16 Questions About Thursday’s First Round Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 20th, 2019

With tip-off of the First Round of the NCAA Tournament just around the corner, here are 16 questions to get you ready for all the action on Thursday.

Here We Go… (USA Today Images)
  • 1) Gonzaga vs. 16) Fairleigh Dickinson: Will Gonzaga spring back to life after its surprising loss to Saint Mary’s? The Zags shot 2-of-17 from beyond the arc in the WCC championship game, but a deep Tournament run will require better shooting from the likes of Zach Norvell, Josh Perkins, and Corey Kispert (collectively, 37.3 percent on the season).
  • 2) Kentucky vs. 15) Abilene Christian: When Kentucky misses shots, will Abilene Christian be able to keep the Wildcats off of the glass? Abilene Christian’s leading rebounder is 6’6″ Jaren Lewis, who averaged 6.2 boards per game. Kentucky’s duo of PJ Washington and Reid Travis could be in line for huge games on the interior for the Wildcats.
  • 2) Michigan vs. 15) Montana: Will Michigan’s size dominate this game? Even without leading scorer Jamar Akoh down the stretch, Montana went 10-2 behind a balanced attack which includes three other players who average at least 13 points per game. For the Grizzlies to win, though, the size of Ignas Brazdiekis and Jon Teske will be a lot to overcome.
  • 2) Michigan State vs. 15) Bradley: Will Michigan State avoid the early exit it took the last time it was a #2 Seed? Bradley managed to beat a Big Ten team (Penn State) earlier this year, but the Braves are going to have their hands full with Michigan State’s Nick Ward in the post.
  • 3) LSU vs. 14) Yale: How focused will LSU be with all the distractions surrounding the Will Wade situation? The Tigers will be without head coach Will Wade as they begin their NCAA Tournament run against a Yale team that likes to get up and down the floor. Each squad has four players who average double-figure points per game.
  • 3) Purdue vs. 14 Old Dominion: Which Carsen Edwards shows up for the Boilermakers? While Edwards shot 33.5 percent from behind the arc on the season, he’s shooting just 22.5 percent in Purdue’s last 11 games. Another shaky performance from the Boilermakers’ star guard could send Purdue home early.
  • 4) Kansas vs. 13) Northeastern: While Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica is grabbing the buzz, is Shawn Occeus the Huskies’ most important player? Occeus was the CAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, so if he can lock down the Jayhawks’ perimeter options tomorrow, a lot of pressure will fall on to the shoulders of Dedric Lawson.
  • 4) Florida State vs. 13) Vermont: In a one-game setting, does depth and size win over star power? The Seminoles leading scorer is the 6’10” Mfiondu Kabengele, who puts in 12.9 points per game. In addition, Leonard Hamilton’s team has seven other players who average six or more points per game. Vermont is led by the 21.4 points per game of unanimous America East Player of the Year, Anthony Lamb. The Catamounts only have three other players who average six or more points and just one player in the rotation who stands 6’7″ or taller.
  • 5) Auburn vs. 12) New Mexico State: Which strength brings the bigger advantage? Auburn’s defense leads the nation in turnover rate, while New Mexico State is among the nation’s best in grabbing offensive rebounds. This game could come down to which side is able to get the most out of those two areas.
  • 5) Marquette vs. 12) Murray State: Will Marquette’s sometimes porous transition defense be a deciding factor? The Golden Eagles’ defense sits in the bottom 20 percent in college basketball when it comes to the percentage of shots an opponent takes in transition. The Racers are one of the nation’s best at getting and finishing in transition, led by none other than All-American Ja Morant.
  • 6) Maryland vs. 11) Belmont: Can Belmont’s duo of Nick Muszynski and Dylan Windler hold up against the Maryland frontcourt of Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith? While Windler struggled against Temple offensively, he was a force on the glass. Muszynski returned to the court after missing the OVC championship game and chipped in 16 points. They will be tested against the large Terrapins’ tandem that can wreak havoc on opponents.
  • 6) Villanova vs. 11) Saint Mary’s: Who wins the battle of the three-point line: Villanova’s offense or Saint Mary’s defense? Only three teams took three-point attempts at a higher rate than Villanova this season, while the Gaels sat in the top 10 nationally in terms of running teams off of the three-point line.
  • 7) Louisville vs. 10) Minnesota: Can Minnesota find enough points to get the Pitino family revenge against Louisville? The Golden Gophers averaged 14.3 fewer points per game on the road than they did at home this year. Minnesota’s offense could find it difficult to score against the highly-efficient Louisville defense.
  • 7) Nevada vs. 10) Florida: Which senior will make the biggest impact? In a sport dominated by freshmen, this game will include a plethora of seniors on both sides including the likes of Nevada’s Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline and Florida’s Ke’Vaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson.
  • 7) Wofford vs. 10) Seton Hall: Will this game come down to which star has a better game? If Ja Morant vs. Markus Howard is must-see matchup #1A, this game’s battle of Fletcher Magee and Myles Powell is must-see match-up #1B. Both players average more than 20 points per game and have taken nearly 500 field goal attempts on the season.
  • 8) Syracuse vs. 9) Baylor: Will the “Boeheim zone” reign supreme again? The Syracuse zone once again led to plenty of three-point attempts for opponents, so Baylor will need a better showing than the 34 percent it shot from distance on the year. Syracuse must also find ways to slow a Bears’ team that finished the year with the second best offensive rebounding rate in college basketball.
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What’s Trending: Conference Tournament Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 18th, 2019

