ACC Tournament Preview

Posted by Matt Patton on March 10th, 2015

The ACC Tournament gets started in Greensboro today and the microsite will be there throughout the week to provide coverage all the way through Saturday night’s championship game. Let’s tease the next five days with some storylines, players to watch and a not-so-wild prediction.

Three Important Narratives

  • #1 Seed Drama (and the Battle for a True ACC Champion): Duke and Virginia both look like #1 seeds if the season ended today. But there’s one problem — the season isn’t over. Wisconsin and Arizona are both nipping at their heels and if both win their conference tournaments, chances are that the Selection Committee thinks pretty hard about dropping one of those ACC teams to the second line. If either Duke or Virginia wins the ACC Tournament, that team is a lock for the top line. If the Cavaliers and Blue Devils meet in the finals, the loser still has a really good chance. Lose before then, though, and all bets are off. The more important storyline from a conference perspective is the crowning of the true champion. One issue with the unbalanced ACC schedule is that regular season wins and losses aren’t directly comparable anymore. Virginia had the easiest conference strength of schedule of any ACC team (in part because it can’t play itself), but the Cavaliers only played Duke once (at home), North Carolina once (away), Louisville twice, and Notre Dame once (away). Duke, on the other hand, got Virginia once (away), North Carolina twice, Louisville once (away), and Notre Dame twice. The Blue Devils only played one extra game against the top five teams, but that extra game was on the road. What I’m trying to say here is that if we want to crown a true ACC champion with no regrets, Duke and Virginia need to meet on Saturday evening for a neutral-court rematch.
Don't forget about the Wolfpack. (AP Photo | Jason DeCrow)

Don’t forget about the Wolfpack. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • Bubble Bath: Heading into Greensboro, the ACC bubble situation is pretty straightforward this year. Pittsburgh needs to walk away with the trophy. NC State is mostly safe (not that the Wolfpack should think about losing to Pittsburgh on Wednesday). Miami is on the outside of the bubble but can definitely play itself into the Big Dance. The Hurricanes need a splashy win (alas, the winner of Wake Forest and Virginia Tech won’t cut it). A win over Notre Dame on Thursday might just tip the scales. Beating Duke a second time would make it a sure thing, and beating any other opponent to make the championship game would probably be enough as well.

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ACC Regular Season Superlatives

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 9th, 2015

The ACC regular season has come to a close, which means it’s time for conference tournament play and postseason dreams that stretch deep into March. For now, though, it’s a great time to look back at the standout performers and performances of the regular season that was. Here are your 2014-15 ACC superlatives:

RTC All-ACC Team

  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Okafor lived up his immense preseason billing and single-handedly turned a dangerous Duke team into a dominant one. Okafor was the conference’s second-leading scorer (17.6 PPG), third-leading rebounder (9.2 RPG) and top shooter by field goal percentage (66.8%). His ability to make the team a dual threat instead of the perimeter-reliant teams of yore means these Blue Devils have a very high ceiling come NCAA Tourney time.
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. The remarkable year that the Fighting Irish enjoyed can be traced to the return of Grant from a suspension related to academic improprieties. In addition to his highlight-reel dunks and numerous clutch baskets, Grant was a stat-sheet stuffer for a vastly improved Notre Dame team, logging 16.8 PPG, 6.7 APG and 1.8 SPG on the season. He also shot an outstanding 49.4 percent from the field.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse. The Orange ultimately had little to play for because of their self-imposed postseason ban, but they may have produced the best on-court individual success story of the year. Christmas’ amazing improvement from his junior to senior season (17.5 PPG, +11.7; 9.1 RPG, +4.0) proved he could flourish as the team’s primary option. He served as the lone bright spot in an otherwise disastrous season for Syracuse hoops and has positioned himself for a bright future in the professional ranks.
Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia. Brogdon’s inclusion on this list speaks to his ability to play whatever role Tony Bennett asks of him. With Justin Anderson stealing the early headlines, Brogdon was content to act as the team’s best on-ball defender and late game shot-maker. When Anderson fell to injury, Brogdon resumed his role as a primary offensive weapon. He averaged nearly 14 points per game while shooting 34 percent from three and 86 percent from the line. Traditional statistics never do Virginia players much justice, though, but Brogdon’s intangible ability to meet the demands made of him showed his true value to the ACC regular season champs.
  • Olivier Hanlan, Boston College. Hanlan played on a mediocre Boston College team but his offensive prowess was rivaled by none in this year’s ACC. The conference’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, he remained a deadly offensive weapon despite playing the point guard position for the first time in his career. He scored 30 or more points four times, including a stellar 39 points on just 20 shots against Pittsburgh.

