Posted by Matt Patton (@rise_and_fire) on November 4th, 2013
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: I’m no expert, but it certainly sounds like Jamie Dixon spends some time on KenPom.com. That may also explain his ability to crack the offensive efficiency code. The one constant among Dixon’s teams at Pittsburgh the last 10 seasons is that of good offensive rebounding. The Panthers always crash the glass hard, which makes up for less-than-stellar three-point shooting and an occasionally porous defense. Interestingly, Dixon’s teams have generally scored over 70 points per game. Three of the last four haven’t, but there are plenty of examples of high scoring Panther teams in the last decade of basketball.
The State: Clemson isn’t an easy job to begin with — just ask Rick Barnes — and ACC expansion didn’t make it any easier. Clemson has a storied football program, and basketball has always taken a backseat to the gridiron. Luckily for Brad Brownell, the Clemson athletic department appears to be moving forward with its plans to renovate Littlejohn Coliseum. Unfortunately, that infrastructure commitment doesn’t add experience or talent to his young roster. Brownell is a very good Xs-and-Os coach, and I think he’s gotten the most out of his teams during his tenure, but if he doesn’t start attracting more talent, his seat on a renovated sideline bench will start getting warm.
Washington Post: I’m betting James Johnson knows Brownell’s pain. Thanks to a late personnel decision by the Virginia Tech athletic department, Johnson started well behind his ACC coaching brethren. Johnson lifts weights, runs and plays (concussion-inducing) games of racquetball to keep himself focused. Virginia Tech is going to be bad again this season, and to make matters worse, Johnson will have to watch budding star and former commitment Montrezl Harrell at Louisville and former player Dorian Finney-Smith at Florida. When all is said and done, both of those guys will play in the NCAA Tournament while Virginia Tech and Johnson will not. But rebuilding takes time.
Fox Sports: North Carolina’s NCAA issues forced the Tar Heels to play some bizarre lineups in its exhibition against UNC-Pembroke last week. However, my guess is that Roy Williams isn’t too upset, as it’s still very clear that he’s trying to figure out who to put at the five spot. With frosh Kennedy Meeks joining sophomores Joel James and Brice Johnson, it’s not a matter of a lack of height or manpower. Those three all have a long way to go. They aren’t the polished Sean Mays, Tyler Hansbroughs or even Tyler Zellers of old North Carolina teams. Williams needs at least one of the group to step up to avoid having to play “small ball” again this season with James Michael McAdoo playing away from his natural position.
Fayetteville Observer: Here is one player per team who probably isn’t a household name but hold’s the key to his team’s success. The two I’ll plug the hardest here are Devon Bookert – the sophomore point guard from Florida State — and Mike Tobey – Virginia’s skilled sophomore big man. Bookert had a sneaky good freshman campaign last year that got lost in his team’s mediocre finish and Michael Snaer’s heroics. Tobey also flew under the radar thanks to Akil Mitchell’s breakout season and Joe Harris transforming into one of the best players in the league. Here’s the difference: Bookert gives Florida State the chance to be OK; Tobey gives the Cavaliers the chance to be great.
It’s difficult to argue that a coach with the eventual Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year on his roster was dealt a difficult hand, but that’s exactly what James Johnson was given in his first season at Virginia Tech last year. Johnson’s team, following the dismissal of long-tenured coach Seth Greenberg, operated most of the season with only eight scholarship players (and at times as few as six), making it difficult for the Hokies to employ his favored full-court pressure and trapping defenses. It also made for a very taxing season on his players overall, with very little depth to turn to and no consistent offense outside of the POY award-winning Erick Green. Green has departed for the greener pastures of the NBA, which leaves the Hokies in a transitional year as Johnson attempts to mold the team in his image in his second term.
Virginia Tech didn’t lose much outside of Green (their only other significant departure was the transfer of guard Robert Brown to UAB), but as stated above, the team certainly stood to gain quite a bit from an influx of new faces. While Johnson’s recruiting class this season is dominated by lightly-regarded players (at least by most scouting services), they will all be thrown into the cauldron early as the Hokies experiment with lineups and combinations. Combo guard Ben Emelogu, recently named captain of the team despite being a freshman, is characterized by Johnson as someone who can slash and jump-start the offense. Guard Adam Smith, a transfer from UNC-Wilmington, sat out the requisite season last year, but posted solid numbers in his freshman campaign in the Colonial Athletic Association (13.7 points per game, the top freshman scorer in the conference). Smith also has the benefit of familiarity with ACC competition, having notched 32 points against Wake Forest and 23 against Maryland in non-conference action two seasons ago. Freshman Devin Wilson also should see some minutes at the point as the Hokies try to rebuild their guard ranks.
