ACC M5: 02.26.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 26th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Orlando Sentinel: Let’s start with our game of the night. Florida State almost came back to knock Miami right out of any NCAA Tournament talk thanks to Xavier Rathan-Mayes turning into a video game character for four minutes. Rathan-Mayes scored 26 points in just 3:36 of action (h/t to Michael Rogner). I’m calling it right now: We’re seeing a serious shakeup in the ACC next year. I think Florida State and NC State are both going to be really, really good. Duke needs Tyus Jones to return and Virginia needs Justin Anderson to do the same. North Carolina will be good with most of its players returning, but the Heels desperately need a shooter. Notre Dame and Louisville will both take steps backwards. That leaves plenty of room for a team or two to jump in from the periphery.
  2. SBNation: In our other game of the night, Duke managed to stave off Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Duke’s defense looks awful (if you had the Hokies putting up an offensive efficiency of over 130.0 — easily the worst Duke has given up this year — please take your lies elsewhere), and while Jahlil Okafor will get the press (and his 30 points that easily could’ve been 35 if he had made some free throws), Quinn Cook is what kept Duke from being blown out of the gym. The Hokies couldn’t miss a three but Cook answered every volley with a shot of his own (including a dagger in overtime). This game highlighted the weird conundrum that is Duke this year: When they’re on, they can beat anyone (and badly); but when the Blue Devils’ defense is struggling, they’re quite average. Nick Fasulo does a good job pointing out how overlooked Cook has been this year, as he’s quietly been one of the most efficient players in the country. His usage doesn’t merit a first team All-ACC selection, but Cook deserves more credit for this team’s success.
  3. Washington Post: Moving on to a less competitive game, Wake Forest forgot to show up against an undermanned Virginia team in Winston-Salem last night. It looked like Tony Bennett’s squad was out for blood (the Demon Deacons should have bested the Cavaliers in Charlottesville a couple of weeks ago), and this is a good story on Virginia’s eraser in the paint, senior Darion Atkins. He’s a huge reason why the Cavaliers’ defense is still one of the best in the country even after losing Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris. He’s also a quiet part of why Virginia hasn’t fallen off too much in Justin Anderson’s absence.
  4. CBSSports.com: Sam Vecenie took a look at the ACC Player of the Year race, and it’s pretty amazing. You have the National Player of the Year candidates (Jahlil Okafor and Jerian Grant); the stat machines without the accompanying team success to make the national spotlight (Olivier Hanlan and Rakeem Christmas); and you have the awesome players who struggle because a teammate is so good (Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson; Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell). That doesn’t even get us to guys like Trevor Lacey or Tyus Jones who have been unreal in the clutch this year. Pretty awesome problem to have.
  5. Louisville Courier-Journal: As we approach bracket season, it’s important to not only think about the bubble but also how personnel losses will affect teams’ seeds. It’s unlikely that Rasheed Sulaimon’s dismissal will have any bearing on Duke’s line (the Blue Devils are undefeated with wins over Virginia and North Carolina since he was dismissed), but Louisville without Chris Jones is another story. This is a really thorough look at Louisville’s current profile (along with some explanations of the bracketing rules).

EXTRA (via Will Brinson): Abdul-Malik Abu promised two of the Chapel Hill shooting victims that NC State would beat Duke and North Carolina this year (as a wedding present), and with the win over teh Heels he made good on the gift.

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ACC M5: 02.16.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 16th, 2015

