2016-17 ACC Year In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 21st, 2017

As with any college basketball season, the ACC experienced its ups and downs during the 2016-17 campaign. The obvious highlight was North Carolina capturing its sixth National Championship — the 14th time an ACC school has won the grand prize. Despite Duke’s late push in the ACC Tournament, the Tar Heels were the league’s best and most consistent team for nearly the entire season, winning the regular season conference race by two games in a historically competitive year. The league as a whole put a conference-record nine teams in the NCAA Tournament this season, but spoiled that accomplishment by laying a giant first weekend egg in the Big Dance. After placing 11 teams in the Sweet Sixteen over the previous two years, the Tar Heels were the only ACC representative this time around. Here’s a final look at some of the highs and lows of ACC basketball this season.

Roy Williams became the sixth head coach in NCAA history with three or more National Championships.
(Getty Images)

Best Performance: By capturing this year’s National Championship, North Carolina earned some redemption after losing one year ago on a Villanova buzzer-beater for the ages. The Heels did so with a potent combination of talent and experience, featuring three seniors and three juniors among their top six players. On the talent side, consider that five of the 15 remaining McDonald’s All-Americans from the 2013 and 2014 classes were in North Carolina’s starting lineup this season. This North Carolina team is not one of the greatest teams in school history, but its NCAA Tournament run proved Roy Williams’ club will be regarded as one of the toughest. The Tar Heels twice came back from late five-point deficits during the first two weekends (Arkansas and Kentucky), and both Final Four games against Oregon and Gonzaga were tight until the last few possessions. In keeping with its core strengths, North Carolina used its abilities in offensive rebounding and ball security to to beat the Ducks and Zags. John Gasaway calls the concept shot volume, as the Tar Heels were able to get 10 more shot attempts than Oregon and 14 more than Gonzaga. Williams, with his ninth Final Four appearance (fourth-best ever) and third National Championship, must now be considered one of greatest college coaches of all-time. His critics can no longer claim that he’s just been fortunate to have so much talent on his rosters. If talent is all that is required, then why aren’t Arizona and Kansas making more Final Fours? Why doesn’t John Calipari have three titles? It’s just not that easy.

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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

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

New Favorite: #4 Florida (26-8). Florida’s 65-39 drubbing of #5 Virginia on Saturday should put the rest of the remaining field on notice— the Gators are really, really difficult to score against. Mike White’s aggressive group held to Cavaliers to a paltry 0.65 points per possession, limiting its ACC foe to just 1-of-15 shooting from behind the arc and preventing any Virginia player from reaching double figures. Wisconsin, which is somewhat similar to Virginia stylistically, could be in for a rude awakening on Friday night. 6’8” swingman Devin Robinson, a supremely gifted athlete, is playing some of his best basketball of the season (19.0 PPG in the NCAA Tournament), and only West Virginia and North Carolina possess more depth than Florida of the teams remaining. Now ranked third nationally by KenPom, the Gators are as good a threat as any to win the National Championship.

Florida’ Defense Dominated Virginia This Weekend (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #8 Wisconsin (27-9). Despite being underseeded, Wisconsin outlasted Virginia Tech in the First Round before knocking off the reigning National Champion in the Round of 32. Saturday’s unexpected, high-drama victory over Villanova highlighted the Badgers’ strengths — patience, veteran leadership, stingy defense — and firmly establishes them as a threat in the East Region. Greg Gard’s club, now in its fourth straight Sweet Sixteen, will again enter Friday’s match-up with #4 Florida as an underdog. With a pair of seniors (Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes) and a First Team All-Big Ten forward (Ethan Happ) leading the way, bet against the dark horse Badgers at your own risk.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #7 South Carolina (24-10). #11 USC shocked #6 SMU and #8 Wisconsin upended the reigning National Champion — both huge surprises in their own right. But it was the other USC — #7 South Carolina — that pulled off the biggest stunner in the East, and perhaps the entire Big Dance. #2 Duke entered the Thursday as the betting favorite win the NCAA Tournament, a testament to both its supreme talent and undeniable momentum heading into the event (the Blue Devils had just won the ACC Tournament). The Gamecocks, meanwhile, entered Friday having lost six of its previous nine games, including an 11-point stinker against Alabama in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. And yet, Frank Martin’s defensive-minded group pounded Duke in the second half on Sunday night, scoring 65 points in the final 20 minutes and knocking off the Blue Devils in front of a home-state crowd filled with South Carolina fans and North Carolina fans (otherwise known as Duke haters) alike. Few people saw this coming.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 South Carolina 88, #2 Duke 81

