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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For Hawaii, An Unexpected Triumph During Unpleasant Times

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 24th, 2014

Although the Warriors’ 74-70 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday was not the biggest upset of the weekend – that distinction went elsewhere – it was certainly among the most surprising, even if virtually no one could watch it. Few programs have had the rug pulled out from under it quite like Hawaii has to start 2014-15, with an ongoing NCAA investigation leading to the firing of its head coach and the departure of its best player, each within three weeks of the team’s season opener. To make matters worse, would-be contributor Sammis Reyes – a Chilean freshman who initially left the program amid coach Gib Arnold’s firing – was forced to redshirt after breaking his hand last Tuesday. And yet, despite all the attrition and adversity and general weirdness, interim head man Benjy Taylor and his guard-heavy lineup managed to gash the Panthers for 1.3 points per possession on Friday night and topple an ACC opponent for the first time since 2012. Could it be the prelude to a season-long rally? Maybe, maybe not. But either way, considering everything Hawaii has been through over the past month, it is one impressive victory.

Hawaii pulled off a surprising victory over Pittsburgh on Friday. (UH Athletics)

Hawaii pulled off a surprising victory over Pittsburgh on Friday night. (UH Athletics)

On October 23, Hawaii was picked fifth in the Big West preseason poll and forward Isaac Fotu (14.9 PPG and 6.1 RPG in 2013-14) was made an All-Conference selection; five days later, the university announced that Arnold and assistant coach Brandyn Akana had been relieved of their coaching duties. Expectations were not necessarily high coming into the season – top scorer Christian Standhardinger had graduated and point guard Keith Shamburger had transferred to Missouri – but the Warriors were supposed to at least be competitive in the nine-team conference. Without their head coach, though, the outlook became more suspect – especially considering the timing. According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Hawaii has been under NCAA investigation since March stemming from a self-reported incident in which “a men’s basketball coach submitted an altered document that was essential for admissions purposes.” The abrupt nature of the firing – just as the team was set to embark on its 2014-15 campaign – came as a surprise to many, including Arnold himself, who gave an emotional press conference from his home a few days after the fact:

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One on One: An ACC Preview With Bret Strelow

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the ACC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an ACC expert in Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow), the ACC basketball reporter for The Fayetteville Observer.

Rush the Court: Duke was an extremely talented unit last season, but it was ultimately done in by its defensive deficiencies in its stunning NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer. The Blue Devils once again have a talented roster and are widely projected to win the league. Will this season be any different than last when it comes to the defensive end of the floor?

Bret Strelow: It would be hard to get much worse. The Blue Devils ranked in the 100s in defensive efficiency, which is a far cry from what a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team usually is. With Jabari Parker, defense was not his calling card. Rodney Hood took on some tough assignments and struggled at times. The current thought around the Duke camp is that Jahlil Okafor at 6’11” and 270 pounds is a legitimate rim-protector. Duke can clean up some of its mistakes and pressure the ball a little bit more with Okafor back there. I think Duke should ultimately be a better defensive team, but we will see how much of a difference that will make.

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

RTC: Marcus Paige alone can probably keep North Carolina competitive in the ACC, but if the Tar Heels want to compete for the league crown, they are going to need a supporting cast to step forward. What Tar Heels can you see breaking out this season?

Strelow: It really might be a little bit of everybody. If Marcus Paige has to carry the load like he did for much of last season, North Carolina is probably not going to reach the goal that it has of contending for a Final Four and a national title. I think you can expect a little bit from everybody. Brice Johnson was extremely efficient last season in a secondary role behind James Michael McAdoo. If Johnson can stay out of foul trouble and guard well enough, I think his offense will be there. Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down. His offense has never been a problem. With Johnson and Meeks, you have two solid front line guys. When you look at the North Carolina freshmen class, Justin Jackson is a guy who has the uncanny ability to score. He has a way of scoring quickly and scoring in a way that does not require a lot of dribbles. I think he can really have a big year. He is probably more of an offensive threat than fellow freshmen Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II. I think outside shooting might still be an issue for North Carolina outside of Paige and if Jackson can hit a few. When you look at a guy like J.P. Tokoto, outside shooting is not his game. I think the Tar Heels have enough inside and with Jackson coming along, they are going to have enough to help Paige carry the load this season.