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  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Andrew Carter is on the train that we need to speed up college basketball. He thinks that the shot clock should be shortened, which would increase the number of possessions. In close games, the shorter shot clock would also give the losing team a better shot at a comeback. I think you’d see a slight dip in offensive efficiency, but a lot of slower teams don’t really get into their offense for the first 10 to 15 seconds anyway. That said, I’m not sure this rule change fixes the game. Something like that needs a major overhaul (shorter shot clocks; different standards for a foul; fewer timeouts). But if nothing else, I’d like to see the ACC get back to its vintage run-and-gun days of recent yore.
  2. Washington Post: Virginia‘s three-point shooting has been atrocious since losing Justin Anderson, one of the best shooters in the ACC. And after a way-too-close call on Saturday against Wake Forest at home, the Cavaliers need to get back to basics. A dirty little secret this year is that Virginia’s offense has been as efficient as its defense. Now the Cavaliers have to find a way to make do without their best and most versatile player. I’ve said this before, but assuming Anderson comes back healthy, this could end up making the team stronger and safer (not that the pack-line lends itself to players fouling out).
  3. The State: Clemson is a weird team this year. The Tigers are probably not good enough to make the NCAA Tournament, but they’re a really tough team to beat. They have a shockingly good conference record thanks to a couple of wins over fellow bubblers. Brad Brownell made a good point that his team is in a position to better its record because they have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. That should worry a team like Duke or Notre Dame, both of whom have to get past the Tigers (albeit at home). But it should really worry NC State. Right now Clemson isn’t good enough to count as a good win, but it sure can hurt resume for the Big Dance.
  4. Chicago Sun-Times: So Jahlil Okafor loves Duke. He’s. Not. Going. To. Stay. It seems like this story gets written every year about top picks. It was written last year about Jabari Parker. Of course if you ask midseason players will say they want to stay. Most really like college, and they love their teammates. But that doesn’t mean they will (or should) turn down a multi-million dollar salary and a year of their professional career. Barring something crazy happening at the end of the season, Okafor should and probably will go pro. End of story.
  5. Fayetteville Observer: Put your tin foil hats on everyone! Kevin White, Duke’s athletic director, was just chosen to serve on the Selection Committee. No matter how many times a media member goes through the mock selection process, fans don’t trust the real thing to live up to the same standards (and probably won’t while it remains so opaque). Appointing White probably won’t help.
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Justise Winslow’s Recent Play Has Duke Surging Again

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 11th, 2015

Like many talented freshmen, Duke forward Justise Winslow has experienced some ups and downs in his rookie campaign. He started the year with a flurry of impressive games, scoring at least 14 points in each of the first five games of the season. After that came a less productive three-game stretch in which Winslow scored seven points or fewer each time out. Things then seemed to level off going into January, as he started ACC play strong before hitting the freshman wall and the entering a mini-slump. It now appears that slump is over, as Winslow has returned to playing well and aggressively, giving the Blue Devils a much-needed boost on both ends of the floor.

Justise Winslow attacks the basket in Duke's blowout win over Notre Dame. (Photo: Bernard Thomas / The Herald-Sun)

Winslow attacks the basket in Duke’s blowout win over Notre Dame. (Bernard Thomas/The Herald-Sun)

In last Saturday’s 90-60 rout over Notre Dame, Winslow was often the best player on the floor. Duke’s 81 percent shooting was the story of the first half — including a sizzling 7-of-8 performance from three — and Jahlil Okafor was the story of the second half, as the star big man finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Winslow, however, was consistently good all afternoon, scoring 19 points, grabbing 11 boards, and recording two blocks — one of which was quite impressive. Mike Krzyzewski is both aware and appreciative of the recently improved play of his third star rookie, who has now recorded double-figure rebounds in three of his last four outings. In the postgame, Krzyzewski said, “Justise [Winslow] has just played so well. He has really learned to play through his injuries. That’s the sign of a guy [who is] really growing up and becoming an outstanding player. You’ve got to play a little bit sore without talking about it and that is what he is doing.”

Monday night’s game at Florida State was not nearly as productive for Winslow, but he still found ways to help his team hang on for a tough road ACC win. After missing his first five field goal attempts, he hit an important three with just under seven minutes left to give the Blue Devils some breathing room. He also got to the foul line frequently, where he made 7-of-10 attempts that resulted in double-figure points for the fifth straight contest. The chart below shows just how dramatically different Winslow’s production has been before, during, and after hitting the “wall” in conference play.

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ACC M5: 02.10.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 10th, 2015