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 19th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Celebrate Rakym Felder, you and your teammates just made school history. (Getty)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. After a terrible offensive performance in the first half, South Carolina had another second half explosion. It was a repeat of Friday’s win over Marquette when it scored 54 second half points. Despite holding Duke to 30 points in 33 first half possessions, the Gamecocks were still down seven at the break because they shot 20 percent from the floor. But the change of baskets after intermission did wonders for the South Carolina aim. They connected on 20 of their 28 shots in the second stanza for 71.4 percent shooting. Additionally, the Gamecocks were great at the foul line–icing the game away by making 21-of-23 from the stripe in the second half. South Carolina put up 65 points after intermission in a complete turnaround that propelled the Gamecocks to victory.
  2. Overall, South Carolina did a great job containing Duke’s explosive offense. The Blue Devils looked rattled for much of the first half, committing 13 turnovers. About midway through the opening stanza Frank Martin went to a zone, which stood up the Duke offense and forced many of those miscues. It was more of the same after the break. For the game, South Carolina forced Duke into 18 turnovers and 41.5 percent field goal shooting. The result: South Carolina held one of the nation’s best offenses to 1.07 points per possession and the preseason #1 ranked Blue Devils end the year in disappointing fashion.
  3. Sindarius Thornwell is a bona fide stud. Earlier in the week, Mike Krzyzewski called him one of the nation’s least known great players. Maybe America will know who he is now as the senior forward displayed his versatility on both ends of the floor. He finished with a game-high 24 points, six rebounds and five assists. Thornwell, a member of the SEC All-Defensive Team, also deserves praise for his work against Duke’s star Luke Kennard. He was a primary reason that Kennard finished with just 11 points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field. And there’s no question that his play raises the level of his teammates’ confidence as well.

Player of the Game. Sindarius Thornwell. See Above! Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 87, #15 Troy 65

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

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Jayson Tatum was excellent on both ends of the floor in his first NCAA Tourney game.
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. When they are hitting their threes this Duke team is almost impossible to guard. The Blue Devils came out on fire from deep – hitting 10-of-17 threes in the first half. And it wasn’t just one guy going off. Grayson Allen hit all three of his attempts from distance before half time, but four others connected as well. For the game, Duke went 13-for-28 from behind the arc and that was the difference in the game. That enabled the Blue Devils to overcome an off night by Luke Kennard  —  eight points on 3-of-12 shooting — and a deficit (-2) in points-in-the-paint.
  2. Troy is a good offensive basketball team. On the season, the Trojans are among KenPom’s top-75 in adjusted offensive efficiency and they showed us why tonight. After showing initial jitters–five turnovers in its first eight possessions–Troy settled down about halfway through the first half. After trailing by 15 early, the Trojans calmed down and ran their offense well–hitting five straight shots during one stretch–to close to within seven before Duke spurted again. In the end, Troy couldn’t get enough of its threes to fall as they ended the game shooting 5-for-23 from deep.
  3. Defensive consistency is still a concern for the Blue Devils. There were several stretches in the game where the Trojans scoring rather easily, particularly on the interior. That remains the biggest question for Duke going forward. Good offensive teams often have their way with Duke in the paint. Harry Giles did not build upon his impressive performance last week at the ACC Tournament as he was scoreless and committed two fouls in four first half minutes. For Duke to survive off-shooting nights in the future, they will need more from him.

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RTC Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2017

All day Monday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCEastRegion).