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Why Pat Connaughton Could Lead Notre Dame to the Second Weekend

Posted by Walker Carey on March 8th, 2015

Notre Dame has been one of the best stories of the year in college basketball. The Fighting Irish began the season unranked because they were coming off a disastrous season when Mike Brey‘s squad finished with a career-worst 15-17 record. The return of senior guard Jerian Grant from an academic suspension has been discussed ad nauseam but with good reason — the senior has performed at an All-America level all season long. While Grant has been spectacular, another major reason why Notre Dame has been able to improve to an impressive 26-5 mark has been the play and leadership of the team’s senior captain, swingman Pat Connaughton.

Pat Connaughton & Jerian Grant (USA Today Images)

Pat Connaughton & Jerian Grant Have Finished Strong (USA Today Images)

Connaughton arrived at Notre Dame in the summer of 2011 and it was not long before the Arlington, Massachusetts, product made an impact. In a season that figured to be lost following standout Tim Abromaitis’ season-ending knee injury in November, Connaughton was a key cog in the Irish’s plan to reinvent themselves. He started the final 18 games of the season as the team battled to a 22-12 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance. His demonstrated toughness and durability took center stage during a sophomore season where he started every game and played the third-most minutes on a team that featured veterans Jack Cooley and Eric Atkins. The high point of that season for him came in Notre Dame’s epic five-overtime victory over eventual national champion Louisville in February. Connaughton logged a career-high 56 minutes while contributing 16 points and 14 rebounds to the winning effort. While last season was clearly a disappointment for everyone associated with the program, Connaughton took the opportunity to emerge as both a standout scorer (13.8 PPG) and rebounder (7.1 RPG).

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ACC M5: 03.03.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 3rd, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Duke Chronicle: No doubt you’ve already heard but Duke‘s student newspaper dropped a bomb on the college basketball world with this article on Rasheed Sulaimon’s alleged involvement in two sexual assaults. First, this is tremendous reporting even thought it relies heavily on unnamed sources. Next, I don’t want to comment too much but this isn’t a good look for Duke. Don’t expect much clarification from the university or Coach K in coming weeks, but I do think a more detailed timeline will come out. Sulaimon is still enrolled at Duke, which makes me think we’ll get more information soon. My gut reaction is that the Duke athletic department really dropped the ball with this even if its administrators and staff didn’t do anything illegal.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: Great story from Donna Ditota on Rakeem Christmas, aptly nicknamed “the mayor of Syracuse” by teammate BJ Johnson. Christmas is a prime example of why it pays to return to school (well other than the untimely postseason ban). He went from the fourth, maybe fifth, option in the lineup to the go-to guy. He’s improved all of his per game stats without a huge drop in efficiency (and that doesn’t factor in all of the double-teams), and he’s one of the few seniors who has really improved his draft stock this year. Here’s to hoping his advanced age doesn’t scare away NBA teams.
  3. NBA Draft Blog: Speaking of seniors who have improved their draft stock, Ed Isaacson took a look at Jerian Grant‘s draft prospects after he graduates from Notre Dame. Grant also has the dreaded age problem, but he has played more man-to-man than Christmas and feels like a sneaky good pick late in the first round. He’s far from a sure thing at the next level, but he’s more athletic than people give him credit for and is a pure scorer. He’s been one of the most well-rounded offensive players in the country this season, and I think he would excel by coming off the bench for a good NBA team.
  4. CBSSports.com: The NCAA is looking to deflect blame in some of its most recent dealings with former student-athletes. This time it relates to Rashanda McCants (Rashad McCants’ sister) and former North Carolina football player Devon Ramsay, who are suing North Carolina and the NCAA. From an outsider’s perspective, this case involving theories of liability on academic fraud looks like a long shot, but strangely enough the NCAA’s APR rules could make it more responsible for its member schools’ academic curricula rather than less. A good metaphor is that of McDonald’s, a company with very strict guidelines for franchisees that led the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to label the company as a “joint employer” instead of a true franchise. You may recognize the NLRB from a 2014 story on Northwestern football players unionizing (something that obviously hasn’t yet come to fruition), but all of these cases may combine to slowly turn the tide of public opinion and ultimately break the NCAA’s back.
  5. Tar Heel Depot: Very cool idea for a running series. Bryan Ives reminds us all of Georgia Tech‘s Ishma’il Muhammad with an epic highlight video set to Ghostface. This is what blogging is all about.

EXTRA (via Fought and Won One): Starting to piece together your all-ACC teams as the season comes to a close but want to be able to sort by all the different stats? Austin Johnson has you covered.