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  1. Grantland and Daily Tar Heel: Here are the last two Dean Smith tributes (for now). Grantland‘s Charles Pierce discusses his personal memory of Smith, putting it in the context of his own life and Smith’s career. The North Carolina student newspaper also did a great job eulogizing the longtime head coach.
  2. Bleacher Report: This is a terrific profile of Wake Forest’s Danny Manning from B/R’s Jason King. My favorite part is the anecdote about how he’s been trying to get Devin Thomas to be less volatile. According to Thomas, Manning has the team hack Thomas in practice every time he gets the ball and makes him run laps if he loses his cool. Manning also likes to keep things low key, going to extreme lengths to keep his team focused. I worry that this strategy will get old quickly for boosters if Wake Forest doesn’t improve quickly enough, but if Manning gets super-recruit Harry Giles on campus, I’m not sure anyone in Winston-Salem will care that he expects the bus to be quiet. And I also expect that the Demon Deacons will improve.
  3. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: This is a really interesting idea: Instead of banning the Syracuse team from the postseason, ban Jim Boeheim. After all, the incidents in question didn’t occur this year nor did they involve any of the players currently on the roster. But they did happen under Boeheim’s watch. I hate postseason bans (except in the most extreme circumstances, not for infractions that happened seven years ago), but banning Boeheim from the program without pay it would hit him where it hurts. It would also send a clear message that the NCAA isn’t blaming the players for these transgressions; rather, the coaches who were responsible. Many people would no doubt welcome such a penalty.
  4. Fayetteville Observer: Jahlil Okafor‘s hands are bigger than Elton Brand’s (at least as measured from the palm to the tip of the middle finger). That’s crazy. There are only six players in the DraftExpress database of the last six years who can match his hand-width, which explains why Duke lets him survey the floor while holding the ball in one hand. Well, that and he’s also one of the front-runners for National Player of the Year.
  5. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: This is a cool story on Georgia Tech assistant Tom Herrion and his work with Autism Speaks. Herrion and his friend Pat Skerry are the ones behind the puzzle piece pins you’ve been seeing on coaches throughout the country recently. Good on them for bringing awareness.
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ACC Stock Watch: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on February 6th, 2015

Another week, another slate of terrific basketball from the ACC. While some teams seemingly riding high got a dose of reality this week (hello Virginia and Notre Dame), others showed their ability to overcome adversity (Duke), while others flew under the radar entirely (Clemson). This is this week’s ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Duke. The Blue Devils showed the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon was not going to be a distraction for them, as they went into John Paul Jones Arena Saturday and knocked off previously unbeaten Virginia. Avoiding a letdown after that big win in knocking off Georgia Tech at home was nice to see from such a young squad, too.
  • Louisville. The Cardinals had an impressive week, exacting revenge on North Carolina in an impressive comeback fashion at home and emerging victorious from a road trip at Miami. The offense is coming around, making Rick Pitino’s team look as if it may be peaking at the right time.
  • Clemson. How many casual ACC fans realize that the Tigers have reeled off four straight wins? Their demolition of NC State in Raleigh was particularly impressive on January 28th, but taking care of two teams they should defeat in Boston College and Florida State this week showed the team is still battling for a ticket to the Dance for Brad Brownell.
Sidy Djitte and Clemson smothered NC State on their way to another solid week (AP Sports)

Sidy Djitte and Clemson are riding a four-game winning streak in the ACC. (AP)

  • Wake Forest. Danny Manning’s team, so close in so many defeats this year, had a nice week in dispatching of Virginia Tech and defeating a talented (but hard-to-figure out) NC State team. More importantly than that is that the Demon Deacons may be regaining some of the home-court edge they lost during Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure.
  • Terry Rozier, Louisville. Rozier has four straight 20-point games, but his matching 22-point performances this week were huge for Louisville in overcoming the Tar Heels in overtime and winning the tough road test against the Hurricanes. He and Chris Jones continue to make life easier for Montrezl Harrell down low, and some argue Rozier is the Cardinals’ most dangerous offensive threat.
  • Justise Winslow, Duke. Whether or not it was accurate that Winslow was hitting the “freshman wall,” he broke out of it in fine fashion this week. With Jahlil Okafor hounded by Virginia’s double teams, Winslow willed the Blue Devils to victory with a 15-point, 11-rebound performance. He matched that effort with another stat-stuffer against the Yellow Jackets: 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals. Some believe he’s the key cog in the Duke machine going forward.

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ACC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 30th, 2015

This week was an eye-opening one for ACC teams, with several marquee match-ups that shed greater light on the haves and have-nots of the conference race. Now moving into February, the teams with staying power are starting to emerge and those that are disappointing are showing their true colors as well. This is this week’s ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish keep beating good teams and are a stellar 8-1 in ACC play at the turn. They withstood a 10-point deficit from Duke on Wednesday night and never lost their composure. This is starting to look like a team that has major potential come NCAA Tournament time.
  • North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ six-game winning streak has put them in the thick of the conference race through four weeks. Marcus Paige seems to have regained some of his missing star power, and some timely shots falling for Justin Jackson and Nate Britt make the team more dangerous from the perimeter. Don’t forget Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are expected to return before year’s end, too.
  • Virginia Tech. Hokies’ fans had been waiting to see some early returns on Buzz Williams’ hiring, and this may have been the week they got a glimpse of what he’s building. Virginia Tech nearly knocked off undefeated Virginia last weekend before bowing out by just three points, then procured an overtime win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday for Williams’ first ACC win. Progress, people.
Adam Smith's game-winning three in OT gave Virginia Tech its first ACC win under Buzz Williams (USATodaySports)

