Big 12 Offseason Burning Questions, Part I

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 11th, 2016

In sending three teams to the Sweet Sixteen, two to the Elite Eight and one to the Final Four, the Big 12 put together a solid NCAA Tournament, but it wasn’t enough to put to rest its reputation as a group of postseason underperformers. The 2015-16 campaign wasn’t without its highlights, though. The story of the season nationally was the prevalence of experienced veterans over one-and-done interlopers, and the Big 12 played a key role in that narrative with seniors Buddy Hield, Perry Ellis and Georges Niang leading their teams deep into March. With those three studs (among others) moving on, though, it’s time to examine the burning question that each Big 12 team faces this offseason. Today we review Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and TCU.

Oklahoma (29-8, 12-6)

Oklahoma faces a tough rebuild as it loses Big 12 all-time leading scorer and National Player Of The Year Buddy Hield. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Oklahoma faces a rebuild as it loses Big 12 scoring king and National Player of the Year Buddy Hield. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

What will the identity of post-Hield Oklahoma become? Between Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler and Dinjyl Walker, Oklahoma is losing 64 percent of the scoring from last season’s lethal offensive unit. That’s a lot. Though we trust that head coach Lon Kruger will find a way eventually, in the meantime, the Sooners will face a tough road in the wake of heavy roster turnover. Jordan Woodard and Khadeem Lattin are expected back and there are some intriguing newcomers arriving in Kameron McGusty, Christian Doolittle and former Ohio State commitment Austin Grandstaff. But it’s tough to suffer the level of production Oklahoma is losing and still be expected to perform at a level comparable to last season’s Final Four squad. Very few programs in college basketball can reload that quickly.

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Five ACC Storylines to Watch this Offseason

Posted by Matt Patton on April 11th, 2016

With the long offseason ahead of us, let’s take a look at five key ACC storylines to keep an eye on over the summer.

  1. NCAA Sanctions: After investigations that surrounded both programs in different ways this season, there should finally be some closure for Louisville and North Carolina. Louisville is still trying to get in front of NCAA sanctions by self-imposing its own (in addition to this year’s postseason ban, the program also recently added recruiting penalties). This strategy has worked well for other schools, but predicting eventual NCAA punishments is an exercise in futility. North Carolina is the more interesting case — the Tar Heels may not receive any sanctions or they may get the book thrown at them. What remains unclear is whether there will be administrative fallout from either scandal. I would not be shocked if Rick Pitino ends up stepping down from his post — especially if the NCAA deems the Cardinals’ self-imposed penalties insufficient. But I would be shocked if Roy Williams did.

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

  2. Coaching Carousel: This is a slow year for the ACC in terms of coaching turnover. Pittsburgh lost Jamie Dixon to his alma mater, TCU, and Georgia Tech fired Brian Gregory. The Yellow Jackets were initially spurned by Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel and Bryce Drew (who went to Vanderbilt instead), and after reports that Cal’s Cuonzo Martin was their top candidate, athletic director Mike Bobinski hired Josh Pastner away from Memphis. Pastner is far from a sure thing in this spot, but he should be able to put more talented teams on the floor. Whether those teams will have more success than what Gregory mustered (two teams with winning records; no NCAA Tournament appearances) remains to be seen. In Pittsburgh, many fans were upset with the hiring of Kevin Stallings away from Vanderbilt (ironically, the response from Commodores’ fans mirrored Dayton fans after Georgia Tech hired Gregory). Stallings will have his work cut out for him in the Steel City, but he was a solid coach with several very good teams in Nashville. Like Jamie Dixon, he may have stuck around the same place a little too long, but there’s no reason to think he won’t do reasonably well there. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pittsburgh Has the Goods to Make a Run

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 14th, 2016

Whether attributable to a relative lack of postseason accomplishment or a bruising (read: unappealing) style of play, the consistent success sustained by Pittsburgh during the 10 years from 2002-11 has been largely forgotten. Consider that the Panthers were at some point ranked in the AP top 10 in each of those campaigns and won fewer than 25 games only once during that span. However, in an era of program success measured through March triumphs, Pittsburgh’s lack of a Final Four appearance kept it from the most elite tier. Transitioning from the Big East to the ACC in 2013 didn’t seem to help. While programs like Syracuse and Louisville seamlessly made the move, Pitt struggled to find a niche. A fifth-place finish and a trip to the Round of 32 two years ago was followed by a disappointing 19-15 season in 2014-15. With a similar roster returning this season, Pitt was projected to finish in 10th place by ACC media in their preseason poll.

