Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (34-0, 18-0 SEC). The unbeaten Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament as not only the favorites in the Midwest Region but also for the entire tournament. John Calipari’s squad has been able to reach 34-0 due to its star power combined with its ability to play tremendously well as a unit. It will be utterly shocking if Kentucky is tripped up before reaching the Final Four. The reason why the Wildcats are such a lethal team is that they possess top-flight talent at each position. Their backcourt is loaded with sophomores Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. The insanely long and athletic front line is led by junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, and freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns. Toss in the fact that Kentucky’s veteran players have Final Four experience from a season ago and you will understand why the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite to advance to Indianapolis.

Will John Calipari Be Smiling This Time Next Week? (AP)

John Calipari and the Wildcats have had a lot to smile about this season. (AP)

Should They Falter: #3 Notre Dame (29-5, 14-4 ACC). The ACC Tournament champion Fighting Irish enter the NCAA Tournament fresh off playing some of their best basketball of the year. Notre Dame possesses an elite offensive attack with multiple options that makes it a very tough team to defend. That attack is led by senior star guard Jerian Grant, an All-American senior who has the ability to take over a game each night out. Grant is the alpha dog star of Mike Brey’s team, but senior Pat Connaughton and sophomores Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia all strongly contribute to the Irish’s success. It will be a stunner if Kentucky loses at any point in this region, but if it does, look for Notre Dame to take home the Midwest Region trophy and advance to the Final Four.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Cincinnati (22-10, 13-5 AAC). The Bearcats enjoyed a solid season but their résumé suggests that they should have been a double-digit seed. While Cincinnati had good victories over SMU (twice), San Diego State and NC State, it also had head-scratching losses to Nebraska, East Carolina and Tulane. The Bearcats finished the AAC season tied for third in the conference standings. Temple — the team they were tied with, and Tulsa, the team that finished one spot ahead of them — did not even earn bids to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not to suggest that Cincinnati didn’t deserve inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but a #8 seed is very generous.

Grossly Underseeded: #7 Wichita State (28-4, 17-1 MVC). The Missouri Valley Conference does not provide many opportunities to pick up marquee victories, but Wichita State was able to pick up one on February 28 though when Gregg Marshall’s team got revenge from an early-season loss by topping Northern Iowa. The rest of the Shockers’ résumé was not very exciting, but they managed to win 28 games overall and only stumbled once in conference play prior to the MVC Tournament. Wichita State’s core is essentially the same (minus Cleanthony Early) as the one that started 34-0 last season. Gregg Marshall’s team is too talented and experienced to be a #7 seed and it would not be surprising at all to see it make a run to the second weekend.

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Rushed Reactions: Notre Dame 90, North Carolina 82

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Mike Brey celebrates Notre Dame winning its first ever conference tournament. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Mike Brey celebrates Notre Dame winning its first ever conference tournament. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

  1. Holy Run, Batman! Down nine with less than 10 minutes to play, Notre Dame looked like its goose was cooked. But the Fighting Irish rolled out a 26-3 run over the next seven minutes of action, scoring on 11 of their next 13 possessions (for those keeping score at home, their offensive efficiency over the run was a ridiculous 200 points per 100 possessions) to take control of the game and win its first ACC championship. Five players scored during the run, and Jerian Grant, who had carried the team to that point, only made one shot. The Irish’s only empty possessions were a Bonzie Colson travel and a missed three from Grant, and don’t forget that this went on in front of a crowd that looked and felt much like the Smith Center. Mike Brey’s team hit its open looks but their ball movement was impeccable and North Carolina’s offense simply couldn’t keep pace. No team could have kept pace tonight. Notre Dame’s offense was one of the most efficient in the country all season long, but this was the first stretch that inspired true fear. The Irish looked like a championship team ready to beat anybody in college basketball, and given the context, that run was the most impressive display of team basketball that I have seen this season.
  2. North Carolina Panicked. Not that you can blame them. As soon as I had a chance to tweet that the Fighting Irish were in trouble, the Tar Heels were already down by three. North Carolina had a lot of success in the first half by just putting up jumpers and letting Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks clean up the glass. Brice Johnson was also virtually unstoppable whenever he caught the ball within 10 feet of the basket. But here’s how North Carolina’s possessions ended when Notre Dame mounted its blistering comeback: Hicks free throws (made one, missed one); Joel Berry turnover; Hicks turnover; quick missed layup from Marcus Paige; Justin Jackson turnover; Meeks turnover; and Brice Johnson turnover. That’s five turnovers in six possessions after leaving a point on the board. The Heels only committed eight turnovers for the entire rest of the game. Just as Notre Dame’s run wasn’t the result of a single player’s play, the Tar Heels’ meltdown was a team effort.
  3. This Really is the New ACC. When the ACC completed its most recent expansion by snatching several Big East members for the second time, it was thought that Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville were best equipped to challenge the ACC bluebloods. But with this remarkable tournament run in Greensboro, it is Notre Dame that has become the first of the recent league additions to break through with an ACC championship. In fact, this is the first conference tournament title in school history for the Irish, a program which first joined a major conference in basketball some 20 years ago. Notre Dame’s title has some other historical significance as well. To capture this year’s trophy, Notre Dame had to beat both ACC bluebloods on back-to-back nights, and do it in the heart of Tobacco Road — a fact not lost on Brey, who mentioned it in both of his postgame press conferences. Only two other teams have ever beaten both Duke and North Carolina in Greensboro in the same ACC Tournament, exhibiting just how rare and difficult this feat was to pull off. This also marks the fourth consecutive year that neither the Tar Heels nor Blue Devils have won the ACC Tournament — the longest such drought in conference history. Interestingly, three of those four other champions were schools that are not part of the traditional ACC membership. Maybe we really are seeing a subtle changing of the guard in this conference, and with the next three ACC Tournaments held outside of the state of North Carolina, this is a trend that is likely to continue.

