ACC Conversation: End of Season Awards

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerback, Mick McDonald on February 28th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week  about who they think should take home All-ACC Honors.

Duke’s Marvin Bagley Will Assuredly Find Himself on the All-ACC Team (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: Last week we focused on teams. This week, we can discuss individuals. How do you guys feel the All-ACC first team will shake out? Mick, why don’t you go first.

Mick McDonald: Sure thing. In terms of how I *think* it’ll shake out, I’d be pretty surprised if it wasn’t Marvin Bagley III, Luke Maye, Jerome Robinson, Tyus Battle and Kyle Guy. Personally, I’m not sure I’d have Battle there and I would definitely have Devon Hall over Guy.

Matt Auerbach: From my perspective, I totally agree with Mick that the top three are locked in, as Bagley, Maye and Robinson’s individual prowess has far exceeded the rest of the conference. I think Battle has a ton of empty calories in his 19 PPG, so I’d opt for Joel Berry II in his stead. As for the conference champion’s representative, I’m with Mick. It may be Guy over Hall, but that is wrong. For me, Hall is the glue that holds the whole thing together on both ends of the floor.

Mick McDonald: Hall gets no love because he only averages about 12 PPG, but he has been insanely good. He ranks second in the ACC in Offensive Rating and fourth in Defensive Rating.  Also, he’s second behind Bagley in Win Shares. It would be insane to put Guy over him because he averages 2-3 more points per game.

Brad Jenkins: I think the fascinating thing to watch will be how the voters handle the Virginia players. They absolutely should get a guy on the first team, and I agree it should be Hall. The only statistic in which Guy is better is scoring, and that’s because he takes five more shots a game.

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ACC Conversation: The Elite Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Mick McDonald, Matt Auerbach on February 21st, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald took some time this week to chat about what they like and dislike about the ACC’s top contenders and whether they think a team from the conference’s middle tier could make some noise in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Does Virginia Have Enough Inside Offense to Win in March? (USA Today Images)

  • Brad Jenkins: OK Mick. Why don’t you kick it off with your thoughts on Virginia?
  • Mick McDonald: Because of the pace they play, the Virginia guards aren’t getting enough credit on the offensive end. Having three guys who can shoot like Ty Jerome/Kyle Guy/Devon Hall is usually a good way to win in March. That said, if the jumpers aren’t falling (like in the Virginia Tech game), can they generate enough offense? It’s why DeAndre Hunter is such a huge piece for them. He can create mismatches and they need to work to find him shots (like in the Miami game) to get their offense going. Also, I’m not convinced Isaiah Wilkins is 100 percent. I think his back may still be bothering him and that’s worth keeping an eye on over the next few weeks.
  • Brad Jenkins: My concern is very similar. Virginia just doesn’t get many points that aren’t on jumpers from 15 feet out. Hunter has been playing great and definitely gives them more of a dynamic scorer, but if he’s out there in the last 10 minutes, who do you take off the floor? Not sure Wilkins at the five will work against bigger teams they may see in March.
  • Mick McDonald: It’s definitely an issue. They are going to have to shoot it well to make the Final Four. I do think between Jack Salt and Mamidi Diakite they have enough bodies to make the five-spot work, but they aren’t getting any offense there.
  • Brad Jenkins: The ACC Tourney will be important for them. Past NCAA failures have to be in the back of their mind. I think it would be a huge confidence boost if they cut down the nets in Brooklyn, especially considering how good Duke and North Carolina suddenly look.
  • Mick McDonald: Yes and no. I do think an ACC title would help their confidence… but this team might go 17-1 in the league, including getting the “win at Cameron” monkey off the program’s back. Tony Bennett has won an ACC Tournament. I don’t think a loss on Friday would doom them. I also think they’ll probably have the #1 seed in the South locked up prior to the ACC Tournament, which is important.
  • Brad Jenkins: But they’ve been a #1 seed before, so maybe this will be the year. That defense will keep them in any game, but that tempo will also keep opponents in the game. Moving on to Duke. Is there a real correlation to Grayson Allen finding his game and Marvin Bagley III being out?

