ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Tuesday Preview

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 27th, 2018

After Monday’s games, the 2018 Big Ten/ACC Challenge is tied with a pair of surprising results — Nebraska won at Clemson and Boston College outlasted Minnesota. ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) previews tonight’s heavy slate of action. (All rankings via KenPom as of Tuesday, November 26.)

Clemson Gave up a Home Game Last Night Against Nebraska (USA Today Images)

  • #16 Virginia Tech at #38 Penn State. Buzz Williams has another terrific offense brewing this season in Blacksburg. The Hokies currently rank seventh in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency and are making 41.4 percent (26th nationally) of their shots from long distance. They’ve also gotten the start of a breakout season from sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker (29.8 PER, 60.6% eFG). Their hot shooting will be tested tonight by a Penn State defense that is allowing its opponents to make just 22.9 percent (fourth nationally) of their attempts from three-point range. While excellent on the perimeter, Virginia Tech lacks size and could be vulnerable to Nittany Lions forward Lamar Stevens (26.6 PER, 24.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG).
  • #95 Illinois at #52 Notre Dame. Mike Brey’s club currently ranks just 51st in offensive efficiency, which is an odd sight to see. The last time a Brey team finished outside the top 50 in that category was all the way back in 2004-05. Part of the struggles this season have laid at the feet of T.J. Gibbs, the expected star of this team who has shot just 32.4 percent from the field and 21.1 percent from three-point range. Notre Dame will need to make some shots tonight to get a win, as the Illini feature a talented young backcourt of sophomore Trent Frazier (17.6 PPG, 58.3% eFG) and freshman Ayo Dosunmu (14.5 PPG, 57.6% eFG).
  • #8 Michigan State at #58 Louisville. Hello, Jordan Nwora. It hasn’t taken long for the talented Cardinals’ sophomore to break out this season, already the team’s leading scorer (18.4 PPG) despite coming off the bench. Nwora (29.4 PER, 57.6% eFG) is not simply a scorer, however. He’s posting a 27.8 defensive rebounding percentage and his turnover percentage is much improved this season despite more usage. While Nwora is actively turning into an ACC star, the Cardinals still have issues on the defensive end. They’re allowing opponents to shoot 43.8 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from long distance. They’ll have a tough task scoring tonight against Michigan State (eighth in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency).

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2018-19 RTC 16: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 26th, 2018

The college basketball season really got cooking during a Feast Week that featured two top-five match-ups that could easily be played again at the Final Four in Minneapolis. #1 Gonzaga and #3 Duke tipped things off Wednesday evening in what was an extremely entertaining Maui Invitational title game. The veteran Bulldogs led by as many as 16 points before withstanding a furious Blue Devils rally to escape with a thrilling 89-87 victory. Not to be outdone, #2 Kansas and #5 Tennessee turned in their own early season classic on Friday in the title game of the Preseason NIT. The Jayhawks used a dynamite performance from star forward Dedric Lawson — coupled with the good fortune of Tennessee star big man Grant Williams fouling out prior to overtime — to emerge victorious with an 87-81 result. The college hoops regular season is much more of a marathon than a sprint, but these early season treats serve as a good reminder of how compelling it can be when we have the pleasure of watching some of the best teams in the country face off against one another.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

  • Gonzaga is the new #1 team. Following its impressive win over #3 Duke in the Maui Invitational title game, Gonzaga is the new #1 team in this week’s RTC16. Mark Few‘s squad is loaded with the talent all over the court, highlighted by sophomore guard Zach Norvell Jr. and junior forward Rui Hachimura. What might be the most impressive aspect of the current Bulldogs is that they have emerged to these heights without the services of excellent junior forward Killian Tillie, who remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Gonzaga’s non-conference slate does not get much easier this week, as it faces a good North Dakota State program on Monday before hitting the road to play in what will be a raucous environment at Creighton on Saturday.

