Wake Forest Still Looking For Its Signature Win

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 1st, 2017

A couple of Saturdays ago at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Wake Forest gave Duke all it could handle before eventually falling by five points in an exciting ACC shootout. The Demon Deacons followed that disappointment up with a comeback home victory over Pittsburgh, which improved their record to 16-12 overall and 7-9 in the ACC. Going into tonight’s home game against Louisville, Danny Manning‘s third team in Winston-Salem sits among Jerry Palm’s First Four In and Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out. The Deacs pass the eye test with an emerging star in sophomore big man John Collins and a host of additional young players playing beyond their years, but their resume still contains one glaring vacancy that a win over the Cardinals would undoubtedly resolve. With a dismal mark of 0-8 against the RPI top 25, Wake Forest’s best win came over Miami (FL) in mid-January and there are few remaining opportunities to notch an attention-grabbing signature win.

Wake Forest’s John Collins has emerged as the ACC’s best big man. (Brian Westeholt/Wake Sports)

For a program that has not sniffed meaningful postseason basketball since 2010, Manning acutely diagnosed his team’s mental hurdle after the loss at Duke: “We have to continue. We have to find a way. There are no close victories. There are no close feel-goods. There’s none of that. We have to find a way to get it done for the rest of our conference games.” If Wake Forest is to find that elusive quality win tonight against Louisville, it will assuredly be on the merits of an offense that ranks 11th nationally, per KenPom. The Demon Deacons’ defense (131st nationally) is still a work in progress, but with Collins quickly proving to be the ACC’s most talented big man and a number of capable shooters spotting up around him, a defense that bends but doesn’t break may be all they need.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Finding a Path For Four Teams on the Wrong Side of the Bubble

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 17th, 2017

The end of the regular season is creeping up on us. With just a little more than three weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, teams around the country are prepping for their final stretch of conference games. For schools sitting precariously on the bubble, chances to grab signature wins are dwindling. For teams on the outside looking in, the home stretch represents a do-or-die opportunity to make an at-large bid a reality. The four teams we examine today all have pathways to March Madness ahead of them, but nothing will come easy and their odds are diminishing daily.

Wake Forest

It’ll likely come right down to the wire for the Wake Forest faithful. Getty)

The Demon Deacons are 6-8 in ACC play but a losing conference record won’t be quite as damaging this season thanks to a soft mid-major bubble. Still, even if Wake manages to get to 8-10, some conference losing records will be viewed much better than others. The biggest issue for Danny Manning’s team is that it has yet to beat any top-tier ACC squads this season. The Deacs have a favorable RPI at #36, but close losses against Duke and Notre Dame simply aren’t enough. With four games remaining, Wake Forest must top Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech to remain on the bubble, but to truly make some waves, the Deacs need a win at Duke or against Louisville. Stealing either of those games would result in a 9-9 ACC record and a legitimate, perhaps even likely, chance at an at-large bid. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Stock Watch: February 7

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 7th, 2017

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

STOCK UP

Syracuse. The Orange have won seven of their past 10 games, including victories over Florida State and Virginia during a current four-game winning streak. A key for an improving Syracuse team has been that this collection of transfers and freshmen are finally starting to understand how to play Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. On Saturday, Syracuse clearly flustered Virginia in the second half, forcing the Cavaliers into a 22.3 percent turnover rate, their highest of the season. Another factor has been the emergence of Andrew White III as the team’s go-to scorer. White has now scored 20 or more points in four straight games, all Orange victories. Over that stretch, the senior is shooting 50 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from three-point range and 88.5 percent from the free throw line. White’s newfound role as the primary scoring option, along with other capable offensive players like John Gillon, Tyus Battle and Tyler Lydon, make Syracuse a dangerous team down the stretch. The Orange should have no trouble piling up enough wins to make the NCAA Tournament.

Jim Boeheim celebrates Syracuse’s big win, the 1,000th victory of his career.
(Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

John Collins, Wake Forest. As the Demon Deacons continue their quest to return to the NCAA Tournament following a seven-year drought, the play of sophomore center John Collins is without question the reason for their success. He has quickly become the best big man in the ACC this season, and has turned it up a notch recently over his last six outings — averaging 22.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game while shooting 68.1 percent from the field. Head coach Danny Manning knows a little something about a big man carrying a team deep in to March. He’ll need Collins to perform a few miracles of his own to get Wake Forest back into the NCAA Tournament with an opportunity to advance. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

This Weekend in the ACC: February 4

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 4th, 2017

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

Clemson needs Jaron Blossomgame to come up big if the Tigers want to win in Tallahassee. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

