Three #1 Seeds Still a Possibility as ACC Finishes League Play

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 7th, 2019

On the strength of a second-half long-range assault, Virginia bludgeoned Syracuse at the Carrier Dome Monday and all but ensured that the Cavaliers will repeat as regular season ACC champions. They are set to host Louisville this weekend to close the regular season, while co-leader North Carolina, which Virginia defeated in its lone meeting this year, will host a third-place Duke team likely to be without Zion Williamson for a fifth straight game.

These three teams were expected to carry the ACC flag heading into the campaign, and they collectively have done nothing to dispel those preseason expectations. All three remain very much alive for #1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, with Virginia closest to lock territory. Duke, assuming Williamson suits up and acquits himself well in the ACC Tournament, seems comfortably entrenched on the top line too, while North Carolina has put itself in very good position to move up if it can complete the season sweep of Duke on Saturday.

The two outfits trailing the conference elite played an overtime thriller on Tuesday night, as Florida State protected its home floor in squeaking by a Justin Robinson-less Virginia Tech, and clinched the coveted double-bye at next week’s ACC Tournament in the process. The Seminoles and Hokies are both viable sleepers to make a run to Minneapolis this April, while the top three could each be considered favorites to do so when the brackets are revealed a week from Sunday.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume IV

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on February 1st, 2019

Virginia played perhaps its worst game in conference play on Tuesday night — an uncharacteristically sloppy, and mistake-riddled effort — and still managed a road win against a top-30 team. Duke, despite devolving somewhat into a two-man show, is still running roughshod through its opposition. And while there is a four-way tie in the loss column at the top of the standings — Louisville and North Carolina are maintaining contact with the top two — it is looking increasingly likely that the teams perched #1/#2 on the KenPom ratings will ultimately separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Stock Rising

Virginia Survived NC State Earlier This Week (USA Today Images)

Virginia Offense: While not on display in Tuesday’s victory in Raleigh, these Cavaliers are arguably the best offensive group Tony Bennett has coached in Charlottesville. Virginia now ranks as the fifth most efficient offense in college basketball — up from 30th a year ago, a season in which it earned the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers have already exceeded 80 points six times this year, which is more than they have in their two previous campaigns combined. Bennett’s club ranks 12th nationally in making 39.6 percent of its three-pointers, led by the ACC’s best long-range shooter, Kyle Guy (45% 3FG). Combined with the versatile Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter, who currently rank ninth and 10th, respectively, in the KenPom Player of the Year standings, the Cavaliers own a trio of versatile shot creators and makers that it hasn’t had before. Its lockdown defense (second nationally in defensive efficiency) and stinginess with the ball (third in turnover percentage) haven’t gone anywhere, so the traditional ingredients of Bennett’s success still remain. But now, with a pinch of offensive explosiveness thrown into the mix, Virginia is an absolute nightmare to play.

Stock Holding

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ACC Weekend Preview: January 26

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 25th, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you ready for the weekend ahead in the ACC, which features another tough road trip for Clemson and an intriguing match-up in Blacksburg. (all rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, January 26

Virginia Appears Back on Track After Its Loss at Duke (USA Today Images)

#1 Virginia (17-1, 5-1) at #72 Notre Dame (11-8, 1-5). Tony Bennett’s club has been excellent this season thanks to the play of their big three: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and DeAndre Hunter. Each player is making more than 40 percent from long-range, owns an Offensive Rating better than 119.0, and is putting up PER’s of 21.5 or more. Three players consistently performing at such a high level makes Virginia very tough to beat regardless of support, but when the Cavaliers get contributions from others, they reach another level. That’s why the recent play of big man Jay Huff has been so intriguing. The sophomore is making his 10 minutes per contest really count. In the Cavaliers’ last four games, he is averaging 8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting 75.0 percent from three-point range. He has always had good offensive ability, but slow feet on defense has limited his playing time. Lately, though, the big man has improved just enough on that end of the floor so that Bennett is comfortable deploying him as a very valuable weapon off of his bench.