On October 17, Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson did something he’d never done in 22 years as either a head or assistant coach: He named a freshman his team captain. And this wasn’t one of those once-in-a-generation, program-altering freshman talents that was tapped to be the leader of a Hokies team in transition. This isn’t Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse, Kevin Durant at Texas, or even Andrew Wiggins at Kansas. “Hokies fans, we present to you 6’5” combo guard Ben Emelogu, a player who went largely unnoticed by the major programs at the national level!” While Johnson says he’s a player who can “flat out put the ball in the hole,” his senior year average of 13.5 points per game in high school in Grand Prairie, Texas, doesn’t lend much credence to that assessment. There are three key points to be highlighted with this decision: Johnson’s seemingly long leash as head coach; the extreme youth movement going on in Blacksburg; and the lack of leadership now that last year’s star Erick Green has departed.
Ben Emelogu Will Start the Season as Virginia Tech’s Captain
Johnson is in his second year at Virginia Tech after replacing Seth Greenberg. His Hokies, despite having the ACC Player of the Year in Green on the roster last year, won a mere four league games and finished 13-19 overall on the season. Johnson’s contract, signed prior to last season, is for five years. The Virginia Tech administration is known to like Johnson, and he is definitely well-liked by his team, all of whom went to bat for him to assume the mantle of head coach when Greenberg was dismissed. Thus, naming a freshman as captain should not prove divisive to his locker room, at least on the surface. It also shouldn’t shake the confidence the athletic department has in him, since it’s widely known that the administration understands the rebuilding effort Johnson faces and trusts his reputation as a solid recruiter to make the team relevant in the coming seasons.
Fayetteville Observer: Props to Brett Strelow for finding useful information from the hideous headliner for ESPN’s Rivalry Week. Strelow focused on Tyler Thornton, paralleling the short defensive-minded Duke point guard to another short defensive-minded Duke point guard Steve Wojciechowski. The story commented on Thornton possibly becoming a coach (something I hadn’t thought about before but would make a lot of sense) as well as Mike Krzyzewski fighting North Carolina’s small line-up (and foul trouble) with Thornton at the four. All in all, it was a terrible game, but there’s a lot of good stuff here. As an aside, this shouldn’t be a story. After the game, Coach K ran out on the court to keep his players and security off the court (there was a weird clock situation where it didn’t start and then started late), not to stop the fans from rushing the court.
Riddick and Reynolds: James Curle took the ACC to task for wasting its last shot at a somewhat normal schedule before conference expansion truly takes hold. This year, for the first time since adding Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami, the ACC had more home and homes than single game series. But the schedule is just as unbalanced as ever. Duke only plays two of its seven home and homes on either the first or second half of its schedule, meaning only Maryland and Miami get Duke on both sides of the halfway point in conference play. It seems like the conference would take advantage of the 18-game season, but no.
Gobbler Country: It’s no secret Virginia Tech‘s basketball team is struggling. A lot of that blame lies with Jim Weaver, the athletic director, for firing Seth Greenberg a month after the season ended. The justification–which unlike the timing and method made sense–was that Greenberg’s staff turnover wasn’t sustainable. But it’s starting to look like the turnover is as much a result of Weaver’s cheapness as Greenberg’s abrasiveness. That’s an issue. And will hamper Virginia Tech now and in the future. You have to invest in a coach and a staff to succeed year in and year out in college basketball. If Virginia Tech won’t pay up, Weaver can’t expect top-flight results. End of story.
The Virginian-Pilot: In case you haven’t been watching Charlottesville closely, Joe Harris has been phenomenal. Like first-team All-ACC phenomenal. He’s got the Cavaliers in sole possession of third place in the ACC (with some help from the ACC’s aforementioned unbalanced schedule) and in surprising contention for a bid to the Big Dance. He’s doing it with great shooting that’s finally broken free of his streakiness of past.
