ACC Weekend Review: 01.14.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 14th, 2019

After a lackluster opening weekend, things were much crazier around the ACC this weekend. In the headline match-up in Tallahassee on Saturday, Duke survived Florida State, 80-78, on Cam Reddish’s last second three. Reddish (23 points) and fellow freshman RJ Barrett (32 points) picked up the slack when Zion Williamson missed the entire second half with an eye injury. The long Seminoles caused problems for the Blue Devils in the paint, blocking seven Blue Devils’ shots, winning the battle of the boards (+5) and out-dunking Duke by a 10-to-1 margin. League co-leader Virginia grabbed another impressive road win too, as the Cavaliers manhandled Clemson, 63-43. Two road underdogs also won with surprising ease as Louisville dominated North Carolina at the Smith Center, 83-62, and Georgia Tech pulled off a stunner at Syracuse, 73-59. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Steven Enoch outplayed Luke Maye as Louisville shocked North Carolina in the Smith Center on Saturday. (thecardinalconnect.com)
  • Best Win: Few gave Louisville a realistic chance to win in Chapel Hill on Saturday, much less blow the Tar Heels off their own floor. After all, the Cardinals had just lost to Pittsburgh while North Carolina was coming off an impressive road win over a ranked and fired-up NC State squad. However, Chris Mack’s unit came out smoking (seven first half 3-pointers) and North Carolina never put up much of a fight in the 21-point defeat. The most lopsided home loss of the Roy Williams era was also a huge boost to Louisville’s growing postseason resume. A major key to the victory was the Cardinals’ dominance in the paint. Connecticut transfer Steven Enoch finished with career highs in points (17) and rebounds (11), outplaying UNC star Luke Maye, who finished with just nine points on a cold (3-for-14) shooting day.
  • Worst Loss: Georgia Tech gave Syracuse a taste of its own medicine Saturday night in the Carrier Dome. Josh Pastner used a zone defense to befuddle the Orange’s offense and pull off a surprisingly easy upset. Syracuse was unable to penetrate the Yellow Jackets’ interior and struggled to make shots from deep (7-for-33), but Georgia Tech only launched 12 threes (hitting six) and shot 63.3 percent (19-of-30) on two-pointers. Jim Boeheim’s team now has three home defeats and is currently projected by KenPom to finish 9-9 in the league, well below its preseason expectations.
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ACC Conversation: Pre-Conference Edition – Part 2

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), Mick Mcdonald (@themickmcdonald) on January 4th, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald recently got together to chat about the ACC heading in to conference play. Here’s Part 2 of that conversation.

Justin Robinson has guided Virginia Tech into contender status in the ACC. (accsports.com)

Brad Jenkins: Can Florida State or Virginia Tech crack the top three in the ACC? They both look like solid clubs, but are they being overlooked?

Matt Auerbach: I like both teams, and they deserve to be ranked inside the top 10 nationally. But I don’t believe that either will elevate above the aforementioned three squads when the league plays out.

Mick McDonald: Both definitely could, although I like Buzz Williams’ club a bit more. They are lethal offensively with so many guys who can light it up, and they play really hard on the defensive end. Their schedule has been light so far, so I’m very much looking forward to some bigger opportunities coming up shortly. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Justin Robinson can make an argument for best backcourt in the country and Kerry Blackshear is a match-up nightmare.

Matt Auerbach: Truthfully, there’s no denying both belong inside the top 10 based on merit, but I don’t view either as a legitimate threat to make a Final Four without some unusual breaks falling their way.

Mick McDonald: Agree with Matt. These two are rightful top 10 teams, but the ACC is just so loaded that could mean finishing fourth or fifth.

Matt Auerbach: If forced to choose one team over the other, I’d definitely lean towards the Hokies because of the backcourt. With a guy like Robinson surrounded by elite shooters, they can be impossible to stop if they get rolling.

Brad Jenkins: My only concern with the Hokies is that they are so reliant on great shooting. I’m just not sure how they can beat good teams on off shooting nights. I actually think Florida State may be better now that Phil Cofer is back in the lineup, but the Seminoles tend to not always progress very well through league play. Let’s move on to some surprise teams. Are NC State and Louisville legit?

Mick McDonald: I think NC State is legit in terms of a lock NCAA Tourney and potential second weekend team. Kevin Keatts is proving himself as one of the best young coaches in the country — that team looks like a nightmare to prepare for.

