North Carolina’s No Good Very Bad Ending to Fairy Tale Season

Posted by Matt Patton on April 7th, 2016

There’s no arguing that North Carolina is among college basketball royalty. The Tar Heels are one of only three programs with a truly national fan base (the other two are Duke and Kentucky). They own five national championships and consistently recruit a level of talent that most programs can only dream of. But with the news of a multi-year academic scandal and corresponding NCAA investigation hanging overhead, the carefully-curated lustre of “the Carolina Way” had faded. The uncertainty of the drawn-out investigation resulted in a surplus of negative recruiting and several classes that lagged behind the other national powerhouses.

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (Photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

“When you’re a kid growing up, you don’t dream of missing the last second shot, or a team beating you at the buzzer,” he said. “You dream of having that moment. That confetti. Seeing your family over there crying tears of joy. Hugging guys you’ve had blood, sweat and tears with for four years. That’s what you dream of. We were close to that dream.”Marcus Paige

All of this set the stage for Roy Williams to rebrand his team — one of college basketball’s elites — as a Cinderella despite starting the season as the top dog (preseason AP #1). Some experts quickly left the Tar Heels’ bandwagon after they blew a mid-November double-figure second half lead at Northern Iowa (a team that was ultimately one broken press away from the Sweet Sixteen, remember). A narrative has existed over the last few years — promoted incessantly by Dan Dakich’s egocentric view of history — that North Carolina lacked toughness. The early loss to the Panthers played into that narrative, but it more or less became gospel when the Tar Heels allowed a lesser Duke squad to steal a February victory in Chapel Hill even with Matt Jones injured for most of the game. Suddenly Doug Gottlieb was mentioning that Williams was considering retirement to allow Hubert Davis to assume the helm. Since that loss on February 17, the Tar Heels played with an “us against the world” mentality that we hadn’t seen from them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 85, #9 Providence 66

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 19th, 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.

Roy Williams and North Carolina advance to Philadelphia, where they will meet Kentucky in the marquee matchup of the Sweet Sixteen. (USA TODAY Sports)

Roy Williams and North Carolina advance to Philadelphia, where they will meet Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen. (USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Shooting is kind of important in the game of basketball. North Carolina is pretty good at putting the ball through the hoop, but Providence is terrible at it (the Friars are 251st in the country in effective field goal percentage). Tonight was more of the same, as North Carolina made 53 percent of its field goals, while the Friars only converted 40 percent. Providence was particularly chilly from deep, making just six of their 23 attempts from three-point range. Ed Cooley’s squad is athletic, good defensively, and always competes hard. They just aren’t a great shooting team, and it caught up with them tonight against a high-level opponent.
  2. North Carolina’s toughness was put to the test. It was not a pretty contest for most of the way, but it may have been the type of game that this North Carolina team needed. Many have questioned whether these Tar Heels are physically and mentally tough enough to win a national title. Yes, they showed some heart in winning at Duke and besting Virginia for the ACC Championship recently, but the pressure is different when it’s a win or go home situation. Tonight the Tar Heels were playing an athletic squad that challenged them physically (and verbally), but North Carolina picked up its intensity when it needed to and kept the Friars at arm’s length for most of the second half before delivering the knockout punch in the game’s final eight minutes.
  3. Oops – he Dunn it again. For the second straight game, Providence star Kris Dunn missed a significant amount of first half action after picking up two early fouls. Thursday, Ed Cooley was able to get away with sitting Dunn for 10 minutes when he was whistled for that second foul. But North Carolina is a different animal. Even though Providence actually outscored the Tar Heels by one after Dunn went to the bench with 11 minutes to go before halftime, the Friars ended the half by missing their last seven shots to give North Carolina momentum going into the break. Who knows if anything would have turned out differently had Dunn not sat out so much of the first half, but you have to like the Friars chances a little better with their best player on the floor for even a few more minutes.

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Rushed Reaction: North Carolina 61, Virginia 57

Posted by Matt Patton on March 12th, 2016

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Three Key Takeaways:

  1. North Carolina’s defense was tremendous, as it was all tournament long in Washington. Marcus Paige was mostly tasked with guarding Malcolm Brogdon (along with Kenny Williams, of all people) and held him to 15 points on 22 shots including only one trip to the foul line. After the game, Brogdon gave North Carolina credit for flooding the lane when he drove, but he also took a lot of responsibility for the poor performance. For his part, Roy Williams called Paige one of the five best defensive guards he’s ever coached. Looking past Brogdon, London Perrantes also struggled shooting with Joel Berry smothering him (he finished 3-of-14 from the field). The Cavaliers did a great job on the offensive boards, but couldn’t convert enough of those to second chance points.