NBC Sports: Miami isn’t used to the big-time on the hardwood, and the Hurricanes clearly need some work on sologans (though Michigan’s “We On” wasn’t much better). They went with “40 Minutes of L” with a picture of Jim Larranaga. The obvious problems are the Hurricanes don’t run Nolan Richardson’s defense and that “L” will always be associated with losing.
Bennet Hayes is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Saturday’s game in Atlanta between Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
One of the beauties of the college basketball winter is that the NCAA Tournament picture is constantly changing; teams that felt like January locks can find themselves sweating the bubble in March, and clubs trying to forget their non-conference campaigns can do so with a torrid couple of pre-Tournament months. This year, more than ever, might find a slew of teams in the latter category; fewer teams have built Tournament-ready resumes at this juncture than in past years. Pair that with year two of an expanded field of 68 teams and it is no stretch to imagine this year’s bubble as the weakest in NCAA Tournament history. While many will lament the relative quality of the last few teams in the field, this dynamic should create a wide open final two months, and many teams currently left for dead could find their way back into the mix by March. Two of those teams resting below ground (at least for the moment), Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, faced off Saturday afternoon in an ACC battle for that first step towards March relevancy.
Erick Green Continued His Brilliant Senior Season Saturday Afternoon
The Hokies, led by the relentless Erick Green, found a way to pull out a game they really had no business winning, escaping from McCamish Pavilion with Coach James Johnson’s first ACC victory, in overtime nonetheless. Having dropped five of their last six games entering this one, the Hokies win will hardly register on the national consciousness, but make no mistake—this one was big. “Winning in the ACC is hard,” Coach Johnson noted after the game, adding that his group “deserved a reward for all their hard work.” Hard work alone will not earn you respect in this conference, but getting road wins is a good start. Give a shorthanded Virginia Tech team credit for putting their last month behind them and finding a way to get out of Atlanta with ACC win number one.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
Much like everywhere else around the country, it was an exceedingly slow week in the Mountain West. Between last Tuesday and last night, just 10 games were played involving MW teams. Two teams in the conference haven’t played a game since we last did this. And, with the exception of the two games played by Fresno State, the MW teams have escaped unblemished against largely mediocre teams. As a result, your weekly MW rundown may be a little lighter than normal.
But the big news around the conference may be the ripples from the Big East breakdown that are reaching the Mountain West’s shores. While for now, San Diego State and Boise State are maintaining their intentions to follow through on their plans to join the Big East beginning next season, you just know that behind the scenes, both schools are seriously weighing their options. As the MW Connection details here, there are basically three options for these two schools: (1) head to the Big East as planned, regardless of the diminishing state of the conference, for football, with the rest of their sports in the Big West; (2) remain in the Mountain West and possibly bring other schools with them; or (3) go independent in football and keep other sports in the Big West. Obviously, the people involved in making these decisions know a lot more about the financials of these decisions than me, but for what it’s worth, while the Big East is in the middle of negotiating a new television contract, the MW remains locked into its current contract with CBS through 2016, and the network has an additional option to extend that contract to 2019. Of greater concern to the MW than whether they are able to keep BSU and SDSU around may be whether they are able to fend off advances from other conferences. For instance, the Big East, which may in the interest of self-preservation and establishing a western outpost to satiate the likes of BSU, SDSU, SMU and Houston, take a shot at teams from the conference. There may not be a lot of fat on the football bones of the teams remaining here, but if the Big East can poach, say, UNLV, New Mexico and Colorado State they will (aside from really needing a re-branding) be able to cobble together a strong basketball conference. But, who am I kidding? Up until this week, basketball was rarely mentioned in this whole realignment fiasco, except to note that basketball doesn’t matter.
Team of the Week
Nevada – Yay! Home wins over Cal Poly and San Francisco! Rejoice! OK, so those wins aren’t suddenly going to turn the Wolf Pack into an NCAA Tournament contender, but given that this is a team with losses to UC Irvine, Marshall, Drake and Pacific on its record, not to mention several other near-misses, the fact that Nevada handled that level of competition by an average of double-figures is a sign of progress. As is the fact that they finally showed some semblance of aggressiveness on the glass, grabbing nearly 40% of offensive rebound opportunities this week, and better than 80% on the defensive end. Jerry Evans was particularly effective, grabbing 14 total rebounds against Cal Poly.
