What’s Trending: An Impactful Week at the Top

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 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.

LSU and Tennessee went back and forth on Saturday afternoon giving each other everything they could handle. After a frantic tip-in tied things up for LSU, the Volunteers had a chance to win the game. The Vols’ Lamonte Turner, who had made only four of his last 22 three-point attempts, took this quick look after dribbling upcourt. What happened next was a bit of misfortune on Grant Williams’ part to give LSU the break it needed.

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1099393801846693890

Rivalry Week began with the primary focus, as usual, on Tobacco Road. A mere 30 seconds into the game in Cameron Indoor Stadium, though, the focus swung onto Zion Williamson and his shoes…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1098404362148208640

For as much grief as Charles Barkley deservedly gets when it comes to analyzing the NCAA Tournament, the Round Mound of Rebound delivered a spot-on take with respect to the Zion Williamson situation….

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 23

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 22nd, 2019

This weekend in the ACC features a stiff test for each of the three contenders for the ACC championship. Rush the Court ACC writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you set. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, February 23

Everyone Recalls the Last Regular Season Contest Between Louisville and Virginia (USA Today Images)

#1 Virginia (23-2, 11-2) at #19 Louisville (18-9, 9-5). The Cavaliers continue to roll toward a #1 seed, but a concerning trend has developed recently with this team. In Virginia’s last six games, it has logged a turnover rate of 17.0 percent or higher four times — this coming after a run of 14.2 percent or lower throughout ACC play. The Cavaliers, the slowest-paced team in college basketball, cannot afford to waste offensive possessions against good teams. Their margins are thinner in that regard. When Louisville has the ball, Chris Mack’s go-to scorer, Jordan Nwora (17.3 PPG, 28.0% usage), will see a pair of overwhelming defenders in DeAndre Hunter (90.9 DRtg) and Braxton Key (81.8 DRtg). The Cardinals need Nwora to lead the way, because they’ve been a nightmare offensively since their massive blown lead against Duke. In their past two games, Louisville has shot just 30.6 percent from the field and 25.5 percent from long distance. The Virginia defense isn’t usually the cure for offensive ailments.

#17 Florida State (21-5, 9-4) at #5 North Carolina (21-5, 11-2). The game of the weekend in the ACC features two of the hottest teams in college basketball. During Florida State’s current eight-game winning streak, the Seminoles have locked opponents down on the defensive end, holding teams to an icy 38.3 percent shooting from the field. Despite playing just 20 minutes per game and coming off Leonard Hamilton’s bench, Mfiondu Kabengele (31.1 PER, 126.0 ORtg) has asserted himself as one of the most efficient players in the league. He could be a nightmare match-up for a North Carolina team that doesn’t have much depth on its front line. The Tar Heels instead have depth on the wing, and they’re led by Cameron Johnson, who needs to be getting more hype as a potential first-team All-ACC candidate. In ACC contests, Johnson (138.4 ORtg, 28.0 PER) has been a dynamo and remains a steady force around Coby White and Luke Maye in the sport’s seventh-best offense.

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Ten Questions to Consider: A Statement Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 22nd, 2019

This weekend features a number of key match-ups at the top of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC. With the regular season quickly winding down, here are 10 questions I have about those contests as well as several other intriguing games across the country.