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NCAA Tournament Analysis: Saturday Games

Posted by Bennet Hayes, Brian Otskey, Andrew Murawa & Walker Carey on March 22nd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Half of the field is already gone, and as fun as Thursday and Friday were, it’s time to get down to the business of crowning a national champion. Here’s our analysis of all of Saturday’s games.

#1 Florida vs. #9 Pittsburgh — South Region Third Round (at Orlando, FL) — 12:15 PM ET on CBS.

Lamar Patterson And Pittsburgh Had Little Trouble With Colorado In Their Tournament Debut, But A Far Stiffer Challenge Awaits Them In The Tournament's #1 Overall Seed, Florida

Lamar Patterson And Pittsburgh Had Little Trouble With Colorado In Their Tournament Debut, But A Far Stiffer Challenge Now Awaits: The Tournament’s #1 Overall Seed, Florida.

Albany made things interesting for a while against Florida, but the South region’s top seed took control down the stretch to advance to the round of 32. The Gator’s third round opponent, Pittsburgh, made sure that their Tournament advancement was never in doubt, running out to a 13-0 lead on Colorado en route to a 77-48 rout of the Buffs. Impressive performance from the Panthers, but a second round blowout has never entitled anyone to a bye into the Sweet 16; Jamie Dixon’s team will have their work cut out for them on Saturday. Still though, this is a winnable game for Pitt. The Panthers are a #9 seed in the bracket, but Ken Pom’s rankings have them as the 15th best team in the country, and they actually share a lot of the same traits that have made Florida successful this season. Neither squad plays fast (Florida is 314th in adjusted tempo, Pitt 296th), but both teams are in the top-25 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and each collects caroms at a clip that puts them in the top-60 in the country in rebounding percentage on both ends. Neither team boasts an especially glaring weakness, although three-point shooting is not a big part of the game-plan for either side. Looking at the Pittsburgh stats page can be intoxicating; the Panthers really do look like a top-15 team on paper. An inability to close out games has been the largest roadblock for the on-court version of the Panthers to emit the same appearance, but there’s no reason why they can’t finally win one of those close ones on Saturday. Pitt’s Lamar Patterson and Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin will not spend much time directly matching up today, but expect the bulk of the offense to flow through these two players. Patterson hasn’t been fully commended for what’s been a breakout senior season, but he’ll have his shot at some national recognition against the Gators. Outplaying Wilbekin would give Pittsburgh a great chance at moving on, but Wilbekin – and his gritty supporting cast – is where I’ll place my faith. I think Scottie does enough to keep Florida playing basketball next weekend, and in a game that may feel more like a Sweet 16 matchup than a third round game, Florida moves on.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida

#4 Louisville vs. #5 Saint Louis – Midwest Region Third Round (in Orlando, FL) – at 2:45 PM EST on CBS

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Teams

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 16th, 2014

Selection Sunday has now yielded a 2014 NCAA Tournament field, and the bracket is filled out. It’s time to analyze how the ACC teams fared in their quest to garner postseason success. Some teams seem to have an easier path than others, but it is March and nothing can be taken for granted. Some may be surprised that six ACC teams made the field, especially since Florida State was the presumed ACC team on the brink, but nonetheless the ACC tied for the second-most teams in the field behind the Big 12’s seven entrants. Here’s a look at the six ACC squads that were lucky enough to hear their names called, and what their NCAA Tournament might look like.

Virginia, #1 seed, East Region. The Cavaliers were rewarded (and justly so) for claiming the ACC regular season and tournament titles with a #1 seed in the East. They won’t have to travel far in the early stages, either, with the opening rounds in a familiar venue in Raleigh. After what should be an opening round win over Coastal Carolina, Virginia will have to tangle with either Memphis or George Washington. The Cavaliers are one of the few teams in the country that always controls the tempo, so a match-up with a running team like the Tigers won’t faze them a bit. Tony Bennett’s team has a good shot of advancing to the Final Four if it can survive a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with a suddenly-healthy #4 seed Michigan State. Villanova as the #2 seed is not as potent as other regions’ second seeds, so the Cavaliers have a very realistic shot of ending up in Arlington.