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

The second week of conference tournaments began with many questions, the biggest of which focused on a certain 6’7″, 285-pound freshman in Durham, North Carolina. For the past few weeks, questions about Zion Williamson and whether he would — or should — return to play for Duke have been thrown around by nearly everyone. It took the superstar forward all of two minutes of game time to show everyone that he is indeed back…

The storylines involving Zion continued in Duke’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal match-up against Syracuse. In the past, it was Duke — paging Grayson Allen — as the centerpiece of any tripping story. This time, however, it was Syracuse’s Frank Howard taking his turn to extend his leg a little further than necessary…

“I love playing with Duke, I love my teammates.”

The Zion experience carried into the ACC Tournament semifinal match-up against North Carolina. The Tar Heels had dominated the first two Zion-less games, but after scoring 29 points and grabbing 10 rebounds through the first 39 minutes, it was Zion’s final two points and rebound that made the biggest difference…

Scoring, rebounds, steals… oh, Zion can pass the ball pretty well too…

In the non-Zion Williamson category of the ACC Tournament, the basketball world was gifted a dancing Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams

…a frantic possession and game-winning basket by Florida State’s Terance Mann…

…and everyone’s favorite, allegations of NCAA violations…

On the topic of NCAA violations, the SEC Tournament included LSU’s Will Wade releasing a statement where he made a plea to get back on the sideline. LSU General Counsel Tom Skinner fired back with, “as a university and employer, we need to hear our employee say, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ or explain the circumstances or admit he did not do something wrong. We’ve been unable to get to that point. We have no choice, in terms of institutional control, to not suspend someone.”

On the court, Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield began the Volunteers’ SEC Tournament action with a poster over Mississippi State…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1106755627366391809

LSU’s Skylar Mays came up with a dunk that had LSU fans jumping for joy…

…but it was ultimately Florida’s Andrew Nembhard who allowed Florida to move on and send LSU home.

Florida’s run through the SEC Tournament came to an end on Saturday, literally at the hands of Auburn….

In the other semifinal, the SEC Tournament delivered a gem between Tennessee and Kentucky…

During Wednesday’s opening round of the Big Ten Tournament, Nebraska’s Tim Miles had the spotlight on him after his Huskers toppled Rutgers…

…after beating Maryland on Thursday, Miles got his shot at redemption…

After the second win in as many days, Big Ten Twitter was quick to point out this fact that fans in Bloomington, Indiana, were not happy to read…

The Big East Tournament will be remembered for this sequence in Seton Hall’s semifinal win over Marquette

https://twitter.com/CBBonFOX/status/1106760477718138881

Meanwhile, at the end of the tournament it was once again Villanova that walked away as the champion… AGAIN.