Matt Auerbach: Well, you saw the Pack in person, Brad, and your bird’s eye view confirmed what we had been seeing from afar. NC State is the real deal. Balanced, explosive, efficient and great chemistry makes for beautiful offensive basketball and that’s what Keatts’ team has going right now.

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ACC M5: 12.03.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 3rd, 2018

morning5_ACC

  1. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: After coming up just a little short at Iowa in last week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Pittsburgh struggled early in Friday’s annual City Game with cross-town rival Duquesne. But the Panthers eventually got it going and won going away, 74-53, in front of a crowd of 12,246. We mention the game’s attendance because it represents a 21 percent increase over last year’s meeting in the same event, furthering the notion that first-year head coach Jeff Capel is rebuilding the excitement level for his program in the Steel City. Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot noticed a difference with Capel in charge, saying, “[Former Pitt] Coach [Kevin] Stallings is a finesse guy who is a little more offensively oriented. This team is more like Duke [where Capel played and was an assistant coach].”
  2. Louisvile Courier-Journal: Louisville took another positive step in its own rebuilding process by winning at Seton Hall, 70-65, on Saturday afternoon. The Cardinals showed during Feast Week that they were ready to compete with the big boys — dropping close games against Tennessee and Marquette in the NIT Season Tip-Off — before edging top-10 Michigan State in overtime last week. In adding a significant road win over a Big East club, Chris Mack‘s balanced attack — only Dwayne Sutton (12 points) reached double figures — has become the norm this year. Sophomore breakout player Jordan Nwora (17.7 PPG) leads the squad in scoring, but eight other Cardinals are averaging between 6.3 and 10.0 points per contest. Keep an eye on this team over the next month.
  3. USA Today: Three ACC schools took part in Saturday’s Miami Hoophall Invitational at AmericanAirlines Arena, although the sparse crowds suggest that the four games would have fit better in a local high school gym. Georgia Tech was the first squad to see action, ultimately blowing a 16-point second half lead in falling to St. John’s, 76-73. We are now in year three of the Josh Pastner era, and some clear patterns have emerged:  First, the Yellow Jackets will defend hard (they are currently 16th in national defensive efficiency); next, they will struggle to make shots from deep (30.7% 3FG this season). If their shooting holds, Georgia Tech will fail to make at least 33 percent of its three-pointers for the third straight season. Until Pastner can recruit some shooters into the program — and shouldn’t he have by now (?) — the Yellow Jackets’ limited offense will hold them back.
  4. Miami Sun-Sentinel: Georgia Tech wasn’t the only ACC team to blow a huge lead in the Hoophall Invitational. Home team Miami squandered a 15-point second half advantage in losing to Yale, 77-73, its third consecutive defeat. Head coach Jim Larranaga has noticed a fatal flaw in the Hurricanes’ defense this year — after Yale’s Miye Oni (29 points) torched his club, the Hurricanes’ coach noted, “We just don’t have a guy that can stop a guy like that.” Previously, Bethune-Cookman’s Malik Maitland (29 points) and Fresno State’s Braxton Huggins (28 points) found similar success against the Hurricanes’ defense. This raises the obvious question — if mid-major players are slicing up Miami, what will happen when the stars of the ACC get a crack at the Hurricanes?
  5. WRAL Sportsfan: The only victorious ACC school in Miami on Saturday was NC State, which pulled away late to top Vanderbilt, 80-65. Much like the Wolfpack’s game at Wisconsin earlier in the week — when the Badgers rallied to overtake them — NC State was in control for most of the way before being challenged in the second half. This time, Kevin Keatts’ team responded positively in what was only their second match-up with a team ranked in KenPom’s top 175. NC State forward Torin Dorn is quietly putting up impressive numbers in many areas. The 6’5″ senior is leading the team in scoring (16.6 PPG) and on the boards (7.6 RPG), while making 55.7 percent of his two-point tries and 50.0 percent of his three-point attempts. Additionally, Dorn has collected 14 steals and only committed nine turnovers in eight games this year.
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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part III Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 21st, 2018

