ACC Exam Week: Grading Out the 15 Schools

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 11th, 2014

It’s Exam Week in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so what better time than the present to analyze the basketball aptitude of the 15 member institutions? Below we present three groupings: the teams representing the head of the class; those with the potential to improve on their early season results; and the disappointments. There’s no sliding scale to our grading system, so the teams were evaluated on how they have performed no matter their preseason expectations (sorry, tough professor).

Top of the Class

  • Duke has earned nothing shy of an A+ thus far, playing like a team that’s clearly a national title contender. The freshmen and veteran holdovers have meshed beautifully, and the Blue Devils’ 8-0 record includes a quality win over Michigan State as well as a very impressive defeat of fellow contender Wisconsin on the road.
  • Louisville is having no problem representing its new conference in an 8-0 start, save for a head-scratching 45-33 win over Cleveland State. Knocking off Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge as well as wins over Minnesota and Indiana leave the Cardinals looking like a contender for the crown too. Montrezl Harrell has been as good as advertised, and the long-awaited emergence of Wayne Blackshear makes this a very dangerous team.
  • Notre Dame sure missed Jerian Grant down the stretch last season. Now that its leading man is back from suspension, the Irish have started off hot. They’re a one-point loss to Providence from being 10-0 and they can present a quality win by virtue of besting Michigan State. Four double-figure scorers contribute to the 10th highest-scoring offense in the country at 85.1 points per game.
Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

  • Could Virginia actually be better than last year’s conference championship-winning team? The Cavaliers have let Justin Anderson loose, and he has been nothing short of a star to pair along with Malcolm Brogdon. They’re still one of the best defensive teams in the country and have shown they can win playing multiple styles, counting road wins over Maryland and VCU already on the resume.
  • Miami is probably the pleasant surprise of the conference thus far, sporting a 9-1 record and earning a spot few saw coming in the national rankings. We’ll excuse the hiccup against Wisconsin-Green Bay (the same team that nipped Virginia early last year) since the Hurricanes have already beaten Florida and Illinois. Transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan have allowed the other players who were asked to do too much last season to return to more comfortable supporting roles.

Those With Potential

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London Perrantes Proves Again Why He’s Mr. Indispensable

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 7th, 2014

It’s easy to look at the team Tony Bennett has put together at Virginia and say that his players are interchangeable. After all, his defense-first philosophy and the offensive identity of continually working for the best available shot don’t seem individual-specific. One could point to the program’s rise and success under Bennett as further evidence of that theory, as Virginia looks every bit as good in starting 9-0 this season as last year’s ACC champion, despite some key personnel losses. Even when the Cavaliers were down two starters (including the team’s leading scorer, Justin Anderson) in a tough road game against Maryland on Wednesday night, Virginia still ran away to a 76-65 win.

London Perrantes proved once again why Virginia can't succeed without him (USAToday Sports)

London Perrantes proved once again why Virginia can’t succeed without him (USAToday Sports)

But the truth is that Virginia does have an indispensable player: London Perrantes. The sophomore point guard is the heady, sure-handed player that makes this team capable of playing a variety of styles and still have a chance to beat anyone. That was obvious in the Cavaliers’ emphatic 74-57 defeat of rival VCU in Richmond on Saturday. The Rams once again employed their HAVOC defense, and any team facing their relentless full-court gauntlet needs an efficient, smart ball-handler to navigate through it. On Saturday, Perrantes deftly kept the ball moving and expertly broke through the press time and time again, often leading to dunks or fouls in transition as a result.

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Battle for the Commonwealth: Previewing VCU vs. Virginia

Posted by Lathan Wells & Tommy Lemoine on December 6th, 2014

Last year, VCU went into John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville and shocked Virginia on a Treveon Graham buzzer-beater. This year, both teams entered the season ranked in the top 15 nationally with the rematch set to take place on VCU’s home turf in Richmond. Some may think that the luster of this game wore off with VCU’s two early-season losses and subsequent plummet from the rankings, but that’s far from the case in Virginia’s capital city (need evidence? see here). The Cavaliers will be the highest-ranked team ever to play at VCU’s Siegel Center.  RTC’s Tommy Lemoine and Lathan Wells preview one of the biggest games in recent Virginia collegiate basketball history here.

