Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 69, #11 Syracuse 65

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Omaha for the Midwest Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Coach K’s 1,100th Win Pushed Duke to the Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

  1. It was not aesthetically pleasing. It should be known by now that a close game does not always mean a good game. Tonight’s battle between ACC foes was assuredly a close game, but it was certainly far from a well-played or aesthetically pleasing contest. Duke won the game despite shooting just 39.3 percent from the field and 19.2 percent from the three-point line. The Syracuse zone repeatedly forced Duke into bad possessions that resulted in difficult shot attempts. A deeper look at the offensive statistics finds it pretty amazing that Mike Krzyzewski‘s group was able to advance. One of the main reasons why the Blue Devils emerged victorious this evening was because its own zone was impactful in forcing Syracuse into careless turnovers that limited its scoring chances. The Orange finished with 16 turnovers and Duke converted those into 18 points of its own. It was a mistake-ridden game all around, but both teams deserve a lot of credit for not allowing their miscues to bury them and prevent this one from being close until the final buzzer.
  2. Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. were too much for Syracuse. Syracuse presented Duke with an unusual challenge. The Blue Devils normally have a decided size advantage over every team they play, but the Syracuse front line of Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj and Paschal Chukwu is as big as any group in the country. That aspect did not end up mattering too much tonight, however, as Duke freshmen big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. were arguably the most important players on the floor. Bagley turned in a game-high 22 points and bucked the Duke poor shooting trend by hitting eight of his 12 shots. Carter got to the free throw line 11 times and was a significant factor on the glass — he finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Even when Duke does not have the size advantage, the precocious talents of Bagley and Carter sure make it seem like the Blue Devils do.
  3. Duke is going to need to shoot much better if it wants to log a trip to the Final Four. The Blue Devils will certainly take tonight’s victory over the Orange, but they will need to shoot much better on Sunday against Kansas if they hope to advance to the Final Four. Duke can survive and advance one game in this tournament on 39.3 percent shooting, but when you are matched up with a blue-blooded team of Kansas’ caliber, it is going to need to hit more shots to log the victory. Most notably, senior guard Grayson Allen will need to improve on tonight’s 4-of-15 (3-of-14 3FG) performance because Kansas definitely has the horses to take advantage if one of Duke’s main offensive weapons has another off game.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 21st, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week to recap a wild opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and preview the chances of the four remaining ACC schools making the Final Four.

The Answer to Your Trivia Question is Virginia (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: OK guys. Before we look ahead to the Sweet Sixteen, let’s recap the crazy first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. I guess we have to start with the surprising outcomes that I witnessed in Charlotte. Mick, we’ll go ahead and let you give your take on what happened to Virginia.

Mick McDonald: Do I have to? I haven’t had the stomach to go back and watch it, and frankly, most of the game feels like a haze. Sort of like a bad dream you try to forget. That said, it was a collection of things, all of which were a worst case scenario for Virginia. Early foul trouble for Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, plus Tony Bennett’s refusal to play Marco Anthony, meant they had to play the same five guys (including Nigel Johnson and Jack Salt, who aren’t scorers) most of the first half. Secondly, their jump shots weren’t falling. Third, UMBC hung around long enough to get their confidence up. All of that still led to a halftime tie. Most Virginia fans were having Coastal Carolina flashbacks to 2014, still thinking they’d put it together. When the first play of the second half was an and-one to give Wilkins his third foul, things felt different. Then UMBC couldn’t miss, Virginia lost its composure and it was over. And yes, not having DeAndre Hunter hurt. But it was by no means the lone reason they lost.

Matt Auerbach: Obviously we’ve been beaten to death with every talking head, captain obvious rationale: Virginia isn’t built to play from behind; its style lends itself to keeping inferior teams in the game; and so on. But the truth remains that this tournament is a one-and-done scenario, and for that reason, remains random at its core. If they play 10 times, the Cavaliers win the other nine with a few of those games by 30-plus points. There’s no reason to attempt to explain it. It’s one of the reasons we love this event so much, unless, as in this case, you’re on the Virginia end.