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ACC M5: 02.26.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 26th, 2015

morning5_ACC

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

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

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Three Thoughts as Syracuse Upset Notre Dame

Posted by Walker Carey on February 25th, 2015

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

Notre Dame entered Tuesday night’s game second in the nation in field goal percentage (51.3%) and fourth in turnovers committed per game (9.1). Both those figures were radically different against Syracuse last night, thought, as the Irish struggled mightily against its 2-3 zone in a surprising 65-60 home defeat. The team’s offensive struggles were evident from the opening tip, as Mike Brey‘s squad shot an ice cold 20.8 percent from the field and committed eight turnovers during the opening stanza. Irish guard Jerian Grant was so befuddled by the Syracuse zone that he was unable to even find a single shot attempt during the disastrous opening half. The Irish had a little life to open the second half to trim a five-point halftime deficit to just one, but the tide turned quickly and Syracuse pretty much coasted the rest of the way. The final offensive numbers for Notre Dame were ugly. It managed to shoot just 34.7 percent from the field, 13.6 percent from three, and committed 14 turnovers. Grant was held to just 13 points on 2-of-9 shooting and was out of rhythm throughout. The following are three thoughts from Tuesday night’s action:

Despite its best efforts, the Notre Dame faithful couldn't will its team to victory Tuesday evening against rival Syracuse. (Getty)

Despite its best efforts, the Notre Dame faithful couldn’t will its team to victory Tuesday evening against rival Syracuse. (Getty)

  1. Syracuse won this game with its defense and a big performance from B.J. Johnson. Much of the reason for the Irish’s poor shooting performance comes from how well the Orange defended against its dynamic offensive attack. The Syracuse zone pressured the shooters all evening, as the backcourt of Grant, Demetrius Jackson, and Steve Vasturia combined to finish with just 21 points on 5-of-24 shooting (0-of-14 from three). The 2-3 zone was also instrumental in forcing a high number of turnovers, as Notre Dame committed five over its average last night. The Orange are not experiencing the season that they would have liked, but they exhibited in South Bend that their defense on a good night is still capable of stifling one of the nation’s best offensive attacks. Aside from the fantastic defense, Syracuse also received a terrific performance from B.J. Johnson. The sophomore guard tied a career-high with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting and provided the Orange with a spark on a night where leading scorer Rakeem Christmas battled foul trouble and finished four points below his season average. Read the rest of this entry »
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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: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 30th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Raleigh News & Observer and Durham Herald-Sun: Duke very abruptly dismissed Rasheed Sulaimon from the team yesterday. There aren’t any details beyond that other than to say that it wasn’t related to academic or legal problems. But it appears to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. That’s underselling how huge this dismissal is because Duke isn’t deep and does not appear to be struggling with chemistry issues (at least not during games). Sulaimon was doing well as a defensive specialist who also ran the team when the other two point guards weren’t performing well. My guess is that Coach K gave Sulaimon an ultimatum at some point last season (probably after his one-game hiatus that wasn’t officially a suspension) and Sulaimon finally struck out. It’s amazing to think that Sulaimon is the first player Krzyzewski has ever dismissed from his team.
  2. Washington Post: This article does a fair job of explaining why John Feinstein is the last man ranking Virginia ahead of Kentucky in the AP poll. Weirdly enough, I think both of those teams are much more similar than people let on. The main difference is that Kentucky doesn’t have to worry about teams outside of the top 50 by virtue of its depth and length, while a hot-shooting Virginia Tech team gave the Cavaliers quite a scare. Furthermore, Kentucky has the unique ability to crush a good opponent into oblivion. I expect both teams to lose to a good (at least average-height) team that gets hot from long range because they can be outscored. That said, I think Feinstein enjoys being a voting outlier and that’s why he’s still voting for Virginia even after its close call in Blacksburg.
  3. College Basketball Talk: Jerian Grant is really, really good. He allows Notre Dame to run offense instead of plays because he’s a tremendous playmaker and competitor. Rob Dauster does a good job in showing how important he is to the Notre Dame attack. Grant is terrific, and he’s probably got the inside track on ACC Player of the Year unless the Irish take a February nosedive. I admit I need to watch more of Mike Brey’s team (which should be a pleasure), because based on the statistics, the Duke victory was somewhat anomalous in terms of his usage, a little low for a Player of the Year contender.
  4. Louisville Courier-Journal: Don’t look now, but Louisville‘s defense in ACC play has actually been worse than its offense. That’s bonkers. A lot of the credit goes to the rise of guard Terry Rozier, who has been tremendous in conference bouts. He’s not turning it over nearly as much as he was and he’s scoring at a really impressive clip. Chris Jones has also risen to the occasion, turning into a legitimate offensive weapon rather than a liability.
  5. Raleigh & Co.: Here’s a satirical case to get rid of NC State head coach Mark Gottfried. While I agree that the Wolfpack should hold onto him, this team has dug a hole for itself with its three-game losing streak (Clemson at home???). What remains to be seen is whether Gottfried can sustain a consistent, high level program or whether his teams are always talented but never meet expectations (often in a good way). If he gets this year’s group to the NCAA Tournament, I’ll be pretty solidly on the side of Gottfried sustaining a high level over time.
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Rushed Reactions: #8 Notre Dame 77, #4 Duke 73

