Virginia: The Quiet and Legitimate Title Contender

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 20th, 2014

Kansas, Syracuse, Duke, Wichita State, Arizona, Michigan State: These are some of the teams typically first mentioned when discussing this season’s NCAA championship contenders. While Virginia is laden with senior leadership, elite defense, and loved by the advanced metrics, the Cavaliers are rarely mentioned as a contender along with the others. At 22-5 and 13-1 in the ACC, however, the Cavaliers are well on their way to a top-two finish in one of the country’s best conferences. With Syracuse’s surprising loss last night versus Boston College and a tough pair of road games upcoming, Tony Bennett’s team appears to be well on its way to capturing the ACC throne for the first time since a 2007 tie, and their first sole ACC regular season title since 1981. 

UVA's Joe Harris has a lot to celebrate with Virginia's winning ways. (USA Today).

UVA’s Joe Harris has a lot to celebrate with Virginia’s winning ways. (USA Today).

So why is a projected ACC regular season champion — one that will likely carry 25+ wins into the NCAA Tournament — not getting enough buzz? For starters, the nation is enamored with superstar culture, and Virginia doesn’t have a transcendent individual who is destined for NBA greatness and seated atop all the mock drafts. While this team has several really good players who mesh very well together, they do not have a Julius Randle, Doug McDermott, or Jabari Parker — someone who generates mass publicity and draws droves of NBA front office personnel at their games.

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ACC M5: 02.19.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 19th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Washington Post: Cool story from Alex Prewitt on Maryland‘s scout team, which gives some insight into what it’s like to be a walk-on. In preparing for NC State, the team learned 20 plays to mimic the Wolfpack’s offense. They show up an hour before the rotation guys so things go smoothly. There’s an odd pressure to the walk-on life, as you play a huge role in prepping the team for its next game, but have very little (if any) direct role in the game itself. But if your scout team doesn’t buy in, you’ll struggle to make the connection between watching other teams on film and executing against them.
  2. Washington Post: Stay with me, I’ve got a soft spot for walk-ons. Alex Prewitt fleshed out his story with a blog on Spencer Barks, a Maryland scout-teamer himself. Barks has serious ups, having put several of his teammates on posters in practice, and speaking of posters, one of Barks’s proudest moments as a Terrapin was signing autographs at the beginning of the season. This is a cool short profile on a goofy guy behind the scenes in College Park.
  3. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Jerry Ratliffe takes the optimistic view on Joe Harris‘ night on Tuesday in Blacksburg. Harris saved the Cavaliers from a humiliating defeat that would have put a lot more pressure on the team looking towards Greensboro in addition to a large seed hit on Selection Sunday. I’ll counter with the fact that Virginia wouldn’t have needed his heroics if he hadn’t started the game ice cold in the first place. On top of that, if Harris had missed the shot, we’d be having a totally different discussion.
  4. Duke Basketball Report: Interesting piece from Al Featherston on Duke‘s schedule this week and the ever-shrinking number of ACC teams on the bubble. Speaking of the bubble, it’s time to recognize the job Mark Gottfried has done so far this season. Sure, his team didn’t pull of the mammoth upset over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, but they’re exceeding most people’s expectations by a mile. Now if Gottfried can find the secret to getting his more talented teams to over-achieve (or just achieve).
  5. Durham Herald-Sun: Speaking of teams well on the wrong side of the bubble, Florida State‘s loss to North Carolina Monday night was brutal for the Seminoles’ NCAA hopes this season. The men who deserve credit: Marcus Paige (who continued  his tradition of hiding in the first half only to explode in the second), and Kennedy Meeks. Meeks had his best game of the year by far, exploiting the Seminoles’ interior foul trouble. Florida State needs to start winning and quickly if it wants an invite to the Big Dance.
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With the Game on the Line, Which ACC Players Get the Call?

Posted by Christopher Kehoe on February 1st, 2014

The ACC is chock full of great athletes and even greater coaches. In such a highly competitive environment, there is bound to be a plethora of close finishes. Even the elite coaches can’t physically will their teams to victory, but instead have to rely upon the players who have ice in their veins. Some coaches prefer a heady point guard who can wind the clock down, penetrate into the paint at the right moment, and then fire off a pinpoint pass to a shooter on the wing for the win. Other coaches prefer a more traditional route of isolation basketball, putting the ball in the hands of the best player, someone who can rise up over the defense or break down his defender one-on-one.

