What’s Trending: A Wild Weekend in the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 1st, 2019

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

After a relatively chaos-free opening two rounds of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, the madness arrived in earnest over the weekend. Taking a look back at the memorable moments begins in the East Region where Virginia Tech and Duke found themselves in a battle to the very end.

While Zion Williamson marvels those that watch Duke play with his dunks, it is plays like this that truly show how unique he is. With Duke nursing a narrow three-point lead, Williamson gets crossed-up by Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson. Despite the blow-by, Williamson recovers like few others playing high-level basketball can…

Just days after surviving at the buzzer against UCF, Duke found itself in a similar situation again. The Blue Devils were up two points with just over one second to go when Virginia Tech drew up this perfect play to send the game to overtime… minus the finish.

The East Region Sweet Sixteen also featured Michigan State’s 80-63 win over LSU. In that game, the Spartans’ Aaron Henry scored a season-high 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists. This performance by Henry came on the heels of Tom Izzo’s outrage at the talented freshman in Michigan State’s opening round win. After the win against LSU, Izzo was quick to credit young Henry and his teammates…

The Elite Eight match-up between Duke and Michigan State was a game that many were looking forward to the second the bracket came out. With the lead going back and forth throughout much of the second half, Michigan State’s Matt McQuaid pushed the Spartans back in front with this layup that will not be forgotten…

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Eight Questions For The Elite Eight

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 30th, 2019

The Road to the Final Four has one final stop for the eight remaining teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament. As the weekend advances, here are the eight questions I have for the match-ups ahead.

The Zags Push For Their Second Final Four Appearance in History (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga vs. Texas Tech

Gonzaga: Will Gonzaga’s offense solve a Texas Tech defense that dominated Michigan for 40 minutes? Mark Few’s Bulldogs rank first in the nation in offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage and two-point field goal percentage. According to Hoop-Math, Gonzaga also owns the fifth-best shooting percentage on attempts at the rim, an area that could be tested by a Red Raiders defense that blocks a lot of shots inside.

Texas Tech: Do the Red Raiders have enough size to compete against the large Gonzaga front line? Gonzaga’s bigs of Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie will be up against a Texas Tech squad that will play just two players 6’8″ or taller in Tarriq Owens and Norense Odiase. Texas Tech’s ability to stay out of foul trouble on its front line will be imperative in attempting to slow the Bulldogs’ interior game.

Virginia vs. Purdue

Virginia: Can the Cavaliers snap out of their shooting woes? Over Virginia’s last four games, the Cavaliers are shooting a woeful 26.9 percent on 104 three-point attempts. In the five games prior to that stretch they converted 54.2 percent on 107 attempts. Kyle Guy has most notably found himself in a staggering slump, having made just five of his last 31 attempts after shooting 42.7 percent on the season.

Purdue: Will Purdue’s recent struggles at the free throw line keep it from reaching the Final Four? While the Boilermakers have shot 71.9 percent from the line on the season, they have made just 63.4 percent from the stripe in seven March games. Purdue survived in its win on Thursday night against Tennessee despite missing 17 of its 33 attempts. And remember, points always come at a premium against Virginia.

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ACC Conversation: Sweet Sixteen Preview

Posted by The ACC Team on March 27th, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald got together this week to take a look back at the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament while also looking ahead to this week’s regional action.

Tony Bennett hope that Kyle Guy regains his shooting touch and leads Virginia to its first Final Four since 1984. (Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)

Brad Jenkins: Here we go. The ACC proved its strength at the top by putting five teams in the Sweet Sixteen. But before we discuss the outlook for those schools, any thoughts on the league’s two early exit squads — Louisville and Syracuse?

Mick McDonald: I was surprised Louisville lost the way it did, but who could have counted on Minnesota shooting the ball like that? I’m not sure the Gophers will EVER have another shooting night like that.

Matt Auerbach: Let me just reiterate for the eleven hundredth time how disappointing Syracuse’s season was. The Orange were never the team I expected them to be, and maybe that’s just on me. Certainly the absence of Frank Howard was an issue against Baylor, but this year was just wildly uneven for them from start to finish. As for Louisville, despite the tough finish to the year, I would call Chris Mack’s first year a success. With a strong recruiting class coming and the development of his young players — particularly Jordan Nwora — I expect a big year two for the Cardinals under Mack.