Tommy Lemoine: Joe Harris scored almost a third of Virginia’s points against VCU last year, but he’s since graduated. Justin Anderson has done a nice job of filling that void (alongside Malcolm Brogdon), but the reigning ACC Sixth Man of the Year appeared to injure his ankle against Maryland on Wednesday. If he is limited – or worse, can’t play – who steps up as an additional offensive creator in his absence?

Last year in Charlottesville, Treveon Graham broke UVA's heart with a last-second shot (AssociatedPress)

Last year in Charlottesville, Treveon Graham broke UVA’s heart with a last-second shot (AssociatedPress)

Lathan Wells: The logical choice is Brogdon himself, who some may forget was a preseason All-ACC selection before Anderson overshadowed him in the team’s early slate. Brogdon is still the player who can make the most plays for this team in crunch time, and he rivals Anderson’s ability to get to the basket off the drive. If he is contained, however, it becomes much dicier for the Cavaliers. Either Mike Tobey or London Perrantes may need a career night if points are at a premium. While Virginia has largely lived up to its billing, VCU has underwhelmed to this point after being lauded as Shaka Smart’s best team yet at VCU. There are numerous issues that need to be cleaned up from the Rams’ 5-2 start, but what do you think is the biggest area that needs to be addressed to knock off the unbeaten Cavaliers?

TL: There are problems on both ends of the court, but against a team like Virginia that limits its own mistakes, the Rams have to be more patient on offense. Too often, their half-court ‘sets’ amount to launching threes (and not all of them the result of dribble-penetration) or isolated attempts to attack the basket. They combined for a staggeringly low four assists in the loss to Villanova and just 10 against Old Dominion. VCU would be wise to shore up its offensive rotations and ramp up its off-the-ball movement against the Cavaliers, whose pack line defense is virtually impenetrable without sharp execution. Speaking of defense, it’s all about forcing turnovers with VCU, but Virginia has done a really nice job taking care of the ball so far this year. Still, the Cavaliers coughed it up 19 times in last season’s match-up – a big reason why they lost. Any cause for concern as they head to Richmond, or is London Perrantes ready to handle the HAVOC?

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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 Stock Watch – Week Two

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 28th, 2014

We here at RTC hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday. Of course, we kept on our eye on ACC hoops for you while you were eating and possibly dabbling in the football-viewing arena. It’s only week two in the season, but there continue to be teams and players who are continuing to excel or providing disappointing early returns. Below is this week’s ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Duke. Sure, they’re obliterating lesser competition, but their win over Stanford in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic was a great sign because Jahlil Okafor was not dominant and yet the team was composed and beat a good Cardinal team. Tyus Jones (roughly five-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio through six games) and Justise Winslow (14 points per game on 45% shooting thus far) continue to show that they are beyond their years as freshmen and can help cover for a game where Okafor doesn’t play up to his standards.
Trevor Lacey had a sensational second week to keep the Wolfpack undefeated on the year (APPhoto)

Trevor Lacey had a sensational second week to keep the Wolfpack undefeated on the year (APPhoto)

  • Trevor Lacey, NC State. Lacey was billed as an impact freshman, and he certainly had an impactful week for the Wolfpack. Lacey averaged 23.5 points per game in NC State’s two wins over South Florida and Richmond this week, and even spent a large portion of the time handling the ball in lieu of Cat Barber. Lacey has hit the ground running, and has presented a great second option for Mark Gottfried at the point if Barber is playing erratically.
  • Justin Anderson, Virginia. As discussed here after last Friday’s win over George Washington, Anderson has tied for or been the lead man in scoring for this team in every game this season. Last year’s Sixth Man of the Year followed up a solid start to the season last week with a perfect shooting night against Tennessee State (7-7 from the field, 5-5 from three) to notch 20 points. Anderson might be the hottest player in the conference right now not playing in Durham.