Jamie Dixon's Team Moves the Ball Well

Say what you want, Jamie Dixon ALWAYS has his teams right in the thick of things. (Getty)

A hot start from the Panthers was largely ignored, citing a non-conference schedule among the nation’s worst (322nd). But in winning their first three ACC games in convincing fashion, it is high time to pay attention to the a 14-1 (3-0 ACC) team that boasts one of college basketball’s best offensive attacks. And not only is the second-best offense (according to KenPom) very effective, it is also pleasing to watch. Dixon’s team currently ranks 18th in effective field goal percentage — making 55 percent of its twos, 39 percent of its threes, and 80 percent from the line (best in the nation). Given those achievements, Pitt hasn’t abandoned its signature toughness, rebounding nearly 39 percent of its misses (11th nationally) and turning the ball over only 15 percent of the time (23rd). Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 01.08.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 8th, 2016

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  1. ESPN: This is a cool story from C.L. Brown on Duke’s Brandon Ingram. While the story does a good job contrasting Ingram’s skinny frame with the toughness he’s shown over the last few games, the really amazing tidbit is just how many great players hail from Kinston, a small town in North Carolina. Ingram needs some more weight on his frame, but the NBA has a bona fide skinny superstar in Kevin Durant and a budding one in Kristaps Porzingis, so it may not be as necessary as it once seemed.
  2. The State: Don’t look now, but Clemson‘s Brad Brownell may finally have the players he needs to break out of his long cycle of mediocrity (and that’s not a slight; Brownell has never let Clemson slip to the ACC cellar). A key to that development could turn out to be new transfer Elijah Thomas, a former consensus top-50 recruit who only played eight games with Texas A&M but may provide the influx of talent the program needs to make a leap. Two more impact transfers on the horizon are Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed, both of whom will both be eligible next season.
  3. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: What’s different about this year’s Pittsburgh team? It’s not that the Panthers have become particularly offensive-minded — the last time a Jamie Dixon team was better on defense than offense was in the 2009-10 season. What’s spectacular this year is how bad Pitt’s defense (151st nationally) is relative to its offense (10th nationally) and how much faster it has been playing. Most of Dixon’s teams played between 60 and 65 possessions per game. This year’s team is averaging over 68 possessions per game. That may not sound like a huge difference, but that’s why the team’s point totals have been higher this year.
  4. Syracuse Post-Standard: This article makes a good point, which is to not judge interim head coach Mike Hopkins by his 4-5 record with Jim Boeheim suspended. What it doesn’t say (but hints at) is you should judge Boeheim for it. After all, it was the head coach who assembled this roster. I don’t suspect we will see a huge improvement from the Orange when he takes back over this weekend against North Carolina, but the article does a good job contextualizing the uptick that surfaces.
  5. Washington Post: VJ King is a Louisville recruit who has had to fight both expectations and changing scenery. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was following him when he was in seventh grade (in North Carolina; he later moved to Lebron James’ high school and was dubbed “the next King of Akron.”). Luckily, James took the high school standout under his wing and really set him free. Now he’s in Virginia and appears to have regained his confidence.
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ACC Stock Watch: Feast Week Edition

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 1st, 2015

As the the majority of the league transitions from Feast Week into the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, now is as good a time as any to make some initial evaluations. Based on what we’ve seen through two-plus weeks of the young season, let’s take stock in each of the 15 ACC clubs, reviewing what has transpired so far, and considering in what direction we surmise each to be trending.