Tournament week in Las Vegas began with the West Coast Conference Tournament where St. Mary’s earned an automatic bid by getting the best of Gonzaga.

…and it continued with the Pac-12 Tournament where all eyes were on Bill Walton doing Bill Walton things…

…and it ended with Oregon winning the Pac-12 Tournament to steal a bid from a team on the bubble.

As players play for an opportunity to keep their season going, these tournaments bring up stories that need to be shared. The emotion in the face of Old Dominion headcoach Jeff Jones makes the Monarchs an easy team to root for…

While there is so much to love and appreciate with college basketball, there was one thing that continues to outshine the product on the floor. Officiating throughout tournaments leaves fans wondering…

And as painful as questionable calls can be, the monitor review process will almost assuredly come up time and time again next week. Getting the correct call is important, but too often these reviews kill any flow to a game. Add in the fact that they act as de facto timeouts for teams that often do not have any to call and you have a situation that creates more problems than it solves.

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Rushed Reactions: Duke 73, Florida State 63

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 16th, 2019

RTC’s Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson celebrate after winning the program’s 15th ACC Championship of the Mike Krzyzewski era. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
  1. Duke’s defense was the difference. With all the attention generated by Zion Williamson’s spectacular scoring plays, it is easy to forget what he means to Duke on the other end of the floor. With his return to the lineup this week in Charlotte, the Blue Devils seem to have regained their defensive mojo. In tonight’s title game, Florida State led for most of the first half and was tied with Duke at the break. But after intermission, the Blue Devils tightened up their defense, holding the Seminoles to 25.0 percent shooting from the floor. And this was a Florida State team that had just shot 56 percent against the mighty Virginia defense in Friday’s semifinals. The Duke running game got going as a result of getting those stops, leading to transition dunks for Williamson and RJ Barrett that gave the Blue Devils a working margin that they would never relinquish.
  2. Florida State is going to be a tough out in the Big Dance. The Seminoles may have surprised the college basketball world by beating top-seeded Virginia in this ACC Tournament, but it’s not like they came out of nowhere this season. Leonard Hamilton’s club closed regular season play by winning 12 of their last 13 games and have already set a school record with 27 wins. They’re athletic, experienced and deep. Their best player is probably Mfiondu Kabengele, who may be the best sixth man in the nation. Kabengele kept the Seminoles within striking distance tonight. finishing with 14 points and making 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Additionally, Florida State’s size and length will make the Seminoles one of the most unique defensive teams in the NCAA Tournament — one that nobody should look forward to facing in the coming weeks.
  3. Duke may have locked up the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There’s little doubt that Duke will be on the top line when the brackets are presented Sunday evening, but conference tournament losses by Virginia and Gonzaga have opened up the overall top spot for the Blue Devils. The Selection Committee is expected to judge Duke with Zion Williamson in the lineup, and that Duke team went 23-2 with a 4-1 record against the other six programs in contention for the #1 seed line. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad is not without flaws — once again tonight they triumphed despite a cold shooting night from distance (2-14 3FG) — but they can overwhelm opponents in several other ways. Against the tall and imposing frontline of Florida State, the Blue Devils managed to post a decisive 42-18 edge in points in the paint, and had a solid advantage (+7) in fast break points. Point guard Tre Jones’ assertiveness (18 points) also gave the Blue Devils a boost tonight, and was reminiscent of the play of his older brother Tyus in leading Duke to the national title in 2015.

Player of the Game. Zion Williamson, Duke. The college game’s brightest star completed a successful return from injury by scoring 81 points in three days and winning the ACC Tournament MVP award. Tonight he scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor, grabbed five boards, and helped Duke’s defense hold Florida State to 31.7 percent shooting.

Quotable.

