ACC Weekend Preview: February 17-18

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 16th, 2018

Somehow, there are just three weekends of play left in the ACC regular season. While Virginia appears to have the regular season title locked up, there is still much to be decided below the Cavaliers in the standings. (All rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 17

Not Even Jim Boeheim is Sure Where the Orange Are Headed (USA Today Images)

  • Syracuse (#50) at Miami (#37). The Orange suffered a home loss to NC State on Wednesday, one they may very well regret they let slip away on Selection Sunday. Syracuse currently has just one Q1 win (a road victory over Louisville) on its resume, so it still has significant work to do to make the NCAA Tournament. The good news? Plenty of opportunities remain, beginning with a trip to Miami tomorrow. The Syracuse defense has been stingy against ACC foes, as usual, allowing ACC opponents to shoot just 39.9 percent from the field (second in the ACC). The issue has been on the offensive end, where the Orange are making just 42.3 percent of their own shots. If they want to score enough to win key games down the stretch, they need Tyus Battle’s sidekick, Oshae Brissett, to continue his recent scoring pace. Over his past three games, Brissett is averaging 18.7 PPG and shooting 50 percent from the three-point line.
  • NC State (#55) at Wake Forest (#84). Ask any Wolfpack fan what comes after an important win? The answer would be a loss to a bad team. It has certainly been that way in much of NC State’s past, and has even reared its ugly head in Kevin Keatts’ first season at the helm in Raleigh (e.g., beat Arizona, lose to Northern Iowa.) So, forgive them if they aren’t exactly looking forward to a trip to Winston-Salem this weekend after an important road win at Syracuse earlier this week. NC State handled the Demon Deacons in Raleigh in mid-January, thanks to 22 points from Omer Yurtseven. And while the sophomore big man has been outstanding for most of this season, he has also begun to slow a bit. In his last four games, Yurtseven has averaged just 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 48.6 percent from the field (down from 59.5 percent on the season). Keatts will need his big man to have another big night if the Wolfpack are to avoid yet another letdown.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Seeding and Bubble Talk Intensifies

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 16th, 2018

This weekend’s slate of games will only further intensify the ongoing talk of seeding, the bubble and conference championships. Here are 10 questions heading into this weekend’s action.

Are the Bonnies Bubbling? (USA Today Images)

  1. Is a win over Rhode Island what St. Bonaventure needs to get on the right side of the bubble? Sitting just outside of the current RPI top 40, St. Bonaventure has a chance for a Quadrant 1 win against Rhode Island tonight. With the Rams’ best player E.C. Matthews status unclear from a recent injury, the Bonnies could be facing Rhode Island at just the perfect time.
  2. How much is Villanova missing Phil Booth?  The Wildcats’ recent losses to St. John’s and Providence have raised questions about Villanova’s potency without the services Phil Booth. With the junior guard sidelined, Jalen Brunson’s increased playing time time has perhaps contributed to his current three-point shooting slump — 3-of-19 over his last three games.
  3. Simply put, how good is Louisville? The post-Rick Pitino era has gotten off to a good start as Louisville sits at 18-8 overall and among the top five in the ACC standings. The Cardinals have benefited from a friendly schedule thus far, however, earning seven wins against teams outside of the KenPom top 200 and just three wins against those in the top 50.
  4. How will Texas Tech deal with its unfamiliar position as the Big 12 leader? Since losing three of four games during a shaky mid-January stretch, Texas Tech has now reeled off seven straight wins. The Red Raiders travel to Waco this weekend to play a hot Baylor team which has won four straight and owns the best opponent effective field-goal percentage in Big 12 play. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Important Match-ups

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 9th, 2018

As the second weekend of February approaches, it also means the days until March are getting fewer. Here are 10 things I am looking at around college basketball this weekend.

