ACC Weekend Review: 01.16.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 16th, 2017

There were several marquee match-ups in the ACC this weekend, including two monster games on Saturday afternoon as North Carolina overcame some adversity to hand Florida State its first league loss and Louisville ensured that Duke continued its struggles on the road. Later that day, Notre Dame held off Virginia Tech to remain unbeaten in league play, while three schools that entered January with NCAA Tournament aspirations — Clemson, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State — all suffered devastating home defeats to drop to a last place tie in the standings. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Theo Pinson celebrates North Carolina’s big win over Florida State. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: In a league as strong as the ACC this season, sometimes a team must show some collective toughness to pull out a win. That’s exactly what North Carolina did on Saturday afternoon in its impressive 96-83 home victory over a red-hot Florida State squad. Faced with the daunting task of playing the nation’s second tallest team without freshman center Tony Bradley (out with a concussion), the Tar Heels were already short-handed in the paint. With Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks battling foul trouble, Roy Williams was forced to play almost half the game with no true post player. North Carolina not only hung in with the bigger, deeper Seminoles, but the Tar Heels managed to dominate the glass in a surprisingly effective rebounding effort  (+22). Three Tar Heels — Hicks, Joel Berry and Justin Jackson — finished with over 20 points and Theo Pinson turned in a solid overall effort with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.

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North Carolina Readies Itself For ACC Play

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 30th, 2016

North Carolina wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule on Wednesday night by dispatching Monmouth, 102-74, at the Dean Smith Center. Now it is on to conference play, as Roy Williams’ squad visits Georgia Tech tomorrow (Noon ET – ACC Network) in the first of two ACC road trips. It has been an interesting season for the Tar Heels to this point. They started off by winning their first eight games, including a dominant performance in the Maui Invitational, that led ESPN’s Jay Bilas, among others, to proclaim North Carolina as the best team in college basketball. Williams’ team has taken a hit since with a road loss at Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge followed by a neutral court defeat to Kentucky in the Game of the Season. Now, on the eve of ACC play, let’s examine the Tar Heels’ prospects going forward.

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

The obvious strength of this squad is in the frontcourt. With seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks backed by solid freshman Tony Bradley, North Carolina may have a post trio as good as any in college basketball. Despite losing some of his efficiency with greater usage, Meeks has been outstanding in taking on a primary offensive role as well as on the boards at both ends of the floor. Hicks was expected to make a big splash as a first-time starter and he has delivered on that promise. The concern with him is that he has not performed nearly as well against tough competition — sporting a 101.5 Offensive Rating against the Tar Heels’ best four opponents — versus 118.4 in all games. Junior forward Justin Jackson looks like a potential All-ACC first-teamer right now. He converted 6-of-9 attempts from deep en route to a 28-point night against Monmouth, and unlike Hicks, Jackson has come through in big games — averaging 23.2 PPG against the Tar Heels’ five highest rated foes. Bradley, an important substitute off the bench, may have the most professional potential of the bunch. He currently leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and has displayed great hands and advanced footwork for a youngster.

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North Carolina Bench Showing Great Promise Already

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 15th, 2016

With six upperclassmen returning from last year’s National Runner-up, North Carolina entered the year with plenty of known commodities. As the 2016-17 campaign got under way, however, it was the Tar Heels’ young bench that represented the team’s biggest question mark. That group, comprised of three freshmen and two sophomores, has so far performed well. Roy Williams‘ preferred method of substitution is a one-for-one swap at each of the five positions. Ideally that means that Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley split time at the center position; Justin Jackson and Brandon Robinson do likewise on the wing; and so on. This strategy is tailor-made for North Carolina’s run-and-gun system — which requires quick attacks in transition and plenty of motion in the half-court. It correspondingly takes a deep bench to play this way, and Williams has always counted on using that depth to wear down his opponents.

Freshman big man Tony Bradley has been impressive in his first two games for North Carolina. (Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

Freshman big man Tony Bradley has been impressive in his first two games for North Carolina. (Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

As expected, North Carolina is getting great production from its top four returnees. Meeks and fellow senior Isaiah Hicks have been dominant around the basket and juniors Justin Jackson and Joel Berry are off to hot starts as well — Jackson tallied a career-high 27 points in the opener against Tulane, and Berry was so impressive that he was named co-ACC Player of the Week as a result. That veteran group is also getting good support from the youthful Tar Heels’ bench. Bradley has scored in double figures in both games and has already snagged a total of nine offensive rebounds. When asked about his young center’s exceptional play after Sunday’s win, Williams said, “He doesn’t try to do things that he can’t do.” The head coach also commended Bradley for his ability to run the floor.

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The ACC’s 15 Unsung Heroes

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 11th, 2016

Casual ACC fans know the stars. But on any successful basketball team, there is always at least one unheralded player who helps his team by contributing in any number of different ways. Perhaps a scorer who brings energy to a second unit; a defensive stopper who anchors the back line of the defense; or a newcomer claiming a role for the future. Who are those guys in the ACC this season? We’re glad you asked.

