ACC Taking Stock: Volume II

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 5th, 2017

It remains to be seen whether the whitewashing of the Big Ten in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge last week illuminates the weakness of the latter or the prowess of the former. But, as non-conference competition softens a bit heading into the upcoming holiday season, the ACC continues to boast the nation’s unanimous #1 team in addition to what appears to be another strong group behind Duke. One of the teams headlining that upper echelon group — Virginia — has been somewhat of a surprise, as Tony Bennett’s squad has steamrolled its way to a perfect start through eight games. Using their signature pack-line defense to once again stifle the opposition, the Cavaliers are allowing a paltry 85.6 points per 100 possessions (first nationally). If I were your broker, though, I’d exercise some caution before buying into these Wahoos. Consistently beloved by the computer models, Virginia’s placement as the fourth-best team in America (per KenPom) should be met with some healthy skepticism. A home win against a scuffling Wisconsin squad — wherein Virginia managed only 49 points of its own — and a neutral site thumping of Rhode Island (without star guard E.C. Matthews) are fine endorsements of a good team — but tonight, Virginia can play itself into the national conversation as a top-five team with a trip to Morgantown, West Virginia. The Cavaliers face an opponent in West Virginia intent on speeding the game up and making them uncomfortable. Win that game in a hostile environment and buying what the computers are selling on Virginia becomes easier to swallow.

A big week is ahead for Virginia. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY)

While the most popular form of investing is generally done by following the momentum (see: Bitcoin), the most money can be accrued in buying high quality, proven winners that are undervalued and underappreciated at a particular moment in time by the investment community (see: Apple in 2002). And while it would be unfair to compare Louisville‘s Quentin Snider to the most profitable company in the universe, the analogy still exists. The senior point guard has, without question, experienced numerous ebbs and flows during his career at Louisville, but the highs have been frequent enough to surmise that a tough start to his final campaign can quickly be eradicated. As a junior, Snider shot nearly 48 percent from behind the arc in ACC play, good for fourth in the league. Through this season’s first six games, Snider has made just seven of his first 32 triples. That will improve. It is both fashionable and intellectually lazy to blame the failings of the Cardinals down the stretch in its two losses to Purdue and Seton Hall on rookie head coach David Padgett. And sure, Rick Pitino’s presence on the sideline would have probably made a difference. But veteran players with the experience and success of Snider are supposed to make such a transition in leadership smoother. The bet here is that we start to see more of the Snider who had 22/6/5 in a win over Kentucky a year ago, and less of the Snider who posted a goose egg in the Cards Round of 32 loss to Michigan. Read the rest of this entry »

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Preaching Patience With Louisville and David Padgett

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 30th, 2017

In the blink of an eye — 48 hours, can be a long blink, right?– David Padgett went from the “tall guy” on the coaching staff to the head coach of one of the premier jobs in all of college basketball. The quickness with which Padgett was thrown into the role perhaps became most apparent on Tuesday night this week, when Louisville lost at Purdue, 66-57, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It was apparent in the sense that Louisville was bound to fail in the defining moments of the game — or maybe Padgett was. It represented the first time he was forced to make decisions in a hostile road environment. It was the first time he had to deal with significant foul trouble from his players. It was the first time he had to truly own the role of the head coach at the University of Louisville. He handled it all very well. There were things that could have gone differently, too. Still, an opportunity to learn on the fly needed to happen and a scenario where that learning ended in victory seemed impossible. This is life for the Louisville program after Rick Pitino: plenty of talent to make some noise this season with an equal number of reasons to fail to capitalize on it.

Louisville Fought Hard at Purdue But Came Up Just Short (USA Today Images)

Full disclosure: I walked into Mackey Arena expecting Louisville to get blown off the floor. That feeling was compounded when Padgett played a host of disoriented-looking freshmen during critical stretches. Instead, a few different bounces could have put the Cards in position to win the game. Still, the notion that Louisville is an above-average team with a sky-high ceiling wouldn’t dissipate. Its schedule to date has been weak (254th nationally), and Padgett’s team has failed to put together a full 40 minutes in all but one game (Southern Illinois). Luckily there is enough talent for the Cardinals to make expansive strides from now to March. Their performance at Purdue has already shown that they will be prepared in hostile environments, but the next step in that process will be about execution. Forthcoming match-ups against Seton Hall, Memphis and Kentucky in December will provide further evidence on how far Louisville has to go. Padgett welcomes the pressure and thinks those strides will be made. “It’s going to hurt. It should hurt. But I told our guys if you give me that kind of intensity and effort every night, we have a chance to be a special team.”