Mick McDonald: And yes, the future is very bright for the Cardinals. Chris Mack will have them in the top 10 in the next two years.

Brad Jenkins: Agreed. The Orange and Clemson must be the biggest disappointments in the league this year after returning their cores from a pair of Sweet Sixteen clubs a year ago. And Louisville is certainly headed for great things soon. Now on to the survivors. Let’s take a look at the ACC teams in action on Thursday this week, starting with Virginia in the South Region in Louisville. Thoughts on the Cavaliers’ chances there?

Mick McDonald: Look, Oregon wasn’t very good this year. Once Bol Bol got hurt, the Ducks didn’t really have an identity. But give Dana Altman credit. He figured out that they just needed to become a super-athletic, defensive freak type of team, with a great point guard in Payton Pritchard. They are the type of big, athletic club that can give Virginia’s offense trouble. Can Oregon score on Virginia? Not very likely. First to 50 wins?

Matt Auerbach: I still think Virginia is the favorite to win the Tournament, but I’m really a little worried about the Oregon match-up. The Ducks had a really poor overall season, but there is no denying they are currently playing some of the best basketball out there, particularly on the defensive end of the court. This game is tricky for me, because if both teams play their best, Virginia definitely wins — if not, Oregon may get them. I think if the Cavaliers win convincingly, they will rout the winner of Tennessee and Purdue on their way to the Final Four.

Mick McDonald: I’d like to see a statement game from De’Andre Hunter. He looked a little tentative in the Oklahoma game, and this is the type of game that will lend itself to taking over the offense at points. Also, Mamadi Diakite apparently finally putting all the tools together could not have happened at a better time. He looked fantastic in Virginia’s first two games and has given it that interior scoring option they have so badly needed.

Brad Jenkins: I admit that I was really worried when Virginia got down 14 points in the first half to Gardner-Webb. All I could think about was dreading having to go to the postgame presser and seeing those kids crushed again. Thankfully they pulled it together. And like Tony Bennett said, they defended like Virginia for 40 minutes against Oklahoma. I see them doing the same in Louisville and coming out OK. Any concerns about Kyle Guy’s sudden shooting slump?

Mick McDonald: Not really. He got some good looks against Oklahoma — they just didn’t go down. I worry a bit about him getting bullied and not being able to get open against Oregon, but if he gets enough open looks, he will knock some down. Shooters shoot, as the saying goes.

Matt Auerbach: I wouldn’t be concerned about Guy, but with the way Kenny Wooten is throwing shots back, Guy will need to make some perimeter shots — something he did better than just about anyone all year.

Brad Jenkins: Now on to the West Region semifinal rematch between Florida State and Gonzaga. Can the Seminoles pull off the upset again?

Mick McDonald: Florida State is good enough to beat any team in the country and I actually think they match up as well as a team can against Gonzaga. They have sufficient athletes to throw at Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke that should be able to rattle them. The key for me: Can Josh Perkins handle physical athletes like Trent Forrest, Terrance Mann and David Nichols that Leonard Hamilton? If he turns the ball over more than a normal rate, I like Florida State’s chances.

Matt Auerbach: Why not? They’ve been about as impressive as anyone else after the first weekend. Eleven deep, with that length and experience. I can certainly see it happening again, but not easily. People will focus on Killian Tillie playing this year, but the X-factor is Brandon Clarke — he’s almost a Seminole prototype on the other side, and I think he presents a lot of issues for Leonard Hamilton’s team on both ends.

Mick McDonald: Great point on Clarke, Matt. He is such a force on the inside, most teams have to be very worried about getting their bigs in foul trouble against him. The Seminoles have less of a worry because they are so deep.

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What’s Trending: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 25th, 2019

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

Looking back at the first two rounds of the 2019 NCAA Tournament has to begin with the opening weekend’s most memorable game. In Sunday afternoon’s UCF vs. Duke game, there was much more to it than the average #1 vs. #9 match-up. How would the battle of Zion Williamson vs. Tacko Fall unfold? How would the pupil (Johnny Dawkins) fare against his teacher (Coach K)? Williamson definitely had to earn his 32 points — the superstar freshman shot just 9-of-17 on his two-point attempts, representing the first time he has been under 60 percent inside the arc since a 4-of-7 performance on January 12 against Florida State.

https://twitter.com/si_ncaabb/status/1109931709066285056

Despite falling behind by as many as eight points in the second half, UCF rallied to take a four-point lead with under two minutes to go. The Knights were racing upcourt with a chance to extend the lead, but a failed alley-oop followed by a Cam Reddish three-pointer cut the lead to a single point.