#49 Clemson (11-7, 1-4) at #31 NC State (15-4, 3-3). The Tigers are just 1-4 in ACC play to date, but it’s hard to blame Brad Brownell‘s club too much when the four losses came at Duke, at Syracuse, versus Virginia and at Florida State. Such is life in the loaded ACC. Knowing that Clemson was staring down that opening conference gauntlet is what made its non-conference performance so worrisome — the Tigers lost to the three best teams they played (Mississippi State, Nebraska and Creighton) and their best victory was a road win over rival South Carolina. Needless to say, Clemson needs to start improving its NCAA Tournament resume very soon. To do that, the Tigers need more production from sophomore Aamir Simms. In Clemson’s five ACC games, Simms (8.2 PPG) is making just 35.4 percent from the field and tallying an 83.7 Offensive Rating. When defenses focus on teammates Marcquise Reed or Elijah Thomas, Simms needs to be a viable option to score, especially against teams without much size (e.g., NC State). If they fail to turn the corner soon, the Tigers should begin planning on a trip to the NIT.

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ACC Burning Questions Part 4: Virginia Tech, Syracuse & Florida State

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 1st, 2018

As we head into another exciting ACC season, we will be reviewing the key question for each of the league’s 15 squads. Today Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) works into the upper tier, with Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Florida State

Virginia Tech Burning Question: We know they’ll fill it up, but can the Hokies improve enough defensively to fulfill their potential?

Buzz Williams Needs to Improve His Defense to Contend This Year (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech came out of the gates blazing a year ago, scoring more than 90 points in five of its first six affairs. And while the numbers understandably dipped as the competition toughened, the Hokies’ up-tempo, let-it-fly mentality, led to season marks of 28th nationally in offensive efficiency and sixth in effective field goal percentage. Lead guard Justin Robinson, the engine behind the high-powered unit, is back for his senior season, and pairs with sophomore sharpshooter Nickeil Alexander-Walker, as perhaps the most explosive backcourt in the ACC.

Robinson, a preseason all-ACC second team selection, is the model of consistency, and the type of point guard head coach Buzz Williams can trust to spearhead his attacking offense. An old-school point guard at his core, Robinson has developed in an old-school manner, as his three-point percentage, points, assists and steals per game have all steadily increased over his three years in Blacksburg. Another leap is a tall order for him after averaging 14.0 PPG, 5.6 APG and shooting nearly 40 percent from long-distance last season, but one that he may need to make given that senior Chris Clarke has been suspended from the team indefinitely. Clarke, the runner-up for ACC Sixth Man of the Year, was in line to start and become a major contributor. In his absence, the Hokies will need a healthy and productive Kerry Blackshear Jr. to replicate upon his excellent sophomore season. Coming off a redshirt year, the 6’10” Blackshear averaged just under 13 points per game on the back of a 63.4 percent true shooting rate. Without Clarke around to bolster the interior, he becomes the Hokies’ leading returning rebounder and will be relied upon to protect the rim.

In his first four years at Virginia Tech, Williams’ teams have never finished within the top 60 nationally in defensive efficiency. If this is to be the year that the Hokies break through and make a run in the NCAA Tournament, improvement on that end is absolutely necessary. There’s no doubt that this team’s offense will pressure opposing defenses, but seeking to outscore the opposition will only get a team so far.

Syracuse Burning Question: Can Syracuse make enough shots?

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Way Too Early 2018-19 ACC Rankings

Posted by Mick McDonald on April 6th, 2018

This season may have just wrapped up, but we are always looking forward to next season. Here’s a much too early look at how the ACC may shake out in 2018-19.

The Four Kill4s Arrive in Durham With Much Fanfare

  1. Duke. We’ll see if Gary Trent returns, but either way, it’s another loaded freshman class that will make the Blue Devils the most talented team in college basketball. RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are the top three players in the class of 2018 and will be joined by the top-rated point guard, Tre Jones.
  2. Virginia. The Cavaliers lose Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins but return their starting backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, plus ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter. Look for Mamadi Diakite to continue a long line of athletic bigs who flourish in Tony Bennett’s system.
  3. North Carolina. Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are gone, but the Tar Heels return Luke Maye in addition to Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Roy Williams is also bringing in his best recruiting class in years, with point guard Coby White and wing Nassir Little set to arrive. The improvement of sophomore big men Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman will be important to watch.
  4. Virginia Tech. Buzz Williams loses just Justin Bibbs and Devon Wilson from this year’s squad, and he will return a senior-laden backcourt with Ahmed Hill and potential All-ACC player Justin Robinson. Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear, Jr. are versatile bigs who can hit shots from the outside. Last year’s freshmen class also has the potential to break out, especially Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach, Mick McDonald on March 14th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week about the NCAA Tournament prospects for all nine ACC schools involved.