    North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks (3) and North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) celebrate winning the championship game of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC, Saturday, March 12, 2016. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

    North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks (3) and North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) celebrate winning the championship game of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC, Saturday, March 12, 2016. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

  2. In the first 13 minutes of the game, North Carolina committed eight turnovers on 19 possessions. They were careless with the ball in the post, often trying to make passes that weren’t there. And while Virginia didn’t light up the scoreboard off of those turnovers, they led to a lot of extra shots. Some post turnovers are inevitable against Virginia — especially considering the Tar Heels’ love of quick post passes — but once North Carolina started hitting some jump shots, their post players started playing better with the ball.
  3. There’s not much Virginia should take away from tonight’s game because the Cavaliers controlled the tempo and dominated the offensive boards. Roy Williams was asked what he thought North Carolina’s chances would be if they had been killed on the glass and didn’t make their threes: “Zero,” he responded. The more I reflect on the game, the more it felt like this was Virginia’s game to win. That shouldn’t take away from what North Carolina accomplished here, but Virginia played a near-perfect game apart from missing its jump shots. One game sample sizes are cruel bedfellows, but don’t use this game to say that Tony Bennett’s team can’t win the NCAA Tournament over the next several weeks.

Star of the Game: It’s tough to choose, but Joel Berry was North Carolina’s difference-maker this whole tournament. As he’s evolved into a backcourt leader, the Heels have started taking on his persona as a team. They have more of an edge than they did at the start of the year, and a lot of the credit for that change in character should go to Berry. He plays for contact and isn’t scared of tough jump shots. Against Pittsburgh, Berry put the team on his back when their shots weren’t falling. Against Virginia, Berry hit the shot to take the lead for good along with a dagger three and four free throws to ice the game. Tonight, his defense and 19 points carried the day.

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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 78, Notre Dame 47

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. If North Carolina plays defense like it did tonight, the Tar Heels will win the national championship. Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country and they couldn’t buy a good look for 10 solid minutes. Roy Williams’ team was incredibly aggressive, especially on the perimeter, never allowing Notre Dame’s guards to any space to operate. They only gave up 22 points (a season low for both teams) on 34 possessions, good for a first half defensive efficiency of 0.65 points per possession. After the run ended five minutes into the first half, it was far too late for Notre Dame to catch up. The Irish ended up scoring only 47 points in the game, its lowest total since a loss to Syracuse in 2013.

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

  2. Repeat after me: North Carolina is really deep. The Heels got 20 points off the bench and they actually played better when Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks both picked up their second fouls with 6:30 to play in the first half. Very few teams in the country would have been able to bounce back so quickly. Isaiah Hicks has played really well over the last couple of games (he finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds), and this was his best game since he scored 21 points at Syracuse.
  3. Notre Dame is a streaky team. It was blown out three other times this season (at Syracuse; at Florida State; vs. Miami), and every once in a while you will see a team get too far into its own head and become woefully overmatched. This was one of those times. The Tar Heels defense totally took Notre Dame out of its offense, as the Irish went from a team that excels on ball movement to one trying to isolate against a much taller front line. Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson were held a combined 1-of-16 from the field, an unbelievably disappointing performance.

Star of the Game. Tonight Marcus Paige looked every bit the first team all-ACC player everyone expected. He played great defense, hit some soul-crushing threes, and finished with seven assists and no turnovers. When he’s locked in, guarding the Tar Heels is borderline impossible. The last few years the question was always: “Can North Carolina shoot well enough to win?” This tournament has been evidence that both Joel Berry and Paige are more than capable. (Author’s note: It’s worth noting that Berry finished the game with four assists and no turnovers.)

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ACC Tournament Thursday Takeaways

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

Thursday in Washington, DC, featured a terrific afternoon with Notre Dame clawing past Duke in overtime. Unfortunately, the other three games of the day weren’t quite as closely contested. Here are a few takeaways from the quarterfinals action.