Push off? Verticality? Down three points in the dying seconds, Duke put the ball in Williamson’s hands and he made a play.

Zion went on to miss the game-tying free-throw, but the ball ultimately ended up in the hands of R.J. Barrett, who put in a bunny to give Duke a one-point lead. While many were arguing that Barrett pushed off to get the rebound, the bigger grievance with a missed call on this play came with this missed hook and hold. An emphasis was placed on this call all season long, yet it appears to have been blatantly missed here. This is a call that would have all but ensured the end of Duke’s season…

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16 Questions: Friday’s First Round Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 22nd, 2019

It’s time for another exciting day of 16 games. Here are the questions I have going into Friday’s action:

The Zion Show Moves to the NCAA Tournament (USA Today Images)
  • 1) Duke vs. 16) North Dakota State: Will Duke’s perimeter players begin the Tournament knocking down shots? Zion will be Zion, of course, but Duke will need its other players knocking down shots down the line if the Blue Devils are to cut down the nets in Minneapolis.
  • 1) North Carolina vs. 16) Iona: Can Iona make it to the half within closer range than last year against Duke? As a #15 seed against Duke last year, Iona trailed at the half by 14 points before going on to lose by 22. While the Gaels shot a sterling 58.3 percent from inside the arc, they were just 5-of-24 from beyond the stripe. Duke, on the other hand, shot 62.2 percent from two-point range and went 13-of-30 from behind the line.
  • 1) Virginia vs. 16) Garder-Webb: Will Virginia be quick to rid itself of last season’s nightmare? A 29-3 regular season was great, but memories of last year will surely still be on everyone’s minds as the Cavaliers’ postseason begins. Virginia scored just nine points during the opening 10 minutes against UMBC one year ago, so its first few segments of the game will be telling.
  • 2) Tennessee vs. 15) Colgate: Will Tennessee make quick work of Colgate? Colgate comes into this game with a defensive efficiency ranking of #202, and the Raiders will be tasked with stopping the nation’s third most efficient offense led by the force that is Grant Williams. Good luck.
  • 3) Houston vs. 14) Georgia State: Does Georgia State coach Ron Hunter have more Tournament magic up his sleeves? On the season, Houston has out-rebounded its opponents by an average of 7.7 rebounds per game, whereas Georgia State finds itself getting outmuscled by the tune of 5.3 rebounds per game. If the Panthers can survive on the glass, the duo of D’Marcus Simmonds and Devin Mitchell might be able to keep Georgia State within striking distance.
  • 3) Texas Tech vs. 14) Northern Kentucky: Will Texas Tech’s loss to West Virginia have any carry-over effects? While Texas Tech held the Mountaineers to just 38.8 percent shooting, the Red Raiders gave up 19 offensive rebounds and 20 points at the charity stripe.
  • 4) Kansas State vs. 13) UC Irvine: Will Kansas State be able to get any play and production out of Dean Wade? Wade did not play in the Big 12 Tournament and his status remains up in the air for today’s game. Without the big man inside, the Anteaters could be able to take advantage of its offensive rebounding prowess.
  • 4) Virginia Tech vs. 13) Saint Louis: How will Virginia Tech work Justin Robinson back into the lineup? After missing the last 12 games of the season, Robinson is set to return for the Hokies. The senior guard averages just under 14 points per game while shooting better than 40 percent from deep.
  • 5) Wisconsin vs. 12) Oregon: Can Wisconsin get D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison to knock down open shots? In Wisconsin’s five March games, the pair of Trice and Davison have gone a combined 11-of-48 from behind the three-point line. Without knocking down open shots, Oregon will be able to throw everything they have at slowing All-America center Ethan Happ.
  • 5) Mississippi State vs. 12) Liberty: Will Liberty be overwhelmed by the Mississippi State offense? The Flames played 14 games against an opponent with an offensive efficiency ranking of 260th or worse. The Bulldogs have an offensive efficiency ranking of 56th and are led by Quinndary Weatherspoon, who shot an SEC-best 44.9 percent on three-point attempts during league play.
  • 6) Buffalo vs. 11) Arizona State: Will Buffalo get the best of a school from Arizona again? Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils won on Wednesday night in Dayton and are rewarded with a match-up against Hurley’s former squad. Arizona State will need more than 23 minutes of action from Remy Martin to get another victory.
  • 6) Iowa State vs. 11) Ohio State: With Kaleb Wesson back, can Ohio State pull off the upset? The Buckeyes lost two of their last three games with Wesson back before falling in his return to the Spartans. Ohio State averaged 10 fewer points per game on the road than they did at home.
  • 7) Cincinnati vs. 10) Iowa: Can Iowa change its late season misfortune? The Hawkeyes come into this game losers of five of their last six games. Throw in needing a pair of last second baskets to beat Northwestern and Rutgers and it’s clear Iowa is playing its worst basketball at the wrong time of the year.
  • 8) Ole Miss vs. 9) Oklahoma: Can Ole Miss knock down enough threes to beat the Sooners? The Rebels were just 2-8 when they failed to make a third of their three-point attempts this season. On the year, Oklahoma has held opponents to a three-point average of 33.3 percent.
  • 8) Utah State vs. 9) Washington: Can the Pac-12’s highest seed help the conference from its dismal 2018 showing in the NCAA Tournament? The Pac-12’s regular season champion scored fewer than 50 points in two of its final four games, both coming against Oregon. The Huskies’ defense does a terrific job of creating havoc, however, led by the wizardry of defensive ace Matisse Thybulle.
  • 8) VCU vs. 9) UCF: If VCU’s Marcus Evans is not at 100 percent, will the Rams have enough firepower? Evans suffered a bone bruise in VCU’s loss to Rhode Island in last week’s Atlantic 10 tournament. The starting guard averages a team-best 13.9 points per game and VCU could be tested greatly by UCF’s stout defense — which includes the towering presence of 7’6″ Tacko Fall.
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What’s Trending: Conference Tournament Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 18th, 2019