Adam Smith’s (far left) game-winning three in OT gave Virginia Tech its first ACC win under Buzz Williams and reason for hope in the future (USATodaySports)

  • Nate Britt, North Carolina. After learning of the emotional state Britt was in prior to North Carolina’s ESPN Big Monday match-up with Syracuse, his performance became that much more admirable. Britt set a career high with 17 points, but perhaps more importantly for Roy Williams’ team was his 4-of-5 shooting from three. Could he finally be the long-range complement to Paige the Tar Heels desperately need?
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. No need to talk too much about how outstanding Grant’s season has been as the national media has that pretty well covered, but anyone who watched his performance live against Duke had to be amazed. He was the best player on the court in that game (yes, including Jahlil Okafor) en route to a stat line of 23 points, six rebounds, 12 assists, three steals and two blocks. Yes, he’s for real.
  • Louisville’s Backcourt. The much-maligned Cardinals’ offense has shown signs of life, largely because of the clearly improved shooting of their guards. Terry Rozier and Chris Jones had an especially dominant week in wins over Pittsburgh and Boston College on the road; combined, they scored 94 points in the two contests on 65 percent shooting from the field and 67 percent from three.

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Rasheed Sulaimon’s Dismissal is Shocking For Several Reasons

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 30th, 2015

Yesterday’s news that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had dismissed junior Rasheed Sulaimon from the team came as a shock on a multitude of levels. First, Krzyzewski had never dismissed a player from the program during his entire tenure in Durham. Second, the Blue Devils had just played the night before, a hard-fought loss to an excellent Notre Dame team in which Sulaimon played 12 minutes off the bench, with a trip to undefeated Virginia on the docket Saturday. Third, it capped a remarkable fall from grace for the once-promising Sulaimon that no one outside of the program saw coming.

Sulaimon's (left) ouster qualified as shocking news and further depleted a now-thin Blue Devils roster (USAToday)

Sulaimon’s (left) ouster qualified as shocking news and further depleted a now-thin Blue Devils roster (USAToday)

Reports have surfaced suggesting that the decision to dismiss Sulaimon was a culmination of a multitude of events and that last season’s benching when the Blue Devils battled Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge should serve as a starting point. Sulaimon was benched for simply not doing what was asked of him in that instance, but body language has always been an issue for the Houston native as well. He often pouted on the court when whistled for fouls and has at times been seen restraining himself from celebrating his teammates on the bench. Still, because Sulaimon had never been otherwise suspended or even publicly chastised by Krzyzewski, it’s reasonable to wonder what happened in the aftermath of Wednesday’s loss in South Bend to make life without Sulaimon a necessity.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Notre Dame 77, #4 Duke 73

Posted by Walker Carey on January 29th, 2015

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Duke and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Jerian Grant proved that he is one of the best players in the country. The senior guard turned in an amazing performance on Wednesday night, finishing the game with game-highs in both points (23) and assists (12). His dozen assists also set a new career-high. None of those assists were more important than the one he threw to sophomore guard Steve Vasturia for an open three to put the Irish up by four with 22 seconds to play. Points and assists were not the only categories where Grant excelled, though, as he showcased his durability by playing all 40 minutes and picking up six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. Notre Dame is now 20-2 on the season and 8-1 in ACC play, and the biggest reason for the team’s incredible start to the 2014-15 campaign has been the All-America play of the team’s senior leader. The Irish now expect to be an ACC contender for the rest of the season, and if Grant can continue his play at such a high level, that expectation will become a reality.
  2. This was an incredible college basketball game. There has been talk this season about how college basketball has been a bit unwatchable, but that was absolutely not the case on Wednesday night as Notre Dame and Duke completed one of the most entertaining games of the regular season. Swings in momentum came fast and furious. For example: Notre Dame led by seven at the 9:01 mark of the first half before Duke went on a big run to take a three-point lead into the half; Duke then led by 10 at the 10:58 mark of the second half before being outscored 22-8 the rest of the way. Another reason why Wednesday’s battle in South Bend was so entertaining was that two of the best players in college basketball turned in star performances. Jerian Grant’s stat-stuffing game was mentioned above and Duke freshman big man Jahlil Okafor also turned in a performance that has practically become the norm for him during his first year in Durham. The freshman finished the game with 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting to go along with a game-high 17 rebounds. Sure, there are some nights where college basketball doesn’t put its best foot forward, but Wednesday night at Notre Dame, those nights seemed very distant. Read the rest of this entry »
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Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison Defines Throwback Guard

