ACC Back in the Final Four With Two Teams, Again…

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 31st, 2016

When North Carolina squares off with Syracuse in Saturday’s late national semifinal, it will mark the sixth time in league history that the ACC has entered two schools into the season’s final weekend. It’s been a great March Madness showing for the conference, with a record six schools in the Sweet Sixteen, a record-tying four teams in the Elite Eight, and an overall 18-5 record. The last time the ACC sent two teams to the Final Four was in 2004, when the league still carried nine teams. Since then, the ACC has undergone two major expansions that resulted in an immediate and noticeable downturn in its long tradition of basketball excellence. But combined with last year’s fine NCAA Tourney showing, it appears that the ACC has regained its status as the best among the nation’s major hoops conferences.

Marcus Paige and North Carolina will face a familiar foe in Saturday's National Semi-Finals. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

Marcus Paige and North Carolina will face a familiar foe in Saturday’s National Semifinals. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s a little surprising how often individual conferences send multiple teams to the same Final Four. Of course, only one school per conference could participate in the NCAA Tournament for the first 36 years of the event. That changed in 1975 — thanks in large part to Maryland’s exclusion in 1974 — and, from there, it only took one season for a league to place two teams in the season’s final weekend — Indiana defeated fellow Big Ten school Michigan in the 1976 title game. In 1980, the Big Dance became a fully open tournament, with no limit on the number of teams a conference could send. Since then, 65 percent (24 of 37) of the subsequent Final Fours have featured multiple teams from the same conference. Particular hats off to the 1985 Big East, a league that sent three of its members to the Final Four. As you can see below, the Big Ten leads the way with multiple appearances over that span.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Final Four Fact Sheet: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Finally, Syracuse. 

How Syracuse Got Here

Syracuse unexpectedly conquered all foes in the Midwest Region. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse unexpectedly conquered all foes in the Midwest Region. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Midwest Region Champions. Syracuse took a ride through the Midwest region that few expected. The tenth-seeded Orange defeated Dayton in round one, then made the most of a fortunate second round draw by knocking off fifteenth-seeded, Spartan-slaying, Middle Tennessee State. Jim Boeheim’s team proceeded to find lightning in a bottle twice at the Chicago regional, overcoming a nine-point deficit with less than five minutes to play against Gonzaga before supplying the most shocking victory of this stunning Syracuse March run: a regional final victory over #1 Virginia in which they overcame a 15-point deficit with less than ten minutes to play.

The Coach

Jim Boeheim. No stranger to Final Fours (this will be his fifth), even Boeheim himself has to be surprised to be making the trip to Houston this week. No Syracuse team has ever entered the Tournament with a higher seed than this one, and an uninspiring regular season left little hint that a run like this was coming. Boeheim has always enjoyed a little disrespect from the media and he’s been masterful in using the “nobody believes we deserve to be here” narrative as fuel for this run. If he can use that rallying cry (or any other tactic) to grind out two more wins in Houston, this will undoubtedly go down as his greatest coaching job in a career full of them. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #10 Syracuse 68, #1 Virginia 62

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 27th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Syracuse stunned Virginia in the Midwest Regional Final to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse stunned Virginia in the Midwest Regional Final to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Late Syracuse surge stuns Virginia. When London Perrantes hit his sixth three of the game with 9:33 to go, the Cavaliers led by 15 points (54-39). The Orange looked tired, Virginia appeared as steady as ever, and there seemed little doubt that Tony Bennett was minutes away from his first trip to the Final Four. Then everything changed. Syracuse uncorked a six-minute, 25-4 run that lifted the Orange into the driver’s seat. An experienced, methodical Virginia team unraveled, while Syracuse’s collection of talented but enigmatic freshmen – most notably Malachi Richardson – seized the moment in forcing turnovers and converting on the opposite end. The Midwest region surprised from opening tip last Thursday all the way through to the final minutes this evening.
  2. ACC Player of the Year struggles. Malcolm Brogdon probably didn’t expect his career to end today, and particularly not in the fashion in which it did. The Cavaliers’ star made just two of his 14 field goal attempts, including just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. Tonight was also a poor display of Brogdon’s normally paralyzing individual defense, as he struggled to contain Richardson late in the second half. Brogdon did some things well – he handed out seven assists and made all seven of his free throw attempts – but his subpar effort was an undeniably critical element of the Virginia loss.
  3. Finally time to respect the Orange. Jim Boeheim mentioned on Friday that it seemed like every Syracuse opponent in this NCAA Tournament was suddenly considered bad once they lost to the Orange. That trend will be unlikely to continue after tonight. Beating Dayton, Middle Tennessee State and Gonzaga – all seeded #7 or higher – shouldn’t be discarded as nothing, but tonight’s takedown of a national title contender has to fully validate this unexpected postseason run. They may not head to Houston as a Final Four favorite, but Boeheim’s team has proven it must be taken seriously.