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

The second week of conference tournaments began with many questions, the biggest of which focused on a certain 6’7″, 285-pound freshman in Durham, North Carolina. For the past few weeks, questions about Zion Williamson and whether he would — or should — return to play for Duke have been thrown around by nearly everyone. It took the superstar forward all of two minutes of game time to show everyone that he is indeed back…

https://twitter.com/si_ncaabb/status/1106368814206324736

The storylines involving Zion continued in Duke’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal match-up against Syracuse. In the past, it was Duke — paging Grayson Allen — as the centerpiece of any tripping story. This time, however, it was Syracuse’s Frank Howard taking his turn to extend his leg a little further than necessary…

“I love playing with Duke, I love my teammates.”

The Zion experience carried into the ACC Tournament semifinal match-up against North Carolina. The Tar Heels had dominated the first two Zion-less games, but after scoring 29 points and grabbing 10 rebounds through the first 39 minutes, it was Zion’s final two points and rebound that made the biggest difference…

https://twitter.com/espn/status/1106760367533780992

Scoring, rebounds, steals… oh, Zion can pass the ball pretty well too…

In the non-Zion Williamson category of the ACC Tournament, the basketball world was gifted a dancing Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams

…a frantic possession and game-winning basket by Florida State’s Terance Mann…

…and everyone’s favorite, allegations of NCAA violations…

On the topic of NCAA violations, the SEC Tournament included LSU’s Will Wade releasing a statement where he made a plea to get back on the sideline. LSU General Counsel Tom Skinner fired back with, “as a university and employer, we need to hear our employee say, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ or explain the circumstances or admit he did not do something wrong. We’ve been unable to get to that point. We have no choice, in terms of institutional control, to not suspend someone.”

On the court, Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield began the Volunteers’ SEC Tournament action with a poster over Mississippi State…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1106755627366391809

LSU’s Skylar Mays came up with a dunk that had LSU fans jumping for joy…

…but it was ultimately Florida’s Andrew Nembhard who allowed Florida to move on and send LSU home.

Florida’s run through the SEC Tournament came to an end on Saturday, literally at the hands of Auburn….

https://twitter.com/br_CBB/status/1106998122658582533

In the other semifinal, the SEC Tournament delivered a gem between Tennessee and Kentucky…

During Wednesday’s opening round of the Big Ten Tournament, Nebraska’s Tim Miles had the spotlight on him after his Huskers toppled Rutgers…

…after beating Maryland on Thursday, Miles got his shot at redemption…

After the second win in as many days, Big Ten Twitter was quick to point out this fact that fans in Bloomington, Indiana, were not happy to read…

The Big East Tournament will be remembered for this sequence in Seton Hall’s semifinal win over Marquette

https://twitter.com/CBBonFOX/status/1106760477718138881

Meanwhile, at the end of the tournament it was once again Villanova that walked away as the champion… AGAIN.