The Pitt band plays during the quarterfinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC, Thursday, March 10, 2016. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

The Pitt band plays during the quarterfinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

North Carolina (26-6): The Tar Heels got a huge lift from Joel Berry in the first half as he carried their often-stagnant offense. In the second half, North Carolina’s depth was on full display while Brice Johnson was his normal all-ACC self. However, the highlight of the day may have been head coach Roy Williams failing to censor himself in the following exchange:

Q: Coach, the unbalanced schedule this year. It benefited you guys having the easiest strength of schedule in the ACC this year. Do you think it benefited you at all getting the No. 1 seed going into this tournament?

A: Depends on how you evaluate that. You know what we didn’t have the benefit of, to make somebody say we didn’t have the easy schedule, we didn’t get to play North Carolina. All that is a bunch of horse ****.

Well said, coach. We all want the round-robin back, but that’s not realistic with 15 teams. Even then, we don’t think you’d be able to play North Carolina.

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ACC Stock Watch: Feast Week Edition

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 1st, 2015

As the the majority of the league transitions from Feast Week into the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, now is as good a time as any to make some initial evaluations. Based on what we’ve seen through two-plus weeks of the young season, let’s take stock in each of the 15 ACC clubs, reviewing what has transpired so far, and considering in what direction we surmise each to be trending.

Trending Up

Jim Boeheim has his Orange playing at an extremely high level right out the gates. (Getty)

Jim Boeheim has plenty to be thankful for after his club’s performance in winning the Battle 4 Atlantis (syracuse.com)

  • Syracuse: Not many teams are feeling better about itself than Syracuse is at the moment. Picked to finish ninth in the ACC standings, the Orange probably surprised even themselves in taking home the title at the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis. Seamlessly intertwining veterans Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney with rookies Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon, Jim Boeheim looks to have a team capable of reinvigorating his spirits during his 40th year at the helm. Banned from the postseason a year ago and forced to miss the first nine conference games this season, Boeheim appeared worn down last March as tumult swirled around his program. His current team, however, showed considerable resolve in coming from behind to beat both Connecticut and Texas A&M in the Bahamas, appearing eerily similar to some of his special clubs of the past and proving that there is still some juice left in the Hall of Famer’s tank. The Orange entertain Wisconsin on Wednesday before a weekend trip to the nation’s capital to visit old friend Georgetown.

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CBE Hall Of Fame Classic: Reactions From Night Two

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2015

Brian Goodman is the lead Big 12 correspondent for Rush The Court. He’s in Kansas City this week for the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. You can follow Brian on Twitter @BSGoodman or the RTC Big 12 Twitter account @b12hoops.

The CBE Hall Of Fame Classic wrapped in Kansas City on Tuesday night, with North Carolina overcoming a hot night from Kansas State to take the title by a score of 80-70. In the consolation round, Northwestern withstood a second half Missouri run to topple the Tigers 67-62.

  • North Carolina’s late run deflates Kansas State. The Tar Heels and Wildcats traded jabs for most of the night, with Kansas State pulling ahead for a prolonged stretch in the second half. In the closing minutes, however, North Carolina reeled off a 21-3 run to put Bruce Weber’s team away. It was a collective effort down the stretch for North Carolina, but one specific play turned the tide in the Tar Heels’ favor. Coming out of a media timeout with a touch under four minutes left, Roy Williams drew up a baseline out-of-bounds designed play for Joel Berry, who found himself open thanks to a pair of screens to bury a three-pointer off a pass from Brice Johnson. The Tar Heels were soft on offense for the better part of 35 minutes, allowing Kansas State to keep up on the glass and get some steals, but they tightened their game up when it mattered most and showed some toughness to close things out.
Down the stretch, Kennedy Meeks and UNC had just enough to hold off hometown Kansas State. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Down the stretch, Kennedy Meeks and UNC had just enough to hold off hometown Kansas State. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Kamau Stokes puts on a show as the young Wildcats put a scare into UNC. We talked yesterday about Dean Wade‘s great effort on the blocks on Monday, but it was a different Kansas State newcomer who grabbed the attention of everyone in the Sprint Center last night. Stokes came into Tuesday’s final shooting a paltry 3-of-14 from distance on the season, but caught fire against North Carolina with a 6-of-8 effort from distance. With each passing bucket, Stokes grew more confident, firing up the crowd and his teammates. Stokes’ hot stretch even drew a double-team from the Tar Heels at one point. His night was made even more unexpected by the fact that he required an extra year at prep school just to get a Division-I scholarship offer. It’s just unfortunate that the rest of the Wildcats shot just 36 percent from the floor and couldn’t buy a stop late in the game. Tonight served as a reminder that even though Bruce Weber has a young team full of guys that want to play for him, it’s still going to be a process. Stokes will continue to get opportunities as Weber figures out his rotation, but while we wouldn’t expect him to be this hot regularly, even decent three-point shooting would be a big lift to Kansas State as it retools.