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Is Justin Anderson This Year’s Malcolm Brogdon?

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 22nd, 2014

Prior to the beginning of last season, any preseason accolades that were heaped on a Virginia player were going to Joe Harris. He was a senior who had put up prodigious numbers over his career, and the media rightly thought he was in for a superb final season in Charlottesville. Although Harris notched his second all-ACC performance in 2013-14, it was a little-known sophomore named Malcolm Brogdon who became the team’s offensive leader on its way to the program’s best season in over three decades. With Harris now gone and Brogdon returning as a hyped junior, history at Virginia may just be repeating itself. Brogdon was the star who received preseason All-ACC honors, but through the first four games it has instead been a newcomer to the starting lineup who has become Virginia’s star.

Coach Bennett has to like what he's seen from new starter Justin Anderson so far (virginiasports.com)

Coach Bennett has to like what he’s seen from new starter Justin Anderson (forefront) so far (virginiasports.com)

Justin Anderson was not quite the unknown quantity that Brogdon was last year, having been the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year a season ago. However, given the perception that this would be Brogdon’s team as well as uncertainty as to how Anderson’s energy and consistency would be affected by becoming a starter, few saw this breakout coming. The Cavaliers’ swingman has led or tied for the team scoring lead in all four contests in this young season, including a team-high 18 last night in a victory over a tough George Washington squad. Right now, he’s averaging 16.0 points and nearly six rebounds a game for one of the top teams in the nation, and shooting an astonishing 59 percent from three-point range.

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ACC Preseason Power Rankings

Posted by mpatton on November 14th, 2014

Over the last two weeks, we have previewed each team individually to go with several more articles to get you ready for ACC basketball (first tip: 6:00 PM ET in Durham). Links to the previews can be found in each of the preseason power rankings listed below. Also look for our preseason conference awards which will publish later today.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