Mick McDonald: Well said, Matt. Pat Forde, a columnist I usually respect and enjoy, published a column hours after the game calling the entire Virginia/Tony Bennett program fraudulent. That’s insane (and certainly trolling clickbait, but that’s another discussion). Bennett will keep winning and will eventually get to a Final Four. Just like every other great coach who “couldn’t win in March” before him.

Matt Auerbach: That article was written about Mike Krzyzewski 30 years ago, and was written about Jim Boeheim and his zone for a long time too. The antithesis was said about Tom Izzo; how’s that been working out?

Mick McDonald: People just have such a hard time accepting that events can be random and not need some massive underlying reason why they happened. This event breeds wild one-time results.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #11 Syracuse 55, #3 Michigan State 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Detroit this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Syracuse was all smiles after pulling off the upset. (Paul Sancya | The Associated Press)

  1. Syracuse mucked this game up to perfection. In order for Syracuse to win this game, it was going to have to slow down the pace, force Michigan State to run its half-court sets, and hope the Spartans missed shots from behind the arc. And that’s exactly what happened. The Big Ten champs were completely flummoxed by Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, unable to exploit gaps inside and unconfident from the perimeter. Were it not for a few difficult made threes immediately before and after halftime, in fact, Michigan State’s final box score would have looked even uglier — which is remarkable when you consider that the Spartans finished 8-of-37 from three-point range. Despite getting hammered on the glass, Syracuse’s length inside was too much for big men like Nick Ward (10 points) and Jaren Jackson (two points). Even when Michigan State began passing out of the high post with Ben Carter — its best interior passer — the team’s go-to shooters like Josh Langford simply couldn’t hit. Afterward, Tom Izzo put it simply: “I thought we’d have a little easier time getting it in the middle.”
  2. Michigan State’s offense was atrocious. And it’s not a complete surprise. Michigan State boasted the ninth-most efficient offense in college basketball entering Sunday, largely the product of excellent outside shooting and a great running game. But there were times this season — Michigan, Rutgers, and others — in which the Spartans looked rhythmless and inept in the half-court. That issue reared its ugly head again on Sunday. Against an opponent built to slow teams down, Michigan State wasted far too much shot clock dribbling and handing-off instead of running clear offensive sets. When the pick-and-roll didn’t work — and it generally did not — Cassius Winston (4-of-12) and the Spartan guards were apt to either force a bad shot or hope Miles Bridges (4-of-18) could make something out of nothing. Following Michigan State’s home loss to Michigan on January 13 — a game in which it struggled mightily from the field — Izzo noted, “we have to do some soul-searching.” If Sunday’s performance was any indication, it’s clear that the Spartans never found their soul — at least not offensively.
  3. Jim Boeheim’s system works, no matter what you feel about it. There’s been plenty of chatter this weekend about whether Tony Bennett’s ‘system’ will ever result in March success for Virginia. Meanwhile, Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense — very much a system in its own right — has enabled the offensively-limited Orange to make yet another deep run. For the second time in three seasons, Syracuse is finding the perfect level of cohesion at exactly the right time with an extremely shallow roster (351st nationally in bench minutes). How? Opponents facing Boeheim’s team for the first time simply don’t know how to breach that zone, especially with Syracuse’s length all over the court. The 73-year-old’s success should give those doubting Bennett a moment of pause.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #11 Syracuse 57, #6 TCU 52

Posted by Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Detroit this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Syracuse’s defense was all over TCU on Friday night. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