Tournament week in Las Vegas began with the West Coast Conference Tournament where St. Mary’s earned an automatic bid by getting the best of Gonzaga.

…and it continued with the Pac-12 Tournament where all eyes were on Bill Walton doing Bill Walton things…

…and it ended with Oregon winning the Pac-12 Tournament to steal a bid from a team on the bubble.

As players play for an opportunity to keep their season going, these tournaments bring up stories that need to be shared. The emotion in the face of Old Dominion headcoach Jeff Jones makes the Monarchs an easy team to root for…

While there is so much to love and appreciate with college basketball, there was one thing that continues to outshine the product on the floor. Officiating throughout tournaments leaves fans wondering…

And as painful as questionable calls can be, the monitor review process will almost assuredly come up time and time again next week. Getting the correct call is important, but too often these reviews kill any flow to a game. Add in the fact that they act as de facto timeouts for teams that often do not have any to call and you have a situation that creates more problems than it solves.

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Rushed Reactions: Duke 73, Florida State 63

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 16th, 2019

RTC’s Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson celebrate after winning the program’s 15th ACC Championship of the Mike Krzyzewski era. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
  1. Duke’s defense was the difference. With all the attention generated by Zion Williamson’s spectacular scoring plays, it is easy to forget what he means to Duke on the other end of the floor. With his return to the lineup this week in Charlotte, the Blue Devils seem to have regained their defensive mojo. In tonight’s title game, Florida State led for most of the first half and was tied with Duke at the break. But after intermission, the Blue Devils tightened up their defense, holding the Seminoles to 25.0 percent shooting from the floor. And this was a Florida State team that had just shot 56 percent against the mighty Virginia defense in Friday’s semifinals. The Duke running game got going as a result of getting those stops, leading to transition dunks for Williamson and RJ Barrett that gave the Blue Devils a working margin that they would never relinquish.
  2. Florida State is going to be a tough out in the Big Dance. The Seminoles may have surprised the college basketball world by beating top-seeded Virginia in this ACC Tournament, but it’s not like they came out of nowhere this season. Leonard Hamilton’s club closed regular season play by winning 12 of their last 13 games and have already set a school record with 27 wins. They’re athletic, experienced and deep. Their best player is probably Mfiondu Kabengele, who may be the best sixth man in the nation. Kabengele kept the Seminoles within striking distance tonight. finishing with 14 points and making 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Additionally, Florida State’s size and length will make the Seminoles one of the most unique defensive teams in the NCAA Tournament — one that nobody should look forward to facing in the coming weeks.
  3. Duke may have locked up the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There’s little doubt that Duke will be on the top line when the brackets are presented Sunday evening, but conference tournament losses by Virginia and Gonzaga have opened up the overall top spot for the Blue Devils. The Selection Committee is expected to judge Duke with Zion Williamson in the lineup, and that Duke team went 23-2 with a 4-1 record against the other six programs in contention for the #1 seed line. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad is not without flaws — once again tonight they triumphed despite a cold shooting night from distance (2-14 3FG) — but they can overwhelm opponents in several other ways. Against the tall and imposing frontline of Florida State, the Blue Devils managed to post a decisive 42-18 edge in points in the paint, and had a solid advantage (+7) in fast break points. Point guard Tre Jones’ assertiveness (18 points) also gave the Blue Devils a boost tonight, and was reminiscent of the play of his older brother Tyus in leading Duke to the national title in 2015.

Player of the Game. Zion Williamson, Duke. The college game’s brightest star completed a successful return from injury by scoring 81 points in three days and winning the ACC Tournament MVP award. Tonight he scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor, grabbed five boards, and helped Duke’s defense hold Florida State to 31.7 percent shooting.

Quotable.

  • “He’s a world class athlete. He changes things.” – Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton on going against Zion Williamson.
  • “To start 1-and-4 in the league and end up in fourth place… it’s outstanding.” – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski praising the coaching job of Leonard Hamilton this season.
  • “When he’s able to score, it definitely opens it up for the rest of it.” – Duke’s RJ Barrett on the aggressive play tonight from Tre Jones.