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 21st, 2015

If you spend enough time mining websites like KenPom.com and Hoop-Math.com for statistical oddities, you are bound to find some numbers that just don’t jibe with your understanding of college basketball and its players. For example, the season that Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison is having isn’t just at odds with everyone’s understanding of what makes for an effective shooting guard, it is nearly unbelievable. If the season were to end today, there is little doubt that Harrison would be a first team all-AAC performer. The junior has been the best player on the only undefeated team in conference play and he is probably in the mix for conference Player of the Year honors as well. He is fourth in the conference in scoring (15.4 PPG), eighth in assists (3.3 APG), second in steals (1.8 SPG), and he is shooting 48.9 percent from the floor — combining for a solid Offensive Rating of 108.9. Amid all of those impressive numbers, it is his shooting percentage that deserves the most attention because Harrison has done it without the benefit of a serviceable jump shot.

Shaquille Harrison Has Been One Of The Best Offensive Players In The AAC Without Being Able To Shoot

Harrison Is One Of The Best Offensive Players In The AAC, Only He Can’t Shoot. (James Gibbard/Tulsa World)

In his first two seasons with the Golden Hurricane, Harrison was a volume scorer who occasionally filled up the box score. This season, however, he has transformed into a much more efficient offensive player without changing his style of play, which is noteworthy because he doesn’t play like a stereotypical two-guard. Frank Haith said it best after Harrison contributed 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting  in a an early January win over Houston. “He is so good off the dribble. Everyone plays him the same way, they play him for the drive,” the head coach said. “And he still drives it.” Coaches are prone to exaggeration but in this case Haith might be downplaying just how often Harrison “drives it.” Consider this comparison: According to Hoop-Math, 67.4 percent of Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor’s shot attempts come at the rim. This makes great sense because Okafor is a 6’10” athletic marvel who is probably the best big man in college basketball. Harrison, on the other hand, is a lanky 6’4″ combo guard who typically would be jacking three-pointers, but instead takes a whopping 68.2 percent of his shots at the rim. Let that sink in for a second. A combo guard from a perimeter-oriented team is taking more shots at the rim than one of the best offensive big men in recent college basketball history. It’s certainly not what a modern combo guard’s shot distribution is supposed to look like, but what’s especially crazy is that the strategy is working very well for Harrison and his team. Read the rest of this entry »

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Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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ACC M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 16th, 2015

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  1. The State: There’s nothing I hate more than entirely dismissing something on the basis of minor issues instead of its inherent merit. A South Carolina state senator named Marlon Kimpson proposed giving athletes in revenue sports a piece of the pie. Now, the way Title IX is currently written, that would be a violation of federal law, but that’s not to say Kimpson’s plan isn’t worthy of discussion. Alas, that’s essentially all Ron Morris used here in brushing off the proposal (well, that and South Carolina’s athletic department profit margin, which doesn’t mean anything unless you see how it was calculated). I’m for full cost of attendance scholarships in all sports and for requiring schools to provide the same number of scholarships to women as men. But there’s no denying that basketball and football players are undercompensated for their work — especially at the top schools. I would go a step further than Kimpson, though. I would allow schools to give any athlete a certain yearly salary up to a certain limit (say, $50,000) in addition to their scholarship (and only students with scholarships could be compensated). Student-athletes deserve a piece of the pie. End of story.
  2. NBC Sports: Great article by Rob Dauster on Duke‘s defensive woes. Jahlil Okafor is really uncomfortable away from the basket, which makes the Duke defense vulnerable on ball screens. Furthermore, defending high-major players isn’t something he (or anyone) can learn immediately. I expect Duke to either start experimenting with a lot more zone (especially if teams have really dynamic guards) or switching everything like they did against Wisconsin. Zone won’t ever be a permanent fix for this squad, but it would allow Okafor to stay in his comfort zone near the basket. More on Duke’s struggles later today.
  3. Sporting News: Mike DeCourcy wrote a nice piece on Jamie Dixon hitting 300 wins at Pittsburgh. And while it’s true Dixon has had a lot of success with the Panthers, that doesn’t make recent criticisms about his program unfair (think of a less extreme case of Seth Greenberg). I still think Dixon is the man for the job. He recruits to a school that doesn’t have a long history of being a powerhouse, and has had some really good teams over the years (and nearly always takes the Panthers to the Big Dance). But that doesn’t mean he’s an obvious Hall of Famer either. And it also doesn’t mean that his win total isn’t propped up by a ton of marginal (at best) non-conference schedules.
  4. Syracuse Post-Standard (and here): Here are a couple of interesting articles on Syracuse, both headlined with questions. The answer to the first question (Should we worry about Syracuse?) is a resounding yes. This team is 4-0 but has eked out a bunch of close games against middling ACC teams. That’s not a recipe for success in the latter half of conference play when the contenders start showing up. The other article points out that Chris McCullough may not return until next season because of his injury, which would mean good things for Syracuse’s depth then (though would potentially bring up scholarship questions) but could be problematic this year.
  5. Miami Herald: Cool anecdote here from Jim Larranaga on using butterflies to get his team excited and play together. The more you read about this guy, the more likable he becomes (he probably also has the best sense of humor of any ACC coach). Borrowing from a Native American legend that says butterflies stay in groups en route to a shared destination, Larranaga gave the team butterflies of their own, which they released together. It sounds like something he’s been doing for a long time (at least since he was at George Mason), but this is my first time hearing about it.