  1. TCU’s super-efficient offense struggled against the Syracuse zone. TCU was hands-down the most efficient offense in the Big 12 this season, ranking 7th nationally in adjusted efficiency and shooting nearly 40% from behind the arc. But it struggled mightily against Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone. The Horned Frogs shot just 3-of-17 from behind the arc, the Orange defense using its size — Syracuse is the tallest team in college basketball — and length to prevent good looks. TCU also turned the ball over at an uncharacteristically high rate, which may have been the difference (extra possessions) considering both teams shot nearly identical from the field and the free throw line. “This was just a defensive game, and we didn’t give them good looks from the three-point line,” Syracuse Jim Boeheim said afterwards.
  2. Marek Dolezaj’s career night couldn’t have come at a better time. Slovakian freshman Marek Dolezaj entered Friday averaging 5.2 PPG. He scored 17 points on Friday night, including 11 of his team’s first 23 points. He was so on point, in fact, that even his sole three-point attempt — just his ninth of the season (2-of-9 3PT) — went in, helping Syracuse jump out to an early lead. For an offense that can at times look inept, Dolezaj’s contributions (he scored 20 points against Wake Forest on March 6) could be the spark Syracuse needs for another March run.
  3. Jim Boeheim out-performing expectations in March once again. Two years ago, Syracuse was a double-digit seed and one of the last teams to sneak into the Dance. Sound familiar? That team wound up making a completely unexpected Final Four run, the fifth appearance of Boeheim’s career. This year’s team — tall, methodical, defensive-minded — has plenty of similarities, if not a player as dynamic as Michael Gbinije. With two NCAA Tournament wins now under its belt, Boeheim is once again making lemonade out very bubbly lemons.

Star of the Game. Marek Dolezaj, Syracuse. The 6-9 Slovakian couldn’t miss on Friday, knocking down every type of shot you can imagine on his way to 17 points. Had Dolezaj not fouled out midway through the second half, he may have posted a career high. For Syracuse to upset Michigan State on Sunday, it’s going to need role players like Dolezaj to step up in similar fashion. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach, Mick McDonald on March 14th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week about the NCAA Tournament prospects for all nine ACC schools involved.

Losing De’Andre Hunter is a huge blow to Virginia’s NCAA title hopes. (Ryan M. Kelly/Getty)

Brad Jenkins: Well it’s Tourney time fellas! I guess we should start with the gut wrenching news of the day – De’Andre Hunter is out with a broken wrist for the entire tournament. Mick, how does Virginia adapt short-term and long-term?

Mick McDonald: I figured we’d have to start here. It’s devastating news for Virginia. Hunter’s flexibility allowed the Cavaliers to play small with him at the four or bigger with him at the three. He was a great option on offense and could score in a variety of ways. It’s crushing. Long term — as in, next year — it’s no big deal. He’ll recover and be ready to go. But this year? I just can’t see Virginia winning the title without him. Maybe they can get by Arizona/Kentucky/Cincinnati to make the Final Four, but I doubt it.

Matt Auerbach: I hate to agree with Mick, because after being in Brooklyn and seeing and finally appreciating the live beauty of Virginia basketball, I penciled them in as my favorite — but thankfully, it was in pencil. Hunter is a tremendous talent and gives them so much on both ends off the bench. Without him, I think the Arizona game if it materializes becomes a lot trickier.

Mick McDonald: Tony Bennett will now have to give minutes to Marco Anthony, a smaller freshman wing who played well during Nigel Johnson’s suspension. He’s not Hunter but he will have to play well when called on.

Brad Jenkins: It does remove the option of playing small. The good news is that the other talented teams in the South region like Kentucky, Arizona and Cincinnati all will have required a bigger Virginia lineup anyway. So I think they can still get to San Antonio.

Matt Auerbach: All this being said — and the loss of Hunter could easily be viewed as detrimental — but would it shock me to see Virginia still make it to San Antonio? Absolutely not.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Weekend Preview: February 17-18

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 16th, 2018

Somehow, there are just three weekends of play left in the ACC regular season. While Virginia appears to have the regular season title locked up, there is still much to be decided below the Cavaliers in the standings. (All rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 17

Not Even Jim Boeheim is Sure Where the Orange Are Headed (USA Today Images)

