Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 72, #8 Arkansas 65

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 19th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Greenville this weekend.

Roy Williams leads North Carolina back to the Sweet 16 for the ninth time in his 14 years at the helm. (Lance King/wralsportsfan.com)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. What a turnaround we had. After the first 16 minutes of action North Carolina was in complete control of the game or so it seemed. The Tar Heels built a 17-point lead by dominating Arkansas on the defensive end of the floor as the Razorbacks committed 10 turnovers and were shooting close to 25 percent from the floor with four minutes before intermission. Suddenly things changed dramatically and Arkansas closed the half on a 16-6 run. That momentum carried over into the second half as Arkansas surged past the Tar Heels before North Carolina rallied to win a game that it appeared to have in the bag long before. With the game in the balance the Tar Heel defense came up big again as Arkansas failed to score on its last five possessions.
  2. For some reason, this North Carolina team doesn’t finish games very well away from home. For most of the year the Tar Heels have struggled to beat good teams when they aren’t playing in the Smith Center, which is surprising for such a veteran team. Fortunately for Roy Williams, they managed to make enough plays to win a tight game tonight, but the way they almost melted down is still concerning. As Arkansas made its comeback, the Hogs were greatly aided by the Tar Heels’ sloppy play – 10 second half turnovers that became 17 Arkansas points. Perhaps this year’s North Carolina team misses the steadying influence of departed guard Marcus Paige. As the competition improves, the Tar Heels must be a better 40-minute team to make it to Phoenix.
  3. Arkansas shot well enough to win after a slow start. To have a chance to upset the Tar Heels, Arkansas needed to have an effective shooting night from the perimeter. That was certainly not the case early as the Razorbacks clanked their first five shots from deep. But after that cold beginning, they heated up considerably – making eight of their next 13 from behind the arc and ended the night at 38.1 percent on three-pointers. JUCO transfer Daryl Macon led the Arkansas shooting comeback, coming off the bench to make 3-of-5 from behind the arc.

Player of the Game. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ senior center led his team with 16 points and collected a game-high 11 boards. His putback basket in the last minute gave his team a three-point lead and basically clinched the game. Meeks was also instrumental to North Carolina’s defensive effort, blocking three shots and helping to hold Moses Kingsley to 4-of-12 shooting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: Duke 93, North Carolina 83

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 10th, 2017

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s Second Half Comeback Shocked the Tar Heels (USA Today Images)

  1. No matter the venue, Carolina, Duke gonna Duke, Carolina. The rivalry that almost never fails to deliver traveled north and didn’t disappoint an electrified Brooklyn crowd. North Carolina often appeared in complete control in the first half as the Tar Heels’ lead swelled to 13 points a pair of times, but Duke’s Grayson Allen (four first-half threes, including three in a 95-second span) and Jayson Tatum (18 first half points) managed to keep the Blue Devils within striking distance. North Carolina maintained control in the early second half until point guard Joel Berry picked up his fourth foul at the 15:04 mark with the Heels up nine. What ensued was a 23-7 Duke blitz, sparked by Allen, a rejuvenated Kennard and Jackson. The previously weary Blue Devils ended up being the team that imposed its will down the stretch, and the seemingly punch drunk Tar Heels failed to respond the way anyone expected.
  2. Grayson Allen is back. While the ACC Tournament title has its own cachet and the importance of the rivalry cannot be overstated, North Carolina and Duke always play with an eye toward the trophy awarded in early April. For Duke to become a legitimate contender, though, Allen must perform like an All-American. The junior guard’s travails have been well-documented, but more pertinently from a basketball perspective, his emotional and physical struggles have sometimes made him a marginal player. And after the no-show that was Wednesday’s 12 minutes of scoreless action, he was vital in keeping Duke alive early before spearheading the victory late. He looked healthy, focused, determined and generally back to his peak self. In short, the Duke team we thought we’d see in November simply waited until mid-March to show up. This is a major problem for the other 67 teams hoping to join the Blue Devils in Phoenix.
  3. Joel Berry is the most valuable Tar Heel. While Justin Jackson was deservedly tabbed as the ACC Player of the Year, it is Berry who is the Tar Heels’ most valuable player. He is the only pure point guard on the roster, and North Carolina simply looked lost while he was in foul trouble on the bench. Kennedy Meeks, who dominated Duke on the interior in the first half, became largely uninvolved without Berry on the flo0r. The team just appeared totally discombobulated with its junior floor leader on the pine, with a litany of out of whack possessions.