Trending Up

Jim Boeheim has his Orange playing at an extremely high level right out the gates. (Getty)

Jim Boeheim has plenty to be thankful for after his club’s performance in winning the Battle 4 Atlantis (syracuse.com)

  • Syracuse: Not many teams are feeling better about itself than Syracuse is at the moment. Picked to finish ninth in the ACC standings, the Orange probably surprised even themselves in taking home the title at the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis. Seamlessly intertwining veterans Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney with rookies Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon, Jim Boeheim looks to have a team capable of reinvigorating his spirits during his 40th year at the helm. Banned from the postseason a year ago and forced to miss the first nine conference games this season, Boeheim appeared worn down last March as tumult swirled around his program. His current team, however, showed considerable resolve in coming from behind to beat both Connecticut and Texas A&M in the Bahamas, appearing eerily similar to some of his special clubs of the past and proving that there is still some juice left in the Hall of Famer’s tank. The Orange entertain Wisconsin on Wednesday before a weekend trip to the nation’s capital to visit old friend Georgetown.

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part III Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 25th, 2015

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Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.

  1. Preseason NIT: Three ACC schools will begin play in a tournament on Thanksgiving Day, with the first being Georgia Tech (#87) as the Yellow Jackets look to bounce back from Sunday’s terrible buzzer-beating home loss to East Tennessee State. Brian Gregory’s already-warm seat is surely hotter now, so he desperately needs a good performance from his squad in Brooklyn this week. The best way to make up for a bad loss is to pull off a huge win. That possibility exists for Georgia Tech if it can get by Arkansas (#102) on Thursday (ESPNU – 2:00 ET), and if highly regarded Villanova (#2) takes care of Stanford (#119) as expected in the other semifinal. The championship game will be on Friday afternoon (ESPN2/U – 3:00 ET).
  2. Advocare Invitational: Defending ACC Champion Notre Dame (#20) also begins tournament action Thursday (ESPNU – 6:30 ET), taking on Monmouth (#134). At first glance this looks like a mismatch, but keep in mind that the Hawks pulled off one of the season’s first upsets, stunning UCLA on opening night in Pauley Pavilion. On Friday, Mike Brey’s guys will get a solid second round opponent in either Iowa (#19) or Dayton (#44). This Orlando event has one of the strongest fields of Feast Week, with seven of the eight schools in the top 100. On the opposite side of the bracket are Wichita State (#23), Xavier (#25), USC (#45) and Alabama (#94). If everything goes as planned for the Fighting Irish, they can pick up a couple of wins that will probably look great on their resume all year long.
  3. Wooden Legacy: Boston College (#118) faces a stiff challenge in Anaheim, as the Eagles meet Michigan State (#13) in an opening round game on Thursday (ESPN2 – 6:30 ET). Jim Christian’s team may not be as bad as we thought in the preseason – the Eagles are 3-0 for the first time in seven years. That includes Sunday’s win over crosstown rival Harvard, Christian’s second in a row over the Crimson after Boston College had lost the previous six meetings. The Spartans are heavy favorites to meet Arizona (#8) in the finals on Sunday (ESPN2 – 10:00 ET). Looking to play spoiler will be Boise State (#60), Providence (#62) and Evansville (#66).
  4. Emerald Coast Classic: Another ACC team that will be a heavy underdog in its opening tournament game is Virginia Tech (#148), who goes against Iowa State (#16) on Friday (CBSSN – 7:00 ET). Things should be somewhat easier for Buzz Williams and company on Saturday, as the Hokies will get either UAB (#93) or Illinois (#101) in the two-day event. But based on their shaky 2-1 start versus weak competition, Virginia Tech has not looked like a squad that’s ready to compete with top-100 teams on a neutral court. So far, Maryland transfer Seth Allen (sat out last year) has been unable to shake off the rust, shooting a frigid 31.0% from the field and committing a total of 13 turnovers in the three games.
  5. Gotham Classic: Like Louisville, Pittsburgh is not participating in a traditional tournament. Beginning in mid-December, the Panthers will play four straight exempt games as part of the Gotham Classic. The only time that Jamie Dixon’s squad will face an opponent away from home is when they take on Davidson (#64) on December 20 (ESPNU – Noon ET) in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The other three games will be in the Petersen Events Center over a two week period; December 11 – Eastern Washington (#200); December 13 – Morehead State (#179); and December 23 – Western Carolina (#203). Those all look a lot like the schools that tend to show up on Pittsburgh’s non-conference schedule during the Dixon era. Of course, Dixon was counting on an opening day meeting with Gonzaga to boost this season’s schedule rating. And with that game cancelled, Pitt will have one of the poorer non-conference slates among power league schools.
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2015 ACC Basketball Power Rankings