  • Syracuse (#50) at Miami (#37). The Orange suffered a home loss to NC State on Wednesday, one they may very well regret they let slip away on Selection Sunday. Syracuse currently has just one Q1 win (a road victory over Louisville) on its resume, so it still has significant work to do to make the NCAA Tournament. The good news? Plenty of opportunities remain, beginning with a trip to Miami tomorrow. The Syracuse defense has been stingy against ACC foes, as usual, allowing ACC opponents to shoot just 39.9 percent from the field (second in the ACC). The issue has been on the offensive end, where the Orange are making just 42.3 percent of their own shots. If they want to score enough to win key games down the stretch, they need Tyus Battle’s sidekick, Oshae Brissett, to continue his recent scoring pace. Over his past three games, Brissett is averaging 18.7 PPG and shooting 50 percent from the three-point line.
  • NC State (#55) at Wake Forest (#84). Ask any Wolfpack fan what comes after an important win? The answer would be a loss to a bad team. It has certainly been that way in much of NC State’s past, and has even reared its ugly head in Kevin Keatts’ first season at the helm in Raleigh (e.g., beat Arizona, lose to Northern Iowa.) So, forgive them if they aren’t exactly looking forward to a trip to Winston-Salem this weekend after an important road win at Syracuse earlier this week. NC State handled the Demon Deacons in Raleigh in mid-January, thanks to 22 points from Omer Yurtseven. And while the sophomore big man has been outstanding for most of this season, he has also begun to slow a bit. In his last four games, Yurtseven has averaged just 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 48.6 percent from the field (down from 59.5 percent on the season). Keatts will need his big man to have another big night if the Wolfpack are to avoid yet another letdown.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Weekend Preview: December 22-23

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 22nd, 2017

As you get set for the holidays, don’t miss a few must-watch ACC games before Santa comes down the chimney. (All ratings are via KenPom and statistics are through the games of December 21)

Friday, December 22

Syracuse Needs Quality Wins (USA Today Images)

  • St. Bonaventure (#60) at Syracuse (#52). This is an important game as Syracuse works to put together its NCAA Tournament resume. Normally non-conference wins over former rivals Georgetown and Connecticut would sparkle, but the Hoyas and Huskies are both down this year. Currently all Syracuse has to its credit is a win over Maryland. The Bonnies feature a wonderful backcourt of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, but, as usual, Syracuse should have a significant advantage up front. Freshman power forward Oshae Brissett has put together a three-game stretch where he has averaged 23.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
  • Miami (#14) at Hawaii (#211). The Hurricanes are off to the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii this weekend, where they’ll play three games on a Friday/Saturday/Monday schedule. The original hope with this trip five time zones away was to gain a few more chances at quality wins to counterbalance a light non-conference schedule. Instead, Miami will get a true road game against a sub-200 team (Hawaii), followed by a match-up with either Davidson (#83) or New Mexico State (#92). A potential match-up with USC in Christmas Day’s title game has also lost its luster given the Trojans’ recent struggles. Scheduling woes aside, we continue to be impressed by the play of Hurricanes’ sophomore center Dewan Huell. The big man has started to figure it out, putting up a 123.3 Offensive Rating and 28.5 PER to this point in the season. His game is by no means a finished product (an 11.3% defensive rebounding rate and a 15.1% turnover rate are issues), but he has at least become the big man that Jim Larranaga desperately needed coming into this season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Christmas Wish List for ACC Head Coaches

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 21st, 2017

What’s on the Christmas wish list for each coach in the ACC this holiday season? Let’s take a look.

Jim Christian May Have Already Gotten His Gift With a Win Over Duke (USA Today Images)

  • Jim Christian (Boston College): A healthy Deontae Hawkins. The Eagles pulled off a surprising upset of Duke thanks to red-hot three-point shooting, but they won’t be able to sustain it without some help on the interior. Hawkins was averaging 12.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game before suffering a season-ending knee injury on November 29 at Nebraska. Sadly, Santa can’t fix knee tendons.
  • Brad Brownell (Clemson): Some luck in close ACC games. The Tigers appear poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Brownell’s first season, but they will need to avoid being snake-bitten like last year’s team that lost nine ACC games by six points or fewer.
  • Mike Krzyzewski (Duke): Trevon Duval’s jumper to improve. Teams like Boston College are leaving the freshman point guard open for jumpers in favor of helping on Marvin Bagley III, and Duval is falling into the trap, making just 5-of-33 three-pointers on the season.
  • Leonard Hamilton (Florida State): Somebody makes a free throw. The Seminoles shoot 65.8 percent from the line (295th nationally) and M.J. Walker (13-of-16) is the only regular making over 78 percent this season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Burning Questions: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on November 6th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: With plans for the future scrapped, where does Syracuse go from here?