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ACC Feast Week In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 26th, 2018

It was a mixed performance by the 11 ACC squads that saw action in early season tournaments over Feast Week, as three league schools took home titles but five preseason top-25 ACC teams fell to lower-rated clubs. Below we will review some comparison statistics with the other five major basketball conferences as well as some of the ACC’s best and worst team performances from the last 10 days.

Unlike last November when the Big 12 dominated Feast Week play, things were more balanced this year, with some interesting conference-related takeaways: After a rough opening week of the regular season, the Big East (best record against other Power Six conferences) bounced back nicely in tournament action; the SEC (no titles) may not be nearly as strong as many had us believe; and the Pac-12 (overall losing record) is clearly a notch below the other Power Six leagues this year. Up next are some of the highs and lows involving ACC squads last week.

THE BEST

Three Tournament Titles for ACC Teams.

  • Virginia Tech – Charleston Classic. The Hokies captured the ACC’s first tourney championship with an 89-83 comeback win over Purdue. Emerging star Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the way, as the sophomore guard averaged 22.0 PPG on 55.1 percent shooting over the three games. Senior point guard Justin Robinson more than held his own against Purdue All-American Carsen Edwards in the title clash. Robinson finished with 23 points and six assists, leading Buzz Williams‘ club back from a 12-point second half deficit.
  • Boston College – Ft. Myers Tip-Off. Although the competition in Ft. Myers, Florida, was not stellar, Jim Christian’s squad deserves credit for two fairly comfortable wins. The Eagles took out Wyoming, 88-76, behind Ky Bowman’s 38-point explosion, and followed that up by holding Loyola (Chicago) to 0.87 points per possession in a 78-66 victory over last year’s surprise Final Four school.

De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome celebrate Virginia’s Battle 4 Atlantis title. (@UVAMensHoops)

  • VirginiaBattle 4 Atlantis. The Cavaliers’ vaunted defense struggled in their semifinal win over Dayton last week, allowing the Flyers to score 1.08 points per possession (PPP), but things were quickly back to normal for Tony Bennett’s pack-line D in Friday night’s championship tilt against Wisconsin. The Badgers only managed to post 0.79 PPP in Virginia’s 53-46 triumph. Sophomore De’Andre Hunter led the way with 20 points and nine boards in the title game, and the Cavaliers may have found some unexpected perimeter depth in the form of 5’9″ freshman Kihei Clark. Bennett inserted Clark into the starting lineup in the title game to spark his defense, and Clark responded with five defensive rebounds and three steals in 37 minutes of action.

THE WORST

Five Ranked ACC Teams Lost as Tournament Favorites.

  • Syracuse – 2K Classic. Granted, the Orange were without injured guard Frank Howard last week but no one expected them to get worked like they did in Madison Square Garden two weekends ago. Syracuse struggled mightily with perimeter shooting (11-of-50 3FG) in their two games, and even Jim Boeheim’s famous zone defense was ineffective, allowing both Connecticut and Oregon to top 80 points — something that only one of Syracuse’s opponents managed to do in regulation last year.
  • Clemson – Cayman Islands Classic. The Tigers were solid favorites in this event but couldn’t contain Creighton’s T-Shon Alexander in the championship game. Alexander exploded for 36 points in the Bluejays’ 87-82 win, torching Brad Brownell’s squad from deep (seven threes) and from the foul line (11-of-11 FT). Surprisingly, seniors Marquise Reed and Elijah Thomas were extremely careless with ball, combining for 12 of Clemson’s 19 turnovers in the championship bout.
  • Duke – Maui Invitational. So much for that crazy idea that the Blue Devils would go unbeaten. After dispatching #8 Auburn in the semifinals, Duke ran into an offensive machine in the title game. Gonzaga made 10 of its first 15 three-point attempts while racing to an impressive 16-point second half lead. Mike Krzyzewski’s young squad made a furious comeback to earn a chance to win but couldn’t convert with the game on the line and fell to the #3 Zags, 89-87. Duke missed all seven of its field goal attempts in the game’s final minute, which included an 0-for-5 effort from R.J. Barrett.
  • North Carolina – Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. Texas once again played the spoiler role as the Longhorns hung on to defeat North Carolina, 92-89, in the opening round in Las Vegas. The Tar Heels were unable to contain Texas guard Kerwin Roach, who erupted for 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting. Surprisingly, Roy Williams is now 1-7 versus the Longhorns as the Tar Heels’ head coach. His team avoided a disastrous trip by rallying to beat UCLA, 94-78, in Friday’s consolation game.
  • Florida State – AdvoCare Invitational. The Seminoles entered Sunday’s title game with Villanova averaging 82.7 points per game, but they allowed the Wildcats to control tempo and lost a low scoring affair, 66-60. Leonard Hamilton’s crew was fortunate to be playing in the championship game, rallying from nine points down in Friday’s semifinal game with LSU to force overtime. The Seminoles eventually won, 79-76, when Mfiondu Kabangele rattled in a corner three with less than a second to go in the extra period.
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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 19th, 2018