Michael Snaer breaks the heart of many Duke fans in CIS

Michael Snaer breaks the hearts of many Duke fans in CIS

The list of memorable ACC finishes could fill an entire book, provoking court rushes and jubilant celebrations for one team and a traumatic letdowns for another. The most recent that comes to mind from Tobacco Road was Duke’s Austin Rivers buzzer-beater in Chapel Hill two years ago. That same season, and only a month prior to Rivers’ game winner, Duke was shocked at home by Michael Snaer‘s three at the horn to snap a 45-game Duke home winning streak. Flash forward to the present and both Snaer and Rivers are long gone from their respective campuses as new faces and even a few teams litter the ACC landscape. With that in mind, who are the players that ACC coaches most want with the ball in their hands and the game on the line this season? Here are 10 players who have their coaches’ trust in those game-ending situations. 

  • Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: The freshman point guard from Canada has won Jim Boeheim as well as his teammates’ confidence and has solidified himself as the go-to presence for this year’s undefeated Syracuse team. Look no further than Ennis’ play in the final minutes of Syracuse’s home win over old rival Pittsburgh, as the Orange eked out a victory late, largely thanks to Ennis.

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London Perrantes Has the Virginia Offense Humming

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 31st, 2014

Virginia’s resurgence is well-known by now, with everyone from this site to Joe Lunardi taking notice — standing firm right behind Syracuse in the ACC standings will do that. But while Virginia’s defense is still as potent as ever (only allowing opponents to shoot 38.0 percent from the field on the year), it’s the Cavaliers’ suddenly white-hot offense that has them racing off to such a commanding ACC start. It would be a challenge to find anyone who projected Virginia would be fourth in the ACC in scoring (70.5 PPG) through eight games, but there’s one obvious catalyst for Tony Bennett’s best offensive team during his tenure at Virginia: freshman point man London Perrantes.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Notre Dame

London Perrantes has Virginia’s offense rolling and the team sitting near the top of the ACC (credit: usatodaysports)

While Tyler Ennis has garnered most of the freshman point guard accolades in the ACC this season, Perrantes can make an argument he’s just as vital to his team’s success as his Syracuse counterpart. He is averaging 4.8 assists per game in conference contests, but more impressively his assist-to-turnover ratio is an astounding 4.2 to 1. Like Ennis, Perrantes is lauded for his calm demeanor under fire and an innate ability to set and maintain his team’s preferred tempo regardless of opponent. Part of the reason the team is scoring at its current clip is because Perrantes is doing a tremendous job protecting the ball as well as knowing when to get the team out in transition (traditionally a rarity for Bennett’s squads). Virginia struggled while the young point guard was getting acclimated to the college game, but with him now firmly entrenched as the starter at the position, this team runs at a much more efficient pace.

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Virginia Has Turned the Corner

Posted by Chris Kehoe on January 29th, 2014

Since December 30’s 87-52 beatdown that Virginia suffered at the hands of Tennessee in Knoxville, the Cavaliers have won seven of their last eight games. What Virginia has essentially done is establish itself as a clear member of the upper echelon of the ACC, arguably the third- or fourth-best team in the conference behind Duke and undefeated Syracuse. The Cavaliers sit comfortably at 16-5 and 7-1 in league play, their sole blemish coming in a close loss to Duke in the confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Virginia’s most recent victory came at the expense of a reeling Notre Dame team on Tuesday, yet another example of Virginia’s defense and style of play frustrating its conference foes thus far.

So far, London Perrantes (left) and Joe Harris have had a lot to celebrate recently. (USA TODAY Sports)

London Perrantes (left) and Joe Harris have had a lot to celebrate recently. (USA TODAY Sports)

The most impressive thing about Virginia’s play of late has been their emphatic victories, thrashing ACC teams by wide margins. They have beaten Florida State by 12 twice, North Carolina by 13, N.C. State by 31, Wake by 23, Virginia Tech by 20, and Notre Dame by 15. Virginia has effectively put the rest of the league on notice that, regardless of its non-conference performance, the Cavaliers are returning senior leaders from a highly successful unit with postseason experience. First and foremost has been the improved play of Joe Harris, which, as noted in an earlier article here on the ACC microsite, is the key to their resurgence of late.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode IX

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on January 22nd, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Losing Streaks Not Uncommon This Time of Year

It is almost a yearly tradition: fans and the media freaking out over a previously undefeated or one-loss team losing a game or two, or three, or sometimes four, in January. This season has been no exception as the last few weeks have seen teams such as Ohio State, Oregon, Iowa State, Georgetown and Wisconsin hit the skids. The Buckeyes and Ducks have each lost four straight games after starting the season a combined 28-0. Iowa State was 14-0 before losing three straight over the course of the last week-plus. Georgetown was 3-1 in Big East play before suffering three consecutive defeats. Last but not least, Wisconsin, which had run out to an impressive 16-0 start, has suddenly dropped two in a row. There are a number of reasons why this happens. The first is statistical correction. Ohio State is a good team with a woefully inefficient offense; opponents were bound to begin figuring out the Buckeyes and hand them a few losses.

