Analyzing the Last Unbeaten in ACC League Play: Miami Hurricanes

Posted by EMann on January 19th, 2013

Not too many people would have expected Miami to be the last team in the ACC without a conference loss, sitting at 4-0 in league play at present, but that is indeed what has happened as we sit at just short of one-fourth of the way through league play. Ryan Kelly’s injury at Duke, North Carolina and Florida State’s disappointing play, and NC State acting in two straight games where the court was rushed (being on the winning side of one and the losing of another) have opened up this unlikely scenario. Is Miami’s run sustainable, especially considering that they are playing without big man Reggie Johnson?

Reggie Johnson

Miami has started off ACC play quite well without Johnson-is this more a product of a fairly soft schedule or has the team truly adjusted? (USA Today)

Miami has three losses overall, and absences were to blame for all of them; their stunning loss to Florida Gulf Coast in its second game of the season was without Durand Scott, who was suspended, and Johnson, of course, missed Miami’s losses to Arizona and Indiana State following his thumb injury. In conference play, Miami has defeated Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Boston College on the road, and Maryland at home.

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Miami Has Arrived: Two Conference Road Wins Show Hurricanes Experience

Posted by mpatton on January 11th, 2013

Miami is finally here. The past two years the Hurricanes’ roster was better on paper than it ever performed on the court. This year it looks like they’re finally reaching that potential, despite Reggie Johnson‘s current absence from the lineup with a broken thumb. The Hurricanes will also contend with NC State for the ACC runner-up slot come March. Their success isn’t thanks to a flashy offense, which you might expect from a team with Shane Larkin at the helm — rather, it’s thanks to their physical defense.

Durand Scott's toughness adds a lot to Miami's backcourt. (Photo: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

Durand Scott’s toughness adds a lot to Miami’s backcourt. (Photo: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

This is the first year the team has been in the top 50 in defensive efficiency since 2009, and it’s making a big difference. Statistically, the secret is two-fold: The Hurricanes shut down the interior (opponents are only 41% from inside the arc this season), and they don’t commit fouls. Visually, their experience plays a big role. Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble are very good shot-blockers and their guards are athletic enough to stay in front of people. Experience combined with Jim Larranaga’s system allow the Hurricanes to play physically and avoid fouling. Offense is still a factor in Miami’s success. Miami runs Larkin or Durand Scott through at least one (often two) high ball screens per possession. Against North Carolina the Hurricanes’ offense looked bad most of the game. They shot too many threes, and there was no flow. After the game, Jim Larranaga made it sound like this was at least in part intentional: “When we play a team that pressures us and is going to be trapping the ball-handler, we share the ball and spread them out. And if you get an open three, you have the green light to shoot it.”

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Miami’s Reggie Johnson Out For 6-8 Weeks: What It Means For the Hurricanes

Posted by KCarpenter on December 31st, 2012

Confirming a story first reported by CBS Sports, the Miami has announced that senior center Reggie Johnson will miss the next six to eight weeks due to a broken left thumb. Johnson had missed the past two games against Arizona and Indiana State, games that the Hurricanes lost. Miami had seemed poised for a breakout year after reeling off seven straight wins subsequent to an early season stumble against Florida Gulf Coast, including a marquee win against Michigan State at home.  The loss of the dominant big man and the playing slump of Kenny Kadji have made the formidable Hurricanes front line seem very vulnerable indeed.

Johnson's Absence Puts Miami in a Precarious Situation

Johnson’s Absence Will Put Miami in a Precarious Situation

How badly will head coach Jim Larranaga miss Johnson? When he’s on the court, the 6’10″ Johnson bullies opponents with his 290-pound body. He is a fantastic rebounder and one of the nation’s very best on the glass. With a 26.9% defensive rebounding rate, he leads the conference while also posting a respectable 13.6% on the offensive boards. On the defensive end, he is a capable shot blocker (fifth best in the conference by percentage) and an imposing presence beneath the rim. Despite all of this, however, Johnson will be missed the most on offense. When he is on the court, the center uses 28.7% of all of Miami’s possessions, a usage rate that is only surpassed by the one-man team of Erick Green at Virginia Tech. While Johnson has sometimes struggled with his shooting from the field this season, the area where he truly excels is getting to the free throw line. Outside of Mason Plumlee, no one in the conference gets to the stripe more than Johnson, who converts a very respectable 71.4% of his free throw attempts.  Miami has numerous effective scorers, but the loss of Johnson really hurts.