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Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings. All times are Eastern.

  1. Cayman Islands Classic: Clemson (#18) travels to the Cayman Islands this week as the tournament favorite, as Creighton (#41) is the only other squad currently among KenPom’s top 100. This event will not be shown on traditional television, but all the games will be available on Facebook via Stadium College Basketball. The Tigers will face Akron (#149) in today’s opening round (11:00 AM) and will follow that up by playing against either Georgia (#102) or Illinois State (#113) in Tuesday’s semifinals. If they win those two games, Brad Brownell’s team will play in Wednesday’s championship game (7:30 PM). Hopefully Clemson will face the Bluejays in the finals — otherwise this trip won’t do much for Clemson’s non-conference schedule strength.
  2. Maui Invitational: Duke(#1) will be making its fifth trip to the Maui Invitational this week, the traditional marquee event of Feast Week. Mike Krzyzewski’s teams have never lost in this event, but Duke will have to get through a loaded field in Hawaii to keep that streak alive. The Blue Devils will face San Diego State (#56) in today’s opening round (ESPN2 – 5:00 PM) and will follow up that game with either Auburn (#10) or Xavier (#69) in Tuesday’s semifinals. If they can get through that draw, Duke would likely get a shot at Gonzaga (#6) in Wednesday’s championship game (ESPN2 – 5:00 PM). So far, Zion Williamson and the explosive young Blue Devils have been must-watch TV, so we expect this to be the most discussed event of the week. If you’re looking for a sleeper in Maui, watch out for Iowa State (#27) — the Cyclones have looked strong in winning their first three outings of the year.
  3. Fort Myers Tipoff: This is probably the least appetizing tournament of Feast Week. The four teams involved do have something in common, though — each has already suffered a home court upset loss. Boston College (#87) will look to bounce back from its disappointing 76-69 loss to IUPUI by squaring off against Wyoming (#187) (FS1 – 9:00 PM) following Loyola-Chicago (#68) versus Richmond (#140). Tonight’s winners will meet in Wednesday’s title game (FS1 – 7:30 PM). To win this event, Jim Christian will need better bench production than he’s been getting — Boston College’s reserves have tallied only 19 points in three games. This will be especially true if the Eagles meet Loyola-Chicago in the finals, as the Ramblers return some key pieces from last year’s surprising Final Four club.
  4. NIT Season Tip-Off: The Barclays Center in Brooklyn will once again host an event that involves an ACC school. Chris Mack will have his work cut out for him this week as his Cardinals are guaranteed to play two top-notch opponents. Louisville (#55) takes on Tennessee (#9) in Wednesday’s opening contest (ESPN2 – 5:00 PM) with Kansas (#2) and Marquette (#34) doing battle in the nightcap. The winners will play in Friday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 9:00 PM). This will be a huge step up in competition for Louisville, whose 3-0 start has been achieved against a schedule that is ranked 331st in the nation, according to KenPom. It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals can continue their early hot shooting. So far, they’re converting 64.7 percent of their two-point attempts and a blistering 78.0 percent from the free throw line.
  5. Battle 4 Atlantis:  Virginia (#4) will be favored to come out of the Bahamas with three wins but it will not be easy — crazy things have happened here before. Last year’s tournament got turned upside early and remained that way as two preseason top-10 squads, Arizona and Purdue, ended up playing for seventh place. Tony Bennett’s team will first see action on Wednesday night (ESPN2 – 9:30 PM) when the Cavaliers take on Middle Tennessee State (#165). On Thanksgiving Day, they will face either Butler (#31) or Dayton (#100). There are some big name programs on the other side of the bracket – Wisconsin (#14), Florida (#28) and Oklahoma (#42). If Virginia meets the Badgers in Friday afternoon’s championship game (ESPN – 2:00 PM), we hope the offenses are better than they were in the two latest match-ups between the two — neither club reached the 50-point mark in December slugfests played in 2013 and 2017.
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ACC M5: 11.12.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 12th, 2018