Posted by Matt Patton on November 16th, 2015

Over the last two weeks, we previewed each of the 15 ACC teams individually to get you ready for the season. Links to those previews can be found within each of the preseason power rankings listed below, which were voted on by our crack microsite staff of three. Also look for our preseason conference awards, which will publish a bit later today.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

Virginia Cavaliers 1. Virginia (304): Can the Cavaliers win the ACC regular season for a third straight year? With a veteran cast led by Malcolm BrogdonAnthony Gill and maybe the nation’s stingiest defense, Tony Bennett probably has the squad to do it. This season, Virginia should take the next step and make a deep run in March.
North Carolina Tar Heels 2. North Carolina (290): Marcus Paige‘s injury could prove to be a setback, but Justin Jackson is poised to become one of the top players in the country. The team returns nearly all its production from last season, and assuming Joel Berry makes the leap we all expect, this group of Tar Heels should absolutely be one of the national favorites come March.
Duke Blue Devils 3. Duke (213): It’s not fair to expect this highly-touted class of Blue Devils’ freshmen to live up to the exploits of last year’s superstar class. Expect this team to take a while to find its stride, with a lot of ups and downs along the way. But if the youngsters grow up in time, Mike Krzyzewski should find himself with another tough out come March.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 4. Notre Dame (202): The Irish will lean heavily on the production of three returning starters and a successful offensive philosophy that led to the second best efficiency in the country last season. It will need to make up for the loss of departed leaders Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, but Demetrius Jackson looks like one of the best point guards in the country.
Miami Hurricanes 5. Miami (157): The last time Jim Larranaga had a squad this experienced was in 2013, when Miami won both the ACC regular season and tourney titles. The conference appears to be much stronger at the top than it was three years ago, but this veteran group of Hurricanes could still be a sleeper contender, led by three all-ACC caliber seniors.
Syracuse Orange 6. Syracuse (132): Dajuan Coleman holds the keys to Syracuse’s success this season even if senior Michael Gbinije looks to be the team’s star. After a lackluster finish a year ago, this team could become one of the best in the conference if the pieces fit together well. If the NCAA’s nine-conference game suspension stands for Jim Boeheim, though, it could be tough for the Orange to find their stride.
Florida State Seminoles 7. Florida State (105): The Seminoles are a trendy darkhorse candidate this year thanks to superstar freshman Dwayne Bacon joining Xavier Rathan-Mayes in Tallahassee. Leonard Hamilton will have to find a defensive stopper in the frontcourt, however, if this team wants to crack the top of the league.
LouisvilleLogo 8. Louisville (104): With considerable turmoil surrounding the program off the court, the Cardinals will rely on two graduate transfers and a Hall of Fame coach to navigate the loss of its top four scorers. Never count out Rick Pitino, but he’s facing an uphill climb to succeed in the ACC this season.
NC State Wolfpack 9. NC State (81): This team has a lot of good pieces, but how will Cat Barber handle being the alpha dog without big shot Trevor Lacey around? A trim Beejay Anya should terrify ACC players hoping to score in the paint. This team oozes potential, but will need time for everyone to adjust to life without Lacey and Ralston Turner.
Pittsburgh Panthers 10. Pittsburgh (62): Last year’s Panthers were the worst defensive team and among the weakest rebounding units in Jamie Dixon’s long career. As a result, mproving those two areas has been a major topic of discussion for Pittsburgh’s head coach this preseason. Dixon hopes that a pair of graduate transfers are good enough to toughen up the front line, where last year’s problems originated.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 11. Wake Forest (29): Look for Danny Manning‘s winning ways to creep into Winston-Salem this year, although a move up the standings will be tough because the ACC is much stronger top-to-bottom than in previous years. Devin Thomas needs to have a first team All-ACC caliber season for the Demon Deacons to approach the top half of the league.
Clemson Tigers 12. Clemson (16): Once again, we expect the Tigers to defend like crazy while struggling to score – just as they have throughout Brad Brownell’s tenure. Can Brownell survive another year of not making the Big Dance? It won’t help that Clemson has to play all of its home games in Greenville this season, 30 miles from campus, while Littlejohn Coliseum gets a needed facelift.
Virginia Tech Hokies 13. Virginia Tech (15): It’s only taken Buzz Williams two years to almost completely turn over this roster, with junior Devin Wilson currently the only scholarship holdover from the past regime. The Hokies’ talent level is improved, but his youngters are probably another year or two away from getting close to the upper half of the league.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 14. Georgia Tech (12): It’s another year on the hot seat for Brian Gregory, who has yet to post a winning ACC record in his four previous campaigns in Atlanta. Pathetic outside shooting has been a constant problem during the Gregory era, and the Yellow Jackets desperately need senior transfer Adam Smith to help turn that around to give a decent frontcourt room to operate.
Boston College 15. Boston College (3): This team is one of the younger teams in the country, but Jim Christian brought in Florida transfer Eli Carter to beef up the team’s experience. If one of the freshmen turns out to be a diamond in the rough, this team might find a way to escape the ACC cellar.
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ACC M5: Exhibition Edition 2