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Set Your DVR: Week of 11.27.12

Posted by bmulvihill on November 27th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

The ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday/Wednesday nights will give us some of the best non-conference match-ups we’ll see this season. It should be a great battle between two of the top conferences in the nation. We sneak in Kentucky vs. Notre Dame also later this week. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

The ACC-Big Ten Challenge gives us some of the best games of the season so far.

#23 Minnesota at #25 Florida State – 7:15 PM EST, Tuesday on ESPN2 (****)

  • Minnesota comes into this game battle tested from a tough, early non-conference schedule. With the exception of the Gophers’ loss to Duke, Tubby Smith’s squad is winning with defense. Typically, we would say the same thing about Florida State’s defense, but it’s their offense that is winning their games this season. The Seminoles are shooting 56% from two and 41% from three. While Minnesota has only allowed opponents to hit 29.6% of their three-point attempts this season, they have been susceptible to the long ball in their last three outings. Additionally, they have been poor on the defensive glass, allowing teams to grab 37% of their misses. FSU has four players that shoot over 40% from beyond the arc and they are actually taller than the Gophers, particularly in the backcourt. Pay close attention to FSU’s three-point shooting and offensive rebounding in this one. Because Minnesota is not a great shooting team, they are going to have to figure out a way to deal with the Seminoles’ size on the offensive glass. Thus far, the Gophers are grabbing 47.3% of their missed shots on the offensive end, which is good for fourth in the nation. The winner of this game will be the team that owns the offensive glass.

#21 North Carolina State at #5 Michigan  7:30 PM EST, Tuesday on ESPN (*****)

  • Both of these teams are in the top 20 in effective field goal percentage thus far in the season. Three-point shooting will be a key factor in this match-up with both teams hovering right around the 40% mark. The Wolfpack is led by Rodney Purvis and Scott Wood on the outside, shooting 58.8% and 44.8% respectively. Those are the only two players on NC State who have attempted more than 10 three-point shots on the season. The Wolverines, however, have four players – Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, and Glenn Robinson III – who have attempted 10+ threes and all are shooting at over 30%. Both teams are middle of the pack at defending the outside shot, so it will be interesting to see who is able to take this advantage. While offensive firepower seems to be the key in this game, defense will ultimately determine the winner. Michigan has held all of its opponents under a point per possession this season and has proven it can win ugly against Pittsburgh. NC State is the best offense UM has faced thus far, though, but the question remains if the Wolfpack can hold off the plethora of Wolverines who can score. NC State is coming off a shellacking at the hands of Oklahoma State and a very close win against UNC-Asheville, where they allowed an eFG of 56.3%. If they don’t improve that field goal defense against Michigan, they will get crushed again.
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ACC M5: 11.22.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on November 22nd, 2012