Star of the Game. Malachi Richardson, Syracuse. The gifted Syracuse freshman was the key player in the Syracuse comeback, scoring 14 points in the decisive 25-4 spurt that sent the Orange into the Final Four. His three-pointer over Brogdon, the ACC Player of the Year, with three and a half minutes to play put the Orange up six and should stand as the most memorable bucket in a wild regional final. He finished with 23 points and seven rebounds.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #10 Syracuse 63, #11 Gonzaga 60

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 25th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Little came easy for Michael Gbinije tonight, but the Syracuse star found a way to lead the Orange past Gonzaga. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Little came easy for Michael Gbinije tonight, but the Syracuse star found a way to lead the Orange past Gonzaga. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Gonzaga attacks Syracuse zone creatively. The Zags had great ball movement early on, which helped them build an early 18-8 lead. Guards found Kyle Wiltjer (23 points, five rebounds) on flashes to the post, Domantas Sabonis (19 points, 17 rebounds) on quickly conceived entry passes, and Gonzaga was generally patient in attacking Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone. That ball movement disappeared in the last five minutes of the first half and first five of the second, as the Syracuse length and constant pressure finally began to force a few Gonzaga turnovers. But Gonzaga emerged from a Mark Few timeout with renewed purpose, and despite shooting just one free throw in the first 37 minutes of the game, rediscovered their offensive flow. One especially effective tactic employed: the use of a quicker tempo to find Sabonis for post touches before the zone was fully set.
  2. Gonzaga meltdown or Syracuse heroics? Or both? It wasn’t pretty, but Syracuse advanced on the back of Michael Gbinije and some timely plays on both sides of the ball. Gonzaga channeled their inner Northern Iowa in coughing the ball up twice on their own side of halfcourt in the last two minutes, but give the Orange credit for creating pressure and then taking advantage of the Zag miscues. Gonzaga’s nine-point lead with 6:30 to play was erased once and for all when Gbinije came up with a loose ball and layup with 22 seconds to play to put the Orange up one. This will go down as a Gonzaga collapse, but don’t overlook Syracuse’s role in making it happen.
  3. Orange win with ugly offense. Jim Boeheim admitted that offense was a major problem for the Orange tonight. Offensive struggles are nothing new for a Syracuse team ranked outside the top 50 nationally in offensive efficiency, but tonight was an unusually ugly winning performance. Syracuse shot just 36 percent from the floor and 33 percent from long-range, while Trevor Cooney was the only player on the Syracuse roster who made more shots than he missed (5-9 from the floor). The Orange did make 14 of their 16 free throws (compared to just 4-5 for Gonzaga) and only turned the ball over nine times, eight less than the Zags.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite: #1 Virginia. Michigan State’s shocking first round loss to Middle Tennessee State sent reverberations throughout the entire bracket, but especially within the Midwest Region. The loss rendered meaningless all the pre-Tournament talk about Virginia’s poor fortune in drawing the Spartans in their region, as the Cavaliers are now a clear favorite to advance to Houston. Tony Bennett’s team handled business in dispatching Hampton and Butler in the first two rounds. Getting two more victories will be no cinch, but Virginia should arrive in Chicago with no shortage of confidence.

With Michigan State out of the bracket, there's little doubt that Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia are favorites to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

With Michigan State out of the bracket, there’s little doubt that Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia are favorites to advance to the Final Four. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #11 Gonzaga. If the name on the front of the jersey wasn’t Gonzaga, this really would be a beautiful Cinderella story. With non-existent at-large hopes, a talented mid-major sweeps through its conference tournament to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament field and wins its two first weekend games as a double-digit seed. Cute story, right? Except when it’s Gonzaga, a program that has been to 18 straight Tournaments with wins in each of the last eight and is coming off an Elite Eight appearance. After beating #6 Seton Hall and #3 Utah by a combined 39 points, Mark Few’s team heads to Chicago as a dangerous team – and a likely favorite in its Sweet Sixteen matchup with Syracuse. Beating the Orange won’t be an easy first step, but if the Zags can advance to a regional final against either Virginia or Iowa State, forget their uninspiring regular season and double-digit seed line – this team has the talent and pedigree to break through to deliver the program’s maiden voyage to the Final Four. Wouldn’t that be a Cinderella story, of sorts?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #10 Syracuse 70, #7 Dayton 51