Washington Post: The big question coming into the season for Virginia was how the Cavaliers could replace Mike Scott, especially on offense. When Tony Bennett said “by committee” during the preseason, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Replace arguably the best offensive player in the conference by a committee of whom exactly? But Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins have really stepped up and proven me wrong. Mitchell is playing very well offensively, averaging nearly 13 points and 10 rebounds a game. Together they’re making the transition as smooth as possible, though the team’s reliance on freshmen will still hurt at spots during the season.
Fox Sports Carolinas: Expect to see a lot more articles in this vein if Mason Plumlee‘s production keeps up. He’s absolutely having a first-team All-America season — maybe even a national player of the year season. He took plenty of criticism over his first three years, so it’s only fair he gets credit now. The thing that remains to be seen is how his brother joining Duke’s rotation (which will likely happen soon) will affect the team. It should quash some of the “Duke doesn’t have depth inside” talk and may also help with Duke’s rebounding struggles.
Virginia Tech Collegiate Times: Virginia Tech is renewing its long-standing rivalry with West Virginia this season, but James Johnson isn’t making a big deal about it. Part of his reasoning is because the rivalry has been dormant since his players were in middle school. Another part is likely West Virginia’s recent success since hiring Bob Huggins having eclipsed the Hokies on the national scene. Regardless, this is the kind of series that can’t hurt if the Hokies want to be in contention for an at-large bid come Selection Sunday.
Tallahassee Democrat: Well Florida State certainly didn’t impress the country’s top recruit Andrew Wiggins on the basketball floor Wednesday. But the school and its fans certainly let Wiggins know he’d be welcome. The Seminoles honored both of Wiggins’ parents at halftime with highlights from their Florida State careers. The fans stood for much of a blowout trying to emphasize their commitment to a sport that normally takes the backseat in Tallahassee. A coed’s tweet to Wiggins went viral. However, the game just emphasized the tough choice Wiggins has to make: Be a part of a Kentucky team that should be among the favorites to win it all, or help take his parents alma mater to a place it’s never been before. Wiggins gets compared — fairly or unfairly– to LeBron James and his decision is analogous to the decision LeBron faced in free agency. If he does choose Florida State, Leonard Hamilton’s team will instantly become a conference contender.
WRAL: Longtime producer and photographer Rick Armstrongremembered back to his early days in journalism three decades ago when NC State won its most recent national championship under Jim Valvano. Some stories read like they’ve been told over and over, at parties, over dinner and in the office. These are some of them. Armstrong still pines for the days when Jimmy V and the Cardiac Pack fought their way to an unlikely national title. Nostalgia makes for a great muse.
Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey
When the AP Top 25 was released Monday afternoon, Kentucky wound up unranked for the first time in the John Calipari era after a blowout loss to Notre Dame and a home setback to Baylor, UK’s first loss at Rupp Arena under Calipari (UK remains ranked at #20 here at RTC). Kentucky’s drop from #8 to unranked was the largest in AP poll history since the poll expanded to include 25 teams in 1990. Now we all know college basketball polls don’t really matter (unlike a certain other collegiate sport) so this is just something to discuss among basketball junkies. But seriously, do people really believe this isn’t one of the Top 25 teams in the country? I guess it depends on your philosophy when it comes to filling out a ballot. If you’re going purely by record, sure the Wildcats shouldn’t be ranked at 4-3. But a deeper inspection reveals a team with a win over Maryland, one that could turn into a very good win if the Terrapins sustain their early season level of play, and three losses to very good basketball teams (Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor). The Wildcats aren’t anywhere near last year’s juggernaut but until they lose to a bad team or the losses to good teams keep piling up, I’ll continue to rank Kentucky and won’t overreact. What are the issues Calipari faces? Number one, Ryan Harrow has proven not to be the answer at point guard. Archie Goodwin has been forced to be the primary ballhandler and is turning the ball over more than three times per game. Second, Kentucky’s rebounding and defense has taken a dip from last year but who didn’t expect that? Anthony Davis is in New Orleans now, not Lexington. Third, the team is relying exclusively on freshmen, one sophomore (Kyle Wiltjer, who does need to pick his game up) and two transfers. There is no veteran presence who has been through the SEC wars like Doron Lamb and Darius Miller had been last season. While Cal’s teams have had tremendous freshmen talent, the presence of Miller and Lamb pushed the team over the top last year. Without that crucial element, Kentucky will continue to struggle with immature plays and poor decision-making. However, I’m sure that Calipari will find a way to make things work eventually. Let’s not panic in early December because Kentucky lost three games to Top 25 teams.
