What’s Trending: Threes, Dunks, and Matthew McConaughey

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 21st, 2019

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

Last week began with Syracuse defeating top-ranked Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The upset included the Orange’s Tyus Battle scoring 32 points and East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes adding 20 points of his own. Not all of his buckets were created equally, though, as this shot in the final seconds of the first half came from well beyond the three-point line…

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1084979497110253568

After beating Duke, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim was asked about Blue Devils’ superstar Zion Williamson. Boeheim found it very difficult to describe the precocious freshman, but had a very colorful way to link him to Charles Barkley

https://twitter.com/espn/status/1085016649571450881

After beating Virginia Tech last week, Matt Norlander gave his take on Virginia basketball….

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ACC Stock Report: Volume 1

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 8th, 2019

With the non-conference portion of the season now in the rearview and the ACC schedule tipping in earnest last weekend, it feels like the appropriate time to assess a few programs and players in this year’s initial stock report.

Stock Up

Elijah Hughes: When considering Syracuse’s chances to contend at the top of the league, the preseason focus was on the returns of Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett. And while both have been good, it is perhaps Hughes, the transfer from East Carolina, who has been the most consistent player for the Orange. Coming off Saturday’s 22-point, 10-rebound game in a victory at Notre Dame — both career highs — Hughes is now second on the team in scoring, third in rebounding, and is by far the team’s best threat from long range with 36 made triples. Notching double-figures in all but two games, the 6’6” swingman has been a pleasant surprise for Jim Boeheim during a season that has been a bit more uneven than some (guilty as charged) presumed before it started.

Kyle Guy: Unlike Hughes, big things were expected from the 6’3” Virginia marksman who was coming off a sophomore campaign where he earned All-ACC first team honors and a third team All-America nod. As a junior, Guy is leading the undefeated Cavaliers in scoring just as he did a year ago, but the improvements in his game have been obvious both visually and statistically. Guy’s shot creativity and ability to elevate quickly over bigger defenders off the bounce is an addition to his always lethal shooting coming off curl screens in set plays. His offensive rating is up from 105.2 to 126.4, while his true shooting percentage has similarly seen a 12 percent spike, thanks to a career best 48.3 percent mark from inside of the arc. The Virginia star’s money is made from beyond the arc, however, and after blistering Florida State in the league opener by making five of six attempts, Guy now ranks 42nd in the nation, making 41 of his 85 three attempts.  

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Wednesday Preview

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 28th, 2018

An extremely competitive ACC-Big Ten Challenge, one in which six games have already been decided by four points or fewer, comes to a close tonight. Locked at 4-4 going into tonight’s games, let’s take a look at what’s in store for this evening.

Jim Boeheim is Pleading for a Win (USA Today Images)

  •  #20 Syracuse (3-2) at #23 Ohio State (6-0). On the strength of two true road wins against top 40 teams, Ohio State was the top-rated team in the initial NET ratings that were released on Monday. The talented Orange have been disappointing in the early going, as Syracuse visits Columbus tonight with losses to Connecticut and Oregon weighing down its non-conference slate. Jim Boeheim‘s vaunted zone ranks as the nation’s sixth most efficient defense, but poor shooting has carried over to the tune of a 31.4 percent clip from beyond the arc. Oshae Brissett, the team’s best prospect, and Tyus Battle, the team’s leading returning scorer, are shooting 18.2 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively from deep. Point guard Frank Howard’s return to action will certainly provide a boost, but Syracuse will undoubtedly need to be a lot crisper on the offensive end to slow down a versatile set of Buckeyes.
  • #115 Rutgers (4-1) at  #22 Miami (5-1). Despite its most talented player, Dewan Hernandez, being withheld from competition amid a review of eligibility, the Hurricanes have been impressive in winning five of their first six games. Diminutive spark plug point guard Chris Lykes leads five Hurricanes averaging more than 11 points per contest, while Dejan Vasiljevic is making 52.5 percent of his threes, good for 77th in the country. Steve Pikiell’s Scarlet Knights have been stingy on the defensive end this season, turning teams over on 24.3 percent of their possessions. However, Rutgers has been especially brutal on the other end of the floor, checking in as the 263rd most efficient offense while turning the ball over  at an alarming 22.6 percent rate (312th nationally).