Virginia's dominance of the ACC regular and postseason helped them grab a number one seed (usatoday)

Duke, #3 seed, Midwest Region. Duke also gets the favorable early draw of playing in Raleigh, opening with Mercer. The Blue Devils’ region arguably has the most questionable top seed in Wichita State, but a potential UMass meeting in the second game could be tricky. Duke’s NCAA hopes are always pinned on how they shoot from distance, and if they’re on they can beat anyone. If they’re off, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood have to make plays to rescue the team. The region’s #2 seed, Michigan, already tussled with Duke earlier in the year and fell short, so that should also bolster Mike Kzryzewski’s outlook. Nevertheless, Louisville lurks in the Midwest with a head-scratching #4 seed, so Duke is not without a test at every turn in its quest to bring glory back home to Durham for the fifth time.

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Rushed Reactions: Pittsburgh 80, #15 North Carolina 75

Posted by mpatton on March 14th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Marcus Paige has been a revelation this season. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige has been a revelation this season. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

  1. Pittsburgh finally got its big win. The Panthers were on the bubble coming into the ACC Tournament, but a dominant beatdown of Wake Forest and a convincing (albeit close) win against North Carolina puts the Panthers squarely where they should be talking about seeding rather than sweating on Selection Sunday. The Panthers are healthy and have two great players in Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna. This team finally lived up to its computer profile. They pass the ball very well (when not being trapped in the backcourt, but more on that later), but most importantly, the way Pittsburgh plays there are no obvious weaknesses for opponents to exploit.
  2. North Carolina can’t keep starting slow. It’s a dangerous game to play. It’s even worse when you consider the Tar Heels appear to expect a perfect performance from Marcus Paige in the second half of every game. That said, give major credit to the Roy Williams for going to the press in the final quarter of the game. Pittsburgh really struggled with the pressure, and it got the North Carolina team (and crowd) back in the game. But there’s no reason this team should have stretches like the 3-of-19 start to open the contest. All that said, North Carolina almost pulled off one of the most unlikely comebacks I’ve ever seen. They never quit, almost seeming to forget about the first three quarters of the game. That could pay dividends later.
  3. These are both good teams. Good enough to make a deep run in the Big Dance (or lose the first weekend). After the game, Paige was asked how they had lived up to his expectations.

    “The season is not over for us. It’s hard to say. There’s a lot that could happen in the next however many weeks that could change that answer. I think we have dreams and goals of making the deep Tournament run and I think we’re capable of doing that. A lot of it rests on that. We’re pleased with the way we’ve been able to fight back and win 12 games in a row and put ourselves in the good position. That’s not what our expectation was coming into the year. That’s what really made this month.”

    Couldn’t say it any better myself.

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North Carolina Streaking With Six Wins in a Row

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 16th, 2014

North Carolina continued its climb up the ACC standings, bursting into fourth place with a 75-71 win over Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill. James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige led the way as the Tar Heels held a lead for the entire second half and withstood a furious Panthers’ rally in the closing minutes. For North Carolina, which started ACC play with three straight losses, this wasn’t just its sixth consecutive victory, but it’s probably the best win of the Heels’ recent streak. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, continues to tumble in the opposite direction, losing four of their last six games after starting conference play 6-1.

North Carolina's Marcus Paige Was On Fire - Making 5 Threes Versus Pittsburgh. (Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

North Carolina’s Marcus Paige Was On Fire, Making 5 Threes Versus Pittsburgh.
(Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

Pittsburgh got off to a good start in the first half, leading 18-11 after nine minutes of play. The Tar Heels began to chip away at the lead, finally catching and passing the Panthers late to take a 35-31 lead into the locker room. North Carolina didn’t shoot well in the first stanza (40.6%) but the Heels collected nine offensive rebounds and attacked the basket well enough to put Pittsburgh in foul trouble. In fact, three Pittsburgh starters including star Lamar Patterson, played fewer than 10 first half minutes due to early foul difficulties, and Jamie Dixon was forced as a result to switch to zone defense for long stretches. North Carolina’s underrated defense forced 10 first half turnovers and held Pittsburgh to only 0.89 points per possession.

