Projecting This Season’s Breakout Players

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 14th, 2017

After spending the preseason hyping certain guys, some players we don’t expect to steal the spotlight does just that. If history tells us anything, there are a number of players who are flying under the radar right now that will be commanding headlines in February. It is my humble task to give those players some of the love they will eventually deserve right now, before the rest of the nation catches on. I’ll give myself credit for projecting the rises of Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans last year, but I’ve been honing my craft this offseason and hope to do even better this time around. So let’s get started. Here are five breakout players in college basketball this season.

  • Nick Ward, Sophomore, Michigan State — Nick Ward averaged 8.8 fouls drawn per game last season, becoming the first major conference player to average more than 8.0 since Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins in 2010. He also owned the second highest offensive rebounding rate in the country at 17.5 percent. Sure, he fouls a bit too much and turns the ball over more than head coach Tom Izzo would like, but post players this dominant are very hard to come by. If Ward can play closer to 30 minutes per game this season — which would itself be a feat considering the talent of the Spartans frontcourt — watch out. His tools suggest he could become a First Team All-American. Sophomore forward Miles Bridges gets all the hype, but if the Spartans reach their potential this year, Ward will be a big reason why they did so.

Nick Ward is on his way to possible stardom. (Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Markus Howard, Sophomore, Marquette — America, are you ready to fall in love with a small point guard who puts up ridiculous numbers? Well, the 5’11” Howard is your man. He shot 54.7 percent — FIFTY-FOUR POINT SEVEN PER CENT!!! — from three-point range last year, on almost five shots per game in the Big East! That’s a mind-numbingly good shooting season. More importantly, with Marquette having graduated some ball-dominant seniors, Howard and fellow diminutive scorer Andrew Rowsey will get the keys to Steve Wojciechowski’s uptempo offense. Marquette started the senior Rowsey in the season opener, but I’m betting on Howard and his ridiculous shooting and efficiency forcing his way into the starting lineup in due time. A season scoring average of 20 points per game is not out of the question for the sophomore.

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ACC Burning Questions: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Matt Patton on November 10th, 2017

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

Burning Question: How much will Roy Williams adapt to his team’s strengths?

Roy Williams‘ incredible success over the last two seasons should have silenced all of his doubters. By nearly any standard his teams were exceptionally talented — loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans and consensus four- and five-star players. But Duke and Kentucky were recruiting better classes, and that role reversal led to some grumbling from fans and overreaction from the media. Williams ultimately got the last laugh, of course, with the added bonus that even the ongoing specter of the NCAA disappeared after it punted on the academic fraud scandal. However, it is important to note that this year’s North Carolina team isn’t comprised of the same successful group of the last two seasons and it doesn’t profile like any of Williams’ best teams. The Tar Heels have a strong backcourt led by Joel Berry II and Pittsburgh transfer Cameron Johnson, but Tony Bradley’s early departure to the NBA left the frontcourt lacking in depth, experience and talent.

Joel Berry will start the season on the sidelines, making Roy Williams’ job even tougher. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

It’s no secret Williams’ best teams have a blueprint roster. Two very good bigs (or, one great one), an elite point guard and an army of players on the wing (with at least one sharp-shooter). Berry is the elite point guard; Johnson is the sharp-shooting wing; but Luke Maye (despite his NCAA Tournament heroics) is no Sean May. With Bradley back, the Tar Heels would have had a good chance at a third straight trip to the Final Four. Without him it’s up to Williams to figure out how to adopt his system to accommodate three true post players (two of whom are freshmen). There’s still plenty of talent on the roster: Theo Pinson is back and consensus top-50 recruit Jalek Felton should get playing time right away. Seventh Woods still has a long way to go, but should have improved considerably during the offseason. Expect this year’s roster to be better shooting on the whole than the last few North Carolina teams (although maybe not, without the individual prowess of Justin Jackson), but it’s hard to see the secondary break working well without significant changes.

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Big Ten Preview Part IV: Key Questions for Iowa & Maryland

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 3rd, 2017

With the season just a little over a week away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we address Iowa and Maryland.

#8 Iowa – Will the loss of Peter Jok be addition by subtraction?