For most of the last decade, it was widely assumed, presumed, and stated as fact that longtime Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins would eventually slide into the chair occupied by program architect Jim Boeheim. After a self-imposed postseason ban in 2015 and the embarrassing circumstances surrounding it, speculation was that the 2017-18 season would be Boeheim’s last in central New York, and the transition plan would at long last become reality. This offseason, however, Hopkins took the reins of a severely underperforming program at Washington, leaving the 72-year old head coach (42 at his alma mater) at the helm of the program he built from nothing to a national powerhouse for the foreseeable future. How much does Boeheim have left in the tank? Notwithstanding the sheer length of his tenure, the persistent spates of controversy that has enveloped the Syracuse program within the last decade — the Bernie Fine saga, vacated wins, and Boeheim’s nine-game ACC suspension in 2016 — would be enough to strip the vibrancy away from much younger men.

Jim Boeheim, the grizzled vet, is still going strong. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

Yet, here we are, and even with very low expectations entering the 2017-18 campaign, would it really come as a surprise to anyone if Boeheim found the fountain of youth and proved all of his doubters wrong once again? To accomplish that feat, Syracuse will rely heavily on sophomore guard Tyus Battle. Battle started slowly as a rookie, but he became discernibly more comfortable down the stretch last season, finishing with double figures in his final seven contests. The only returnee among the top six scorers, he’ll necessarily be the focal point of the Orange’s offense this year. Meanwhile, junior guard Frank Howard is the only other returnee of note. Howard has the requisite size and athleticism to act as a disruptive force at the top of Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone, but he has yet to show the consistency necessary for Boeheim to entrust him with point guard responsibilities. If he can’t corral his physical tools in a positive way, he will be pushed for playing time by graduate transfer Geno Thorpe, who averaged 15.0 points per game at South Florida last season, and four-star freshman Howard Washington, who played one of his high school seasons on the flank of Ben Simmons. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

A Look at the ACC in the NIT

Posted by Charlie Maikis on March 14th, 2017

March Madness is now upon us, but let’s take a moment to consider a different postseason tournament as the ACC is sending three teams to the NIT this season. In a year where many observers thought the NCAA Tournament bubble was one of the weakest in years, the Selection Committee was not particularly kind to the conference. Of the three ACC bubble teams, Wake Forest made the field of 68 while Syracuse and Georgia Tech were left at home. Clemson joins the Orange and Yellow Jackets in this year’s NIT, meaning that the 12 of the 15 ACC teams were invited to one of the two prestigious postseason tournaments. Before the NCAA Tournament vacuums all the oxygen in the college basketball universe, let’s discuss the trio of ACC teams playing in the NIT.

Syracuse and Clemson are two of the strongest teams in the NIT field this year and give the ACC a great chance at success. Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse

Syracuse was a curious case as the Orange were left out of the NCAA Tournament presumably because of a lackluster non-conference performance. Teams that go 10-8 in what is widely regarded as the nation’s best conference usually get an invitation to the Big Dance, but that factor alone clearly wasn’t enough this season. The result was Syracuse’s placement as the top overall seed in the NIT bracket, but perhaps in the toughest region of the four. Their region also contains four other power conference teams, and the average Kenpom ranking of of the group is five spots better than the rest of the field. Luckily Syracuse doesn’t have to play the other seven teams but just the ones in front of it, starting on Wednesday night at home against UNC-Greensboro. Remember, after Jim Boeheim blasted the city of Greensboro (site of ACC headquarters and numerous ACC Tournaments) at last week’s ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, the municipality fired back:

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story