ACC M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 17th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Louisville Courier-Journal: Louisville’s Rick Pitino came out victorious over Minnesota’s Richard Pitino on Friday night in a U.S. Coast Guard hangar in Puerto Rico, 81-68. Afterward, the elder Pitino admitted that he never wanted to play this game, knowing that a win over his son’s team would cause him so much parental agony. Louisville’s coach also said that Montrezl Harrell was the clear difference between the two teams, as the junior All-America candidate led the way with 30 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Harrell also showed off a newly found outside shooting touch, making 3-of-4 three-point attempts after only hitting a pair of threes all of last season. He appears to have addressed another issue in the offseason as well, as he knocked down 9-of-10 free throws after a woeful season from the stripe last year (46.4%). Already a dominant interior player, this guy may now be almost impossible to defend.
  2. Macon Telegraph: Brian Gregory may have found an answer to Georgia Tech’s offensive problems from a surprising source. Lanky sophomore Quinton Stephens, who scored more than 10 points only once during his rookie campaign, erupted for a game-high 22 in the Yellow Jackets’ 80-73 home win Friday over intrastate rival, Georgia. Stephens connected on an impressive 6-of-8 from three-point land, a positive sign for Gregory’s team, as the team only made 31.5 percent from deep last season.
  3. ESPN.com: Pittsburgh had an unexpected struggle on Sunday afternoon in the Petersen Events Center, holding off Samford, 63-56, in a game where the Panthers never held a double-figure lead against a team picked to finish at the bottom of a weak Southern Conference. In related news, Jamie Dixon announced that junior Durand Johnson has been suspended for the entire 2014-15 season for undisclosed reasons. Johnson missed the second half of last season after tearing his ACL and had been struggling with a bad ankle this preseason, but apparently there is some other issue as Dixon would surely have mentioned his injuries if they were the cause of the suspension. Pittsburgh is allowing Johnson to remain with the program and continue to practice with the team during his suspension.
  4. UND.com: Notre Dame is off to an impressive start to the season, winning two games at home by large margins. On Friday night the Irish blew out Binghamton, 82-39, and then destroyed Navy, 92-53, on Sunday afternoon. This was against the same Navy squad that only lost by five points to Michigan State in Friday night’s opener. It seems that junior Zach Auguste is thriving as the primary post player in Mike Brey’s four-out/one-in lineup this year. Auguste has already set consecutive career high scoring marks with 19 in the opener and 20 against Navy. Keep an eye on the Irish during pre-conference play.
  5. ESPN: The ACC is off to a good start, winning 21 of its 22 opening weekend games. The lone loss came Sunday afternoon in Boston’s TD Garden, as Boston College fell to Massachusetts, 71-62, in the Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader. Coming into Jim Christian’s debut season, the Eagles needed to show some improvement on the defensive end, and they did so in Friday’s opening win over New Hampshire. But they struggled to guard UMass on Sunday without fouling, as the Minutemen shot 46 free throws and outscored the Eagles by 14 points from the foul line.
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Morning Five: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 17th, 2014

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  1. College basketball finally got underway, but once again the big news was off the court. Fortunately, this time it was good news (at least for the first part of the Morning Five) as the NCAA cleared TaShawn Thomas to play immediately. Thomas, a transfer from Houston who averaged 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season, had been waiting for the NCAA’s decision for six month. His presence makes Oklahoma a legitimate Final Four threat and a threat to end (at least temporarily) Bill Self’s dominance of the Big 12. Thomas’ performance yesterday (four points, three rebounds, and four turnovers) won’t exactly make anybody in Lawrence nervous, but we would give him a pass since he just found out that he was eligible less than 24 hours earlier.
  2. Not all the off court news was positive as Pittsburgh announced that junior Durand Johnson will not play this season due to a suspension for as yet undisclosed reasons. Johnson, who averaged 8.8 points and 3 rebounds per game last season, was expected to play an increased role this season due to losses from graduation/injury. We are not sure what Johnson did to merit the suspension, but we assume it was something recent as beat writers said they had heard nothing of a potential suspension and Johnson was actually featured on the team’s opening game ticket. The situation at Akron is not much better where they suspended All-MAC senior forward Demetrius Treadwell indefinitely for a violation of the school’s code of conduct. Treadwell averaged 15.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last season so obviously this is a huge loss and puts the team in limbo until the matter is adjudicated.
  3. Florida has its first test of the season later today as Miami comes up to Gainesville, but they have already had  some significant developments as Dorian Finney-Smith will be playing with a hairline fracture in his left, non-shooting hand and Dillon Graham announced that he will be transferring at the end of the semester. The significance of Finney-Smith’s injury is unclear as we will need to see how he adapts to the injury. In the long-term, Graham’s decision to transfer (Billy Donovan said his “heart wasn’t into it”) likely won’t matter, but the Gators have a depleted roster early in the season and will only have seven scholarship players available for tonight’s game and that includes an injured Finney-Smith. Once the Gators get back Chris Walker and Alex Murphy from suspension/transfer waiting period, they should be fine, but it could be dicey for the first few games.
  4. Drake suspended seniors Gary Ricks Jr and Karl Madison for three games each for accepting impermissible benefits during the 2012-13 season. What these benefits were remains unknown and since it is Drake basketball (and the Charles Robinsons said of the world probably have no interest in digging into it) will probably remain so. Madison is a role player who averaged just 2.2 points in 16 minutes per game, but Ricks is the team’s top returning scorer at 12.3 points per game while adding 3.8 rebounds per game. The Bulldogs already lost the first of these three games (against Bowling Green) with two more games coming up against DePaul and Western Michigan then they should have the duo back for a home game against IUPUI on November 25.
  5. It might seem early to start thinking about the 2015 Final Four, but the NCAA is already looking well beyond that as they announced the sites for the 2017-2021 Final Fours on Friday. None of the group–Phoenix (2017), San Antonio (2018), Minneapolis (2019), Atlanta (2020), and Indianapolis (2021)– is particularly surprising, but the omission of New Orleans (a favorite of many fans and writers–probably more the latter) and North Texas (aka Dallas-Jerry World, an area too spread out to make it practical) were notable. Otherwise the big take-home was the NCAA’s continued refusal to put the Final Four in the Pacific Time Zone. The last time they did so was 1995 (Seattle) and it has not been west of the Central Time Zone since then.
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ACC Preview: Pittsburgh’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 7th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Pittsburgh overcome key personnel losses and injuries to compete with the ACC’s big boys?