Kansas Ran All Over Texas Tech in Their First Meeting (USA Today Images)
  1. Can Texas Tech find a way to slow down Kansas? (Kansas @ Texas Tech, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN) In the first match-up between these two teams — a resounding Jayhawks’ victory — Kansas’ scorching 56.8 percent effective field goal rate was the highest of any Texas Tech opponent on the season. Kansas enters Lubbock this weekend without Lagerald Vick, however, a player who went 3-of-4 from distance in the first game.
  2. Can LSU take advantage of a Tennessee weakness? (Tennessee @ LSU, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN) In Tennessee’s loss last weekend at Kentucky, Rick Barnes’ squad gave up 12 offensive rebounds, an area of which they have struggled this season. LSU, as it turns out, ranks among the 10 best offensive rebounding teams in college basketball.
  3. Can Michigan hold serve atop the Big Ten? (Michigan State @ Michigan, Sunday 3:45 PM EST, CBS) The Spartans and Wolverines are set to square off twice in the final three weeks of Big Ten play, and this weekend’s game, the first meeting, will take place in Ann Arbor. An efficient offensive display by John Beilein’s squad could be the difference, as Michigan State is just 3-5 when opponents crack an adjusted offensive efficiency total of 100.0 or better.
  4. Will Duke avenge its home loss to the Orange? (Duke @ Syracuse, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) Duke shot 9-of-43 from beyond the three-point line in its overtime loss against Syracuse. The duo of R.J. Barrett and Jack White alone were a combined 4-of-27. Zion Williamson led Duke in that game with 35 points on 60 percent shooting, but will his sprained knee allow him to play?
  5. Which ACC defense will shine brightest? (Virginia @ Louisville, Saturday Noon EST, ACC Network) Virginia and Louisville have the best defensive units in ACC play, but the Cardinals have lost three of their last four games, including a 20-point defeat to Syracuse earlier this week. Last season, Virginia needed a miracle comeback to topple the Cardinals by a single point on the road — what’s in store this year?
  6. Can TCU cement its place in the NCAA Tournament? (Iowa State @ TCU, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN2) TCU is a mere 5-8 in Big 12 play with four games remaining against top-30 KenPom teams. In the Horned Frogs’ win over Iowa State earlier this month, they forced the Cyclones into a turnover rate much higher than their season average. That’s the key to success the second time around too.
  7. Can Florida State stay red hot? (Florida State @ North Carolina, Saturday 3:45 PM EST, CBS) Since losing three straight games in mid-January, Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles have rattled off eight straight victories. They will get a Tar Heels group that is clearly flying high after beating Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
  8. Will Furman’s SoCon best defense be what slips up Wofford? (Wofford @ Furman, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN+) Wofford begins the weekend with a perfect 15-0 record in the Southern Conference. The Terriers will battle a Furman defense that has been just one of four teams this season to hold Wofford under an adjusted offensive efficiency of 100.0.
  9. With Reid Travis out, can Auburn steal a win at Rupp? (Auburn @ Kentucky, Saturday 1:30 PM EST, CBS) Kentucky will be without injured Reid Travis, who scored 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting in Kentucky’s two-point road victory over Auburn last month. Keep in mind that the Tigers’ last win at Rupp Arena came on January 9, 1988.
  10. How will Ethan Happ respond to his benching in crunch time the previous game? (Wisconsin @ Northwestern, Saturday 8:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) In Wisconsin’s win over Illinois on Monday night, Badgers’ head coach Greg Gard benched Ethan Happ down the stretch. The senior as a result scored a season-low six points and turned the ball over three times. Happ has committed a woeful 14 turnovers in his last three games.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 20th, 2019

Here’s another edition of our weekly view of 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. This week we look at an interesting recent trend that exists when North Carolina plays its arch-rival Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Finally, we will forecast how the final league standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Monday, February 18.

Current Standings

After destroying Wake Forest by 38 points over the weekend, North Carolina has closed the gap considerably on Virginia and Duke in ACC efficiency margin. Offense is the primary reason that these three schools are leading the league. Seven ACC teams are playing excellent defense in conference action, but only the trio of league leaders are also scoring at an elite clip. If only Clemson could get a break — the Tigers have now lost three conference games at the buzzer, including both of their last two outings. If Brad Brownell’s club had won those games, it would have an identical record to Syracuse, which has been much more fortunate. The Orange continue to look good in the standings despite basically breaking even in efficiency margin.