East Region

The Champs Are Ready to Defend Their Title (USA Today Images)

Favorite: #1 Villanova (31-3, 15-3 Big East). Sure, Duke’s ACC Championship run over the weekend was impressive, a sign that perhaps its unreasonably-high preseason expectations weren’t so unreasonable after all. But Villanova—the reigning National Champion, let’s not forget—has been more consistent, more dominant, an outright better team from start to finish. Senior Josh Hart (18.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG) has arguably been college basketball’s best player, making key plays in key moments for an offense that ranks second nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Former five-star recruit Jalen Brunson (14.8 PPG, 4.2 APG) is realizing his potential at point guard. Mikal Bridges, whose effort against Kansas last March helped propel the Wildcats to the Final Four, has helped Jay Wright’s club hold Big East opponents to a paltry 0.98 points per possession this season. And, oh yeah, Kris Jenkins (86 made three-pointers) is still on the roster. Remember him? Balanced, experienced, and tough-as-nails, Villanova has all the pieces for a trip to Glendale.

Should They Falter: #2 Duke (27-8, 11-7 ACC). Equipped with one of the most talented rosters in recent memory, the injury-plagued and controversy-laden Blue Devils bungled their way through ACC play, only to rediscover their mojo just as the calendar flipped to March. That’s bad news for the bottom half of the East Region. Preseason All-American Grayson Allen seemed to recoup some confidence in the ACC Tournament after struggling through the month of February. As did soon-to-be lottery pick Jayson Tatum, who averaged 22.0 PPG in Duke’s four-game championship run in Brooklyn. Luke Kennard (20.1 PPG), the ACC Tournament MVP, continued his season-long excellence, while even Harry Giles—a hyper-talented forward beset by knee injuries—showed why he was once considered the future #1 overall pick. With a remarkably talented supporting cast to boot, there’s no reason the Blue Devils can’t vie for a National Championship—especially if Villanova stumbles up top.

Grossly Overseeded: #7 South Carolina (22-10, 12-6 SEC). Non-conference victories over Michigan, Syracuse, Vermont and Monmouth are nice, and South Carolina did beat Florida, but a #7 seed? The Gamecocks went 3-6 over their final nine games of the season, failing to beat a team better than Georgia (at home) from February 1 onward. This team lost to Alabama twice—including an 11-point defeat in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals—fell at Ole Miss, and was down by 16 points in December to a Memphis team that had just ended its season in historically bad fashion. Meanwhile, Wisconsin—a team with fewer losses and a higher volume of quality wins—was slapped with a #8 seed.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 12th, 2017

The ACC received nine bids to the NCAA Tournament today, as the Selection Committee rewarded one of the league’s two bubble teams with Wake Forest making the field over Syracuse and its 2-10 record away from the Carrier Dome. Another big question going into today was whether regular season champion North Carolina or ACC Tournament winner Duke would get a #1 seed? The Tar Heels, on the strength of their regular season work, ultimately got the nod from the committee. Here are some quick best- and worst-case scenarios for each of the nine ACC teams in the field.

North Carolina (#1 South)

  • Best Case: The Tar Heels’ size and experience results in another appearance in the National Championship game with a chance for the school’s sixth national title.
  • Worst Case: North Carolina has another bad shooting night away from the Smith Center against an opponent (e.g., Butler) that will not allow the Heels to dominate the offensive glass.

Duke hopes to continue to play like it did in Brooklyn where they won four games in four days to capture the ACC Tourney Title. (abc11.com)

Duke (#2 East)

  • Best Case: Duke builds on its current momentum all the way to Phoenix, giving Coach K a shot at his sixth National Championship.
  • Worst Case: On a day when Duke’s threes are not falling, the Blue Devils get picked off in the Second Round by South Carolina, which benefits from a friendly local crowd in Greenville.

Louisville (#2 Midwest)

  • Best Case: Louisville’s defense overwhelms its foes and the Cardinals hit enough shots to get Rick Pitino back to the Final Four for a chance at his second title at the school and third overall.
  • Worst Case: The threes and free throws don’t connect for the Cardinals and they can’t get turnovers against a hot Michigan or Oklahoma State squad in the Second Round.

