ACC M5: 11.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 1st, 2016

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  1. Duke kicked off its ACC exhibition season on Friday night with an easy 90-59 win over Division II Virginia State. Sophomore Luke Kennard exploded for 30 points, but the bigger story of the evening was Duke’s ongoing injury woes. Already playing without the services of injured super-freshmen Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum, Mike Krzyzewski lost two more starters to minor ailments within the first six minutes of the game. Senior wing Matt Jones left with a sore hamstring after just three minutes, and junior guard Grayson Allen went to the locker room after taking some shots to his shoulder. Allen later returned to finish with 13 points in 22 minutes, but he sat out the last eight minutes of the contest. Krzyzewski admitted afterward that he may consider toning down the intensity level of practice rather than risk more preseason harm.
  2. The saga of the North Carolina academic scandal has taken many twists and turns over the past several years, and news last week contributed to the fun when we found out that the NCAA may not actually be backing down nearly as much as we previously had thought. Things seemed to be looking more positive for the school after many of the NCAA’s initial charges went missing from the revised Notice of Allegations — including no statements about the men’s basketball program — and North Carolina’s bold retort claiming that, irrespective of that, the NCAA has no jurisdiction over the case anyway. If this were a George Lucas movie, we might say that The NCAA Strikes Back. In a release made public by the university last week, the NCAA sent UNC a harshly worded response rejecting the school’s position, and both sides met in a procedural hearing on Friday. Stay tuned for more information on this case — and there’s always more information.
  3. North Carolina State learned on Monday that Turkish freshman Omer Yurtseven must sit out the first nine games of the season because of eligibility issues. Additionally, two other ACC schools took disciplinary action against a pair of upperclassmen. Virginia confirmed that junior transfer Austin Nichols will miss all basketball activities for the next two weeks, including the Cavaliers’ season opener against UNC Greensboro. Georgia Tech also reported that senior point guard Josh Heath will miss the Yellow Jackets’ first four games of the season. In each case, the catch-all ‘violation of team rules’ was the reason given for the suspensions.
  4. The ACC is well-represented in KenPom’s preseason team rankings, with 12 league schools placed among the 51 best in the nation. Top-ranked Duke is joined in the top 10 by North Carolina (#5), Virginia (#7) and Louisville (#9), which looks very similar to the other preseason polls that have been released so far. The ACC appears to be the conference to watch for efficient scoring this year, with 12 league squads rated 34th or better in offensive efficiency. Pomeroy also lists three ACC teams that excel at the other end of the floor, with Virginia, Louisville, and Syracuse all ranked among his top five in defensive efficiency.
  5. CBSSports.com recently released its annual preseason top 100 (and one) player rankings, and the ACC, with 22 players listed, notched seven more slots than any other conference. We found it interesting that the ACC media seems to value proven performance over potential, as this national ranking from Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander clearly does not. For example, veteran guards London Perrantes and Joel Berry are rated as the 11th and 12th best ACC players according to the CBS list, but each was named to the Preseason All-ACC First Team and both were among the top four vote-getters.
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ACC Burning Questions: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 24th, 2016

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

Burning Question: How long will it take Josh Pastner to turn around the Georgia Tech program?

It’s been a long time since the Georgia Tech basketball program has been a consistent winner. If fact, the Yellow Jackets have only put together one winning ACC season in the past two decades. When Brian Gregory was fired soon after the end of last year’s 20-win campaign, that opened the door for Josh Pastner to bolt from his sputtering Memphis program to take over the reins in Atlanta. With a depleted roster awaiting him, Pastner will not be expected to do much in Year One. But given the high level of competitive balance within the ACC, can Georgia Tech hope for progress anytime soon?