Joel Embiid and Kansas sent Iowa State to the second loss of its current three-game losing streak.

Joel Embiid and Kansas sent Iowa State to the second loss of its current three-game losing streak. (AP)

The same can be said for Oregon and its “Swiss cheese” defense getting exposed. The Ducks can score the ball for sure but it doesn’t matter much when you can’t stop quality opponents. Wisconsin is in the same boat, but not nearly to the same degree. The Badgers have not been defending nearly as well as they usually do and it cost them in recent losses to Indiana and Michigan. Speaking of scheduling, that is another reason why hot teams are prone to January slumps. As conference play takes hold, the opponents get better and there is so much more video to scout and expose teams. The schedule has caught up to Iowa State, which encountered a huge match-up problem in the frontcourt against Kansas and lost two road games to surprise Big 12 teams Oklahoma and Texas. Winning on the road is never easy, especially in conference play, as the Cyclones have found out. As for Georgetown, an injury to Jabril Trawick and an academic issue for Joshua Smith have picked apart the Hoyas’ rotation and made depth a major issue late in games. The Hoyas have blown second half leads in all three of their most recent losses. Read the rest of this entry »

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Virginia’s Resurgence Directly Tied to Success of Joe Harris

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 16th, 2014

There is no question that Virginia entered the season fully expecting to be able to count on senior Joe Harris to elevate the team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012 and make a serious run at the upper echelon of the ACC. Harris was considered one of the surest bets not only on the Cavaliers roster, but in the entire new-look ACC. He made the all-conference first team last season and received preseason votes for ACC player of the year.  After a non-conference slate from which the Cavaliers emerged an uninspiring 9-4 with zero standout wins and whiffs in statement games versus VCU, Wisconsin and Tennessee along with a bad loss to Wisconsin Green-Bay, fans and analysts alike surmised the Cavs were having disappointing seasons from just about everyone on the roster. But Harris was actually the main culprit, with his scoring way down and, perhaps most puzzlingly, carrying an average of only seven field-goal attempts per contest.

Joe Harris vs Duke

UVA’s long-term fortunes are directly tied to Joe Harris (credit: associatedpress)

Now, four games into the ACC slate, it appears that Harris has finally found his scoring stroke at just the right time. Virginia, needing a strong conference record to offset its non-conference woes, has begun 3-1 in the ACC with only a tough loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor blemishing their conference record. It’s no coincidence that much of what glaringly ailed Tony Bennett’s team early on has seemingly been remedied. The defense is still suffocating; the frontcourt is back to providing secondary scoring options and commanding the glass; and the team is getting better shots as a result of improved ball movement and patience.

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After Slow Start, Virginia Now Looks Like a Legitimate ACC Contender

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 15th, 2014

Even after Monday night’s 69-65 loss to Duke, Virginia looks like it is built to stay near the top of the ACC for the rest of the season. On a night when Duke played inspired basketball and had the famous Cameron Indoor Stadium home court edge, it took a fortunate bounce on a Rasheed Sulaimon three-pointer to keep Virginia from starting the ACC season with a 4-0 record. In winning their first three games, including Saturday’s 76-45 stomping of N.C. State, the Cavaliers have been winning impressively, with a 22-point average margin of victory. Even in their closest win, a 62-50 victory at Florida State, Virginia held a 22-point lead with 11 minutes left in the game. Undefeated Syracuse is now the perceived ACC favorite, but Virginia is certainly playing at such a high level now that it too must be considered a serious contender as well.