Isaiah Moss and co. have big shoes to fill, offensively. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Peter Jok largely defined Iowa’s offense last season, taking a whopping 31.2 percent of the Hawkeyes’ shots while on the floor, scoring a quarter of his team’s points (19.9 PPG), and occasionally willing the Hawkeyes to victory — like when he scored 35 points — including 15 in overtime — against Indiana in February. The 6’6″ wing was a scoring machine and will obviously be missed. But he could also be a defensive liability at times, struggling to keep players in front of him and preventing better defenders from seeing the floor. With virtually everyone else on the roster back, Iowa will be defined this season by the extent to which its promising young roster can fill Jok’s offensive void while also improving defensively. Thanks to a rotation that should run more than 10 deep, the former task will fall on a variety of players. While forward Tyler Cook (12.3 PPG) should lead the team in scoring, many of Jok’s 15 shots per game will be distributed among Isaiah Moss (6.5 PPG) and Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Nicholar Baer, both of whom will need to become more aggressive scorers from the wing. Point guard Jordan Bohannon (10.9 PPG), who shot 41.6 percent from three-point range on more than 200 attempts last season, is now the team’s primary perimeter threat; how he performs without Jok to divert defensive attention will also be key. Defensively, more minutes for Baer, Moss and forward Cordell Pemsl should help Iowa improve on last season’s middling defense, which ranked near the bottom of league play in efficiency. Pemsl is reportedly leaner, healthier and more athletic, while Baer — who led the team in both block and steal rate in 2016-17 — is versatile enough to defend multiple positions. With a strong recruiting class entering the program to boot, the Hawkeyes could well be a more well-rounded team without Jok.

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2016-17 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 30th, 2017

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what will come during the upcoming season. There will always be several players who fall short of expectations and there will always be several relatively unknown types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams in November; nobody could have guessed that only five of the 15 players chosen would live up to their hype; Villanova’s Josh Hart, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris, Washington’s Markelle Fultz, and Kansas’ Josh Jackson. Hart was the only player projected to be a first-teamer who ended up there. The 10 other players who did not make our postseason team are Duke’s Grayson Allen and Jayson Tatum, California’s Ivan Rabb, Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, Indiana’s Thomas Bryant, NC State’s Dennis Smith, Xavier’s Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett, and Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo. All turned in varying degrees of productive seasons but were surpassed in achievements by the names that moved ahead of them on our list. Here are the 2016-17 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

  • Frank Mason, Senior, Kansas (consensus) (20.9 PPG, 5.2 APG, 49% FG, 47.1% 3FG). After being little more than a complementary contributor during his first three seasons in Lawrence, Mason wrapped up his collegiate career this season in spectacular fashion. What the point guard lack lacks in stature (he is listed at just 5’11”), he made up for it in big time performances. Kansas earned its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title and advanced to the Elite Eight this season, and neither of those would have been possible without Mason elevating his game to a superstar level. One of the coolest things about college basketball is when a relatively unheralded recruit develops into one of the country’s most accomplished players – and Mason certainly personified that in his senior season. Kansas fields a great team every year, but it is certain the Jayhawks will miss Mason’s services when they hit the hardwood again next fall.
  • Josh Hart, Senior, Villanova (consensus) (18.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 51% FG, 40.4% 3FG). Hart starred on last season’s National Championship team, but he took his game to another level during his senior season. The Big East Player of the Year joined Villanova legend Kerry Kittles as the only players in program history to amass 1,800 points, 700 rebounds, 250 assists, and 150 steals. Villanova’s season ended with a surprising Second Round loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament, but that defeat should not cloud anyone’s perception of Hart’s season, as he was phenomenal from the opening tip of the first game to the final buzzer of the last one.
  • Lonzo Ball, Freshman, UCLA (consensus) (14.6 PPG, 7.6 APG, 6.0 RPG, 55.1% FG). Last year at this time, UCLA was coming off a very disappointing 15-17 season that suggested the 2016-17 campaign would be a make-or-break year for Steve Alford in Westwood. Luckily for the Bruins’ head coach, the arrival of Ball as the gem of a star-studded recruiting class aided significantly in morphing UCLA from a losing team to a Sweet Sixteen squad. A dynamic point guard known for his incredible court vision and ability to make his teammates better, Ball also helped had a knack for making key plays in big games – most notably in a December win at Kentucky and in a February home win over Oregon. Unfortunately for Bruins fans, they will not get to experience more of those star performances, as Ball quickly made his intention to enter the NBA Draft known following UCLA’s Sweet Sixteen loss to Kentucky.
  • Justin Jackson, Junior, North Carolina (18.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.8 APG). Following North Carolina’s heartbreaking defeat to Villanova in last year’s title game, Jackson chose to test the NBA Draft waters before ultimately returning to Chapel Hill for his junior season. At the time, Jackson stated, “The best choice for my basketball future is to return to school and play for the Tar Heels next season.” His statement turned out to be prophetic, as he became North Carolina’s go-to guy on his way to leading the team in scoring and earning the ACC Player of the Year award. The Tar Heels are a balanced unit with talent littering the roster, but Jackson’s emergence to stardom is the most important reason why Roy Williams’ team has another chance to play for the title this weekend in Phoenix.
  • Caleb Swanigan, Sophomore, Purdue (18.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 52.7% FG, 44.7% 3FG). The sophomore big man was a double-double machine for the regular season Big Ten champion — finishing a stellar year with 28 double-doubles and having four games where he grabbed 20 or more rebounds. A big reason for Swanigan’s increased productivity in his sophomore campaign was improved conditioning, as his minutes per game rose from 25.7 to 32.5. He also added a reliable three-point shot to his arsenal, improving his percentage in that are of the game to a robust 44.7 percent. As a result, the Boilermakers advanced to their first Sweet Sixteen since 2010, and that charge was led by a monster season from the All-American.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2017