Losing De’Andre Hunter is a huge blow to Virginia’s NCAA title hopes. (Ryan M. Kelly/Getty)

Brad Jenkins: Well it’s Tourney time fellas! I guess we should start with the gut wrenching news of the day – De’Andre Hunter is out with a broken wrist for the entire tournament. Mick, how does Virginia adapt short-term and long-term?

Mick McDonald: I figured we’d have to start here. It’s devastating news for Virginia. Hunter’s flexibility allowed the Cavaliers to play small with him at the four or bigger with him at the three. He was a great option on offense and could score in a variety of ways. It’s crushing. Long term — as in, next year — it’s no big deal. He’ll recover and be ready to go. But this year? I just can’t see Virginia winning the title without him. Maybe they can get by Arizona/Kentucky/Cincinnati to make the Final Four, but I doubt it.

Matt Auerbach: I hate to agree with Mick, because after being in Brooklyn and seeing and finally appreciating the live beauty of Virginia basketball, I penciled them in as my favorite — but thankfully, it was in pencil. Hunter is a tremendous talent and gives them so much on both ends off the bench. Without him, I think the Arizona game if it materializes becomes a lot trickier.

Mick McDonald: Tony Bennett will now have to give minutes to Marco Anthony, a smaller freshman wing who played well during Nigel Johnson’s suspension. He’s not Hunter but he will have to play well when called on.

Brad Jenkins: It does remove the option of playing small. The good news is that the other talented teams in the South region like Kentucky, Arizona and Cincinnati all will have required a bigger Virginia lineup anyway. So I think they can still get to San Antonio.

Matt Auerbach: All this being said — and the loss of Hunter could easily be viewed as detrimental — but would it shock me to see Virginia still make it to San Antonio? Absolutely not.

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ACC Weekend Preview: March 3

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 3rd, 2018

It’s the final weekend of the ACC regular season, which means we not only get DukeNorth Carolina, part II, but we also have sevearl bubble teams fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives in addition to the return of a superstar hoping to lead his team to a late renaissance.

Saturday, March 3

Once Again, It’s On… (USA Today Images)

  • Virginia Tech (#33) at Miami (#35). It felt like both Virginia Tech and Miami were already in good spots with their NCAA Tournament resumes coming into this week, but then the Hokies vanquished Duke and the Hurricanes won at the buzzer in Chapel Hill to completely lock things up. Both are headed to the Dance this season partly because of consistently superb point guard play. For the Hokies, it’s been junior Justin Robinson, who is averaging nearly 15.0 points, 4.5 assists and fewer than two turnovers per game. He’ll match up with Hurricanes’ freshman Chris Lykes, who has become the heart and soul of a Miami group with Bruce Brown still on the shelf.
  • Clemson (#17) at Syracuse (#52). Syracuse dropping a game to Boston College while fighting for its NCAA Tournament life means the Orange need to beat Clemson to make the NCAA Tournament. To do that, Syracuse needs to lock down on the defensive end. Its normally sure 2-3 zone defense has allowed the three worst Defensive Ratings of the season (115.6 vs. North Carolina State, 114.7 vs North Carolina and 130.8 at Boston College) over the past five games. They’ve been torched by quick guards like Markell Johnson, Joel Berry II and Jerome Robinson. If the Orange cannot shut down Marcquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe, they could be in “ACC Tournament Title or Bust” mode before they even get to Brooklyn next week.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.12.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 12th, 2018

It was another exciting Saturday of ACC hoops over the weekend, with the highlight being the biggest upset of the conference season as Virginia Tech handed Virginia its first conference loss in Charlottesville. In other action, North Carolina backed up last week’s impressive victory over Duke by winning a shootout over N.C. State in Raleigh, Notre Dame blitzed Florida State in South Bend, and Boston College rallied late to stun Miami. On Sunday night, Duke ended its two-game losing streak by handling Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action around the ACC.

Justin Robinson celebrates Virginia Tech’s big upset win over Virginia on Saturday night. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

  • Best Win: Few gave Virginia Tech much of a chance to knock off Virginia in John Paul Jones Arena after suffering a humiliating 26-point home loss to the Cavaliers in early January. But this time around, Buzz Williams‘ team was ready from the opening tip — the Hokies led by seven at the half and held the lead for most of the second half. After the Cavaliers rallied to force overtime it appeared that Tony Bennett’s squad would stay unbeaten, but Virginia Tech didn’t quit in pulling off the 61-60 stunner. In a sense, the Hokies beat Virginia at its own game – finishing with a 20-14 edge in points in the paint and holding Virginia to a paltry 34.4 percent shooting from the floor. Point guard Justin Robinson led the way with a game-high 20 points and seven assists as Virginia Tech picked up a huge NCAA Tournament resume-booster.