  1. Sporting News: Reading this convinced me that Brian Gregory may be exactly what Georgia Tech needs. He’s a very good salesman, which is crucial both for future recruiting and getting alumni and fans involved. The two go hand in hand as good recruiting leads to better teams which leads to more alumni support; likewise good alumni support leads to better facilities and more hype around the program and better recruiting. Give Gregory a couple more years and he’ll have Georgia Tech back in the conversation.
  2. Washington Times: As more and more opinion pieces start to turn up regarding Maryland‘s move to the Big Ten, there are a couple of distinct themes: that the Terrapins made the no-brainer choice given the realignment climate, the athletic department spit in the face of tradition, or it was a necessary evil because of the department’s financial woes. This piece clearly falls on the side of the latter. More interesting are the demographics of groups on both sides: In general, current students and the athletic department seem to come down in the first camp, older alumni and fans of other ACC schools in the second camp, and a mixture of the two falling in the third camp. None of the other realignment moves have seemed nearly as polarizing amongst the fan base.
  3. Indy Week: NC State has received a lot of hype this season — even after the ugly loss to Oklahoma State — but a lot of people don’t remember how the program faded to obscurity in the first place (at least as far as national titles are concerned). Through the 1970s and 1980s the Wolfpack were a top program in the ACC and the country, but the school forced Jim Valvano out in 1990 and the program never really recovered to that level under any of Les Robinson, Herb Sendek or Sidney Lowe.
  4. Raleigh News & Observer: It should only be good news that Reggie Johnson is more motivated than ever, has lost weight, and is disciplined. But why are Miami and Johnson struggling to start the season? Johnson and frontcourt partner Kenny Kadji are off to very poor offensive starts. Kadji is turning the ball over far too much, and Johnson just can’t shoot with any accuracy. But in the long run both are proven commodities, and the Hurricanes should be much better than they’ve played so far.
  5. Baltimore Sun: Kevin Coherd’s column about the Terrapins is cautiously optimistic, echoing Mark Turgeon‘s sentiments about his young team. It’s true this team is not a national contender just yet, but it could really rock the boat in the ACC if it can find some consistent offense. Alex Len already deserves any ACC Most Improved Awards we can find for him. Coaches like to spin things down a little at the beginning of the season to keep their teams as clean as possible, but Turgeon has a lot to look forward to this season.

EXTRA: DAILY RUMOR

Could the Big Ten be poaching another ACC (Carolina) blue blood as its 15th or 16th member?

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Should I Be Worried That My ACC Team Lost?

Posted by KCarpenter on November 16th, 2012

After about a week of college basketball, it’s time to start panicking. You are an ACC fan and your team lost one of these first few games. In this, the cupcakiest time of the year, is often an ominous sign. So, of the teams that have already lost a game, who should be worried?

The Vaunted FSU Defense Didn’t Perform to Standards Last Week

Florida State lost to South Alabama last Friday, a shocking loss for the defending ACC Tournament champions. Should the Seminoles be worried about losing to what appears to be a middle-of-the-pack Sun Belt Team? Not really. Florida State suffered from the classic college basketball upset: the threes fell for USA while there was an extended drought for FSU. While South Alabama shot a scorching 60% from deep, the Seminoles managed only 23.8%. This performance, on both ends, feels like a fluke. In USA’s next game against the hapless William Carey Crusaders, the team made threes at a reasonable 33.3% clip, while Florida State shot 55.6% from the perimeter against Buffalo. Sometimes a team gets hot when their opponent goes cold, so outside of demonstrating that even Michael Snaer can have good days and bad days, there appears to be no fundamental problem with the Seminoles.

Miami lost to Florida Gulf Coast University on Tuesday, a surprising but not-so-shocking loss for a Miami team that stumbled and lost to Division II St. Leo’s in the exhibition season. Florida Gulf Coast University has a decent team and the game was the home opener for the Eagles. This was never a gimme for the Hurricanes, though it was a game that they were expected to win. Still, Miami lost handily to the Eagles and the culprit was easily located: interior scoring. Miami shot a respectable though not spectacular 30.8% from three, yet managed to shoot only 27.5% from two. This is a troubling sign, considering that Miami boasts a big and impressive frontcourt in Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson. These two working in tandem should be able to score inside with near impunity. Yet Johnson in particular struggled, shooting only 2-of-8 and tallying five turnovers.  In the season opener, a home game against Stetson, Johnson went 6-of-16 from the field also, a staggeringly low total. Sure, Johnson ended up scoring a lot at the free throw line of that game, but when your center is shooting such a low percentage it is cause for concern.  Perhaps things will run a little smoother when Durand Scott, the team’s senior point guard, returns to the lineup, but Johnson’s surprising inefficiency is worth keeping an eye on. Miami isn’t in trouble yet, but considering the difference that Johnson can make for this team, it’s worth watching how the big man performs going forward.

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Miami Loses to Division II St. Leo: What Went Wrong?