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.06.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 6th, 2017

The ACC regular season wrapped up on Saturday and things went mostly according to plan with home favorites winning six of the seven contests. The lone road underdog to triumph was Wake Forest boosting its NCAA Tournament hopes with a nice comeback win at Virginia Tech. In one of the season’s most exciting games, North Carolina earned revenge for an earlier loss at Duke defeating the Blue Devils on Saturday night in the Smith Center. In other important action, Louisville and Florida State clinched double-byes in the upcoming ACC Tournament by beating Notre Dame and Miami, respectively. Syracuse also routed Georgia Tech in the Carrier Dome in what was effectively an NCAA Tournament elimination game. Here are the highlights of the weekend around the ACC.

After Saturday night’s win over Duke, Roy Williams celebrated North Carolina’s second consecutive outright ACC regular season title (Getty/Streeter Lecka)

  • Best Win I: Even though North Carolina had already clinched the ACC regular season title, the Tar Heels still had much at stake in its annual season-ending meeting with Duke. In using a late-game spurt to beat the Blue Devils, Roy Williams’ club avenged an earlier loss and moved considerably closer to clinching a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The game was a riveting back-and-forth affair with great individual performances on both sides. Luke Kennard made his case for ACC Player of the Year by leading the Blue Devils with 28 points, but his efforts were not enough to overcome outstanding performances from North Carolina’s Joel Berry (28 points including 5-of-5 on threes) and Isaiah Hicks (21 points, nine rebounds). Another difference this time came in the form of North Carolina’s improved perimeter defense. Duke punished the Tar Heels from beyond the arc with 13 three-pointers several weeks ago; on Saturday, the Blue Devils managed only 7-of-19 from deep.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.30.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 30th, 2017

Four ranked ACC teams took to the road on Saturday afternoon, but only one emerged unscathed. Syracuse picked up its biggest win of the year by beating Florida State at the Carrier Dome; Georgia Tech edged Notre Dame at the buzzer in Atlanta; and Miami used a huge first half run to handle North Carolina with surprising ease. Wake Forest could not complete the home underdog sweep, blowing a late lead against Duke. On Sunday, Virginia nearly grabbed a huge non-conference road win for the league, but the Cavaliers fell to Villanova at the buzzer. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Tyler Robeson helped Syracuse hold off Florida State to give the Orange an important ACC win.
(Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

  • Best Win: There were several good choices for this honor this weekend, but we’ll go with the school that probably needed a big win the most. In beating the Seminoles by a score of 82-72, Syracuse gained its first win over a ranked team this year and moved to 5-4 in league play. Given its lousy 8-5 non-conference record, the Orange probably need at least 10 ACC wins to make a reasonable case for this year’s NCAA Tournament field. Two of Jim Boeheim‘s graduate transfers led the way against Florida State, as Andrew White and John Gillon scored 24 and 21 points, respectively. Syracuse led at the half by 18 points before a furious Seminoles rally cut the lead to two late — Gillon then took over, making eight straight free throws to salt the game away.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 27th, 2017

Here is the latest edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances, where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends, and this week we also analyze the crazy deep-shooting improvement in the league this year. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that means for teams’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Wednesday, January 25.

Current Standings

Louisville leaped to the top of the ACC in efficiency margin thanks to its 106-51 humiliation demolition of Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. The Cardinals now own the league’s best defense, while North Carolina continues to claim the top offensive unit. In what has been a very tough week for top-10 teams around the country, Florida State’s blowout loss at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night may have been the most surprising result. At this point in the season, the Yellow Jackets should be taken seriously — sporting a solid 4-4 record against the second-toughest schedule in the nation’s deepest conference. That win probably also thrust Josh Pastner into the pole position in the race for this year’s ACC Coach of the Year award. No one around the league — including Pastner himself — could have predicted that both North Carolina and Florida State would fall in McCamish Pavilion by double figures.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.16.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 16th, 2017