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 9th, 2015

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  1. On Friday night, top-ranked North Carolina played its first ‘competitive’ game without senior leader Marcus Paige — out several weeks with a broken hand — and easily handled Division II Guilford, 99-49. In addition to the loss of Paige, the Tar Heels were also without sophomore Justin Jackson, who missed the contest due to illness. The absence of the team’s top two returning perimeter players gave others an opportunity to step up, however, and three players certainly took advantage. Junior Nate Britt and sophomore Joel Berry combined for 26 points and 16 assists, but they weren’t the only unselfish players as North Carolina recorded 33 assists on its 42 field goals. Freshman guard Kenny Williams also made the most of the available minutes by posting 12 points in 22 minutes of action.
  2. N.C. State was the last ACC school to play a formal exhibition game this preseason, beating Division II Cal State Los Angeles by a score of 71-54 on Sunday afternoon. Star junior Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber led the Wolfpack’s attack with 21 points and six assists. It is widely expected that Abdul-Malik Abu is poised for a breakout season, and his performance yesterday indicates that is a reasonable opinion. The 6’9″ sophomore finished the game with 17 points, nine rebounds, and four blocks in 25 minutes of action. Terry Henderson, on the other hand, had a somewhat shaky debut, as the West Virginia transfer only managed five points in his 25 minutes, missing all four of his attempts from deep.
  3. Miami played its one and only exhibition game last Wednesday, defeating Division II Dowling by a score of 91-40. Sheldon McClellan led the way with 18 points, as the Hurricanes used a fast start (+15 points in first five minutes) to blow out the Golden Lions. Another encouraging result was the performance of Oklahoma State transfer Kamari Murphy, who posted a double-double in his unofficial Miami debut. Murphy has also impressed his teammates — after the game, McClellan said, “He adds a lot of energy and a lot of length on defense. He can do a lot on offense; he just brings a lot to the team.” We know that Miami has a veteran backcourt, so if Murphy can combine with center Tonye Jekiri to give the Hurricanes a strong inside game, Jim Larranaga may have a very balanced team on his hands.
  4. A pair of ACC teams looking to make a move up the conference ladder this season showed promising flashes in their lone exhibition outings on Friday. Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon has been preaching defensive improvement this preseason and he apparently means what he says. Returning leading scorer Jamel Artis did not start in the Panthers’ 80-50 beatdown of Gannon, which the head coach explained afterward: “We’ve been preaching all year long, all offseason, all fall, about best defensive players, best rebounders, those are the guys that are going to play, so that’s the guys we went with,” The Panthers’ defense played well, limiting Gannon to 32.7 percent field goal shooting for the game. In other related news, Dixon announced that junior college transfer Rozelle Nix would sit out the current season as a redshirt. At first glance, Wake Forest’s 86-64 win over UNC-Pembroke may not look overly impressive. But considering that the Demon Deacons were playing the Division II preseason #13 team, and doing so without Codi Miller-McIntrye (fractured foot), it really wasn’t a bad effort. It did take the Deacs a while to get going, as they committed 17 first half turnovers and trailed at the break; but behind Devin Thomas, who finished the game with 25 points and 16 rebounds, Wake Forest dominated the second half of play.
  5. Two ACC teams projected near the bottom of the league played their sole preseason exhibitions on Thursday and both performances may have confirmed those low expectations. Clemson needed to rally from a 12-point second half deficit to beat Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, 87-84, in double overtime. This was the Tigers’ first real game in Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena, their home away from home this season while Littlejohn Coliseum undergoes renovation. If last week’s game is any indication, Clemson’s home court edge may be under renovation as well. Likewise, Boston College was pushed hard by a Division II opponent, defeating Bentley 85-75, after trailing much of the game. It looks like the Eagles may be in for a tough year in the paint, as the smaller Falcons were able to post a significant (+9) first half rebound advantage. Florida transfer Eli Carter was one bright spot for the Eagles, leading all scorers with 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting.
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ACC M5: Midnight Madness Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 23rd, 2015