Posted by KCarpenter on November 3rd, 2012

Exhibition season usually offers little insight into how a team will fare once play begins in earnest; comparing blowouts against sub-par competition usually isn’t too productive. The highly-touted Miami Hurricanes, however, gave us something to talk about. Last night Miami lost to the Division II St. Leo Lions 69-67. Expectations have been high for the Hurricanes who return a veteran cast of capable upperclassmen. In the Lions, Miami faced a tough reality check. St. Leo jumped to an early lead with the score in favor of the underdogs 37-30 at the half. While the Hurricanes made it interesting in the closing minutes, the Lions, led by Trent Thomas‘s 23 points, walked away with the victory. This leads to the simple question: what went wrong?

Miami played ineffective defense and had an even more ineffective offense. St. Leo managed to shoot 45.3% from the field, which, while not absurd, is still a strong performance against a team that should have been capable of suffocating the Lions. Meanwhile,  the Hurricane stars fell flat with the exception of Trey McKinney-Jones who shined with 19 points on 13 shots. The typically devastating inside-outside frontcourt paring of Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson played disastrously. Both players committed four turnovers each, Kadji shot 1-for-6 from the field and Johnson managed only a single rebound in 13 minutes of pure, distilled Jim Larranaga frustration. The coach had been (and remains) critical about his team’s level of energy in the past couple weeks of practice.

Miami will learn and grow from this experience, but right now this game is a warning sign that things aren’t all squared away in Coral Gables. Perhaps this team will mature and eventually come to meet expectations, but this game offers some early reason for skepticism about the Hurricanes’ coming season.

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ACC M5: 10.31.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on October 31st, 2012

  1. The Dagger: Someone get Luke Loucks a job as a broadcaster. ACC Network, I’m looking at you. Jeff Eisenberg recently sat down with Loucks, who played point guard last season for ACC champion Florida State, and he absolutely kills it with his ACC preview — if this was off the cuff that’s even more impressive. He predicted a big leap out of James Michael McAdoo, though stuck with his own Florida State to win the conference. Loucks also said he would play for Coach K if he could play under any coach (other than Leonard Hamilton of course).
  2. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: It’s safe to say Mark Bradley is not impressed by the current state of Georgia Tech‘s athletic program. Bradley points out that the biggest problem facing Georgia Tech right now is generating excitement around the program, so athletic director Dan Radakovich’s successor should really focus on selling the program instead of just being a “money man.” While Bradley criticizes the Yellow Jacket program as a whole, he clearly places significant blame on Radakovich for his role in the growing irrelevance of its athletics. Who Georgia Tech picks to replace Radakovich will be very important going forward if Brian Gregory wants to get his basketball program back on track.
  3. BC Interruption: Boston College named sophomore Dennis Clifford the captain of the basketball team. The Eagles don’t have very much of an upperclassman presence (with only Danny Rubin and senior-transfer Andrew Van Nest), so it makes sense the team elected a sophomore. The Eagles’ choice should plant a seed in people’s minds that the 7’0″ center may take a big step forward his second season. Unrelatedly, Boston College still had practice despite Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy blowing through Chestnut Hill.
  4. State of the UState of the U caught up with Kenny Kadji, one of the the surprising Hurricane performers from last season. Kadji has apparently lost 20 pounds, which he hopes will help him become more of an athlete. This is especially important considering his frontcourt-mate Reggie Johnson may be many things (including a great back-to-the-basket guy), but he cannot run the floor well. Kadji pointed to Johnson and Julian Gamble as the two most impressive Hurricanes so far in practice.
  5. GoDuke.com: Duke is going modern with its stat-keeping, as now all their player stats will be kept and updated in real time on their respective iPads. The automation allows managers and assistant coaches to keep track of Duke’s player efficiency rating (PER) and update it live so that players get instant feedback after practice and the coaching and support staff can focus on the other parts of their jobs. Sports is one place people generally don’t think much about technology (well, apart from the production of events), but technology is making things like Duke’s PER easier to monitor, and arguably, gives the players better information on how to improve.
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ACC Team Previews: Miami Hurricanes

Posted by mpatton on October 29th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the ACC microsite will release a preview for each of the 12 teams. Today’s victim: the Miami Hurricanes.

