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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ACC M5: ACC Tourney Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 7th, 2017

morning5_ACC

  1. Greensboro News & Record: HB2 strikes again. This year an NCAA Tournament first weekend site was moved from Greensboro to Greenville, South Carolina; now commissioner John Swofford says the league would “be remiss if [it] didn’t” plan on alternative future locations for the ACC Tournament. This could serve to precipitate the inevitable decentralization of the ACC and/or the ultimate evolution to a national entity (much as the Duke/North Carolina rivalry has become a national phenomenon). According to a February poll, approximately 60 percent of North Carolina residents disagree with large parts of HB2 (including the part that led the NCAA to pull its events out of the state). Potentially losing the ACC Tournament may be what forces the North Carolina legislature to move forward with a full repeal. We’ll learn very soon how much the Tar Heel State cares about the ACC Tournament.
  2. The ACC: The league got it right with the all-ACC first team (and based on the vote totals, it was a no-brainer): North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, Wake Forest’s John Collins and Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson should have joined Duke’s Luke Kennard as unanimous first-teamers (the same probably goes for Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, though he’s a hair below the top four). I thought Collins would finish a bit closer to Jackson in Player of the Year votes (although it’s likely that many voters rewarded Jackson for being on a better team). The only head-scratcher among the group was that Kennard didn’t get more votes for Most Improved Player.
  3. KenPom: Ken Pomeroy projects the ACC Tournament as a three-team race (Florida State gets an honorable mention) between North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville. Dark horse: Wake Forest has a pretty favorable path to the semifinals and will have the best player on the floor in nearly every game. A fun (potential) matchup I’m most looking forward to: the Duke vs. NC State rematch on Wednesday. Either way should be a great week of games. Food for thought: Florida State is the most well-balanced team efficiency-wise (although North Carolina and Louisville both rank among the top 25 in offensive and defensive efficiency). That should bode well in the postseason.
  4. Charlottesville Daily Progress: London Perrantes had quite the career at Virginia. Even as part of a program that doesn’t get any one-and-dones, a four-year college starter is exceedingly rare. He owns the most starts in Virginia history (a number inflated by the modern schedule, but still impressive nevertheless). He’s also defined the program as an unflashy, never flustered, quietly efficient point guard. He’s left Ty Jerome some pretty big shoes to fill in his absence.
  5. Raleigh News & Observer: NC State fans probably need a sincere pick-me-up, so how about a retrospective on the Wolfpack’s last ACC championship? It’s somewhat bittersweet since it also highlights the slow decline of the program as Duke grew into a national powerhouse in the 1980s and 1990s. Barry Jacobs’ stories are always tremendous, and this one comes through as well.

EXTRA: This piece on the ACC’s historic ties to the Big Apple is fascinating. Like I mentioned in this morning’s first blurb, the ACC may be nearing the end of its transition from a regional to a national brand. This story sheds more light on the beginning of that history, and how the league pushed recruiting well beyond its footprint.

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This Weekend in the ACC: March 4

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 4th, 2017

Here are a few things to keep your eye on around the ACC this weekend (all times Eastern).

Saturday, 2:00 PM: Notre Dame at Louisville The Fighting Irish have quietly fired off six straight victories (thanks in part to an incredibly soft portion of the schedule), but they now sit alone in second place and can lock down the #2 seed with a win at Louisville this afternoon. This version of Mike Brey’s squad is nearly unbeatable if it makes three-pointers at a high clip and protects the ball. Over the past six games, Notre Dame is shooting 38 percent from three-point range and averaging fewer than nine turnovers per game. In their first meeting with the Cardinals — a 77-70 win in South Bend — the Irish attempted a season-low 12 three-pointers (making five) but converted 22-of-25 attempts from the free throw line. They’ll need to knock down more long-range shots than that today if they want to walk out of the Yum! Center with a victory.

Can John Collins pull together another dominant performance for the Demon Deacons against Virginia Tech today? (Brian Westeholt/Wake Sports)

Saturday, 4:30 PM: Wake Forest at Virginia Tech. Wake Forest’s tournament resume has been beaten to death for having all the requisite components (good computer numbers; no bad losses; a solid performance in the best conference in the country) except a signature win. The Demon Deacons finally checked that box when they beat Louisville in Winston-Salem earlier this week. Today’s trip to Blacksburg is another good opportunity for Wake to earn a win over another likely NCAA Tournament team, and for John Collins to make his final statement for ACC Player of the Year. Collins has been terrific all season but the sophomore has taken it to another level recently. In his last six games, Collins is averaging 25.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting 65 percent from the field and 77 percent from the line. The big man leads the nation in Player Efficiency Rating (36.7) and paces the ACC in effective field goal percentage (61.9%) and Win Shares per 40 minutes (26.2). Against a Hokies team that doesn’t have a lot of size, look for Collins to finish off his incredible season with an exclamation point.