EXTRA: In a weird nugget, the PNC Center clock operator tried to help NC State‘s comeback last weekend, as time stopped for 15 seconds with a little over a minute to play in the Wolfpack’s eventual loss to North Carolina. Imagine how big a controversy this would have become had the Wolfpack ended up getting that late tip-in and winning the game in overtime.

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ACC M5: 01.13.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 13th, 2015

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  1. Syracuse.com: The Orange received crushing news yesterday that freshman Chris McCullough will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. While his season had been inconsistent to this point, there’s no denying that this is a huge loss for Jim Boeheim’s team. His potential has been well-documented and he’s shown flashes of what he’s capable of at times this season. Perhaps the biggest development from this news, however, is how much his loss further depletes Syracuse’s depth. Syracuse may be the rare ACC team with an easier start to the conference slate, but its overall chance of a promising season took a big blow with this injury.
  2. ESPN.com: North Carolina’s thrilling victory over Louisville on Saturday had to do wonders for the team’s confidence, and more importantly, may have finally given the Tar Heels the early signature win they needed. One of the more interesting items from this article, though, is that Marcus Paige has been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot for several weeks. This could help shed some light on the reason for his inauspicious start to the season, and also lend some credence to how impressive his heroic second half against the Cardinals really was.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: NC State’s pummeling of Duke on Sunday is one of the biggest headlines of the young ACC season to date, but what the Wolfpack accomplished in the paint may be the real storyline here. While it has been Mark Gottfried’s perimeter players who have gotten most of the corresponding attention, Kyle Washington and BeeJay Anya were the keys to the big upset win. NC State’s post players’ abilities to hold their own against Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow bode very well for the Wolfpack as the season progresses. This is a team that has been on a roll since conference play started, and it looks to continue its hot start in another rivalry match-up with North Carolina on Wednesday.
  4. Streaking The Lawn: A suddenly vulnerable-looking Kentucky team is no longer a unanimous No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, as Virginia wrested two votes from the Wildcats in this week’s rankings following its big win at Notre Dame over the weekend. The Cavaliers appear to be a legitimate title contender and threat to capture the ACC crown despite all the preseason hype about Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville. According to KenPom, Virginia is the only team in the country ranked among the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (sixth-best offense; fourth-best defense).
  5. ESPN.com: Duke’s loss to NC State could be attributed to a number of different things — namely defensive lapses and poor three-point shooting — but C.L. Brown keeps it simple: They’re led by freshmen. Despite Okafor’s big game, there were many signs that the youngsters leading this Blue Devils’ team still have much to learn about life in the ACC. Point guard Tyus Jones has not contributed nearly the gaudy numbers he posted prior to conference play, and Okafor and Winslow did little to slow the Wolfpack’s frontcourt (with Winslow eventually fouling out). It’s probably a good time for everyone to remind themselves that they’re watching a Duke team that hasn’t started three freshmen since 1983 for a reason.
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