Josh Pastner faces an uphill climb to turn around the Georgia Tech program. (Photo: ramblinwreck.com)

Josh Pastner faces an uphill battle to turn around the Georgia Tech program. (ramblinwreck.com)

The cupboard in Atlanta is not completely bare, but there is not a lot of talent left on the shelves. College basketball insider Jon Rothstein recently noted on Twitter that “Georgia Tech may have the worst power-five roster I’ve ever seen. Yellow Jackets won’t win a game in ACC play this season. Book it.” Considering the fact that Boston College is still in the league after going 0-18 in ACC play a season ago, that statement, while somewhat exaggerated, may not be too far off the mark. Gregory never could seem to get over the recruiting hump in Atlanta, so he frequently used upperclassmen transfers to keep the roster competitive. That Band-Aid approach resulted in a nice 21-15 season with an NIT appearance last year, but five seniors have since departed and Pastner has inherited the mess. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Preview: Georgia Tech’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 21st, 2015

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

Burning Question: Can Brian Gregory survive another losing ACC season?

For those keeping track at home, yes: this was the exact same Burning Question we used before last season, and we got a somewhat surprising answer in March. By retaining Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech became the first ACC school in recent memory to return a head coach with losing ACC records in each of his first four seasons at the helm. In his fifth campaign in Atlanta, Gregory will at least have an experienced squad of eight upperclassmen looking to figure in the rotation. However, it should be noted that three of those eight players are senior transfers, so team chemistry isn’t necessarily a given.

Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory lost out on one, maybe two important prospects recently. (Icon Sports Media)

Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory is still looking for his first winning ACC season. (Photo: Icon Sports Media)

The biggest story for the Yellow Jackets last year was their incredibly poor performance in close ACC games. Twelve of their 15 conference losses were by only seven points or fewer. Even more amazing was Georgia Tech’s 0-9 mark in one-possession games, a record which included three excruciating overtime losses. Some of this has to be attributed to just plain bad luck, but another factor in those struggles could have been Gregory’s difficulty in finding a solution at point guard. Could that improve this season? The good news (in theory) is that the team returns three point guards. Maybe one of Travis Jorgenson and Josh Heath will see dramatic improvements in their second years in the program, and junior Corey Heyward still has a chance to develop his offense. But unless one of those three players emerges, point guard play will continue to be a decisive disadvantage for Georgia Tech when compared with the rest of the ACC.

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ACC Stock Watch: Week Three

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 5th, 2014

After two weeks of some mediocre non-conference competition along with some enlightening Feast Week match-ups, the conference found itself in familiar territory battling its peers in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The games featured there, along with the few that preceded it, continue to shine a light on the teams and players in the conference who are rising, falling, or simply standing still. Here’s the third weekly edition of our ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Tyus Jones, Duke. No one had a better week than the Blue Devils’ freshman point guard. After a sizzling 16 points and 10 assists in a win over Army earlier this week, Jones put the team on his back to help Duke defeat the nation’s fourth-ranked team on the road. His 22 points helped to offset an average game from the more-ballyhooed Jahlil Okafor, who posted 13 points while battling underneath with the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky all night. More impressive than his numbers was his poise down the stretch and how efficiently he ran the Duke offense all night long. The first true road test was little test at all for this standout freshman.
  • Wayne Blackshear, Louisville. Terry Rozier hit the big shots at the end of the game in the Cardinals’ win over Ohio State on Tuesday night, but it was Blackshear’s breakout performance that made the biggest impact. Long a player with high upside but inconsistent production, Blackshear’s all-around game against the Buckeyes (22 points, 4-of-8 from three, six rebounds) was the kind of contribution that Rick Pitino and Louisville has been waiting for from the senior.
Wayne Blackshear's big night is hopefully a sign of more good things to come for Louisville (USAToday Sports)

Wayne Blackshear’s big night is hopefully a sign of more good things to come for Louisville fans (USAToday Sports)

  • Duke. What can really be said about the scariest team in the country not located in Lexington? Duke went into a very difficult road environment in Madison, Wisconsin, and merely shot 65 percent from the field and used its talented freshmen trio to overcome the veteran stars of the Badgers. They’re as efficient an offensive team as there is in college basketball right now.
  • Miami. While the buzzer-beater win over Florida has now lost some of its luster, the Hurricanes just keep on winning. After dispatching an overmatched South Alabama team, Miami held Illinois (a team averaging 90 points per game coming in) to only 61 in its win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The transfers are everything Jim Larranaga could have hoped they’d be, and holders Manu Lecomte and Tonye Jekiri are flourishing in complementary roles.