Now that we’re down to the Final Four, let’s take a deep dive into each of the four remaining teams. Today: North Carolina.

How North Carolina Got Here

North Carolina is back in the Final Four (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

South Region Champions. This North Carolina run to the Final Four was equal parts exceedingly easy and excruciatingly difficult. The Tar Heels posted the largest margin of victory in the opening round against Texas Southern, but needed to overcome a five-point deficit in the final three minutes to escape Arkansas just two days later. The Sweet 16 brought a return to relaxation for Heels fans, as UNC exploded out of the gate en route to an “it-wasn’t-even-that-close” 12-point win over Butler. The final step was the hardest, however, as familiar Elite Eight foe Kentucky played the Heels even for 39 minutes and 59.7 seconds. Those finals tenths of a second are now history, of course, as Luke Maye propelled Carolina to another Final Four with his dramatic game-winner.

The Coach

Roy Williams. The UNC head man owns all eight of the career Final Four appearances (prior to this one) among the quartet of coaches still alive. He also earned a rare bit of praise for his timeout-avoidant tendencies last weekend, as it was Roy’s reticence to stop his offense that allowed Carolina to race down the court and beat an unsettled Kentucky defense for Maye’s game-winner. Few, Altman, and Martin have all been around and are respected coaches, but Williams’ experience sets him apart from his peers on the opposing sidelines in this Final Four. Whether or not it proves decisive is anyone’s guess, but Carolina fans should feel comfortable in the knowledge that Williams knows both his team and this stage better than anyone.

Style

The speed and efficiency of Carolina’s offense is well known as a Tar Heel strength, and deservedly so. UNC ranks 6th nationally in overall offensive efficiency, leads the country in offensive rebounding percentage, and has no problem playing fast, finishing possessions in an average of 15.4 seconds (22nd quickest in the country). The balanced Tar Heel offense is headlined by AP All-American Justin Jackson (18.2 PPG, UNC-record 99 3PM), but fellow upperclassmen Joel Berry II, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks all join Jackson in averaging double-figure points per game. It’s an explosive offense, surely, but UNC’s success has been predicated off work on both ends of the floor. Amazingly, Williams’ bunch has been able to slow opponents down even while playing offense at a breakneck speed: Carolina foes average 17.8 seconds per possession, good for 272nd slowest in the nation. The underrated Tar Heel defense was on display in the South regional final against Kentucky, as Jackson and company harassed Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox into a combined 9-23 shooting from the field. A similar assignment will await in Phoenix, as Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey are likely to draw the bulk of the Carolina defensive attention. On paper, there’s no reason why Carolina, the 17th most efficient defensive team in the nation (one slot above Oregon), won’t be up to the challenge.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 75, #2 Kentucky 73

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 26th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Luke Maye capped a phenomenal individual weekend with one of the biggest shots of this, or any, NCAA Tournament (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

Key Takeaways.