Purdue Looks to Regroup After a Heartbreaking Loss to Ohio State (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Michigan State make it two losses in a row for Purdue? Michigan State and Purdue are the only two teams in America with offensive and defensive efficiency rankings among the top 20. While Sparty owns the best two-point defense in college basketball, they will be tested by Purdue’s elite three-point shooting (42.7%, first nationally). Michigan State has already allowed six Big Ten opponents to shoot 40 percent or better from distance this season.
  2. Can Creighton stay perfect at home against Xavier? Creighton is 13-0 at the CenturyLink Center this season with double-figure home wins against both Butler and Seton Hall. In the Bluejays’ loss to Xavier earlier this year, Creighton logged its season-high turnover percentage and suffered a season-low of just two points from Khyri Thomas.
  3. Will the three-point line be the difference again in North Carolina vs. N.C. State? In the recent overtime thriller between North Carolina and North Carolina State, the Tar Heels shot 4-of-19 on their three-point attempts while the Wolfpack nailed 15-of-30. The 33-point resulting difference was enough for the Wolfpack to overcome their inability to slow North Carolina from scorching shooting inside the arc (64% 2FG). Read the rest of this entry »
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The Curious Case of Grayson Allen

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 8th, 2018

In many ways this college basketball season has been hijacked by Oklahoma freshman superstar Trae Young. What began as adulation and anointing has now flipped to interminable and, often times, laughably unfair scrutiny. Just one short year ago that same media microscope was being utilized to examine, analyze and admonish the on-court behavior of Duke superstar Grayson Allen. And while the senior guard is still in our collective consciousness, the discussion surrounding his senior year is most notably wondering: What happened? After an otherwise brilliant All-American sophomore season was marred by a pair of on-court tripping incidents, Allen entered his junior campaign as a strong NPOY candidate as well as the sport’s most hated son. Fitting in the Duke villain mold of Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner and JJ Redick, Allen had the game and presumptive arrogance to wear the target of most everyone’s venom. But after yet another tripping incident followed by a sideline meltdown that led to his suspension and loss of team captaincy, Allen’s game regressed in kind. A late ACC Tournament surge and an offseason to heal led most observers to assume Allen would set the world on fire in 2017-18.

Grayson Allen Has Been as Enigmatic as Controversial in his Duke Career (USA Today Images)

Popular opinion was the smart money for only a fleeting moment. With stud freshman Marvin Bagley III forced to miss the second half of this season’s Champions Classic tilt with Michigan State, Allen erupted for 37 points on 7-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc in a convincing Duke triumph. That game was in the middle of November, and we have yet to see that Grayson Allen again. The senior took a team-high 20 shots that evening, which he has only equaled once since in a dismal 5-of-20 effort at Boston College. That early December game (a loss) triggered a shooting slump in which Allen has connected on more than half of his shots in only two games since. Has Allen lost his confidence or is it something more?

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Ten Questions To Consider: Weekend Adversity Ahead?

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 19th, 2018

As conference play continues this weekend, teams across the country are having to face different types of adversity. Here are 10 questions for games to be played over the next few days:

Michigan State Will Try to Right the Ship This Weekend (USA Today Images)

  1. Are turnovers killing Michigan State? Michigan State has lost two of its last three games and needed overtime to escape at home with a win against Rutgers. The Spartans were -18 in turnovers in those three games. They must limit their giveaways against an Indiana team that ranks second in the Big Ten in forced turnover rate during conference play.
  2. Will Wichita State bounce back from its first conference loss? In Wichita State’s first AAC loss of the season, the Shockers allowed SMU to shoot 76 percent on two-point attempts and 50 percent on three-point attempts. It was the fifth time this season in which Wichita State has allowed an opponent to score more than 1.1 points per possession — something that happened only four times last year. For Wichita State to win the American in its first year in the league, it will need to become more consistent defensively.
  3. Will Kentucky be able to follow up another loss with a win? After each of its previous three losses, Kentucky has returned home and won its next game. After falling Tuesday to South Carolina, Kentucky returns home to play Florida. Kentucky’s current SEC defensive efficiency of 104 points per 100 possessions is the worst of any group of Wildcats since Tubby Smith’s 2005-06 team. Their defensive struggles come from a season long inability to force turnovers, an area where Kentucky currently ranks outside of the top 200.
  4. How troubling is West Virginia’s offense? Since Big 12 play began, West Virginia’s offense has undergone a steady decline. The Mountaineers currently own the second worst offensive efficiency, effective field-goal percentage, and turnover rate in the conference. The Mountaineers will host a Texas team that held Texas Tech to just 58 points in its last game. Read the rest of this entry »
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A Quick Whip Around the ACC

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 9th, 2018

With the calendar now flipped to 2018 and conference play in full bore, three teams remain undefeated atop the ACC standings. Notable by its absence among that group is consensus preseason favorite Duke, which, after dropping Saturday’s tilt in Raleigh to NC State, is now two games behind the triumvirate of leaders (ClemsonVirginia and Notre Dame).