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Reviewing the ACC’s Five Early Losses

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 16th, 2018

We’re just over a week into the season and the ACC has suffered a total of five losses. Two of those defeats came from teams that were expected to struggle, two others were from teams that were hoping to be on the fringe of the NCAA Tournament, and one came from a potential contender. RTC ACC writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) breaks each of those early losses down. (All rankings via KenPom as of November 15.)

Syracuse Struggled Against Old Enemy UConn Last Night (USA Today Images)

  • #96 Connecticut 83, #7 Syracuse 76. As the old saying goes, throw out the KenPom rankings when two old rivals get together. Syracuse had to scratch and claw to make the NCAA Tournament last year despite an elite defense because the Orange simply couldn’t score (135th nationally). Last night against Connecticut in Madison Square Garden, they were up to their old tricks again. The Orange shot just 39.4 percent from the field and made just six threes while allowing Connecticut to nail 12-of-21 from three-point range. Most teams won’t shoot nearly that well against Syracuse’s length this year, but its lack of consistent offense leaves the Orange vulnerable when a team gets hot.
  • #259 IUPUI 76, #90 Boston College 69. Whatever dreams Boston College had at making a run at an at-large bid this year may already be over with its bad loss earlier this week to IUPUI. Jim Christian’s team simply isn’t making enough shots, hitting only 29.5 percent of its three-pointers so far this season and getting limited production from its frontcourt of Steffon Mitchell (46.4% eFG) and Nik Popovic (47.4% eFG). Most importantly, Boston College needs to find some depth — through only three games, the Eagles’ five starters are averaging at least 28 minutes per contest. Freshman Jairus Hamilton is playing just over 18 minutes per game off the bench. Nobody else is seeing more than five minutes per contest. If Christian can’t find anyone else he trusts to give the occasional spell to Ky Bowman and Jordan Chatman, Boston College is in major trouble in the ACC.

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ACC Conversation: Preseason Projections – Part 1

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) recently got together to chat about the upcoming 2018-19 season and share their thoughts on all 15 ACC schools. Here’s Part 1 of that conversation.

Danny Manning needs his young stars to come through for Wake Forest to move up the ACC standings. (Walt Unks/Winston-Salem Journal)

  • Brad Jenkins: Happy New Year, gentlemen! Let’s start with a look at the projected bottom of the league. Matt, you did our preview piece on Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Can any of these teams surprise us and contend for an NCAA bid like the Yellow Jackets did two years ago?
  • Matt Auerbach: Great to be back, guys! The short answer to that, Brad, is no. I just can’t see it. The best-case scenario for the first two, particularly Pittsburgh, is that they are competitive and playing a more exciting brand of basketball than they have the last two years. Jeff Capel was a home run hire that will ultimately steer the Panthers back to relevance. Josh Pastner built up some equity with his run to the NIT finals two years ago, but there doesn’t seem to be much to be excited about in Atlanta. As for Wake, if Jaylen Hoard could have a Trae Young or Deandre Ayton type of impact, sure. While extremely talented, I think the odds of that occurring, however, are near nil, and the pressure will be mounting on Danny Manning if another disappointing season ensues.
  • Mick McDonald: Great point on Capel, Matt. Pitt basketball at least feels interesting again. They’ll be bad this year but I’ll be interested to see how guys like Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens begin their careers. I think they may actually be better than Georgia Tech. Pastner’s team looks rough.
  • Matt Auerbach: Without a doubt, of the three, I’d be least surprised if Pittsburgh won four or five games.
  • Mick McDonald: I know Manning keeps pulling good recruits but it feels like he needs to have a team make some noise sometime soon.
  • Brad Jenkins: I think there’s a chance for Capel to do something like what Pastner did in his first year in Atlanta based on the new energy he has in the Pitt program, but the ACC schedule rotation did him no favors — they have zero home games against the predicted bottom four in the league. Is Manning the ACC coach on the Hot Seat this year?
  • Mick McDonald: I guess, but given how his recruiting is going, I’d bet Manning gets at least one more year.