Last year was Pittsburgh’s first season in the ACC, and the Panthers came out of the gate like gangbusters, winning 18 of their first 20 games and starting conference play with a 6-1 record. Then things headed south as Jamie Dixon’s squad limped home, finishing fifth in the league with an 11-7 mark. There was even some talk that Pittsburgh was on the bubble before they won two games in the ACC Tournament to secure an NCAA bid. Now the Panthers are ready for a second go-round in an improved ACC, but without the services of last year’s two best players, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna.

Jamie Dixon's Team Was Beyond Impressive on Thursday Afternoon (US Presswire)

Jamie Dixon’s Team Has Already Suffered Some Key Injuries in the Preseason (US Presswire)

The explanation for last year’s dropoff midway through the ACC season was twofold. The primary reason was a series of injuries that ran through the squad like a mini-epidemic. Durand Johnson was Pitt’s third-leading scorer when he tore his ACL in a January win over Wake Forest, immediately ending his season. While his was the only major injury, the team was soon beset by nagging ailments that seemed to hit at the same time. Patterson was mentioned as a possible ACC Player of the Year candidate before a hand injury caused the senior to lose his shooting touch. Zanna played through a severe ankle sprain, but the injury zapped him of his explosiveness and caused the Panthers staples — interior defense and rebounding — to suffer immensely. Others that played hurt were freshmen Michael Young (back) and Chris Jones (thumb). The second problem was that the schedule got tougher after that excellent ACC start, and the Panthers subsequently went 0-5 against the ACC’s top four teams. That issue, combined with an extremely weak non-conference slate (278th nationally), is what put Pitt in the position of needing quality wins in Greensboro to ensure a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers got that cherished victory when they barely held off North Carolina in the ACC quarterfinals. Can Dixon’s squad avoid the same scenario this season?

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ACC M5: 01.14.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 14th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlotte Observer: What’s plaguing Duke, North Carolina and NC State? The fine beat writers and sports columnists of the Charlotte Observer (and effectively the Raleigh News & Observer) took a shot at pinpointing the issue. What is glaringly obvious is that Duke has the highest ceiling and has been a disappointment to start conference play. Coach K going with hockey-style line changes against Virginia worked like a charm for most of the game, but the Cavaliers’ late run still points to overarching issues. North Carolina has talent, but it’s increasingly clear that the pieces just might not fit correctly there without PJ Hairston. NC State is rebuilding with (unsurprisingly) mixed results. Also a fun fact from Stephen Schramm: “The last time there was an AP basketball poll without Duke and North Carolina was December 28, 1982.”
  2. Cardiac Hill: Pittsburgh got some horrible news this week as Durand Johnson tore his ACL and will be out for the rest of the season. Johnson was an important offensive option from the bench, as he’s one of the Panthers’ best three-point and free throw shooters. Losing him will likely mean more minutes for Jamel Artis and maybe Chris Jones. I’d certainly like to see Jones get a little more run because he’s been a very efficient scorer in his limited minutes.
  3. Macon Telegraph: Speaking of Pittsburgh, the Panthers travel to Atlanta today to give Georgia Tech its second chance in as many tries to knock off a new member of the conference. Pitt is a better team than Georgia Tech, but I think the Yellow Jackets have a shot if the can cobble together a decent offensive performance. The key will be locking down Lamar Patterson and the paint, but the big question is whether Chris Bolden has finally found his shot or whether the game against Notre Dame was an aberration.
  4. Baltimore Sun: Jonathan Graham has been a very pleasant surprise for Mark Turgeon this season, although his playing time is at least partially due to the less pleasant surprise that has been Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell’s collective season. Graham is currently the sparkplug in the post for Maryland. Despite a size disadvantage, he’s been effective and he also brings a toughness that has been missing on the Terrapins’ front line.
  5. Syracuse Post-Standard: Syracuse is a big draw this season. I wouldn’t go as far to say the Orange are “like the Miami Heat or the Boston Red Sox,” but they’re certainly one of the hotter tickets in most places. That said, the Orange played their first road game at Virginia Tech in front of a half-filled stadium. But I’ll offer a caveat to these numbers: This is the first year ACC fans have had a chance to see Syracuse. Also, better teams sell out faster and more often.

EXTRA: PJ Hairston is slated to join the Texas Legends in the NBA’s D-League.

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