  • “He’s a world class athlete. He changes things.” – Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton on going against Zion Williamson.
  • “To start 1-and-4 in the league and end up in fourth place… it’s outstanding.” – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski praising the coaching job of Leonard Hamilton this season.
  • “When he’s able to score, it definitely opens it up for the rest of it.” – Duke’s RJ Barrett on the aggressive play tonight from Tre Jones.

Sights and Sounds. It was not nearly the same atmosphere in the Spectrum Center tonight as it was for the Duke-North Carolina semifinal clash, but it was a pretty full house tonight even if the energy level was merely good, not great.

What’s Next. Duke and Florida State have each improved their NCAA Tournament resumes this week in Charlotte and they will hear their paths to Minneapolis revealed on Sunday night.

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Rushed Reactions: Florida State 69, Virginia 59

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 15th, 2019

Three Key Takeaways.

Leonard Hamilton will be aiming for his second ACC championship on Saturday night (USA Today Images)
  1. Did we all overlook Florida State? The focus all week in Charlotte has been on the ACC’s three super-elite teams, but the Seminoles were never part of that conversation. With Virginia, Duke and North Carolina soaking up all the attention, Florida State was not considered a serious threat to take the ACC crown despite its double-bye status, but they will get that chance after dispatching top-seeded Virginia in impressive fashion. Leonard Hamilton’s club will head into tomorrow night’s championship tilt having won 14 of their last 15 games, and, lest we forget, this Florida State squad returns a core from a team that reached an Elite Eight a year ago. This group is both talented and experienced.
  2. Florida State made Virginia’s defense looked mortal. Good shots are often hard to come by when playing Virginia, so you’d better knock it down if one presents itself. That’s exactly what the Seminoles did for most of tonight, shooting 56.5 percent from the floor, including an outstanding 20-for-30 performance on two-point tries. And as usual, they used a balanced attack, with six Seminoles scoring at least nine points, including two reserves. Virginia had the pace of the game right where it wanted — under 60 possessions — but the Cavaliers could not match the Seminoles’ shooting prowess in addition to their size and length. Tony Bennett’s club shot just 41.5 percent from the floor and never got going from deep, making just 5-of-24 attempts from beyond the arc. Hamilton’s guys also dominated the glass by a convincing margin (+15).
  3. Virginia’s slow starts finally caught up to them. In three of its last four contests, including both of its games in Charlotte this week, Virginia trailed at the intermission. The margin of those first half deficits has been manageable — Florida State led by four tonight — but that’s certainly not a sustainable way to win as the competition of March improves. Another troubling issue for Bennett is the recent performance of one of his star guards. In this week’s two games in the Queen City, Ty Jerome only scored a total of 12 points on 5-of-24 shooting. As it is, Virginia has probably locked up a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but this team won’t be taking great momentum into next week’s Big Dance.

Player of the Game. David Nichols, Florida State. It’s always hard to single out one Seminole but Nichols had a huge impact off the bench tonight. He finished with 14 points — 10 in the second half — in going 6-of-8 from the field.

Quotable.

  • “I think they shot it better. They were so balanced in their scoring” – Virginia coach Tony Bennett, on what was different about Florida State tonight.
  • “Not many people felt that we could even have a chance to win this game.” – Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, when asked about the upset win.
  • “They were just the tougher team tonight. More physical tonight.” – Virginia’s Ty Jerome, on why Virginia lost.

Sights and Sounds. This game felt like the undercard match to a main event bout. Virginia had solid support tonight in the Spectrum Center, but a large portion of the crowd was clearly more focused on the upcoming Tobacco Road showdown between North Carolina and Duke.

What’s Next. With the upset win, Florida State will play for the ACC Tournament title against either North Carolina or Duke on Saturday night. It will be Leonard Hamilton’s third appearance in the ACC championship game — his Seminoles beat North Carolina for the school’s only ACC title in 2012.

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ACC Tournament Takeaways: Thursday Afternoon

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 14th, 2019

RTC’s Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) will be reporting live from Charlotte at the 2019 ACC Tournament through Saturday’s championship game.