  • Saturday, 12:00 PM: Virginia (17-4, 7-2) at Syracuse (14-9, 6-4). The Cavaliers have been excellent on the road this year, going 4-1 in the ACC with their only loss in overtime at Pittsburgh. In an ACC season where road wins have been tough to come by, that record is an excellent way to win an ACC regular season championship. The Orange are undefeated at home in ACC play, but this game could be decided on the glass. In their last two wins at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse has dominated the offensive glass (33.3% against Wake Forest; 38.7% against Florida State.) Virginia, on the other hand, has been downright dominant at securing defensive rebounds in its last three ACC victories (91.7% against Georgia Tech; 96.4% against Notre Dame; 88.9% against Virginia Tech).
  • Saturday, 3:00 PM: Georgia Tech (13-9, 5-5) at Wake Forest (13-9, 4-6). Coming into this season, this looked like a game you would easily skip over on a busy college hoops weekend. But both Josh Pastner and Danny Manning have gotten their teams into the early February bubble conversation, and this game looms large for either team’s NCAA Tournament hopes. The Yellow Jackets have collected several terrific wins at home but need to show they can win outside of Atlanta. The Demon Deacons’ resume is still short on wins over other Tournament-quality teams, so adding a few victories over fellow bubble teams like Georgia Tech is key. Wake Forest ranks among the top 50 in the country in effective field goal percentage (53.9%) and relies heavily on Bryant Crawford and John Collins to produce. This will come down to whether Georgia Tech’s zone defense can get enough stops against a very efficient offense (12th nationally, per KenPom). The Yellow Jackets have not allowed a team to shoot an eFG over 51.0 percent in their last eight games — if they can make it to nine, they should be able to win this game.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

This Weekend in the ACC: January 28

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 28th, 2017

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

  • Saturday, 12:00 PM: Notre Dame (17-4, 6-2) at Georgia Tech (12-8, 4-4). When North Carolina lost to Georgia Tech on New Year’s Eve, the subsequent narrative was that the Tar Heels slept through a forgettable blip on the ACC radar. That thinking looked accurate when the Yellow Jackets were subsequently blitzed by 53 points at Cameron Indoor Stadium in their next game. Four weeks later, Josh Pastner’s bunch is now playing like that early league game against the Tar Heels was a sign of things to come rather than an anomaly. Georgia Tech is 3-2 in its last five, a stretch that includes a heart-breaking one-point loss at Virginia Tech and an absolute demolition of Florida State. Freshman Josh Okogie has been fantastic, averaging 20.2 PPG over that stretch while shooting 50 percent from three. Pastner will need another outstanding performance from his wing this weekend if the Yellow Jackets hope to add another high-level win to their resume. Okogie has averaged eight free throws per game in Georgia Tech’s last five contests, so look for him to force his way to the basket against Note Dame’s VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia.

Can Bryant Crawford take care of the ball and lead Wake Forest to a big win over Duke? (US Presswire)

  • Saturday, 3:00 PM: Duke (15-5, 3-4) at Wake Forest (12-8, 3-5). There is certainly no bigger circus in college basketball than Duke, but everything going on in Durham has distracted from the notion that today’s game is quite possibly the biggest of the Danny Manning era in Winston-Salem. While Wake Forest is hovering around the bubble with a mediocre record both inside and out of conference play, wins over Miami and at NC State do not really impress anyone. That effectively means that the Deacons could desperately use another big win, and a reeling squad of Blue Devils could nicely do the trick. In Duke’s last three losses, it twice allowed an eFG rate of 56.0 percent or higher. Wake Forest’s high-powered offense, which starts with sophomore point guard Bryant Crawford, should be able to score against the Blue Devils. The key will be if Crawford can take care of the ball well enough to give his offense sufficient chances. The Demon Deacons are 11-3 when he has three or fewer turnovers,with their only losses coming to Virginia, North Carolina and Villanova. When he turns the ball over four or more times, Wake Forest is 1-5.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC M5: 01.26.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 26th, 2017