Duke Blue Devils 1. Duke (58): Everyone knows about the freshmen, and they are sensational. But are Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon ready to put together a consistent season from start to finish? That answer may determine whether the Blue Devils are Final Four-bound or facing another early departure from the Tourney.
Virginia Cavaliers T2. Virginia (53): Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell didn’t light up the scoreboard in Charlottesville, but their leadership and savvy was key in Virginia’s magical run last year. Can Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson assume larger roles and keep Tony Bennett‘s team in the national limelight?
North Carolina Tar Heels T2. North Carolina (53): Everyone knows about Marcus Paige, and the Tar Heels should be better at the line and from three with the addition of some talented freshmen in the backcourt and on the wing. Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks have to bring it every night in the paint for this team to reach its potential.
LouisvilleLogo 4. Louisville (52): The Cardinals probably have as good a shot as any of the top four. While they will have to learn how to play a new set of conference opponents in unfamiliar arenas, the ACC will have to adjust to Rick Pitino’s style of pressure defense with multiple schemes. Most of the key contributors are now gone from the 2012-13 National Championship squad, but the program brings a culture used to winning at the highest level.
Syracuse Orange 5. Syracuse (42): There are a lot of questions about the Orange after Tyler Ennis’ and Jerami Grant’s early departures. Jim Boeheim has a talented team that won’t be an easy out, but there are a lot of questions about how the offense will run with another freshman, Kaleb Joseph, at the helm.
Florida State Seminoles 6. Florida State (38): The Seminoles haven’t been their usual defensive selves the past two seasons, but this year Leonard Hamilton has three experienced big men along with a cadre of long perimeter players. Aaron Thomas may be the most underrated player in the ACC, which bodes well for things in Tallahassee this year.
Pittsburgh Panthers 7. Pittsburgh (37)Jamie Dixon has a tradition of replacing departed stars with veterans. For Pitt to win games against the ACC’s elite, Cameron Wright and James Robinson must continue that trend and get some help, maybe a year earlier than the norm, from the talented sophomore class. One would think they are due for a healthier year than last, when midseason injuries really set the team back.
NC State Wolfpack 8. NC State (34): T.J. Warren is gone, so this team has to find its offense by committee. Tyler Lewis is too, so Cat Barber will have to be efficient and also seek his own shot. The maturation of a young frontcourt will be key. Mark Gottfried has historically impressed with low expectations.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 9. Notre Dame (32): It won’t be a surprise if Zach Auguste makes a big jump in production as a junior, but beyond that is nothing but unproven post players. With the perimeter filled with talent and experience, keeping Auguste healthy and out of foul trouble may be the key as the Irish try to make a dramatic jump in the standings. Jerian Grant is a contender for ACC Player of the Year.
Miami Hurricanes 10. Miami (25): Arguably the best coaching job in the country last year happened in Coral Gables. If Jim Larranaga gets this team to improve, the Hurricanes will be significantly better than many expect. Manu Lacomte needs to make the leap and lead a young team in a very tough conference.
Clemson Tigers 11. Clemson (18): Brad Brownell showed that even without a ton of obvious roster talent, the Tigers will be competitive — especially on defense. This season he has to prove that again without K.J. McDaniels. It’s unclear who the go-to player will be, so Clemson’s offense could hold this team back.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 12. Wake Forest (17): Wake may be ready for a solid rise in the ACC standings as early as next year. This year will be a challenge, but momentum could be built towards a good 2015-16 season. Juniors Devin Thomas on the inside and Cody Miller-McIntyre in the backcourt will dictate how good this team is.
Boston College 13. Boston College (12): A year and coach removed from last year’s disappointing effort leave a lot of questions in Chestnut Hill. Olivier Hanlan will always be worth the price of admission, but he may not have enough supporting cast to escape the dregs of the ACC unless Dennis Clifford can finally stay healthy.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 14. Georgia Tech (10): It’s really hard to see Brian Gregory surviving as coach here if the Yellow Jackets don’t make the postseason this season. It’s also hard to see this Georgia Tech team finishing in the top half of the ACC, which is what it would probably take to get that NCAA bid — or even a trip to the NIT. The odds of Gregory being in Atlanta after March 2015 are not very good.
Virginia Tech Hokies 15. Virginia Tech (6): Virginia Tech will again be among the cellar-dwellers in the ACC, but at least it has come cachet with the hiring of Buzz Williams. They’ll be serviceable in the backcourt with Devin Wilson returning, but it will be a year or two before we can evaluate the viability of the Hokies as competitive in the conference.

Miscellaneous Power Rankings Notes:

  • Coach K reloadsDuke was the top choice again this year with another one-and-done big man, but the Blue Devils weren’t the unanimous pick. Virginia and Louisville both got a first place vote.
  • Clear Contenders: North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia (in some order) rounded out everyone’s top four, marking a distinct upper tier in the conference.
  • Media/Microsite solidarity: For the second season in a row, no teams differed from the preseason media poll by more than two spots.
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ACC Preview: Virginia’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 14th, 2014

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

Are last year’s reserves ready to step into the prime time?

Virginia as a program enjoyed a renaissance of sorts under Tony Bennett last year, winning its first outright ACC regular season title in 33 years and first ACC Tournament in 38 years. After a slow start in the non-conference slate, Virginia turned it on after the New Year and finished with a record of 30-7, a #1 seed in the East Region, and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Bennett has stressed that despite Virginia’s lofty preseason billing, this is a different year and team. While Virginia returns 70 percent of its core in terms of playing time, the losses of Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell are hefty ones. The players counted on to replace the production and leadership of those two stalwarts will largely determine if the Cavaliers can have an equally or even more successful 2014-15 season.