The Looks Say It All (USA Today Images)

A primary culprit for the Blue Devils’ struggles in league play thus far is the frigid shooting of senior guard Grayson Allen. Allen, a preseason all-ACC selection, is shooting just 33.3 percent from the field in conference play, including a 21.7 percent clip from beyond the arc. While it’s easy to hone in on Duke’s sieve-like defense when evaluating its losses, Duke also needs Allen to perform up to his All-America capabilities to become the team it expects. Remember, with Marvin Bagley III relegated to the bench in the second half of Duke’s victory over Michigan State in November, it was Allen’s elite shot-making that made the difference. Much like the 2015 National Championship team, these Blue Devils are heavily relying on their young stars to take them home. But, for all the heroics of Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Allen himself three seasons ago, there would have been no fifth banner in Durham without the quiet and steady leadership of senior Quinn Cook. For Mike Krzyzewski to earn his sixth title, Allen needs to snap out of his recent funk.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.08.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 8th, 2018

After the second full weekend of league action, three ACC teams have surged to the top of the standings with identical 3-0 records. Virginia handled North CarolinaClemson edged Louisville in overtime; and Notre Dame staged a frantic rally to overtake Syracuse. While the two ACC preseason favorites — Duke and North Carolina — have struggled to 1-2 records, their misfortune has given other teams an opportunity to make early claims to the league crown. On Sunday night, Miami defended its home court by defeating intrastate rival Florida State to cap off a wild weekend. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Duke suffered another road loss and court-rushing at NC State’s PNC Arena on Saturday night.
(Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Things were looking bleak for Notre Dame at the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon. The Irish were without their two injured senior stars — Bonzie Colson (broken foot) and Matt Ferrell (sprained ankle) — and they came out ice cold early. But Mike Brey‘s team hung around as it always seems to do, pulling out the tough road win thanks to Rex Pflueger‘s putback basket moments before the final horn. The Irish won with defense and hustle, holding the Orange to 39.1 percent field goal shooting and capturing seven steals. Notre Dame also held a huge edge on the boards, including a +13 advantage in offensive rebounds. Considering all of the injuries he is dealing with, Brey has already emerged as a front-runner for ACC Coach of the Year honors.

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ACC Weekend Preview: January 6-7

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 5th, 2018

Conference season is underway and this weekend does not lack for intriguing action around the ACC. Duke looks to show it can win on the road; Miami hopes to bounce back; and there’s a heavyweight match-up to consider in Charlottesville. (All statistics through games of January 4 and all rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, January 6

Virginia Just Keeps On Keeping On (USA Today Images)

  • North Carolina (#12) at Virginia (#3). In one of the best games of this weekend, Virginia welcomes North Carolina to Charlottesville. While the Tar Heels play a fast tempo that produces 84.9 points per game (26th nationally), they are also aa solid defensive team, allowing just 43.5 percent from two-point range (29th). Combine that with Virginia’s normally excellent defense (allowing 40.9 percent from two-point range and 39.4 percent from the field) and this should be a rock fight. We know Devon Hall and Kyle Guy are Tony Bennett‘s scorers this season, but finding a third option has been solved. In his last four games, point guard Ty Jerome has averaged 17.8 PPG while shooting 57.8 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from three-point range.
  • Louisville (#39) at Clemson (#18). Clemson put together a solid non-conference resume last year but the Tigers were done in by close loss after close loss in ACC play. So you can imagine what Tiger fans were thinking as Clemson played in yet another tight game at Boston College on Wednesday night. However, Brad Brownell’s bunch kept it together down the stretch this time and left Chestnut Hill with a win (which is more than Duke can say). Senior Donte Grantham continued his impressive campaign, scoring 23 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in the victory. The Tigers will need both Grantham (67.7% eFG) and Elijah Thomas (64.0% eFG) to be precise around the rim against Louisville’s stellar front line defense of Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding. After a rough start to the season, Cardinals point guard Quentin Snider is coming on, shooting 41.7 percent from three-point range over his last nine games. Louisville will need Snider to continue his hot shooting given that the team makes just 33.7 percent of its attempts from long range (232nd nationally.)