Virginia's Justin Anderson Blocks Ralston Turner of N.C. State In Cavalier Rout. (Photo: Ethan Hyman/AP)

Virginia’s Justin Anderson Blocks Ralston Turner of N.C. State In Cavalier Rout. (Ethan Hyman/AP)

Virginia has clearly turned its season around after a less than impressive December (2-3 record). The Cavaliers hit rock bottom in a 87-52 blowout loss at Tennessee on December 30. After using seven different starting lineups, head coach Tony Bennett has finally found stability with his current starting unit. Virginia is now 8-1 with a group featuring Mike Tobey and Akil Mitchell up front, with Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogden and London Perrantes on the perimeter. After a puzzling lack of production from Harris and Mitchell in the pre-conference part of the schedule, the two senior all-ACC performers have turned things around on and off the court. According to Bennett, “The Tennessee game was a wake up call [for Harris and Mitchell].” He was referring to the fact that the duo has recently taken responsibility for being better team leaders. Tobey has shown signs of fulfilling his potential as a low post scorer (16 points vs. N.C. State), and the versatile Brogdon has been more consistent, scoring in double figures in all four ACC games. The freshman Perrantes’ maturation at the point guard spot has also been a key to the Cavaliers’ recent success, with 16 assists against only five turnovers in conference play. Justin Anderson gives Virginia great energy and athleticism off the bench, and he can defend almost any position. Further quality depth comes from Anthony Gill and Darion Atkins on the inside, and Evan Nolte and Teven Jones on the perimeter. All in all, it’s a nice rotation that has jelled just in time.

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ACC M5: 01.07.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 7th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Associated Press and ESPN: The new AP Top 25 poll isn’t kind to the ACC. Only Syracuse (#2) and Duke (#16) remain in the poll after North Carolina tumbled into the land of “others receiving votes” following its road loss to Wake Forest. That loss puts the Tar Heels at 7-4 against unranked opponents and an unbelievable 3-0 against ranked foes. Duke’s drop was historic, ending the Blue Devils’ ludicrous 122-week stint in the top 10. That’s the second longest streak ever (to UCLA, who managed to stick around for nearly a decade). The last time Duke wasn’t in the top 10 was November 2007. The new longest-tenured team? Michigan State at 16 weeks.
  2. Streaking the Lawn: Virginia has three players battling injury following a win that finally seemed to live up to the team’s lofty expectations to open ACC play. The damage? Joe Harris is day-to-day with concussion symptoms and is still awaiting clearance to practice; Evan Nolte dislocated his finger; and Mike Tobey rolled his ankle. The last two are the kind of injuries that could become nagging snowballs as the conference season wears on, but Harris is obviously the player to watch. He can’t miss significant time, as the team has already dug itself a really deep hole in terms of its at-large resume.
  3. Syracuse Post-Standard: We’re witnessing history this season! Tyler Ennis and Olivier Hanlan are already two of the top five Canadian ACC scorers of all-time. Hanlan will almost certainly pass Duke’s Greg Newton in Boston College’s next game (he only needs six points), and he should do it in fewer than half the games it took Newton. Ennis still has a ways to go to start climbing up that list, but he should get to fourth before the end of the season. He’ll have to stick around three years to make a run at the top spot though.
  4. Winston-Salem Journal: Everyone — especially Ron Wellman and any relatives of Jeff Bzdelik – bookmark this article immediately. Dan Collins thinks Bzdelik’s game plan and play-calling played a significant role in the Demon Deacons’ Sunday upset over North Carolina. Joking aside, Wake Forest executed most of the game incredibly well. The Deacs didn’t fade down the stretch (apart from a bizarre couple of minutes where they let the Tar Heels cut the lead to a single possession), and they kept their heads cool in the face of pressure. I personally would credit Codi Miller-McIntyre as the reason Wake Forest looks like a new team this season, but Bzdelik may actually deserve some credit too.
  5. Real GM: Cool look from Dan Hanner on how the top 100 RSCI freshmen are faring this season. Obviously Jabari Parker is fine (outside of South Bend). There’s a pretty significant drop after the top 10 (all of whom are scoring in double figures except for Kentucky’s Dakari Johnson). But there are some serious diamonds in the rough (if you can call “not top-20″ rough). Tyler Ennis and Cat Barber stick out from the ACC, while Duke’s Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones along with North Carolina’s Isaiah Hicks are seeing low production so far.
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Only a Strong ACC Run Can Rescue Virginia

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 31st, 2013

When the year began, the Virginia Cavaliers made it a point to avoid the types of missteps that derailed their season a year ago and relegated them to an NIT bid. There were three main areas the team had to lock down: a solid showing in the non-conference schedule; more offensive production from the point guard position; and avoiding a late-season collapse in ACC play. Conference play is now on the horizon, and the Cavaliers will have to look themselves in the mirror knowing they failed miserably at the first area of emphasis, have more questions than answers about the second, and will absolutely have to reverse the trend of the third to make an NCAA Tournament run. Nothing is as head coach Tony Bennett expected for his team roughly a third of the way into the 2013-14 season.