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CBE Hall of Fame Classic: Reactions From Night One

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2015

Brian Goodman is the lead Big 12 correspondent for Rush The Court. He’s in Kansas City this week for the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. You can follow Brian on Twitter @BSGoodman or the RTC Big 12 Twitter account @Big12Hoops.

The CBE Hall Of Fame Classic tipped off in Kansas City on Monday night, with Kansas State walloping Missouri in the opener and North Carolina taking care of Northwestern in the nightcap. Here are the most important takeaways from each team’s performance last evening.

Bruce Weber's crew had a good night in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Bruce Weber’s crew had a good night in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Dean Wade steps up inside for Kansas State. Post production on both ends of the court was a massive struggle for Kansas State a year ago, but it’s been a different story this year thanks to Bruce Weber‘s most important newcomer. Wade overwhelmed Missouri’s undersized lineup all night long, finishing with 14 points and 13 rebounds to register his first career double-double. The 6’10 freshman doesn’t yet have a ton of polish around the rim, but he showed impressive range all the way out to the three-point line and made all six of his free throws. Weber was very pleased with his big man’s play on Monday, telling media after the game that his rookie “responded against probably bigger, more athletic guys than we had played in the previous games.” Wade faces his biggest test of his young career today (7:00 PM PT, ESPN2) when he’ll go up against North Carolina’s formidable back line of Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson.
  • Missouri has an all-around rough night. After last weekend’s gritty loss to Xavier, Missouri was only able to keep up with Kansas State for the first 10 minutes of the game. From that point, the Wildcats clamped down defensively and the wheels just fell off for the Tigers. Kim Anderson’s team was aggressive and played hard, particularly on one occasion where freshman Terrence Phillips leaped out of bounds to save a loose ball, but its execution otherwise couldn’t have been much worse. Missouri’s lack of size made things easy for Kansas State on the interior, and an ice-cold 4-of-18 night from three-point range did little to reduce the gap. This is an important year for the second-year head coach, who is not only working for an athletic director who didn’t hire him, but is also surrounded by SEC coaches who are far more accomplished. Monday night’s game was an opportunity to build on a solid effort against Xavier but the Tigers fell hard instead.

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2015 ACC Basketball Power Rankings

Posted by Matt Patton on November 16th, 2015

Over the last two weeks, we previewed each of the 15 ACC teams individually to get you ready for the season. Links to those previews can be found within each of the preseason power rankings listed below, which were voted on by our crack microsite staff of three. Also look for our preseason conference awards, which will publish a bit later today.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