  • Boston College: Connar Tava. Tava had a terrific junior year in 2014-15 at Western Michigan when he averaged 12.3 points per game and shot 52.1 percent from the field. After suffering a season-ending foot injury early last year, he redshirted and transferred to Boston College in the offseason..
  • Clemson: Marcquise Reed. When you have a player as talented as potential All-American Jaron Blossomgame, he is going to attract a lot of attention from opposing defenses. The best way to take advantage of that? Surround him with players who can knock down the three-point shot. Reed, a transfer from Robert Morris hit 41.3 percent of his shots from long distance last season.
Matt Jones is the key to Duke's defense. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Matt Jones is the key to Duke’s defense. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • Duke: Matt Jones. It’s tough to make a case for a Duke player being relatively unknown, but Jones is the best option here. He averaged 10.4 points per game for the Blue Devils last season, but he won’t be asked to score nearly as much this year. Rather, what he will be asked to do is guard the opponents’ best perimeter players, especially during the home stretch of tight games. He is a terrific on-ball defender and versatile enough to adequately defend both guards and wings.

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ACC Twitter 2016-17 Must-Follows: Ga Tech, Louisville, Miami & UNC

Posted by nvr1983 on November 10th, 2016

We are continuing our ACC Must-Follow List for the year with Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, and North Carolina in this post. If there are any other Twitter accounts that you think should be included, send us a tweet @rtcACC or leave a message in the comments section below.

For the rest of our ACC Must-Follow List, check out the rest of our posts for this year. Note that these will release throughout the day on Thursday.

Georgia Tech

He might not believe in golf, but he does believe in Twitter (RamblinWreck.com)

He might not believe in golf, but he does believe in Twitter (RamblinWreck.com)

Players

Bloggers and Beat Writers

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All Aboard the Isaiah Hicks Bandwagon

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 7th, 2016

North Carolina never comes out of nowhere. When you’re an historic program with a Hall of Fame coach, why should you? Last year the Tar Heels were ranked first in the preseason AP Top 25 and finished the season a miracle shot away from capturing Roy Williams’ third National Championship. Despite losing All-America forward Brice Johnson and star lead guard Marcus Paige, the Heels are ranked #6 in this preseason’s Top 25 and were picked to finish second in the ACC at Operation Basketball in late October. Point guard Joel Berry was voted to the preseason All-ACC First Team and wing Justin Jackson was named to the Second Team.

With the departure of Brice Johnson, North Carolina will need senior Isaiah Hicks to play a larger role if they want to return to the Final Four. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer)

With the departure of Brice Johnson, North Carolina will need senior Isaiah Hicks to play a larger role if it wants to return to the Final Four. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer)

There is (rightfully) a lot of love for Williams’ squad heading into the season, but the player on the team not getting nearly enough hype is senior forward Isaiah Hicks. Hicks, who was the ACC Sixth Man of the Year last season, was a dominant force in short batches. However, the presence of Johnson at the four prevented him from logging the kind of minutes (45.2% minutes rate) that would have facilitated bigger numbers (8.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG). With Johnson no longer around, Hicks figures to become a key piece to a North Carolina team looking to get back to the Final Four and finish the job. Somewhat surprisingly, Hicks was not chosen for the All-ACC First or Second Team at Operation Basketball. That omission may look silly come March.

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Top Quotes and Moments from ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2016

Coaches, players and members of the media all gathered in Charlotte on Wednesday for the 2016 edition of ACC Operation Basketball. It was a long day for all and a fun day for most. We camped out in Salon I in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and witnessed press conferences for all 15 coaches – yes, after staying home last year Rick Pitino came too. We also heard from 30 players — two from each school — and observed commissioner John Swofford’s ‘State of the League’ address. What follows are a smattering of some of our favorite quotes and quips from the day.

PLAYERS

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

One of the interesting parts of the morning session was hearing various players’ responses when asked to describe their head coaches.

  • Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame – On Mike Brey: “He brings energy to practice every single day. He keeps the guys loose, which I think is really a benefit for us, and helps us play loose on the court.”
  • Sheldon Jeter, Pittsburgh – On his impressions from his reunion meeting with Kevin Stallings: “It was just kind of like the same stuff I did my first time meeting him at Vanderbilt. A very genuine guy. Very truthful.”
  • Matt Jones, Duke – On the annual adaptability of Mike Krzyzewski: “It’s been different each year. Coach K does a really good job of figuring out what guys respond to and how well they respond to it.”

Of course there were some light-hearted moments as well, and here are three player comments that brought laughter to the room.

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The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Andrew Carter

Posted by Chris Stone on October 6th, 2016

RTC interviews one on one

The college basketball season is just around the corner, so it’s the perfect time to start getting in the mood for hoops. To get the juices flowing, we reached out to North Carolina beat writer Andrew Carter to talk about the upcoming season, some of his Tar Heel favorites and the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. The following interview was edited for brevity and clarity. 