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 18th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways:

Syracuse's Malachi Richardson attempts a pass to teammate Trevor Cooney. (Credit: Syracuse.com)

Syracuse’s Malachi Richardson attempts a pass down low. (Credit: Syracuse.com)

  1. The Potential of Malachi Richardson Is Frightening: At 20 years old, you might not find many freshmen at that age nor will you find many more versatile wings than Richardson. The 6’6″ wing with a 7’0″ wingspan scored 10 points in a variety of ways — mostly drives and spot-up threes — within a span of five minutes early in the first half on his way to becoming the game’s leading scorer with 21 points. It’s easy to see why NBA scouts are digging his skills.
  2. Dayton’s Balanced Attack Was Thrown All Out Of Whack: The Flyers came into today’s game with four players averaging in double figures: Charles Cooke (15.7 PPG), Dyshawn Pierre (13.0 PPG), Scoochie Smith (11.7 PPG)) and Kendall Pollard (10.6 PPG). Today, these four combined for only 36 points. The worst stretch had by the Flyers is when they went on a more than five-minute scoring drought in the second half. I couldn’t tell what Archie Miller‘s sweating situation was since he wore his jacket throughout the game, but I can bet he wasn’t dry.
  3. Syracuse’s Patented Zone Was Effective: With the aforementioned scoring droughts for the Flyers, we couldn’t really determine just how effective the Orange’s zone was. The Flyers shot 29.6 percent from the floor in the second half when Trevor Cooney started connecting on three-pointers. Zone may be for cowards, some say, but if your team isn’t able to score against it, what does that say about the Flyers?

Quotables: “Anyone that said we don’t deserve to be in the Tournament doesn’t know about basketball.” – Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, on his team’s at-large bid

Sights and Sounds: With 7:38 to go in the game, Malachi Richardson was whistled for a foul. A Dayton fan behind the basket stood up and yelled at a ref, “Yes! Yes! You finally called a foul! I didn’t think you would but you did!”

What’s Next: The Orange will face the winner of the Michigan State-Middle Tennessee State game on Sunday. Time and television designation are to be determined.

Share this story

ACC M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 24th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. The ACC: Rejoice, ACC fans, because the bracket for this year’s conference tournament is out (including approximate tipoff times that will inevitably be pushed back since they still use the assumption that every game will end in under two hours). Unfortunately, in the league’s promotion of the event, a graphic designer failed to use a stock photo of the US Capitol. Alas, #goacc.
  2. BC Interruption: Speaking of that bracket, you can go ahead and sharpie Boston College in for the #14 seed. Is it statistically possible that the Eagles can catch Wake Forest? Yes. But after getting stomped by Virginia Tech at home last night, don’t hold your breath for that result. More seriously, Boston College has major issues with its men’s basketball program. The athletic department just announced a $200 million investment in sports, but it won’t directly affect the basketball team. An improved football team would help (Boston College is on pace to become the first team in ACC history to lose all of its conference men’s basketball and football games in the same school year), but there’s a lot of general apathy among the Eagles’ fan base. Even during the Al Skinner era, the basketball program found it difficult to compete with hockey for winter attendance. Firing Jim Christian after one season would be overly reactionary, but for each year the program continues to struggle, the more energy it will take to rebuild it. Just a guess, but it would seem that most of the remaining fans wouldn’t mind another change at the helm.
  3. Hampton Roads Daily Press: This piece is a good rebuttal to the chorus of whining ACC coaches. David Teel was right to focus on Miami head coach Jim Larranaga, who knows the benefits to both coffers and recruiting alike that asymmetric schedules can bring. Television revenue has become increasingly important to athletic departments (since unlike most other revenue, there’s no cost to the school when ESPN shows up to a game that would be played regardless). Then again, Larranaga may have just been in a good mood after Miami eked by Virginia to stay in the hunt for the top seed at next month’s ACC Tournament.
  4. Syracuse Post Standard: Jim Boeheim caught some recent flak for his comments about junior Tyler Roberson. Boeheim said, “If I had anyone else he wouldn’t play a minute,” in response to a question about his big man. As he’s prone to do, Boeheim immediately doubled down on the comments. Whether this public shaming will help Roberson play with more effort is unclear, but what should be clear is that Roberson isn’t paid enough to be publicly ridiculed for something as subjective as effort. Shame on Boeheim.
  5. Raleigh News & Observer: Duke named former Blue Devil guard Nolan Smith a special assistant to the basketball program. Many people had wondered as he struggled to rehabilitate from repeat injuries whether Smith might eventually turn to coaching. He now has, but what remains to be seen is when he can join the staff as a full assistant. Is this a sign that assistant coach Jeff Capel might be thinking about taking over another program after this year? Or will a mid-major school take a shot at Nate James after Duke’s recent string of recruiting success? Both important questions, but the biggest current source of confusion facing most Duke fans is what Grayson Allen meant with this Instagram post.
Share this story