Miami never really clicked last season. The team showed flashes of brilliance like in its overtime win at Duke or their home dismantling of eventual ACC champion Florida State. However, more often than not, Jim Larranaga’s team looked mediocre and inconsistent. Reggie Johnson added trying to recover from a knee injury to his ongoing weight issue, which meant he couldn’t stay on the court for extended stretches nor run the floor very well. To make matters worse, senior sharpshooter Malcolm Grant lost his stroke last season, regressing at an alarming rate to an abysmal 34% from the field. This year looks much better on paper, though history certainly calls for caution when prognosticating Miami’s season.

Shane Larkin

Shane Larkin Is The X-Factor For Miami This Season (credit: Paul Abell / US Presswire)

Newcomers

Consensus three-star center Tonye Jekiri and shooter Steve Sorenson are the only freshmen joining Larranaga in Coral Gables this season. However, redshirt freshman Bishop Daniels may prove to have the most impact, as he’s spent the most time with the team. Daniels redshirted last season after missing the first half of the season with a foot injury. He’s a very athletic combo guard known for his leaping and could provide an offensive spark off the bench backing up Durand Scott or Shane Larkin.

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ACC Weekly Five: 08.06.12 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on August 6th, 2012

  1. News & Observer: The crown jewel of North Carolina State’s highly touted incoming class is, without question, Rodney Purvis. The Raleigh native and scoring sensation, however, has hit a small word block in that the NCAA has begun reviewing Purvis’ eligibility. This is not an unusual situation and, as of right now, there is nothing too alarming about it. Purvis was part of the Upper Room Christian Academy’s first graduating class, which means that the school has not yet gone through a full NCAA review — meaning that the examination of his eligibility seems to hinge on nothing more than the school’s newness. Still, the unfortunate result is that the vaunted freshman will miss the Wolfpack’s trip to Spain and the Canary Islands and not get the crucial live-game experience which can be so valuable for young players just getting to know their teammates.
  2. Wilmington Star News: Of course, while North Carolina State’s international trip features beautiful Barcelona and the storied Canary Islands, Wake Forest and coach Jeff Bzdelik went a different route in planning the Demon Deacons’ international trip. The Deacs are going to Canada on a brief jaunt that’s going to include only two games and some sightseeing in Toronto and Niagara Falls. While the trip will surely be a great experience for the young players, it lacks the glamour of the Wolfpack’s Spanish journey or Duke’s eventful tour of China last summer. Bzdelik is understandably concerned about the physical toll of the season on what is going to be a very young and inexperienced team, but something tells me the players would rather be somewhere more tropical than Ontario.
  3. NBC Sports: Rob Dauster follows up a fairly interesting article on college basketball teams that had unlucky seasons last year with a sleeper pick that will be interesting for ACC fans. Dauster likes Miami, a team that will be returning a good deal of experience and talent, to make a big run in the conference. The combination of Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson is one of the more potent frontcourt punches in the league, but the question for next year will be the same as last year: Can the two remain on the court, standing strong against the twin scourges of injuries and foul trouble? If they do, Miami might surprise some people.
  4. Washington Post: Maryland basketball legend Juan Dixon is going to be inducted into the the university’s Hall of Fame, a fairly reasonable move considering the guy’s Terrapin resume. Dixon is the all-time scoring leader for the Terps and led the team to a championship in 2002. He was named the NCAA’s Most Outstanding Player, a first team All-American, and ACC player of the year in that same season. One of Maryland’s all-time greats, his induction into the hall certainly seems well-deserved.
  5. Fayetteville Observer: The NC Pro-Am is a welcome summer basketball sight for ACC fans. Featuring a host of college players and former college players from the four Tobacco Road schools, the circuit is a great chance to get a fresh look at incoming freshmen, see how returning players are progressing, and finally, see which of the old-timers still has it (hint: Jerry Stackhouse). It’s also a great chance to see lesser-known ballers of all stripes. The Fayetteville Observer does a great job doing mini-profiles of some of the more interesting but not-as-well-known characters who have been making a name for themselves in that crowded Durham gym.
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ACC Summer Recess: Miami Hurricanes