Rush the Court: Talk to us a little bit as an introduction about how you came to become the North Carolina beat writer for The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Andrew Carter: This’ll be my sixth basketball season. I grew up in North Carolina. I grew up in Raleigh, so I’m familiar with the area. This is definitely home for me. Before this, I was covering the Miami Dolphins for the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel and before that I covered Florida State for four years for The Orlando Sentinel. The News & Observer had this job open and being from this area and having grown up here, it was especially of interest to me. I knew a couple people here and it just kind of worked out. Here I am.

Andrew Carter is the The News & Observer’s North Carolina beat writer. (The News & Observer)

RTC: Last year, the Tar Heels obviously had a pretty successful season, winning the ACC, the ACC Tournament, and making the national title game. What would you say are some expectations for the program this year?

Carter: I think expectations are always high at North Carolina, regardless of the roster and who they have coming back in a given year. The expectations are always going to be high. People always think that UNC should be good because it’s UNC. Naturally, with what they have coming back next year, I think those expectations are justified. They lose a couple really important pieces in Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson and Joel James was a valuable reserve by the end of his tenure. But everyone that could have come back is back. They bring back a solid nucleus: Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, Isaiah Hicks, Theo Pinson. You just go on down the list and I think they have a lot of solid pieces back. Last year, the expectations entering the year — it was a Final Four or bust kind of year. I don’t think it’s necessarily that for UNC this season, but certainly this is a team that probably is going to enter the year somewhere around the top 10, if not certainly in the top 10. It’s going to be a team that if it doesn’t make the second week of the NCAA Tournament, it’ll probably be viewed as something of a disappointment this season. There’s a lot of high expectations, that’s obviously nothing new. If pieces come together and things fall the right way, I think this is certainly a team that has the potential to get back to the Final Four.

RTC: Is there a player among the guys that you listed that you think might surprise people there?

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Final Four Fact Sheet: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 28th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, North Carolina.

How The Tar Heels Got Here

Roy Williams Leads North Carolina to the Final Four for the 19th Time in School History (USA Today Images)

Roy Williams Leads North Carolina to the Final Four for the 19th Time in School History (USA Today Images)

East Region Champions. North Carolina faced little resistance from Florida Gulf Coast in the first round and then used a strong second half against Providence to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Philadelphia. Once there, the Tar Heels throttled Indiana on the strength of a 1.42 points per possession effort. In the regional final, North Carolina answered a spirited charge from Notre Dame midway through the second half by dominating the paint in pulling away for a 14-point win.

The Coach

Roy Williams. This is Williams’ eighth Final Four appearance in 28 seasons as a head coach, the fourth-most all-time behind Mike Krzyzewski, John Wooden and his mentor, Dean Smith. Williams has faced his share of criticism over the last couple of years given the academic scandal involving North Carolina, but his team has successfully blocked out that distraction this season. Williams is moving towards the end of his tenure as a head coach (some retirement rumors have been floating around) and his team will head to Houston as the clear favorite to cut down the nets for what would be Williams’ third national championship at his alma mater.

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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 78, Notre Dame 47

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. If North Carolina plays defense like it did tonight, the Tar Heels will win the national championship. Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country and they couldn’t buy a good look for 10 solid minutes. Roy Williams’ team was incredibly aggressive, especially on the perimeter, never allowing Notre Dame’s guards to any space to operate. They only gave up 22 points (a season low for both teams) on 34 possessions, good for a first half defensive efficiency of 0.65 points per possession. After the run ended five minutes into the first half, it was far too late for Notre Dame to catch up. The Irish ended up scoring only 47 points in the game, its lowest total since a loss to Syracuse in 2013.

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

  2. Repeat after me: North Carolina is really deep. The Heels got 20 points off the bench and they actually played better when Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks both picked up their second fouls with 6:30 to play in the first half. Very few teams in the country would have been able to bounce back so quickly. Isaiah Hicks has played really well over the last couple of games (he finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds), and this was his best game since he scored 21 points at Syracuse.
  3. Notre Dame is a streaky team. It was blown out three other times this season (at Syracuse; at Florida State; vs. Miami), and every once in a while you will see a team get too far into its own head and become woefully overmatched. This was one of those times. The Tar Heels defense totally took Notre Dame out of its offense, as the Irish went from a team that excels on ball movement to one trying to isolate against a much taller front line. Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson were held a combined 1-of-16 from the field, an unbelievably disappointing performance.

Star of the Game. Tonight Marcus Paige looked every bit the first team all-ACC player everyone expected. He played great defense, hit some soul-crushing threes, and finished with seven assists and no turnovers. When he’s locked in, guarding the Tar Heels is borderline impossible. The last few years the question was always: “Can North Carolina shoot well enough to win?” This tournament has been evidence that both Joel Berry and Paige are more than capable. (Author’s note: It’s worth noting that Berry finished the game with four assists and no turnovers.)

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