  1. First half foul trouble and questionable officiating. Kentucky clawed its way back into this game in the second half, but early foul trouble and a tough first half whistle greatly imperiled the Wildcats’ bid to advance to another Final Four. De’Aaron Fox watched 75 percent of the first half from the sideline after picking up two early fouls, and backcourt mate Malik Monk joined him there later in the half after also picking up his second foul. There were also a number of questionable first half calls that seemed to go North Carolina’s way every time, including a Bam Adebayo tip-in that was ruled offensive goaltending. North Carolina emerges as a deserving victor, but Kentucky wasn’t helped at all by the first half whistle.
  2. Where was the offense? After the Tar Heels and Wildcats combined for 203 total regulation points in December, there was going to be an offensive come-down. However, few could have expected the drop-off in combined offensive efficiency to be so severe. The two teams combined to shoot just 44 percent from the floor, 29 percent from three-point range, and 67 percent from the free throw line. We have seen far uglier offensive games in this NCAA Tournament, for certain, but the early season wizardry in Las Vegas delivered by these teams allowed us to dream of a more explosive, uptempo battle than what played out.
  3. Justin Jackson and Malik Monk duel. The individual match-up between Monk and Justin Jackson was much discussed before action tipped, and with good reason. These two stars combined for 81 points in the first game, and each player has repeatedly showed the ability to single-handedly take over games. No such dominance was on display today, however, as Jackson harassed Monk into a quiet 12-point afternoon. The UNC star wasn’t at his best today, but his two-way effort (he had 19 points on the other end) gave him the edge in this decisive matchup.

Star of the Game. Luke Maye, North Carolina. Maye posted an unlikely but casual double-double on Friday (16 points, 12 rebounds), yet saved plenty of energy for a memorable encore. He made six of his nine field goal attempts en route to a 17-point night, including the game-winning jumper just before the final horn that won’t soon be forgotten by North Carolina fans. Maye played with swagger and energy all afternoon, and ultimately it was his contributions that pushed the Tar Heels into next weekend’s Final Four in Glendale.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 92, #4 Butler 80

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 24th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Kennedy Meeks and the Heels had a lot to cheer about Friday night (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Tar Heels explode in the first half. North Carolina raced out to a 16-point lead in the first 10 minutes and never looked back. The Tar Heels would maintain that edge for the second 10 minutes of the first half, taking a 52-36 advantage to the locker room. Three Tar Heels scored in double figures – Justin Jackson with 17 points, Luke Maye with 14, Joel Berry with 10 – in a quintessential display of Carolina offense. They played fast (43 possessions), made three-point shots (8-of-17 from long-range), and exploited their size advantage inside in outrebounding Butler by 11. UCLA and Kansas each boast offenses as good, if not better, than that of North Carolina, but neither possess the inside-outside balance of the Heels. The first 20 minutes of this game was a potent expression of this reality.
  2. Unexpected and expected Carolina contributors. UNC has relied upon Jackson and Berry all season, and the Tar Heels’ junior duo delivered again tonight. They combined for 50 points, five three-pointers, and committed just three turnovers. However, it wasn’t just Jackson and Berry fronting the load this evening. Maye provided an unexpected spark in leading the first half surge, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the opening frame. Roy Williams expressed immense appreciation for the contributions and skills of UNC’s very unlikely catalyst, saying he was not surprised by Maye’s night because he sees it every day in practice. Either way, the Heels should benefit from a confident Maye, as his ability to step out and shoot the three provides a nice balance to the bruising interior duo of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.
  3. Butler three-point shooting struggles. The Bulldogs were an efficient offensive outfit for the better part of their first 33 games of the season, with top-100 percentages nationally in 3FG, 2FG, and FT%. However, the 21st-most efficient offense in the country struggled to generate the points needed to hang with North Carolina this evening. The origin of the drought was obvious, as Butler made just eight of its 28 three-point attempts. Chris Holtmann couldn’t have had a problem with most of the rest of the offensive stat sheet, as his team shot 55 percent from two-point range, 86 percent from the free throw line, and turned the ball over just nine times in a high-possession game. Missed three-point shots is a familiar killer of seasons this time of year; tonight, Butler’s long-range struggles ensured its season would not continue.