Posted by Walker Carey on January 29th, 2015

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

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

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

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 19th, 2015

In the headline match-up of the weekend, Duke ended its two-game losing streak with a surprisingly comfortable win at Louisville on Saturday. But the bigger surprise was how the Blue Devils did it, going almost exclusively with a 2-3 zone defense that was incredibly effective against the cold-shooting Cardinals. Notre Dame rallied from a 12-point second half deficit to beat Miami in South Bend on Saturday, keeping the Irish in second place in the league standings behind undefeated Virginia. The Cavaliers also had to mount a second half comeback to overtake Boston College Saturday afternoon in Conte Forum. In other games over the weekend, Syracuse dropped its first league game of the year at Clemson; N.C. State picked up a road win versus Florida State; and North Carolina and Pittsburgh each won home games against a pair of conference winless clubs, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Here are some other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC.

Notre Dame's Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday's win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday’s win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Jerian Grant had scored a total of only 26 points in his previous three games, but the senior guard broke out of his mini-slump with a huge effort against Miami on Saturday. The ACC Player of the Year candidate finished with an efficient 25 points that came on 8-of-10 field goal shooting. He also passed out eight assists and was part of a perimeter defense that held Hurricanes’ guard Angel Rodriguez in check. Rodriguez had torched Duke in his previous game with 24 points, but only managed four points on 1-of-10 shooting Saturday. Grant was also the difference down the stretch as his three broke a tie with 6:19 left and he also scored a layup and blocked a shot in the last minute to seal the win.
  • Best Win: After looking nothing like a championship contender in its two prior outings, Duke got back on track with a mild upset at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center on Saturday. After an all-night coaches’ meeting following Duke’s home debacle versus Miami, Mike Krzyzewski abandoned the Blue Devils’ trademark pressure man-to-man defense to instead play a 2-3 zone against the Cardinals. While it was a big surprise to most of us, the zone was not totally unexpected by Louisville’s Rick Pitino, who said afterwards, “Duke is a team that never plays zone… and that’s what I would have done if I were in [Mike Krzyzewski’s] shoes.” Pitino is no doubt referring to his team’s lack of perimeter shooting, which finished a chilly 4-of-25 on three-pointers against the Devils. Ironically, Duke looked a lot more like a recent-vintage Syracuse team, with the Blue Devils playing deliberately on the offensive end to go along with the newly-installed zone defense.

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Three Takeaways as Notre Dame Rallies Past Miami

Posted by Walker Carey on January 17th, 2015

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Miami (FL) and Notre Dame in South Bend.

There are very few teams in the country that have the backcourt talent and depth of Notre Dame. That was illustrated again on Saturday afternoon as Irish coach Mike Brey relied on small ball to secure a 75-70 come-from-behind victory over Miami (FL). With his team trailing 40-31 at the 15:32 mark of the second half, Brey inserted a five-guard lineup featuring seniors Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton along with sophomores V.J. Beachem, Demetrius Jackson, and Steve Vasturia. The perimeter-oriented lineup played the balance of the game and it outscored the Hurricanes 44-30 while it was on the court. Saturday’s victory concluded another successful week for the Irish, as they moved to 17-2 overall and 5-1 in ACC play. The following are three takeaways from Saturday’s action.

Notre Dame is Playing Together (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame is Playing Together (USA Today Images)

  1. Jerian Grant broke out of his mini-slump in impressive fashion. In each of Notre Dame’s last three games (wins over North Carolina and Georgia Tech, and a loss to Virginia), Grant was held below his season average of 16.3 points per game. That trend changed in the victory over Miami today, as Grant was without question the best player on the floor for the duration of the afternoon. He finished the game with 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go along with eight assists. None of those 23 points were more impressive than the three he got from hitting a ridiculous step-back three-pointer at the 6:19 mark of the second half. That three put Notre Dame up 61-58 and it did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game. The Irish trailed by as many as 12 in the second half, but it was the steadiness and leadership of Grant that kept the Irish in the game and eventually earned his team the victory. Great players make big plays in winning time, and that was exactly what Grant did for Notre Dame on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »
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