One on One: An ACC Preview With Bret Strelow

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the ACC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an ACC expert in Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow), the ACC basketball reporter for The Fayetteville Observer.

Rush the Court: Duke was an extremely talented unit last season, but it was ultimately done in by its defensive deficiencies in its stunning NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer. The Blue Devils once again have a talented roster and are widely projected to win the league. Will this season be any different than last when it comes to the defensive end of the floor?

Bret Strelow: It would be hard to get much worse. The Blue Devils ranked in the 100s in defensive efficiency, which is a far cry from what a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team usually is. With Jabari Parker, defense was not his calling card. Rodney Hood took on some tough assignments and struggled at times. The current thought around the Duke camp is that Jahlil Okafor at 6’11” and 270 pounds is a legitimate rim-protector. Duke can clean up some of its mistakes and pressure the ball a little bit more with Okafor back there. I think Duke should ultimately be a better defensive team, but we will see how much of a difference that will make.

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

RTC: Marcus Paige alone can probably keep North Carolina competitive in the ACC, but if the Tar Heels want to compete for the league crown, they are going to need a supporting cast to step forward. What Tar Heels can you see breaking out this season?

Strelow: It really might be a little bit of everybody. If Marcus Paige has to carry the load like he did for much of last season, North Carolina is probably not going to reach the goal that it has of contending for a Final Four and a national title. I think you can expect a little bit from everybody. Brice Johnson was extremely efficient last season in a secondary role behind James Michael McAdoo. If Johnson can stay out of foul trouble and guard well enough, I think his offense will be there. Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down. His offense has never been a problem. With Johnson and Meeks, you have two solid front line guys. When you look at the North Carolina freshmen class, Justin Jackson is a guy who has the uncanny ability to score. He has a way of scoring quickly and scoring in a way that does not require a lot of dribbles. I think he can really have a big year. He is probably more of an offensive threat than fellow freshmen Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II. I think outside shooting might still be an issue for North Carolina outside of Paige and if Jackson can hit a few. When you look at a guy like J.P. Tokoto, outside shooting is not his game. I think the Tar Heels have enough inside and with Jackson coming along, they are going to have enough to help Paige carry the load this season.

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How Important Will Three-Point Shooting be for North Carolina?

Posted by @bradjenk on October 20th, 2014

If you read any preview on North Carolina this season, perimeter shooting is universally cited as the key to the success of the team. We know that, barring injury, All-America candidate Marcus Paige is set to be one of the primary three-point marksman in the nation, but beyond that, this team lacks proven perimeter shooters to support the star junior. The situation in Chapel Hill raises some interesting questions, which we will look at one at a time below.

North Carolina's Marcus Paige Was On Fire - Making 5 Threes Versus Pittsburgh. (Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

North Carolina’s Marcus Paige Will Need Some 3-Pt Shooting Help in 2014-15.
(Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

1. How important has three-point shooting been at North Carolina under Roy Williams historically? The answer to this question is that it has not been very important. One could reasonably argue that Williams does not hold three-point shooting in very high esteem on either end of the court. Defensively, last year’s Tar Heel squad allowed opponents to attempt 34.1 percent of their field goals from beyond the arc, a mark that ranked fairly high (#222) in the NCAA. But as a matter of fact, that ranking matches the team’s average over the last five years. On the offensive end, Williams’ teams have not made three-point shooting much of a priority either. Only once in the last eight years have the Tar Heels ranked among the top 299 teams in the country in frequency of shots launched from deep. That outlier group, of course, was the 2012-13 team, when Williams by necessity switched to a perimeter-based lineup in early February with good results. That Tar Heels squad still did not finish high nationally in three-point attempts taken (#237), but it profited greatly from improved accuracy (37.2%). It’s safe to say that whenever Williams has a team with capable post scoring ability (every year except 2012-13), three-point shooting will not be a huge part of the offensive game plan. And for those who worry that opposing defenses will pack it in and force more long-range bombs from the Tar Heels, don’t count on it. Williams has stated multiple times that his philosophy is not to take “what the defense gives us,” but rather to be persistent enough to “take the shots we want to take.”