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ACC Preview: Georgia Tech’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 29th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Brian Gregory survive another losing ACC season?

During the offseason, one of the favorite media activities is formulation of the preseason “Coaches on the Hot Seat” list. Going into this season, Georgia Tech’s Brian Gregory is the one ACC coach who seems to show up on all of those lists. On this list put out by Athlon Sports, it’s interesting to see that Gregory is joined in the fire pit with a few former ACC head coaches like Oliver Purnell and Mark Turgeon. So what kind of year will it take for Gregory to avoid joining that group of former ACC head coaches?

Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory lost out on one, maybe two important prospects recently. (Icon Sports Media)

Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory may not survive another losing ACC season. (Icon Sports Media)

While no two situations are exactly the same, the best way to examine this issue is to review recent ACC coaches who were in similar circumstances going into their fourth year at the helm of their particular school. By similar circumstance we mean a coach who has a losing record in ACC games in each of his first three years on the job. Below we show four coaches who entered their fourth year at the helm under those conditions.

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AAC M5: 04.01.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 1st, 2014

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  1. Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News writes that Russ Smith cemented his legacy as “a competitor and gentleman” with the gracious post-game remarks he delivered after Louisville’s disappointing 74-69 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. The senior guard’s wide-ranging comments, a transcript of which WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford posted on Twitter, expressed gratitude to everyone from his teammates, coaches, managers, trainers, to UK’s program and current team, whom he described as “a great group of guys” and praised individually by name. He also credited Rick Pitino for shaping him into a man and apologized to Louisville fans, saying, “I wish I could have given them the win. I’m so sorry.” DeCourcy declares that Smith “leaves the game better than he found it because of how he performed and how he carried himself.”
  2. With Connecticut playing for its first Final Four of the post-Jim Calhoun era, Tim Layden writes for Sports Illustrated that Kevin Ollie’s Huskies have clawed their way back from the “brink of irrelevance.” After “disappear[ing] into a grave partly of its own making and partly from the odd and capricious forces of modern college athletic,” writes Layden, “the Huskies are back because senior Shabazz Napier is a truly transcendent college guard, a tough and spectral offensive player descended directly from his former teammate, Kemba Walker.” Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel credits Napier’s coach with his team’s display of scrappy physicality and mental stamina against a much bigger Michigan State team on Sunday, describing the Kevin Ollie coaching experience as “an endless, relentless confidence-building exercise via motivational vignettes that couldn’t have found a more perfect home than a program that was under siege.”
  3. A day after Louisville’s NCAA Tournament elimination, it was widely reported that junior guard Kevin Ware would transfer. Ware told ESPN that he’d like to be closer to his family home in Atlanta, and observers have pegged Auburn as a likely destination after the Tigers hired Bruce Pearl, who originally signed Ware at Tennessee. Still, the timing seems bizarre: Ware had tweeted last week that he was “never leaving this place,” and his stepfather told The Courier-Journal that while he had been aware of Kevin’s plan to leave, “We just didn’t know he was going to tell someone today, the day after the team was eliminated.” While Ware was sidelined early in the season with injury, his experience and awareness of Rick Pitino’s defenses figured to give Ware the edge for a job in the Cardinals’ core rotation, if not their starting lineup.
  4. In other AAC transfer news, Temple redshirt junior Anthony Lee has committed to play at Ohio State next season. Lee, a two-year starter for Fran Dunphy who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season, is set to graduate this spring, and wanted an opportunity to play in front of his relatives in the Midwest before the end of his college career. He will spend his last year of eligibility as a Buckeye while enrolled in a graduate program. As expected, USF freshman Josh Heath has also elected to transfer after his father’s firing earlier in the month.
  5. With or without Lee, Temple is already eager to rebound after failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. “It’s motivation, that you were on the team that kind of let everybody down, didn’t live up to the expectations everybody’s used to seeing,” said junior guard Will Cummings, who described the grueling 9-22 campaign as the season of “almost.” Coach Fran Dunphy agreed with that assessment, adding, “We were almost there. We didn’t have a lot of margin for error. It’s that kind of thing where a season can change on a game, a game can change on a play.” Daily News writer Mike Kern offers the example of Villanova’s swift turnaround as a blueprint for the Owls’ rebuilding effort, pointing out that over a span of three years, Jay Wright’s teams went from a program-record 19 losses to a program-record 28 regular-season wins.
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AAC M5: 01.08.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 8th, 2014