Player of the Game. When North Carolina went up by nine points in the second half, Jerian Grant was the only reason the Tar Heels’ lead wasn’t more than that. Of Notre Dame’s first 17 points in the second half, Grant was responsible for (directly or indirectly) 12 of them. He attacked the basket, going to the line three times in the first 10 minutes of the second half (and assisting on two of Notre Dame’s made field goals). His activity ensured that the game would not get out of reach, setting the stage for the game-changing run down the stretch. Grant finished with 24 points, 10 assists and just two turnovers. That’s outstanding. If you want to know why North Carolina only finished with 12 fast break points, you should credit Grant and backcourt mate Demetrius Jackson — other than one Brice Johnson dunk, North Carolina never managed to get out on its patented secondary break. Pat Connaughton also deserves some credit here. He ended up with 20 points on just nine shots. But with Grant’s heroics, Connaughton felt more like a supporting cast member who shone just outside of the spotlight.

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Notre Dame Looks for History Against North Carolina

Posted by Matt Patton & Brad Jenkins on March 14th, 2015

Notre Dame takes on North Carolina tonight in Greensboro for its first conference championship in program history. The game tips at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN. If the previous matchup — a 71-70 Irish win in Chapel Hill — was any indication, we’re due for a great game. Both teams are playing their best basketball of the season right now.

Jerian Grant needs an All-American performance for Notre Dame to beat North Carolina. (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

Jerian Grant needs an All-American performance for Notre Dame to beat North Carolina. (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

Brad: In the first meeting, North Carolina held a 21-6 edge in offensive rebounds. How can the smaller Irish avoid Tar Heel domination in the paint?

Matt: I’m not sure they can. North Carolina will have an even bigger size advantage than Duke did last night. Zach Auguste has to stay out of foul trouble and the Fighting Irish will need to send all five players to the glass on every North Carolina shot. The fact is that the Tar Heels are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. Notre Dame needs to take care of the ball and try to force the Tar Heels into jump shots with long rebounds. On the other end of the floor, the mismatches may swing the other way. Auguste and Bonzie Colson are both much more comfortable playing away from the basket than any of North Carolina’s bigs. They should try to spread the floor to open up the driving lanes for Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson.

Notre Dame really limited Duke’s three-point shooting Friday night. Can the Tar Heels continue their hot shooting from behind the arc? 

Brad: The game plan will obviously be to attack the Irish interior, so Roy Williams hopes the Heels continue to be selective when taking shots from deep. By selective, we mean only open looks for Marcus Paige and maybe Justin Jackson. Unlikely to make 50 percent of its threes again tonight, North Carolina should probably keep its attempts in the 10-to-12 range.

Back in early January, Notre Dame prevailed in the Smith Center primarily due to its 10-of-23 shooting performance on threes. Can they repeat such accuracy when playing their third game in three days?

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Rushed Reactions: Notre Dame 74, Duke 64

Posted by Matt Patton on March 14th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame absolutely dominated the first half. The Irish hit some unbelievably tough shots and made Jahlil Okafor try to beat them on his own. As a result, Duke’s other players went 4-of-16 from the field and committed seven turnovers. Notre Dame may be the only team in the country with five guys who can consistently hit shots (although Duke has some lineups that also fit that description). The Irish smothered Duke by forcing the guards to play deeper than usual and fronting Okafor. They also hit shots, lots of them. Mike Brey’s team had a total of five and-ones in the first half alone. Five. When Duke went to its zone, Bonzie Colson just crushed the Blue Devils from the high post. When they went back to man, Demetrius Jackson got to the rim with incredible ease. Even in the second half when Duke started making its eventual run, Notre Dame’s ability to get to the rim (and the free throw line) felt like the reason Duke never got it back to a single-possession game.
  2. Demetrius Jackson is destined for great things. This may be an obvious statement (Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American, after all), but Jackson is a fantastic young player. He brings an athletic dimension to Mike Brey’s team that has been somewhat missing over the years. Jackson frequently broke Duke’s three-quarter court pressure like no one was there with his quick bursts of speed and playground dribbling moves in traffic. He also got to the rim with ease, finishing the evening with five assists and only one turnover in 39 minutes of action. If there’s a reason to still be bullish on the Irish next season without Jerian Grant, it’s because the sophomore Jackson is ready to take over the team.
  3. Mike Krzyzewski was remarkably calm. Coach K has a reputation of being curt and snippy in his pressers after Duke losses, but other than a defensive response to a question about last year’s team not meeting expectations, he was remarkably measured. I have a few theories on this attitude. The most likely idea is that he felt like Duke would have won the game if Quinn Cook hadn’t been gassed (Krzyzewski said on Thursday that Cook had been fighting off an illness). Cook went 1-of-10 from three on mostly good looks (0-of-8 in the second half) and he did a good job defending Jerian Grant, but it just looked like he wasn’t playing at 100 percent. The other theory is that Krzyzewski really liked the way Justise Winslow and Okafor fought back after horrible first halves.

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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

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  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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