Coach Cal’s Team Is Now Unranked, But Don’t Panic Yet
With Kentucky struggling to find its way right now, Florida has emerged as the early favorite in the SEC. The Gators are 6-0 with a pair of blowout wins over Wisconsin and Marquette and a nice “neutral” court win over a good Middle Tennessee team. It’s pretty clear that Florida is for real but the schedule ramps up in a big way this month with tomorrow’s road trip to rival Florida State followed 10 days later by a visit to Arizona and a quasi-road game against Kansas State in Kansas City on December 22. Everyone knows about Florida’s high-powered offensive attack but the most astonishing thing about this team has been its defense. This could very well be Billy Donovan’s best defensive team in Gainesville. Florida leads the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 48.5 PPG to date. The Gators are fourth in defensive efficiency and have also improved their rebounding from a year ago with Patric Young and Will Yeguete doing most of the work on the boards but even UF’s guards are contributing to that effort as well. Florida is just as efficient on the offensive end of the floor with balanced scoring and depth. Seven Gators are averaging at least seven points per game, led by Kenny Boynton. Donovan has to be thrilled with senior Erik Murphy, someone who is an absolute match-up nightmare for almost every opponent because of his length, versatility and ability to stretch defenses. When Murphy hangs out on the perimeter he can hit shots or open up gaps for his teammates to drive and score, or get to the line as Florida has done so well this year. His numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet at you but he’s such a valuable asset to this team. Murphy has had his share of off-court problems and here’s to hoping he’s learned from that and takes on a leadership role for his team as a senior. He’s off to a great start and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Florida in the top 10 all year long. Read the rest of this entry »
Tomahawk Nation: It may be getting closer to panic time in Tallahassee. One day after the football team claimed an ACC title to match the basketball team’s from last season, Leonard Hamilton’s team’s performance indicated that the chances of it returning the favor are growing quite slim. Florida State fell at home to Mercer yesterday, 61-56, marking Mercer’s first victory over the Seminoles since 1954. For the Seminoles, a preseason top 25 team, it was their second incredibly inexcusable home defeat that may have lasting implications come March. The defense returned to levels more typical of recent Florida State teams (it has been a major culprit this season), but the offense, despite Leonard Hamilton going 11 deep, failed to get anything productive going, and mustered just one point down the stretch in their final three possessions. Going into a match-up Wednesday with intrastate rival Florida, who has dominated its opponents this season, the prognosis is certainly troubling for FSU.
A much more positive surprise in the ACC this season has been the strong play of Virginia Tech, who remained undefeated after upsetting 15th-ranked Oklahoma State this weekend. Playing no small role in this surprising start is senior guard Erick Green. In this fantastic Jeff Goodman article, Green acknowledges that he would have left Blacksburg if not for the hiring of new coach James Johnson, who had played a major role in recruiting Green to Virginia Tech. Green is having a huge senior season, averaging about 25 points per game and catalyzing the Hokies’ new up-tempo offense, which Green credits as a large part of their success. While Virginia Tech may not be able to sustain this run of play indefinitely, they will definitely be a much larger factor than expected in the conference this season.
Charlotte Observer: Following their blowout loss to top-ranked Indiana, North Carolina hoped to respond positively in their Saturday match-up with UAB. While the Tar Heels were extremely impressive offensively, with Dexter Strickland moving to point guard and Leslie McDonald entering the starting lineup in the wake of Marcus Paige’s injury, their defense left much to be desired according to head coach Roy Williams. During a timeout early in the second half, Williams implored his team to step up their defensive intensity during a tirade that got the team’s attention. With UNC’s highly inconsistent performance so far this season, Williams certainly hopes that the Tar Heels can provide offense similar to that of Saturday’s game (102 points) while also heightening their defensive intensity.