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge Preview: Part II

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 28th, 2017

After a two-game appetizer on Monday night that resulted in a 2-0 ACC lead, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge revs into high gear this evening with a full slate of five more games.

  • Louisville at Purdue (8:00 PM, ESPN): Of the 10 Challenge teams playing tonight, only Louisville is ranked in this week’s AP Top 25, checking in at #17.  The Cardinals, which have won their first four games with new head coach David Padgett at the helm, travel to Mackey Arena for their sternest test to date to take on Purdue. The Boilermakers are coming off of a disappointing seventh place finish at the Battle 4 Atlantis during Feast Week, but they finished strong in obliterating Arizona in an 11-of-22 performance from three-point range. Padgett’s group has thus far sustained the defensive prowess and identity (second nationally in block percentage and 10th in two-point field goal percentage) of former head coach Rick Pitino, but Purdue will represent a significant step up in weight class in the featured game of the evening.

The Cardinals Have Maintained A Similar Style Under David Padgett (Credit: Michael Clevenger/Courier-Journal)

  • Florida State at Rutgers (7:00 PM, ESPNU): Considering the Seminoles’ opposition to date, a 5-0 start isn’t all that surprising, but the manner in which they have achieved that result most certainly has been. Florida State has exceeded 85 points in four of its first five contests by shooting a very healthy 53 percent as a team, highlighted by a blistering 64 percent conversion rate from inside the arc (trailing only Xavier nationally). A trip to visit 6-0 Rutgers should make for an interesting match-up, as neither squad has played a top-100 team nor have they been tested. Terrance Mann will be the focal point of Steve Pikiell’s defensive game plan, as the junior has missed only seven of his 40 two-point field goal attempts so far this season.

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ACC Preseason Predictions and Superlatives

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 14th, 2017

While it’s true that the season is already several days old, it is not yet too late for the ACC microsite to present you with our humble preseason predictions and superlatives. Before season tip-off, the four microsite writers ranked all 15 ACC squads by predicted order of finish, made some all-league selections and projected the player and coach of the year. Should you choose to not take my word for it, none of the panelists — Brad Jenkins, Matt Patton, Mick McDonald or myself — picked Duke’s Marvin Bagley III as our ACC Player of the Year. After his first two collegiate contests, I would already like a mulligan on that.

Bonzie Colson is the ACC Microsite’s Preseason Player of the Year (USA Today Images)

That honor instead went to Notre Dame senior forward Bonzie Colson in unanimous fashion. Diminutive for his position, the 6’5” Colson is coming off an all-ACC first team selection in which he averaged a double-double, and finished 10th in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings.

Preseason All-ACC First Team

  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame (40)
  • Joel Berry, North Carolina (30)
  • Grayson Allen, Duke (29)
  • Marvin Bagley III, Duke (28)
  • Bruce Brown, Miami (FL) (24)

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Three Takeaways from Weekend #1 in the ACC

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 13th, 2017

The ACC fared well on the opening weekend of college basketball, with only one school suffering a surprising loss as Wake Forest fell to Georgia Southern in Winston-Salem on Friday night. As is usually the case, most of the other league teams opened the season by beating inferior opponents. Here are three takeaways from the league’s first weekend of action.

1) North Carolina: No Joel Berry. No Problem.

Luke Maye was the star in North Carolina’s convincing season opening win over Northern Iowa.
(Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

Despite not having All-America point guard Joel Berry II (broken hand) and another starter — transfer Cameron Johnson (sprained neck) — in the lineup, North Carolina didn’t miss a beat in its 86-69 win over Northern Iowa on Friday night at the Smith Center. Freshman Jalek Felton and Seventh Woods combined for 14 points and three assists while splitting time running the team, but the Tar Heels’ primary playmaking came from the wing as Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams each logged five assists. As long as Berry is out — and maybe even when he returns — Pinson will often initiate the offense.