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Previewing Kentucky’s Visit to Chapel Hill

Posted by Lathan Wells & Matt Patton on December 14th, 2013

Today’s match-up between North Carolina and Kentucky in Chapel Hill looks a bit different than it did on paper at the start of the season. Some Kentucky fans talked up a perfect 40-0 record before reality set in with losses to a veteran, talent-laden Michigan State team and a more physical, driven Baylor squad. Neither loss is a bad one, of course, but both brought the Wildcats back to the realization that this year would not be a simple strut to the national championship game. North Carolina, meanwhile, has suffered puzzling losses to Belmont at home and UAB in a winnable game on the road, but also stunned then-#1 Michigan State in East Lansing and defending national champion Louisville on a neutral floor. No one seems to know what to make of this Tar Heels squad, especially with PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald still swimming in NCAA limbo. Today marks the renewal of the rivalry after a one-year hiatus between these goliath programs, each with plenty of question marks at this early stage of the season. RTC ACC microsite columnists Lathan Wells and Matt Patton break down the game in point/counterpoint style below.

How will North Carolina slow down Julius Randle? (M. Zerof/USA Today)

How will North Carolina slow down Julius Randle? (M. Zerof/USA Today)

Lathan: Kentucky’s strength obviously lies in its overall athleticism, but it seems that its dominance in the paint early has been the key to their victories. Do you see them overwhelming North Carolina there, or do the guards have to be the difference?

Matt: Kentucky has to get something from its guards, as North Carolina is one of the few teams in the country with the size to match up against the Wildcats in the frontcourt. That said, Willie Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle are tough for anyone to stop. Randle’s strength and athleticism makes him an impossible match-up, but the real key is that Kentucky has to play good defense. It’s no coincidence that Kentucky’s two losses have come during the only two times opponents have topped 1.1 points per possession against them. But I’ll ask a similar question. No one on North Carolina, apart from Marcus Paige, has shown the ability to make a three, and Kentucky has the second best two-point field goal defense in the country. Which will give first: Kentucky’s defense or North Carolina’s offense?

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ACC Summer Recess: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by KCarpenter on August 6th, 2012

Over the next four weeks we’ll be taking a step back and looking at each team in the ACC to assess where each program — and the conference as a whole — stands before we totally turn our attention to the 2013-14 season later this fall. Today’s target: North Carolina.

Where They Stand Now

What do you do when you have a team that goes 14-2 during conference play and loses in the Elite Eight after its record-shattering point guard goes down with an injury? In Chapel Hill, you are deeply disappointed in a team that arguably underperformed. The loaded Tar Heels were near helpless after Kendall Marshall‘s injury, struggling to execute on offense, and the surfeit of NBA-caliber talent all amounted to nothing against a Kansas team that came prepared to capitalize on North Carolina’s weaknesses. Most teams would still call a season like that a success, but for UNC fans, the 2012-13 ended in incredibly disappointing fashion.

Roy Williams Will Have to Put the Pieces Together With His 2012-13 Squad

Who’s Leaving

Everyone. Well, not quite, but like Florida State, the Tar Heels are facing quite a bit of turnover. ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller now plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers. ACC Defensive Player of the Year John Henson now plays for the Milwaukee Bucks. Harrison Barnes, an All-ACC First Team selection, is now with the Golden State Warriors, while Kendall Marshall, the all-time assists in a season record-holder for the conference and Bob Cousy Award winner for the nation’s top point guard, is now with the Phoenix Suns. Stilman White, the team”s back-up point guard, is leaving for two years to work as a Mormon missionary. The team is also losing the services of the versatile fan-favorite Justin Watts to that scourge called graduation. In short, next year’s team will be near unrecognizable from last year’s team.