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ACC Burning Questions Part 4: Virginia Tech, Syracuse & Florida State

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 1st, 2018

As we head into another exciting ACC season, we will be reviewing the key question for each of the league’s 15 squads. Today Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) works into the upper tier, with Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Florida State

Virginia Tech Burning Question: We know they’ll fill it up, but can the Hokies improve enough defensively to fulfill their potential?

Buzz Williams Needs to Improve His Defense to Contend This Year (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech came out of the gates blazing a year ago, scoring more than 90 points in five of its first six affairs. And while the numbers understandably dipped as the competition toughened, the Hokies’ up-tempo, let-it-fly mentality, led to season marks of 28th nationally in offensive efficiency and sixth in effective field goal percentage. Lead guard Justin Robinson, the engine behind the high-powered unit, is back for his senior season, and pairs with sophomore sharpshooter Nickeil Alexander-Walker, as perhaps the most explosive backcourt in the ACC.

Robinson, a preseason all-ACC second team selection, is the model of consistency, and the type of point guard head coach Buzz Williams can trust to spearhead his attacking offense. An old-school point guard at his core, Robinson has developed in an old-school manner, as his three-point percentage, points, assists and steals per game have all steadily increased over his three years in Blacksburg. Another leap is a tall order for him after averaging 14.0 PPG, 5.6 APG and shooting nearly 40 percent from long-distance last season, but one that he may need to make given that senior Chris Clarke has been suspended from the team indefinitely. Clarke, the runner-up for ACC Sixth Man of the Year, was in line to start and become a major contributor. In his absence, the Hokies will need a healthy and productive Kerry Blackshear Jr. to replicate upon his excellent sophomore season. Coming off a redshirt year, the 6’10” Blackshear averaged just under 13 points per game on the back of a 63.4 percent true shooting rate. Without Clarke around to bolster the interior, he becomes the Hokies’ leading returning rebounder and will be relied upon to protect the rim.

In his first four years at Virginia Tech, Williams’ teams have never finished within the top 60 nationally in defensive efficiency. If this is to be the year that the Hokies break through and make a run in the NCAA Tournament, improvement on that end is absolutely necessary. There’s no doubt that this team’s offense will pressure opposing defenses, but seeking to outscore the opposition will only get a team so far.

Syracuse Burning Question: Can Syracuse make enough shots?

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Several Takeaways From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 26th, 2018

Charlotte’s Spectrum Center was the site of this year’s ACC Operation Basketball and we were in the Queen City earlier this week to cover the annual event. In this post we present some of the primary takeaways we observed and interesting quotes we heard over the course of the day (links to the coaches’ and players’ press conferences can be found here), and at the bottom we also present the preseason award results as voted on by participating media.

STILL LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS TO COLLEGE BASKETBALL’S PROBLEMS

Notre Dame’s Mike Brey had a lot to say about the current state of college basketball as well as the ACC’s new scheduling changes at ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte.
(dailypress.com)

A major topic of discussion at ACC Operation Basketball once again this year was the fallout from the ongoing FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting. At last year’s event, the FBI probe had just revealed incriminating allegations involving two ACC schools, Louisville and MiamiN.C. State was later added to the naughty list. Coincidentally, the first criminal trial of individuals involved in some of these pay-for-play schemes wrapped up on Wednesday with guilty verdicts for all three defendants. But the big fallout has yet to come, possibly in the form of NCAA sanctions against the schools (“victims”) complicit in those nefarious recruiting activities. In his morning address, ACC’s commissioner  John Swofford was very supportive of the NCAA reforms based on last spring’s Rice Commission recommendations, while acknowledging that “I don’t think it’s going to be perfect. I think we’re going to have to test some of the things that are being changed, tweak them as we go along.”