Virginia Cavaliers 1. Virginia (304): Can the Cavaliers win the ACC regular season for a third straight year? With a veteran cast led by Malcolm BrogdonAnthony Gill and maybe the nation’s stingiest defense, Tony Bennett probably has the squad to do it. This season, Virginia should take the next step and make a deep run in March.
North Carolina Tar Heels 2. North Carolina (290): Marcus Paige‘s injury could prove to be a setback, but Justin Jackson is poised to become one of the top players in the country. The team returns nearly all its production from last season, and assuming Joel Berry makes the leap we all expect, this group of Tar Heels should absolutely be one of the national favorites come March.
Duke Blue Devils 3. Duke (213): It’s not fair to expect this highly-touted class of Blue Devils’ freshmen to live up to the exploits of last year’s superstar class. Expect this team to take a while to find its stride, with a lot of ups and downs along the way. But if the youngsters grow up in time, Mike Krzyzewski should find himself with another tough out come March.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 4. Notre Dame (202): The Irish will lean heavily on the production of three returning starters and a successful offensive philosophy that led to the second best efficiency in the country last season. It will need to make up for the loss of departed leaders Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, but Demetrius Jackson looks like one of the best point guards in the country.
Miami Hurricanes 5. Miami (157): The last time Jim Larranaga had a squad this experienced was in 2013, when Miami won both the ACC regular season and tourney titles. The conference appears to be much stronger at the top than it was three years ago, but this veteran group of Hurricanes could still be a sleeper contender, led by three all-ACC caliber seniors.
Syracuse Orange 6. Syracuse (132): Dajuan Coleman holds the keys to Syracuse’s success this season even if senior Michael Gbinije looks to be the team’s star. After a lackluster finish a year ago, this team could become one of the best in the conference if the pieces fit together well. If the NCAA’s nine-conference game suspension stands for Jim Boeheim, though, it could be tough for the Orange to find their stride.
Florida State Seminoles 7. Florida State (105): The Seminoles are a trendy darkhorse candidate this year thanks to superstar freshman Dwayne Bacon joining Xavier Rathan-Mayes in Tallahassee. Leonard Hamilton will have to find a defensive stopper in the frontcourt, however, if this team wants to crack the top of the league.
LouisvilleLogo 8. Louisville (104): With considerable turmoil surrounding the program off the court, the Cardinals will rely on two graduate transfers and a Hall of Fame coach to navigate the loss of its top four scorers. Never count out Rick Pitino, but he’s facing an uphill climb to succeed in the ACC this season.
NC State Wolfpack 9. NC State (81): This team has a lot of good pieces, but how will Cat Barber handle being the alpha dog without big shot Trevor Lacey around? A trim Beejay Anya should terrify ACC players hoping to score in the paint. This team oozes potential, but will need time for everyone to adjust to life without Lacey and Ralston Turner.
Pittsburgh Panthers 10. Pittsburgh (62): Last year’s Panthers were the worst defensive team and among the weakest rebounding units in Jamie Dixon’s long career. As a result, mproving those two areas has been a major topic of discussion for Pittsburgh’s head coach this preseason. Dixon hopes that a pair of graduate transfers are good enough to toughen up the front line, where last year’s problems originated.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 11. Wake Forest (29): Look for Danny Manning‘s winning ways to creep into Winston-Salem this year, although a move up the standings will be tough because the ACC is much stronger top-to-bottom than in previous years. Devin Thomas needs to have a first team All-ACC caliber season for the Demon Deacons to approach the top half of the league.
Clemson Tigers 12. Clemson (16): Once again, we expect the Tigers to defend like crazy while struggling to score – just as they have throughout Brad Brownell’s tenure. Can Brownell survive another year of not making the Big Dance? It won’t help that Clemson has to play all of its home games in Greenville this season, 30 miles from campus, while Littlejohn Coliseum gets a needed facelift.
Virginia Tech Hokies 13. Virginia Tech (15): It’s only taken Buzz Williams two years to almost completely turn over this roster, with junior Devin Wilson currently the only scholarship holdover from the past regime. The Hokies’ talent level is improved, but his youngters are probably another year or two away from getting close to the upper half of the league.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 14. Georgia Tech (12): It’s another year on the hot seat for Brian Gregory, who has yet to post a winning ACC record in his four previous campaigns in Atlanta. Pathetic outside shooting has been a constant problem during the Gregory era, and the Yellow Jackets desperately need senior transfer Adam Smith to help turn that around to give a decent frontcourt room to operate.
Boston College 15. Boston College (3): This team is one of the younger teams in the country, but Jim Christian brought in Florida transfer Eli Carter to beef up the team’s experience. If one of the freshmen turns out to be a diamond in the rough, this team might find a way to escape the ACC cellar.
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ACC M5: Exhibition Edition 2