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 3

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 3rd, 2018

While all eyes will be on Minneapolis tomorrow, the ACC gives us some important action for its bubble teams today. (All rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 3

Are the Pack Back? (USA Today Images)

  • Notre Dame (#35) at NC State (#65). The Wolfpack are riding high (as our Matt Auerbach outlined this week) after their huge overtime win in Chapel Hill last weekend. If NC State hopes to snag an eventual NCAA Tournament bid, it still needs to pick things up on the defensive end. In nine ACC games, Kevin Keatts’ defense is allowing teams to shoot a healthy 49.2 percent from the field, the worst such mark in the conference. In fact, NC State does not have a single rotation player with a Defensive Rating below 108.0. It’s uncertain whether the Wolfpack will be able to fix this issue, especially given that the cause of it is also what has made them so effective offensively this year. First, the blossoming of Omer Yurtseven into an offensive star has resulted in more minutes, but he is hopeless when pulled away from the basket and forced to guard in space. Secondly, Keatts has been playing two of his three smaller guards (Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson and Lavarr Batts, Jr.) on the floor together. This leads to defensive mismatches, specifically against the less-physical Beverly. It will be interesting to see how the Pack perform against a Notre Dame team that will be deliberate and wants to limit possessions without injured star Bonzie Colson.
  • Miami (#32) at Virginia Tech (#39). The Hokies have won three straight games to surge back into the NCAA Tournament discussion. The key all season for Buzz Williams’ team has been making threes, and his guys have gotten their shooting stroke back lately. During this three-game winning streak, Virginia Tech is making 42.2 percent from long-range and nailing nearly 13 threes per game. In their eight prior games, the Hokies made just 30.4 percent from distance and correspondingly went 4-4. They’ll look to stay hot against Miami, who will be without star Bruce Brown for the foreseeable future. The match-up to look for  in this game is down low — can Miami’s Dewan Huell (116.6 ORtg, 54.8% eFG) get the offensively-challenged Hurricanes some easy baskets against a Virginia Tech front line that only features Kerry Blackshear?

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ACC Weekend Preview: January 27

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 27th, 2018

A pair of in-state matchups and a huge bubble game in South Bend would normally be enough excitement to make for an intriguing ACC weekend. Add in a top-five match-up that features the best offense against the best defense in college basketball and you have a weekend of ACC hoops that is absolutely must-see.

Saturday, January 27

What to Make of NC State Basketball This Season (USA Today Images)?

  • NC State (#74) at North Carolina (#8). Is there a more interesting NCAA Tournament resume than NC State? The Wolfpack own a neutral court win over Arizona to pair with home wins over Duke and Clemson. They’ve also somehow lost to Northern Iowa on a neutral court and UNC-Greensboro at home. And while taking care of business against a bad team (Pittsburgh) isn’t anything to write home about, it’s something many previous Wolfpack teams have struggled with. Kevin Keatts’ team is still in the NCAA mix mainly thanks to the leap from sophomore big man Omer Yurtseven. In eight ACC games, the young Turk has logged a 27.9 PER with a 62.1 percent eFG rate. In his last three games, Yurtseven is averaging 22.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per outing. Against a relatively inexperienced North Carolina frontcourt, look for Yurtseven to have another big game in one that could be closer than many think.
  • Virginia (#3) at Duke (#4). This might be the pre-Championship Week game of the year in college basketball. The best offensive team in the country will host the best defensive team in the country at (arguably) the toughest place to play in the entire sport. Giddy up. While there are countless individual match-ups worth watching, it’s impossible not to get excited about Marvin Bagley III facing off with his biggest challenge this season, Isaiah Wilkins. Wilkins, who should be a lock for ACC Defensive Player of the Year, leads the country in Defensive Win Shares (2.1) and is putting up an insane 77.2 Defensive Rating, second best in the country behind only Cincinnati’s Gary Clark. His versatility will allow him to follow Bagley out to the perimeter as well as defend him on the blocks. Meanwhile, Bagley’s 2.9 Offensive Win Shares are good for sixth in the nation as he converts over 60 percent of his shots from the field. Can we tip this one off now?

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ACC Stock Report: Volume IV

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 23rd, 2018

By week’s end, the conference slate will be at the halfway point for the majority of the league. And with that milepost will come some clarity, as unbeaten Virginia, which sits alone atop the ACC standings, is facing its toughest week to date. The Cavaliers’ difficult stretch commences tonight with a home tilt against Clemson and culminates with a trip to preseason favorite Duke on Saturday. Virginia’s modus operandi is painstakingly familiar, with an elite defense bogging down the opposition at a far stingier clip than any of Tony Bennett‘s previous teams in Charlottesville. Syracuse’s 61-point outburst against the Cavaliers two weeks ago represents the most points Virginia has allowed since its only loss, a seven-point road defeat to West Virginia coming at the beginning of December. Virginia’s style of play isn’t for everyone, but it is a pleasant reminder that the only numbers that truly matter in the era of advanced metrics are the ones on the scoreboard when the clock reads zero. Credit Bennett’s team for already knocking out three ACC road wins so far this year.

