, 2018

The ACC received nine bids to the NCAA Tournament today — the same number as a year ago — and is well-represented at the top of the bracket. Virginia rode its superb regular season and ACC Tournament championship all the way to the top of the field as the NCAA Tourney’s #1 overall seed. Tobacco road rivals North Carolina and Duke each landed on the #2 seed line with the Tar Heels earning the preferred Charlotte pod for the first weekend. Some late bid-stealers (Davidson and San Diego State, notably) burst the bubble for two ACC teams — Louisville and Notre Dame didn’t make the cut — but Syracuse somehow squeaked into the field. Here are some quick best- and worst-case scenarios for each of the nine ACC teams in this year’s field.

Virginia (#1 South)

Virginia players celebrate with the championship trophy after defeating North Carolina in the ACC tournament. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Best Case: The Cavaliers ride the nation’s top defense all the way to San Antonio, giving Tony Bennett his first Final Four appearance and a shot at the school’s first-ever National Championship.
  • Worst Case: Virginia’s offense bogs down against a team that has enough NBA-level talent to make shots against the pack-line defense. Both Arizona and Kentucky fit that description, and one of them will likely play the Cavaliers in the Sweet Sixteen.

North Carolina (#2 West)

  • Best Case: Joel Berry turns into Mr. March again, leading the veteran Tar Heels back to the Final Four for the third consecutive year.
  • Worst Case: The threes don’t connect for North Carolina and they can’t get enough stops against a hot Michigan squad in the Sweet Sixteen.

Duke (#2 Midwest)

  • Best Case: Duke plays to its potential on offense and opponents continue to struggle against the Blue Devils’ zone defense, giving Coach K a chance to win his sixth National Championship.
  • Worst Case: Duke’s prize freshmen succumb to postseason pressure, and once again, a talented Blue Devil team underachieves in the Big Dance — perhaps as early as the Second Round.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Final Edition

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

Here is the latest edition of our weekly view at the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their conference records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics, and trends around the conference. This week we will compare how each ACC squad performed in its last nine league games, with an eye on the teams that might excel in the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn. Finally, we will examine the ACC standings and project what it may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Saturday, March 3.

Current Standings

The final points per possession margin (PPM) figures suggest that there are a pair of ACC teams (Virginia and Duke) that are clearly superior to the rest of the league, and one squad (Pittsburgh) that is exceptionally worse. There is also a lot of parity in the middle of the league this season, with six schools posting +/- 0.01 in PPM. Among that group, Miami at 11-7 stands out as the most fortunate. By winning their last four games by three points or fewer — and thanks to the league’s tie-breaking procedures — the Hurricanes landed the #3 seed in Brooklyn this week. They accomplished this feat despite only outscoring their ACC foes by a total of nine points all season long. It’s also interesting to consider the relative strength of schedule among the 15 league members. Note that there is some bias built into the standings — Virginia and Duke only met once and can’t play themselves, partially explaining why they have the ACC’s two weakest schedules. But North Carolina clearly played a much tougher slate, with two games each against three of the top five seeds in this week’s tournament (Duke, Clemson and NC State). Even that gauntlet, though, doesn’t match what Buzz Williams‘ crew at Virginia Tech faced this year — the Hokies logged two meetings with each of the top three seeds in Brooklyn (Virginia, Duke and Miami). Additionally, hats off to Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers for submitting the ACC’s best defense for the fourth time in five years, while North Carolina finished with the league’s top offense for the second straight year.

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