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Maryland’s Postseason Goals Require Supporting Upperclassmen to Step Up

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 21st, 2017

Despite losing four starters from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad, Maryland has bounced back with a surprisingly strong 22-5 (10-4 Big Ten) record and appears poised to earn its third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. The Terrapins’ this season are once again led by junior star Melo Trimble, who excels in his role as leader and best player, as well as a precocious freshman class that has already produced three new starters (Anthony Cowan, Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter). For this year’s unit to make a run into the second weekend of March Madness, however, head coach Mark Turgeon needs better contributions down the stretch from his supporting upperclassmen.

Maryland needs upperclassmen like Damonte Dodd to thrive as the calendar turns to March. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Turgeon uses the services of five upperclassmen who contribute between 11 to 20 minutes per game. Seniors Damonte Dodd and LG Gill, along with juniors Jaylen Brantley, Jared Nickens and Michal Cekovsky have all had good moments at some point this year. In the Terrapins’ most recent loss to Wisconsin on Sunday, however, the quintet managed only 15 combined points, seven rebounds and three assists. Their lack of rebounding was especially troublesome because Wisconsin logged a +17 advantage on the glass, including a robust 18 that came on the offensive end of the floor. The Badgers’ frontcourt of Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes combined for 41 points and 17 rebounds, while reserve Terrapin bigs Dodd, Cekovsky and Gill did nearly as much fouling (13) as scoring and rebounding. As a contrasting example, these five supporting players contributed an average of 24.5 PPG in recent road wins against Ohio State and Northwestern. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.20.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 20th, 2017

Offense ruled on Saturday with one notable exception. In the biggest game of the weekend, Virginia managed only 41 points as North Carolina dominated the Cavaliers in Chapel Hill. Earlier that day, two other games produced four of the top eight offensive performances in ACC play this season, as Duke edged Wake Forest, 99-94, and Louisville outlasted Virginia Tech, 94-90. In other weekend action, Florida State continued its road woes in falling by 14 points at Pittsburgh, and Georgia Tech grabbed another big home win by holding off Syracuse. Here are the highlights of the weekend around the ACC.

Justin Jackson scored 20 points in North Carolina’s impressive win over Virginia. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: No one is surprised that North Carolina defeated Virginia on Saturday night — after all, the Tar Heels have yet to lose in the Smith Center this season. What was shocking, though, is how easily they dispatched a team that really never gets blown out. The 24-point loss represents the only time that Virginia has been defeated by more than 12 points in the last four years of conference play. Justin Jackson shredded the vaunted Virginia defense for 18 of his 20 points in the first half, continuing a string of amazing consistency in ACC action where he has averaged 19.6 PPG with only one outing topping 22 points. The Tar Heels won with defense and rebounding this weekend, holding the Cavaliers to just 27.8 percent shooting and finishing with a +18 edge on the boards.

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Angry Melo Trimble Keeps Maryland in Big Ten Race

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 16th, 2017

If Wednesday night’s performance at Northwestern is any indication, Melo Trimble’s recent shooting slump is officially over. The junior guard came into Evanston having made only three of his last 22 attempts from the three-point line, but according to Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon, Trimble was “pissed off” by some of the comments made about his shooting prowess. The normally reserved guard responded to the criticism with a career-high 32 points on 12-of-17 shooting (4-of-5 from behind the arc) in yet another big road win. Not only does the 74-64 victory keep Maryland’s shot at a Big Ten regular season title alive, but it also shows as March quickly approaches that the Terrapins have a superstar capable of taking over games. The Terps are now 10-3 in Big Ten play, tied with Purdue for second in the standings and just a half-game back of league-leading Wisconsin. In a coincidental twist of scheduling fate, Maryland travels next to Madison to face the Badgers in the Kohl Center on Sunday afternoon. Keeping in mind that the team is 6-1 on the road in Big Ten action this season, another outstanding performance in an opponent’s building could mean that the Big Ten pole position is well within reach.

Melo Trimble torched Northwestern for a career-high 32 points on Wednesday night. (USA Today Images)

Trimble reminded everyone last night that he can carry the offensive load if needed. With Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ taking turns making headlines as the two best players in the Big Ten, Trimble has quietly ceded center stage while remaining an all-Big Ten caliber player. Advanced metrics do not show much faith in the Terrapins (KenPom ranks Maryland 32nd nationally, for example), but it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore a 22-4 team that is a robust 6-1 against the top 50. Steady play from freshmen Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter has relieved some of the pressure from Trimble, but few teams around college basketball have a legitimate and experienced gamer who has played in two NCAA Tournaments and embraces the big moment. If last night’s performance turns out to be the beginning of a Maryland run into March, it will be because Trimble led the way.

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