What’s Trending: Conference Week Madness is Underway!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 11th, 2019

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

Let the NCAA Tournament ticket punching begin!

https://twitter.com/br_CBB/status/1104579515672678401

Jon Rothstein eloquently describes the month of March perfectly. It’s time to sit back and enjoy all that college basketball will bring us…

After 14 consecutive years at the top of the Big 12, Kansas‘ reign as the conference’s top team finally came to an end. In an era of college basketball where anything is possible, the longevity of the Jayhawks’ streak was beyond remarkable…

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Ten Questions to Consider: Regular Season Comes to a Close

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 8th, 2019

With several conferences already in the midst of tournament action and others still wrapping up regular season play, this weekend is setting up to be a great warm-up for the upcoming wall-to-wall action. Here are 10 questions I have for a set of games that could set the tone for the next few weeks.

Will He or Won’t He? (USA Today Images)
  1. If Zion Williamson is held out against North Carolina, will Duke be looking at a similar result? (Duke @ North Carolina, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) Duke’s defense surrendered 58 points to the Tar Heels’ duo of Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson a few weeks ago. The Blue Devils allowed a total of 88 points despite North Carolina shooting a season-worst 10 percent from deep.
  2. Will Michigan have any luck slowing down Cassius Winston? (Michigan @ Michigan State, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN) In Michigan State’s win in Ann Arbor, Cassius Winston scored 27 points, with 19 of those coming in the second half. In that particular match-up, the Spartans turned the ball over at a season low rate of just 9.6 percent.
  3. Which Carsen Edwards shows up for Purdue as the Boilermakers look for a share (or more) of the Big Ten regular season title? (Purdue @ Northwestern, Saturday 2:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) After shooting a robust 41.7 percent on his three-point attempts last season in league play, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards is shooting just 30.2 percent in Big Ten games this season. In Purdue’s four league losses, Edwards has shot an icy 19.6 percent from beyond the arc.
  4. Can San Diego State get the best of Nevada again? (Nevada @ San Diego State, Saturday 10:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The Aztecs have won three consecutive games against Nevada, including an inspiring victory in San Diego two weeks ago. Brian Dutcher’s team forced 10 first half turnovers in that game, which led to a 17-3 edge in points off turnovers over the opening 20 minutes.
  5. Is Anthony Cowan the barometer of success for Maryland? (Minnesota @ Maryland, Friday 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) In Maryland’s 21 wins this season, Anthony Cowan is shooting 41.8 percent from beyond the arc; but in the Terrapins nine losses, Cowan is shooting just 28.6 percent. The junior has shot a mere 1-of-11 from distance in the Terps’ last two games, both losses.
  6. Will the Big South’s best get revenge in the conference’s semifinal match-up? (Radford vs. Charleston Southern, Friday 6 PM EST, ESPN+) The Big South’s top seed Radford trailed at the half in its opening round win against Presbyterian, but the Highlanders take on Charleston Southern next, a team that recently beat Radford by a single point. Made shots were far from plentiful in that game, however, as Charleston Southern went 5-of-25 from inside the arc and Radford was just 5-of-28 on its three-point attempts.
  7. How will Virginia Tech respond to its midweek collapse at Florida State? (Miami @ Virginia Tech, Friday 7 PM EST, ESPN2) The Hokies led by 14 points in the second half at Florida State before ultimately losing to the Seminoles in overtime. Virginia Tech’s bench was outscored 28-0 in regulation and has tallied just 31 points combined in the team’s six conference losses.
  8. Can Louisville put together a full 40-minute effort against Virginia? (Louisville @ Virginia, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN) While Louisville was +30 from behind the arc in its February loss to Virginia, the Cavaliers owned a 38-4 advantage in the paint. The Cardinals held Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome without a single three-point make, but the duo of De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite put together a 40-point performance.
  9. Will Arizona State avoid disaster against Arizona? (Arizona State @ Arizona, Saturday 4 PM EST, CBS) While the Pac-12 is likely going to be given no favors come Selection Sunday, a conference record of 12-6 with non-conference wins against Kansas and Mississippi State would seemingly put the Sun Devils in good shape. A loss against struggling intrastate rival Arizona, however, could easily send Bobby Hurley’s squad to the wrong side of the bubble.
  10. Where will conference tournament chaos break out? With nine conferences in tournament action this weekend, it’s not a matter of if chaos will ensue, but when and where. Four tournament tickets will be punched over the weekend, but will the top seeds prevail? A potential Ohio Valley Conference title game between Belmont and Murray State would be must-see mid-major television.
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ACC Weekend Review: 03.04.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 4th, 2019