Sights and Sounds. It was not nearly the same atmosphere in the Spectrum Center tonight as it was for the Duke-North Carolina semifinal clash, but it was a pretty full house tonight even if the energy level was merely good, not great.

What’s Next. Duke and Florida State have each improved their NCAA Tournament resumes this week in Charlotte and they will hear their paths to Minneapolis revealed on Sunday night.

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Rushed Reactions: Duke 74, North Carolina 73

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 15th, 2019

RTC’s Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

Zion Williamson led Duke to an exciting ACC Tournament win over rival North Carolina. (The Sporting News)
  1. This game lived up to the hype. This was perhaps the most anticipated semifinal matchup in ACC Tournament history and the two teams delivered an instant classic. It was only fitting that the outcome wasn’t decided until the game’s final possession when North Carolina missed two shots in the last three seconds. For most of the first half it looked like a mismatch — North Carolina raced out to a commanding 13-point lead and the Blue Devils were dealing with foul trouble to their depleted front line (especially true with Marquise Bolden out). But Mike Krzyzewski got some surprising production from his bench and Duke roared back to tie the game at the half. After the break Duke took the lead and looked to be in control only to see the Tar Heels rally. It wasn’t the prettiest game — the teams combined to make just 9-of-47 shots from deep — but the intensity level and effort from both teams was top-notch. And who knows? We may get to see them go at it again in Minneapolis.
  2. Duke’s bench came through in surprising fashion. Zion Williamson was outstanding, but Duke would not have pulled this game out without the play of the much-maligned Blue Devils’ bench. Led by Cameron Johnson (16 first half points), North Carolina was rolling in the first half and beating the Blue Devils down the court for transition buckets. Additionally, Cam Reddish and Javin DeLaurier were in foul trouble. First, Krzyzewski inserted Jordan Goldwire into the game in place of Reddish and his defense helped turn the game around. Goldwire took on the assignment of slowing down Coby White, an absolute jet in the open court, while starting point guard Tre Jones moved over to harass Johnson. When DeLaurier picked up his third foul, seldom used Antonio Vrankovic got the call and held his own with the Tar Heels’ frontcourt for a total of 10 minutes. Goldwire earned postgame praise from both head coaches for the energy he brought to his team when they needed a boost.
  3. History repeats itself (barely). This makes the third year in a row that these two old rivals have met in the ACC Tournament semifinals. In each of those prior tourney matchups, the winner was the team that had lost the prior meeting between the two a week earlier. In fact, that has been the case in the last five ACC Tournament meetings between Duke and North Carolina (2003, 2011, 2017-19). For North Carolina, this tradition runs even deeper — over the last 46 years, whenever the Tar Heels face Duke in the ACC Tournament after defeating the Blue Devils in the regular season finale, their record in those games is 0-6. But recent rivalry history is not all bad news for Williams. During his 15 years at the helm in Chapel Hill, the winner of the last regular season Duke-UNC matchup of the year has gone on to perform better in the NCAA Tournament than its rival 13 times.

Player of the Game. Zion Williamson, Duke. The freshman phenom finally got his chance to play in college basketball’s biggest rivalry and he made the most of it. Williamson finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds and ended up making the game-winner when he followed up his own miss with 31 seconds to go.

Quotable.

  • “The guy that’s been hurt [Zion Williamson] came back and put on his superman jersey again and was incredible. It’s such a blend of strength and power and quickness that we couldn’t stop him getting the basketball inside and going to the basket.” – North Carolina coach Roy Williams’ opening comments in the press conference.
  • “This was obviously a great game. I mean vintage ACC, Duke-North Carolina.” – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on the game.
  • “I mean it was tough watching the first two games. […] the rivalry lived up to what I expected it to be” – Duke’s Zion Williamson on finally getting to play against North Carolina.

Sights and Sounds. This was probably the most anticipated semifinal matchup in ACC Tournament history, so it was fitting that this battle between Tobacco Road rivals took place in the state of North Carolina. As expected, the Tar Heels had the support of about two-thirds of the Spectrum Center, but both sets of fans were extremely into the game throughout the contest.

What’s Next. Duke moves on to play Florida State for the ACC championship on Saturday night. It will be the second title meeting between the two schools — the Blue Devils beat the Seminoles in 2009. Duke and Florida State only played once in the regular season, with Duke winning a one-point buzzer-beating game in Tallahassee in early January.