Statistic of the Week: A Tale of Two Halves in Cameron Indoor Stadium

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.18.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 18th, 2019

It appears that the ACC is on a regular rotation this season that provides us with a great set of games every other weekend. Still, there were some interesting things happening on Saturday around the league; Louisville almost blew another late lead before holding on to edge Clemson, 56-55; and Virginia had an unexpectedly tough time with Notre Dame, winning 60-54 in Charlottesville. Elsewhere in the conference, North Carolina routed Wake Forest, 95-57, in Winston-Salem, and first-place Duke handled NC State in Durham by a score of 94-78. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Jordan Nwora’s block saved the day for Louisville against Clemson on Saturday as the Cardinals survived another late meltdown. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
  • Best Win: Coming off back-to-back heartbreaking losses to Florida State and Duke — games in which Louisville led both games by double-figures late — Chris Mack’s club almost did it again. This time, the Cardinals led Clemson by eight points with 30 seconds to go, before falling apart again in front of a stunned crowd at the KFC Yum! Center. At the end, Louisville practically handed the game to the Tigers when Marcquise Reed stole Jordan Nwora’s inbounds pass in the lane with three seconds to go — had Nwora not redeemed himself by blocking Reed’s short jumper to preserve the one-point victory, the Cardinals would be in full meltdown mode. Normally, we wouldn’t bestow “Best Win” status to a ranked team that barely survived against a squad with a sub-.500 conference record, but in this case, Louisville gets that distinction because it possibly saved its season.
  • Worst Loss: We also have an unusual choice in this weekly category. Nobody expected lowly Wake Forest to give North Carolina much of a game on Saturday, but the enormous margin of defeat — 38 points represents the largest in series history — may be the final nail in the coffin for Danny Manning’s tenure in Winston-Salem. After barely squeaking into the 2017 NCAA Tournament First Four, Manning was given a six-year contract extension — reportedly with a huge buyout attached. Since then, the Demon Deacons have posted a 20-35 record, including a pathetic ACC mark of 6-24. If Manning gets fired after the conclusion of this season, we recommend that the school have someone other than athletic director Ron Wellman choose the next head basketball coach. He’s certainly whiffed on his last two selections (Jeff Bzdelik and Manning) and as a result, Wake Forest is now one of the worst power conference programs in college basketball.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 13th, 2019

Here’s another 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. This week we look at something Duke is doing offensively that is better than any ACC team has done in the last 17 years. Finally, we will forecast how the final league standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Monday, February 11.

Current Standings

Virginia maintains its lead in efficiency margin, but the gap between first and second place was closed significantly after Duke’s recent win in Charlottesville. Syracuse continues to be the most fortunate team in the ACC this season. The Orange have achieved their lofty record despite a slim scoring margin, and Jim Boeheim’s club has faced the league’s easiest conference schedule to date.

Even though Miami is part of the jumbled mess at the bottom of the standings, the Hurricanes have suddenly become dangerous. In their last three outings, Jim Larranaga’s guys played Virginia tough on the road, stomped Notre Dame at home, and took North Carolina into overtime before losing at the Smith Center. If any of the league cellar-dwellers can play the role of spoiler down the stretch, Miami would be the smart pick to do so.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Duke’s Good Shooting

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2018-19 RTC16: Week Twelve

Posted by Walker Carey on February 11th, 2019

Throughout a majority of the conference season, it has felt like #12 Marquette and #13 Villanova were the only two Big East teams with a legitimate shot at the regular season title. As the league race hits its home stretch, that feeling has borne itself out. Even though the Golden Eagles had been tripped up by St. John’s earlier last week — their second loss to Chris Mullin’s squad this season — Marquette rode a 38-point performance from star guard Markus Howard to a thrilling 66-65 victory to cut Villanova’s lead to just one game in the Big East standings. The Wildcats will have an opportunity to avenge the defeat when they welcome Marquette to Philadelphia for the rematch on February 27. Wide-open conference races are always enjoyable, but this season’s Big East race has shown two-team races can be just as fine. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.11.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 11th, 2019