Virginia is counting on even more intensity and production from Justin Anderson as he moves into the starting lineup (UVA Athletics)

Virginia is counting on even more intensity and production from Justin Anderson as he moves into the starting lineup (UVA Athletics)

The good news for Virginia is it is the ACC team best-suited to replace outgoing starters, as Bennett stresses a team-oriented concept that operates without the need for true superstars. Guard Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia’s best offensive player last year, led the team in scoring at a mere 12.7 points per game. While Brogdon may raise those numbers as he continues to take more of a leadership mantle, it’s not necessary that he do so for the Cavaliers to win. Justin Anderson, the reigning ACC Sixth Man of the Year, will likely step into the starting spot vacated by Harris. While not the three-point threat of Harris, Anderson’s athleticism coupled with capable long-range shooting should keep defenses honest. The backcourt is still in great hands with London Perrantes running the show (after he returns from his one-game suspension), a rising sophomore who displayed remarkable poise and ball security as a freshman. If Perrantes continues to be a threat when looking for his own shot, the Cavaliers’ backcourt could be its calling card on the offensive end.

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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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ACC Championship Preview: #6 Virginia vs. #7 Duke

Posted by Brad Jenkins & Matt Patton on March 16th, 2014

It’s the game that we all expected when the ACC Tournament brackets came out last weekend. Duke vs. Virginia. Let’s preview the ACC Championship game by answering the key questions headed into this one in Greensboro.

Joe Harris gets a second shot against Duke this season with an ACC title on the line (credit: Geoff Burke/USA Today).

Joe Harris gets a second shot against Duke this season with an ACC title on the line (credit: Geoff Burke/USA Today).

1. Can Virginia’s balanced scoring offset the star power of Duke’s Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood?

Yes and no. The Cavaliers can’t get in a shootout, but I don’t think they’ll try. Virginia is an experienced team that plays to its strengths. I’ll be very surprised if Duke can push them out of their comfort zone. That said, if Hood and Parker are both firing on all cylinders, I’m not sure how Virginia will put up enough points to win. Look for them to try to make Parker into a jump shooter or to force things against multiple defenders since he’s struggled passing out of double teams when he gets head full of steam. Hood is a little more difficult to contain (since he’s really a second option), but I expect to see a lot of Justin Anderson hounding him. Neither of these teams will quite be at 100 percent, playing their third game in three days, but I think that favors the more balanced team.

2. Duke hasn’t been hitting as many threes lately. Who do you expect to help keep the offense going if shots aren’t falling?

If the outside jumpers aren’t falling — and by playing the third straight grueling game in as many days, there’s a good chance they don’t — then Duke will have to rely on its two future NBA forwards to make plays. Jabari Parker makes plays that are almost unstoppable, even by great defenses like Virginia’s, so he figures to be the best candidate. Rodney Hood’s conditioning will be tested after chasing T.J. Warren all over the court yesterday. Rasheed Sulaimon has had success in the tournament with his penetration, so he may also try to create scoring chances that way.

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Malcolm Brogdon Ascends from Anonymity to the ACC POY Conversation

Posted by Chris Kehoe on March 5th, 2014

Virginia sophomore Malcolm Brogdon was largely an afterthought. Disregarded in almost all of the literature projecting breakout stars (including here), the redshirt sophomore sat out last year recovering from foot surgery. Even on his own team, sophomore cohorts Justin Anderson and Mike Tobey had higher expectations coming into their second campaigns. But Brogdon has outshone them all, hoisting himself up into the first team all-ACC picture and ACC Player of the Year conversation. Brogdon is the leading scorer on a Virginia team that has rolled to a 16-1 ACC record and landed a top-five AP poll and #2 ranking on KenPom’s system. Speaking of Mr. Pomeroy, Brogdon comes in at #7 on his National Player of the Year standings, quite a feat for someone playing on a deep and well-rounded Cavaliers team.

Malcolm Brogdon Is the Real Deal (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty)

Malcolm Brogdon Is the Real Deal (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty)

While freshmen Jabari Parker and Tyler Ennis spent the early months dominating the ACC POY conversation, some more seasoned conference performers have come on strong of late. ACC sophomores have dominated the individual headlines in recent weeks, from UNC’s Marcus Paige and his second half heroics, T.J. Warren’s scoring outbursts (see: 41 points at Pittsburgh), and Brogdon’s consistently solid play on a dominant Virginia club. Coming into this season, you could have asked just about anyone who the undisputed star of the team would be for Virginia, and senior Joe Harris, the team’s consummate do-it-all leader, would have been the most popular answer. But no one outside of the immediate program expected such a meteoric rise for Brogdon or his team, blasting to the regular season title and looking to become the first ACC team to ever win 17 conference games. Bottom line — there are a lot of firsts happening in Charlottesville this season, and as much as head coach Tony Bennett deserves the lion’s share of the praise, the superb play of Brogdon cannot be disputed as a primary factor.