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ACC Tournament Takeaways: Thursday Evening

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 14th, 2019

RTC’s Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) will be reporting live from Charlotte at the 2019 ACC Tournament through Saturday’s championship game.

Zion Williamson looked strong in his return to the floor in the ACC Tournament. (Getty Images)

Here are a few thoughts on the four teams from today’s evening session at the ACC Tournament.

  • North Carolina (27-5): The Tar Heels are a very confident team right now and with good reason. After dispatching Louisville, 83-70, in Thursday’s quarterfinals, North Carolina has won 15 of its last 16 outings and is still in contention to grab a #1 seed in the upcoming Big Dance. Although the Cardinals stayed within striking distance for most of tonight’s game, it never felt like the outcome was in doubt. Freshman point guard Coby White continued his recent outstanding play for Roy Williams, finishing with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists. The Tar Heels will get a chance at the rare three-game season sweep of archrival Duke in Friday night’s semifinals.
  • Louisville (20-13): After losing five or its last six February outings, the Cardinals appear to have somewhat righted the ship. They closed the regular season with a comfortable win over Notre Dame followed by a narrow defeat at top-seed Virginia. In Charlotte, Louisville blew out the Fighting Irish on Wednesday and gave a good account of themselves against North Carolina, one of hottest teams in the country. Most bracketologists forecast Chris Mack’s club as a #6 or #7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, meaning they would likely face a high-caliber team in the second round. Mack hopes that the six games his squad has already played against North Carolina, Virginia and Duke have prepared it for such a challenge.
  • Duke (27-5): He’s back! But that doesn’t mean everything is OK with Duke going forward. In his much anticipated return from a knee injury that caused him to miss six games, Zion Williamson exploded out of the gate to lead the Blue Devils to a big early lead. In the first half alone, he scored 21 points on 9-for-9 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds and came up with five steals. But while Williamson’s presence helps Duke in many areas, it doesn’t alter the team’s glaring flaws — namely, shooting and the propensity to collect offensive fouls. In its 84-72 win over Syracuse, the Blue Devils made 30.4 percent of their threes, shot 67.9 percent from the foul line and committed 18 turnovers — many of those coming on charges. They’ll have to be better than that to knock off North Carolina on Friday night, in what will be one of the most anticipated semifinal matchups in ACC Tournament history.
  • Syracuse (20-13): This was always going to be an uphill battle for the Orange, especially when star Tyus Battle was unable to suit up due to a sore back. Without its best offensive player, Syracuse struggled mightily to score against Duke’s pressure early. But they settled down after that, storming back catch the Blue Devils in the second half before fading down the stretch. The Orange had one of their best outside shooting nights of the year, making 9-of-21 from deep and they have to be encouraged at the development of the coach’s son, Buddy Boeheim. Starting in place of Battle, the freshman put together back-to-back strong outings in Charlotte, including 15 points against Duke. Jim Boeheim indicated that Battle should be ready to go in a few days, so he should be available for the start of the NCAA Tournament. That’s good news for a team that’s likely to end up with a #9 or #10 seed, which guarantees that the Orange will be facing a good First Round opponent.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 11th, 2019

Here is the final 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. With the regular season in the books, this week we will compare how each ACC squad performed in the second half of league play, with an eye on the teams that might excel in the ACC Tournament in Charlotte. 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 9.

Final Standings

Congratulations are in order for Virginia, which accomplished something this season that no ACC school has done in over a decade. Tony Bennett‘s club posted both the best offense and defense, the first league squad to lead the conference in each metric since North Carolina turned the trick in back-to-back seasons (2007 and 2008). The Cavaliers won the defensive crown for the fifth time in the past six years, while simultaneously trotting out the best offense of Bennett’s career in Charlottesville. Virginia’s shooting acumen has been the main driver to its offensive prowess — the Cavaliers made 43.1 percent of their three-pointers in league play, which represents the ACC’s best mark of the KenPom era. Co-regular season champion North Carolina used a balanced attack to finish with the league’s second-best offense — the Tar Heels finished among the top five in two-point shooting, three-point accuracy, offensive rebounding and turnover percentage. Brad Brownell also deserves credit for the performance of Clemson’s defense, which finished second in the ACC, ahead of more acclaimed units from Florida State and Duke.

Advanced Stat of the Week: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not

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