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  1. Card Chronicle: As this article at Card Chronicle points out, Louisville fans may need to show some patience this year despite obvious excitement about the beginning of the Chris Mack era. Success in 2018-19 should be measured by progress on establishing standards for the kind of toughness that Mack’s teams exhibited at Xavier more than the Cardinals’ win-loss record and/or postseason status. To that end, expected starter Jordan Nwora came off the bench in Louisville’s opening tilt against Nicholls State because of poor practice performances leading up to the game. Transfer center Steven Enoch was impressive in his debut, however, posting 15 points, grabbing eight boards and going perfect from the foul line (9-of-9 FT).
  2. Miami Herald: Just prior to Friday’s opener against Lehigh, Miami announced that junior big man Dewan Hernandez was being held out because of eligibility concerns. It is possible — perhaps even probable — that Miami’s decision on Hernandez is related to last week’s announcement that the NCAA has been given the go-ahead from the federal government to start its own investigations into recruiting wrongdoing using FBI evidence. Hernandez’s name came up in the recent FBI trial as someone who convicted former Adidas runners wanted to bribe with cash payments. In Friday’s game, Chris Lykes showed he may be ready to take on a much larger role for the Hurricanes as a sophomore, notching a career-high 22 points in their 83-62 victory.
  3. News & Observer: Duke experienced a minor letdown in its trickier-than-expected 94-72 home win over Army on Sunday afternoon. After the game, head coach Mike Krzyzewski said his players let “significant noise” creep into their heads following last week’s blowout win over Kentucky, which affected the Blue Devils’ preparation. We also found it interesting that ESPN chose to broadcast this game on its primary network directly opposite the early afternoon NFL games. Doing so speaks to the interest and impact of Duke’s star-studded freshman class, especially social media superstar Zion Williamson. For anyone who thinks reversing the NBA’s one-and-done rule would be good for college basketball, would ESPN put Duke-Army on its flagship channel against the mighty NFL if Marques Bolden was the most heralded player on the floor?
  4. Tigernet.com: We knew Clemson would be led by its three returning senior starters this season — Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas — but the Tigers’ remaining supporting cast was unproven offensively. So far, however, Brad Brownell is getting excellent production from his other two starters, David Skara and Aamir Simms. A defensive specialist last year, Skara scored in double figures in each of the Tigers’ two easy wins last week, while Simms is making our colleague Mick McDonald look very smart for picking him to be an ACC breakout player this year. The sophomore forward is averaging 15.0 points per game while shooting 75.0 percent from the floor. Furthermore, after making only 14 threes last season, Simms has already sunk 5-of-6 attempts from distance so far this year.
  5. News & Observer: It appears that we may have our first in-season roster casualty in the ACC as freshman big man Ian Steere could be leaving NC State after playing in the Wolfpack’s opener. Kevin Keatts is known for playing only one big man on the floor and it must have become obvious to Steere that his minutes would be limited behind incoming transfers Wyatt Walker and D.J. Funderburk. Even looking ahead to next year, the Wolfpack will also welcome former Kentucky forward Sacha Killeya-Jones to its roster. On the court, however, it looks like Keatts is having no problems blending his newcomers into a dangerous unit, blowing out NC State’s first two opponents by an average of 48 points.
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What’s Trending: The Ball is Tipped…

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 12th, 2018

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

Welcome back college basketball, it’s good to have you back!