morning5_ACC

  1. The Players’ Tribune: Every year there’s at least one story out of the league that puts everything into perspective. Basketball, after all, is just a game. Sure, there’s future money and fame at stake, but stories like this from TPT highlight the contradiction of the game’s impact on those who play it while also shedding light on how little a win-loss record means next to personal relationships. Duke interim head coach Jeff Capel‘s post on his father’s ALS diagnosis is beautiful, funny and gutting.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Welp, it was good while it lasted. Florida State was in pole position to take the ACC regular season crown until the Seminoles suffered a hideous loss at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night. Florida State isn’t the first team to get caught slumping in Atlanta this season, but a drubbing by 22 points will raise eyebrows for those who are rightfully labeling the Seminoles as legitimate ACC contenders. Andrew Carter’s article here is still worth highlighting since Leonard Hamilton‘s team has a favorable schedule from here on out (at least compared with the other contenders). For the record, I probably would put my money on North Carolina or Virginia, but Hamilton arguably has his best team ever in Tallahassee.
  3. Winston-Salem Journal: So close to equaling his predecessor’s ACC road win total in just one season, Danny Manning‘s team came up just short of knocking off Jim Boeheim’s roller coaster team at Syracuse. The improvement Manning’s team has shown this year might be more impressive than what Hamilton has done at Florida State (even if the Demon Deacons are fighting an uphill battle to get to a .500 conference record). Bottom line: Wake Forest is good. A lack of quality non-conference wins will hurt their chances on Selection Sunday, but they may ultimately find their way on to the bubble thanks to sophomore forward John Collins‘ outstanding efforts.
  4. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: I hope no parents turned on the Pittsburgh vs. Louisville game on Tuesday night, as it was an X-rated woodshedding by the Cardinals — in Pittsburgh, no less. As Craig Meyer writes, Kevin Stallings publicly called out his team for lacking leadership on Monday, and his team responded in kind by completely quitting on him. Stallings was always something of a head-scratching hire after Jamie Dixon found greener pastures in Texas, but this season is going much worse than even his biggest doubters could have imagined. The Panthers have far more talent than their 1-6 ACC record indicates, but that necessarily falls on Stallings. First years in a new job are always tough, but Pittsburgh can’t afford to slide toward basketball oblivion while the rest of the conference continues to improve.
  5. Backing the Pack: Dennis Smith ended NC State‘s multi-decade losing streak in Cameron Indoor Stadium with a show for the ages on Monday night, capping it off with a dunk that didn’t count but could be heard over the silent Crazies crowd and all around the Triangle. That game could be a serious turning point for both teams. Is this the confidence boost the Wolfpack needed to salvage what was looking like a lost season? Is this the wakeup call for Duke‘s band of talented freshmen who often play much worse than the sum of their parts? Truthfully, I don’t know. The Blue Devils missed a lot of open shots and were probably the better team for much of the night, but NC State had the best player on the floor in Smith (and Abdul-Malik Abu played a tremendous game too). Don’t read too much into one game, but it’s clear that Duke has chemistry issues and Smith is an amazing talent.

EXTRA: The ACC announced its Basketball Legends class for this year, highlighted by late, great NC State coach Jim Valvano.

Share this story

ACC Stock Watch: January 24

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 24th, 2017

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

STOCK UP

  • North Carolina State. Yes, the Wolfpack lost a close one at home to Wake Forest on Saturday. But NC State needed a statement win to get its season on track and there aren’t many bigger statements than a victory over Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. There has never been a question about the level of talent in Raleigh, but effort and defensive lapses have been recurring issues throughout the year. NC State brought its best effort on Monday night, with freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. (32 points; six assists) leading the way. In eight ACC games, Smith is averaging 20.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 6.9 APG, and 2.6 SPG in what could be an ACC Player of the Year campaign. The Wolfpack have a long way to go, but the future lottery pick is exactly the type of player who can carry NC State all the way from a 2-5 ACC start to the NCAA Tournament.

Jonathan Isaac has become exactly what Leonard Hamilton hoped he would become, a legitimate second superstar next to Dwayne Bacon. (David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

  • Jonathan Isaac, Florida State. The Seminoles’ pair of wins over Notre Dame and Louisville last week cemented their status as ACC title contenders as well as a legitimate candidate for a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament. We know how terrific Dwayne Bacon has been this year, but the emergence of freshman Jonathan Isaac has taken Florida State to another level. Over the team’s last five games, Isaac is averaging 16.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game while shooting a scorching 61 percent from the field, 45.5 percent from three-point range and 89 percent from the free throw line. Isaac is quickly joining teammate Bacon in the superstar category, and given all of the depth Leonard Hamilton can readily place around the pair, it’s easy to envision Florida State paying a visit to Arizona in early April.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

This Weekend in the ACC: January 21

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 21st, 2017

Here are a few things you should be keeping your eye on around the ACC this weekend (all times Eastern).