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  1. Much has been made of the sellout crowd on hand for the first time in more than a decade in the newly renovated Moody Coliseum during SMU’s recent upset of UConn. But during a recent radio segment, a Dallas Morning News columnist posed the question of whether SMU can sustain the same attendance numbers and energetic atmosphere against lesser visiting opponents. It’s a timely question, given that the Mustangs’ next three opponents are USF, Hofstra and Rutgers. Those games should help us gain a better sense as to whether the UConn crowd was simply lightning in a bottle or indicative of long-term community engagement. Meteoric shifts in fan behavior don’t typically occur overnight, especially for small, long-neglected programs like SMU, but stay tuned.
  2. Memphis strength and conditioning coach Frank Matrisciano has left the program for unspecified reasons after spending two and a half seasons on the Tigers’ staff. The Commercial Appeal reports that the coach was fired by Josh Pastner due to “philosophical differences in strength and conditioning,” but there seems to be more to this story. Did we mention that Matrisciano is Pastner’s brother-in-law? The coach, whose preferred title at Memphis was reportedly “Life Changer,” said that he had originally envisioned spending about a year on the Memphis staff, and felt he had “met all [his] obligations. I felt I blew this place up and turned it on to a whole different level of fitness that they’d never seen before,” he added, somewhat bizarrely. It’s not unreasonable to infer from the abrupt timing and icy comments from both parties that there’s some personal drama underlying Matrisciano’s departure, and it couldn’t come at a worst time with a trip to Louisville looming this week.
  3. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy will have seven scholarship players at his disposal when the Owls take on USF tomorrow night. Recent injuries to 6’7” sophomore Daniel Dingle and 6’8” freshman Mark Williams have been the latest setbacks for a rebuilding Owls team already beset by inexperience and poor depth. While Williams is day-to-day with a sprained ankle and could be available for Saturday’s game against Memphis, there is no timetable in place for Dingle’s return after he underwent surgery on Monday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Dingle and Williams were logging 20 and 18 minutes per game, respectively, and have each started at various points in the season, with Dingle showing signs of major progress before injuring his knee in late December.
  4. Cincinnati and Louisville remain the only AAC teams undefeated in conference play after the Bearcats escaped Houston on the road last night, 61-60. The biggest storyline of the game may have been how well Houston acquitted itself in the second half, clawing back into the conteste despite trailing 40-24 at halftime. It was then that the American Athletic Conference’s most accurate three-point shooting team lived up to its billing, hitting 7-of-10 threes as James Dickey’s squad strived to prove it belongs among the league’s upper echelon. Cincinnati’s press clearly rattled Houston’s players early in the game, as the Bearcats built a 10-0 advantage in steals, but the Cougars steadied once TaShawn Thomas said “we realized we can handle the pressure and play with these guys.” Cincinnati moved to 3-0 in league play and extended its lead in the all-time series versus Houston to 23-1.
  5. With junior Anthony Collins hampered once again by knee problems and no viable backup for Corey Allen, the Tampa Bay Times’ Joey Knight reports that Stan Heath may burn his son’s redshirt for the sake of the team’s point guard depth. Josh Heath earned all-state honors at Tampa Prep last year and has shown a natural grasp of the elder Heath’s offense in practices, according to senior forward Victor Rudd. Knight points out that having the freshman run the point would allow Allen to generate offense more effectively from the two-guard position. “I know he’s not going to be ready ready,” said coach Heath, “but there are some things I think he can do from just making decisions and making plays to make things better and take Corey off the ball a little bit.”
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