Virginia Basketball Does Not Go Away Quietly (USA Today Images)

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Part of my reticence in buying into Virginia this season has been assuaged recently by the development of burgeoning prospect De’Andre Hunter. Just one short season ago, I scoffed at the love the computer rankings showed to the Cavaliers in large part because I couldn’t find a difference-maker on the roster in the mold of Mike Scott, Joe Harris, Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon. That same critique fostered my negativity on Virginia heading into this season. But Hunter is a game-changer. The redshirt freshman is undoubtedly still raw, but his athletic potential and certain skill development under the tutelage of Bennett should make him a contributor on an NBA roster in the near future. After going scoreless in his first career ACC game, Hunter has posted double-figures in five of his last six outings while converting at a 59 percent clip. While the senior leadership of Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins along with the sharpshooting of Kyle Guy have represented the foundation for this team, it is a player like Hunter who can be carry Bennett through to his first Final Four. If Virginia can navigate the perilous waters that await this week, then it’ll be time to eat my crow and jump aboard the crowded Wahoos bandwagon.

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ACC Weekend Preview: January 20-21

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 19th, 2018

The slate admittedly feels a little light this weekend around the ACC, but that is usually when chaos reigns. We’ll take a look at a monster game in Blacksburg and the team at the top of the ACC standings trying to win its second road contest in a row.

Saturday, January 20

Can the Close Game Maestro Keep It Going?(USA Today Images)

Florida State (#27) at Virginia Tech (#49). This is exactly the kind of game Virginia Tech needs to win if it realistically wants to make the NCAA Tournament this season. The Hokies’ best win so far this year is… Washington? At Ole Miss? At Wake Forest? There is basically nothing very compelling on a resume that also includes a neutral court loss to Saint Louis (#170). The key for Buzz Williams’ team in this game is for the Hokies to find their shooting stroke from three-point range. It was their identity earlier this season, but they are making just 31.3 percent from long distance through five ACC games. No player has seen their shooting plummet more than senior Justin Bibbs. The normally sweet-stroked southpaw has never shot worse than 41 percent from distance during his career, but he stands at just 23.1 percent in ACC play so far this season.

Notre Dame (#25) at Clemson (#13). The Irish have now dropped three straight games, including a brutal, double-overtime home loss to Louisville on Tuesday night. While the team is still without the services of star forward Bonzie Colson, they did get point guard Matt Farrell back in the lineup on Tuesday. If the Irish are going to rally through the rest of the ACC schedule without Colson, Farrell has to be the star for Mike Brey‘s team. This weekend he will match up with another star guard who doesn’t get enough recognition for his excellent play: Clemson’s Marcquise Reed. The junior is shooting nearly 41 percent from three-point range this season and 86 percent from the line. He was excellent in the Tigers’ recent close loss at North Carolina, scoring 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-6 threes. With both teams playing excellent defense throughout, the gunning guard that gets hot down the stretch could decide this game.

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Can Virginia Duplicate the Success of Its 2015-16 Squad?

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 23rd, 2017

It’s still early in the season, but the initial returns are all positive on Virginia this year. Certainly home wins over UNC-Greensboro, Austin Peay and Monmouth are nothing to boast about, but a road win at VCU is typically a nice resume booster. There are, however, some revealing similarities to a recent group of Cavaliers that should make the good people of Charlottesville smile. The 2015-16 Elite Eight team that featured Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill started in much the same way. Early comparisons between the two teams seem fair.

A lot to potentially smile about for Tony Bennett and Virginia this season. (Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports)

We know that Tony Bennett teams live and die by their defense. In the first four games of this season, the Cavaliers are allowing their opponents to shoot just 37.5 percent from the field. Through four games of the 2015-16 season, Virginia held its opponents to 37.4 percent shooting. This year’s team relies more on steals (8.3 vs. 5.0 SPG) and blocks (3.8 vs 2.5 BPG) than those Cavaliers, thanks to a starting front line (Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt) that is a stronger defensive unit than Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey. Bennett has also been adamant that his team get to the line more often. The 2015-16 team attempted 67 free throws in the first four games of the year; this year’s group has notched 74 attempts. That team had a deep backcourt, so when London Perrantes or Brogdon went to the bench, Bennett could turn to Darius Thompson, Marial Shayok or a young Devon Hall. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Preview: November 17-19