The most encouraging thing from the Tar Heels’ opener was the surprising performance of their untested frontline. Junior Luke Maye showed that he’s ready for a breakout season after posting 26 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-16 shooting. Maybe even more important than Maye’s unforeseen outburst was the play of two relatively unheralded freshman big men, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. The post duo combined for 23 points and 14 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. If Roy Williams can get that kind of production from his frontcourt, he can afford to maintain his preferred style of inside-out play this season.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 10th, 2017

As the regular season tips off a little later today, here are 10 things worth asking about this weekend and beyond.

  1. Who takes a step forward for North Carolina? With Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley all gone — not to mention Joel Berry injured — North Carolina will be looking to replace a total of 64.4 points per game. The Tar Heels begin the season against a Northern Iowa team that likes to slow the pace and limit possessions. North Carolina cannot afford to be careless with the ball tonight.

    All eyes will be on Michael Porter Jr. this season. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

  2. What will Gonzaga be this season? The ‘Zags have won at least a share of the WCC regular season title in each of the past five seasons, yet they received only one of the 10 first place votes in the WCC preseason coaches poll. Three of its four double-figure scorers from last season are now gone — who will step up?
  3. How far can Michael Porter Jr. carry Missouri?: Missouri finished last season 3-20 against teams ranked in the KenPom top 100. The Tigers get an immediate chance to reverse that trend against Iowa State tonight with freshman sensation Michael Porter, Jr., who recently became only the fifth true freshman voted on to the preseason AP All-American team. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Weekend Preview: Opening Weekend

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 10th, 2017

Teams around the ACC tip off their regular seasons this weekend with a host of games that will start the canvas to what will undoubtedly be a competitive and unpredictable conference slate. Here are the key games this weekend that will whet your appetite for the season ahead:

Friday, November 10

  • Northern Iowa (KenPom #129) at North Carolina: The Tar Heels begin the season without star point guard Joel Berry II, but the senior point guard is expected back for the PK80 event in Portland, Oregon, later this month. Until then, games like these are good opportunities for some of the younger guards like Brandon Robinson and Seventh Woods to gain some experience. Keep an eye out for freshman Jalek Felton, especially in Berry’s absence, to leap onto the scene. Northern Iowa is part of a wide-open Missouri Valley landscape that no longer includes Wichita State, but a meticulous style of play and 6’10” senior Bennett Koch (57% eFG last season) could give a young North Carolina front line some issues.

Can Bryant Crawford and a talented but crowded backcourt ease the loss of John Collins? (AP)

  • Elon (KenPom #106) at Duke: Our first chance to see Duke’s highly-touted freshman class comes against an Elon team expected to compete for the CAA championship. How will Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter co-exist in the frontcourt? Is Trevon Duval the point guard Mike Krzyzewski has been searching for since Tyus Jones left campus? Will there be any further Grayson Allen drama? Tonight gives us our first opportunity to overreact wildly. Keep an eye on Elon’s Tyler Siebring, a 6’8” forward who led the Phoenix in scoring a year ago and shot nearly 40 percent from three.

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ACC Burning Questions: Louisville Cardinals

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 7th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can Louisville get past the FBI investigation to focus on basketball?

You’ve all read about it ad nauseum. Rick Pitino is out. Tom Jurich is out. Is there more to come? That question figures to hang over the Louisville basketball program all season.Former player and current interim head coach David Padgett takes over, and although we don’t yet know much about his coaching style, his practices are reportedly more laid back than his predecessor. That’s not exactly saying much. The good news for the first-time head coach is that Louisville’s roster has the talent of a Final Four contender. The team will be led by senior point guard Quentin Snider, a perfect floor general — with improved assist and turnover rates for three years running — for an inexperienced coach. Padgett will count on him to get the ball to two of the best breakout candidates in college basketball — sophomore V.J. King and junior Deng Adel. King, a former McDonald’s All-American, didn’t receive consistent minutes last year while playing behind NBA First Round pick Donovan Mitchell, but he showed flashes of brilliance in a 24-point outburst at Virginia and shot a stellar 42 percent from three-point range. Don’t be surprised if he makes a Mitchell-like leap to stardom in his second season.