Devils in Durham: As everyone surely knows, second-ranked Duke is off to a phenomenal start this season. But one player that has likely been overlooked in the wake of the excellent performances of Mason Plumlee, Quinn Cook, and Rasheed Sulaimon, among others, is junior point guard Tyler Thornton. Inserted into the starting lineup to replace the injured Seth Curry on Saturday against Delaware, Thornton stuffed the stat sheet in spots other than the points column-providing 10 assists and three steals. Coach K appreciates Thornton’s defensive intensity and has lauded his acceptance of a generally reduced role in the wake of Cook’s improving play. Thornton’s contributions are typically not of the flashy variety, but since he is “such an easy guy to play with,” according to Krzyzewski, he will definitely play a pivotal role in Duke’s team success this season, particularly with his devotion to tenacious defense.
In what could be Maryland‘s last appearance in the BB&T Classic played in the nation’s capital, the Terrapins, in their penultimate season in the ACC, are quietly making a case to be mentioned amongst the conference’s elite teams this season. While Maryland struggled offensively in a 69-62 victory over suburban rival George Mason, their defense was able to put together a strong performance. Dez Wells continued his phenomenal play, scoring 25 points, while also reaffirming a commitment to defense inspired by watching films of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Wells insisted that he wants to guard the best player every game, since a great player is also great on defense as well. If Wells and Maryland can continue this defensive commitment, they will be an extremely scary squad during ACC play, particularly if their offense can improve.
Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
Many of the power conference teams hit the road for the very first time this weekend, so we should start to get a real sense of where teams stand early in the season. With a little less college football going on this weekend, you should make some time to catch a few games. Let’s get to the breakdowns.
Tennessee at #16 Georgetown – 6:30 PM EST, Friday on ESPN (****)
John Thompson III Has His Hoyas Exceeding Expectations (Getty)
Tennessee heads to Georgetown for its first true road game of the season. Like many of the games this past week in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and now the Big East/SEC Challenge, we are going to get a true indication of where a lot of teams stand. While the Vols are 4-1, they lost their toughest test against Oklahoma State. They face a Geogetown team that is extremely long. The Hoyas start four players who are at least 6’8”, while the “shortest” player, 6’2” guard Michael Starks, is their leading scorer. Look for the Hoyas to take advantage of their size and shoot a lot within the paint. Georgetown currently shoots 56% from inside the arc while the Vols rank 106th in the country in two-point defense. Also, keep a close eye on free throws. With this game looking like it’s going to take place inside the arc, free throws will be a key to victory. The Hoyas are struggling to get to the line and it caught up with them in their recent overtime loss to Indiana. On the other hand, Tennessee is ranked in the top 25 nationally in free throw rate. The team that gets to the line more and sinks its free throws should be the winner in this contest.
Baylor at #8 Kentucky – 12:30 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (****)
Kentucky and Baylor are two teams in desperate need of a good win. Kentucky is coming off a beating on the road at the hands of Notre Dame. As coach John Calipari discussed in many of his preseason press conferences, the Wildcats are not consistent on offense or defense. As soon as you think they are coming together, they lay an egg and shoot 40% against ND. Baylor is also struggling to find an identity outside of “The Pierre Jackson Show.” While Jackson’s play has been mostly excellent, it does not seem to be working particularly well with recent losses to Colorado and College of Charleston. Kentucky will be tough to beat at home but they need better consistency on both ends of the court. They should be able to shoot the ball against a struggling Baylor defense, particularly from downtown. If the Wildcats can get back in the long-ball groove, they should win at home for the 56th straight time under Calipari.
#18 Oklahoma State at Virginia Tech - 2:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN3 (****)
While Oklahoma State lost to Virginia Tech last year in a close contest and will play a true road game for the first time this year, the Cowboys have not been tested so far this season. More importantly, they have responded with drubbings of Tennessee and North Carolina State. For the Hokies, OSU is by far their toughest opponent to date. The Cowboys have been winning with solid defense. Opponents have been held to 36.3% from two and an overall eFG% of 39.8%. Typically, you may take these stats with a grain of salt given the competition, but Travis Ford’s team has played a strong schedule thus far. The match-up you should keep a close eye on is the Cowboy defense versus Virginia Tech guard Erick Green. The 6’3” Green is averaging 24.3 points per game thus far, and Ford will counter with a trio of big guards in 6’7” LeBryan Nash, 6’4” Marcus Smart, and 6’3” Markel Brown. Do not expect Green to hit for two dozen against the Pokes. If he does, Virginia Tech will be in good shape. Finally, watch the Hokies on the offensive glass. They currently rank 314th in the country in offensive rebounding rate against a fairly soft schedule. It’s not going to be easy for coach James Johnson’s squad to hit their shots, so he needs them to grab offensive boards desperately. If they don’t, look for the Cowboys to win in Blacksburg.