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Rushed Reactions: Duke 93, North Carolina 83

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 10th, 2017

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s Second Half Comeback Shocked the Tar Heels (USA Today Images)

  1. No matter the venue, Carolina, Duke gonna Duke, Carolina. The rivalry that almost never fails to deliver traveled north and didn’t disappoint an electrified Brooklyn crowd. North Carolina often appeared in complete control in the first half as the Tar Heels’ lead swelled to 13 points a pair of times, but Duke’s Grayson Allen (four first-half threes, including three in a 95-second span) and Jayson Tatum (18 first half points) managed to keep the Blue Devils within striking distance. North Carolina maintained control in the early second half until point guard Joel Berry picked up his fourth foul at the 15:04 mark with the Heels up nine. What ensued was a 23-7 Duke blitz, sparked by Allen, a rejuvenated Kennard and Jackson. The previously weary Blue Devils ended up being the team that imposed its will down the stretch, and the seemingly punch drunk Tar Heels failed to respond the way anyone expected.
  2. Grayson Allen is back. While the ACC Tournament title has its own cachet and the importance of the rivalry cannot be overstated, North Carolina and Duke always play with an eye toward the trophy awarded in early April. For Duke to become a legitimate contender, though, Allen must perform like an All-American. The junior guard’s travails have been well-documented, but more pertinently from a basketball perspective, his emotional and physical struggles have sometimes made him a marginal player. And after the no-show that was Wednesday’s 12 minutes of scoreless action, he was vital in keeping Duke alive early before spearheading the victory late. He looked healthy, focused, determined and generally back to his peak self. In short, the Duke team we thought we’d see in November simply waited until mid-March to show up. This is a major problem for the other 67 teams hoping to join the Blue Devils in Phoenix.
  3. Joel Berry is the most valuable Tar Heel. While Justin Jackson was deservedly tabbed as the ACC Player of the Year, it is Berry who is the Tar Heels’ most valuable player. He is the only pure point guard on the roster, and North Carolina simply looked lost while he was in foul trouble on the bench. Kennedy Meeks, who dominated Duke on the interior in the first half, became largely uninvolved without Berry on the flo0r. The team just appeared totally discombobulated with its junior floor leader on the pine, with a litany of out of whack possessions.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VIII – Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 7th, 2017

Here is the final edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. With the regular season now complete, we will look at which ACC teams performed better in the second half of league play and how that may impact the upcoming ACC Tournament. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins and what that means for each team’s postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Saturday, March 4.

Current Standings

North Carolina finished with an impressive two-game lead in the standings to edge out Louisville with the league’s top efficiency margin. Since the Cardinals finished as the #4 seed for this week’s ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, the two best teams in the conference landed on the same side of the bracket. The Tar Heels finish with the league’s top offense for the first time since 2009 — incidentally the last time North Carolina won the National Championship. This year, Roy Williams’ club used an outstanding offensive rebounding rate (42.5%) to overcome a modest shooting year — the Heels finished 10th in the league in effective field goal percentage (51.7%). Virginia reclaimed its status as the ACC’s best defensive squad, as Tony Bennett‘s teams have now finished as one of the ACC’s two best defenses in each of the last six seasons. Virginia’s pack line defense led the league in forcing turnovers (20.1%) and finished third in opponents’ effective field goal percentage (48.5%). Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: ACC Tourney Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 7th, 2017