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ACC M5: 02.13.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 13th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. CBS Sports and ESPN: A couple of interesting tidbits from after Syracuse‘s miracle win last night at Pittsburgh. First, according to the Panther players after the game, they forced the Orange to take the shot they wanted. And truthfully, if you go back a couple possessions, I’m pretty sure they were fine with CJ Fair’s long three and step-back 15-footer too. Even more impressive is Tyler Ennis‘ resume in the last five minutes of one-possession games and overtime: he’s 8-of-9 from the field, 14-of-14 from the free throw line, with six assists and no turnovers. Ennis lives for the moment. It’s amazing (and lucky). But the best make their own luck, and it’s starting to look like Ennis is one of the best.
  2. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Here’s where I’m going to jump on the Internet bandwagon. Jamie Dixon shouldn’t have used his last timeout — the one he called after making a free throw to go up one with 4.4 seconds left. The one that let Syracuse set up a final play. Unless a Pittsburgh player was woefully out of position or Syracuse happened to be in the perfect formation to get an easy shot, I would have kept that timeout. But when it comes down to it, Pittsburgh played well enough to win and just caught a bad break. Unfortunately, that bad break probably puts the Panthers in the bubble conversation (although with its record, I think the Panthers are a shoo-in barring an epic collapse).
  3. AP (via Winston-Salem Journal): Wake Forest athletic director and chairman of the Selection Committee Ron Wellman (hey, at least he doesn’t have to worry about a conflict of interest anytime soon) announced some changes in how the NCAA seeds its teams that will matter for bracketologists. The two big ones are allowing rematches earlier in the tournament and having “more latitude in assigning teams to sites closer to their homes.” The second point runs counter to Wellman’s goal of honoring seed lines. If you honor the seeds and locations, you’re going to end up with ones in home regions for eights, which is beyond stupid.
  4. Fayetteville Observer: Duke vs. North Carolina was postponed last night, but that doesn’t mean we won’t talk about both teams. Here’s a good look at Marcus Paige from Bret Strelow. Paige, a little like Ennis, doesn’t have gobs of natural athleticism, but they both seem to make the game slow down. That’s essentially where the similarities end, though — Ennis is a distributor who morphs into an unstoppable machine in the final five minutes, while Paige is the first offensive option all game long.
  5. Washington Post: Terrific short (18 minutes) documentary on the dying Maryland-Duke rivalry, focusing on the back-to-back national championships in 2001 and 2002. The Duke title year (2001) was when the rivalry came into its own with four (yes, four) absolutely tremendous, unforgettable games. I’ve mostly come to accept the Terrapins leaving for the Big Ten at this point, but work like this definitely makes me think twice. For a good stretch in the 2000s, the Maryland-Duke games were on an unparalleled level. There’s still a level of vitriol that runs between the schools that made for unbelievable atmospheres.
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Rushed Reactions: #2 Syracuse 59, #22 Pittsburgh 54

Posted by mpatton on January 18th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Pittsburgh is worthy of a higher ranking. With no great non-conference wins and that horribly slow loss to Cincinnati, there was good reason to question whether the Panthers deserved their advanced statistical love. But they played Syracuse even on the road, even owning a lead in the final three minutes. But even more impressive was that the Panthers took the lead after trailing by double figures in the second half. It’s not a secret at this point: Lamar Patterson is a special player and may be frontrunner for ACC Player of the Year if he keeps up the pace.

    Tyler Ennis got to the rim to seal Syracuse's victory. (credit: Dick Blume / Syracuse Post-Standard)

    Tyler Ennis got to the rim to seal Syracuse’s victory. (credit: Dick Blume / Syracuse Post-Standard)

  2. Syracuse isn’t going undefeated in the ACC. The Orange might be perfect at home when it’s all said and done, but their late game rebounding is a huge concern. Pittsburgh missed a lot of foul shots and layups, and still almost won the game at the Carrier Dome. Someone will get hot from beyond the arc and torch Syracuse on the offensive glass. Even more importantly, the Orange only played seven players, and every starter logged more than 29 minutes. Jerami Grant, CJ Fair and Tyler Ennis each played the entire 40 minutes, which could cause problems if the Orange get in foul trouble.
  3. Syracuse’s interior length bothered Pittsburgh on offense. Part of the problem is that the Panthers’ front line doesn’t have a lot of height. But multiple times Pittsburgh ended up having to force a jumper late in the shot clock because a guard was met by Rakeem Christmas or Baye Keita in the paint. That said, Talib Zanna had a couple of really good offensive possessions operating near the elbow, and finished with an efficient double-double.