ACC M5: 02.01.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 1st, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Newport News Daily Press: If you didn’t see Wake Forest’s epic collapse against Virginia last week, it was an all-timer. Truly, it was a spectacle. And this article doesn’t even mention that the game broke Bill James’ “safe lead” formula! But the real reason to talk about the beneficiary of Wake’s choke job is the Cavaliers’ subsequent dismantling of Louisville on the road on Saturday. There were (and are) questions surrounding Louisville (e.g., the Cardinals haven’t beaten a certain NCAA Tournament team yet), but statistically, they came into that game as the best team in the ACC. Emphasis on were (they’re now third in the league, according to Ken Pomeroy). Virginia was awesome offensively and completely locked down Damion Lee on the other end. It was the best performance by any ACC team in any game this season.
  2. Winston-Salem Journal: Wake Forest fans don’t want or need to be reminded of this, but the program’s road struggles have continued under head coach Danny Manning (to his credit, many of his players overlap with the disastrous Jeff Bzdelik era). Wake Forest is now 2-48 in its last 50 ACC road games, with the two wins coming against Boston College (2012) and Virginia Tech (2014). Manning was quick to point out that “it doesn’t weigh on me from that sense, this is my second year,” but if the slump continues into another year, he’ll start feeling more pressure.
  3. Raleigh News & Observer: “This schedule has been so ridiculous I can’t even remember what the crap day it is,” North Carolina’s Roy Williams complained last week. Meanwhile, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim described the league’s schedule as “horrific.” Needless to say, the two longtime coaches (here’s betting Mike Krzyzewski would join them in their displeasure) aren’t very happy with the effect of television and realignment on ACC schedules. But Williams wasn’t done complaining: He’s also tired of hearing about Ben Simmons “Green Room Guys.” Come to show solidarity; stay for the Tom Izzo anecdote.
  4. Notre Dame Insider: Senior forward Zach Auguste has seen his field goal percentage drop precipitously in ACC play this season. The dip may be related to Jerian Grant’s missing ability to spread the floor and give the big man additional space to operate. Tom Noie thinks so, suggesting that Auguste’s shot selection may be more challenging in the All-American’s absence. Auguste thinks he may just need to slow down. Either way, Notre Dame has a very tough upcoming four-game stretch (at Miami; vs. North Carolina; at Clemson; vs. Louisville) and the Irish will need everything from Auguste they can get.
  5. Tomahawk Nation: Florida State is rounding into form after an important weekend home win over Clemson. Perhaps most promising from the victory was the strong play from veteran Devon Bookert. The Seminoles are also starting to flash some vintage Leonard Hamilton defense in how they’re blocking shots and playing typically disruptive perimeter defense.

EXTRA: This excerpt from former Duke star Jay Williams’ new book is great.