After sitting out his redshirt year to go through rehabilitation, Brogdon consumed mass quantities of film to make sure he would come back better than ever. While his game is still catching up to his work ethic, Brogdon’s lethal shooting ability — 39.2 percent from three; 90.4 percent from the line — has already propelled him to the ACC Player of the Week and CBS Sports’ National Player of the Week accolades. For a guy who just last week set a career high of 19 points (versus Syracuse), it says here that his streak of double-figure scoring games (17) and impressive leadership has set him apart from the rest of the ACC field. Who would have thought such a thing possible on New Year’s Eve, after a zero-point performance resulting in a 35-point loss to Tennessee the day before? And to think we almost forgot all about Malcolm Brogdon — it’s a good thing that we didn’t. He might just turn out to be the unlikeliest ACC Player of the Year in a long, long time. 

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ACC Regular Season Crown at Stake: Previewing Syracuse vs. Virginia

Posted by Lathan Wells & Chris Kehoe on February 28th, 2014

Saturday’s game between Virginia and Syracuse will crown this season’s ACC champion, but it’s also a showcase of two teams coming in with very different levels of confidence. While Virginia is riding a hot 12-game winning streak, Syracuse is entering the contest having lost two of its last three games. Both of these teams play notoriously slow, but the likelihood of this one becoming a runaway in either team’s favor is also highly unlikely. While Syracuse is quite literally one of the slowest teams in the nation, Virginia is only one spot ahead of the Orange, ranking 344th in adjusted tempo out of 351 total teams.

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular-season title in its first ACC season (apsports.com)

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular season title in its first ACC season. (apsports.com)

Over the last few weeks, Syracuse has eked by in numerous close victories with controversial finishes before managing to drop its first two games of the season in both embarrassing (Boston College) and enraging (Duke) fashion. Tyler Ennis’ seeming invincibility has worn off somewhat as he has cooled off offensively, showing a human side to his unshakably calm demeanor. Part of Syracuse’s weakened state can be attributed to one of head coach Jim Boeheim’s major criticisms: an unbalanced and back-loaded schedule that has Syracuse finishing its inaugural ACC season with four of its last five games on the road. Syracuse’s play of late even has some ESPN analysts like John Gasaway indirectly stating that it may be the first #1 seed to ever fall to a #16, showing just how far the national perception of the Orange has fallen over the recent bumpy stretch.

On the flip side of the coin, Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad is riding an epic wave of momentum that is well on its way to carrying his team to its first sole claim on the ACC regular season title in over three decades. Virginia has won a school record 17 straight games at home and is sitting in sole possession of first place in the ACC at 15-1. Since a brutal 35-point road loss to Tennessee before the new year, Virginia appears the part of a conference champion, winning numerous low-scoring affairs with stifling defense (no ACC opponent has score more than 70 points). Unlike Syracuse’s schedule, the Cavaliers have the boon of three of their last four ACC contests occurring at home in John Paul Jones Arena. While Virginia may not have a single elite scoring option like the Orange’s C.J. Fair, leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon is more than capable of taking over a game and the Cavaliers boast three players who average between 7.9 and 11.5 PPG. So while Syracuse comes into Charlottesville with their pride wounded after a scorching start, Virginia’s confidence has never been higher in its attempt to prevent a newcomer from claiming the conference title in its first season.

ACC Microwriters Chris Kehoe and Lathan Wells will focus in on the key questions surrounding this marquee ACC match-up, tipping off at 4:00 PM ET on Saturday (ESPN).

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