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  1. Since only four ACC schools are hosting a preseason celebration that could be considered a Midnight Madness event, we need a fifth to truly make this an M5. So we begin with Louisville, a program that appears to have been conducting its own version of late-night ‘Madness’ in recent years, at least according to “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen,” co-authored by Katina Powell and Pulitzer Prize winner Dick Cady. The resulting scandal has become the preseason’s biggest story in college basketball and it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Earlier this week, Powell was interviewed as part of an ESPN Outside The Lines episode, and she came across as a credible source in addition to what has been confirmed by other eyewitnesses, including former Louisville players and recruits. Rick Pitino claims to have no knowledge of any of these allegations and has called on former player and staff member, Andre McGee – the supposed organizer of the whole mess — to come forward and tell the truth. But many feel that the NCAA won’t be able to force McGee — currently on leave from his assistant coaching job with UMKC — to speak with them. While it’s true that current players and staff of NCAA member schools are obligated to speak with investigators, McGee, with little to gain by sharing, is likely to choose not to cooperate. He is of course not immune from talking with criminal investigators, so we may eventually found out what he knows via leaks and/or public records, but that doesn’t help the NCAA make any decisions about what do with Pitino and the Louisville program. All of which makes it hard to speculate on whether Pitino will ultimately survive as the Cardinals’ head coach.
  2. North Carolina will try to put aside worries about its own ongoing NCAA investigation with its annual “Late Night With Roy” celebration tonight at the Smith Center. The evening’s festivities will be hosted by former Tar Heels’ star Kenny Smith of TNT, and includes dance routines, comedy skits, and a team scrimmage as well as a special tribute to longtime “Late Night” host, Stuart Scott. UNC, recently named as co-#1 with Kentucky in the USA Today preseason coaches’ poll, will also be entertaining some top high school prospects. Recently Roy Williams has been struggling to recruit at the same level as other top national programs such as Duke, Kentucky and Kansas, so North Carolina fans hope a positive impression will be made on the players in attendance.
  3. Just down the road, Duke hosted its “Countdown to Craziness” last Saturday night in Cameron indoor Stadium. Among the highlights were the unveiling of the school’s fifth national championship banner and a team scrimmage that indicated that Duke’s defense is ahead of its offense at this stage of the preseason. As usual, the Blue Devils also used the event as a showcase for many high-level recruits from several different classes. In other Duke-related news, Mike Krzyzewski confirmed that next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will be his last as head coach of the USA’s mens’ national team. That news alone is not surprising, but it does reignite the conversation of who will take over the job and whether that coach will come from the NBA.
  4. Last Friday night, Syracuse held its annual “Orange Madness” event in the Carrier Dome. Much like at North Carolina, Orange players, coaches and fans probably enjoyed getting away from some of the recent negativity surrounding their program and are looking forward to some closure to its situation. With all the recent publicity about the Louisville debacle and the continuing talk concerning North Carolina’s NCAA investigation, it’s easy to forget that Syracuse will be without Jim Boeheim for the first half of ACC play this season and will have to manage smaller rosters for a while. It says here, though, that Louisville patrons would still gladly swap places with Orange fans at the moment.
  5. The first ACC school to host a Midnight Madness event this season was Pittsburgh, with an event called #ZooAfterHours that was held in the Petersen Events Center on October 9. It looks like Jamie Dixon pulled a page out of the John Calipari playbook by featuring rap star and Pittsburgh native Wiz Khalifa as the main attraction. Dixon commented afterward that the night worked out as well as expected or maybe even better. He also was quoted as saying that the Panthers were ready to get back to “toughness, hard work and playing defense”after a disappointing 2014-15 season, and that “we plan to push the ball at every opportunity as we have good guards.” While the first part of that quote is appropriate for what has made the Pitt program successful in the Dixon era, we’ll believe the second part when we see it — the Panthers have been among the nation’s slowest-paced teams for many years.
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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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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 Exam Week: Grading Out the 15 Schools