This was perhaps the best potential weekend slate of games in ACC play this season and it didn’t disappoint in terms of excitement. In the national headliner, Duke completed a regular season sweep of Virginia by besting the Cavaliers, 81-71, in Charlottesville on Saturday evening. In a surprisingly close call, North Carolina remained tied with the Blue Devils atop the league standings with a comeback overtime win over Miami in the Smith Center. In other key contests, a pair of ranked ACC squads fell on the road — Clemson handled Virginia Tech, 59-51, in Littlejohn Coliseum; and Florida State rallied to take Louisville into overtime in Tallahassee, winning by a score of 80-75. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

RJ Barrett led the 3-point shooting barrage for Duke in its big win on the road over Virginia. (Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images)
  • Best Win: Duke once again showed it can solve Virginia’s pack-line defense, mostly because of an unanticipated Blue Devils’ explosion from behind the arc. Tony Bennett’s squad gave up 13 three-pointers — the most it had given up previous to this game was eight against Notre Dame — but great outside shooting wasn’t all that went well for Mike Krzyzewski’s club. Duke held a 17-0 edge in fast break points as well as a 14-9 advantage in second-chance points, despite the fact that Virginia grabbed six more offensive boards than the Blue Devils. RJ Barrett led the way with 26 points, giving him a total of 56 in two games versus the Cavaliers. This contest marked the beginning of an extremely tough stretch of games for Duke — its next five games are all against top 45 teams, three of which are on the road. Meanwhile, Virginia has a quick turnaround, traveling to face ACC co-leader North Carolina tonight.
  • Second Best Win: With no real bad losses over the weekend, we opt to highlight another big ACC win. Florida State won its fifth ACC game in a row with a gutty comeback win over Louisville, a game in which the Seminoles trailed by double-figures midway through the second half. Leonard Hamilton’s guys were outshot from the field by a wide margin (48.1 percent to 37.7 percent), so how did they pull it off? Two ways — by posting a huge edge in turnover margin (+15) and dominating the free throw game — Florida State went 27-of-36 at the stripe while Louisville was 13-of-16. The Seminoles have definitely righted the ship after their 1-4 start in conference play, and are now in contention for a top-four finish in the league, which comes with the cherished double-bye in the ACC Tournament.
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Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Races Heating Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 8th, 2019

Football season is now completely in the rear view mirror and the casual fan is welcomed to a weekend of college basketball highlighted by the #1 vs. #2 Duke/Virginia rematch along with numerous other heavyweight contests. Here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s loaded slate of action.