Posted by mpatton on July 25th, 2012

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

Where They Stand Now

Jim Larranaga Has Plenty of Talent Back in Coral Gables for his Second Year

Miami comes off of another simultaneously successful and disappointing season after finishing 9-7 in ACC play (as modestly predicted last November) last year. The mediocre season led to a two-seed in the NIT, where the Hurricanes got trounced in the second round by Minnesota thanks to a horrendous defensive effort. Still, for Jim Larranaga‘s first season — especially one damaged by the Nevin Shapiro scandal and numerous injuries — a conference record above .500 shouldn’t be taken for granted. The Hurricanes never made the jump from a good team to a great one, but two high-profile wins at Duke and against Florida State showed the potential hidden in the roster.

Who’s Leaving

Malcolm Grant and Dequan Jones hit the road after finishing their final seasons of eligibility, but don’t overrate Grant’s departure. Last year Grant took major steps backward offensively, never finding his shot. For the first three years of his career, Grant was one of the country’s best shooters. He averaged significantly over 40% from deep those years, taking over 200 threes in 2010-11. Three-point shooting made up for his poor finishing skills and lackluster mid-range game, but Grant went cold from downtown in 2011-12 finishing the year at a tepid 33%.

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ACC Morning Five: 04.02.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on April 2nd, 2012

  1. Draft Express: This is a very good breakdown of Kendall Marshall‘s game from Joseph Treutlein. The short version is pretty straight forward: Marshall is an elite passer and game manager, but he doesn’t look for his own offense and is a defensive liability. I don’t think Marshall will ever be a good defender, but Ricky Rubio definitely made him some money this year with his passable perimeter defense. Trerutlein’s points about Marshall looking for his own offense more definitely paint an optimistic picture (though I expect he’ll need to rely far more on his jumper than driving at the next level). The bottom line is Marshall is a very good point guard in a draft nearly empty of NBA-ready point guards.
  2. Washington Post: This is a cool look back at Maryland’s national championship and the expectations of that season ten years ago. In a way, it’s reminiscent of Duke’s crushing beatdown from UNLV in 1990, the way the Terrapins rebounded from a crushing loss to Duke (after they held a 22-point lead) in 2001. Only two members of that Maryland team are still in the NBA (Steve Blake and Chris Wilcox), but don’t let that make you think the team has forgotten. It sounds like one man off the roster, from Gary Williams to Juan Dixon, could recount that season from start to finish.
  3. ACC Sports Journal: Andrew Skwara doesn’t mince words as he grades six ACC seasons. So far Florida State leads the way with an A with Duke tailing with a B thanks to the Blue Devils’ embarrassing loss to Lehigh. I think the second half of the conference (alphabetically speaking) is a little more interesting to evaluate: What grade for NC State after a disappointing regular season and terrific postseason run? What about Miami? Were Wake Forest’s improvements good enough to earn a decent mark?
  4. South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Good news for Coral Gables, as Kenny Kadji announced he will return to Miami for his senior season. Kadji will be critical for the Hurricanes’ success because he gives Jim Larranga a stretch four to help open up the paint for Reggie Johnson and Durand Scott. Johnson will still be the biggest piece: if he comes back and gets in shape, Miami could contend for a top three or four conference finish. If he doesn’t, the Hurricanes are looking at the middle of the pack.
  5. Yahoo!: Duke stayed America’s favorite college basketball team this year, edging out Kentucky and North Carolina. I would like to see more poll numbers, but Duke’s national brand certainly plays a huge role in a study like this (my guess is Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky are fairly close, but even other blue-bloods lack the national audience to maintain their relevance. However, with Duke taking what looks to be a step backwards next year, could the Wildcats and Tar Heels may overtake the Blue Devils.
EXTRA: Lance Pugmire sat down with James Worthy to talk about his NCAA title from 30 years ago (interestingly and unrelatedly, the ACC won championships in 2002, 1992 and 1982).
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