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 17th, 2017

While most of the big tests for ACC teams begin next week, there are still some intriguing match-ups on the schedule this weekend. Here are the key games that will act as your appetizers before the main course of Feast Week starting in earnest on Monday. (all ratings are via KenPom as of Thursday night):

Friday, November 17

Virginia Travels to Richmond for a Tough Intrastate Battle Today (USA Today Images)

  • Virginia at VCU (#89): Don’t forget about this Friday afternoon tip-off in Richmond. Expect the Siegel Center to be rocking. The raucous atmosphere mixed with VCU’s signature defense will be a nice test for a young Virginia team, especially point guard Ty Jerome. He holds a 23.5 percent turnover rate through two games and will need to be extra careful handling the ball against pressure. Isaiah Wilkins is one of the top defenders in the country, but he’ll need to be at his best to slow down VCU’s Justin Tillman. The 6’7” Tillman (20.5 PPG, 78.3% eFG) has been dominant in the Rams’ first two games of the season.

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ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Cavaliers

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 1st, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: How Will Virginia Fill the Big Shoes of London Perrantes?

Over his four seasons in Charlottesville, London Perrantes was a massive part of Virginia‘s 112 wins and four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. Since taking the reins of the offense as a freshman, the 6’2″ point guard was a calm and steadying influence during a four-year career that resulted in a pair of ACC championships. There will be a changing of the guard this season as head coach Tony Bennett needs to now rely upon pair of sophomores who showed flashes of brilliance last season. The first of those players is sophomore guard Ty Jerome, who recorded a 60.5 percent effective field goal percentage last year and took over the game at Villanova down the stretch before the Cavaliers lost on a last-second tip-in. Jerome injured his foot over the summer and missed Virginia’s preseason scrimmage as a result, but he is expected to be ready to go for the regular season opener against UNC-Greensboro next week. If Jerome misses any time, look for Rutgers graduate transfer Nigel Johnson to step into the starting point guard role. With a quick first step and a proven ability to find open looks, Johnson could be a key spark plug to provide offense when needed.

Sans man-bun, can sophomore Kyle Guy become the scorer Virginia needs? (USA TODAY Sports)

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With Austin Nichols Gone at Virginia, Who Takes His Place?

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 18th, 2016

Earlier this evening, Virginia made a shocking announcement that not only affects the outlook of the Cavaliers season, but that of the entire ACC. Forward Austin Nichols, who sat out last season after transferring from Memphis, has been dismissed from the program. In the announcement, Tony Bennett said, “It’s a privilege to be a part of this program and Austin has lost that privilege. We have standards for our student-athletes and when those standards aren’t met, there are consequences and this is the unfortunate consequence.”

Despite some issues at Memphis, Nichols had (apparently) been a model citizen in Charlottesville during the 2015-16 season while he was practicing with the team. It was a bit of an eyebrow raiser when Nichols was suspended for Virginia’s first game of this year, and there were a few questions asked when he came off the bench in the Cavaliers’ second contest against St. Francis (Brooklyn). Still, nobody expected this to be the next act in this saga.

When Anthony Gill graduated following last season, most in the Virginia program weren’t worried thanks to the presence of Nichols. They felt Nichols could replace Gill by stepping right into the role of an effective scorer on the low block and an elite shot blocker on the defensive end of the floor.

Isaiah Wilkins is one of several Cavaliers who will need to step up in the absence of Austin Nichols. (AP Photo/Ryan M. Kelly)

No one player on the roster can solely take over for Nichols so it will take a committee. On the offensive end, Isaiah Wilkins will be asked to be more of a volume scorer. Through two games, Wilkins is shooting 62.5% from the field, and he will now have to be the go-to scorer in the Virginia frontcourt, a role he has never played before. He is much more of an inside-out scorer than a typical back-to-the-basket player, however. That role will likely go to Jarred Reuter, who played sparingly last year but is a favorite of Tony Bennett thanks to his creative back-to-the-basket play. He has averaged 17 minutes per game in the Cavaliers first two contests, and you can expect that to rise in the coming games. Finally, they will need to replace Nichols on the defensive end, which will fall to Jack Salt and Mamadi Diakite. Both Salt and Diakite are quite raw with Salt playing limited minutes last season and Diakite redshirting, but both can be effective defenders. Salt is a bruiser at 6’10” and 240 pounds and can be a load to try to keep off the boards. Diakite is smaller at 6’9” and 195 pounds, but Bennett loves his athleticism. He should end up being an excellent shot blocker, but it remains to be seen how he will handle the physicality of the ACC.

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