Share this story

ACC M5: 01.08.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 8th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. ESPN: This is a cool story from C.L. Brown on Duke’s Brandon Ingram. While the story does a good job contrasting Ingram’s skinny frame with the toughness he’s shown over the last few games, the really amazing tidbit is just how many great players hail from Kinston, a small town in North Carolina. Ingram needs some more weight on his frame, but the NBA has a bona fide skinny superstar in Kevin Durant and a budding one in Kristaps Porzingis, so it may not be as necessary as it once seemed.
  2. The State: Don’t look now, but Clemson‘s Brad Brownell may finally have the players he needs to break out of his long cycle of mediocrity (and that’s not a slight; Brownell has never let Clemson slip to the ACC cellar). A key to that development could turn out to be new transfer Elijah Thomas, a former consensus top-50 recruit who only played eight games with Texas A&M but may provide the influx of talent the program needs to make a leap. Two more impact transfers on the horizon are Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed, both of whom will both be eligible next season.
  3. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: What’s different about this year’s Pittsburgh team? It’s not that the Panthers have become particularly offensive-minded — the last time a Jamie Dixon team was better on defense than offense was in the 2009-10 season. What’s spectacular this year is how bad Pitt’s defense (151st nationally) is relative to its offense (10th nationally) and how much faster it has been playing. Most of Dixon’s teams played between 60 and 65 possessions per game. This year’s team is averaging over 68 possessions per game. That may not sound like a huge difference, but that’s why the team’s point totals have been higher this year.
  4. Syracuse Post-Standard: This article makes a good point, which is to not judge interim head coach Mike Hopkins by his 4-5 record with Jim Boeheim suspended. What it doesn’t say (but hints at) is you should judge Boeheim for it. After all, it was the head coach who assembled this roster. I don’t suspect we will see a huge improvement from the Orange when he takes back over this weekend against North Carolina, but the article does a good job contextualizing the uptick that surfaces.
  5. Washington Post: VJ King is a Louisville recruit who has had to fight both expectations and changing scenery. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was following him when he was in seventh grade (in North Carolina; he later moved to Lebron James’ high school and was dubbed “the next King of Akron.”). Luckily, James took the high school standout under his wing and really set him free. Now he’s in Virginia and appears to have regained his confidence.
Share this story

ACC M5: 01.06.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 6th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlotte Observer: Saying Florida State didn’t have an answer for Brice Johnson on Monday night would be quite an understatement. Johnson’s ridiculous stat line was immediately overshadowed by the prime time Big Monday game between Kansas and Oklahoma, but it truly was a performance for the ages. Patrick Stevens puts the performance in perspective by noting that an ACC player has only put up as many as 39 points and 23 boards on four previous occasions. And none of those instances came after 1964. The Tar Heels’ defense will give themselves a lot of teams chances to stick around games, but when their two-point jump shots are falling (which happens at a higher clip than any team in the country), they’re nearly impossible to beat.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: Syracuse‘s first two losses were easy to write off, as Miami may wind up as the best team in the ACC and the Oakland Zoo makes Pittsburgh a brutal place to play. But a home loss against Clemson? That’s a bad look. Part of the problem was that the game featured the smallest Carrier Dome conference crowd for a conference game in the last 15 years. The Orange could easily wind up 1-8 in ACC play if they’re not careful (the trip to Winston-Salem won’t be a cake walk), but it was also the last game without the services of Jim Boeheim, so maybe his return will right the ship. Syracuse looks all out of sorts right now.
  3. Charlottesville Daily Progress: The ACC is going to be absolute mayhem this year. A few teams may end up rising above the fray, but Virginia Tech knocking off Virginia on Monday night seems like a sure sign of things to come. This was Buzz Williams’ first big win since taking the helm in Blacksburg, but it definitely won’t be his last (relatedly, the last two games mentioned in this M5 definitively establish that Boston College is at the bottom of the league). The top teams all have flaws and there are five of them. Don’t write off any team besides the Eagles at home this season.
  4. Raleigh News & Observer: Before the season you could count me among the vocal skeptics who thought that the 30-second shot clock would not produce much change in college basketball. So far, though, both scoring and possessions are up (a renewed interest in calling the games tighter has helped too). As Andrew Carter points out in his article, 11 of 15 ACC teams last year failed to average 70 points per game. Thirteen teams are doing so this year. It doesn’t hurt that the league also sports four of the five most efficient offenses in the country (North Carolina, Duke, Virginia and Notre Dame), according to KenPom.
  5. Fayetteville Observer: Bad news for NC State‘s Terry Henderson, as head coach Mark Gottfried said he won’t be back in action for at least two to three weeks. Normally a player like him would redshirt after missing so much time, but since Henderson is a transfer who has already sat out a year (a sixth year of eligibility is generally only granted when two seasons are missed for injury), it’s unlikely that his request would be granted. If healthy, Henderson would provide some much-needed outside shooting on the wing for the Wolfpack.
Share this story