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ACC Weekly Five: 07.17.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on July 17th, 2012

  1. ACC Sports Journal: Props to Robbie Harms over at ACC Sports Journal for putting together this exhaustive mass of links on ACC alumni playing in the NBA summer league. Who would’ve thought Miles Plumlee would be named to the Orlando All-Summer League team? A lot of former ACC stars are participating and this page is sure to catch you up on all of the latest.
  2. Winston-Salem Journal: Jeff Bzdelik is adding seven freshman to his roster for this year. The group is already on campus, prepping for the upcoming season, and without question expectations will be high for this bunch. Wake Forest was a major disappointment the last two years, so everyone is expecting some level of progress this year. In news not directly related to basketball, none of the new additions have cars — so they’re getting plenty of off-court bonding time getting rides from Travis McKie — and Codi Miller-McIntyre can bench 300 pounds.
  3. Run the Floor: Michael Rogner is cautiously bullish on the Hurricanes, as they return more talent than anyone else in the ACC. Assuming Reggie Johnson is back to 100% healthy, Shane Larkin makes the leap towards more consistency and Rion Brown continues to develop, the Hurricanes should be an ACC contender this year. To be fair, many writers have been fooled in the past by a good Miami roster (I submit this quote from my article from January 11 as evidence: “Every year I overrate the Hurricanes.”), but this year feels different.
  4. ESPN: Andy Katz recently sat down with Brian Gregory, who’s keeping expectations for next year, his second season at Georgia Tech, realistic. Gregory talked a little about freshman impact and where his team needs to improve this season. Namely, he put the weight on the guards to become better distributors, naming Mfon Udofia, Brandon Reed and Daniel Miller as the guys who need to step up for the Yellow Jackets. Most interestingly, Katz asked Gregory about whether we can expect this year’s team to look more like his old Dayton teams. Gregory responded by saying that this team would be more like those teams, but still not totally there. All three answers from the head coach emphasize that this year as a rebuilding year.
  5. USA Today: Mike Krzyzewski took a lot of flak for supporting Joe Paterno in the days and weeks after he got fired. Not surprisingly, Coach K updated his comments about Joe Pa with the release of the Freeh Report.

EXTRA: Incoming North Carolina freshman JP Tokoto can dunk.

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Winners and Losers from the July Recruiting Period

Posted by nvr1983 on August 19th, 2011

Every July, college basketball fans obsess over the July recruiting period where summer AAU legends are made and scholarships are won or lost. While most of the buzz this summer was over the superstars (particularly Shabazz Muhammad and class of 2013 recruit Nerlens Noel), the more interesting action was happening further down the ranking list. While ESPN’s decision to move Muhammad above Andre Drummond in their new rankings is interesting at some level, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t mean much. For the purposes of recruiting and scholarship offers, it is the guys that won’t be getting headlines on the front of ESPN.com or trending on Twitter who are more useful to look at. To that end, we took a look at the pre- and post-July recruiting rankings for the class of 2012 from ESPN.com and Scout.com to see which players were climbing up the ranking list and which ones were plummeting.

Shabazz and Drummond May Have Dominated the Headlines, But We Aren't as Interested in Them

To do this, we looked at where certain players were ranked before the July recruiting period and where they were ranked afterwards. The obvious caveat here is that rankings are subjective and some fans have accused scouts of a form of confirmation bias where they tend to rank players higher if they are recruited by certain schools (particularly Duke in basketball and Notre Dame in football) than if they were  being recruited by similarly powerful programs, but not the de facto face of the sport. Still, it seems reasonable to think that two independent scouts ranking players would be fairly reliable (assuming Dave Telep and Evan Daniels aren’t cheating off each other).

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Recruiting Rumor Mill: 07.26.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 26th, 2010

This week’s action was mostly centered around Las Vegas (and we will certainly talk about Vegas), but there as always there was news from across the rest of the nation. Based on the way that these AAU tournaments run most of our “news” comes from tweets from courtside observers, but we do have a few articles sprinkled in here. If you have a hot recruiting tip or news that you want to share with us, e-mail us at rushthecourt@gmail.com.

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