Kyle Guy continued his red-hot shooting to lead Virginia over N.C. State. (Getty Images)

Here are a few thoughts on the four teams from today’s afternoon session at the ACC Tournament.

  • Virginia (29-2): The Cavaliers exorcised some demons in the Spectrum Center today. It was in this building nearly 365 days ago that Virginia became the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed in NCAA Tournament history. Perhaps Tony Bennett’s guys were reliving that nightmare in the first half against NC State — Virginia trailed by two at the break — before getting it going after intermission and cruising to a 76-56 win. Kyle Guy kept up his torrid long range marksmanship by shooting 7-of-9 from deep en route to 29 points. Guy has made 26 of his last 41 attempts from beyond the arc for an impressive rate of 63.4 percent. With Ty Jerome having an off day — two points on 1-of-11 shooting — Jack Salt gave Virginia a huge lift by scoring a career high 18 points.
  • NC State (22-11): Kevin Keatts’ club hung tough with the top seed for about 24 minutes today, but ultimately couldn’t overcome a terrible shooting day. The Wolfpack shot just 38.8 percent from the floor, including a frigid 3-of-20 performance from three-point land. Now, NC State will be on bubble watch for the rest of the weekend, hoping that the NCAA Selection Committee weighs their high metric numbers (#32 NET, #32 KenPom) heavier than that ugly non-conference strength of schedule (dead last in college basketball). We think the committee will be inclined to validate its new NET tool this year — which would be to NC State’s benefit — so, we think the Wolfpack will be invited to the Big Dance.
  • Florida State (26-6): In the second quarterfinal of the day, Florida State’s Terance Mann tossed in a runner with two seconds left in overtime as the Seminoles edged Virginia Tech, 65-63. Florida State controlled things for most of the game, but after a late Virginia Tech rally, Leonard Hamilton’s team needed a clutch three from Devin Vassell just to force the extra session. It was not a stellar offensive performance for the Seminoles — 38.6 percent shooting and 17 turnovers — but their defense and work on the glass (+13 rebounding edge) enabled them to overcome their scoring issues. For Florida State to have a chance to knock off top-seeded Virginia in Friday’s semifinals, it will need to be much more efficient offensively than it was today.
  • Virginia Tech (24-8): This was a tough situation for a shorthanded team to deal with — Virginia Tech was playing on back-to-back days and it was up against the deepest team in the league. The Hokies struggled to make shots from deep (4-of-19 three-pointers) but hung around with a strong defensive effort. This is the second overtime loss to Florida State in a nine-day span for Buzz Williams’ group, but it shouldn’t negatively impact their seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. It’s still not known if the Hokies will have the services of star point guard Justin Robinson, as Williams said in the postgame that Robinson — who has missed the last 12 contests — will meet with doctors on Sunday for another evaluation.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 11th, 2019

Here is the final 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. With the regular season in the books, this week we will compare how each ACC squad performed in the second half of league play, with an eye on the teams that might excel in the ACC Tournament in Charlotte. Finally, we will examine the ACC standings and project what it may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Saturday, March 9.

Final Standings

Congratulations are in order for Virginia, which accomplished something this season that no ACC school has done in over a decade. Tony Bennett‘s club posted both the best offense and defense, the first league squad to lead the conference in each metric since North Carolina turned the trick in back-to-back seasons (2007 and 2008). The Cavaliers won the defensive crown for the fifth time in the past six years, while simultaneously trotting out the best offense of Bennett’s career in Charlottesville. Virginia’s shooting acumen has been the main driver to its offensive prowess — the Cavaliers made 43.1 percent of their three-pointers in league play, which represents the ACC’s best mark of the KenPom era. Co-regular season champion North Carolina used a balanced attack to finish with the league’s second-best offense — the Tar Heels finished among the top five in two-point shooting, three-point accuracy, offensive rebounding and turnover percentage. Brad Brownell also deserves credit for the performance of Clemson’s defense, which finished second in the ACC, ahead of more acclaimed units from Florida State and Duke.

Advanced Stat of the Week: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not

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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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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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