Star of the Game: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse. Ennis scored six of Syracuse’s last eight points to close the game, including the big shot to retake the lead. He finished with 16 points (a team high) on eight shots with three assists and one turnover in just shy of 40 minutes. Jim Boeheim made it clear after the game that they opened the floor (keeping CJ Fair and Trevor Cooney on the wing) to let Ennis work. That’s a lot of responsibility for a freshman, but you never felt like Ennis was rattled. Even when Pittsburgh deflected his pass late in the second half, he stayed calm and got it back.

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Five Key Questions as Pittsburgh Heads to the Carrier Dome with Something to Prove

Posted by Matt Patton & Lathan Wells on January 18th, 2014

In anticipation of the new marquee ACC match-up this afternoon at 4:00 PM EST, microsite columnists Matt Patton and Lathan Wells ask each other the tough questions. Somehow, we only mention CJ Fair once.

Can anyone disrupt Syracuse's diaper dandy? (credit: Mark Konezny / USA TODAY Sports)

Can anyone disrupt Syracuse’s diaper dandy? (credit: Mark Konezny / USA TODAY Sports)

LathanTyler Ennis has proven to be a freshman beyond his years at the point, with a demeanor that belies his class. Can anyone disrupt him defensively and thus help stymie what Syracuse wants to do on offense?

Matt: Calling Ennis a surprise is disingenuous because everyone expected him to be really good. People just didn’t him to be this good this quickly. He’s made the offense more efficient by replacing Michael Carter-Williams, the current NBA Rookie of the Year front-runner. But Pittsburgh will likely try to make the freshman uncomfortable by sealing off the lane with face-guarding on the perimeter.

Pittsburgh has some of the best ball movement in the country (seventh nationally in assists per field goal made). How will Syracuse’s zone combat it?

Lathan: In short, the zone makes ball movement the key to staying in the game. Syracuse’s length across its lineup forces teams to keep throwing the ball around the perimeter and causing teams to hurry late in the shot clock to get a good shot. Establishing a solid high-low option is probably the key to having some sort of success on offense.