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 9th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. On Friday night, top-ranked North Carolina played its first ‘competitive’ game without senior leader Marcus Paige — out several weeks with a broken hand — and easily handled Division II Guilford, 99-49. In addition to the loss of Paige, the Tar Heels were also without sophomore Justin Jackson, who missed the contest due to illness. The absence of the team’s top two returning perimeter players gave others an opportunity to step up, however, and three players certainly took advantage. Junior Nate Britt and sophomore Joel Berry combined for 26 points and 16 assists, but they weren’t the only unselfish players as North Carolina recorded 33 assists on its 42 field goals. Freshman guard Kenny Williams also made the most of the available minutes by posting 12 points in 22 minutes of action.
  2. N.C. State was the last ACC school to play a formal exhibition game this preseason, beating Division II Cal State Los Angeles by a score of 71-54 on Sunday afternoon. Star junior Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber led the Wolfpack’s attack with 21 points and six assists. It is widely expected that Abdul-Malik Abu is poised for a breakout season, and his performance yesterday indicates that is a reasonable opinion. The 6’9″ sophomore finished the game with 17 points, nine rebounds, and four blocks in 25 minutes of action. Terry Henderson, on the other hand, had a somewhat shaky debut, as the West Virginia transfer only managed five points in his 25 minutes, missing all four of his attempts from deep.
  3. Miami played its one and only exhibition game last Wednesday, defeating Division II Dowling by a score of 91-40. Sheldon McClellan led the way with 18 points, as the Hurricanes used a fast start (+15 points in first five minutes) to blow out the Golden Lions. Another encouraging result was the performance of Oklahoma State transfer Kamari Murphy, who posted a double-double in his unofficial Miami debut. Murphy has also impressed his teammates — after the game, McClellan said, “He adds a lot of energy and a lot of length on defense. He can do a lot on offense; he just brings a lot to the team.” We know that Miami has a veteran backcourt, so if Murphy can combine with center Tonye Jekiri to give the Hurricanes a strong inside game, Jim Larranaga may have a very balanced team on his hands.
  4. A pair of ACC teams looking to make a move up the conference ladder this season showed promising flashes in their lone exhibition outings on Friday. Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon has been preaching defensive improvement this preseason and he apparently means what he says. Returning leading scorer Jamel Artis did not start in the Panthers’ 80-50 beatdown of Gannon, which the head coach explained afterward: “We’ve been preaching all year long, all offseason, all fall, about best defensive players, best rebounders, those are the guys that are going to play, so that’s the guys we went with,” The Panthers’ defense played well, limiting Gannon to 32.7 percent field goal shooting for the game. In other related news, Dixon announced that junior college transfer Rozelle Nix would sit out the current season as a redshirt. At first glance, Wake Forest’s 86-64 win over UNC-Pembroke may not look overly impressive. But considering that the Demon Deacons were playing the Division II preseason #13 team, and doing so without Codi Miller-McIntrye (fractured foot), it really wasn’t a bad effort. It did take the Deacs a while to get going, as they committed 17 first half turnovers and trailed at the break; but behind Devin Thomas, who finished the game with 25 points and 16 rebounds, Wake Forest dominated the second half of play.
  5. Two ACC teams projected near the bottom of the league played their sole preseason exhibitions on Thursday and both performances may have confirmed those low expectations. Clemson needed to rally from a 12-point second half deficit to beat Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, 87-84, in double overtime. This was the Tigers’ first real game in Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena, their home away from home this season while Littlejohn Coliseum undergoes renovation. If last week’s game is any indication, Clemson’s home court edge may be under renovation as well. Likewise, Boston College was pushed hard by a Division II opponent, defeating Bentley 85-75, after trailing much of the game. It looks like the Eagles may be in for a tough year in the paint, as the smaller Falcons were able to post a significant (+9) first half rebound advantage. Florida transfer Eli Carter was one bright spot for the Eagles, leading all scorers with 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting.
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ACC Preview: North Carolina’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on November 5th, 2015

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

Burning Question: Is this really the best team in the country?

The Tar Heels were a very good team last season — remember, they led national runner-up Wisconsin until the final six minutes of the Sweet Sixteen (and were within one point in the final minute). But JP Tokoto opted to play basketball for money, leaving Roy Williams without much depth on the wing. Theo Pinson will likely get the call to replace him and seems a good fit for the role. He was a worse than average shooter last season but he was a good prep free throw shooter which usually tracks well with shooting ability. Pinson should immediately assume the role as this team’s defensive stopper.

Is a healthy Theo Pinson the difference between a good and great North Carolina team? (photo: USATSI)

Is a healthy Theo Pinson the difference between a good and great North Carolina team? (USATSI)

The x-factors for this team are twofold. First and foremost, Marcus Paige has to get healthy — his recently broken hand will put him out of action for a month. The real x-factor, however, is Joel Berry. Berry was quietly very efficient last season. It was shocking that he finished the season with an offensive efficiency rating of over 110 (the best of the bench). With Paige out of the lineup, this will be Berry’s offense to run from day one along with Nate Britt. The good news for Tar Heels fans is that both point guards are competent three-point shooters, and it’s also good for both to get early season experience at point guard so that when Paige comes back he’ll mostly be able to play off the ball. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: Notre Dame 90, North Carolina 82

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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

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