morning5_ACC

  1. Greensboro News & Record: HB2 strikes again. This year an NCAA Tournament first weekend site was moved from Greensboro to Greenville, South Carolina; now commissioner John Swofford says the league would “be remiss if [it] didn’t” plan on alternative future locations for the ACC Tournament. This could serve to precipitate the inevitable decentralization of the ACC and/or the ultimate evolution to a national entity (much as the Duke/North Carolina rivalry has become a national phenomenon). According to a February poll, approximately 60 percent of North Carolina residents disagree with large parts of HB2 (including the part that led the NCAA to pull its events out of the state). Potentially losing the ACC Tournament may be what forces the North Carolina legislature to move forward with a full repeal. We’ll learn very soon how much the Tar Heel State cares about the ACC Tournament.
  2. The ACC: The league got it right with the all-ACC first team (and based on the vote totals, it was a no-brainer): North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, Wake Forest’s John Collins and Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson should have joined Duke’s Luke Kennard as unanimous first-teamers (the same probably goes for Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, though he’s a hair below the top four). I thought Collins would finish a bit closer to Jackson in Player of the Year votes (although it’s likely that many voters rewarded Jackson for being on a better team). The only head-scratcher among the group was that Kennard didn’t get more votes for Most Improved Player.
  3. KenPom: Ken Pomeroy projects the ACC Tournament as a three-team race (Florida State gets an honorable mention) between North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville. Dark horse: Wake Forest has a pretty favorable path to the semifinals and will have the best player on the floor in nearly every game. A fun (potential) matchup I’m most looking forward to: the Duke vs. NC State rematch on Wednesday. Either way should be a great week of games. Food for thought: Florida State is the most well-balanced team efficiency-wise (although North Carolina and Louisville both rank among the top 25 in offensive and defensive efficiency). That should bode well in the postseason.
  4. Charlottesville Daily Progress: London Perrantes had quite the career at Virginia. Even as part of a program that doesn’t get any one-and-dones, a four-year college starter is exceedingly rare. He owns the most starts in Virginia history (a number inflated by the modern schedule, but still impressive nevertheless). He’s also defined the program as an unflashy, never flustered, quietly efficient point guard. He’s left Ty Jerome some pretty big shoes to fill in his absence.
  5. Raleigh News & Observer: NC State fans probably need a sincere pick-me-up, so how about a retrospective on the Wolfpack’s last ACC championship? It’s somewhat bittersweet since it also highlights the slow decline of the program as Duke grew into a national powerhouse in the 1980s and 1990s. Barry Jacobs’ stories are always tremendous, and this one comes through as well.

EXTRA: This piece on the ACC’s historic ties to the Big Apple is fascinating. Like I mentioned in this morning’s first blurb, the ACC may be nearing the end of its transition from a regional to a national brand. This story sheds more light on the beginning of that history, and how the league pushed recruiting well beyond its footprint.

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.06.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 6th, 2017

The ACC regular season wrapped up on Saturday and things went mostly according to plan with home favorites winning six of the seven contests. The lone road underdog to triumph was Wake Forest boosting its NCAA Tournament hopes with a nice comeback win at Virginia Tech. In one of the season’s most exciting games, North Carolina earned revenge for an earlier loss at Duke defeating the Blue Devils on Saturday night in the Smith Center. In other important action, Louisville and Florida State clinched double-byes in the upcoming ACC Tournament by beating Notre Dame and Miami, respectively. Syracuse also routed Georgia Tech in the Carrier Dome in what was effectively an NCAA Tournament elimination game. Here are the highlights of the weekend around the ACC.

After Saturday night’s win over Duke, Roy Williams celebrated North Carolina’s second consecutive outright ACC regular season title (Getty/Streeter Lecka)

  • Best Win I: Even though North Carolina had already clinched the ACC regular season title, the Tar Heels still had much at stake in its annual season-ending meeting with Duke. In using a late-game spurt to beat the Blue Devils, Roy Williams’ club avenged an earlier loss and moved considerably closer to clinching a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The game was a riveting back-and-forth affair with great individual performances on both sides. Luke Kennard made his case for ACC Player of the Year by leading the Blue Devils with 28 points, but his efforts were not enough to overcome outstanding performances from North Carolina’s Joel Berry (28 points including 5-of-5 on threes) and Isaiah Hicks (21 points, nine rebounds). Another difference this time came in the form of North Carolina’s improved perimeter defense. Duke punished the Tar Heels from beyond the arc with 13 three-pointers several weeks ago; on Saturday, the Blue Devils managed only 7-of-19 from deep.

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