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AAC M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 15th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Cincinnati took care of business last night against Temple in the only conference game played, and everyone who ordered themselves a $70 ticket earned a $10 ticket credit toward a package next year because the Bearcats once again held their opponent under 70 points. The team actually allowed the Owls to shoot better than 40 percent from behind the three-point arc, but they also forced 15 turnovers and Temple made just 9-of-18 free throws to keep Temple away from the magic number. They have now held their opponents under 70 points in 25 straight games, and boast one of the country’s 10 most efficient defenses according to KenPom. Under Mick Cronin, defense has become the program’s identity as it has finished among the top 25 in efficiency in each of the past three seasons. This year’s team has never really had a second scoring option behind Sean Kilpatrick, yet they do have several long and physical athletes who have bought into what their coach is teaching them. It will be interesting to see how this defense-first approach will work in March, but it’s the primary reason why the Bearcats will be playing in March at all.
  2. Devout college basketball fans don’t need to be told that Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin has vastly improved his game from last season, but just in case you weren’t paying attention, Josh Pastner doesn’t mind telling you how much different sophomore Goodwin is from freshman Goodwin. When folks talk about Memphis, they usually start by mentioning the four senior guards, but Goodwin’s emergence as an all-conference caliber player has been just as big a reason for the team’s success. The article astutely recognizes that Goodwin isn’t just a polished offensive player and solid rebounder, but he is also one of the best passing big men in the conference,  instrumental in helping his teammates get open looks and freeing up space for fellow forward Austin Nichols to get easy looks. I hope he stays in college for at least one more season because I don’t think his game translates well to the NBA just yet, and also because he is a lot of fun to watch. The Tigers found out against Cincinnati that shooting a ton of threes is not the best way to win, as Goodwin took just five shots in that game. The unit’s firepower obviously resides in the backcourt, but the offense also needs to go through Goodwin sometimes to keep opposing teams honest.
  3. Since we are on the subject of Josh Pastner talking about things, it’s worth mentioning that in the UConn Blog for the Hartford Courant there was a little note tucked in where Pastner is quoted saying that the AAC is “one of the three best conferences in the country” and should get as many as six bids to the NCAA Tournament. We have no context for the quote but if he was asked a question about where the conference stood, it shouldn’t be surprising that he decided to toe the party line. That said, uhhh Josh, we probably appreciate the conference enthusiasm as much as anyone, but you can’t just say things like that when they clearly aren’t true. The Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and ACC all are clearly better conferences and plenty of people would argue that the Big East and Atlantic-10 are better top-to-bottom as well. As for six bids, Pastner better hope that Houston stays hot because the Cougars are pretty much the only hope the conference has for a sixth bid. Did we mention that this team has lost to San Jose State already and has beaten just one team (UConn at home) of any consequence? At least he didn’t try this nonsense next season.
  4. Admittedly, I have never really considered Rutgers swingman J.J. Moore as a combo forward and have always thought of him as someone who could play guard and forward. It turns out that he can play both positions, as he has been great at guard for the Scarlet Knights ever since Jerome Seagears went down with an ankle injury. The Pittsburgh transfer is third on the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game and adds value defensively with his ability to defend multiple positions. Unfortunately, his talents will be lost in Piscataway because the Scarlet Knights will be very lucky to make any postseason tournament. I am sure he had his reasons for transferring, but the Panthers are among the ACC’s best teams and I bet Jamie Dixon would enjoy having Moore at his disposal for this stretch run.
  5. Kevin Ware‘s feel-good comeback story stalled weeks ago as he struggled with a shin injury and has played sparingly and made very little impact on the team this season. Well now it looks like the story has come to a full stop, as sources are telling the Louisville Courier-Journal that the shin injury may cause Ware to miss the rest of the season. Ware wasn’t on the bench during the team’s recent win over SMU after re-injuring it, and it looks like his season is over. The silver lining is that the sources seemed to refute message board buzz about Ware leaving the program permanently, and it also seems likely that Ware will apply for a medical redshirt which would allow him to retain another year of eligibility.
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What to Make of Pittsburgh Through Another Weak Non-Conference Schedule

Posted by Jason Priziborowski on December 22nd, 2013

Pittsburgh is having another solid season, currently sitting at 11-1 after torching visiting Cal Poly by 17 points over the weekend. Here’s the key question, though: Does this record represent a run at an elite season for the Panthers or is this just another instance of strategic scheduling? Many coaches schedule their non-conference slates to challenge and help prepare their teams for the rigors of conference play; while others schedule to win a bunch of games. John Calipari, Roy Williams, and Tom Izzo tend to fall into the latter camp, whereas Jamie Dixon, Jim Boeheim and many others are regularly accused of falling into the former camp.

Jamie Dixon has been piling up non-conference wins, but does it prepare his team for later in the season?

For the past three years, Dixon has clearly followed the philosophy of scheduling to win. This season Pittsburgh is 11-1 in non-conference play with one more game against Albany to go before ACC play begins. This year the Panthers have only played four teams in the RPI Top 100 (Stanford at #46, Cincinnati at #67, Penn State at #73, and Fresno State at #92), beating all but the Bearcats. Last season they also finished non-conference play 12-1, having played only two teams in the RPI top 100 (Michigan at #17 and Detroit at #64), splitting those games. In 2011-12, Pittsburgh finished non-conference play at 11-2, playing five teams in the RPI top 100 (Long Beach State at #36, La Salle at #83, Tennessee at #86, Wagner at #92, and Penn at #98), losing to both Long Beach State and Wagner.

The problem for Pittsburgh is that it plays in the tough-as-nails ACC, so if non-conference play doesn’t prepare the Panthers for the difficulties of league play, it’s tough to just flip the switch on come January. It’s understandable that coaches don’t want to schedule such a difficult non-conference schedule that their teams are burned out and lacking confidence heading into the conference season, but there needs to be enough competition so that the team also improves from early November to late December. Last year Pitt finished the non-conference season at 12-1, went 12-6 in the Big East, and then lost its first game of the Big East Tournament before doing likewise in the NCAA Tournament. The year before that, Pitt finished non-conference play at 11-2 before falling apart in the Big East with a 5-13 record and not making the NCAAs at all.

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