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ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Tech Hokies

Posted by Matt Patton on November 7th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Are the Hokies tall enough?

In some ways Virginia Tech was something of a surprise last season, but success in Blacksburg was always a matter of when, not if, for a head coaching talent like Buzz Williams. This year’s squad sounds hungry for even greater success — hoping to make school history by making back-to-back NCAA Tournaments — but the Hokies’ roster, to put it bluntly, is vertically challenged. After Khadim Sy withdrew from school during the offseason, only one player in the primary rotation will be over 6’6″, and that player, sophomore Kerry Blackshear, is coming off a medical redshirt season. Blackshear is a capable offensive rebounder (10.2%), but he will need to take a much bigger role in the post than he did two years ago. The only other clear post players on the team are Division II transfer Nick Fullard (who averaged less than five points a game at Belmont Abbey) and consensus three-star recruit PJ Horne (who stands only 6’6″). Williams will need Fullard and Horne to play significant productive minutes per game this season or his team will just have to play really small. That’s a ton to ask from two men playing their first season of Division I basketball, and in the ACC, no less. Alternatively, look for Williams to play to his strengths and try several all-guard lineups to force various mismatches.

Chris Clarke’s health will have a lot to do with Virginia Tech’s success this season. (Chet Strange/Getty Images)

In much better news, junior wing Chris Clarke looks to be Virginia Tech’s most important player this season. Although he stands only 6’6″, he was last year’s best defensive rebounder at 22.6 percent (108th nationally). But he’s coming off a torn ACL, so it is as of yet unclear if he will be ready for the heavy minutes that Williams will almost definitely need him to play. In addition to rebounding, Clarke did a good job scoring efficiently last season, and he should be considered a major breakout candidate in the ACC this season if fully healthy. The Hokies’ other returning guards look excellent too. Justin Robinson averaged double-figures last season while former starters Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs both also proved efficient offensive players (admittedly on limited possessions). Add top-50 recruit Nickell Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede (consensus four-star prospect) to the mix and there’s a lot of young talent in the wings. Alexander-Walker especially should be able to help this team right away.

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Last Year’s Media Darling Monmouth Is At It Again

Posted by Ray Curren (@currenrr) on December 5th, 2016

Early in the second half in Monmouth’s conference opener last Thursday night at Quinnipiac, Je’lon Hornbeak launched a rushed three-pointer early in the shot clock. Usually in the college basketball world, such an act is followed by a the response of a red-faced coach throwing his hands in the air or running down the bench to replace the trigger-happy perpetrator. King Rice was only a couple of feet away from Hornbeak upon the release, but there was no reaction from the sixth-year head coach. Not even an instinctive pained look or shaking of his head. Thirty seconds later, there was a different reaction — a nod of approval — as Hornbeak, this time a couple of feet closer and in rhythm, drilled a three-pointer in front of Rice. Monmouth, the MAAC favorite, went on to roll to its fourth straight victory. The good play continued over the weekend as the Hawks outlasted Canisius on Sunday.

Defending MAC Player of the Year Justin Robinson is back for another run. (SLAM)

Defending MAAC Player of the Year Justin Robinson is back for another run. (SLAM)

“We don’t really run plays. I have seniors,” Rice said. “We’ve been together for a long time. They know how I think; they know I want them to get it up quick. What do you do when you face a 1-3-1 and you’ve only had a chance to practice against it once? You just have to play basketball. Attack the gaps. If you just play, we have good players, they’ll find the holes.” By all rights, Monmouth should be one of the mid-majors anticipated to be “that” team in March, a veteran group that has tasted enough success to know that it is good enough despite not yet reaching the conference mountain top. But it’s a case of the been-there, done-that for 6-2 Monmouth. How come? Well, maybe there’s a bit of media fatigue on both sides. The Hawks raced to the frontal lobes of the national college basketball consciousness early last season — partially thanks to wins over UCLA, USC, Notre Dame, and Georgetown (yes, four of them) — but also with an entertaining style that included some wonderful improv theater from its bench after every big play. Read the rest of this entry »

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