Kyle Tucker of The Athletic provided this glimpse into Bankers Life Fieldhouse prior to the tip of last week’s Kentucky/Duke game. Match-ups like these are what we all look forward to…

While the game itself may have not lived up to expectations, the debuts of Duke’s R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson most definitely did. Among their countless highlights of the night, this sequence will be tough to beat.

College sports, where the wild and wacky often happens. Indiana opened its season in Bloomington while wearing their road crimson uniforms.

Why were the Hoosiers wearing their road uniforms at Assembly Hall? Well, Chicago State’s road uniforms were never delivered to them.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Weekend Hoops Are Back

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 9th, 2018

Move over college football, make room for the first weekend of college basketball! Here are 10 questions to consider heading into this weekend’s slate of games from Friday through Sunday.

Arkansas vs. Texas in the Armed Forces Classic is the Best Game of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Arkansas start another season with a win? (Armed Forces Classic, Arkansas vs. Texas, Friday 7 PM EST, ESPN) The Razorbacks have won 23 consecutive season openers, with their last loss coming against a top-five UMass team coached by none other than John Calipari to start the 1994-95 season. Mike Anderson’s squad will have to find a way to replace the 34.7 points per game left behind by Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon.
  2. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, will the Pac-12 pick up an early impressive road win for the conference resume? (Washington @ Auburn, Friday 9:30 PM EST, SEC Network) In their season-opening win against Western Kentucky, the Huskies shot 29.7 percent in the first half and trailed by nine points before getting it together in the second stanza. Washington will need to avoid a slow start against an Auburn team that shot 18-of-38 beyond the arc in its season opener.
  3. How will West Virginia look without Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles? (Buffalo at West Virginia, Friday 9 PM EST, ESPNU) While West Virginia returns a defensive stalwart in the form of shot-blocking machine Sagaba Konate, the Mountaineers will of course no longer have Jevon Carter around to pester opposing ball-handlers. Bob Huggins’ team opens against a Buffalo squad that returns four of five starters from a 26-win squad that took out Arizona in the NCAA Tournament last season.
  4. What will Kentucky look like against a team with less talent than Duke? (Southern Illinois @ Kentucky, Friday 7 PM EST, SEC Network) While a 34-point loss is never a good thing, Kentucky can at least take away the offensive successes of Reid Travis (22 points) and Keldon Johnson (23 points) against the Blue Devils. It’s also worth remembering that the Wildcats struggled to put away both Utah Valley and Vermont at Rupp Arena to start last season.
  5. Just how good will Carsen Edwards be for Purdue? (Ball State @ Purdue, Saturday 8 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Carsen Edwards began this season by scoring 30 points and making 7-of-11 shots from distance against Fairfield. Edwards, the Big Ten preseason Player of the Year, will be up against a Ball State team that won at Notre Dame a season ago and returns its top four scorers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Overnight 5: 11.07.18 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2018

Can’t guarantee that we’re going to do this every night this season — questions of sustainability and all that — but let’s try this to see what happens. From Wednesday night:

 

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Several ACC Takeaways From Opening Night

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 7th, 2018

Opening night of the 2018-19 season was a total success for the ACC as league members swept their nine opponents last evening by convincing double-figure margins. Here are some takeaways from the three most prominent contests played by conference squads Tuesday night.