There were several marquee match-ups in the ACC this weekend, including two monster games on Saturday afternoon as North Carolina overcame some adversity to hand Florida State its first league loss and Louisville ensured that Duke continued its struggles on the road. Later that day, Notre Dame held off Virginia Tech to remain unbeaten in league play, while three schools that entered January with NCAA Tournament aspirations — Clemson, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State — all suffered devastating home defeats to drop to a last place tie in the standings. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Theo Pinson celebrates North Carolina’s big win over Florida State. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: In a league as strong as the ACC this season, sometimes a team must show some collective toughness to pull out a win. That’s exactly what North Carolina did on Saturday afternoon in its impressive 96-83 home victory over a red-hot Florida State squad. Faced with the daunting task of playing the nation’s second tallest team without freshman center Tony Bradley (out with a concussion), the Tar Heels were already short-handed in the paint. With Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks battling foul trouble, Roy Williams was forced to play almost half the game with no true post player. North Carolina not only hung in with the bigger, deeper Seminoles, but the Tar Heels managed to dominate the glass in a surprisingly effective rebounding effort  (+22). Three Tar Heels — Hicks, Joel Berry and Justin Jackson — finished with over 20 points and Theo Pinson turned in a solid overall effort with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.

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ACC Stock Watch: January 10

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 10th, 2017

Each week during the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days to discuss the teams, players and anything else trending across the league.

STOCK UP

Syracuse. Has Jim Boeheim righted the ship in upstate New York? After an incredibly disappointing 8-6 start to the season, the Orange notched consecutive easy wins over Miami and Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome last week. In both victories, Boeheim used the same five players — John Gillon, Andrew White, Tyus Battle, Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon — for all but 17 minutes of game action, and White and Battle in particular played all 80 minutes. It appears that Boeheim’s shortened rotation has been effective, especially on the defensive end. In two losses to St. John’s and Boston College, the Orange allowed 93 and 96 points, respectively; last week they held Miami to 55 and a high-scoring Pittsburgh squad to just 66 points.

Has Jim Boeheim found the answer to what was ailing the Orange? (Nick Lisi/AP)

Joel Berry II, North Carolina. The North Carolina point guard was in our Stock Down section last week after he struggled in the Tar Heels’ surprising loss to Georgia Tech. He earned his way on to the Stock Up list this week after a tremendous performance in a win at Clemson. After shooting a miserable 3-of-13 in Atlanta, Berry responded with an impressive 12-of-19 performance at Clemson, including seven three-pointers and great leadership down the stretch. He followed that up with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists in Sunday’s blowout win over NC State. If North Carolina expects to get back to the National Championship game, it will need Berry to play like he did this week to get there.

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ACC Stock Watch: January 3

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 3rd, 2017

Each week of the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days and discuss the teams, players and anything else that is trending up and down across the league.

STOCK UP

Clemson. For the Tigers, anything less than a trip back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 will be a major disappointment. Sporting a pair of respectable losses (Xavier and Oklahoma on a neutral court) and a handful of good-not-great wins (at South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Nebraska), the last week of 2016 looked like a critical point in the season for Brad Brownell’s club. Fast forward a week to wins over a very talented UNC-Wilmington team and a much-improved Wake Forest squad and Clemson now sits at 11-2 with a big home game to come against North Carolina tonight. The Tigers are undoubtedly feeling good about the direction of the program and it doesn’t hurt that the football team had a nice weekend too.

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Josh Okogie helped lead Georgia Tech to a surprising win over North Carolina in their ACC opener (Adam Hagy/USA Today Sports)

Georgia Tech. We wrote last week that the Yellow Jackets should already be pleasantly surprised with the list of accomplishments Josh Pastner’s team has checked off this season. We would guess that adding a huge home win over North Carolina to open the conference season might instantly jump to the top of that list. Pastner’s feisty bunch frustrated the Tar Heels all New Year’s Eve afternoon in Atlanta, slowing the pace and retreating into a suffocating zone defense to keep them from easy transition baskets. Josh Okogie was terrific, scoring 26 points that included a sterline 11-of-13 performance from the free throw line. The Yellow Jackets are not likely to be an NCAA Tournament threat this season, but in one home game they proved that anyone thinking a trip to Atlanta would be an easy “W” this year has another thing coming. Right, Jon Rothstein?

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North Carolina Readies Itself For ACC Play

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 30th, 2016

North Carolina wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule on Wednesday night by dispatching Monmouth, 102-74, at the Dean Smith Center. Now it is on to conference play, as Roy Williams’ squad visits Georgia Tech tomorrow (Noon ET – ACC Network) in the first of two ACC road trips. It has been an interesting season for the Tar Heels to this point. They started off by winning their first eight games, including a dominant performance in the Maui Invitational, that led ESPN’s Jay Bilas, among others, to proclaim North Carolina as the best team in college basketball. Williams’ team has taken a hit since with a road loss at Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge followed by a neutral court defeat to Kentucky in the Game of the Season. Now, on the eve of ACC play, let’s examine the Tar Heels’ prospects going forward.