Star of the Game. Justin Jackson, North Carolina. The versatile Tar Heels star had the full arsenal working Friday night. He was confident and effective in shooting the three, lofting floaters in the half-court, and getting out on the fast break for easy buckets. Jackson finished with 24 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Honorable mention goes to Maye, who unexpectedly delivered a career high 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Berry, who finished with a game-high 26 points.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 103, #16 Texas Southern 64

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2017

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

Justin Jackson busted out of his recent shooting slump with a huge first half.
(newsobserver.com)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. There was never a possibility of a historical upset today in Greenville. Thursday top seeds Villanova and Gonzaga let their #16 opponents hang around for a full half before pulling away, but #1 North Carolina cruised to a 25-point halftime lead today and rolled from there. The Tar Heels played to their size advantage in dispatching the Tigers, piling up a huge advantage on the boards (+27) and in points in the paint (+24). As expected, North Carolina was particularly effective on the offensive glass, turning 20 offensive boards into 29 second chance points.
  2. Texas Southern was not equipped to pull off a March upset. Not only did North Carolina hold a significant edge in size and talent, it was not facing the kind of team that we typically see spring the big NCAA First Round surprise. Usually that kind of underdog is a dangerous three-point shooting squad that gets hot in a timely way from deep. The only thing dangerous about the Tigers’ outside shooting, however, was the potential harm it could do to the rim. Texas Southern shoots below 30 percent from deep on the year and only connected on 7-of-27 from distance today.
  3. Justin Jackson has found his shooting touch again. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Justin Jackson was mired in a recent shooting slump. In his last four outings, the ACC Player of the Year was a combined 20-of-60 from the floor for a chilly 33 percent. Jackson turned that situation around fast, nailing 5-of-6 from three-point land in the first half alone. Of course, he was not up against a stout defense today and most of his attempts were wide open looks — still, Roy Williams has to feel better about his star forward’s confidence level going forward.

Player of the Game. Justin Jackson, North Carolina. In addition to his first half outburst, Jackson had a fine all-around game. He finished with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and also chipped in with seven rebounds and three assists. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2017

All day on Monday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCSouthRegion).

South Region

Favorite: #2 Kentucky (29-5, 16-2 SEC). It’s hard to pick a true favorite when examining the top three seeds in this region, as North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA will all garner buzz as Final Four candidates. However, the Wildcats get the RTC nod as region favorites after a dominant SEC Tournament title run. The Tar Heels are the more experienced unit, but it’s possible that no team in the field can match the talent of these young Wildcats. At the very least, Malik Monk (20.4 PPG) and De’Aaron Fox (16.1 PPG, 4.8 APG) make up the scariest backcourt – freshmen or not – in the entire country, and we’ve heard that guard play matters a little bit this time of year. The Wildcats loom as a favorite in a top-heavy region.

Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox have Kentucky rolling into this NCAA Tournament (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Should They Falter: #1 North Carolina (27-7, 14-4 ACC). The Tar Heels enter the NCAA Tournament with less momentum than Kentucky, but the ACC regular season champions have proved plenty dominant all season long. Whether it was during a three-game romp to the Maui Invitational title in November, or its perfect campaign at the Dean Dome, North Carolina sprinted past opponents like so many other Roy Williams coached teams have before. Justin Jackson (18.1 PPG) evolved into the go-to offensive weapon many thought he would never become, while Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks have manned an extremely effective frontcourt operation. The Tar Heels’ notation as secondary favorites in the region should not be perceived as a slight; this is a very good team that at worst is the 1B to Kentucky’s 1A.

Grossly Overseeded: #5 Minnesota (24-9, 11-7 Big Ten). If you are trying to make sense of Minnesota’s placement on the #5 seed line, do not look at the committee’s S-Curve for clarification. The Gophers are closer to a #4 seed than a #6 at #18 overall, and the slew of teams right behind them – Notre Dame, Iowa State, SMU, Cincinnati – all feel significantly more deserving/scarier than Minneapolis’ favorite team. As is always the case in situations like these, it’s important to note the merit of Minnesota’s season – Richard Pitino turned last year’s disappointment into success faster than any Gopher fan could have hoped – but a #5 seed this is not. Middle Tennessee State stands to benefit, and you don’t have to dig deep into the memory banks to recall a Blue Raiders’ March takedown of a Big Ten foe.

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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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