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Michigan State Needs More From Miles Bridges

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 23rd, 2017

By many accounts, Michigan State sophomore Miles Bridges should no longer be in college. The body, the athleticism, the talent — it’s all there and screams one-and-done. That’s why so many observers were shocked when Bridges opted to forgo the NBA Draft over the summer. Never mind that now, though. It’s in the past. He is here and we have arrived at a point of pristine clarity. Whether fair or not, anything other than a 2018 National Championship for Michigan State will be viewed as a disappointment. Tom Izzo‘s seething six-word response of “I’m sick of holding my own” and discussion of embarrassment after losing to consensus #1 Duke last week at the Champions Classic make that obvious. The Spartans, however, will not get there without more production from their superstar. That’s not necessarily a statistical knock on him — after all, he’s nearly averaging a double-double with 19.5 PPG and 7.5 rebounds per game. You have to dig a little deeper, and Izzo hinted at it: “When they [Duke] were so good, a senior rose up.” Indeed.

Miles Bridges is Fantastic but He Needs to Take Over at the End (USA Today Images)

This may seem harsh. We have limited data points but an initial review is quite revealing. With 3:24 remaining in last week’s Duke game, everything was knotted up and Duke held possession of the ball. From that point, senior All-American Grayson Allen scored eight of Duke’s final 13 points while his counterpart Bridges only took two shots and scored a single meaningless bucket. That can’t happen in those spots. He can’t shy away from shouldering the weight of performing during crunch time.  He can’t defer to others. He’s too special and the Spartans don’t have a better alternative. They didn’t for Mateen Cleaves, a Spartan who put the team on his shoulders whenever necessary on the way to delivering Izzo his only National Championship. “The experienced guys have to take over at the end and let the freshmen fall behind us,” Bridges told the Big Ten Network after the game.

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On a Different Kind of Duke Team So Far…

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 22nd, 2017

Most of the Duke teams of recent vintage have been known for talented perimeter scorers and three-point shooters. With the exception of the 2015 National Championship squad anchored by freshman superstar Jahlil Okafor, the Blue Devils have often been relatively weak defensively and particularly soft on the interior, resulting in several early exits from the NCAA Tournament (e.g., South Carolina, Oregon, Mercer). So far this year, things are looking different in Durham. The strength of Mike Krzyzewski’s current #1 team appears to be in its overall balance — great options in the post to go along with a solid backcourt and a somewhat improved defense. However, there are still a few areas of concern that Coach K will need to address in order to feel good about making a run at his sixth national title next March.

Star big men Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter have given Duke a different look this year.
(Gerry Broome/AP Photo)

Over the past two decades, Krzyzewski has mostly utilized a four-around-one offensive scheme that was heavy on floor spacing and light on post touches. However, with the frontcourt size and talent at his disposal this year, he has adopted more of an inside-out approach. In most of the Blue Devils’ half-court sets, they first look to feed freshmen Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter on the blocks. Both Bagley (19.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 62.1% FG) and Carter (13.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 61.5% FG) are off to fast starts this season, and Bagley’s numbers would be even better if he hadn’t left last week’s game versus Michigan State with an eye injury. In that 88-81 win over the Spartans, Carter came up huge in Bagley’s absence, tallying second half marks of 10 points and 10 rebounds. Even more talent exists on the perimeter, and perhaps for the first time since the championship season, the pieces seem to fit well together. Grayson Allen (18.4 PPG, 50.0% 3FG) and Gary Trent, Jr. (11.6 PPG, 37.9% 3FG) have been very effective on the wings, and freshman Trevon Duval (13.6 PPG, 38 assists/7 turnovers) is running the point guard position like a seasoned veteran. But not everything with the new-look Blue Devils is rosy — after five games, Duke is shooting a measly 61.7 percent from the foul line, and Bagley (50.0%) in particular is leaving too many points at the charity stripe. Read the rest of this entry »

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