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

  1. Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational: North Carolina (#3) heads to Sin City as part of a strong field in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. The Tar Heels will start off by facing Texas (#27) on Thanksgiving Day (FS1 – 7:30 PM), right after Michigan State (#12) and UCLA (#39) square off in the first game. If the Heels and Spartans both reach the finals on Friday evening (FOX – 6:30 PM), it would be the second consecutive year that Roy Williams and Tom Izzo fought for a Feast Week tourney title. In last year’s PK80 Invitational, Michigan State held North Carolina to its worst shooting performance in school history (24.6%), as Izzo finally bested a Williams-coached UNC team after seven previous losses. We’re betting that Luke Maye would love a shot at redemption against the Spartans — the Heels’ All-America candidate was held to eight points on 3-of-13 shooting in last year’s meeting.
  2. Wooden Legacy: Miami (#21) heads to southern California after opening the season with three relatively easy home wins without Dewan Hernandez, who is being held out with eligibility concerns. Even without his best big man in the lineup, Jim Larranaga’s team will be the Wooden Legacy tournament favorites. The Hurricanes will get underway against LaSalle (#192) on Thursday afternoon (ESPNU – 2:30 PM) and will face either Northwestern (#48) or Fresno State (#111) on Friday. The top two-rated schools on the other side of the bracket are Seton Hall (#57) and Utah (#71), so Miami could face a decent opponent if it gets to Sunday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 10:30 PM). To sweep the competition here, the Hurricanes will need more consistent play from senior center Ebuka Izundu. After a career-best performance (22 points, 19 rebounds) against Stephen F. Austin, Izundu laid an egg (five points, four boards) in Miami’s last game versus Bethune-Cookman.
  3. AdvoCare Invitational: Just  two short weeks ago, defending national champ Villanova (#22) was regarded as the team to beat in this year’s event. But after getting smoked by Michigan and then falling to Furman last week at home, the Wildcats are reeling. Now Florida State (#8) enters the AdvoCare Invitational as the presumed favorite. The Seminoles will take on UAB (#163) in Thursday’s opening round (ESPNU – 9:30 PM) and will meet either LSU (#46) or College of Charleston (#107) on Friday. If Leonard Hamilton’s club makes it to the finals on Sunday (ESPN/ESPN2 at either 1:00 or 4:00 PM), it could see Oklahoma State (#62) there — the school that gave the 70-year-old Hamilton his first head coaching gig back in the late 1980s.
  4. Deep South Showcase: In each of his three years in Atlanta, Josh Pastner has elected to not participate in a traditional early season tournament, opting instead to have Georgia Tech (#81) play four pre-scheduled home games that are classified as an exempt event. This year’s version is called the Deep South Showcase and the Yellow Jackets have already played twice in it, besting Lamar (#251) and East Carolina (#275). Their remaining games will be played tonight against UT-Rio Grande Valley (#300) and on Friday versus Prairie View A&M (#272). Obviously none of these opponents will boost Georgia Tech’s non-conference schedule strength, but that will be offset by four road/neutral contests on the Yellow Jackets’ pre-conference slate against schools from Power Six leagues.
  5. Wolfpack ClassicNC State (#32) is going the same route as Georgia Tech this season, playing in an exempt event that features four pre-scheduled home games against weak competition. It’s surprising that Wolfpack second-year coach Kevin Keatts chose this plan over testing his club in a traditional tournament setting — a year ago, his team gained confidence by participating in the Battle 4 Atlantis and upsetting a highly-rated Arizona squad. In Wolfpack Classic games so far, NC State has dominated Maryland-Eastern Shore (#343), Maine (#335) and Saint Peter’s (#222). In the last match-up of the event, the Wolfpack will host Mercer (#210) on Saturday. This means that NC State will not have faced a top 200 team before it travels to Wisconsin next week as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. How prepared will they be?
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Reviewing the ACC’s Five Early Losses

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 16th, 2018

We’re just over a week into the season and the ACC has suffered a total of five losses. Two of those defeats came from teams that were expected to struggle, two others were from teams that were hoping to be on the fringe of the NCAA Tournament, and one came from a potential contender. RTC ACC writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) breaks each of those early losses down. (All rankings via KenPom as of November 15.)