Two ACC squads in desperate need of a quality win failed to take advantage of their opportunities on Saturday. NC State stayed within striking distance of Florida State throughout their game, but the Pack couldn’t overtake the Seminoles in Tallahassee before falling, 78-73. Likewise, Clemson played North Carolina tough in Littlejohn Coliseum before losing another heart-breaker, 81-79. Elsewhere, co-leader Virginia had no problems with Pittsburgh, winning 73-49 in Charlottesville, and Duke — still playing without Zion Williamson — rolled Miami in Durham, 87-57. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Mfiondu Kabengele led a balanced Florida State attack as the Seminoles held off N.C. State in Tallahassee on Saturday. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
  • Best Win / Worst Loss I: Clemson failed to boost its NCAA Tournament resume by losing yet another nail-biter in ACC play. The Tigers have now lost four ACC contests on the very last possession and, as a result, are in serious NCAA bubble-trouble. Brad Brownell’s club owns a lousy 1-9 record in Quadrant 1 games and they’re quickly running out of chances to prove the Tigers can beat good teams. For North Carolina, this win keeps the Tar Heels tied atop the ACC standings, and puts them firmly in the mix for a potential #1 seed in the Big Dance. The biggest scare of the game came late in the first half when Roy Williams collapsed and had to be helped off the floor, never to return. It’s not the first time that his vertigo has struck him down during a game, but fortunately he seemed to be doing well soon after the game ended.
  • Best Win / Worst Loss II: Much like Clemson, NC State still has work to do to earn a second straight bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Wolfpack had a chance to grab a signature road win at Florida State on Saturday but couldn’t pull it off, leaving Kevin Keatts’ squad with just two Quadrant 1 wins in 10 tries. Add in the nation’s worst non-conference strength of schedule and their resume has some serious issues. With the win, Leornard Hamilton’s squad remains tied for fourth place in the league with Virginia Tech. The Hokies travel to Tallahassee on Tuesday and the winner will earn a coveted double-bye in the upcoming ACC Tournament.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 27th, 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 examine how ACC teams are faring in conference nail-biters. 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 25.

Current Standings

The standings mostly line up with performance, especially among the top six squads in efficiency margin. At the bottom of the league, there is a logjam of six more teams in the 2-4 victory range, but there is a clear best (Miami) and worst (Wake Forest) of the bunch in efficiency performance. Based on their play on a per possession basis, Clemson should not be trailing Syracuse and NC State in the standings, but that is the Tigers’ current reality. Below we will explain why that is the case.

Statistic of the Week: Winning Close Games

Despite its reputation for competitiveness, the ACC ranks 30th among the nation’s 32 conferences in the number of one-possession games played this year. You have to go back to 2002 to find a year when the league had fewer close games than this season’s 15.7 percent rate. No matter how you define close games (one or two possessions), Clemson has struggled mightily in those tight league contests. To rub more salt into the Tigers’ wound, all three of their close defeats this season literally occurred on the game’s final play. NC State has been involved in more (8) nail-biters than any other school and the Wolfpack have pulled out six of those games. Combined with last year’s impressive performance — Kevin Keatts‘ team was 5-2 in games decided by six points or fewer — he is off to a start to his ACC coaching career that can best be described as Leonard Hamilton-esque.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.25.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 25th, 2019

Despite a strong slate of ACC match-ups in the queue on Saturday, the games were mostly devoid of drama. The main takeaway from the weekend is that there is a significant gap between the top three schools and everyone else. Virginia overcame a 10-point halftime deficit on the road to overwhelm a reeling Louisville squad, 64-52; the frontcourt of North Carolina was too much for Florida State in the Tar Heels’ 77-59 win in Chapel Hill; and Duke rallied to beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, 75-65. This leaves those three league heavyweights tied at the top of the ACC standings with 12-2 records, clear of the rest of the league by three games in the loss column. Virginia Tech took advantage of those results to move into sole possession of fourth place — the Hokies beat Notre Dame in South Bend by a score of 67-59. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Nassir Little gave North Carolina a strong effort off the bench as the Tar Heels dominated Florida State in the paint on Saturday. (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)
  • Best Win #1: Those who expected this to be a letdown game for North Carolina should have known better. Yes, the Tar Heels were coming off a huge win over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but it’s not like Roy Williams‘ club isn’t used to dealing with this situation — playing the game after “The Game” — every season. Florida State kept it close for about 30 minutes, but North Carolina closed the contest on a 21-7 run to put away the Seminoles. The Tar Heels’ frontcourt was the difference, as seniors Cam Johnson and Luke Maye each posted double-doubles and freshman Nassir Little scored 18 off the bench. North Carolina dominated the glass (+15) and held the Seminoles to their second lowest scoring output of the year. Leonard Hamilton’s team saw its eight-game winning streak snapped and damaged its hopes for gaining the the coveted double-bye as the #4 seed in the ACC Tournament.
  • Best Win #2: With no upsets occurring this weekend we will highlight another big win because of the circumstances surrounding the game. There were several factors going against Duke when it took the floor at Syracuse on Saturday night — the Blue Devils were without the services of National Player of the Year favorite Zion Williamson; they had just been run out of their own gym by arch-rival North Carolina; and they were facing a motivated Syracuse team, who already had beaten Duke earlier this year, in front of an on-campus record 35,642 fans. Furthermore, the Orange controlled things early and led by five at that break. But RJ Barrett reminded us that Williamson isn’t the only star on Mike Krzyzewski’s squad — the other freshman superstar carved up the Syracuse zone to the tune of 30 points and seven assists to lead the comeback. Duke also got a huge boost from Alex O’Connell, who scored 17 second half points.
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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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