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

The obvious strength of this squad is in the frontcourt. With seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks backed by solid freshman Tony Bradley, North Carolina may have a post trio as good as any in college basketball. Despite losing some of his efficiency with greater usage, Meeks has been outstanding in taking on a primary offensive role as well as on the boards at both ends of the floor. Hicks was expected to make a big splash as a first-time starter and he has delivered on that promise. The concern with him is that he has not performed nearly as well against tough competition — sporting a 101.5 Offensive Rating against the Tar Heels’ best four opponents — versus 118.4 in all games. Junior forward Justin Jackson looks like a potential All-ACC first-teamer right now. He converted 6-of-9 attempts from deep en route to a 28-point night against Monmouth, and unlike Hicks, Jackson has come through in big games — averaging 23.2 PPG against the Tar Heels’ five highest rated foes. Bradley, an important substitute off the bench, may have the most professional potential of the bunch. He currently leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and has displayed great hands and advanced footwork for a youngster.

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ACC M5: 12.05.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 5th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. For Duke this season, the injury bug giveth and the injury bug taketh away. After missing the first eight games of their freshmen campaigns, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden made their season debuts in Saturday’s blowout win over Maine. Given the new additions to his lineup, head coach Mike Krzyzewski decided it was a good time to rest two other ailing Blue Devils: guards Grayson Allen (toe) and Frank Jackson (foot). Afterward Krzyzewski also mentioned that Harry Giles is also close to full health, perhaps as soon as exams are over in two weeks. Luke Kennard took full advantage of the extra possessions, posting a career-high 35 points in the easy win. If the Blue Devils get healthy, it may not be wise to reduce the role of a player sporting an offensive rating of 130.9 on the season.
  2. Speaking of injuries, North Carolina suffered one of its own in Sunday’s rout of Radford in the Smith Center. Star point guard Joel Berry sprained his ankle early in the second half and did not return to the game. In the press conference afterward, Roy Williams said he hopes Berry can return to practice soon: “We’ll have to see what they say tomorrow, but I’m encouraged about it right now.” The next two games for the Tar Heels are at home against Davidson (Wednesday) and Tennessee (Sunday), both of which are winnable games even without their junior point guard. That will be followed by a six-day break, so hopefully Berry can return to full strength when North Carolina clashes with Kentucky in Las Vegas on December 17. In other injury news, Theo Pinson may be getting close to returning from his preseason foot injury.
  3. After bursting out of the gate with six impressive victories, Virginia quickly climbed all the way to the top of KenPom’s national ratings. Following a lackluster week that included squeaking by Ohio State and losing to West Virginia at home, however, the Cavaliers have slipped back to sixth. The Mountaineers came into Charlottesville on Saturday and handed Tony Bennett‘s team its first loss of the season — perhaps a sign of things to come when the competition gets consistently tough once ACC play begins. Great defense alone will not be enough to beat talented squads.
  4. At the other side of the spectrum we find North Carolina State. Mark Gottfried‘s team can score but are not very good on the other end of the floor. The Wolfpack are 6-2 on the year, with the two losses coming to the only two KenPom top-100 teams on the schedule to this point. Even more disturbing is the margin of victory against those inferior foes — three of their six wins came by four points or fewer. This is shaping up to be a very similar NC State team to last year’s version. Freshman guard Dennis Smith looks just as dynamic as Cat Barber was a year ago, but the Wolfpack’s defense looks just as porous as well.
  5. At first glance, Pittsburgh‘s loss to crosstown rival Duquesne on Friday night looks like a classic letdown game against a highly motivated opponent. The Panthers were coming off their most impressive win of the year — easily handling Maryland on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge — and the Dukes hadn’t beaten Pittsburgh since 2000, a streak of 15 consecutive losses. It also didn’t help that senior star Jamel Artis was serving a one-game suspension for what Kevin Stallings said was a failure to “meet our high standards.” The Panthers’ offense struggled mightily without Artis in the lineup, posting a miserable 0.80 points per possession. Even ACC leading scorer Michael Young was off his game — he finished with 19 points on 8-for-21 shooting. So much for an easy transition for new head coach Kevin Stallings.
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