Syracuse Struggled Against Old Enemy UConn Last Night (USA Today Images)

  • #96 Connecticut 83, #7 Syracuse 76. As the old saying goes, throw out the KenPom rankings when two old rivals get together. Syracuse had to scratch and claw to make the NCAA Tournament last year despite an elite defense because the Orange simply couldn’t score (135th nationally). Last night against Connecticut in Madison Square Garden, they were up to their old tricks again. The Orange shot just 39.4 percent from the field and made just six threes while allowing Connecticut to nail 12-of-21 from three-point range. Most teams won’t shoot nearly that well against Syracuse’s length this year, but its lack of consistent offense leaves the Orange vulnerable when a team gets hot.
  • #259 IUPUI 76, #90 Boston College 69. Whatever dreams Boston College had at making a run at an at-large bid this year may already be over with its bad loss earlier this week to IUPUI. Jim Christian’s team simply isn’t making enough shots, hitting only 29.5 percent of its three-pointers so far this season and getting limited production from its frontcourt of Steffon Mitchell (46.4% eFG) and Nik Popovic (47.4% eFG). Most importantly, Boston College needs to find some depth — through only three games, the Eagles’ five starters are averaging at least 28 minutes per contest. Freshman Jairus Hamilton is playing just over 18 minutes per game off the bench. Nobody else is seeing more than five minutes per contest. If Christian can’t find anyone else he trusts to give the occasional spell to Ky Bowman and Jordan Chatman, Boston College is in major trouble in the ACC.

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ACC Conversation: Preseason Projections – Part 1

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2018

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

Danny Manning needs his young stars to come through for Wake Forest to move up the ACC standings. (Walt Unks/Winston-Salem Journal)

  • Brad Jenkins: Happy New Year, gentlemen! Let’s start with a look at the projected bottom of the league. Matt, you did our preview piece on Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Can any of these teams surprise us and contend for an NCAA bid like the Yellow Jackets did two years ago?
  • Matt Auerbach: Great to be back, guys! The short answer to that, Brad, is no. I just can’t see it. The best-case scenario for the first two, particularly Pittsburgh, is that they are competitive and playing a more exciting brand of basketball than they have the last two years. Jeff Capel was a home run hire that will ultimately steer the Panthers back to relevance. Josh Pastner built up some equity with his run to the NIT finals two years ago, but there doesn’t seem to be much to be excited about in Atlanta. As for Wake, if Jaylen Hoard could have a Trae Young or Deandre Ayton type of impact, sure. While extremely talented, I think the odds of that occurring, however, are near nil, and the pressure will be mounting on Danny Manning if another disappointing season ensues.
  • Mick McDonald: Great point on Capel, Matt. Pitt basketball at least feels interesting again. They’ll be bad this year but I’ll be interested to see how guys like Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens begin their careers. I think they may actually be better than Georgia Tech. Pastner’s team looks rough.
  • Matt Auerbach: Without a doubt, of the three, I’d be least surprised if Pittsburgh won four or five games.
  • Mick McDonald: I know Manning keeps pulling good recruits but it feels like he needs to have a team make some noise sometime soon.
  • Brad Jenkins: I think there’s a chance for Capel to do something like what Pastner did in his first year in Atlanta based on the new energy he has in the Pitt program, but the ACC schedule rotation did him no favors — they have zero home games against the predicted bottom four in the league. Is Manning the ACC coach on the Hot Seat this year?
  • Mick McDonald: I guess, but given how his recruiting is going, I’d bet Manning gets at least one more year.

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Way Too Early 2018-19 ACC Rankings

Posted by Mick McDonald on April 6th, 2018

This season may have just wrapped up, but we are always looking forward to next season. Here’s a much too early look at how the ACC may shake out in 2018-19.

The Four Kill4s Arrive in Durham With Much Fanfare

  1. Duke. We’ll see if Gary Trent returns, but either way, it’s another loaded freshman class that will make the Blue Devils the most talented team in college basketball. RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are the top three players in the class of 2018 and will be joined by the top-rated point guard, Tre Jones.
  2. Virginia. The Cavaliers lose Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins but return their starting backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, plus ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter. Look for Mamadi Diakite to continue a long line of athletic bigs who flourish in Tony Bennett’s system.
  3. North Carolina. Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are gone, but the Tar Heels return Luke Maye in addition to Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Roy Williams is also bringing in his best recruiting class in years, with point guard Coby White and wing Nassir Little set to arrive. The improvement of sophomore big men Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman will be important to watch.
  4. Virginia Tech. Buzz Williams loses just Justin Bibbs and Devon Wilson from this year’s squad, and he will return a senior-laden backcourt with Ahmed Hill and potential All-ACC player Justin Robinson. Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear, Jr. are versatile bigs who can hit shots from the outside. Last year’s freshmen class also has the potential to break out, especially Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Read the rest of this entry »
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Final Edition

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

Here is the latest 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 will compare how each ACC squad performed in its last nine league games, with an eye on the teams that might excel in the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn. 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 3.