We’ve got a full week of game action as evidence to start evaluting these teams a bit better, so here goes…
Disclaimer: Power Rankings don’t imply which teams are best. They’re all about who has momentum right now.
1. Duke (2-0) stays on top of the rankings after taking care of business against Georgia State at home before knocking off the defending champion Kentucky Wildcats in the Georgia Dome. This team still has a long way to go, but they showed poise holding off a talented, albeit young, Kentucky team. While Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee owned the box score, Quinn Cook rose to the challenge and put in his bid for the starting spot. Minnesota is the next NCAA tournament-quality team on Thursday.
2. NC State (2-0) absolutely blitzkrieged its first two opponents, Miami (OH) and Penn State. Putting too much stock in beating the Redhawks by 38 is unwise. But that 17-point win over the Nittany Lions–despite Lorenzo Brown finishing an icy 1-12 from the field–is worth noting. Specifically, Tyler Warren was phenomenal going for 22 points (on 12 shots) and eight rebounds. The game tonight against Massachusetts should be a fun one.
3. North Carolina (2-0) looked lost on offense at times against Gardner-Webb, which is just a young team trying to learn to play together. James Michael McAdoo has been phenomenal through the first two games (he’s averaging over 20 points and 12 rebounds), and Reggie Bullock asserted himself against Florida Atlantic. This team should keep improving, but in time for the trip to Bloomington in a week and a half? That’s ambitious.
4. Maryland (1-1) looks a lot better than expected. Alex Len is going to be a top-10 pick. He absolutely ravaged Kentucky, which Maryland kept close to the bitter end before making mincemeat of Morehead State. Nick Faust still can’t shoot, but Seth Allen will be really fun to watch the next few years. The Terrapins need to work on consistent offense, but as Dez Wells gets more and more used to Mark Turgeon’s system, good things will happen.
5. Boston College (1-1) played with a stacked Baylor team for 35 minutes after beating a bad Florida International team by double figures (still, that’s huge improvement over last year). This team will still struggle to win a ton of games, but Ryan Anderson‘s development into an All-ACC caliber player is accelerating the rebuilding process (he’s averaging 27 points and 12 boards a game). Dennis Clifford also got off to a solid start. The Eagles’ games against Dayton and Auburn should both be winnable this week.
6. Clemson (1-0) beat down Presbyterian this week, which isn’t worth much on its own. But Devin Booker and Milton Jennings both played very well (combined to go 11-14 from the field for 26 points) and look like they’re ready to step into bigger roles for Brad Brownell this season. A near impossible test awaits this week in the form of Gonzaga.
7. Virginia Tech (3-0) scarfed three cupcakes this week, winning all three games by double figures. The “meat” of the nonconference schedule is still a ways off (and “meat” is used loosely to describe BCS-conference teams), but so far James Johnson‘s tenure is a success. He’ll need Robert Brown to continue producing offensively to relieve some of Erick Green‘s perimeter burden.
8. Florida State (1-1) is much better than its home loss to the South Alabama, but those are the kind of losses that will motivate this team to keep getting better. Michael Snaer is also in an early season slump, having only hit a third of the shots he’s taken. But the Seminoles’ 27-point beatdown of Buffalo (where they scored 95 points!) may right the ship. The next six games showcase three against possible NCAA tournament teams: BYU (today), Minnesota and Florida.
9. Wake Forest (1-0) played decently against Radford. The game was never free from doubt, but the Demon Deacons didn’t let the Big South Highlanders get the best of them this year. CJ Harris got to the charity stripe like a pro, but Travis McKie‘s 11 points left a little to be desired–especially against a team of this caliber. Turnovers are going to kill Wake Forest in at least two conference games this year.
10. Georgia Tech (2-0) has balance, but can’t shoot. The Yellow Jackets need someone to step up from the perimeter to keep other teams honest (right now they make a smooth 17.6% of their shots from downtown. Two of Mfon Udofia, Daniel Miller and Kam Holsey need to become go-to guys on offense. Miller doesn’t appear to want that role.