DUKE’S NEWCOMERS EXCEEDED THE HYPE

Zion Williamson and his fellow freshmen lived up to their immense hype in Duke’s big win over Kentucky. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

It doesn’t sound possible after all the preseason buzz surrounding the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class, but Duke‘s rookies were even better than advertised in a 118-84 thrashing of top-five Kentucky. This game represented a mismatch in talent from the outset, as Duke’s celebrated trio of RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish combined to finish with 83 points on 56.6 percent shooting. Barrett and Williamson, in particular, were amazing in transition, but they also scored much more easily in the half-court against a bevy of long and athletic Wildcats. At least for one glorious night in early November, Mike Krzyzewski’s squad had all of the answers to its preseason questions surrounding outside shooting (12-26 3FG), defense (Kentucky lingered around 1.0 PPP most of the game) and depth (eight Blue Devils saw double-figure minutes). After years of struggling to find a true point guard to orchestrate the offense, Duke looks like it has a diamond in Tre Jones, who finished with seven assists and zero turnovers. Even junior Jack White came off the bench to play 30 solid minutes, scoring nine points and grabbing a game-high 11 boards. Yes, it’s only one game — but if the Blue Devils can stay healthy, their potential is downright scary.

FLORIDA STATE’S DEFENSE IS LEGIT

Duke wasn’t the only ACC team to dominate a highly regarded team from the SEC last night, as Florida State used a strong second half start to pummel Florida, 81-60. Leonard Hamilton‘s team utilized old school defense to fuel its NCAA Tournament run to the Elite Eight last March, and it was more of the same against the Gators in holding their rival to a frigid 37.0 percent from the field and forcing 16 miscues. The Seminoles weren’t bad on the other end of the floor (1.12 PPP), either, especially considering they are currently without leading scorer Phil Cofer (broken foot). Florida State converted a robust 11-of-23 from three-point land, with PJ Savoy leading the way in nailing 5-of-7 from deep. Normally, Hamilton’s teams usually take some time to gel, but it looks like Florida State is already set to roll this year. If this is the ACC’s seventh best team (per the ACC Media preseason poll), then the league is in outstanding shape relative to the rest of college basketball.

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ACC Conversation: Preseason Projections – Part 2

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

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) recently got together to chat about the upcoming 2018-19 season and share their thoughts on all 15 ACC schools. Here’s Part 2 of that conversation. Part 1 can be found here.

Justin Robinson returns to lead Virginia Tech after being a Second Team All-ACC selection in 2017-18. (AP Photo)

  • Brad Jenkins: Let’s discuss Florida State. I was a little surprised at ACC Media Day to hear Leonard Hamilton and his players talk about coming up short last year — as if the Elite Eight wasn’t good enough. That impressed me (if they really believe it). How good can the Seminoles be this season?
  • Mick McDonald: I think they are being overrated somewhat thanks to the NCAA Tournament run. They’ll be solid — Leonard Hamilton teams usually are. They’ve got good depth and guys like Terrance Mann and Phil Cofer (when he returns) who are proven ACC players, and a guy in MJ Walker who could be in for a breakout year. But I see them much more as a solid sixth-eighth place team versus one that can compete for the league title.
  • Matt Auerbach: Which is essentially what they were a year ago. But we tend to remember how teams finished and apply our expectations based upon that. I think Florida State will be good, in fact better than a year ago, but that puts the Seminoles at around 11-7 in the league.
  • Brad Jenkins: Florida State does have a pretty decent ACC schedule, as the Seminoles will play the bottom four teams on the road, which could help them place higher than expected. Buzz Williams did a good job last year of hiding Virginia Tech’s size disadvantage by going to a pack-line defensive philosophy. Can the Hokies get away with that again? It feels like this is the year that Buzz has been building for.
  • Mick McDonald: Count me all-in on Buzz. I think you can make an argument the Hokies have the best backcourt in the league with Justin Robinson and Nickeil-Alexander Walker. Chris Clarke is a poor man’s Jae Crowder from Williams’ awesome Marquette teams, and they have a few other guys who shoot the lights out. I have them fourth in the ACC and a borderline top-10 team nationally. If Kerry Blackshear can stay out of foul trouble, this team can beat anyone. (Editor’s note: This conversation took place before Wednesday’s announcement that Clarke had been suspended indefinitely from the Hokies’ squad.)
  • Matt Auerbach: Agreed. I love Robinson and that’s a great comp for Clarke. Ty Outlaw can also really shoot it. Blackshear is the X-factor here. When he plays well, this team will be nearly impossible to deal with in Blacksburg and will be able to compete with anyone on the road.

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