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 11th, 2014

It’s Exam Week in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so what better time than the present to analyze the basketball aptitude of the 15 member institutions? Below we present three groupings: the teams representing the head of the class; those with the potential to improve on their early season results; and the disappointments. There’s no sliding scale to our grading system, so the teams were evaluated on how they have performed no matter their preseason expectations (sorry, tough professor).

Top of the Class

  • Duke has earned nothing shy of an A+ thus far, playing like a team that’s clearly a national title contender. The freshmen and veteran holdovers have meshed beautifully, and the Blue Devils’ 8-0 record includes a quality win over Michigan State as well as a very impressive defeat of fellow contender Wisconsin on the road.
  • Louisville is having no problem representing its new conference in an 8-0 start, save for a head-scratching 45-33 win over Cleveland State. Knocking off Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge as well as wins over Minnesota and Indiana leave the Cardinals looking like a contender for the crown too. Montrezl Harrell has been as good as advertised, and the long-awaited emergence of Wayne Blackshear makes this a very dangerous team.
  • Notre Dame sure missed Jerian Grant down the stretch last season. Now that its leading man is back from suspension, the Irish have started off hot. They’re a one-point loss to Providence from being 10-0 and they can present a quality win by virtue of besting Michigan State. Four double-figure scorers contribute to the 10th highest-scoring offense in the country at 85.1 points per game.
Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

  • Could Virginia actually be better than last year’s conference championship-winning team? The Cavaliers have let Justin Anderson loose, and he has been nothing short of a star to pair along with Malcolm Brogdon. They’re still one of the best defensive teams in the country and have shown they can win playing multiple styles, counting road wins over Maryland and VCU already on the resume.
  • Miami is probably the pleasant surprise of the conference thus far, sporting a 9-1 record and earning a spot few saw coming in the national rankings. We’ll excuse the hiccup against Wisconsin-Green Bay (the same team that nipped Virginia early last year) since the Hurricanes have already beaten Florida and Illinois. Transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan have allowed the other players who were asked to do too much last season to return to more comfortable supporting roles.

Those With Potential

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