Joe Harris

It’s been a rough start to a promising year for Joe Harris and UVA (credit: grantland.com)

Virginia had two match-ups against ranked foes prior to conference play. They suffered a heartbreaking loss to VCU at home in November and then bowed out of a horrifically low-scoring affair against Wisconsin in December, again at home. A bad loss to Wisconsin Green-Bay, Bennett’s alma mater, followed, putting the Cavs in a precarious position with only a game at Tennessee left as a possible noteworthy non-conference victory. That evaporated early and often Monday night, as Virginia was overwhelmed by the Volunteers from start to finish in a crushing 35-point loss. The demoralizing score and performance would be devastating enough if it weren’t also serving as a microcosm of their entire season.

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The Emergence of NC State’s T.J. Warren

Posted by Chris Kehoe on December 20th, 2013

N.C. State sophomore forward T.J. Warren had an extremely successful freshman season on a Wolfpack squad that failed to live up to outsized expectations last year. After the departure of stars C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell and Lorenzo Brown, the reins were handed to Mr. Warren. Surrounded by a supporting cast of talented freshmen and an undersized yet feisty former Oak Hill point guard (Tyler Lewis), N.C. State was largely expected to coast to a lower/middle-of-the-pack finish in the ACC. However, behind freshman guard Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber’s unexpected scoring output, the emergences of forward/center Jordan Vandenberg and freshman big man Lennard Freeman, and Warren’s ascendence, the outlook is bright for this Wolfpack team.

T.J. Warren skies for an emphatic two points (photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

T.J. Warren skies for an emphatic two points
(photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Last season Warren was known for his other-worldly efficiency, pouring in 12.1 PPG on a remarkable 62.2% shooting and cementing his status as a player to keep an eye on. A popular misconception after the departures of the talented triumvirate was that N.C. State and Warren would struggle because of a lack of offensive options and overall experience and cohesion. That has not been the case, as N.C. State has cruised to a 8-2 record, beating Florida Gulf Coast, Northwestern, and most recently, Tennessee in solid wins. While their schedule has not been particularly strong, they look to be a force to be reckoned with in a weaker-than-expected ACC. They are now circled on teams’ calendars as a dangerous foe in ACC play, because when you have an elite scorer such as Warren to defend, there is no telling what kind of damage he can do.

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Winners and Losers from the 15th Annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 5th, 2013

The 2013-14 ACC/Big Ten Challenge had a different look this year thanks to realignment, but for the second consecutive year, the event ended in a 6-6 tie. In the end, the Challenge produced one shocking upset, showcased two Duke players heading in opposite directions, and delivered one game that set basketball back a few decades. Here are several glaring winners and losers from this year’s version:

Winners

1)       North Carolina. The most confusing team in the country went into East Lansing and knocked off the top-ranked Spartans, despite only an average night scoring the basketball by Marcus Paige.  Sure, there were injury issues on the Spartans’ side, but the ability of this UNC team to bounce back from puzzling losses to knock off powerhouses (Louisville after a home loss to Belmont; Michigan State after a road loss to UAB) speaks volumes about Roy Williams’ ability to motivate a roster he didn’t envision leaning on when the season began.

UNC celebrates huge win over No. 1 Michigan State (credit: goheels.com)

UNC celebrates huge win over No. 1 Michigan State (credit: goheels.com)

2)      Quinn Cook. Everyone knew about Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. Most of the questions about the Blue Devils were about the supporting cast. With Rasheed Sulaimon a no-show (more on that later), the inconsistent Cook of a year ago seemed like a different player as he exploited the Michigan backcourt in a solid win Tuesday night. If Cook can consistently hit his outside shot and remain largely turnover-free, a team that appeared to lean heavily on two players suddenly has more versatility at its disposal. Cook’s 24 points and nine turnovers helped keep Duke’s 13-year non-conference home winning streak alive.

3)      Iowa. Fighting off a tougher-than-expected challenge from Notre Dame with 57 percent shooting was impressive, but even more impressive was that this was the Hawkeyes’ fourth game in six days. Fran McCaffery’s bunch was coming off a solid showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis, losing only an overtime title game to a very good Villanova squad. Iowa has a solid nucleus in Aaron White, Devyn Marble and Jared Uthoff and has already shown its natural ability to score in bunches. Their resolve in fighting off fatigue and a charging Notre Dame team spoke to their toughness. This is definitely a team worth watching in the Big Ten this season.

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