Have We Reached the Point Where Syracuse Begins to Save Its Season? (USA Today Images)

  • 12:00 PM: Syracuse (11-8, 3-3) at Notre Dame (16-3, 5-1). The Orange, which desperately need some quality wins to get on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, will have a big opportunity this afternoon against the ACC-leading Fighting Irish. The problem for Jim Boeheim‘s club is that this game is in South Bend. In Syracuse’s six (yes, just six) games away from home this season, the Orange are 0-6, having lost those games by an average of nearly 13 PPG against questionable competition (i.e., St. John’s, Connecticut and Boston College). Most teams experience significant home and road shooting splits, but the Orange’s numbers away from home — 37.4% from the field, including just 31.2% from three — have been downright dreadful. Keep an eye on point guard John Gillon. In his six games away from the Carrier Dome, he’s made just 9-0f-37 shots (24.3%) and 3-of-17 (17.7%) from beyond the arc. If Gillon can knock down a few shots to relieve some of the pressure from Andrew White III and Tyler Lydon, Syracuse might be able to hang with Notre Dame long enough to have a chance to pull the upset. If not, it could be a very long afternoon in South Bend.
  • 2:00 PM: Louisville (16-3, 4-2) at Florida State (17-2, 5-1). In our Stock Watch that published earlier this week, we noted the recent terrific play of Louisville wing Donovan Mitchell and how important it will be for the sophomore to maintain his high level of play with starting point guard Quentin Snider on the shelf. Mitchell was once again terrific in the Cardinals’ win over Clemson on Thursday night, but the story of the game was Snider’s replacement, freshman V.J. King. Prior to Thursday night’s game, King had scored just 21 total total points in five ACC contests; his debut as a starter resulted in 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Now that he’s a known commodity, keep an eye on how King performs against the array of talented athletes that Seminoles’ head coach Leonard Hamilton will throw at him. In order to walk out of Tallahassee with a victory, the Cardinals will need King to knock down shots as well as remain physical with the Florida State guards.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Stock Watch: January 3

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 3rd, 2017

Each week of the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days and discuss the teams, players and anything else that is trending up and down across the league.

STOCK UP

Clemson. For the Tigers, anything less than a trip back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 will be a major disappointment. Sporting a pair of respectable losses (Xavier and Oklahoma on a neutral court) and a handful of good-not-great wins (at South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Nebraska), the last week of 2016 looked like a critical point in the season for Brad Brownell’s club. Fast forward a week to wins over a very talented UNC-Wilmington team and a much-improved Wake Forest squad and Clemson now sits at 11-2 with a big home game to come against North Carolina tonight. The Tigers are undoubtedly feeling good about the direction of the program and it doesn’t hurt that the football team had a nice weekend too.

9779140-ncaa-basketball-north-carolina-georgia-tech-850x560

Josh Okogie helped lead Georgia Tech to a surprising win over North Carolina in their ACC opener (Adam Hagy/USA Today Sports)

Georgia Tech. We wrote last week that the Yellow Jackets should already be pleasantly surprised with the list of accomplishments Josh Pastner’s team has checked off this season. We would guess that adding a huge home win over North Carolina to open the conference season might instantly jump to the top of that list. Pastner’s feisty bunch frustrated the Tar Heels all New Year’s Eve afternoon in Atlanta, slowing the pace and retreating into a suffocating zone defense to keep them from easy transition baskets. Josh Okogie was terrific, scoring 26 points that included a sterline 11-of-13 performance from the free throw line. The Yellow Jackets are not likely to be an NCAA Tournament threat this season, but in one home game they proved that anyone thinking a trip to Atlanta would be an easy “W” this year has another thing coming. Right, Jon Rothstein?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

John Collins Leading Wake Forest’s Resurgence

Posted by Charlie Maikis on December 22nd, 2016

Wake Forest appears to be in the midst of an astounding turnaround. After winning just 11 total games last season, the Demon Deacons are off to an 8-3 start with all three losses coming to teams ranked among KenPom‘s top 50. And for the first time since Dino Gaudio was still the head coach in 2010, Wake is itself ranked among the KenPom top 50. Danny Manning‘s offense this season has been especially improved, moving up over 100 spots in adjusted offensive efficiency (from 132nd last year to 25th). So how has the third-year ACC coach managed to bring out the best of his team this season?

John Collins has put Wake Forest on college basketball's radar. (Photo Credit: Bob Hebert)

John Collins has put Wake Forest on college basketball’s radar. (Photo Credit: Bob Hebert)

The resurgence starts with sophomore center John Collins. In a modern era of shooters and slashers, Manning has gone old school in centering his offense around the 6’10” big man. The Deacs play an inside-out game focused on getting Collins touches near the basket. Per Synergy Sports, Wake posts up on 15 percent of its possessions, the eighth-highest figure in the nation. But dumping the ball into the paint only works if you have an effective scorer there, and Collins is among the very best in the nation at doing just that. He ranks seventh in the ACC at 17.5 points per game, shoots a scorching 60 percent on twos and uses over 30 percent of the Deacs’ possessions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story