Given the timeliness of the verdicts, many ACC coaches were asked to chime in on the topic. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams had been highly criticized for comments they had previously made on the matter, so both Hall of Fame coaches spent time on Wednesday clarifying their points of view. Kryzyzewski repeated the explanation he gave following Duke’s exhibition game on Tuesday night, claiming that his use of the term “blip” to characterize the revelations was not meant to be dismissive on their importance. Likewise, Williams explained what he meant when he claimed to be “dumbfounded” by the new information: “A very intelligent person one time told me there’s a difference between being indifferent or having a lack of knowledge. And my problem is I have a lack of knowledge about those things. I’m not very indifferent about it at all.” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey showed that he was willing to go deeper with his comments in saying, “But certainly there’s some NCAA issues here. There’s no question about that. […] We’ve got some guys that aren’t amateurs, let’s handle that.”

CHANGES COMING FOR CONFERENCE SCHEDULES

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ACC Non-Conference Games: Ten Worth Watching

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 23rd, 2018

Even in the face of fervent anticipation, the start of the college hoops season has a way of sneaking up on us. Now only two weeks away and with the brutal gauntlet of a full conference slate coming seven weeks after that, it feels like a good time to preview the 10 most compelling non-conference match-ups that ACC members will encounter during the upcoming campaign. This list excludes preseason tourneys (Duke heading to Maui, for example, among others) and the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which we will preview in more depth ahead of those events. Here we go, in calendar order, starting with the Champions Classic on opening night.

It’s Always Must-See College Basketball when Duke Meets Kentucky (USA Today Images)

  • November 6- Duke vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic, Indianapolis). In a very off-brand, sensible decision, the NCAA has stopped burying the season’s annual tip-off on a pedestrian Friday night and instead will utilize the grand stage of the Champions Classic to get things going. In the nightcap game of the Indianapolis event, two teams with legitimate championship aspirations and talent galore will meet once again. For Duke, the nation’s top-rated incoming class features do-everything wing R.J. Barrett along with explosive man-child Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones (brother of Tyus Jones, the 2015 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player). In an unusual turn of events, it will be Kentucky that is armed with the more experienced roster, as the Blue Devils’ leading returning scorer will be junior big man Marques Bolden (3.9 PPG), while the Wildcats retained sophomores Quade Green, P.J. Washington and Nick Richardsfrom last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad.
  • November 6: Florida at Florida State. This annual tussle will serve as the rivals’ season opener this year, as the Gators look to avenge a home thrashing by the Seminoles last season. Florida State returns seven of its top nine scorers, including leading man Phil Cofer, from a squad that was within a whisker of the Final Four a year ago. The cupboard is not bare for Mike White, either, as Florida features a dynamic, experienced tandem on the wings in seniors KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson. Numerous explosive athletes on both sides of the floor will make this game worth flipping to during the commercial breaks of the Duke/Kentucky tilt.
  • November 15: Connecticut vs Syracuse (Madison Square Garden). Two old Big East foes will rekindle their long and storied rivalry at a familiar venue in New York City. The Orange return all of their top pieces from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad, including the ACC’s third-leading scorer, Tyus Battle. He will be joined by a pair of exciting rising sophomores in Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj along with freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim, giving Syracuse a roster that should easily result in a top-half ACC finish. New Connecticut head coach Danny Hurley will begin the process of getting this proud program back on track after consecutive sub-.500 seasons that led to the ouster of onetime championship coach Kevin Ollie.

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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.

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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.

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