It’s Part Two of Potentially Four Duke-Virginia Match-ups This Season (USA Today Images)
  1. Which elite team’s defense improves upon a lackluster performance in the first match-up? (Duke @ Virginia, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) In Duke’s 72-70 win over Virginia last month, the two teams combined to shoot 67.1 percent from inside the arc. R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson, in particular, made 20 of their 28 two-point attempts that night. If interior defenses improve in round two, which team wins the three-point contest after the two teams combined for 5-of-31 shooting? This is without question the game of the weekend, and quite possibly the entire regular season.
  2. Can LSU protect its home court against a surging Auburn team? (Auburn @ LSU, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN2) Since losing three straight games in mid-January, Auburn has rallied back with three consecutive double-figure wins. In SEC play, no team has gotten to the free throw line at a better rate than LSU, while no team has put the opponent at the line at a worse rate than Auburn. Which matters more?
  3. Will Mississippi State’s offense show up against Kentucky? (Kentucky @ Mississippi State, Saturday 1 PM EST, CBS) The last match-up between these two teams was very one-sided as Kentucky held the Bulldogs to a season low 0.79 points per possession. Mississippi State could not buy much success either inside the arc (16-of-41) or outside it (3-of-20).
  4. Which Steven Enoch does Louisville get against Florida State? (Louisville @ Florida State, Saturday 4 PM, ESPN2) Since an early January decision to bring Steven Enoch off its bench, Louisville has gone 7-2. The big man transfer has scored 10 or more points in six of those games. On the season, Enoch averages 10.5 points per game in Cardinal wins and just 5.8 points per game in Louisville’s six defeats.
  5. Can Marquette make the Big East title race interesting? (Villanova @ Marquette, Saturday 2:30 PM EST, Fox) Marquette sits two games behind Villanova in the Big East standings heading into Saturday’s match-up. The Golden Eagles are undefeated (14-0) when holding opponents to an offensive efficiency of 100.0 or worse, but just 5-4 when opponents pass that threshold. Last season, Villanova torched the nets against Marquette, posting offensive efficiency totals of 122.2, 132.2, and 142.7 in three games.
  6. Will Ethan Happ be a dominant force against Michigan again? (Wisconsin @ Michigan, Saturday Noon, Fox) Ethan Happ scored 26 points on 12-of-22 shooting, dished out seven assists and grabbed 10 rebounds in Wisconsin’s first win over Michigan. Going back to his sophomore season, Happ is averaging 20.5 points per game on 45-of-87 shooting against the Wolverines.
  7. As bad as the Pac-12 might be, is it time to start taking Washington seriously? (Washington @ Arizona State, Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN) After starting the season 7-4, Washington has now reeled off 11 straight victories, eight of which have been by 10 or more points. Three of the Huskies’ early season losses were at the hands of top-15 KenPom teams. If the Huskies can get through their desert trip unscathed, it might be time to consider them a dangerous, if not legitimate, Pac-12 team.
  8. What can be made of Nebraska moving forward? (Nebraska @ Purdue, 8:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Just a few weeks back Nebraska sat at 13-4 overall and 3-3 in conference play. Since then, the Huskers have dropped six straight games, four of which came at home. Tim Miles’ squad still sits in the top 40 in both NET and KenPom, so a win at Purdue would go a long way toward saving Nebraska’s free-falling NCAA Tournament chances.
  9. Can Houston take advantage of Cincinnati’s lackluster three-point defense? (Cincinnati @ Houston, Sunday 4 PM EST, ESPN) On the season, Mick Cronin’s Bearcats are ranked among the bottom 100 nationally in three-point defense. Their lack of success guarding the line has continued as American opponents are shooting 40.4 percent from distance against them. Houston’s Corey Davis and Armoni Brooks are both shooting better than 37 percent from downtown in conference play.
  10. Can Princeton stay in control of the Ivy League regular season race? (Princeton @ Yale, Friday 7 PM EST, ESPN+) While Yale has the Ivy League’s best NET Ranking, it is Princeton that is currently the only unbeaten team in conference play. Over its last six games, Princeton’s opponents have shot just 20.5 percent from beyond the three-point line.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume III

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 7th, 2019

Here’s another 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. This week we evaluate how ACC teams are performing on the road versus how well they play in the cozy confines of their home gyms. Finally, we will forecast how the final league standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, February 5.

Current Standings

The ACC has a top tier of four teams in efficiency margin with Virginia still comfortably leading the way. It will be interesting to see how the ACC’s upcoming schedule shakes things up. The Cavaliers start a pivotal three-day stretch with Saturday’s home game with Duke, followed by a quick turnaround trip to Chapel Hill to take on red-hot North Carolina team on Monday night. Louisville is also staring at a difficult two-game slate over the next seven days — the Cardinals visit Florida State on Saturday before taking on Duke at home on Tuesday evening. Syracuse has been the most fortunate squad in the first half of ACC play this season. At 7-3, Jim Boeheim’s team is already four games above .500 despite barely outscoring its opponents. Looking at the bottom of the conference, Wake Forest has been the league’s worst performing team by a wide margin, but the Demon Deacons have managed to post a similar record to the five schools directly above them. That’s because Wake Forest has gone 2-1 in ACC games that were decided by four points or fewer. In their other seven outings, the Deacs have been beaten by double-figures.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Home Sweet Home in the ACC

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