David Padgett talks with former coach Denny Crum during a Red-White scrimmage at the KFC YUM! Center. (Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports)

Adel meanwhile is a smooth wing and terrific defender with the skill set in place to become an all-ACC performer. He will need to improve his jump shot to optimize his offensive attack, but his mechanics are good and it seems as if shot selection is his primary hindrance from success. In the frontcourt, senior Anas Mahmoud anchors the defense. He averaged over two blocks per game last year (12.6% block rate) in becoming one of the best rim protectors in the ACC. He also improved significantly on the offensive end (62.4% eFG) but he could stand to improve his 46 percent shooting at the free throw line. The rangy Ray Spalding is also a defensive nightmare, with a long wingspan and an ability to guard multiple positions. He will be asked to replace Jaylen Johnson, one of the nation’s best offensive rebounders last year. Padgett’s bench features sophomore sharpshooter Ryan McMahon and UNC-Asheville transfer Dwayne Sutton, both of whom should be able to provide instant offense off the bench. Read the rest of this entry »

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Several Takeaways From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2017

We attended ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte this week (links to the coaches’ and players’ press conferences can be found here). In addition to hearing from coaches and players from all 15 league schools, ACC commissioner John Swofford delivered his annual state of the league address. In this post we present some of the primary takeaways and interesting quotes we observed and heard over the course of the day. At the bottom of the post we also present the preseason award results as voted on by participating media.

LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS TO COLLEGE BASKETBALL’S PROBLEMS

Wednesday in Charlotte, ACC Commissioner John Swofford discussed the conference’s role in addressing the current issues facing college basketball. (USA Today Images)

Swofford spent much of his 45-minute forum on Wednesday discussing the current state of college basketball in light of the recent FBI probe into the sport. The longtime commissioner has always been cautious and guarded with his words in public venues, and accordingly — instead of offering headline grabbing suggestions to fix the college game — he opted to take the position of gathering more information before taking a stance. Swofford correspondingly announced that the league is forming a five-member task force to be headed by former Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage. The goal of the group will be to make recommendations to the recently formed NCAA commission, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, that is tasked with finding solutions to the myriad problems exposed by the federal investigation.

When asked for his personal opinion on two low-hanging fruits regarding immediate change, Swofford indicated that he would like to see the one-and-done rule disappear and would be interested in exploring something similar to the college baseball model that forces a decision on professional or collegiate tracks coming out of high school. Both proposals would do little to fix the problems facing college basketball right now — if the top 15 high school seniors went straight to the NBA, then the players ranked #16 through #30 would then become the prime targets for rogue shoe company representatives and agents. So, what’s the difference? As for considering the college baseball model, why don’t we instead worry about creating something that works specifically for college basketball? From the monumental amounts of money involved to the way the entire recruiting structure works, there’s very little in common between those two sports.

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ACC Offseason Storylines: FBI Brings the Hammer to Louisville and Miami

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 17th, 2017

We are now a little over three weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next several weeks we will preview the fortunes of all 15 ACC schools by projecting how each squad will maximize its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses, and we will also be reporting from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte later this month. But first, let’s catch up on a few of the most important storylines in the ACC since North Carolina captured its sixth NCAA Championship in Glendale last April.

FBI Case Rocks the College Basketball World

Louisville’s Rick Pitino became the first major casualty of the FBI Investigation into College Hoops Recruiting. (Getty Images)

On September 26, we learned in a dramatic morning announcement that even the NCAA was not aware of that the FBI has been investigating the college basketball recruiting scene. Four NCAA assistant coaches were charged with accepting bribes to steer players to pro agents and/or financial advisors, while six other individuals were also arrested, including several Adidas employees who were accused of arranging cash payouts for recruits and their families as incentives to join their sponsored college programs. Two of the schools involved are ACC members Louisville and Miami.

As soon as the FBI news broke and the Louisville program was implicated in the report, pressure immediately began mounting on head coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich. By the next morning, we knew that neither luminary would survive this scandal, the latest in a string of sordid revelations involving the program. Pitino was officially fired yesterday. Understandably, the university could not tolerate further violations and embarrassments in the midst of a probation currently being served for 2015’s stripper scandal. Even more damning for Pitino is news that his voice is allegedly on an FBI tape as a direct participant in the pay-for-play scheme. Two Cardinals’ assistants have also been placed on administrative leave, leaving former Louisville player David Padgett to pick up the pieces this season as the school’s interim head coach. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see the school try to get out in front of the NCAA’s inevitable return to campus with another round of self-imposed penalties that includes a postseason ban.

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