11. Miami (1-1) needs to be careful not to become a dumpster fire. The team lost its exhibition against St. Leo and now lost to Florida Gulf Coast to ice the cake. This team looks phenomenal on paper, but sometimes things just don’t translate the way we expect. The same Reggie Johnson who made Mason Plumlee look like a child at Cameron Indoor Stadium last year has only hit one third of his shots against middling competition. There’s still time for Larranaga to turn this car around, but time is running out.
12. Virginia(1-2),if Miami has to be careful, Virginia fans may already smell that trash burning. So far the Cavaliers lost to George Mason and Delaware. These wins (or struggles) could be statistical aberrations (if your style keeps opponents within striking distance, you’re bound to lose some unfortunate games), and Jontel Evans is out.Things aren’t off to a great start in Charlottesville.
Redshirt freshman forward Alex Murphy of Duke was an interesting DNP: Coach’s Decision during the opener against Georgia State on Friday. After starting both of Duke’s exhibition games, Murphy strangely did not appear in a game where the forward surely expected to receive minutes (Krzyzewski instead started three guards). Mike Krzyzewski said, “We did not get to the point where Alex could play,” and insinuated that he was not injured. This may be of concern to Blue Devil fans — while Murphy’s offensive game is unpolished, his quickness and size seem to make him an ideal player to utilize in Tuesday’s matchup against Kentucky. But if he can’t get off the bench against Georgia State, why would Kentucky be any different? In theory at least, Murphy would offer the size at the small forward position that Duke seemed to lack all of last season, so it could be a big picture concern down the road if he does not get some burn in early games.
Washington Post: The Maryland Terrapins have plenty to build on following their 72-69 loss to third-ranked Kentucky in their season opener at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn Friday night. Sophomore forward Alex Len outplayed Kentucky’s top-ranked recruit Nerlens Noel to the tune of 23 points and 12 rebounds, and often looked like the best player on the court. Mark Turgeon was especially proud of his team coming back from a 13-point deficit while they fed on the crowd’s energy. While this very young Maryland team was ultimately disappointed to come up a little short in their upset bid, this game definitely showed that Maryland will be a force to be reckoned with in the upper echelons in the conference this season.
The defending conference champions have a lot of work ahead of them. #25 Florida State dropped a stunner at home Friday to South Alabama, 78-73 in one of the biggest upsets in the first weekend of college basketball. Some of the most shocking numbers in the upset related to Florida State’s ineptitude on defense, which has typically been their linchpin in the Leonard Hamilton era. South Alabama shot 60% from behind the three-point arc (9-15), whereas last year Florida State only allowed opponents to shoot 30.9% from beyond the arc, and star Florida State guard Michael Snaer struggled with just 2-of-11 shooting and five turnovers. Don’t look for both a bad game from Snaer and the perimeter defense too often, but when it happens, the Seminoles are going to have a very hard time winning games.
Lynchburg News and Advance: New Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson won his debut against East Tennessee State on Saturday, but cautioned that the season “was a grind,” and also noted that his players (especially senior guard Erick Green) were far more excited about the victory than he was. More importantly, Virginia Tech premiered some form of its intended up-tempo offense this season, and while the team started slowly, the Hokies eventually got things clicking from the perimeter, where they hit 10-25 from three-point territory. While we don’t want to read too much into just one victory, if Virginia Tech can continue to improve its up-tempo offense, Johnson’s team may sneak up on some people in the conference this year.
Boston College and forward Ryan Anderson may have some newfound toughness and leadership this year. The sophomore, who led all rookies in the league in double-doubles last year, put up an impressive 29 points and 17 rebounds in the team’s 84-70 victory over FIU on Sunday. But it was a flagrant foul that probably illustrated the difference between last year’s team and this year’s, according to head coach Steve Donahue, who wants his team to be “nasty” on the court, something he felt did not happen enough last year. After FIU had rallied to tie the game in the second half, Anderson responded with a jumper, and then soon after was flagrantly fouled on a breakaway. After the play, his teammates rallied around him, and they only surrendered two more baskets during the rest of the game, which Anderson even said was a huge change from what would have happened last year. Any little bit helps for a team that struggled mightily last year, and a tougher Boston College squad can only help the conference.