Current Standings

The final points per possession margin (PPM) figures suggest that there are a pair of ACC teams (Virginia and Duke) that are clearly superior to the rest of the league, and one squad (Pittsburgh) that is exceptionally worse. There is also a lot of parity in the middle of the league this season, with six schools posting +/- 0.01 in PPM. Among that group, Miami at 11-7 stands out as the most fortunate. By winning their last four games by three points or fewer — and thanks to the league’s tie-breaking procedures — the Hurricanes landed the #3 seed in Brooklyn this week. They accomplished this feat despite only outscoring their ACC foes by a total of nine points all season long. It’s also interesting to consider the relative strength of schedule among the 15 league members. Note that there is some bias built into the standings — Virginia and Duke only met once and can’t play themselves, partially explaining why they have the ACC’s two weakest schedules. But North Carolina clearly played a much tougher slate, with two games each against three of the top five seeds in this week’s tournament (Duke, Clemson and NC State). Even that gauntlet, though, doesn’t match what Buzz Williams‘ crew at Virginia Tech faced this year — the Hokies logged two meetings with each of the top three seeds in Brooklyn (Virginia, Duke and Miami). Additionally, hats off to Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers for submitting the ACC’s best defense for the fourth time in five years, while North Carolina finished with the league’s top offense for the second straight year.

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.05.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 5th, 2018

It was a great Saturday to be an ACC player in his final appearance in front of the home crowd, as all seven home teams were victorious this weekend. In the headline match-up in Durham, Duke overcame a double-figure deficit to avenge an earlier loss to North Carolina. Surging Miami won its fourth consecutive game — all by three points or fewer — by edging Virginia Tech, leaving the Hurricanes as the #3 seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament. Regular season champion Virginia held off a Notre Dame squad that is suddenly more dangerous with a healthy Bonzie Colson back in the lineup. In other action, Syracuse kept its NCAA at-large hopes alive with a win over Clemson, Florida State took down Boston College, and NC State topped Louisville. Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action around the ACC.

Grayson Allen and Coach K celebrate Duke’s win over rival North Carolina in Allen’s last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

  • Best Win: It was a tale of two halves for Duke in its 74-64 rivalry win over North Carolina. The Blue Devils trailed by 10 points at the break following an ice-cold shooting start — Duke sank only one of 10 shots from deep and 4-of-14 from the free throw line. But the offense picked up in the second half, as Duke scored 49 points and made eight threes on 15 attempts. Much has been made of Mike Krzyzewski’s decision to go zone, and the Blue Devils’ defense continues to improve as a result (now ranked 10th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings). North Carolina came into the game having scored at least 1.20 points per possession in its last seven outings, but the Tar Heels only managed 0.91 points per possession on Saturday evening. It didn’t help that star Joel Berry had an off night — the senior finished with just six points in going 0-of-7 from distance. With the win, Duke earned the #2 seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament, while the Tar Heels fell all the way to the #6 seed position. Given that the Tar Heels are ranked seventh nationally in KenPom, we are looking at a very deep ACC this postseason.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VII

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 1st, 2018

Here is the latest 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 will compare usage rate with offensive efficiency for the league’s top scorers, with an eye on who should be named to this season’s All-ACC First Team. Finally, we will forecast how the final ACC 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 27.

Current Standings

With the regular season race already wrapped up for Virginia, the attention now leads to the group of seven teams immediately behind the Cavaliers in the standings, all with five to seven losses. Incredibly, there’s a distinct possibility that the ACC ends up with a four-way tie for second place, provided that Clemson and NC State both win out and North Carolina beats Duke on Saturday night. When comparing records with points per possession margin (PPM) it’s easy to see how important performance in close games can be. Other than Virginia, Duke (0-2 in one-possession games) and North Carolina (1-3) have proven to be notch above the rest of the league based on PPM performance, but neither was able to separate itself from the rest of the pack this season. In contrast, Virginia Tech (3-0) and N.C. State (2-0) have ACC records that are superior to the merely average PPM numbers each has posted.

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